Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Pittsburgh Marathon

Finally, I have decided I am going to run another road race... the Pittsburgh Marathon.  Help me make it happen here with the Animal Rescue League.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

AMGA Certification

I would like to proudly announce that I am now an American Mountain Guides Association certified Single Pitch Instructor!  What this means is that I am trained to teach beginners to climb and rappel.  I can handle one on one clients or groups of people.  This can be sport, trad, or top-roping in a single pitch environment.  I can manage top-access areas or bottom-access areas.

There is a big difference between what I am trained to do and how recreational climbers take out their friends and teach them to climb.  For me I not only need to keep everyone comfortable and safe, I have to make sure they are challenged at the right level, and they are having fun.  Additionally, when someone hires a guide, the day is dedicated to maximizing the experiences of the client. 

I was amazed at how much I learned.  Certainly I already knew how to climb and rappel, set up top-ropes, and lead climbs.  I have always considered myself a relatively well versed climber.  However, I soon discovered there was a lot I didn’t know I didn’t know.  Contrary to popular belief there is no prescribed AMGA method.  The AMGA way is whatever is quick, efficient, and makes no sacrifices in safety.  I won’t go into the technical specifics here, but suffice to say it has changed the way I do many things – even in my own personal climbing.

I took the course in September.  It was 3 days long, and each day was packed with learning.  There was a good mix of doing stuff hands on and talking.  It was handy to keep a notebook to write much of it down.  My head was swimming with information by the end of each day.

I decided that I wanted to go ahead with the certification and scheduled the assessment for the weekend after Thanksgiving at Seneca Rocks.  I spent most of October studying, training, and utilizing the new techniques with clients.  The weekend after Thanksgiving arrived soon and it ended up being cold and snowy.  The two other candidates were Corey and Cody who are both Outward Bound instructors/climbing specialists from North Carolina.

The assessment was not as bad as I thought it would be.  The instructor Massey Teel kept everything fairly casual.  The other 2 candidates both seemed solid in their skills and knowledge.  On day one we had to demonstrate our technical knowledge, efficiency, and proper use of techniques and equipment.  It was a bit crazy because we had to do 100 different things, and just messing up 1 or 2 of them could be cause for a fail.  The second day we were working with some inexperienced climbers.  We planned and executed a day of guided climbing with them.

All 3 of us ended up passing which is pretty rad.  Previous to having the certification I had guided through Exkursion, but I believe this certification definitely gives me more confidence to take out clients (especially 1 on 1) and give them a good climbing experience.

Ice Screw Sharpening

We've all done it.  Leading an ice climb, forearms pumped, calves burning, and it's a long way down.  Time for an ice screw.  The ice looks thin here.  Well, it's at least better than nothing.  So you grab your shortest screw and start cranking.  Cool!  Look's like it will go the whole way....crap! 

So now you have an ice screw that needs sharpening.  It's easy enough to touch up a tooth with a file, just try to make it look like the other non-damaged teeth.  But what happens is the tooth you just sharpened is a tad shorter than the others.  The screw works fine but you notice maybe that it takes an extra turn to get started.  This is where you are probably better off putting your file away and finding someone who really knows what they are doing.

I looked through my ice rack and picked out three screws that needed sharpening and one that needed the teeth completely re-done.  A quick internet search and I found this article.  I ended up sending them to Jason Hurwitz at a nice screw.  He charges 8.50 per screw and 24.00 if it's really bad.  In addition he has other services like ice screw personalization and ice pick sharpening.

I sent the screws on October 25th and received them back November 29th.  It took awhile but I imagine this is a busy time for him.  The resulting screws are pretty ridiculously sharp.  In my opinion even sharper than new.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Gunks Trip



Joe leading Shockley’s Ceiling





Bonnie’s Roof Direct, it was HUGE



Joe pulls the last moves of Bonnies Roof Direct



Pitch 1 of Alphonse


Somewhat uncomfortable hanging belay on Alphonse


Starting the roof pitch of Alphonse


Joe pulling the roof on Alphonse




It was a long drive back, but it was worth it!


Monday, April 16, 2012

Spring trip to New River Gorge


Day 1


We are the ONLY car in the parking lot at Endless Wall on a nice weekend. 


Joe is rapping down the Fantasy rappel.  We would go on to climb Fantasy 5.8 and make a feeble attempt at Fantasy Face 5.12a.


Fantasy was an awesome climb.


Aesthetica 5.11c

For this trip we decided that we were going to pick a climb which is way too hard for either of us and “project” it. Meaning we would throw ourselves at it again and again over the course of months trying to get a little higher each time. Then with luck, send it in the fall.


The Undeserved 5.10c.  The name of this climb rang true as I attempted a lead before being ready.  I polluted the sanctity of this beautiful climb by hanging my ass all over it.  I did get to the top though, on the sharp end.  Unfinished business.



Joe seconds the Undeserved.

Day 2

We headed to Whippoorwill Wall in search of some more moderate climbs and a shorter drive home.  The day was beautiful, warm and sunny.


We arrived at a nice warm up area and each led Bongo 5.7.  As we were climbing some folks from Ohio started climbing near us.  It was funny to see all these people climbing up and down this face.


I dragged my rack down there so I was going to use it.  I lead Java 5.9, a really nice climb that should be done more often.


Joe nearing the top of Java.

At this point many of the sport climbs were taken.  Interestingly enough there wasn’t anybody else doing trad.  We quickly did Aimee’s Jugs 5.6 and then I noticed a nice looking corner…


Charlotte’s Corner 5.10a.  This climb was somewhat in your face with the triple roof but it was tons of fun!




It ended up being a fantastic weekend!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Rope Soloing Multi Pitch Climbs


Learning Curve

I felt like I was rediscovering how to lead.  In that way it was kind of exciting.  The same old routes at Seneca were once again a learning experience.  I was constantly discovering faster more efficient ways of doing things.  I still am.  If you are an experienced trad leader it will go much faster.  If you’re not an experienced trad leader I suggest you wait until you are. 


The first time I ever tried to rope solo I swear it took me at 2 hours to climb the pitch and an hour to set up the rigging.  Today I set up a rig and racked up in 15 minutes and climbed 5 pitches in 4 hours.  Practice really helps.  Analyze and visualize your system.  Then see what steps you can eliminate or combine to make it go faster.  See what gear you can eliminate to go lighter.  On the climb you should know what you need to do and when, and just do it.  Thinking wastes time.

Silent Partner

I believe that if you’re serious about lead rope soloing the Silent Partner is the tool to have.  The Silent Partner will do everything that it claims and nothing else.  It will not know when you need slack or when to take.  The Silent Partner is a really poor communicator, so keep an eye on it.


Those of you who think there is only safe and not-safe will not enjoy rope soloing.  Let’s face it.  You’re going out rock climbing – solo.  You’re not being safe, so let’s throw that out the window.  If you try be 100% safe you will probably quit because your safety systems are a pain in the ass. 

Aid Climbing

It’s good to know.  Retreat is difficult and will likely result in you leaving lots and lots of gear behind.


First off you’re carrying it all yourself. Secondly you’re gonna need a lot more. You need a normal trad rack. Then add your gear to rig your system. Then add a bigger rack to protect 60m pitches. Maybe add aiders, daisys, and ascenders. The rope goes on top.

Annoyance Factor

Rope soloing will never be just as smooth and easy as climbing with a belayer.  It doesn’t matter how smooth your system is.  Rope soloing is like climbing with a belayer who splits his time between falling asleep and short roping you.


The enjoyment that I get out of rope soloing is very similar to the satisfaction I get from solo hiking.  It’s all about being outside, enjoying the rock, the movement, being 100% self-sufficient.  Doing what you want to do whenever you want.  It is really great not having to yell commands at your belayer.  It is not about pushing myself, doing difficult climbs or trying to do max pitches.  I never rope solo because I don’t have a partner.

The 50/50 rule.

When rope soloing there are 100 things that can go wrong.  The good news is that 50 of them end in you not being able to get off the ground.  The bad news is that the other 50 end in death.  The kicker is that if something goes wrong you’re on your own.

Gephardt-Dufty at Seneca Rocks


I just got back from Seneca Rocks today where I climbed the Gephardt-Dufty route. It is a 5 pitch 5.7 with very much an alpine feeling. It ascends a long ridge buttress for about 500 feet.

The climb has tricky route finding because the buttress is quite wide in many spots, allowing a variety of options. When in doubt you’re probably off route, it shouldn’t ever feel harder than 5.7 (Seneca 5.7 anyway…). Additionally the rock has tons of lichen which is often right on the route. Which brings me to the fact that yes, there is a lot of loose rock on the route itself and on the ledges. Hand holds are not a problem since you can usually feel when the rock is loose. Foot holds are a problem, make sure you have a good handhold. Do not ever do this climb when other people are at the base. Make sure your belayer has room to duck. Test, every, hold.

That being said, it’s an awesome climb. You have probably the best view of all the climbs at Seneca, truly awesome. It’s a pity I didn’t bring my camera. It’s also quite adventurous if you’re into that kind of thing. It is probably the longest climb at Seneca!

The descent involves a 100 foot rappel on the east face of the southern pillar and a long mud/bushwhack/scree descent. It really sucks. You can avoid the crappy descent by stopping one pitch short of the top and going off the right to Climbing Punishment anchors.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Winter Seneca 2012

Every January the ECP Mountaineering School heads down to West Virginia for the Alpine Rock outing.  The outing consists of waking up at 1AM to hike 14 miles on a freezing cold, windy ridge to Seneca Rocks.  We then climb to the summit.  All while wearing 30-40 pound packs and mountaineering boots.  If that is not enough, we then bivy on the summit before rappelling down the next morning.
This year I was teamed up with Chris Ciesa, a first year mountaineering school student.  We hiked extremely fast on the approach through 10F temps and 20-30mph wind gusts and were one of the first teams to make it to the rocks.  We arrived at around 6:30AM or dawn.  Our route was Gunsight Direct 5.5 and our bivy spot was the summit block of the south peak.
Kristen and Chris take a “jacket on” break on the North Fork Trail.  The temps were frigid with blowing wind and snow.
Kristen walking the natural gas pipeline to the rocks.  A herd of horses is in the background.
Chris descends the rocky east face trail.
Scrambling up to lower Broadway ledge.
Sam leads Gunsight to South Peak.
Sam climbing with boots, pack, and gloves.
Hanging out in the notch.  Left to right: Chris M., Rich, and Chris C.
Self portrait midway up crux pitch of Gunsight Direct.
Chris about to start summit ridge traverse.
Shane and Chris successfully and safely on the summit.
Felix and Kristen hanging out on the summit.
A tent on the summit block?  Who knew!
On the summit with plenty of daylight to spare.
Felix and Kristen enjoy some freeze dry.
Winter Seneca with the mountaineering school, wouldn’t miss it for anything!