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Dark Horse Finals – Women’s Problem #1! January 28, 2013

Posted by littlebangtheory in Action/Adventure.
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Here are a few shots from the Jan 19th Dark Horse Bouldering Finals, a climbing competition staged at the MetroRock Climbing Center in Everett, Massachusetts.

Some but not all of the amazing women who threw down during this exciting night of climbing theater!

Isabelle Faus:

Isabelle, Prob 1

Galina Parfenov:

Galina, Prob 1

Molly Gaynor:

Molly, Prob 1

Angie Payne:

Angie, Prob 1

Meagan Martin:

Meagan, Prob 1

…all moving like dancers on a vertical stage.

It was amazing to watch and photograph, even though I wasn’t happy with my take-home. I went two days early to scope out the venue, assure my shooting stances and determine which lens would work best – climbing gyms are reeeeeeally dusty environments, and changing lenses isn’t a great idea.

But when I showed up for the comp, most of the stances I’d been “given” were occupied by the video crew, as was the overhead access between stances. I was stuck in one spot, with a lens which only worked for one of the three problems.

Oh well. I got what I got.

More to follow.

A Climbing Competition. October 4, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in Action/Adventure.
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Last weekend saw the Fourth Annual WMCC Rendezvous, a gathering of local and visiting climbers for a little socializing, exploring and friendly competition.

The weather was wet, so most of the “competition” took place at Central Rock climbing gym in Hadley, MA. Big thanks to those folks for hosting this very busy weekend.

Friday night’s action was a “bouldering” comp, with people of all (well, most) ages pulling down. The routes were steep:

…up artificial rock walls with bolt-on holds:

There was an enthusiastic crowd of spectators and supporters mingling below, and a great atmosphere:

People took it seriously enough to work hard – young kids:


Apes, which I confess is my tribe:

…and Ballerinas, to quote the late, great Scottish climber, Tom Patey:

Sharply focused spiders:

…and relentless machines:

…plugging along on the undersides of the bouldering cave. That’s some brutish terrain, but it’s not limited to the boys – strong women can play here as well:

…and they did. Great efforts, everyone!

In the end, it was less about “winning” and more about trying for one’s personal best. A lot of yardsticks got moved forward because of the competitive yet totally supportive atmosphere.

And it was great to watch the improbable being made to look easy.

…and the look of competence in a person’s eyes as they latch that final hold:

This shoot was a mix of Ollie and Gizmo, a bit too mixed up to go into. Let’s just say that my sensor needed a cleaning after all of those lens changes in a chalky environment. 😆

A Boulder In Clarksburg. February 28, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in climbing.
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This is a big old rock up on a ridge above North Adams, actually just over the line into Clarksburg.  Jacob climbed a tree to get on top, then patiently brushed off as much snow as possible:

…Plenty of crash pads there for the efforts to come.

Half a dozen lines went that day, from moderate to hard.  This project will go from the sit-start:

…though the initial move didn’t quite happen.  Later, perhaps.  Jacob sent it from one move higher, and the true sit will happen soon enough.

The tall arete to the right went as well, much more easily than the previous problem:

That wasn’t apparent from looking at it, until Jacob was on it and making it look easy.

That man can climb!

Meanwhile, Back At The Ridge… February 24, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in climbing.
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Dakota sends the obvious line from a sit-start:

This was, in addition to Dakota’s excellent effort, a chance for me to do something different with Elliot.  I usually use his “tilt” function to extend my depth of field, as in landscapes where I keep a foreground element sharp while getting the whole scene in focus.  But here I’ve isolated the climber by dissolving the rest of the photo in a slurry of soft focus.  Having Elliot on a tripod allowed me to get the (more or less) same shot of the rock with Dakota moving through the image, with a plane of sharp focus laid diagonally from lower right to upper left.

It was odd to be an observer of this climbing excursion.  I’ve been a climber all my adult life, and still dabble as my broken body allows.  But on this day, I didn’t even bring my climbing shoes; I wanted to disengage from the physical and observe.

It was one of the hardest days I can remember.  I’m not a born “watcher;”  I lost my taste for television, for instance, decades ago.  But my damaged shoulders constrained my participation.  So while the climber in me paced like a caged beast,  the Outer Me snapped away.

I suppose I’ll have to get used to being an observer, but it still feels odd.


An Erratic. February 8, 2012

Posted by littlebangtheory in climbing.
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Somewhere along the ridgeline north of Route 2, a glacial erratic sits in a deciduous grove.  It’s pretty spectacular, given that it’s all alone out there, a chunk of pristine granite parked a bit above its schistose host stratum:

If you’re a climber/boulderer, there’s plenty to do there to justify the 20 minute approach. I expect half of the possibilities to crack the double digits, which will mean nothing to most of you, but everything to those who “boulder.”

This is the ideal time of year to go there; no bugs, the sodden approach is stiff as a mackerel, and no bugs.

Did I already say that?  Well, yeah.

Rooftopia. December 18, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in climbing.
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I spent part of this afternoon up at Rooftopia, a tumbling conflagration of stones and spaces hunkered down along the Deerfield river just over the Vermont line from me.

I’m enamored of this particular stone for its clean sweep of overhanging terrain, and just had to play with it for a bit:

It’s really out of my league, but I can dream, can’t I??   🙂

The vignetting in this photo is caused by my Cokin P-Holder, which really wasn’t made for full-frame wide lenses, but I’m in no position to upgrade to the 4X6 filters which would eliminate this problem.  Besides, I’m not all that displeased by the framing effect rendered by my technical incompetence.

I’d love to get a posse of strong climbers up here so I can let them play while I photograph the action.  It’s a beautiful spot, and I bet they’d enjoy themselves.

V8/10* at Farley Ledge. December 3, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in climbing.
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So my involvement with climbing has devolved into a voyeuristic thing:  I go where the action is and try to glom on to what used to so fully involve me.

At some level, it hurts.  This used to be my raison d’etre.  Now it’s something I observe in passing, like a sunset or a moonrise.  It’s not that it doesn’t matter, but rather that it doesn’t depend on my participation to exist.

Here’s some of what existed today at Farley Ledge in Erving, MA despite my non-participation.

Local man Kai setting up for the big throw on Babies With Rabies,  V10*:

…and here latching that distant hold:

*ed: I called this a V8 in the original posting, but it’s a strong two grades harder.  I should have known – small holds on rock this steep is reeeeally hard.

Most of you don’t boulder, so can’t be expected to relate to the point-of-contact strain revealed in these photos.  But I’ve been there/done that, and feel every fiber of my limbs trying to stick these moves.

Another problem being worked on this particular afternoon was Appetite For Destruction,  a V8 just down the hill from Babies.  Matt was hunting hard for the next hold on the obtuse arete:

…and a bit later, Rajiv pressed on, not “sending” but getting farther along the path:

My focus here was rather soft, though Rajiv’s wasn’t; his targeting of the next hold was exceptional, and landed him a yard of progress, a commendable feat in the Bouldering world.

Thanks to Ollie and my Sweet Sixteen for these shots.  I’m nothing without my tools.

Vicarious Thrills! November 14, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in climbing.
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I went back out to Farley Ledge this weekend to see if the lads from last weekend would make further progress on their bouldering “project.”  I might no longer be able to climb, but it still holds a powerful fascination for me, as well as an opportunity to expand my photographic bag of tricks.  Action sports photography is a whole ‘nother beast than nature photography!

Anyway, there were Pad-People everywhere, and it was cool – young and old folks (well, OK, mostly  young) hangin’ and chillin’, alternately relaxing and tearing it up to the best of their varied abilities.  I followed a group of half a dozen up the steep trail to Stereogram,  a vicious V10 problem which fights its way out the underbelly of an impressive boulder perched up near the top of the ledge.  Stereogram  has a reputation for being difficult to photograph, as it climbs out of a deep, dark hole into the light; much of the action occurs in the dim confines of a lithic Oubliette.

Here’s the general overview, for setting and scale, with a kid from Colorado emerging from the pit at the lower right:

I’m sorry not to have gotten his name, as he photographed well (long, elegant body positions and serious facial expressions.)

[Ed. – Tom Camillieri, thanks to Blake Cash]

Here’s a series of him working this set of moves:

That’s a really cool looking sequence.

A bit later I heard the sounds of climbers down below, where last week’s project had transpired.  I packed up quickly  and scooted down the steep trail, dancing from rock to rock, attentive to miss the dry leaves coating nearly everything; a misstep on such steep terrain would be nothing if not ugly.

And I was just in time to see Pete and Jason getting to work on the arete which had so engaged Breyton and Hayden the weekend before.  I wanted a different perspective than the over-and-up view I’d shot those lads with, so I set up a rope and rappelled into a position looking down the ridge at the action.

It worked.  I got a sense of the height, steepness and tenuousness of attachment which characterize this particular piece of stone, and an appreciation of why it remains unclimbed despite a decade of serious efforts by some very strong climbers.

Here’s Pete Clark putting a series of complex foot moves to good use, an instep scum to a powerful toe, all the while moving too quickly for my shutter speed, despite an ISO of 5000:

Pete makes the difficult look easy, and the impossible look hard.  It’s a gift few of us are given, and his humility is as impressive as his ability.

Jason Danforth put his calm to work as he found the hang-point at about the same spot:

This man’s stronger than dirt, and stands a good chance of sending this thing.

As darkness crawled up the valley walls, both of these dudes left happy with their progress.  Perhaps next time they visit it will all come together for them, and the “project” will get a name.

More Photos From The Edge. November 6, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature, climbing.
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Here are a couple more photos from Saturday’s “bouldering session” out at Farley Ledge, of which I was an observer rather than a participant.

I went there hoping to capture some essential quality of that activity rather than an overview of it, and at some point booted my ISO way up to 6,400, meaning that the photos would be “grainy,” but still possible in the waning light of a late afternoon in November.

Now, action photographs (and this ought to qualify as “action”) are normally shot at really fast shutter speeds to freeze the action, but in this case I wanted to call attention to a specific part of the photo, and didn’t care if the rest of it disappeared into the visual morass.

The results are indeed tightly focused on a small region of the photograph.  I’m not sure how they’ll translate to this low-fi Blogosphere world, but in the scaled-to-print world, they were more than satisfactory.

Anyway, here’s Breyton putting the moves on Babies With Rabies,  a notable V10 (difficulty rating) boulder problem at Farley.

The start, with both hands crimping a shallow hold on the belly of the beast:

…followed by a foot-hand exchange, with individual fingers making room for the incoming heel-hook as Breyton moved up the lithic swell:

It wasn’t really possible, in the low light of a November eve, to freeze this frenetic action, so I chose instead to go for the hand-foot switch, letting the rest of the photo soften a bit.

The overall effort of this attempt on Babies  warrants a photographic go in better light.  Maybe I’ll get an invitation to the party at some future date, as the “bouldering” season in these parts extends well into early winter.

Jon, Hayden, Breyton, thanks for your patience as I horned in on your community of people covering each others’ backs.  I wasn’t much help, unless one considers illumination as “help.”

Hangin’ With The Boys. November 6, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in climbing.
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I freed up a bit of time at the end of Saturday to head out to Farley Ledge in Erving MA, hoping to find someone bouldering in the crisp autumn air of early November.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

Now, if you aren’t a “boulderer” or haven’t been following the death-spiral-arc of my life, “bouldering” is the branch of the rock-climbing tree which eschews ropes in favor of crash pads and “spotters,” rarely (and quite consequentially) venturing above a height from which it’s safe to fall onto a prepared landing.  Boulderers put maximum effort into navigating a small expanse of rock, by definition close enough to Terra Firma  to survive the defeat so often negotiated by gravity.

And nearby Farley Ledge offers so much potential in this category of climbing that rutting bucks come from all over the Northeast to throw themselves against these rocks, hoping to nudge their perception of the possible ever upward.

As a former climber and present-day photographer, my part in this dance of testosterone vs. gravity was to document it.  I won’t go into the psychic pain of being excluded from the action; my past physical excesses render me now eliminated from the field of participants stretching their physical horizons.

But capturing it is a different high, a chance to occupy spaces not available to those with the fire in their fingers and souls.

Here I got above an elegant boulder ridge which has begged to be climbed for some years, yet hasn’t been “sent,” as those who climb refer to Done Deeds:

That’s Jon’s hand working the arete (ridge) on this stiff problem.

A bit later, Breyton tried a toe-hook to reduce the force on his higher hand, gaining a strong meter in his quest for Upward Mobility:

That shot’s indicative of the difference between common folks’ conception of rock climbing and the reality of it as it now exists.  Rock climbing has undergone a conceptual differentiation which leaves many of its  adherents doing things which don’t fit the popular perception of climbers posed far above the normal plane of existence, reaching for the sky.  Instead we’re reaching for the next imaginary hold on ridiculous expanses of inconsequential boulders.

Inconsequential, that is, unless you care deeply about conquering the impossible.

Which these guys do: they drive the interminable hours up from NYC to spend the day doing exactly that.

Higher on the same piece of obstinate stone, Hayden throws for a tiny crimp:

…and fails to hang on, instead tumbling backward into the attentive hands of his “spotters.”

This is how the esoteric pursuit of Bouldering proceeds: individual efforts are buffered from the ravages of failure by a ground-level team effort.  This was my last love in rock climbing, as I learned the value of maximum personal effort, and of the safety net afforded by a caring community.

More to come, perhaps a bit artsier and less pedantic.