Bouldering in Joshua Tree

Bouldering in Joshua Tree
Ronnie 15 feet off deck on the classic White Rastafarian.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Southeast Climbing Adventure Pt. 1 - Takedown of the Nemesis Rigs

Things have been off to another running start this year! It has been really exciting and I am staying super stoked doing adaptive clinics across the country, working on the USA Paraclimbing committee and continuing to continue to pursue my own climbing endeavors as well.

I routinely travel up through the Southeast, and even though the climbing up there in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee is approx. 9 hours away from Florida it is certainly my set of "local crags". I got the opportunity through Catalyst Sports, a non-profit organization based out of the Atlanta, GA area to come up and be the lead instructor at an adaptive climbing clinic they were hosting at Stone Summit Climbing and Fitness, the largest climbing gym in the country. Atlanta has always been an area that has been prime for an adaptive climbing clinic, and I was excited to take this opportunity and get some outdoor climbing in at the same time. I have been lucky to have some awesome climbing friends from across the country, and have found myself rolling with an "entourage" on most of my climbing trips. This trip I got a chance to link up with my friends Mark and Andrew.

Mark on the classic "The Wave" (V6)

Our first stop was the boulder field at Rocktown outside of LaFayette, GA. Progressing as a climber has always been a focus of mine, and has taken many variations over the past few years. I remember my first trip to Rocktown exactly four years ago in 2009. I had a climbing prosthesis, but was still primarily climbing without one and most likely bouldering V4 at the time. At the time I did not realize how subtle some of the differences would be in my style going into the future. There are two boulder problems that really stick out in my mind from this trip, The Orb (V8) and Croc Block (V5). The Orb was the hardest boulder problem I had tried at the time, and I remember putting burns onto it and barely being strong enough to get through the roof section. I remember thinking that it was such an amazing piece of rock that I wanted to climb it one day, and it still brings back fond memories of the people we were there with and some of the good times we had. I was so sore for the rest of the trip after trying that problem that I was not really able to complete much of anything else.

My original campus beta. In hindsight not my brightest idea....

We also made it to the very end of the boulder field in Rocktown, and I remember looking at one of the area's gems, Croc Block (V5). It seemed within my reach, as I had sent one of my first V5's that trip. The beginning section was difficult, but I have always had a certain amount of brute strength and I was able to get through the bottom. The crux move revolves around a right heel hook, which I was able to place, but I always wondered why it seemed impossible when I was doing the move the same as everybody else (my hips were completely out of balance). I did not send either of these problems then, or for a very long time afterwards, but they have always been in the back of my mind.

The sculpted sloping rails on Croc Bloc. 

Fast forward four years, I have still continued to push my climbing forward technically, and have now began to analyze and appreciate the subtle differences in balance and control of my hips that the prosthesis gives me (along with being a hell of a lot stronger). Croc Block was first up for the day, still having alluded me all these years despite being well within my ability level according to its grade. Back in the fall I had finally been able to get further on this climb and get established and begin to establish tension with the heel hook at the crux (the prosthesis helps me shift and balance my weight). The next move was still HUGE!! I have made huge leaps and bounds in my technical climbing, and I was finally able to break down the subtle nuances of this climb and use my body positioning to be able to crank up into the next hold. I conjured up the "reckless abandon" that the guidebook calls for, got pissed, and stuck finger flake that had been alluding me all these years. A four year battle had been put in the books and it could not have felt better.

Crushing Croc Bloc by pulling in the heel and toe that used to be impossible for me...

Next up was The Orb. This is a climb that I started trying this fall for the first time since 2009. I knew I had to get way stronger to be able to accomplish this goal, and in November I knew the time was right to go after it. After quickly being able to link together the boulder problem in halves, I started getting stuck in the middle coming from the bottom. It took me multiple trips, and three different evolutions in beta to be able to figure out how to do this move consistently. The sloping holds on this problem are very friction dependent, so we came out with the work lights to illuminate the boulder and try it at midnight in the 30 degree weather. I ended up having a heartbreaker off the top, matched on the sloper almost getting to the "thank god" jug. I knew I was close.

Ideal temps, had to stay moving and motivated. 

Work lights illuminating the orb our first night. 

After sending Croc Block the following day I knew I was ready to go on a rampage and end all of these epics that were sitting on my shoulders. We immediately went to The Orb, and my second try of the day I had one of those moments where hundreds of burns of frustration and muscle memory from trying the moves over, and over, and over all melted into a moment of complete focus and energy that culminated in topping out the boulder in complete shock! There was nothing that was going to stop me from getting to the top, not even my leg falling off while humping my way up on the mantle. 

First day on it in November 2012. 

Feeling like I am on top of the world after the send!
So you ask yourself, how does a trip like this get even better? Only by sending another long term project the next day!

At LRC in Chattanooga, I have been trying a climb called Spyro Gyro (V8) since 2009, which essentially revolves around a huge rotational dyno off of a positive but not so positive sloping pinch hold. It is one of those climbs that seems close, but is really further away than you think. I have probably put over 200 burns into this climb, and got frustrated enough to where I even stopped trying it at all for the past two years. A month ago I was up in the area, and decided to give the problem and obligatory 5 burns. Surprisingly I was really close, but once again came up with no send after nipping the jug with my fingertips. After a hearty warm up, I decided once again this trip to try the boulder just for the sake of trying it. I knew I was close immediately, and was not going to let anything get in my way this time. I dialed in some precise tweaks in beta, and launched up to the finishing jug with a scream of exhilaration and I knew I had finally put this climb to rest as well after so much anguish and failure.

Ready, set, launch!

It felt good to feel like I really had that break through to the next level. I have been in countless hours of  work including climbing sessions at 5:30 am and outside in the elements in the 100 degree florida heat during the summer and most recently the 40 degree winter mornings to prepare to the maximum of my ability. You can never doubt yourself, no matter what obstacles stand in your way. All of the hard work is always worth it, and it is moments like these that serve as reminders. You just have to get out there, do it, and leave it all on the table. Not sure what projects the future holds, but I am going to relish these hard earned moments for the time being, and then move onwards and upwards to the next goals. V9 up next!

Slopers on Supa Coola V6

Night sesh on Soap on a Rope (V4)

Here is the final tick list:

The Orb - V8
Spyro Gyro - V8
Supa Coola - V6
Shotgun - V6
Croc Bloc - V5
Getcha Some - V5
Rage - V5

Not bad for a one legged kid and in three days! 

Part two coming up soon about our awesome adaptive climbing clinic up in Atlanta with Catalyst Sports.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Gunks Adaptive Climbing Clinic - Revisited

I received this email recently from the father of one of our kids were able to take on his first outdoor climbing experience in The Gunks this past October. Climbing is such a powerful sport and experience and I love being able to pass it onto others. 

On October 6, 2012 my son Collin was invited to attend his very first outdoor climb at Peters’ Kill climbing area in Gardiner, New York.   The Athletes with Disabilities Network organized the event.  At only 11 years old Collin already had six years of experience climbing indoors with Peak Potential ( ), but I was very unsure of his ability to traverse smooth, large boulders outdoors.   However, I should have known not to underestimate my son’s drive to overcome adversity.

On December 21, 2001 my wife and I sat beside the NICU crib of our newborn baby boy, a newborn with an extremely grim prognosis.  Collin had suffered an intraventriuclar/intracerebral hemorrhage sometime during 22-32 weeks gestation. The idea of little league, karate, playing an instrument and rock climbing never entered our minds as we contemplated Collin’s uncertain future.  Our only prayer was that he would make it through the night.  Our prayer was answered that night and so many more after that.  Collin’s hemorrhage caused a weakness in the right side of his body called Hemi-paretic Cerebral Palsy.  Over the past 11 years of his life Collin has met many physicians of various disciplines, as well as occupational and physical therapists that have helped him face and overcome the many challenges he deals with everyday.  It was along that journey that we met Dr. Cheng and it was Dr. Cheng who introduced us to the world of rock climbing.

On this mild day in October, we were immediately greeted when we arrived at Peters’ Kill area by amazing volunteers who took time out of their weekends to help children and adults climb steep rock faces.  Their smiles and positive spirits immediately provided Collin and me with reassurance that they would take good care of him.  The volunteers provided him with appropriate climbing and safety gear.  They went over the fundamentals of external rock climbing and the commands to ensure that clear communication would occur between climber and belayer.  We then broke up into groups and Collin started climbing.  We hadn’t anticipated that his knees would take such a beating and in hindsight he said, “we should have brought some kneepads,” but Collin never complained and it never slowed him down.  Collin relies heavily on his strong left arm when climbing and has to use his legs to push himself upwards.  His entire right side is very weak and his mobility is limited.   When he climbs he uses his right hand to hold the rock and to keep his body square to the rock face, but it takes extreme concentration for him to hold the rock and pull himself up.  When he initially started climbing at age 5 we thought he would never be able to traverse a difficult rock course with only one hand and two feet doing all the work, but the volunteers at Peak Potential showed him that it was possible. 

As he climbed throughout the day we were surrounded by encouraging volunteers and other climbers with disabilities and even some with without limbs.  Everyone, both young and old, looked out for each other throughout the day.  For Collin, watching adults who face similar challenges climb alongside him provided him with tremendous inspiration. When Collin reached the top of a huge rock face he not only heard me shout with amazement , but he also heard the volunteers and other climbers clap and yell in celebration.  I could not be prouder of him.

I can’t thank Athletes w/ Disabilities Network, and Ronnie Dickson, Director of Adaptive Climbing enough for making this amazing experience possible.  I hope people reading this will find inspiration for themselves or loved ones with disabilities that they too can overcome huge obstacles and achieve amazing results with the support of volunteers, family members, doctors and sponsors. 

Collin’s proud father,