Memorial Weekend 2015 will be third annual Grayson Highlands Bouldering & Stewardship Weekend. This is Saturday and Sunday, the 23rd & 24th of May. Volunteers will get free entry into the park on both days, and a free night of camping in our own volunteers campsite above the park office on the night of the 23rd. This year’s goals are super exciting and involve an entire new boulderfield! We will be improving a climber access trail to the Back of Beyond Area, GHSP’s newest boulderfield (one of the very best in the park) which already has seen 120+ new problems established. We will be cleaning off chalk the following day, and improving landing at some of the parks most popular boulders. the night of the 23rd there will be a raffle in support of the Southwest Virginia Climbers Coalition which will be helping with the event, and live music in the park by the Jay Birds! For more info, photos of the Back of Beyond, and a rough schedule please follow the link to the GraysonHighlandsBouldering webpage:
For over a year now Keith Shockley, Chris Grasinger and I -with help from SO many others from the Boone community and beyond- have worked toward our dream of opening a performance bouldering and fitness facility that will act as a hub for all things climbing in the High Country of beautiful Western North Carolina. We hope to help strengthen our climbing community with talented area route setters, an inspiring wall designs and climbing surfaces, and to also offer yoga, strength training, and massage through the facility. Please take a moment to check out our Kickstarter campaign page, watch the awesome video put together from our friends at Wonderland Woods, and if you’re able, please support the effort and help turn this dream into a reality by pledging and sharing this link with friends!
Here is the campaign page link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1456805322/creating-an-indoor-climbing-wall-in-boone?ref=nav_search
You can also tell friends that they can find the page by simply typing the word “climbing” into the Kickstarter search bar. Sender House will pop right up!
Last week I made a trip up to a new sandstone paradise in Southwest Virginia. The forecast for most of central Appalachia called for snow. But, if one location –geographically similar to Rumbling Bald in North Carolina- would be warm and dry, it would be this location. I drove through some intermittent snow showers near Boone, and then quickly entered drier and sunny conditions near Abingdon VA. Onward into Virginia’s coalfield Appalachian Plateau region the snow again picked up. I knew that as soon as I descended into the steep gorge, sun reflecting off of steep, higher walls and the lower river would share the sun’s radiant warmth and bouldering would be perfect. I was right! Crunchy, dry leaves and dry, friction-plenty stone was the day’s theme for me… Or so it seemed.
I made it to the days objectives. One boulder housing a steep, taller, unclimbed arête was basking in the sun and looked both difficult and inviting. Another boulder with three unclimbed, beautiful, tall lines was begging to be climbed. I had pulled the crux of one of these lines before and it promised a v7 grade, with a lower start being somewhere around v9. The other two will be near the same difficulty or a bit harder. I spent about 20 minutes moving a massive decaying log from the landing area that hindered safety of these climbs. When nearly finished with the log, snow suddenly began falling. While busy lifting and shifting, snow clouds had swiftly darkened the sky; my snow storm had caught up with me from Boone. Before I could warm up the boulders were coated with brilliant white. My pads, gear bags, shoes and socks were mostly saturated. Within minutes visibility had shifted from unlimited to white-out at 20ft. A blizzard defined.
I packed up my gear and huffed it onto the trail. By that time, my three crashpads were more akin to waterlogged sponges than the normally light, foam squares that are already somewhat cumbersome to navigate. I knew my hike out was already set for treachery so I took some extra time to explore future climbs and to enjoy the scenic surroundings. Why wouldn’t I? There is something impossibly beautiful and incapable of description associated with Appalachian snow storms. The hushed, muffled sound-scape and softened edges of the forest’s silhouettes are in opposition to autumn’s loud leaves and straight lined horizons. Howling wind gusts descending from the ridges, not yet upon you, but barreling down the holler in your direction give a foreboding warning to prepare yourself for the upcoming gale. Familiar landscapes take on a new, starkly dramatic contrast but retain a comforting character in the peaceful snow. Despite the blustery and frigid winter wonderland around me, I had to de-layer down to my tee shirt on the hike out. The now-saturated Mist Mountain Magnum and two other pads were incredibly heavy, and the additional gear compounded my difficulty. Numerous failed attempts at negotiating frozen stream crossings were surely comical to on looking grey squirrels and chipmunks. My legs were sore for days afterwards.
After this location, I still had an unplanned half-day at my disposal. I ventured to High Knob to do some work in the snow. High Knob being the opposite for winter conditions (a high mountain that retains snow for a week or two after lower elevations dry out) I assumed the drive would be challenging and the snow deeper. Right in my assumption, I slid my way up to the Holy Moly boulder. I couldn’t resist trying to climb a problem I named “Holy Moly”(V4FA) a couple of years ago. Stunningly beautiful with a massive hueco high on the block’s face, the technical 18ft climb proved difficult with numb hands. I declined topping the line out in the snow and finished up with a hike to the Labyrinth. At the Lab, I wanted to move some brush and clean up a proud, sure-to-be classic problem when the winter thaws. I worked for a few hours, and learned that my good friend Brad had made it home and wanted to do some training on his basement climbing wall. Psyched to climb in Wise County, I slid back down the mountain and pulled plastic with good company. Driving home I wasn’t a bit disappointed to leave my new projects still unclimbed. It was an unexpected day of exploration and boulderfield work, and I gained a new appreciation for dry Misty Mountain crashpads and crispy warm conditions. Without the unplanned circumstances of the day, I wouldn’t have otherwise had time to clean up new problems, or have experienced the cold, beautiful setting of this stunning boulderfield under new a fallen snow. It wasn’t a bad way to spend a day in Appalachia.
My last two sessions out here in Boone have been great. Aside from finishing “Sunday Service”(V11) at Grandmother, I also got to climb several other fun ones that day. I had never climbed the ultra-classic “Shinister”(V6), and with Keiths expert beta and watching Lennons solid technique, I was able to flash the heady line early in the day. The big moves and thin feet really keep you thinking all the way to the top. In the afternoon we trekked up to the Mighty Mouse Boulder at the top of the mountain. I cant stress how much fun this block is! I tried to do what I thought was the V9 extension to “Klamper” but it turned out that I was doing some sort of lower variation to it. It felt pretty hard! Aside from not doing the correct line, I did get to do several nice laps on Klamper itself, which is one of my all time favorite V8s at Grandmother Mountain. We finished the day lower on the mountain in the Valley of the Kings where I got to flash the awesome “Darkman”(V5), and send an great “Unknown” (V8) roof line to the right of it that Dean Melton recommended to me earlier in the day.
Yesterday morning I met up with local boulder crusher -and all around awesome guy- Carson Bakker at Lost Cove. He had his sights set on an area test piece “Invisible Man”(V9) and I really wanted to do “Chapter 13 Sit”(V10). We warmed up on “Patio Arête”(V4), “Lunitic Arete”(V3) and the other multitudes of amazing moderates before setting to work. I couldn’t resist the awesome moves on Carson’s project and jumped into the session. We both punted off of the top, I right after him, far and above the lower crux. We decided to rest up a bit, and after regaining some energy Carson topped out the problem. I think I need to pick up a bag of Cherries and Berries to snack on, as he crushed Invisible Man directly after munching down on them. Psyche was high, but I decided not to try it again in effort to save some skin for “Chapter 13 Sit.” I did well but the sharp tooth in the start hold chewed a painful, raw circle into my middle finger. I nearly sent the line, and could list many excuses, but I didn’t have the fortitude to try it again. We moved to the next boulder.
Up the trail we stopped at a problem I tried a year or two ago called “It’s Not My Problem”(V9). This thing is crazy. The first two moves are crux, and I remembered it felt entirely impossible for me to make even a single move. I watched Carson’s close attempts and had to give it a go. I pulled on and to my total surprise it didn’t feel too bad. After a couple tries I hung on the tensiony and balancy moves and topped it out. This line was wonderful, and the high slopers were as perfect as could be.
On the drive back yesterday I saw that the early morning fog and freezing temperatures had frozen everything on Grandfather Mountain, leaving the top and back slopes of iconic ridge enshrined in white, glistening rime ice. The rugged, glistening, craggy profile of the range juxtaposed with the deep, bluebird sky was mesmerizing. I had to stop to take photo. I’m always thankful to be living here in Appalachia and in such an amazing place like Boone. A picture is worth a thousand words, and I think the last photo below can help sum up what Im getting at here.
Sunday, Feburary 9th 2015 I finally sent a boulder problem that frustrated me since 2012, humbled me since 2010, inspired me since 2009, and motivated me to push myself harder since first hearing it described. I heard rumors about a “chosen few” who climbed this wild boulder problem when I was flailing on the warm-up wall at my first indoor gym and considering a trip to the world class boulders of Boone, NC. I first saw the Great Roof wall several years later while on a Boone trip after watching videos of Nate and Rami working and eventually sending the line. I just touched the holds and laughed; my first successful climb of the same grade still many years in the making, far-and-away out of my mental realm of comprehension. Never thought it would happen. This was around the same time I told my friend Steve Lovelace that if I ever sent the V10 grade I would hang up my climbing shoes and “retire.” Sunday Service was always one of those “never gonna happen” hallmark climbs of the strong and mighty; a test piece fit only for Southeastern boulder legends.
The line’s then lofty status no longer holds true in today’s bouldering lexicon. Mutant (highly talented) athletes have flashed this line and new standards for what is “hard” or “soft” for Boone and the Southeast are always being elevated. Still yet, for me, even though I have now sent this personal wish-list climb, Sunday will forever be a powerful and meaningful sequence of holds. I think that after spending long enough pulling down on boulders, most all of us get to have these revelation climbs. Climbs we thought we would never do and then, suddenly, we stand at the top. I’ve had a few powerfully meaning, never thought it would happen, mental climbs. To name only a few, climbs such as “Pastafarian”(V10), “Ominous Roof”(V9), “SLS”(V10), “Outlaw”(V11), and “Senderella Sit”(V12), held my imagination and motivation on high for months or years, but in terms of time spent daydreaming and cursing, this one may take the cake.
Sunday Service was a full and total head game for me. Intimidating wouldn’t begin to describe it. In 2010 my friend Steve talked me into trying it. On that exploratory session I couldn’t do the first three moves, but to be honest I never expected to get that far. From 2010 to 2013 I tried it a few times and eventually figured out how to flail toward the jug from the sit start. I moved to Boone and from 2013 and 2014 I worked “Sunday Service” intermittently and with passing waves of motivation and frustrated avoidance. I eventually developed a mental/muscle memory complex where I had the dyno move dialed in isolation, but when attempting it from the start I would drop a foot to the pad when swinging out. I would do this every. Damn. Time.
I got so mad at this foot-dropping scenario that in the winter of 2013/2014 I stopped working Sunday Service entirely and picked up “Full Throttle” (V11) as a project and managed to send it in under a month. This was a great confidence booster and I moved on to the ambitious-for-me “Senderella Sit” (V12) which became an epic in itself (you can read all about that process a few posts back). After “Senderella” I again picked up Sunday in a session a week and a half ago. I tried it three times and nearly sent. A couple of days ago and finally pulled it all together.
Walking out with my good friends and local boulder crushers Chris, Keith, and Lennon I had set my mind to give it my all. On my second go I flew through the bottom sequence, shot the dyno to the jug, and my foot slid across the pad and I stepped off. Not again! I removed the pad, leaving bare rock below, and focused my mind. Third go I stuck the move and held on with a clean swing! I spun –one armed- a full 180 degrees getting a panorama of my friends that had my back and were rooting me on. I managed to control the violent spinning and swing, turned back around and continue on. I think I laughed the rest of the way to the top.
In the end I love problems like these. Ones for which you ruminate, dwell upon, and rehearse in your dreams. Ones that cause you to re-evaluate your methods and fine-hone your capabilities as a climber. Lines that test your resolve and acquaint you with your limits. It makes the sweet oh so much sweeter as you stand at the top and walk back down to the pads. Oh, and I sent Sunday Service on a Sunday. Magical.
Part of the formation of a natural diamond is the compression of carbon with pressure somewhere around 725,000 pounds per square inch. This snippet of Googled information, paired with the diamond-esque shape of the block, helped in naming my latest First Ascent in Southwest Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains: “Diamonds Are Forever”(V8).
This rig is killer! I really enjoy this location, being nearby to a convenient parking lot and amongst several other exciting sandstone blocks. Near the block are several steep faces, sheer roofs, highballs, and views for miles. I have loved this place since I drove out a few summers ago, and the saga for new boulders has continued to play out to the present. And it just keeps getting better and better!
I first explored the climbing potential of Flag Rock Park in Norton a few years ago, climbing several new lines, but shying away from the actual Flag Rock section as it had several signs warning against climbing at the actual, iconic “Flag Rock” formation. But, just a week ago, and with the help of local crusher Brad Mathisen and the recently formed Southwest Virginia Climbers Coalition (SVCC), the Town of Norton passed an MOU allowing climbing in Flag Rock and may make portions of the area a designated town climbing park! While there will no doubt still be specific restrictions applying to FR formation proper, and possibly the overlook rock, the Town Council and Board of Tourism are openly welcoming climbers to the park as soon as the needed infrastructure is in place. I am excited to be helping the Town negotiate this process, and to be climbing, documenting, and helping with trail layout for the Flag Rock and surrounding climbing zones. With this all in motion I have dedicated a lot of time to exploration and climbing at Flag Rock.
One of the most exciting locations within this area that I have climbed so far is the Flag Roof area, with a 20ft horizontal roof housing several lines full of ample jugs and rails, and the tunnel-like corridor which leads to the suspended and stunning Forever Block where Diamonds Are Forever can be found.
Brad lead me to this block on my last session here, and after a long day of working and sending multiple new (and spectacular) power-endurance Flag Roof lines, I simply didn’t have enough strength left or light in the day remaining to link the moves for Diamonds Are Forever. The line remained in my thoughts until a few days ago when I returned.
The Forever Block is a wedged boulder between two huge rock formations. The narrow, rounded, bottom tip of the boulder is suspended just a few inches off of the ground. The one, singular line starting steeply at its base is “Diamonds Are Forever” (V8). Starting at the steep base of the block on a jug and a large pinch you commence the compression sequence. Squeezing five or six steep edges/pinches and their accompanying long right angle corner together, you work to the lip of the block at wide, confident corner pinches. At the wide corner pinches, you can either throw with a big dyno or work a technical, tension toe-hook move to a distant rail high on the face. I chose the latter. After this, a few balanced and fun moves lead to a high, flat jug at the top for the mantle.
I returned to send this project a few days ago. Driving up the mountain I knew the gate to the park would be closed, so I was prepared to hike in with several pads in tow. I huffed my way along the paved park road for about a mile. In the saddles of the ridgeline that the road traversed there was still plenty of snow. Walking down the fire road, and upon reaching the bouldering zone,I was happy to find the exposed and lofty sandstone blocks had collected and shared the winter sun’s radiant warmth. No snow and totally dry blocks.
The chilly air promised perfect conditions, and the send was quick! Sending a project in quiet solitude is one of my favorite parts of exploring, discovery, and climbing uncharted boulders. No doubt this problem is an area classic, and it will surly remain on my top favorites list for compression climbs. I sent several other new, easier lines and opened many projects for my next trip to Flag Rock. Most exciting were all of the highball lines which will require some brushes and way more pads. Appalachia at its best!
I finally got to check out some new-to-me blocks here in Boone NC; something I’ve wanted to do for a while now. I spent so long working “Senderella Sit”(V12), training, running laps on classics, and traveling to develop new boulderfields that I was ecstatic to gain access to some newer rock.
There is a clutch of lesser traveled blocks off of Hwy 221 that a couple of friends showed me a couple weeks back. Rami started working a new and wild roof line there, and Taylor was working a cool, tallish vertical face. I shot some photos of Rami and Taylor and I started in on a sit start to a V7/8ish higher start on a long pinch loaf. Taylor finished up the sit, and I couldn’t
pull it together that day. It was pretty tough, fun, and I couldn’t quit thinking about it. I returned with my friend James a few days ago and finished it off. James and I trekked down to the block and warmed up on an amazing V4. I wish I knew the name of it! Then Taylor magically appeared to root us on and cleaned a new classic while we worked it all out. James and I both climbed what we now know to be an older V8 called “Killaz” (terrible name to a stellar line) which involved two beefy pinches, slopers, and a taller easy slab. I then set in working “Bread loaf.”
“Bread loaf” (V10) sit starts in a large undercling chunk and off the start is a truly massive move. A disclaimer to this problem should be stated: if you are massively tall, this one will feel like a V9 as you can skip the difficult two moves that folks 6’3” and under have to pull. I, being 5’10” with a plus-two ape index, have to do the two extra moves and these are the ultimate crux of the line.
I needed to lunge up to a thin, frictionless, less than half-pad sloped edge in the back of a useless sloper rail. This move is a full wing-span cross-over reach. It is a blind throw, and the hold is in the full sun. Needless to say, it is a complicated move, but rehearseable and not too low percentage. After the first move is latched I had to lock it off and stand into the roof to compress, hike up a high foot, and bump into better territory. From there, you finish up a V7/8 line. I was stoked to top it out!
On our first session we all thought it was possibly a new sit when Taylor did it, but later learned it saw at least one or two ascents in the early 90s. I love learning about the strong history of Boone! I’m psyched to have added an ascent along with Taylor in 2015. While there could’ve been a few more ascents in between now and then, there certainly hasn’t been many, and it’s awesome to know I added another ascent to this rarely climbed Appalachian gem.