The Rest of the Trip

I've learned that you have to be somewhat philosophical about climbing roadtrips in the SE in the wintertime. Really, if you get in a few good days, yous should be content, even if you were planning on a solid week of climbing. The weather can change so damn fast and there's a small margin between just-right temps and it being too damn cold. You can probably see what I'm leading up to. We had planned on a weeklong trip to hit up Chattanooga and HP40. I had dreams of climbing at LRC/Stone Fort, the T Wall, then heading south to HP40. By the end of the week we had gotten two days of climbing in at LRC thanks to rain, and then finally, snow.

But the 2 days we got at LRC were pretty sweet--that place is just so much fun, especially if you've only been once before as I have. There's just a ton of classics to explore. Which is what I focused on during our second day. Since my shoulder was a bit sore from bouldering a couple of days before, I decided to climb as many V3 and under classics as possible. I probably climbed about 20 or more lines. Some of the best were Mouse Trap (V2), a fun little finger crack, and Oracle (from the stand start (V3). So even though we didn't get in nearly as much climbing as I had hoped, it wasn't a total wash. There are a few pics in the slideshow below, but we didn't shoot too much on either day. We were so focused on exploring and climbing we pretty much forgot about the camera. Hope everyone else was able to get out over the holidays.

PS: I'm trying a new slideshow creator out for the first time on this post; we'll see if it's any good.

Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer



One day at Little Rock City

This is gonna be a short post cuz I'm writing from my phone. And my hand gets numb from writing on this tiny keypad after about 20 seconds.

But we got one great day in at lrc on Monday. The weather was perfect and the shoulder is really on the mend I think: I climbed 2 v4s and a few v3s. This is a big improvement over the summer when I was doing v0s. The best climb I did was called mystery groove I think. It was a wild v4 up a pinch/sloper spine of rock.

The bad news is the weather has turned to shite. We couldn't climb at all yesterday and today everything is soaked. But we're keeping our fingers for tomorrow. More updates to come soon, weather permittin'.
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South Bound

Finally, the semester is over, as is the requisite week break to chill out and come down from all of the stress. But after a week of sitting around in the snow in Boone, it's time to hit the road. Me and Melissa are going to Chattanooga and maybe HP40 for the next few days before Christmas. Finally, we're getting some climbing in. I'll be posting from the road at various times. The weather is looking sweet! I haven't been to either place in 2 years now, so this should be a great time.

In other news, I just turned on a mobile version of this site, so it should be easier to read on phones and whatnot.



Best of Andrew Kornylak's Beta Series?

The Triple Crown Bouldering Series has come and gone and along with it, Andrew Kornylak's excellent promotional Beta Series. That series' final installment seems to have flown under the radar, but in some ways, it's the best one. Kornylak even said as much at the last Triple Crown event in Chattanooga. Filmed at Stone Fort/Little Rock City, it's called "Long Ways Down." Take a look, and see if this kid doesn't inspire you.




Your Comments are Needed on the Draft Plan for Chimney Rock State Park!

Climbers did a fantastic job of making themselves heard in the first round of the Chimney Rock State Park planning process. Now, the draft master plan for Chimney Rock State Park is out and open for comments.

Would you like to see additional climbing areas open throughout the park, besides Rumbling Bald? If you like climbing at Rumbling Bald, and would like to see climbing in other additional areas throughout the park, make yourself heard.

It is absolutely essential that climbers speak up right now on this issue. It's easy. Just go to one of the following spots:

The deadline for comments is December 13th. Don't procrastinate. Just do it.




Hanging On

Thanks to any and all who still may be coming to Frixtion looking for new posts--just hang in there with me! The semester is over next week and I'm cooking up some road trip plans for the holiday break, including Chattanooga and Horse Pens, so I should have some fun stuff to share soon. Right now the only thing I could share with you is info on my Neuroanatomy final. If that's your bag, let me know; I'll try to work it into some future posts. It's also supposed to snow here in Boone tomorrow, so I guess it's officially Rumbling Bald season. Might have to work in a trip there in the next few weeks, too.



Live Rock Climbing Competition on TV! World Cup Finals

Wouldn't that be the day? Like American football, we'd sit on our couch eating potato chips, cheering on the International Sport Climbing World Cup competitors. Everyone would know the climbers' stats, their top sends, their strengths and weaknesses.

Sound crazy? It's not a total pipe dream sports fans. Once again, the mighty internet brings the future to us faster than we can ask for it. Most of this World Cup rock climbing season was streamed live on the internet and, for this climbing nerd anyway, it was surprisingly fun to watch (I know, should have told you before the season was over, but better late then never, right? Plus you can still re-play the videos--more information and links are below).

This past Friday and Saturday, the Rock Climbing World Cup Finals were streamed live from Kranj, Slovenia (highlights here). Our 5' 2" man Ramon Julian Puigblanque killed it, becoming the Men's World Cup Champion. Kim Jain, a crushing climber from Korea took the women's category, becoming the Women's World Cup Champion. Korea's climbers are a growing force on both the bouldering and sport climbing IFSC World Cup circuits.

The Joost blog stays on top of this World Cup live streaming stuff. Or you can just keep up with things on the IFSC's YouTube channel.

It's a recurring question, but as a side topic, where are the U.S. climbers in IFSC's sport climbing circuit? Less surprisingly, IFSC's bouldering competitions receive some U.S. attention, but in general the absence of U.S. climbers is kind of disappointing.

Zachary Lesch-Huie

Crazy Internet=Design Change, Plus a Rant of Sorts

When I woke up and checked the blog this morning, there were ads running through the rotating images I usually have at the top of the page. Somehow a virus hacked the code running the javascript and started mucking it up with ads. So, for now, I'm having to just default to a simple logo for a while until I figure out what caused it and how I can fix it. Bummer. This is the last thing I need right now! This semester has slowly worn me down to the point where all I can think about is schoolwork. I used to climb, blog about climbing, go for runs, hang out with friends on the weekends. But the last couple of weeks especially have been some of the busiest / most stressful in my life, and it'll probably stay that way until Xmas break. I haven't climbed outside in weeks!

But I can't wait for the time off at Christmas. I'm trying to get a little SE road trip going so me and Melissa can hit up the Obed, Chattanooga, and hopefully HP40 too. Now I just gotta make it a few more weeks.

I'm finding that the key to not going crazy during all of this is to keep reminding myself of why I started grad school: Eventually, I want more flexibility from my career and more time for climbing. While my last job was great in a lot of ways (an Editor at a publishing company in Asheville), I only got 2 weeks off a year, was chained to a desk, and my "job transportability" as I like to call it, meaning that if I wanted to up and move to Wyoming next year, was nil. There aren't a lot of publishing jobs in the places I want to be. But Speech Therapy is a lot like nursing--there are a lot of jobs all over the country, and there are a lot of options for schedule flexibilty and having time off. For example, one of the therapists I shadowed in a local school system worked three days a week, had summers off, and still made a salary in the mid-30s. It's not an amazing amount of money, but for working part time with summers off, it's pretty sweet, especially if you're a climber. I think I could make that salary stretch just fine by keeping living expenses low while still getting to be outside 3-4 days a week. Also, you can do travel therapy, which is what I plan to do after I graduate. You can do as little as six months at each assignment, so you can basically follow the seasons around the country for awhile until you want to settle someplace.

These are the things I keep telling myself while I'm stuck inside on nice days, or studying feverishly over my breakfast, or watching the calluses peel off my tips. Hell, I moved to Boone to be closer to climbing! The irony is terrible that I live in one of the best bouldering spots in the country, and I even have boulders I can walk to in my backyard, and I still climb maybe twice or three times a month now. But one semester's almost done already...just 3 more to go! Then, I hope, I'll see all of this has been worth it.

-Matt P.



Two Down, One to Go: Triple Crown at HP40 Complete

Well, I wish I was there. I had to work on Saturday and couldn't make it down to Horse Pens for the second leg of the Triple Crown Bouldering Series. I heard it was a blast as usual, with some naughty behavior on the award ceremony stage (as usual?). A welcome change this year must have been the cooler temperatures.

Results from the comp are up on the Triple Crown site, along with a link to an article I wrote for Rock & Ice's website about the Hound Ear's comp. Dead Point Magazine's site also has a nice series of images from Horse Pens.

A little sports commentary: Kasia Pietras continues to do well in the Open Women's category, though out-of-towner Angie Payne swooped in to take first at HP40. Still, Pietra's looking good as an overall Triple Crown winner, and my guess is she'll have the local's advantage at Stone Fort. Nearly boring in it's consistency, the Open Men's category continues to be dominated by three young Southern crushers: Brion Voges, Brad Weaver and Jimmy Webb. At least the former two made it somewhat interesting by trading second and third places from Hound Ears. That said, Jimmy Webb continues to hold on to first like a huge, juggy Gerry rail. It seems doubtful that he won't take the series.

The Triple Crown train keeps on chugging. Next stop? Stone Fort. Get ready for some immaculate and inspiring sandstone blocks.

Zachary Lesch-Huie


ASU Climbing Team Film Completed

Matt de Camara and his Far From Home Productions have gone from grassroots, garage-punk climbing films to something truly professional. A while ago I mentioned a trip I took with him and the Appalachian State University (ASU) climbing team to the boulders at Rumbling Bald. Well, the fruit of that trip, and Matt's labor, has been born. Following their visit to the boulders, which Matt documented in the excellent film below, the ASU team helped raise over one thousand bucks for the project.

Zachary Lesch-Huie



La Sportiva Boulder X Review

The “holy grail” of approach shoe design allows for optimum comfort, traction, and load stability on the approach, while still being technical and sticky enough to climb a moderate route once you get to the rock. Usually, if a shoe is built with a lot of comfort and load stability in mind, you lose out on climbabilty. On the flipside, a thin, sensitive approach shoe might climb well, but it may be uncomfortable and unsupportive for hefting heavy loads. In short, it’s hard to find the right balance that blends all the essential elements of a great approach shoe while not losing too much of any one component. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Enter the new La Sportiva Boulder X.

The Boulder X, La Sportiva’s latest approach shoe, builds upon the lessons learned from its older brother, the Cirque Pro. While the Cirque was a very capable climber, it lacked the cushioning and more aggressive tread offered up by the Boulder X (i.e., it leaned more towards being a climbing shoe than a supportive hiker). I never invested in the Cirques since I felt that the thin dot tread would wear down too quickly if used during every day life, like walking around town. And that’s where the Boulder X has come into its own in my book. While it’s a great approach shoe, and a fairly sensitive climber, it also has enough cushioning and tread to make it a shoe you want to throw on to take the dog for a walk, too. And for a climber on a budget like me, this is essential: I need an approach shoe that can still do it all—from climbing to walking to class on campus to day hiking. Like my boxer-briefs that I wear to the movies and also the crag (and everywhere else…most days), I expect to get crossover mileage from my shoes, too.

Until I got the Boulder Xs about a month ago, I figured the best “do everything” shoe was a pair of trail runners that I already used for jogging. They were (almost) rugged enough and comfortable enough to stand up to some abuse on rocky trails leading to the crag, but I could also wear them around town just fine. It had been so long since I owned a decent pair of approach shoes I forgot one essential ingredient in the approach shoe recipe—traction, especially on the rock (duh). I had gotten so used to running shoes that I forgot how nice it is to have sticky rubber. And the Boulder Xs are certainly sticky, using a solid Vibram tread. Stupid as it sounds, I actually had to re-learn how to walk on certain terrain in the Boulder Xs. No longer did I need to put all of my weight over the ball of my foot to keep my shoes from slipping on steep slopes or rocks. No longer did I need to slide on my butt to scoot down wet slabs. No longer did I need to totter on the edge of boulders as I hopped along a rock-strewn trail. In short, the Boulder Xs gave me confidence on the approach that had been sorely lacking in my trail running shoes. I’ve actually been wondering why I waited so long to get approach shoes again—they really do make that much of a difference when you’re doing even mild to moderate approaches. Another area where they’ve got the running shoes beat is durability; I destroyed my running shoes by using them for approach. The Boulder Xs are made of leather and climbing rubber, and designed to withstand the abnormal abuse us climbers throw at a pair of shoes. And besides all that, they are damn comfy to boot. I find myself wanting to wear them to class everyday lately now that they’re broken in.

But what about their climbing ability, you ask? I have not had the chance to take them on multi-pitch lines yet, but I can say I would feel confident wearing them on many local trad routes. I’ve bouldered V1s in them now, and if you take into account that grade equals around 5.10, you can see that the shoes are capable enough for easier lines. I would feel comfortable climbing long 5.7 routes in them, but stronger climbers may feel more confident in them on harder lines. Keep in mind, as I said, these shoes are walking that balance between hikers and climbers. That said, I was surprised by how well they edge and smear for having a pretty supportive and aggressive hiking tread. And their small profile toe allows them to edge on holds that I didn’t expect to stick. I think one of the best applications for these shoes is for doing long days in the mountains where you’re carrying a light pack and peak bagging. On those days, you want a pair of comfortable, lightweight shoes that can perform equally on the rock and the trail between the peaks. So if you’re heading to the Tetons or Sierras anytime soon, the Boulder Xs would be a good choice. But seeing as how I don’t live anywhere near peak baggin’ options, I’m still gonna be wearing mine out to the boulders, the crag, easy multi-pitching, and any time I’m headed out for a hike. These are very versatile shoes for boulders and traddies alike, and they’re a great all-around choice that will allow you to hike and climb and not feel like you’ve sacrificed too much to one end of the approach shoe spectrum.

Some of my Favorite Features:

These shoes are chock full of well-planned and well-engineered features that make them such nice shoes. Here are some of the best things about ‘em:

Lacing: The laces go down almost to the toes for a tight fit, just like lace-up climbing shoes. Also, the laces run around the back of the shoe at the ankle, so when you tighten the laces, the collar of the shoe tightens for a snug, supportive fit. This feature takes a while to break in, in my experience. Also, the laces are nicely protected by leather covers so they won’t wear down if you stuff the shoe in a lot of cracks. (One note about the laces though. Like most outdoor shoe models these days, the Boulder X has round laces. These are nice looking, but I find they come loose a lot. Be sure to double knot yer bizness before heading out.)

Rubber everywhere: The rand, sides, and heel of the Boulder Xs are covered in rubber for extra protection (for the shoe) and grip. I’d say there is probably some toe-to-heel slingshot stabilizing action gained from the full rubber treatment, too. But I ain’t no engineer, so that’s just a guess.

Debris collar: Where your ankle touches the shoe, there’s a nice padded liner that is comfortable and keeps junk from getting down in the shoe.

Toe edge: When ya look at the tread of the shoe, there’s a large piece of uninterrupted rubber just under the big toe that extends to the pinky toe, which is great for edging. This is something that normal hiking shoes just don’t offer.

Small profile: This one’s dorky, but I’m gonna say it anyway. I’ve got pretty big feet for my frame and the low-profile cut of the Boulder Xs make my feet look nice and small for a change. This low profile also makes them a good choice for aid climbing.

Some things to consider when buying:

  • Like many Sportiva shoes, the Boulder Xs are very narrow. They will stretch some, but if you’ve got a wide foot, try ‘em on for awhile and see how they feel. People with narrow feet, however, will love the fit. I’ve got a narrow foot and they feel like a pair of gloves.
  • Buy them a bit on the tight side. I initially thought my pair was too tight, but once they broke in I was happy I got a tight fit that allows the big toe to get more power over the front of the shoe. Also, it fits more like a climbing shoe this way. But if you plan on using them mostly for hiking, and not for much climbing, get ‘em in your normal size.
  • This is just a heads up: The shoes will leave smudges on your tile or linoleum floors. This is the tradeoff for having all that sticky rubber goodness. And since these are made to be outdoor shoes (that some of us choose to wear inside) it’s worth the tradeoff to me. I’d rather have sticky shoes that I have to take off when I get in the front door than weak climbing shoes that don’t smudge my floor.

Final thoughts

If you’re like me you read gear reviews to confirm a decision you’ve most likely already made—you just want affirmation that you’re making a good choice. If that’s the case and you’re just about to order these shoes, I say go ahead and do it. For me, they offer the perfect blend of comfort, climbability, and good approach prowess. The Boulder Xs are a capable do-everything shoe that I can also feel good about wearing for activities other than climbing. Now if only Sportiva could start making boxer briefs with as much comfort and crossover prowess as the Boulder Xs, then I’d be in climbing hog heaven.

Hey Senor, these shoes are Buddy-dog approved!

-Matt Paden

Full disclosure: The shoes in this post were provided by La Sportiva for the purpose of this review.


Do Tall Climbers Have the Advantage?

This photo reminds me of the story of David and Goliath (photo from Ukclimbing.com).

Chatting with one of my taller climber buddies recently, we both hit on a shared nerve: short climbers complaining about, or using as an excuse, their lack of height and reach. Admittedly, some rocks favor a taller person with more reach. However, what doesn't often get noticed or said is that other rocks favor a shorter person, with less reach. And what never gets acknowledged is the shorter person's most important advantage: lower weight.

Take a look at the photo above. It's from this year's Arco Rockmaster, in Arco, Italy, an annual gathering of thebest competition climbers in the world.

See the guy on the right? That's Ramon Julian Puigblanque. You'll notice right off that Ramon Julian is short, really short. The difference is so striking in the photo it's enough to make you laugh. Ramon Julian clocks in at a whopping 5 feet, 2.5 inches tall.

Yet his dominance of the competitive circuit this year is enough to conjure images of David versus Goliath. He has absolutely dominated world competition climbing in 2010, and pretty much done the same outside as well. On the sport cliffs of Spain, for example, he's climbed and on-sighted a fat pile of routes from 5.13b to 5.15a.

Ramon Julian's two closest competitors, Paxti Usobiaga and Adam Ondra, are six inches to nearly one foot taller than he is. So how does he do it? How can he be so damn good, and yet so damn short? My answer? Weight, and secondarily, technique. Ramon Julian is exceptionally light, and he simply makes up for any lack of reach with perfect technique and total comfort in moving dynamically between holds, all of which leverages his low weight ideally against the challenge of climbing, reachy or not.

A recent live broadcast of the European Championships highlighted Ramon's skills really well. As the commentator himself confirmed, the route setting favored a climber with longer reach. Watching Ramon negotiate the route's sequences, it was obvious he was maintaining extra tension and stretching to his maximum between holds. Yet he somehow controlled the route, shaking and resting in the steep final roof, only narrowly missing the finishing jug. Paxti surprisingly only made it perhaps a third of the way up the route, stymied by the technical bottom half. And though Adam Ondra made it a good bit further, he still failed to come close to Ramon's highpoint, pumping out in the roof a number of moves from the top. Ramon's dominance was self-evident.

Next time you're stretching desperately to that just-out-of-reach hold, think of little Lynn Hill freeclimbing the Nose, and of 5' 2" Ramon crushing his 6' tall competitors. Theses inspiring climbers are using what they've got, shaking their money-makers, and getting to the top.

Zachary Lesch-Huie