Thursday, September 29, 2011

Quality AND Quanitity at The 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell, Arkansas

Imagine how you feel at the end of a full day of climbing; the pleasant forearm and back ache, the tenderness of the skin on your fingers and toes, the craving for a cold beer and some tasty food. That's pretty much how I felt 8 hours after the starting gun went off at the 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell in Arkansas. But instead of giving in to fatigue I chugged some canned coffee beverage, scarfed down one of the turkey-hummous-veggie wraps I had pre-prepped to avoid energy bar burnout and dragged the rope over to our next pitch.

A few light snacks for a day of climbing

High Octane Fuel

My climbing partner extraordinaire Brittany Griffith had done the event three times before so had laid out a strategy that allowed us to climb 80 pitches each in the first 12 hours. I enjoyed the feeling of getting fired up and climbing moderates as fast as I could, and our technique was reminiscent of short-fixing on an aid route, meaning that we had to stay focused and not make any foolish mistakes.
Brittany and I at the starting line, feelin' fresh

Getting the rules of the game from event organizer Andy Chasteen

After nightfall I expected the climbing to feel much more difficult, but with the featured sandstone illuminated by the beam of my BD Icon headlamp, I could easily see all the features I needed. In fact, climbing in the dark forced me to focus on the terrain at hand rather than worrying about what was ahead, necessitating confident and decisive movement.

Despite the energy troughs and sore skin that accompanied the night shift, this was by far the most memorable part of the event. A womens team called The Cannibals climbed beside us for awhile, complete with crazy teased feather adorned hairdos, large and elaborate tatoos on their bare arms and legs and glow sticks taped to their quickdraws. They were scary. But not as scary as the huge Copperhead that was curled up on the trail, which was in turn not as scary as the dude I saw deliberately raise a watermelon sized rock over his head and drop it on the Copperhead, killing it instantly. I screamed like a girl when i almost put my hand on a Hobo spider on a climb, and Brittany got bitey ants inside her shirt and got chomped on the back. We climbed a route called Hairy Butthole Pussy Potter, which stuck in our fatigue-addled brains so much that we sang the route name and giggled maniacally for the next several hours.

Strange things lurk in the woods of Arkansas at night

Just as Brittany warned me it would, 3AM brought on a physical and mental low. I felt weak, unmotivated and unpsyched. I came close to pitching off a steep, short 5.10 and a nasty case of gut rot was causing me to fart audibly every time I pulled hard. We also had to move on to an area where there was no one else climbing (because we were out of routes, not because of the farting) meaning I could no longer sponge enthusiasm from other climbers. Clearly it was time to resort to chemicals. I washed down a triple dose of Ibuprofen with alternating glugs of Red Bull and PBR and moments later felt as perky as the body page of a Patagonia catalogue. The final 5 hours flew by, with low pitch counts but constant motion. The sunrise manifested as several seconds of a surreal orange dappled glow on the wall, and before long it was time to pack up and head down to the ranch to turn in our scorecards. Surprisingly I was way too fired up to sleep for hours after we finished climbing. Endorphins were coursing through my veins and I felt great. I am pretty sure the rest of the Patagonia team wanted to kill me when I suggested we head out climbing. After a dose of hot pizza and cold beer I finally took a nap. While I was sleeping an evil gremlin put sand in my eyes, rubbed the skin off my fingers and injected lactic acid into my arms and legs.

Desperate times call for delicious measures

The rest of the evening was a blur of awards ceremonies, slide shows, arm wrestling comps and dancing. At the 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell I learned that climbing for 24 hours straight when you don't really have to is actually pretty fun, as long as you have a great partner, some comfy rock shoes, a ton of quality stone, piles of water and food and 200 other participants and a bunch of volunteers keeping the stoke up.

Awards ceremony in the barn loft

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Dolomites - Italy installment 3 of

OK, I know this post is tardy beyond any reasonable limit of tardiness. I'd like to think that in Italy, they would understand. I've had a summer full of wine to drink, rocks to climb, people to guide, events to attend... sitting in front of the computer just hasn't factored high on my list of priorities. At any rate, I'd like to seal the deal on this last installment of stories on my trip to Italy before I move on to some future posts already brewing.

Our trip to the Dolomites was brief, and really did not scratch the surface of the climbing there is to be had there. We arrived prior to the true climbing season, so many of the roads leading to the prime objectives like the coveted Tre Cime were still closed. We did, however, get a taste of the surreal beauty of the landscape in the Dolomites, and were inspired to return for some future play time.

We arrived in Cortina in the late morning, and were blown away by the sleepy state of this glitzy resort town. It was like arriving in a ghost town version of Banff, Whistler or Aspen; designer boutiques, cobblestone streets, cosy wine bars, galleries devoid of people and tourists. Many of the hotels and stores were closed for the off season. We were happy to avoid the hubub, and enjoyed strolling the quiet streets of Cortina, inhaling the crisp, cool mountain air after the oppressive heat and throngs of tourists in Arco.

Our first climbing days were spent on the Cinque Tori (5 towers) located a 15 minute drive from Cortina. The geometry of this group of spires is amazing, and the rock offers 1 to 4 pitch routes on mostly decent rock with a super short approach and fantastic alpine scenery.

Taking a stroll in the alpine, with the Cinque Tori in the background

Climbing on the Cinque Tori

Our second day at the Cinque Tori we had a lovely picnic after completing the first of our objectives, a 4 pitch 7a. As we got up to walk to our next climb, I began feeling woozy and before long, I was barfing up lunch, breakfast and everything in between. Something in the picnic had poisoned me, and I think it was the canned tuna. That ended our day pretty fast, and I spent the next 24 hours bedridden and in rough shape.

When I sprung feebly back to life the next day, we agreed it was wise to avoid climbing until I got some energy back, so we took a scenic drive and a small walk in the vicinity of the Tre Cime. We enjoyed the beautiful signage. Billboard companies in North America should go for this style I think.

The Tre Cime... drool.

The next day I was feeling revived and ready to tackle some climbing, so despite an iffy forecast we headed up to the Primo Spigolo for a 7 pitch 7a. A group of four older German climbers arrived at the parking area at the same time as us, and matter-of-factly began racing us to the base of the mountain. Evan began chatting with them to see if they were doing the same route as us, which looked a bit unlikely given their equipment. But they assured him they were doing the same route as us. Disappointed and not wanting to climb under a party of four on the somewhat loose looking limestone face we began to discuss alternative options. At the base of the route, the Germans encouraged us to follow them, stating that there was no loose rock and that they were going to solo the first pitch anyway. Evan looked at me with a quizzical look on his face. The first pitch was one of the cruxes of the route, so it seemed like a bit of a stretch for these grey-haired folks to be soloing it. But it IS Europe, so you never know! Turns out they were doing a moderate route adjacent to ours, but Evan and I had a few good moments of being half impressed, half horrified about witnessing this posse soloing 5.11+.

We started up the route as the sky became darker and darker. The climbing was well protected wherever it was tricky, but run out and loose everywhere else. On the final pitch, with the weather coming in, I pulled off a huge rock and thought I was going to kill some people below us. Trying to stop the rock with my foot, I sliced my ankle and squished my finger, and was in poor spirits at the top. As the wind picked up and the rain drops began, we started the rappel, nervous about getting down the loose face on a rap line that was separate from the route. As Evan made his way down the second rap, the rope above him knocked off a huge microwave-oven sized block, which narrowly missed him as I screamed "ROCK". Both of us were shaken, and as I began rapping down the pitch I noticed the tag line had been badly damaged. Yikes. A few raps on a jammed-knot on our lead line later, we made it to the ground and I hobbled on my sore ankle back to the car. We were ready to high-tail it to France to finish the trip with some sport climbing in the Gorges du Loupe.

Hiking up beside the Primo Spigolo

Climbing the final arete, right before I pulled off a big block.

All you need is love (and your rope to not get cut in half)