2017-05-10

Climbing, falling is a skill

I just recently completed my first outdoor 5.10 lead climb (sport). Woot! This was actually a 5.10a/b as it happened, admittedly a bit of a soft rating, but I'm going to crow a little anyway. Crossing in to 5.10's is a bit of a milestone, so I wanted to share the realization that finally pushed me over the threshold.


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Most people learn climbing by climbing with experienced folks. I did this on my first few outdoor climbs way back ~2008/9 or so, but while on the road it hasn't been an option. As a result I'm largely self and book taught. This works, but there are some extra pitfalls involved.

In http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2016/06/my-first-trad-climb.html I talked about my history. I was climbing in the 5.11 range toprope indoor around 2013. I didn't climb much between then and 2016 when Angie and I hit the road. 2013 and before a lot of people showed me trad placements, I took high-angle rescue courses, etc.  As it notes there I dove in to trad lead before doing sport lead, like the people did back in the day before sport climbing was a thing, and for the same reason there wasn't sport where I was at the time. As a result I started by leading 5.4 trad climbs, working my way up to ~5.7 trad.

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(Notice the klimbheist repell backup Angie and I usually use, it's compact, simple, smooth, doesn't tend to jam or melt, and makes edge transitions safe and easy)

Then we started hitting sport climbing, and I started leading 5.8's. Last fall we were climbing up in New Hampshire. I was leading my first 5.9. I accidentally climbed past a bolt. Angie not wanting to interrupt my concentration didn't yell at me that I was screwing up royally. Then I blew the move while heel-hooking a ledge... I ended up dropping ~25 feet flipping over in the process, the rope caught me fall slamming me upside-down against the rock on my back. My head impacted the rock HARD. Angie bruised up her knees pretty good catching her first major lead fall, but managed to suck up probably 5 feet or rope during my fall, saving me from an even bigger whipper. Luckily my back missed hitting anything pointy (say, a bolt) and I had a helmet on which got crushed by protected my head. I had a mild concussion, but besides replacing my helmet there were no other consequences.

Don't do that.

In contrast, on my recent 5.10 I felt pretty confident. I know I'm clipped in properly. I know that if I fall the rope will do it's job. And I know I know how to properly land the falls I was likely to take on that climb. What's the difference?


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The difference is I took some practice falls. Experienced climbers are probably rolling their eyes going "Duh... idiot". Yeah, a bit, sometimes you miss the obvious stuff. For anyone else though: Start low, go up to say your second or third bolt (more rope out is better, of course), clip in, climb maybe a foot above it, and drop. Then do it from 2 feet, then with your feet above the bolt. Work up as you get comfortable.

I'd been climbing in the 5.8 range for a little while, recently while watching Angie climb lead I realized just how terrified she was of falling, and it occured to me that she needed to take some lead practice falls. As this thought passed through my mind I suddenly realized that I had the same problem. So, we took a few practice falls, not even that many, and suddenly literally the next day, She was leading 5.8's instead of 5.7's and I was leading 5.9's then a 5.10ab instead of 5.8... And we were doing it more safely!

Normally one does this when they get in to leading, but practice falls aren't an option in Trad, because every fall carries some non-trivial risk of equipment or rock failing. As a result I hadn't done it in the beginning, and I forgot to back and do it when we started climbing sport.

I'm excited, 'cause except for taking some rests, I climbed the 5.10ab clean, first try, no falls... which means it'd be reasonable for me to trad climb that route. I *should* be sport climbing above my trade level, so clearly my confidence and falling skills haven't yet caught up to my climbing ability. I'm excited to practice falling more and see where that takes me.

Next time I get on a sport wall, I'm going to take some more practice falls. I need to keep working up the runnout I'm comfortable handling. Eventually I want to practice falls (intentionally) equivalent to falling while clipping on a 15' spacing between bolts. Obviously this should be done with a lot of rope out, to keep the fall factor down.

Long story short, falling is a skill, practice it like one.

2017-05-06

Linen Leggings

Angie and I were talking about gear. A little while ago I picked up some linen suit pants at a goodwill for a couple of bucks. I tried hiking in them and decided they definitely wouldn't hold up for a long backpacking trip. But recently, Angie suggested I try making leggings/chaps out of them. Here's what I ended up with:

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I haven't worn them hiking or anything yet, but they seem like they could definitely work. The idea was for hiking on the east coast, or in other areas during peak mosquito season. I want shorts for hot days (also common in mosquito season), but I want something to put on in the evenings. I've considered making "button-offs" like zipoffs, but using buttons... but this is definitely simpler.

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They remain untested to date though. As a bonus, they would work with a skirt as well, which I'm leaning towards more and more as I think about how to deal with really hot weather without nylon.

We'll see how they actually work out though!

I also finished my new food bag. It's made of lightly treated 800 threadcount sheet. The side is full-felled for strength, the bottom is double-seamed, and the top has 2 grommets and a seam. It can be used as a roll-top like a drysack or as a draw-type stuff-sack, the idea being that it'll carrying varying amounts of food well.

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This was WAY more work than the linen leggings (over a day of sewing actually), as I wanted it to be very robust it's done with small tight stitching. But, fundamentally it's a bag, so not nearly as interesting :P.

Fire pit sleeping technique

Angie and I went backpacking in the Gila National Forest in New Mexico. Getting out there was pretty intense... We cleared quite a few trees with the truck getting to the trailhead where we started.

We went backpacking with food for 4 days, unsure how things would go. We hiked down to the middle fork of the Gila, then down the river a couple of miles and slept on the beach. We quickly realized the going down the Gila was WAY too slow to make our original plans, so modified our loop to take a small canyon up and loop back around to some dirt roads.

Since we camped on the shore of the Gila both nights, there was plenty of sand. I was using my alpaca sleepingbag, and figured it was the perfect opportunity to finally try this technique I've read about so much.

First, I dug a pit about 6" deep. I would advise targetting 8", I'll explain why soon.

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Then we lit a fire in the pit, and used it to cook our dinner, etc.

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It was too dark when we put the fire out and buried it, so no good pictures there. But basically we kept it going until it was time to go to bed, then let it burn down to coals, and carefully buried it in the sand I have piled on the sides of the pit in these photos... making sure the coals didn't end up too far up in the sand.

Then, I curled up on it in my alpaca bag and went to sleep... it was very warm.

Partway though the night I had to shift a bit due to some hot-spots that were uncomfortably warm, and that I was afraid would damage the fur. The hot spots take a while to build up and reach peak temperature. This is the reason 8" would probably be better, you need a decent amount of material between you and the coals to distribute the heat properly. I had this problem both nights actually, as the second night I hadn't even planned to do this, and then I figured hey, we had a fire why not?

I will say though that it was very cozy, and was still warm come morning. In this way it was far superior to sleeping next to a fire, where you have to keep the firing going all night, and if you fall in to a deep sleep for several hours it's likely to be out when you wake up.

All in all I would definitely do this again, but digging the pit is hard, so it's a technique for loose ground only. Only useful sometimes, but a great strategy to have in your arsenal for dealing with using a little less gear.

Note: I did not use rocks in the pit, I figured sand is already rocks and would hold the heat, and rocks can sometimes explode. Rocks would help hold the heat if the pit were in loam, but in sand they just add unneeded risk.