Friday, December 3, 2010

Baby Waiting, Lebron Hating and Climbing Training

I have been here in my old stomping grounds of Chagrin Falls, Ohio the past 10 days, waiting for my little sister to deliver her first bundle of joy into the world. This is the longest I have spent here in recent years, so it has been fun to settle in for a spell.

Our extended family put on an ‘Original Thanksgiving’ last week, which we do every five or so years. We dressed up like pilgrims and Indians and cooked a feast with only ingredients, implements and cooking methods from the 1600's. My New England Indian, Freddie, kept sneaking inside to watch the Patriots game, but this was his second time participating in the ‘OG TG’ and he is an incredibly good sport about my family’s shenanigans.

I can’t help but get caught up in Cleveland sports each time I am here and this week has been no different. I went downtown with my dad to see the Cavs-Celtics game on Tuesday, and with my mom to the local bar to see the Cavs battle Cleveland's most recent heart breaker, Lebron James, and the Heat on Thursday. What would we do without the villains and heroes of pro sports?

So between the pheasant stew, boiled lobsters, baby-anticipating and Lebron-hating, I have been trying to stay active for the pending ice climbing season in New Hampshire.

Lucky for me a gym ($5 per drop-in visit!) and a yoga studio popped up across the street from my mom’s house in the past year, as did a protected park with a 3-mile loop trail through woods and fields.

I have never in my life been on a regular gym workout program, nor do I claim to be at a level of fitness that would make it acceptable for me to tell others how to work out. But I thought I would share a few exercises I’ve been using to target areas in which I am typically weak at the start of the winter season.

My current workout recipe is to start with 45-60 minutes of cardio, and then cycle through moderate reps of 10 or so different exercises focusing on pulling, pushing, abs and legs for 30-45 minutes. I am still dealing with elbow tendonitis, so I work in a lot of arm stretching too.

A few exercises I’ve found for winter-specific strength building:

  • Abs (with footwork and figure-fouring in mind): Leg raises on the pull up bar. I try to bring my feet as least 12 inches above my head, which requires curling the whole back instead of just the lower abs. I can only do about 10 of these at a time. Too easy? Go slower!
  • Pulling (with lateral mixed climbing moves in mind): On a pull up assist machine, set up 80%+ of body weight assistance. Start with arms at the widest possible stance and alternate pulling up and lowering with one arm only (leaving the other hand in place but just loosening grip so it is not engaged). I always feel like I am going to pull my shoulder out of socket at the beginning of winter when making lateral dry tooling moves, so this feels like it is helping to strengthen that wide pulling action.
  • Legs: Jumping telemark turns, jump roping and box jumps. All pretty self explanatory, I do 20-30 reps of each between the upper body exercises to build strength and keep the heart rate up.
  • Stretches: The best stretch I have found for medial elbow tendonitis was suggested by my friend Jay Conway. Stretch the arm straight out to a wall, hand flat, thumb up and turn away until feeling a stretch. To intensify it, move your ear towards the opposite shoulder. When I first started to do this I could barely move my head. It feels incredible. Another stretch: Hold a resistance band straight in front of the shoulders, standing up. Move arms all the way outward at shoulder height, keeping them straight. I feel a sort of stretch/strengthening in the sub-scapular muscles with this one, an area I have trouble targeting. I know a few friends who keep a band in their climbing packs and do this exercise before and after climbing, always. I am trying to be like them, if only I didn’t get too excited about about climbing and forget every time I go out.

Workout gear:

Mountain Hardwear super power tights

Mountain Hardwear wicked lite tee

La Sportiva fireblades

Workout tunes: Los Sugar Kings (listen for the clave!)

OK, enough working out, we are ready for that baby anytime, Bobbi!

(Images from the uber classic Red Pillar of Mermoz, Argentine Patagonia, with Kirsten Kremer in 2008)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Italy, Canada and Salsa

A short list of observations from a few weeks of travel in September and October:
1) If you find yourself in a mountain hut in Italy singing karaoke, just go with it. My host for the first few days of my fall climbing trip was Jean Luca Cavalli, who I like to think of as the Italian version of Doug Madara (a remarkably motivated middle aged climber who gets out more days, and is stronger than, most climbers half his age). Jean Luca didn't speak much English, nor I Italian, so our interactions were often full of comical misunderstandings.
On the drive home from three days straight of climbing, as it got dark and my stomach grumbled for dinner, he said:
"I think maybe we go to the mountains tonight. There is a refugio and it is a guide's holiday there so it will be fun."
It was the last thing I wanted at that moment, since I had been thoroughly enjoying the company of Jean Luca, his wife and his teenage daughter while they hosted me and Peter William the South African at their home near Milan. But I was the guest after all, so I said okay. We agreed to take 20 minutes to pack our things while his wife Antonella brewed us espresso and told us we were crazy. We hit the road and an hour later we were hiking toward Refugio Pontese in the rainy darkness.
I still wasn't sure if I would eat dinner until we caught sight of the warm light spilling out the windows of the old hut after 45 minutes on the trail. Of course a hot, delicious, home cooked meal of rabbit, rice, bread and salad was on the table for us within 5 minutes of arriving. The building was full of Italian climbing guides on their night off. As we finished dinner, four of them started to play music and sing. It started with Italian folk music, and quickly evolved (devolved?) into corny American karaoke. As soon as they learned I was American I was placed right in the middle of them to help with lyrics to Bob Dylan, the Bee-Gees, Janis Joplin and more. Here is a short clip from when it was still tame early in the night.

Refugio Pontese from janet bergman on Vimeo.

Needless to say I went to bed way too late, Jean Luca woke me up at 5:30 am for a three hour approach to a rock climb, and I was only worth about 2 pitches once we got there. Such good times though.
Some images from our adventure the next day on Becco Meridionale della Tribolazione, aka Tribulation (3360m):

2) Italian Rock Is Not Limited To Karaoke And Limestone. None of my friends had heard of Valle Dell'Orco before, but a little research revealed splitter granite so I couldn't resist applying to represent the American Alpine Club for the Italian International Trad Meet.
Jean Luca, Peter William and I drove straight from the Refugio Pontese trailhead to the tiny village of Ceresole for the meet. 18 countries were represented and we had five days of amazing weather, perfect climbing, incredible Italian hospitality and so many fun memories. I had never heard so many ways to say 'on' and 'off' belay before!
Maurizio Oviglia's new English language guidebook to the Orco Valley was released while we were there and it is excellent. I am sure this place will be seeing a lot more traffic now.
A little historical tidbit: The two main cliffs there are called Caporal and Sargent, after Yosemite's El Capitan. The local Italian climbers were inspired by Royal Robbins and friends to learn crack climbing in the late '70's, and these are the cliffs that they practiced on!

3) I like helicopters. I am not allowed to say much more than that. But I was super lucky to participate in a photo shoot for a top secret ad campaign in western Canada on the way home from Italy. The four day shoot involved gondola and helicopter rides, make up artist, stylist and a whole film and photography crew. I kept getting referred to as 'the talent'. Ha!

4) Dancing salsa and merengue is as much fun as climbing! I came home just in time to attend Kismet Rock Foundation's Latin dance-themed annual fund-raising event this past weekend. Boston-based Los Sugar Kings rocked the house once again, showing everyone step by step how to move alone and with a partner. Finding rhythm in a new dance step is indescribably fun. Even my mom said she liked it! Check out this great photo blog post by Anne Skidmore from the event.

What was in my bags for the Italy - Canada linkup?
Mountain Hardwear Superscrambler Backpack: Simply designed, ultralight and surprisingly durable.
La Sportiva Miura VS: Precision. Nuff said. And I was not the only one - dozens of other people from around the world were pulling these shoes on to make their best attempt's at Valle Orco's testy discontinuous crack systems and steep face climbs.
Sterling Fusion Ion2 Rope: The newly designed Ion2 is built to last. Big difference in this rope from the first generation!
Polartec test jacket
Petzl Reverso: Everyone was using double ropes there!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Around the Dinner Table

here we are, around the dinner table at the Mountain Hardwear athlete innovation meeting in yosemite, california. this was a room full of visionaries; whether their role is to run a business, develop a product or put those products to the true test. inspiring to say the least. you can see we were well fed, too.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Breaking The Cycle of Pain

I grew up riding horses competitively. So naturally, as pre-teens, when we weren’t riding horses we were acting like horses. We’d have slumber parties and set up furniture jumping courses in our parents’ houses. We perfected a four-legged galloping pace (not unlike this family ) and jumped over chairs and tables, up and down staircases, just like horses: ‘front legs’ first, back legs next. Pain and intuition pretty quickly kicked in though, to tell us the jarring of repetitively landing on our arms was probably not good for our shoulders, elbows and wrists. Thus, we returned to galloping and jumping with two legs (like these guys , except that we kept our shirts on) and didn’t think much more about it.
Fast-forward almost twenty years to this past spring, and my left forearm tendonitis flare up. I was in my third of twelve bimonthly sessions o
f structural integration therapy , and on full rest from climbing.
“My friends who are doctors or med students think I should just get a cortisone injection in my
elbow, can you believe that?” I said incredulously as my therapist friend worked on my arm.
Cortisone, after all, was what the aging horses’ hocks were injected with to get them through just one more competition season when I was growing up.
“Ugh, you don’t need that,” she said. “It’s just a band-aid. Just give it some more time and rest and you will completely recover from this.”
Three full months of rest from climbing wore on me though. I missed my evenings at the cliff with friends. I wanted to get back to my projects. I was sick of the frowns and empathy when people learned I was injured, again. I just wanted my ‘normal’ life back.
So yesterday I visited the orthopedist. I needed to know that I was doing things right, that I wasn’t missing something.
“Well, it started in early May,” I explained to him, sitting on the exam table. I’d taken two weeks off and then tried to climb (it hurt), then three more weeks off and tried to climb again (it still hurt), but had not touched rock since early June. I’d been good about ice, ibuprofen, all the requisite tendonitis exercises and stretches, the various massage therapies...I’d even done a colon cleanse to try to oust whatever was lingering.
He poked and prodded until I pulled away wincing, and he immediately confirmed the diagnosis as medial epicondylitis, golfer’s elbow.
“Has it gotten worse?” he asked.
“Has it gotten better?”
Not really.
A long pause.
“Well, it seems to me you have done everything right the past three months, without the results you want. So I recommend that we try an injection of cortisone.”
I shot a disgusted look at him before I could even think to stop myself. He paused again.
“It is time to break the cycle of pain,” he said simply, looking me straight in the eye, a slight frown on his face.
That was all it took.
I walked out fifteen minutes later with a band-aid on my elbow and tingling fingers from the lidocaine. I drove home imagining the moves of my favorite Cathedral Ledge climbs, and made weekend cragging plans to try out my new fix.
But in the back of my head was another voice: Had my intuition that told me to stop jumping jumps on all fours as a pre-teen disappeared completely? Am I really going to pretend that I am back to normal now?
My massage therapist friend, after stifling a ‘NO!’ and pushing her lower jaw back up when she learned I’d gotten the shot, immediately encouraged me, saying this is my opportunity to take control of the healing process. What she meant is that I can’t just head out and climb tomorrow, sending my project like the aging gray mare, all dosed up to be able to finish her last jumping course.
A moment of hope was illuminated by the promise of breaking the cycle of pain. But I will be good and see all my friends off on their summer climbing expeditions now. And I will walk around here on just two feet for a little longer in hopes of permanently ending that cycle instead of taking a break from it.

Dedicated to Brinah, Whitney, Bobbi, Amie and the rest of the horsey girls from those Turning Point Stables days.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Please Help Kismet

I sometimes think about how selfish climbing is. An addiction that is taking up too much of my time. The weddings and other events I have missed while on expedition...the time and resources I have used to 'feed the rat' over the years...

Then I think about what it has done for me...learning of an eyeopening new lifestyle based on simplicity and functioning at the actual geographic fringes...lessons in math and science as I learned rope systems and climbing techniques...taking on physical challenges that my mind thought impossible but, after practice, muscle memory thought differently of...learning to calculate risk and judge the rationality of fearful situations...then I think about some examples of climbers who have taken their success gained through climbing to business or other realms with incredible results.

And it brings me back to feeling that climbing really does far more good than bad for a person.

Being involved with Kismet Rock Foundation is one way that I have been able to take this selfish activity that has given so much to me and pass it on to others*. This organization has a simple but very strong mission: to offer an education in climbing to children who otherwise wouldn't have access to it. None of the noise about enhancing self esteem or empowerment or keeping kids out of trouble (arguably these are some of the outcomes though), it is just about providing extraordinary opportunities for 'good' kids who are missing just that in their lives. Kismet kids (who are from NH, ME, and MA) start the program at age thirteen (remember 7th grade?) and return for one week per summer for four years to finish the curriculum. They primarily learn rock climbing and also learn first aid. Tons more info on the program here.

Now I will get to my real point: Kismet Rock Foundation is offering a double matching opportunity for first time donors right now. That means that for every dollar donated by a first time donor, two additional dollars will be contributed by friends of the organization. Opportunities like this don't happen very often.

If you value what climbing (or learning any extracurricular activity for that matter) has given to you, please consider supporting Kismet. Any amount truly does make a difference for a small organization like this.

If you want, we can even keep the whole climbing-is-selfish theme going here, and instead of just giving selflessly, take me up on my offer to give you a long belay on your project next time I see you in exchange for participating.

“[Going to Kismet] keeps me out of trouble. It strengthens my body. It helps me stop my bad habits.” –Josh

“The view from the mountains was clear and beautiful. When I was on top of the mountain I was very nervous. I cried. You gave me the opportunity to experience a sport that I probably would never have tried in my lifetime…I will never forget it.” -Kendra

"Thank you all for having me. Thank you for keeping me safe and sound. Thanks for teaching me to rock climb and to be respectful to others." -Brian

*In the interest of full disclosure, Kismet is a client of mine so I do get something back from giving to them, and, in a sense, from any of you giving to them. Ironic? Certainly. Contrived? Perhaps. This was a hard post for me to write for that reason only.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

'For Climbing'

A feature article about climbing in Cuba that I wrote was just published in Rock & Ice magazine. The article explores the threatened Cuban climbing scene, and the extraordinary efforts being put forth by a few Americans and Cubans to make climbing there possible. The lovely and talented Anne Skidmore took all the killer photos.
You can pick up the June 2010 issue on news stands now, or download the PDF of the article at the new and improved Cuba Climbing website.
And then you can go to Cuba and experience that magical place for yourself.
Special thanks to Tino Fiumara for lots of help reporting and writing this piece.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Love From The Road

Freddie, Tagger and I started our spring break road trip at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky. The steep sandstone is a perfect way to get the winter muscles back in rock climbing shape. I've spent 7 of the past 10 March breaks at the Red, climbing both my first 5.11 and first 5.12 there over the years. No big breakthroughs climbing-wise this time; seems I need more than a week to get the required fitness to really pluck the projects now. But it was tons of fun to see some new areas and take big whippers.

The scope of new climbing still to be done at the Red is just stunning. Speaking of which – the RRGCC annual Reunion fundraiser event was going on at Miguel’s while we were there. Be sure to send your donation so the good work of route development and access promotion can continue!

We moved on from KY a few days ago to meet my brother Andy and his girlfriend Miriam (she is a librarian and has a Dewey Decimal tattoo across her back!) in Fayetteville, West Virginia. We went straight to Waterstone Outdoors to pick up the new New guidebook. It really sets us free here, chock full of climbing I would never have known about. Now the only problem is figuring out how to get Tagger up and down all the ladders. We will keep working on that.

Brother Andy sending the trad leads off the couch.


Rest day now, so I am getting the new slide show ready. Mountain Hardwear is sending me on a mini tour:

There will plenty of free swag and lots of fun!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Landslide Gully, Mount Webster

Ducked out of the office for a fabulous morning on Mount Webster with the one and only Sarah Garlick on Thursday.
I put one of these images up on my Facebook page and it went wild with comments - there must be something about chicks on ice...

Polartec test fabric hoody fleece
Mountain Hardwear Barisian jacket
Mountain Hardwear Scrambler Pack
La Sportiva Women's Nepal Top
Petzl Vasak crampon
Sterling Marathon 8.8 Rope