repair and recovery

Break day! We were feeling pretty exhausted so yesterday after 3 days of consecutive climbing and backpacking, so we we decided to just go chill. We both had minor injuries that needed healing and were just generally beat up, check out Angie's hands after climbing the day before.

Fwd: Photos
We went up to a boondocking site we'd found earlier with a river right next to it. We spread out gear and dried it (we'd left the wooden box out in a light sprinkle and a bunch of my gear got damp).

We did laundry in the bucket using water from the river (using a minimum of soap, and tossing the soapy water far from the river).

Fwd: Photos

I repaired the butt of my shorts which I found a huge hole in while doing laundry.

Fwd: Photos
We took baths in the river (with no soap, just a little vinegar in our hair), and we relaxed and read. We finally set up Angie's hammock.

Fwd: Photos

It was a great day. Today, Angie wanted to try a recipe for "Bannock" which is a baking-soda based bread, which she made for breakfast. Delicious!

In general it was wonderful, though a hairy woodpecker got very upset at me at one point when I went to the woods to dig a cathole... I have no idea why, but so it goes, he got another hairy yelling at me, a jay, a chickadee, quite the ruckus! He chilled out again though.

Oh, one odd thing, some folks seem to think that felling live trees on public land near boondocking sites is reasonable and ethical... what the heck. Someone had recently dropped a decently sized tree only about 10 yards from the site, and it was on a dry stream bank no less, the spot it was in not being that crowded either. To all you other boondockers out there, treat the forests right. I *might* even consider taking a live tree illeagally like that, but only from the right place, far from a campsite, and where it would make the woods *better* and *healthier*. Spend time learning to care for forests properly and be careful. Please care for the spaces so we can all keep them.

no-plastic backpacking, the continuing quest

About a week ago we decided to go backpacking in the green mountains for 4 days around the Stratton pond area. Angie's ankle was sore, so we kept the milage fairly low, doing between 4 and miles each day. We basically did loop-de-loops from lake to lake, covering virtually every trail in the area. We expected it to rain a lot, but we only really got rained on once. To make it interesting I carried the 800 thread-count sheet as a tarp and my newly treated 5.11 shirt <link> as a raincoat (though I had the poncho as backup), and no sleepingpad. I got pretty wet in the shirt, about the same as a cheap/bad raincoat. Not bad actually, I was quite happy with it for this purpose, and never did not pull out the poncho. I had two marino wool sweaters and that overshirt, which I slept on at night for a pad. I *did* cheat though and we used a plastic groundcloth Angie had brought in her pack to sleep on.
This was a pretty cool step in the "backpacking without plastic" plan.

Going through my gear it looks something like this:
  • Clothes - My clothes were wool or cotton, a few pieces were nylon blends but replacing those with cotton/wool blends would work. 
  • Shelter - My shelter was all cotton.  My groundcloth was silnylon, but I think I can use the bottom sheet from the 800 count sheet-set and treat it with wax for a ground cloth. 
  • Backpack - My backpack has some plastic on it but not a lot, and I think I know how to make a similar one without it. 
  • Cooking - My potset and stove is all metal, my fuel bottle is plastic, but I've used a tin one in the past.
That's a lot of the big stuff, and only leaves a few items like my whistle, and the container I store my salt-lick in. Right now I'm thinking of keeping shoe-souls and my sleepingbag (and maybe it's drysack?) plastic... for now anyway. Still lots to do, but it's looking pretty feasible! Unfortunately I didn't have a scale available, but I think my base-weight was sane. The sheet is heavy, I'd guess 5 lbs, but I'm pretty sure my base weight was well under 20. I think I might be able to get a fully working kit for under 20 lbs base... which would be pretty sweet.

Later, as a rest day in-between rock-climbing we decided to take a quick run out to the forest again, just on an overnight. This time since it wasn't going to rain I slept *on* the sheet, which was very very comfy. The next day we hung out reading until after noon (reading kindles, which are plastic... but it's not backpacking gear really).

I'm targetting something I could sanely hike the AT or PCT with, and trying to get everything set up by next year if possible, just to get myself to really make progress.


My First Trad' Climb

First, some quick climbing terminology. There are 5 major types of climbing

  • bouldering
  • topropping
  • sport climbing
  • traditional climbing
  • free solo'ing
Bouldering is just going up low things with a crash bad. The falls are low and you hit a pad when you land.
Topropping is where you have a rope hanging off and anchor at the top of the climb before you start. A second person belays you so if you fall you just drop a little, the rope stretches a bit so on a taller climb you might drop 4 or 5 feet max.

Sport climbing is where there are periodic bolts in the rock with rings mounted to the top. You drag a rope *behind* you. As you climb you snap carabiners in to the bolts, and then around the rope. If you fall you fall past the last bolt you clipped in to, then keep going until you use up the rope slack. So, if the bolts are 8 feet apart and you fall while clipping to the next bolt, you drop 16 feet plus rope stretch or 20+ feet. 30 foot falls are not unheard of.

Traditional climbing (usually shortened to trad' by climbers) is where the goal is to get up the rock. It's possible no-one has been up it before, so there is nothing already there to help you, and you can't walk to the top (conceptually at least). People used to ram pitons (basically flat'ish railroad spikes) in to cracks, but that was banned and is no considered bad form, as it damages the rock. Instead, as you climb you place "pieces" the most common being nuts and cams in to cracks in the rock, and you tie to them like you do the bolts in sport climbing. Thus if you fall, there's something to stop you from dying... hooray!

Thing is, in trad climbing, if you don't place the gear right, or if you just get unlucky, a piece can pull out (this *can* happen in sport too, but it's much more rare). There's a lot of detail to what you place where and how, and if you don't do it right you don't live very long.

What we did
So, yesterday, Angie and I completed our first trad climb. I "lead" the climbed (meaning climbed up dragging the rope behind me and placing pieces), with Angie belaying me from the bottom, placing "pro" - short for protection, that is, sticking things called pieces, in cracks in the rock and clipping them to the rope with Carabiners. When I reached the top I set an anchor on a tree (meaning put some webbing around the tree with Carabiners) and Angie lowered me down. Next, I belayed her from the end I'd been lowered on, and she climbed the same route, following the rope as it snaked through the Carabiners. She removed the pieces as she went. This is called "cleaning". When she reached the top she removed the anchor and pulled the whole rope up to the top. She then found the middle of the rope, slung it around the tree I'd used for an anchor and rappelled down. Lastly, we pulled the rope by one end until it fell - thus ending up at the bottom with both people, and all the gear.
Below is Angie on that rappel at the end. We didn't take pictures sooner because we were busy keeping each other safe as we each climbed in turn.


The route we climbed is actually just to the right of where Angie is rappelling. It's a fairly easy route at a 5.4 rating... perfect for our first trad climb. I needed to be thinking about putting pieces in properly, not whether I'd make it to the top.

Earlier that day we'd done another route where I was on a top-rope, but was setting pieces *as if* I was trad climbing, dragging a rope and clipping it in. I removed them when Angie lowered me down. On that practice run I realized I hadn't placed enough pro and had I really been trad climbing there was an opportunity for me to fall and hit a ledge... oops! That's why I was practicing though, to figure out those details before my life was on the line.

Being our first trad climb, and after the previous experience, I was pretty conservative, placing 5 pieces on this short stretch of rock. As I get more confident, take some falls, and learn what I should and shouldn't trust, I'll be able to use my pieces more judiciously. For now, safety was the goal.

What did it take to get here?

I did not take the fastest route to get here. I've been climbing off and on since 2003. A friend taught me how to clean clean and a bit of placing pro in 2008. Another friend showed me more in 2009. I tried to join a SAR team and learned self-rescue techniques, and more about pro placement and anchors ~2010. I took a high-angle rescue class in 2013 where I learned more anchors and placing pro again. Recently I finished reading Climbing Anchors to really solidify what I know. Last month while Angie and I were climbing at Seneca Rocks I did a route practicing placing nuts (still on toprope). And lastly, just a couple of weeks ago I finally finished building up a full rack.

A lot of people go and take a class, but that's just not my style. I like learning from books and the internet, and having already learned bits and pieces from half a dozen different people I figured I could put it all together.

It might be noted that this was also my first lead route, I'd never actually lead a sport climb before this. So, I also had to watch things like back-clipping, and z-clipping... but again, I'd learned about these issues already from friends and such. So, I decided to just go do it, but just be ultra-careful.

The gear

Here's the gear I have now:

There are many websites covering what you need, and I read several. What I have is:
  • 4 quickdraws
  • 4 alpine quickdraws
  • A set of black diamond stoppers (nuts)
  • 7 Black Diamond Camelot cams
  • 2 purcells, an autoblock and 4 ultralight locking beaners (self-rescue kit)
  • 1 ATC and a good belay beaner
  • climbing shoes
  • chalkbag
  • harness
Not pictured are
  • Helmet
  • 60m 10mm dynamic Rope
  • 1 20ft cordelette
  • some spare locking beaners for setting anchors
I also have other bits of gear of course, like a scarab, 4 locking steel beaners, 2 30ft lengths of webbing and some shorter pieces, a couple more 30cm slings, a 3000lb rated length of static rope, a pair of sailing gloves, etc. Some of these are for other sports, some are for topropping certain routes, and some I might swap in on the right route.

Obviously to climb with a belay you need two people. Angie also has a self-rescue kit, belay device and beaner, shoes, chalkbag, and harness. 

The "pieces" I was placing as I climbed were those nuts:

And cams:

Nuts are cool because they are SO simple, there is just nothing there to fail, but they are also hard to place in that they have to fit in just the right indentation, and only work in smaller cracks.

Cams are cool because you can place them even in slightly flaring cracks, because they hold themselves in place... and indentation is still better, and contrary to popular belief you *do* need to be quite careful placing them, but they are a definitely more forgiving.

I honestly don't know how much the whole kit cost, A full set of camelots is ~$430, beaners and slings add up fast. My alpine's were built my disassembling some normal quickdraws a friend got me some years ago and replacing the webbing with slings. My rope and nuts were also gifts. The harness purcells, chalkbag, and belay-device I've had quite a while (I did inspect them, they're fine).

Why is this exciting?
There aren't that many sport routes around, a lot of people think it's marring the rock and ruining things to put in bolts. There are also a lot of cool routes you can't climb to the top of, so being able to trad opens the door to a lot more cool opportunities.

The next step is "multipitch" where I climb partway up a route, set an anchor, and I belay Angie up from there to where I am, then we climb again. This is even cooler routes, and gets in to all-day climbs and the like.

Obviously there's also pure free climbing skill, that is, the skills of going up the rock, and getting better at that will keep opening up new opportunities, but getting in to trad is a big hurdle that we're finally crossing and I'm pretty excited about it.


Weeee! Yeah, that's pretty much it ;-).

Here's some other photos from the same day:

IMG_3505 IMG_3502 IMG_3507