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Traveling, living, loving, exploring and trying to make some semblance of sense out of this crazy world.  


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Disassembling a Life

Taking a break from packing and sorting, winnowing away the excess to prepare for new voyages.

Long day yesterday between these final preparations and spending a few hours working on a friend's house til 11 pm last night.

Crappy crag day earlier this week- twisted the ankle I had sprained three days before just minutes after getting out of the car at the Entrance Walls. Resigned to remain earthbound, I did trailwork while Pat led an "interesting" variant of my line "Raindancer and Cindy B styled the TR and gear cleanup as always. Trying to remain on the Path is hard, some days, absorbed in thoughts of deterioration and the bitter spite of fair-weather acquaintances.

Raindrops heralded the first notes from the fat lady, and we headed home to watch the storms.

Putting all of this into some sort of shape... more later.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Strange Weather

In the first of 3 (or 4, I don't know yet) videos, the Lyndon State College Outdoor Adventure Program returns with sensei Jamie Struck to once again build trail, climb rock, explore, discover and bring a ray of sunshine to Wild wonderful West Virginia.

Enjoy Strange Weather, my friends, and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


It is too cliché.

The old climber, full of wrath, a caricature of faded dreams and failed ambitions, railing against the failings of the younger generation and those who have made a more fortunate way in this life, alienating friends and wreaking havoc.

A loner with no social skills thundering judgments upon the social networking sites and climbing forums in which he is not only a member but an administrator.

Dramatic exit, cue the violins and isn’t that just the teensiest whiff of sanctimonious BS trailing in the wake of the tattered knight as he rides (predictably) into the setting sun.

Paulo Coelho says that every Warrior will at some time in the Journey, doubt, fail, betray, fall into the Abyss, lose faith and question the dream of his own Legend.

I have many times sought a way to impart the Vision that drives me to bend down and touch the earth and stones of the crags where I climb and enjoy so many days of my life. And I have many times lost patience and momentum to squabble and snarl like a junkyard dog with packs of fools and people just as opinionated as myself, imparting nothing but invective, leaving nothing but a bad impression.

I am only human, as I must so often remind myself. I have a dream, but nothing of grand and sweeping scope, nothing to change forever the lives of my fellow humans. It is in the end a simple proposition. We must be stewards to the lands and crags upon which we travel because if we are not, then we are some of the most destructive idiots on the planet. We do not come to harvest fruit or game, but in our passing we create massive impact. Our disruption of the biosphere stretches from the common ground, if you will, of the horizontal world up the perpendicular faces where few of the other users of the forest venture.

In other words, our IMPACT is twice that of our fellow users.

And all of this to climb up a piece of stone.

But me no buts about climbers being more environmentally conscious or active. I’ve been in this game for three decades now, and I’ve mangled the rules a few times myself. Climbers have good intentions and poor application. They carry reuseable hemp shopping bags to big “organic” grocery stores and shop fair trade goods from Indonesia and Zaire in the giant chain stores in the metroplexes where they live. They buy their gas (or the electricity for their hybrid) from huge corporations, then come to West Virginia and throw their trash away. They send their yearly check to the Access Fund and the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and Amnesty International or Doctors Without Borders which are all wonderful organizations but few if any of them have a maintained, dependable impact on the communities near where 90% of the people in the United States climb. Yes, the Access Fund does sponsor Adopt-A-Crag. Yes, they do stay involved in the fight to secure and preserve access to climbing areas everywhere. Yes, a lot of influential people believe very strongly in their mission. And yes, they are introducing a lot of new people to the art of climbing every single day... and thus increasing impact, and the likelihood of access issues for them to resolve in the future.

It's called job security.

When was the last time you read or heard of the Access Fund, Climbing Magazine, Rock and Ice or anyone else sponsoring a sit-in or demonstration to stop mountaintop removal, or organizing a hands-on seminar on trail building and impact management, at a crag near you? And it’s that last bit that’s important, boys and girls, oh yes indeed. If you don’t get that beta a lot closer to home than the Regional Conference on Impact Management and Resource Conservation in Reno, then your shiny gathering of experts and celebrities amounts to little more than a headline, some filler, and a photo op for fundraising.

These mountains belong to all of us and they are being destroyed by greedy corporations and despoiled by irresponsible visitors and narrow-minded locals. The fight to save public lands is not a hobby, it is a war. And environmental activism is not accomplished with a checkbook or a regional conference.

Every day is trail day.

And every day is trash clean-up day.

If you find a fresh dump of trash in your local crag’s parking area, don’t just leave it. You can get free trash bags and gloves from most local Department of Highways garages any day of the week and they are often open on Saturdays. If you bag it and tell them where it is, they will come pick it up on any state road.

We are already altering the native environment forever, no matter how sensitive we are to that change, or how active, informed and involved we may be globally. We pay no fees, buy no permits, and bring the largest groups, by far, of any sport. I have seen fifty people crammed into a three-acre crag, with a half-dozen dogs and several children included in that count. At the end of the day, the trails and the underbrush surrounding them, not to mention the areas along the top of the cliffs, looked as though cattle had stampeded through the forest. I saw at least a dozen Access Fund or environmental organization stickers on bumpers and helmets that day, and on most other occasions that I’ve been to a crag with devastating impact and erosion.

I do not decry the dreams and ambitions of the next generation. I have always known you would come. Welcome to it.

But remember that honor is a gift a person gives to himself or herself. Honor the tradition that we, the few, have tried to pass down to you, one of both good routes up the cliff and good routes to the cliff. Harder numbers are nothing that will bring you great joy in the long run, believe me. You will eventually derive as much love and satisfaction from a well-crafted 5.8 as ever you felt cranking up some steep crimpfest. And if you make of the crag and trails a thing of function and beauty, as in balance with nature and the heartbeat that speaks with a thousand voices from the world all around you as any work of Mankind can ever be, you will honor yourself.

If we only take, and do not give as an act of selfless love towards the places that give us so much, then we are no better than the most selfish users of the forest. If we do not lead by belief and example, then our voices and our causes mean no more than any other in the decisions and fates of our public lands. By good stewardship we empower ourselves and the generations of climbers and adventurers to come.

So join what organizations you will. Head out to Adopt-A-Crag and National Trails Day and even those ridiculous Mid-Atlantic Climbers Coalition cleanups of car pullouts on the Skyline Drive. Do what you want.

But the next time you are speeding up the trail to hit that project or start your weekend, take time to stop, bend down, and replace that kicked-out border stone. Take a few minutes to slip off your pack, breathe some morning air, and fix that wobbly step. And speak up when you see someone else trampling the underbrush or crosscutting the trails.

Meanwhile, I’ll be trying to stop, take a deep breath, and control the urge to scream at basically good people who just don’t get it. I’ll be trying to mend some fences with former friends who’ve felt the razor edge of my sarcasm and wit. Not with much hope, but the only thing a man can do when passion leads him astray is to admit he has misspoken and bow deep in humble contrition.

And again, I have preached to this small choir, beating a dead horse, wasting space and the fleeting moments of my elderly life.

I thank you all for your patience with a crusty old man.

It is a narrow difference, the dividing line between caricature and ideal. I came to West Virginia over two decades ago, filled with youthful dreams and ideals. I traveled far and lost a number of both, then came back to find them waiting for me in those mysterious green hills and lost crags. I have tried and, to some degree, succeeded in changing a number of things in the places I have lived and climbed. I have also had some notable and spectacular failures. I lost a number of my illusions and found the love of my life.

It is my story, my personal Legend, and if it is trite, or banal, or cliché, well… I guess I’m okay with that.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Production Mode

Following a Wednesday of loading crates and tubs and crossing mountains to set up a storage unit and run errands in Harrisonburg, Cindy and I spent Thursday dodging incredible runoff still cascading out of the hills. Tuesday's torrential overnight rains brought flashfloods throughout Pendelton and Grant Counties, washing out roads, ditches, and stripping soil from croplands and gardens. In some places, the water came up 6-8 FEET overnight, when as much as 2 inches of rain fell on already saturated ground. Even after a full day of cleanup on Wednesday, the conditions were still questionable Thursday. The morning dawned somewhat cloudy and cooler, leading us to doubt, but the sky cover gradually cleared and we headed into increasing spring sunshine.

Cindy B and I arrived to find Mr. Fisher loading pack at the car. We hiked up to the crag together, stopping briefly to eye the new project, then headed up to the main walls to see what conditions there looked like.

Fifty feet from the Reach, we cold hear water POURING over the rock. the right end of the wall looked like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, with a fine spray of mist glowing in the morning light and water falling over a 25 foot stretch of face, pooling several inches deep beneath and running off the hillside in a steady stream. Evidence revealed that flows had also poured out of several of the small "caves" in the base of the wall at a few points, but the new steps and trails stayed solid and seemed to have settled in quite nicely.

We climbed Superman, which Mike followed by "beating the crap out of (himself)" on Grain of Sand. He eventually lowered and we headed down for a run on Thieves in the Temple, and Second Rule, with Mister F using the last ascent to set a TR on the hard new project L of Cold Day in Hell. I then led Second again and Cindy followed to clean the gear. By now the skies were completely clear and warm breezes blew out of the west as we remarked n this amazing transformation in the weather.

After a short break, Miss Pinkpants wisely headed for the river and a bit of fishing, while Doc Goodwack and I set ourselves to work out the micro-crimper complexities involved in the bottom of the new project.

A steep face with now real footholds led to a wicked heel hook and a cross-over crimper to set up for the throw to the clip jug. Another cross over and fancy footwork led to powerful sidepuls and another bolt, then a grunt to the hands-free rest below the third crux and fourth bolt. Here, strength and determination finally ceded the day to pragmatism as the sun sank low in the west and the realization of draws to be retrieved from Grain of Sand sank in. Mike batmanned a section, then cranked the easier headwall and cleaned gear before lowering. An hour and a horrendous rap-and-swing session later, we were on our way down the trail.

We found Cindy in possession of no fewer than THREE proud catches, and soon inherited two more trout from a fisherman less interested in cleaning than catching. We made our good-byes, Mister Fisher heading home to prepare for work the next day and the Power Couple wending north to our increasingly empty abode.

Monday- Pyro Gets Rhythm! Desecration and Sacrilige at the Entrance Walls! Lies, Scandal, and Rumor!

And, of course, plenty of color commmentary by yours truly, The Curmudgeon.

Stay tuned....

Monday, April 11, 2011


Got out late yesterday to rendezvous with Pyro and Doc Goodwack at Reed's. Despite a gloomy start to the day, the afternoon cleared and we found ourselves setting toprope on the new line L of Shaved Scamper under blue skies with only a few fluffy clouds. The previous night's rain, however, had been torrential and most of the crag was dripping water, as the creek raged below. While cindy relaxed in the warm sun, Pyro and I headed up to see what the good Doctor was doing.

Doc Goodwack, aka Mike Fisher, was finishing up the bolting and cleaning of his hard new line L of Cold Day in Hell. Pat and I left him to the fnial bolting and hiked on up the trail to clean up a bit under Ryan Eubank's newest project. Fifteen minutes made a world of difference, and we wandered back down towards where Cindy waited, passing M.fisher on the way. Mike debated a few minutes over leaving his new line unmarked as a project. I assured him that there were very few mortals who would be able to just walk up and onsight climb the initial crux or two, so he pulled gear and soon joined us for a toprope burn or two down at the Power Couple Wall.

Pat and I had headed up earlier to set a rap line and toprope, the first to allow him some practice at getting down over the top to anchors, rebelaying there, and then using his new Petzl Shunt to back-up a rappel and as a soloist aid when climbing in conjunction with a static line.

While Pat worked out the complexities and headgames required for his chosen goals of the day, I rapped and tapped the line, then offered a TR ride to Miss Cindy and the crew. Once they had finished their runs with glowing praise of the line's quality and sustained pump, I climbed it one more time, clipped hard into the anchors, and set-up the rope for rappel. I pulled up the drill and tools, settled earplugs and glasses and blow tube around my neck and started the long-tedious process of rap-bolting.

Let anyone who says that rap bolting is taking the easier road come do a bit of it on our steep, sandy, humid WV crags. After the anchors, which had gone in quickly and easily, my first bolt, a donated piece of hardware from friends in the North, snapped off cleanly at the face as I was putting the final torque on it.

This scared the living hell out of me, because the strength of my bolts are literally a life-and-death matter. If I could snap off a bolt tightening it down with a wrench under minimal load, what would happen if my 200 pounds of solid beef came down on it in a 10-foot fall? Or after dozens of other climbers hung on the bolt and then someone took a good long winger?

I tapped the traitor bolt back into its hole and began the frustrating process of finding another bolt placement when the first one goes south. The second hole was good, the second bolt survived placement, and in the end the clip was only moved about 8 inches. The rest of the line went in without incident, but it was a jarring reminder of the fact that some very kind and generous people, who live extraordinarily sumptuous lifestyles, who think nothing of dropping $50 on a bottle of liquor or more on thir favorite vices, people who have climbed all over the United States and, in some cases, the globe, turn around and ignore all their own experiences, putting their lives and the lives of others at risk by trying to save a few dollars on hardware.

I sorted through my remaining gear and removed all the suspect bolts, which will do just fine for mounting porch rails and deck cleats. Mike and I talked about innocent malfeasance, looking at a botched pruning job done, supposedly to clear a "project". This screwed up tree butchery and the weak effort at route development were all done by a climber who, despite having climbed Mt. Everest and pulling hard numbers at crags across the south, just couldn't seem to get around to putting up the project he had placed anchors on 6 months ago. This guy, who is a lawyer in D.C. (not exactly a low-income job) is too tight to supply his own hardware, cleaning tools, or drill. He repeatedly ignored ivitations for community trailwork, and usually showed up with at least one partner in tow the day after the work was done, which was in fact what he had done following recent efforts by Lyndon State College. Now, in addition to screwing up the cliffs, he had cut through a 4-inch limb in mid-branch, leaving a pointed stub that actually aimed at the climb he was "developing"!

I've said it before but it bears repeating: The worst problems of the climbing community are, first and foremost, "entitled" climbers who take no responsibility for their own impact, who treat locals and landowners like shit and screw up access, who generally think that they are God's gift to climbing. The second worst problem is the community that remains silent when the aforementioned genetic mistakes act like assholes.

We parted at the road with plans to rejoin Mike mid-week to send the new lines. I tossed my stuff in with Pyro to go in search of Miss Pinkpants.

Cindy had headed off to threaten the finny residents of the south Branch, and had three on the stringer when we got there. she fished for another half hour as Pyro and I shot the bull, looking at all the potential of the Entrance Walls and across the river at the privately-owned haven of Jake's Hill, where I have a trad 5.7 and a sport 5.8. a departing fisherman handed off two more fish and we decided that the day had come to a pretty good end. Pat headed back across the mountain and we wandered north to Petersburg, with fish to clean and smiles on our faces.

Friday, April 8, 2011

My personal heroine, Miss Cindy Bender

For anyone who was present at the recent Trail Daze, or indeed awake at any of the local crags for most of the last three years, Cindy Bender has become a fixture in Smoke Hole area climbing. Her ready smile and laughter, her generous and encouraging nature, her often vocal resolve to climb as hard as she can, whenever she can, redefining the limitations of the battle she fights day to day with and shattering all the myths of what a former mom, stroke victim, and multiple back surgery patient can accomplish with a singular focus of will, an unflinchingly honest assessment ofd reality and an open acceptance of whatever life brings.

I offer here a link to her blogsite, and a look into aa life less ordinary, one I am proud to share.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Paradigm Revision

Here's the model-

You decide to visit the South, somewhere outside the busy growing heart of New River Gorge, recently re-"exposed" with a new guidebook and a slew of magazine aticles. Seneca Rocks is a bit firther off the map and offers the history and cultural background to make the trip more than simply an excercise in rock climbing. Added bonus, there is a small sport crag nearby... downside is, it's one with a vociferous, cantankerous curmudgeon railing about the trails and access and responsibility and generally making an ass of himself.

But you are the Sensei... you transmute the raw stuff of humanity into human beings, as best you can with your wits and the tools of academia. There is something familiar in the issues this geezer is raising, the same issues as have risen again and again across the face of the clinmbing world; impact, disregard, and apathy. A misplaced sense of entitlement that overpowers and supercedes the more important perception of responsibility and sustained, active involvement of stewardship. Besides, the harsh bastard seems to put up more than a few lines and he's pretty damned funny, from time to time.

If the Curmudgeon cannot come to the Sensei, the Sensei indeed will come to the Curmudgeon and his mountains.

Jamie Struck, the Sensei in question, led a Spring Trip crew from the Outdoor Adventure program of Lyndon State College into the shadow of some of the most historic and controversial of West virginia's climbing areas. He turned shite to gold and forever altered my perception of what a small group of determined people could do to mkae a real difference all while HAVING FUN!! LSC was the first group whose approach was entirely proactive. Their first day at Franklin began with trailwork, replanting at the base of Castaways and mulching a bare hilllside with 8 bags of local cedar mulch. They also moved several hundred pounds of stone, re-edging a long stretch of trail and helping build the cross-rail below Franklinstein.

Then they broke out the ropes and pulled all the nmoderates and a few harder lines about an inch closer to the ground.

The following year was one of controversy and questionable actions at Franklin Gorge, many of them mine. I apparently erred in assuming that I could act without the concensus of the same community which failed to speak out as groups and dogs trampled the undegrowth out of existance, dug open hillsides and trails, and left trash scattered from the last route to the insanely-full parking lot. I accepted the fact that a new era had come to Franklin, one in which I was not welcome, due as much to my own sparkling personality as to any major shift in ethics. Good routes, a personal vision and ethic of climber responsibilty and stewardship, and long hours of trailwork cannot compete with laid-back personality, crag dogs, and world travelers with a connect to The Scene. The sheer volume of the weekend masses from commercial ventures crowding this tiny crag on private property without the knowledge or consent of the landowners became far more than I could silently stomach. I saw the same group of posers and hard pullers completely avoiding any trailwork or responsibility for the impacty of the crowds they guided through the crags they had taken no part in creating.

In searching for a place to escape the endless circle of questions and cascading inevitabilities of impact, I followed the oldest program I know... I turned down an old back road to nowhere.

On the same evening Clay Clarke and Mike Fisher were putting the twilight send on the steepfest "Davey Jones Locker" at Franklin Gorge, I was walking through the falling dusk, ten miles away, staring at walls of pockets and horizontals, of stacked roofs and long, varied face climbs. I had climbed the same ridge, lost in thought, only to stop dead in my tracks at the foot of a featured wall with two bolted routes tucked into a pocketed corner below what was obviously a local huter's boneyard. Nearby was another, with a few abandoned tools in the brush at the base and a trace of initial trailwork, or at least pruning and trundling.

But the webbing on the anchors proved stiff with age, and it seemed no one had been here in at least three years, maybe four.

Thus the nom du crag The Boneyard was born. This was my second trip, hiking in from where the cliffband eventually bent down to touch the shoulder of the road. I moved steadily along the featured base.

The potential left me speechless, and the mystery of the apparently abandoned routes added spice to the game. I contacted the local NFS offices and gat a handful of computer overlays that seemed to indicate the cliffs as Public land, but they were ambiguous at best.

When Jamie and crew contacted me that spring, we discussed the situation at Franklin and eventually the crew decided that LSC's efforts would be best spent on preserving and improving public lands.

The Lionhearts, as I had nicknamed them, returned to West Virginia, bringing their energy and skills to yet another lost crag, Secret Crag #7. Steps and trails were built, lessons taught and shared, a minimal number of digits smashed or deformed, good food and times had by all despite crappy weather much different from sunfest of the year before. What had been an obscure cliffband took its first steps towards becoming a crag. Many mighty efforts were expended on attempts at the face that would later become "Shaved Scamper".

and when away from the crags, Jamie and the crew encountered and interacted with locals in a positive, open way. They stayed in locally-owned campgrounds, shopped for meals in local stores and ate their final WV meal in the Korner Cafe in Franklin. They touched the heart of the crusty old curmudgeon, got their first taste of venison, climbed a via ferrata, scaled lines at Seneca, pulled trad in Judy Gap and fostered hope for another generation yet to come, even if they had to come from the other end of New England.

This year's crew was true to that tradition in every sense of the word. They powered through the 13-hour commute and had camp set in less than an hour. They rose to snow and sleet and Mike Gray's famous breakfast burritos and went out to do great things. They rallied in the face of truly crappy conditions and saddled up. The sleet changed to snow and the rain almost died but still kept falling and they still shouldered tools and went up the hill to go to work. They built trail and moved stone like junior titans, laughed and swore, farted and ran around excitedly, all while redefining about 100 yards of game trails, loose stone and steep hillside. The sun came out and shone down upon their golden and brown curly heads.

They ate (read: inhaled) a lunch of homemade chicken salad and bean soup, grabbed ropes and shoes and packs and went back up the new trails to shred like rabid weasels. They followed this first day with a week of discovery and imagination, community and humanity; exploring Germany Valley's karstlands, cranking trad at Seneca and encountering their first local reptile. They returned to Nelson Gap to find the new owners competent and professional, and finished their trip by becoming the first visitors to cross the South Branch and onsight Eagle Rock AFTER a full day at Nelson. We waved them good-bye at 4:30 a.m. from the chilly sidewalk lights below Cindy's apartment.

Lyndon State College defined the top of the bar, throwing down the gauntlet for every other climber and organization that carries a rope into the woods of West Virginia. Not by words but by deeds, they left a clear message.

"This is the Model."

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

New Voyages, Old Dreams

Right now, the fire is flickering out. Jamie is scribbling in his new journal, or answering one of a thousand final questions. The LSC crew is likely asleep or close to it, except for Katie.

They will rise in the morning, before dawn, and run north and east through the sleeping mountains that have so enjoyed their presence fo the last six days. In their stay they have climbed new troutes and discovered new depths and stren gths inside themselves. They questioned and listened, worked and played and renminded an old man of what community looks like. In the process, they changed the face of a small corner of West Virginia rock climbing.

Jamie Struck is an amazing climber, instructor, and person. I do not call him sensei purely out of jest. It has been and continues to be a shared journey of lessons and discoveries.

MOre later, but for now- my deepest thanks, to Jamie and the LSC Crew, to Pyro Pat for pasta and service above and beyond and Speyburn and to Cindy for amazing work on all aspects of hosting a crew of lions.