Its been almost 6 months since I last wrote about my personal climbing. I suppose it has been a mixture of my hectic jam-packed graduate school schedule. The smaller pockets of time that I have due to my schedule results in me instantly leaving the house to climb every chance I get (so less time for personal writing). Also, starting GraysonHighlandsBouldering.com and being the Administrator for Virginia on MountainProject.com has taken precedence over personal writing recently… But these are all excuses for being lazy and not writing something here and there. My friend Spencer from the RV Project asked if I have given up on Edges to ledges not long ago. “No” I thought, “But I suppose it does look that way…” The long story made short is that I have had my hands full and not given myself the time to write, but I have been quite active. I have spent my free time during the week working Boone Area projects, and the weekends developing new blocks in GHSP and Wise County VA. I’m on my holiday break now, and in effort to not forget all that I have been up to over the past half year, here are the highlights:
Back of Beyond:
Late in the summer I began exploring an area that I have long known about in GHSP, but had put off in terms of development due to all the other amazing projects and boulders in the park. I had no idea how much was there however… As the green leaves turned to brilliant fall colors, the blocks and boulders became more obvious and the true scale of the area revealed itself. The area is immense, and probably on scale with the entire LRT. Well over 40 new boulders with as many as 200+ new problems. This location confirms the need for a 2nd edition by itself. Not to mention that many of the boulders are some of the highest quality blocks in GHSP. I’m not positive, but I think that as I host the next GHSP Bouldering and Trail Day, I might like to construct a climber trail to this location to expedite the development and to make access a bit easier. Highlights of this place thus far have been “Hang Ten”(V1) “Wildside”(V5) “Point Break”(V6/7) “Method”(V6/7) “Thunder Mammal” (V4) “Dorothy” (V4/5) “Apex Crack”(V2/3) “Burning Bright”(V4) “Ignition Sequence”(V4) “Infinity Focus”(V5) “Grayson Grimace”(V6) “As I Am”(V8) “Thunder Crack Sit”(V8)… But the project list has grown and several V9/10/11 problems have been scrubbed and dialed. Weather is hindering their completion right now, but spring promises many new and hard GHSP classics in the Back of Beyond.
Living in Boone has been an amazing experience. Although I have not come close to getting the full “Boone local” perspective on the classics and clandestine areas, I have had the chance to work hard (for me at least), established test pieces during the week, and then developing new rock elsewhere on the weekends. It’s nice to have the option of working on established problems with confirmed grades, and then the ability to day trip to new boulders. It allows me to have a better idea of what specific grades feel like. I spent most of my free time during the month of September traveling to GHSP developing the Back of Beyond and Wise County blocks, then October and November working local Boone projects. I settled in on “Full Throttle” (V11) in November, and was able to send that one after 4 solid sessions (equating to a three week grad school timeframe). I really enjoyed this boulder problem as it was in no way “my style” (whatever that is… steep crimps?). Full Throttle is a gently overhung arête on one of the (if not THE) most iconic boulders on Grandmother Mountain. The problem sit-starts at the base of the striking arête on good holds. The sequence involves underclings, slopey pinches, REALLY bad feet, and a high-tension dynamic move to a really bad sloper. Keep all of that together and finish up an almost-highball top. I don’t know if James Litz or Chris Sharma did the FA, there are reports of both doing it first, but several have done it since. It is a true classic and I’m proud to have done it! I have since finished up several other proud lines in Boone, but I’m not sure what I will focus on next now that it is winter and Wise County first ascents are on my mind.
Robert E. Wone Award:
I was surprised to learn that I had been chosen to receive the Robert E. Wone Award for Exemplary Service for my work and climbing in GHSP. Never in a million years would I have ever thought that the Governor’s Commission or the State of VA would award a climber an honor of this caliber. The Wone Award is given to one person each year for service in Virginia. I received this award in recognition of the new bouldering trail I helped orchestrate in GHSP, for sharing and encouraging VA’s youth to experience the outdoors, and for writing the GHSP Bouldering Guidebook. I am very proud and feel quite honored to be the 2013 recipient of the Robert E. Wone Award, and it is something I will always cherish.
Letter from the Senate:
As a follow up to the Robert E. Wone Award, about a month ago I opened a congratulatory letter to me from Senator Charles W. Carrico. I am not an overly political person by nature, although I do enjoy a good debate here and there, but I thought that this was pretty cool. Not so much that a senator sent me a letter, but that in the letter the word “bouldering” was used a few times… I mean, how many times do you think that a senator has used the word “bouldering” before? I’m pretty psyched to be involved with that political vocabulary.
“Wise Boulderfields” is a new addition to the bouldering development love of my life. Granted, I feel kind of bad having a new area that I can say competes with Grayson Highlands for my title of “best bouldering in Virginia” but this place certainly does. What eases my emotions for that title is that Wise bouldering is the antithesis of GHSP bouldering. Where GHSP excels in warmer months with its steep faces, high elevations, cool climates, and crimpy, edgy, not-slopey, volcanic characteristics, Wise is the bouldering opposite. Wise Bouldering, specifically High Knob area, is host to seemingly endless high crests of ridge-top sandstone outcrops. These outcrops have beautiful channels and blocks of Stone Fort/HP40-esque cliffs and boulders. With high friction composite sandstone and ribs of iron snaking through the texture, these blocks are a dream come true. Slabs, Vertical faces, roofs, arêtes, slopers, pinches, and plenty of wild pockets and iron features. Within a two hours drive of each other, you can climb endless numbers of boulders year-round (there are several other awesome smaller areas around of course, but these two are truly destination worthy locations). GHSP in the warm months, Wise in the cold.
Over the summer I stumbled upon a handful of pictures from my friend Amanda who lived in the area. She shared some info with me and sent a rough topo listing a few problems she had done at a really cool cluster just outside of town. She was obviously psyched, and encouraged me to check the place out. The topo she gave me had a 5 or 6 projects that looked cool, and a few really nice looking lines that she had cleaned and finished up. I decided to make the trip up in late August, visiting and crashing at Natural Tunnel State Park with my good buddy Seth Guy. I stayed for two days and discovered more amazing rock on that trip than I would have ever thought possible. From the locations that she had pointed out, I drove further up the road and stumbled upon what is now known as the Labyrinth. I have made numerous trips since then, and never have I returned without finding more new boulders.
I climbed many problems on my first trip to the area, doing projects that were listed on the topo and sending a few other beautiful new lines at the park. The Labyrinth, on up the road truly blew my mind. Massive boulders and passageways between towering sandstone faces; all in high, tight concentration. Most of which were either super committing highball lines, or shorter top rope and trad routes. The last day of my first Wise trip was rained out, but I couldn’t resist exploration. With petrichor hanging in the air and freshly dripping boulders, I must have spent five or six hours meandering through the ridge top Labyrinth and surrounding crags.
My return trips have introduced me to an amazing group of local climbers. Shayne Fields, Brian Jones, Adam Wells, Brad Mathisen, Amanda Smith, and many others. I was shown another boulderfield that Brian Jones developed called Cliff Mountain and learned of the route development and history of the Lab, and the nearby “gorge.” Shayne, Brian, and others have put up numerous routes in at the Lab and at the Gorge, and Shayne has nearly single handedly constructed mountain bike trails throughout the area. Amanda has put up several cool problems at the Labyrinth and the first small cluster. Brad Mathisen has just recently started developing boulder problems at Camp Rock and the Lab and exploring the area, but with his passion for the sport he will no doubt be a major developer of the mountain in the near future.
I retuned and climbed with many of these folks and climbed many Cliff Mountain classics from Brian Jones, and also put up several other cool ones at the Lab and on the Holy Moly Boulder. In a phone conversation with Shayne, he told me of a place that might be cool to check out called Osborne. After emailing with my friend Brad and Jason, we decided to scope the place out, but not before climbing at even more blocks that Brad had just discovered. It was a brumous, early December day (Friday the 13th) with a light skiff of snow on the forest floor. Despite the frozen moss on most of the top outs, we were able to put up five new boulder problems that afternoon. We were all shocked at how good both locations were. Brad had found amazing boulders in a drainage and formation called Camp Rock, and when we explored Osborne, it turned out to be the most unbelievable location yet. We felt numinous walking amongst the myriad of unclimbed boulders. We were, and still are, overwhelmed and inspired by the boulders we found just at those two locations, not including the expansive and numerous blocks at the Lab, Cliff, Reservoir, and Gorge… These blocks are some of the best boulders and crags I have ever seen… The story of Virginia climbing is continually being written, and we’ve just started a brand new chapter.