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Mixed Climbing. February 11, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in climbing, Love and Death.
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“Mixed climbing” refers to a style of climbing which melds rock and ice climbing.  It employs the tools of the ice climbing world, applied to a rock medium ravaged by winter conditions – that is, rendered unclimbable by a layering of ice insufficient to allow actual ice climbing, yet sufficient to thwart the efforts of a pure rock climber.

I’m perversely drawn to, and evidently equipped for this type of climbing.  Although it’s considered to be the realm of younger climbers with a newer world view, I find it much more appropriate for my strengths than either pure rock climbing, which demands brute strength and monumental endurance, or pure rock climbing, which requires monumental endurance and brute strength.

Mixed climbing, in contrast, requires only a slippery grip on what’s allowed and what’s not, on what works and what doesn’t, and a willingness to cast aside any preconceptions which may have followed you to the base of the climb.

Yeah, I got that.

So it pleased me a bunch to get up North this past weekend to the Mount Washington Valley Ice Festival for a day on the steeps.

I got to climb with a quartet of younger guys (and Frau B, not climbing this time ’round but rather working her Nikon) and I had a ball, my damaged shoulders notwithstanding.

We hiked out to a little cliff near Intervail and set up a couple of “top-ropes,” wherein one can climb without the risk of taking a long and likely damaging fall.  I snapped a few shots of the action, including this one of our friend Chris pulling a difficult little rock overhang:

…and another guy high on a route to his left:

I’m embarrassed to not remember his name, but I don’t.

Hey, if you grew up in the 60’s you might not remember everything either:

I took my turn on the rope, then set up to get this shot of another Chris coming up behind me:

Anyway, the lads shifted one of our ropes to a severely overhanging corner, a big step up in difficulty and commitment.  Here, Brian works the route to its top:

…getting up with a couple of falls (top-ropes allow one to fall, rest and continue working a route.) His was our proudest effort excepting mine; I got up it without falls, proving that I’m not dead yet!


Lizz may have gotten some shots of my efforts, but I don’t expect them to be pretty – there was nothing elegant about my core-crunching collision with this ugly gash.

At any rate, it felt good to crush this vertical challenge, and I won’t say it felt bad to smoke the young’uns along the way.

Especially since they were adamant about me having no business playing this Younger Man’s Game.


Ice! December 12, 2010

Posted by littlebangtheory in climbing, Love and Death.
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In the mid-70s a rock climbing friend introduced me to the world of ice climbing, and I’ve been a supplicant ever since.  Something about the surreality of being suspended on a slippery surface above a world of whirling white is so transporting that my fondest memories of my most significant climbs are but dreams, with trepedacious beginnings  and triumphant endings bracketing a phantasm of terror and bliss which isn’t easily explained to a non-climber.

I’ve been worshiping at the impermanent altar of ice for the last thirty-five years, and it’s never failed to tie my stomach in knots, cause my knees to buckle and draw from me the kind of impossible effort which lifts life from a mundane plane to sublime heights.

This winter I’m counting on a kind of rebirth, after the death of my rotator cuffs, of the dream of flying over a frozen landscape.  I’ve been hitting the gym in search of my formerly physical self, and while I’ll never again be young and whole, I’m determined to be all that I can presently be (short of joining the Army.)  I’ve gone from the clinically proclaimed impossibility of doing pull-ups to my present situation of doing four sets of twelve, a tribute I suppose to the power of feeble mind over decrepit matter.

This Saturday was the season’s first intersection of ability, opportunity and conditions, and I assembled the necessary gear to give it a go.

The nearby Zoar roadcuts were in really nice condition for a December technique tune-up, and I took advantage of it, hefting the tools, finding my balance, and relaxing into the rhythm, kick-kick, stand, swing, center, kick-kick:

The thirty-foot sub-vertical pillars ceded me the freedom of going ropeless, concentrating on the flow of climbing in liew of the technicalities of engineering a protection system, and I exulted in the freedom of movement in the improbable realm of frozen verticality.

After several seasons of loss and longing, it felt great to be flowing again.

It also offered me a chance to try my camera’s new wireless remote release, clicking away as I worked up the ice, and bringing you this shot.

Now that I know how it works, I’ll be boring you to tears with my new toy.

May the Force be with you!

I’m Told It’s Hot Out West. June 8, 2010

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature, Love and Death.
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As folks in the Southwest have noted the excessive heat out their way, I’m gonna post a couple of photos of cooler times, in hopes that it’ll provide some degree of vicarious relief.

Warning: these shots show some skin, though nothing which isn’t common to both sexes.  So while I can’t imagine the level of prudishness which would deem these unacceptable for a general audience, I’m kinda noodling here while you decide whether or not you want to scroll down and see what the shiz is.

Both clairz and my long-time e-friend Paul have commented on the heat in their Southwestern abodes, and since I’m a firm believer in the power of vision and images, I thought I’d post a couple of pics from a few years ago, when I got high and got down and got cool.

Photos courtesy of the Pagan Sphinx,  who found them in a box and had no further use for them.  They weren’t particularly good then, and were just now re-photographed from the originals, so the quality isn’t there, but the spirit still is.

That’s enough dallying for the feeble to have gone away, so here goes:

Me climbing the ice route, Victoria’s Secret on Mount Peak in Charlemont:

And yeah, it’s a full-sized ice climb, though I eschewed the security of a rope in favor of the alacrity of a solo ascent:

There are times, after all, when motion trumps a good pose.

So if you were hot before, I hope you’re a bit cooler now.

On Ice. February 10, 2010

Posted by littlebangtheory in climbing, Love and Death.
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Last weekend was the Mount Washington Valley Ice Festival, a great excuse for ice climbers from throughout the Northeast to get together and socialize, attend slide shows by well traveled professionals (this year, Steve House who is, besides being very entertaining, a climber of extraordinary ability and admirable humility,) and perhaps even climb a bit.

This year also marked my return to some measure of climbing after a couple of years away from it, due to an absolutely total lack of rotator cuffs and a failed surgical attempt to remedy that situation.

My shoulders are, in fact, junk.  They say I’m lucky to be able to comb my non-existent hair, but you know, the dysfunctional combination of my passion for climbing and the fact that I’m a wicked slow learner found me strapping on crampons and ice axes along side the guides and students at Cathedral Ledge this past Saturday afternoon.

Our friend Chris lead up what should have been easy terrain for experienced climbers:

That’s close to thirty feet of what passes for vertical ice up at the top, and it was exciting watching Chris take it on, especially because he didn’t bother to place any ice screws ’till about where he is in this photo, and a fall at that point would have been disastrous.

But Chris is a strong young man and kept his cool, finishing the climb without incident:

Both Lizz and I worked our tails off in our attempts to follow.  I’ll admit to employing 35 years of experience to get up the thing in relatively good style, no thanks to my non-compliant shoulders.

This is a far cry from the “good ol’ days,” say ten years ago, when I climbed Repentance,  an area test-piece which is exceptionally thick in this photo taken Saturday:

That’s nearly 400′ of thin, vertical ice choking a crack system, with a couple of red-clad climbers visible about 300′ up.  In case you can’t see them in this little photo, here’s a telephoto shot, courtesy of my little Canon point-and-shoot:

This is considered to be exceptionally “thick” conditions, and therefore “easy,” compared to the shape it was in when I did it.

This weekend convinced me that I’m not done, not gone by, not ready for a rocking chair.  I’ve procured a gym membership and am working my way back.  I’m going to climb Repentance again, or perhaps Remission,  its more difficult twin a little to its right, which had been on my wish list for decades.

Yes, Remission will do.   It’s back on my list.

With or without my damned shoulders.

Last Weekend In New Hampshire. January 20, 2010

Posted by littlebangtheory in Art and Nature.
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On a day trip with my friend Lizz.

She drove, I slept.  It was pretty cush.

We struck a glancing blow to a sunrise in Portsmouth, then headed on up to The Kank(amagus Highway) and the trailhead for Champney Falls, a cool spot where, on a good year,  there are some radical ice climbs.

The weather was great for hiking, and my lame ankle held up well for the hour-or-so approach.  The trail was well packed and the walking was easy, though at times icy.  I focused on my footwork to avoid tweaking my damaged joints.

We got to The Falls in time to find a small group of guys top-roping thick ice at the left end of things:

It looked like great ice, thick and steep, but it wasn’t the thin stuff the place was known for.

We dropped our packs and broke out the cameras and started playing with the light.

Now, Lizz and I met each other as ice climbers, and we both have decades of mindful experience under our belts.  So it’s hard for us to stand around and watch  people climb, especially when they’re sketchin’ and looking insecure.

And these guys were.   It’s probably not evident in this photo to a non-climber:

…but Lizz and I were fairly crawling out of our skins watching them, and we made a tacit agreement to put our points back on and polish up our Mad Skillz so we might be of some use as role models in these situations in the future.

Anyway, here are a few more shots from the day.

Ice on a blue sky wall:

Dendritic icicles in the stream bed:

Frau B. setting up a shot:

…and what she saw:

…a distant Mount Tripyramid (we think. There are a ton of tightly-packed peaks in The Whites.)

We ended the day down at the Swift River:

…well-frozen, that.

Then we stopped at Rocky Gorge Scenic Area.   The footbridge over the river:

Not the best light, but it was what it was.

All in all, a great day, topped off with a quick dinner at a brew pub/smoke house, and a nice nap on the ride home.

Thanks, Lizz.  😉