Archive | August, 2012

How I broke through my biggest climbing plateau

One of the most frustrating things about advancing as a climber is the inevitable plateau one reaches between grades. As a novice, most hit their first big challenge when advancing beyond V3, and after that, you’ll pretty much find yourself struggling between every other grade – except perhaps the V5-V6 transition (I hope).

I sent my first V4 nearly two years ago; The Mane Event at Stone Fort in Tennessee. It was a big milestone for me, but I had no idea that it would take me so long to beat my next big challenge.

This weekend, I finally broke the plateau.

Over the past few weeks at Tally Rock Gym, I’ve noticed a significant advancement in my indoor sends – but nothing counts until you make it happen outside. I started sending my V5 bouldering projects at the gym, and was determined to solidify it with a big outdoor send during my final summer trip out to Tennessee and Georgia.

My first V5 send was Steam Roller, a burly little roof problem that comes over a lip to a sloped top-out. At first, I couldn’t get past the first moves where I had to lift my toosh off a pesky boulder beneath the climb to pull out over the lip – but a little crafty footwork helped me out with a high heel hook that kept me from smacking on the slab below. Personally, the biggest accomplishment on the send was sticking the finishing moves. Slopers are NOT my thing, and yet with Niko’s encouragement I conquered the holds and achieved my first outdoor V5.

The second big moment for me came when I sent Sunnie Rose on the second go. Admittedly, this route feels pretty damn soft for its grade – but considering that it wasn’t downgraded in the guidebook like The Wave (which used to be a V6 and is now a V5); I’ll take it. The route was suggested to me multiple times by both Tally Rock Gym climbers and the fellas at The Crash Pad hostel in Chattanooga – so I figured it was worth the attempt.

When you first take a gander at this boulder, it doesn’t look like a cake walk. The holds are unassuming from afar, but once you get on the sweet sandstone, everything falls into place. My send of Sunnie Rose was only successful because I was full of one of the most important factors in climbing: confidence.

So, how can you propel yourself to the
next level in climbing like I did?

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Cozy bunks, robust coffee, and a killer crew at The Crash Pad hostel in Chattanooga

Throughout my travels, I’ve slept a lot of places. My tent has been pitched on plenty of plots of land, and then there have been the less dignified nights snoozing at truck stops or sleeping in my hatchback in Walmart parking lots.

I ain’t too picky when it comes to catching a few hours of rest.

During the summer’s final hoorah, a climbing trip to Georgia and Tennessee, I was spoiled with the most wonderful accommodations I have ever experienced during an outdoor adventure: The Crash Pad hostel in Chattanooga. I’ve been dying to check out this innovative lodging venue designed specifically for adventurers, but wasn’t able to make it happen until I won two free nights during their Ultimate Adventure contest – then it was game on.

After a hot and sticky day climbing at Rocktown, Niko and I drove up to Tennessee and made our way to Chattanooga’s charming Southside neighborhood. To my delight, The Crash Pad sits just around the corner from one of my favorite landmarks in town, the flashing signage from the Chattanooga Choo-Choo.

Immediately upon walking into the hostel, I was greeted by the hostel’s directors of all things awesome, Al and John. They were as stoked to meet me as I was to finally meet them, and they totally made me blush with compliments about The Morning Fresh. Those fellas know how to woo a lady!

We checked in, and then got a little tour of the hostel. The cozy bunk area offered sturdy beds with great privacy curtains, and tons of outlets. Seriously, +100 for the abundance of outlets all over this hostel. We wandered towards our private room, and were instantly impressed by how perfectly simple the set-up was.

Just a big bed (with all linens provided), a little shelf with an alarm clock and lamp, a bright window, and a sweet modern sink. What more could you need? Everything was in pristine condition, and I loved the no-fuss, no-frills feel.

Bonus points: The property had recently broken ground on a new bar/restaurant, to be named the Flying Squirrel, which will make it nearly impossible to ever leave this pleasant plot of land. While it was a slight bummer for me wanting to take lots of pictures of the hostel’s exterior, I am elated to see that The Crash Pad’s success story is adding a new chapter – especially since it involves beer.

Basically, I am smitten with The Crash Pad.

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I’m adventuring north to Georgia and Tennessee for some climbing and Chattanooga lovin’

If you know me, you know one thing: I don’t like to stay put for too long. After two weeks of recovering from my adventures in (and around) Salt Lake City, I’m once again packing my bags –

I’m off on a climbing trip to Rocktown and Stone Fort!

Niko and I visited Stone Fort (more lovingly known as Little Rock City) earlier this summer, and nearly melted in the swelter while I sent my ultimate project, Super Mario. It’s still August, but the temperatures have leveled off considerably, and I’m looking forward to highs in the mid-80s, and a gorgeous low of 61°. Top off that forecast with a mere 0-10% chance of rain, and you’ve got my ideal summer climbing conditions.

We’re also spending a day climbing at Rocktown, one of Georgia’s best crags – but honestly, what I’m most excited for this trip is finally getting the chance to stay at The Crash Pad in Chattanooga. This hostel caught my attention when it was a mere concept and a patch of neglected land; it now proudly stands as one of the most innovative and inviting hubs for adventurers visiting Tennessee. I won second place in their Ultimate Adventure contest a few months ago, and after multiple failed attempts at booking my two free nights (seriously, these folks are killin’ it; they’re always booked solid), I finally snagged myself a private room! It’s going to be way snazzy, and certainly beats the hell out of camping in a Walmart parking lot.

Stay tuned for lots of updates on my experience at The Crash Pad!

Naturally, I’ve got my eye on a few boulder problems at these two classic crags. I’m keen on a repeat of Super Mario, but really want to send my first V5. At Stone Fort, I’m hoping to crush the juggy underclings and allegedly smooth mantle on Steam Roller – and if I have enough steam left in me, I might hop on a sweet roof problem called Bonesaw. My main project at Rocktown will be a V5 named Police Brutality, but I might also give Double Trouble a chance. Both Rocktown routes have been calling my attention since my first trip out there years agos, and now I’m finally strong enough to actually give ‘em a go.

We’ll see how it goes!

While I’m out romping around in the woods, you ought to keep yourself busy by entering my giveaway for a Rig 500 hydration pack system from GeigerRig! Check out the contest – all you have to do is submit your best summer adventure photo for a chance to win! (Giveaway ends August 31st.)

Psssst... You should also keep your eye out for some really exciting announcements from me and Niko’s yearlong 2013 Simply Adventure trip – we’ve got some awesome sponsors we’re partnering with, and we can’t wait to introduce ’em! 

I ate flowers for dinner last night – an adventure in cooking squash blossoms

About a month ago, Niko and I instituted what may be our greatest tradition of all time – Saturday morning dates to the farmers market at Tallahassee’s Market Square pavilion. Each week, we take a leisurely drive across town to the familiar covered gathering spot where a collection of local farms congregate to peddle their edibles.

This weekend, we made the ultimate discovery – well, I did. While scouring for fresh garlic, Niko guided me over to a smaller stand run by an unfamiliar woman I hadn’t seen before. Her table was heavy with winter melons, chanterelle mushrooms, fresh green onion stalks, and two baskets full of squash blossoms. I immediately bounced on the blossoms, while Niko looked at me with a very puzzled look on his face.

Uh, flowers for dinner?” is basically what his expression read.

Silly boy, Niko had clearly never experienced the tasty delight of noshing on an edible flower. I hadn’t eaten squash blossoms in years, let alone ever actually cooked it myself, but I was determined to make it work – so I paid the meager $3.00 for my basket of blossoms, and dumped the dainty flowers into my produce bag.

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First outdoor ascents, an epic OR Show crew, and climbing at American Fork Canyon in Utah

It’s been well over a week, and yet I am still reeling from the sights, sounds, and excitement of the Outdoor Retailer summer show in Salt Lake City. It was my first OR Show experience, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to check out some outstanding gear, meet with some potential sponsors for the big 2013 trip, and hang out with some of my favorite folks in the outdoor industry.

As wonderful as my four days spent scuttling around the Salt Palace were, the undeniable highlight of my excursion out to Utah was the day I spent climbing at American Fork Canyon in the company of a crew of adventurers I had only actually met (in person) the night before. We had all known each other for what felt like a lifetime through our weekly conversations during #ClimbChat on Twitter, but it wasn’t until Millet hosted a tweet-up that we all actually became “friends in real life.” The connection between our crew was instant, and I was thrilled when my buddy Josh offered to come scoop me from my hotel the next morning to head up into the mountains.

I spent the drive up to the canyon with my face pressed against the car window, soaking up all the splendor of the mountainous Wasatch scenery that surrounded me – I’m a Florida gal, so even the slightest shifts in elevation get me giddy.

We winded through the thickly forested mountains for a few miles, and then parked along the side of the road before saddling up with gear and trekking towards the canyon walls to the Hard Rock crag with fellow climbers Josh Riggins and Kristie Salzman.

The highlight of my day came early – I got to witness Kristie’s first outdoor climb ever. The amount of stoke that was pouring out of her was infectious, and it was a blast to photograph her while Josh belayed her up Rockapella, a classic 5.7 slab with a groovy little roof at the end.

Kristie totally rocked her first climb, and came down from her ascent with an enormous smile plastered across her pretty face. It was too cool to be there for her inaugural climb, and judging by how amped she was, I think it’s safe to say she’s 100% hooked.

After I took my turn on Rockapella to warm up and get used to the unfamiliar feel of polished limestone, the rest of our group slowly made their way up the steep trail and joined us. We shifted a few yards over to a more shaded wall, and the climbing really picked up – we had about four ropes slung up the wall in a row.

Each member in our crew took turns dominating the various 5.8-5.10b routes that lined the canyon area, including Gas Boost (5.8) and Treehugger (5.10b). As much fun as the climbing was, the experience of hanging out at the crag with some fantastic folks who shared my love for the sport was even more inspiring.

I really enjoyed the change of pace from my usual climbing pursuits. I typically head to the crag with a collection of strictly-male cohorts; if I’m lucky there may be one or two fellow females along on the adventure. It was great to have a day of climbing dominated by the ladies, and the relaxed vibes of the afternoon created a truly enjoyable experience. I’m used to climbing in a way more competitive environment, where the pressure is pretty high for me to perform my best. On this occasion, however, it was all about having fun – I led a few routes, but mostly just enjoyed myself. So refreshing!

My personal highlight came when our clan switched down the crag towards what instantly became one of my favorite climbs of all time – Suicide Blonde (5.11b). Clocking in at a stout 40 feet and 5 bolts, with a bit of an overhang and strong moves to fairly solid holds, this line was a beautiful showcase of classic climbing. I watched as Steve of The Most Epic Trip led the route in a seemingly effortless manner, then decided to give it a go – quickly realizing that Steve made it look much easier than it really was.

The first bolt was the most difficult section for me; the bottom portion of the limestone rock was impossibly polished, so I had to resort to a funky heel hook to prop myself up to the first big move. After a few failed attempts, I stuck it, and took a nice rest at the ledge before the second bolt. I took three or four falls during the climb, but was really impressed by the fact that I actually finished the route – especially given the last segment.

If you know me, you know that slabs and slopers are my least favorite things to climb – and the area between the fourth and final bolts on Suicide Blonde are nothing but desperate slopers arranged along a big slab. Somehow, I managed to propel myself towards the anchors through this section without taking an falls. Victory!

I’m totally already scheming up ways to return to American Fork Canyon to tackle the red-point of this beautiful route.

As the group dispersed, I made my way down the steep, rocky trail with Josh, Steve, Kristie, Gina, and Haley’s awesome little family (did I mention how cool it was to hang out with two kids at the crag?) – and in true Katie fashion, I totally ate it while descending the trail. Oops.

Once the climbing crew dwindled down to just Josh and I, we retreated to Taylorsville to refuel with some awesome jalapeno sushi before I headed to the airport and wistfully left the gorgeous Utah landscapes. I honestly could have happily stayed out there for another few weeks, but Florida was beckoning, and I had to return home.

Utah, we shall meet again. 

Revolutionizing the hydration pack with GeigerRig – and your chance to win one! [CLOSED]

I wasn’t always an outdoorsy adventurer; and when I first began spending large amounts of time outdoors, I wasn’t very well prepared. Case in point: the backpacks I used to carry around. Gear junkies, shield your eyes – the image you’re about to see isn’t very pretty, nor is it a proud moment for me.

The couple is pretty cute, if I do say so myself, but take note of the pathetic sack slung around my back. It sticks out like a sore thumb against an otherwise fairly rugged scene. It shamefully, and I hang my head in despair at the mere thought of admitting to rockin’ this ‘gear’ while out on the trail.

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Two weeks to travel across the country! – A road trip planning Q&A

As much as I love to share the stories of my adventures, my best satisfaction comes from hearing about my reader’s own excursions into the outdoors. When reader Jordan Blair e-mailed me with a few questions to help him prepare for his upcoming road trip from Virginia to California, I thought answering his inquiries would make for a great post to help others plan their own trips.

Check out this road trip Q&A, and let me know if there’s anything I missed! Jordan is heading out in a few days, and is open to pretty much anything along the way – so leave him a few comments with your favorite destinations, eateries, and travel advice! He’s planning a stop in Salt Lake City, but other than that has a very open two-week agenda.

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