Thursday, July 24, 2008

We've Moved!

Don't worry, we're still in SoCal (for now). It's just the blog that's moved. After struggling with some of the more annoying and frustrating aspects to having our blog on Blogger (including added photos always being placed in the beginning of the post and having to be dragged into position), we decided it was time to move on.

So you can now find us at our new home on Wordpress.

I was able to move everything over quite easily, including comments. Also, posts are now categorized as "News", "Notes", "Trip Reports", "Tips", and "Guest Blogs", in addition to having all the tags that we already had on Blogger. Hopefully this should make it easier for you to find a specific trip report (just in case anyone does that) if you want.

We're also now burning our feed on feedburner. Click here to check it out and subscribe.

So check it out, change your feed/bookmark, and enjoy the new site!


Friday, July 18, 2008

Being a Better Belayer

So for many this may be old news, but a recent story has made me concerned about people misusing auto-locking belay devices like the Petzl GriGri or the Edelrid Eddy. A couple months ago, Splitter Choss and the Climbing Narc fostered some discussion about the "proper" way to use a GriGri. If you've not seen this video, created by Petzl, and you belay with a GriGri, I suggest you watch it:

The video shows 2 ways of lead belaying with the GriGri without taking your break hand off the rope. It also shows a 3rd method, which I think the majority of people I observe at sport crags generally use, where the break hand is taken off the rope to let out slack when the leader needs to make a clip. I think this was the way I was taught to lead belay with a GriGri and I have passed plenty of lead belay tests without being reprimanded, so my impression is that this is a generally accepted method of using the device.

The problem is that it isn't really an acceptable way to use the device. It fosters bad habits - I've seen plenty of belayers not returning their break hand to the rope, even when not letting out slack. It encourages the idea that it's ok not to hold on to the break rope, which is a bad habit to pick up if you also belay with a traditional (non-auto-locking) belay device or in the unlikely (but still possible) situation that the leader falls and the auto-locking belay device does not engage.

The reason I bring this up is that I recently heard of a bad climbing accident that occurred due to similar misuse of an Edelrid Eddy, which is an auto-locking belay device similar to the GriGri (it must be "pinched" so that the cam will not engage and slack can be let out). A climber was leading a sport route in Maple Canyon when he took a fall. The belayer did not have his break hand on the rope at the time. The Eddy did not catch on the relatively new 9.2mm rope and the belayer did not manually arrest the fall. The climber therefore took a 50-foot fall to the ground and suffered serious injuries, although luckily a full recovery is expected.

The moral of the story is clear: although auto-locking belay devices are great and make the life of a belayer much easier, they cannot be trusted absolutely to catch any fall. They do not grant the belayer the freedom to let go of the break rope.

When I encountered the discussion on the Climbing Narc's post, I was initially unsure that I even could change my method of belaying (I used to use the "bad" method, #3). I have quite small hands and I like to wear belay gloves, so I was unsure that the rope could still feed easily through my break hand while I was simultaneously pinching the belay device. However, Luke and I have both adopted method #2, which in fact works quite well, even with small hands and belay gloves. It requires a little more rope management so the rope will feed easily, but I think the increased safety is well worth this extra effort. I would never want to drop a leader because I was being a lazy belayer. I also think it's important, since I use a Reverso (just got the new one!!!) just as often as a GriGri, to foster good belay habits (i.e. not taking the break hand off the rope) rather than bad ones.

So to make a long story short, I wrote this post and brought up the video again because I think the biggest problem with auto-locking belay devices like the GriGri or the Eddy is a lack of knowledge. People just don't know that these devices are not a substitute for belay skills and safety. So now you know. Please think about the friends that you're belaying and make sure you're being a safe belayer.



Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bringing a Little More Green to the World

As you've already read, we were just out in New England for Adam and Kearah's wedding. Their wedding favors were pretty much the awesomest idea ever that I may just have to steal when my day comes around. Instead of silly, useless little gifts like "love spoons" (which Rebecca got as a favor at another wedding), they gave tree seedlings.

In case you didn't know, I LOVE TREES. I think they're pretty much the best thing ever. Apparently not everyone there loves trees quite as much as me, so a lot of the favors were left unclaimed. After already collecting my tree and Luke's tree, I decided to grab another two because I'd hate for these trees to go to waste (i.e. not get planted). I'm pretty sure I ended up with 3 western red cedars, my favorite tree ever and native to the wonderful Pacific Northwest. The 4th one is some sort of pine and it may have to grow a little larger before I can figure out what it is.

The main issue at hand: I live in SoCal. It gets to be over 100 degrees for several days in a row. It never rains. I don't think my Pacific Northwest cedars would appreciate this weather. So they're going to be indoor trees for now. I got each of them an 8-inch pot, filled it with soil, and arranged them in front of the window on my desk. Hopefully this should be good for them - moderate temperature inside my room, regular watering, and indirect sunlight.

And just so that my trees don't feel too out of place growing up in SoCal, I gave them names reminiscent of where I would find their wild relatives: 3 of my favorite PNW climbing towns for the cedars - Squamish, Index, and Mazama; and my new Washington home town for the fir, Poulsbo.

So hopefully I can keep my babies alive and plant them some day (when we live somewhere more appropriate).

Go hug a tree,


East Coast Crimping, a day in Rumney, NH

Rumney has to be one of my favorite sport climbing areas in the country. Beautiful rock tucked away in the rolling hills of New England. The various crags offer a variety of angles on interesting rock of many different colors. Climbing mid week we were able escape the Rumney scene that has developed in recent years.
It seems fitting that I returned to Rumney en route to my friend Adam's wedding for it was with him that I first visited Rumney. On my first and only other trip to Rumney Adam and I headed out for the 7+ hour drive from Bucknell on a Wednesday night. Some how we were both able to play hooky for a few days and wanted to get a bit of climbing in before the snow set in for the winter. We drove north through pouring rain too excited and stubborn to let the weather effect our mood. Despite almost two and half days of rain on a 4 day trip we had a blast, sent hard and vowed to come back to our unset projects.
This trip was to be my glorious return to Rumney and we sure had a blast. Lizzy and Rebecca had never been to Rumney and I was excited to show them the many fun climbs Adam and I had played on over a year previous. Our day started at Waimea and we had the cliff all to our self. The sun still hiding behind the rocks and we enjoyed to cool shade. The name sake climb and the easiest on the wall is Waimea 10d. This climb follows black water streaks up a vertical wall to a tricky crux on runnels and feet pointing the wrong direction.
Waimea sits next to some of the hardest routes at Rumney and while moderate in grade can be quite pumpy. In the second photo you can see Livin' Astro 14c, China Beach 14b, and Jaws II 15a. While not a great warm-up for those climbing 5.11 it was our only option. Lizzy was able to work through a trick top crux, ignoring my incorrect beta, and set despite a dizzying flash pump. Rebecca quickly worked her way up to the crux and could not figure out the sequence and took a nice clean lead fall. Working on her mental game she got back on the route and finished it up.
My main goal and unsent project from my last trip was Techno Surfing 12b. On my final burn last trip I had fallen post crux with only one draw between me and the anchors. While the technical crux is much lower there is one hard move right before the last bolt and then you are quite pumped making the final moves to the anchor. On my first try I wimped out at the crux and took. I was a bit out of my mental space and was not excited to see the same fixed draws on the route as the last time i had been on it almost a year and half earlier. I hung my way up the route and figured out all of the beta and lowered to rest. Lizzy was busy taking a nap recovering from our late night and day of travel so Rebecca went to work on Flyin’ Hawaiian (photo below). I had history with this line and was excited to see how it would feel. The start was quite bouldery with difficult moves over a rocky landing so we stick clipped the first two bolts. Rebecca worked through a good intro sequence but was falling off a strenuous left hand pinch. Lizzy woke up rested and excited to give it a go. She was able to refine the start beta and match the left pinch but could not keep body tension to get her feet up and make the next move. After many tries the ladies opted for some rest and I got back on Techno Surfing.

The first hard moves went well (photo below) and in no time I was resting below the crux bulge. I started off into the crux sequence and then the rope got stuck on my harness buckle while I was trying to clip. I dangled from the two handed jug and waved my legs around. Helpless to change it I heel hooked above my head and clipped. Energy sapped I forced my self to continue and made it through to the next ledge rest. Commitment and fast movement would be key for the last hard move. I crimped hard with my left hand committed and a few moves later found my self clipping the anchors.

Next I lead Flyin’ Hawaiian which was just as hard as I remembered and Lizzy and Rebecca top roped it. They both found it thuggish and fell at the tricky moves that gained the upper dihedral. Hoping to get in some more enjoyable for the girls we headed over to Orange Crush. This wall is steep at the top but offers some nice vertical lines in the middle of the cliff. I had hoped to link the full Black Mamba which Adam and I had done in two pitches but the top section was seeping. Technical moves on beautiful black rock make this route one of the best 5.11's at Rumney. The vertical small hold climbing allowed the girls to use their balance as they danced up this route. Rebecca enjoyed it so much she did it twice. Both Lizzy and Rebecca vowed to lead it when they return.I had time to finish up one more project and got on Captain Hook. It was a bit warmer and more humid at Orange Crush which was less than ideal for the small crimps on this route. After hanging the draws and remembering the beta I was able to send on my second try. The first crux deadpoint was much harder than I remembered but I was in control and only mildly pumped at the top crux. Also I found a left kneebar that allowed me to easily clip the anchors.

We were all tired and it was getting late so we got pizza in town. A nice treat after a long day of hard climbing! It was great to get back to Rumney and I cant wait to return!

- Luke

4 Reasons Why Alaska Rocks the Socks Off United

Luke and my recent travel to the east coast has got me thinking about flying. In this day of airlines that are expensive, limiting on your baggage, and charging you for any "real" food, I think it's ok to play favorites. You've gotta hold on to those few things that still make flying a good experience (i.e. being happy that you're not flying another airline).

(1) Baggage.
  • United: It's surprising how often they lose them. Once when my family was traveling back to Seattle from Florida our bags ended up in New Jersey. New Jersey!!! I've also had to physically GO to the baggage office to pick my bag out of a pile because they couldn't seem to find it there.
  • Alaska: Has never lost my bags. (Knock on wood)
(2) Food.
  • United: There is none and when there was, it wasn't very good. Although this seems like an airline standard these days.
  • Alaska: When they gave real food, it was great (like a piece of good coffee cake on a 1hr flight from Seattle to Portland). Now, even though you don't get much, they do give you milk and a warm (yes, warm) cookie on later flights.
(3) Lateness.
  • United: Although the occasional flight is on time, everything else is almost always late. Flying through Chicago generally guarantees you will be late.
  • Alaska: More often than not, I arrive early. (Although I'm usually flying between SoCal and Seattle, which makes things a little easier.)
(4) Mechanical problems.
  • United: Over 50% of the United planes I get on are delayed at least a little by them fixing some mechanical problem. More than once I've had to get on and off multiple planes as they change their minds about whether or not they could fix them.
  • Alaska: Maybe once or twice. I've never had to get off a plane to use another one because they just couldn't fix it.
Moral to the story? When flying on the west coast, fly Alaska. When flying across the country, expect suffering. When flying to Australia, fly Qantas - you get your own video screen (in coach) with tons of movies, TV, and games; they feed you a LOT, including yummy things like chicken curry and a little snack bag for overnight; and the flight attendants have Aussie accents.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Trip Back in Time: The Very Bad Day

Although we've got plenty of stories to tell about our recent trip to New England for climbing, visiting, and Adam and Kearah's wedding, I wanted to take a moment to recount something that happened to us a couple years ago.

It happened on July 11, 2006, and it was The Very Bad Day.

Summer 2006, I was living in the house of my friends John and Olivia, who run a guiding service called Northwest Mountain School. At this point in my life, I was still keeping alive the dream of becoming a rock guide - I had plenty of experience from guiding students in my high school and being a camp counselor at Camp Sealth, and I had my WFR certification. So I was trying to live the dream, living in Leavenworth, hanging out with the guide crowd, and not working... Luke, meanwhile, had decided to take a job in Bellevue, so we were both in Washington for the summer! (Although we were 2+ hours apart, which seems to be a common element...) Luke had spent the weekend with me in Leavenworth and had gotten up early (5:30ish) on Monday morning to drive to work in Bellevue.

En route to Snoqualmie Pass, Luke had just driven over Blewett Pass when a deer ran out into the road. The collision of the deer and Luke's beloved Justy totalled the car. Via a variety of phone calls from passersby and a state trooper, I got the message that I needed to go pick up Luke because he'd had an accident. I didn't realize that he had no cell service where he was, so I was terrified that something really bad had happened.

So I drove up to Blewett Pass and picked up Luke, who was safe and uninjured if a little shaken. We headed back to J & O's place in Leavenworth so he could make some calls to his insurance company and his mom.

The Justy, post close encounter of the deer variety

A little later that day, we realized that we needed to head back to the Justy to retrieve a couple more things, including the stereo, which belonged to Hartley. So we headed up SR-97 again. I was following a stationwagon going a little below the speed limit about a mile before the pass, when the stationwagon swerved aggressively into the left uphill lane. Luke yelled "tire, tire, tire", and I had a split second view of something large and black rolling towards me before it hit us as I was trying to swerve left out of the way. The impact of the tire caused the airbags to go off, but the car continued left through the other uphill lane and the the downhill lane, rolling onto the passenger side and hitting the rock embankment.

I said, "This is a very bad day." Then Luke helped me push open the driver door and we climbed up and out (a weird thing to do indeed) of the car, with me shouting at Luke to take out the car keys (something I'd remembered you were supposed to do), triggered by the eerie sound of the CD player still playing Jason Mraz.

I don't really remember the order that the next series of events happened, but I know that we were trying to take everything (all my climbing stuff and some of Luke's climbing stuff) out of the car, I was sitting on the gravel on the side of the road, shocked and crying, and Luke and a series of helpful people were putting out my car (yes, the engine was on fire).

R.I.P. RAV...

What happened was this: the dualy drive tire (2 tires and connecting metal parts) of a semi-truck coming down the highway from Blewett Pass came off the truck and started rolling down the highway. After trying to run down his tire to nudge it off the road, the truck was out-speeded by the tire, so he pulled over. The car in front of me saw the tire, so he swerved. I had barely any time to react, so my car, going uphill at 55mph, collided with the tire, which was coming downhill at something like 70-80mph. The impact totalled the car.

Some important parts appear to be bent.

A lot of people were wonderful and stopped to help us. There was the Homeland Security guy who helped put the fire out before rushing back to his armored van (he just happened to be there, we think he was transporting a suspect or something), the other people with fire extinguishers, the lady who comforted me and used her analog cell service to call for help, the truck driver (whose truck the tire belonged to) who also donated his fire extinguisher and information, the EMTs who offered to give us a ride back to John and Olivia's in the ambulance since we no longer had any transportation, and Jeff and Kristen, who lent us their van to drive to Wenatchee to get Luke a rental car so he could get back to work.

Notably absent from this group of people was that car that swerved before me, which sped off after the accident. Maybe they thought it was their fault, but whoever you are, you lost a LOT of karma points that day.

So ended the wonderful service of Luke's Justy and my '97 RAV4. Although we were sad to use them, we also felt incredibly lucky to be alive and, even better, uninjured. Luke got a little piece of glass in his knee from the broken passenger window, but that was the only injury. To this day Luke still gets extremely nervous around deer and I still get probably even more nervous around semi-trucks, especially on hills. Apparently accidents like this are not rare - plenty of people have been killed by accidents caused by tires coming off semi trucks.

So I guess the moral to the story... beware of deer during the pre-sunrise and sunset witching hours and GO AHEAD AND PASS that slow stationwagon in front of you instead of trying to be conservative - it could save you and your car.

Safe driving, everyone.


Maine Wedding

Adam, one of my best friends and climbing partner from Bucknell got married this past weekend. Lizzy and I flew out to the east coast for the ceremony and a bit of pre-wedding climbing.

We were able to see my mom in Boston on Wednesday for dinner and then drove up to Rumney Thursday morning with Rebecca who flew in from Detroit. A nice storm on Wednesday night dropped the temps about 20 degrees and made the summer a bit more bearable.

It was still a bit humid during our day in Rumney with a large helping of bugs. Regardless it was a great day of climbing and I was able to finish off some projects. More posts about that later once we get all the photos together.

The wedding up in rural Maine was spectacular and it was good to see many friends from Bucknell. We are scattered all over the country now and it is tricky to get everyone back together. From California to Texas, Maine to Michigan, Massachusetts to North Carolina, everyone has spread out from humble Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.
I just wanted to give my best wishes to Adam and Kearah Donato who are off in Hawaii enjoying the Sun, Sea and Sand!

You two are great and I am sure the years to come will be amazing!

- Luke