07 May, 2011


There's something nice about the sun poking through the ever present thick grey clouds of a Cleveland morning, sipping coffee, going through the morning routine. Its all made better when people make the soundtrack for you. Cleveland = music, and when up here, I always end up digging around, or more so "remembering" that there's an endless amount of great stuff to find. Oh Asheville, you offer so much to the outdoorsy side of me, but your music scene is a barren plain of statement, populated only by extremely skilled musicians with little new to say.

Jai Paul - BTSTU (Edit) by Jai Paul

Up here for a few days, paying some favors to friends, landscaping the houses if it ever dries up enough or warms up enough, and spending the day/afternoon/night at the Cicli Polito fabrication shop touching up the front end of my bike. We were aiming for a short wheel base, and we may have over shot it, so its time for a slightly modified new fork to dial it in. Going boldly into new territory and loving the ride so far, and love that the building process is so flexible on this one. Finished product is eagerly awaited.

At 8:40 a lot of folks are up and over Black Mountain and well into their PMBAR day. For once I'm quite satisfied to be lumbering through the morning in the empty house of a friend, accompanied by strong coffee and a bowl of blueberries.

04 May, 2011

Working the Grades

This past weekend was a prime opportunity to return to Linville for some more work. Two days, no distractions, mid 70s, and zero rain. First up, Paradise Alley, a 5.8+ "not for the aspiring 5.8 leader."

Linville Gorge was in prime Mountain Laurel blooming season. From the top of Dopey Duck, we could see over Tilted World wall, spotted with pink blooms. Quite a site on both fronts. That's a steep wall. Having not climbed up that side of the canyon before, we went in prepared. Thus far the route descriptions have been adventurous at best. Sometimes two opinions are better than none.The first pitch is the crux, and Todd wanted it. Just fine. The going was slow. For 5.8+ this route get a little wider than I'd like it, and it was wider than Todd liked it either. And the right side of this corner gets up in your face pretty quick. I had to hang even cleaning it. Just don't have the fitness to climb pumpy stuff yet. Its early in the season, no?
Job well done, Todd got a well deserved break at a decent belay station atop the first pitch, and sent me on my way (not pictured....as always). The going was easy, though I was never quite sure I was on route. The easy climbing in Linville is VERY easy. So easy that lichen gets to stick around. You are often climbing on lichen covered buckets, unsure of exactly where you are. Eventually I landed us a pretty nice ledge. Big enough to call and check in with Katy before her WORS race.Technical aside; been climbing with the Alpine Cock Ring as my new anchor choice. The A.C.R. for short.
Three piece system, self equalizes, quick to set up, redundant via clove to the strongest piece, extension limited by shorting the longest leg with an overhand or 8 on a bite. If one piece blows, it looks like this:I'm happy with that. Other benefits, completely unmistakeable hot point, room for 3 carabiners (leader, tag line, second), and the cordelette COULD still be used like a standard set up with pre-equalization, or just wrapped around a tree, cut to do something interesting, and you have a rap ring at your disposal. Not bad.

Todd drew p3, a 5.7 romp up an overhanging wall with huge holds.And the route has more great ledges to give up. Including a great diving board overlooking the gorge atop p3.
More bad pitches for Robb. I drew this crappy choss pile for p4. It was supposed to be 5.8. I think it had 4 feet of 5.8, followed by 5.nothing. It did have the cool opportunity to step across a chasm 200 feet up. The first 3 pitches are actually on a buttress detached from the proper wall. Finished it up with little or no trouble. Communication is a little non existent on wandering, windy 4th pitches, and Todd got a loop of rope stuck around some crap rock and had to take a fall. I was 100ft away with no idea what was happening. I set up a huge leash on the anchor and walked down to see what was going on; found Todd hanging above the chasm looking non plussed. Route in the bag, we enjoyed some cold beverages we had hauled in. Saturday Done.

Okay, Sunday. A shorter version, because we really don't have any pictures. This problem needs to get fixed. The third pitch of Contruction Job, 5.9 offers some pretty aesthetic climbing. And I did it with the camera in my pocket. Its up there in the sandy brown rock, and the roofs above it, ending on a small ledge beneath the diving boards at the top. This photo shows mostly the first pitch.
The technical crux was the arching dihedral moving through the lighter colored rock. A couple thin finger moves up the arching crack, some balancy footwork stepping across some blank rock to a crimper, and then continuing on above your gear to some good holds and solid gear. After that, its some hopefully quick moves up very steep roofs. The holds that mother nature has left up there are unbelievable. Cutting your feet off into the air, above your gear, and not really worrying about; priceless. Easy terrain with enough gear, but the overhang, and exposure makes it amazing. I want it again, just going to have to find someone else who wants to go back. Todd got to second all the fun.While he was up to that, I got to hang out and watch vultures ride thermals on yet another great A.C.R. anchor.Exhausted, both mentally and physically from the third pitch, I headed home for a little recovery. I say a little because monday at 7 a.m. was another CrossFit class, followed by an early shake down of the new Cicli Polito ride. More on that later. No rest for the wicked.(and Pisgah Works now has wool available. New wool hoodies; nights are still cool, plus, you know you'll want one when fall rolls around again.)

27 April, 2011

Full use of Avery Creek

Wednesday was here. I was recovered from the weekend of road miles. I was at wits end negotiating my way out of underemployment with people who define shortly as: three months. I wanted to put in some more miles, get the Niner out in the woods, and do some fishing.

Cue Avery Creek.

A few weeks back I had finished off a larger loop in Pisgah with a descent down Avery, and passed a fisherman within the last two miles. We talked tackle, and this very novice fisherman put it in his head to have a go at it next time the opportunity arose.
With a lite load of fishing gear, and some extra clothes, I headed down to the White Pines area, intending to go up Maxwell, and push over the top of Black. A downpour commensed at the Horse Stables and changed my mind. I was here more for the fishing, and if the forecasted storms had already started to reach us, I wanted to get on with it. So up Clawhammer in the rain became the plan.
The rain stopped along the upper section of Black. Spring is ready to explode up here, with crocus, wild flowers, ferns, and some lillies all in various stages of their cycle. The trail was in great shape, the rain having offered great traction on the steeper sections.
I stopped at the Black/Avery intersection to sure up the gear. The last thing I wanted was for my rod to go shooting off my back, or to catch a low branch and take me with it. The section of Black leading into this point, and the very beginning of Avery define Pisgah riding for me. Sections of steep, loose, rocky trail; water bars dropping off into V shaped gulleys; black organic mud turned to primordial ooze by a nearby spring; improbable downed logs made just passable by the impromptu engineering of a fellow trail rider. I don't ride it fast, but selecting a clean line down the whole trail has taken some time. Now that I wasn't just on a riding day, I took the time to hike down to the falls that you can hear down in the ravine after making most of the descent. Pretty impressive, and still flowing strong. I saw some tiny tiny Brooks swimming in the pool at the base. At least I knew there were fish up here. I wasn't alone in the wet forest. The area surrounding the base of the falls was littered with snails, probably enjoying its forever wet environment. They seemed to like Rhodo leaves, and there was no shortage of them down here.

On to the fishing. I ditched the bike a couple times and walked into the headwaters. I fished a few very technical little pools, doing little more than dropping a fly in for a few feet of drift. There wasn't much room to cast, and I was often almost sitting in the sprung branches of a Rhodo or Mt. Laurel to do so. Surprisingly I got a couple rises, and a bite, but was spooking fish two easily in the tight corridors.

Onto a larger pool, where I had some clearance to roll cast a bit, keeping my distance from the target. On my third cast I got a bite that stuck, and popped a small Brook a few feet above the water, and swung him back to me. I had him in my hand, and in an effort to get a photo, lost him. I threw a few more casts, and got nothing, and moved on.

Hit a few more pools down stream, going back to get my bike from time to time in case the storms hit. In a last ditch effort to actually land a fish, I returned to the pool where I had the bite. It had been over an hour, and everyone was feeling safe and hungry again. I got 3 or 4 instances where the fly was gulped from the surface of the water, but I was two slow, or had too much line out, to set the hook. And then finally; got one.So its definitely no trophy catch, but it is my first wild caught trout. Avery isn't hatchery supported, so these are genuine North Carolina trout, and its early in the year. They tend to spook easy, but bite on a less picky diet.

Feeling like I had had a full day, I switched back into my riding shoes, packed everything up, and finished off the rest of Avery, looking off to my left at all the stream left to explore.

26 April, 2011

The Cleveland Brutal Riding Tour

Maybe its because we watched "Until the Light Takes Us." Or maybe its because a few of the guys ride for Scum City Racing, a Black Metal infused alleycat/road/cyclocross team they've put together from the underbelly of Cleveland. Or maybe its just because it was over 80 degrees. Whatever the reason, this weekend was spent turning up the brutality day after day for a nice block of riding to kick off the season for the Cleveland crew.

Jay, Guy and George made it down after a late start (happy birthday Guy) on Thursday. We suited up quickly and headed out to stretch their car trip legs. We spun the river road out to Montford in a misting rain. As it started to get dark, we made our way up Sunset, to Old Toll, portaged around the road closure near the turn to Bent Tree. The views over Asheville lit up for the evening made it seem bigger than it was. We made Town Mountain just at dark, and made an interesting descent, with me nearly meeting my maker as a car came 6 feet left of center, and kept coming as we passed eachother.

Friday morning saw a wheel change for George after somehow breaking a spoke on Friday's ride. The kitchen was also whirlwind of activity. The guys know how to destroy a kitchen, make breakfast, and have it clean again in a matter of minutes. Fueled up, and bikes ready, we layered up for a chilly Friday ride in the upper 40s. Back out the River Rd., and through UNCA up to Kimberly. As we were bundled up eager to ride, we passed similarly bundled up folks eager to golf at the Grove Park course. Not a great golf day for sure.

Flat rolling terrain is the norm for these guys, so when given the chance, they just push it in pacelines on the stuff. So, having been out for about 30-40 minutes thus far, they thought they were well into their ride. I'm used to easing out along the river, and turning it on at the base of the climbs. Our two styles collided as we hit the base of Elk, and I told them the business was just starting. Elk was a nice introduction to climbing, and a tasted of what was to come. Weather was pretty stable on the way up, but after the summit, a fog, easily 10 degrees cooler, had rolled into the saddle above Bull Gap. We made the final descent down Elk to the BRP in a fog that barely allowed 15 yards visibility. My wool was covered in tiny droplets of water, and a few of the more unlucky guys were just wet and cold. We continued to drop down the Parkway, with barely enough visibility to feel comfortable on the descent, let alone see any of the views down into the Riceville valley. We made it back after a nice little 2+ hour ride. The guys had learned their lesson about pushing it out to the climbs. Cleaned up, and rested up, we rolled out to Pro Bikes for some supplies, Harvest Records for a little music, and to Ritrovo for some Pizza. The Pizza never stood a chance.

Saturday morning, early start, big plans. The first BIG ride of the trip. Killing two birds with one stone, Saturday's ride would start at 12 Bones South. It eliminates some boring, trafficked miles at the beginning/end of the ride, and allows us to end the ride with pork products. The Route: Sweeten Creek -> Mills Gap -> Concord Rd. -> Cane Creek Rd. -> Lower Brush Creek -> Upper Brush Creek -> Charlotte Hwy -> Hollywood Rd -> Garren Creek -> Morgan Hill -> Hwy 9 -> Chestnut Hill Rd -> becomes Old Fort Rd -> Charlotte Hwy -> Rose Hill -> Pinners Cove -> Mills Gap -> Sweeten Creek -> Ribs.

The first part of the route was a nice way to stretch yesterday's climb out of the legs. Rolling terrain, some short steep ups, long flat sections; perfect to ease everyone into the day. The Garren Creek climb starts out barely noticeable, easing its way out of the farmland. When the real business started, we regrouped at the last switchback for a snack, and finished it off without much difficulty. We spread out a bit on the descent, taking in the scenery, nice farms, a field filled with Shetland ponies, the creek running along the road. The Morgan Hill descent was as fun as ever. Wide open and fast at the top, some tight turns, and perfect road surface. I think someone sweeps the corners. The creek at the bottom was running high and clear, and made for a nice backdrop as we gathered together again after the descent. Hwy 9 gave Jay and I a chance to open it up a bit and we chased eachother up and over the first climb, regrouping on the long flat section, before taking off again on the second climb and regrouping again near the Straight-Away Cafe.

The climbs were starting to break the group up a bit, and we did our best to stick together over the multiple steep punches that Chestnut Hill throws. The long rolling tail of the road got us back to Charlotte Hwy feeling a little recovered. We took a break behind the nursery on Old Charlotte Hwy and ate a bunch of food. I gave out the last of my hydration to George, who was having trouble in the heat today. Making the left onto Rose Hill, I let the guys know what they were in for, and let the group spread out. Jay took off up the hill, with Guy sticking pretty close. I stayed in the middle, trying to keep an eye on George. Gotta protect your sprinters in the hills.

Some cramping, a little walking, lots of heat, and we all made the top, thankful to be there. The descent down Pinner's Cove starts extremely tight, and then opens up and dumps you into the valley, with a few rollers before getting back to Concord. Thankfully that intersection is at the top of Concord, and all we had to do was roll down, make a left, and order lunch. Lots of Ribs, grits, potato salad, some barbecue chicken, and a few beers washed the day way on the back porch of 12 Bones. The rest of the day was napped off at the house, while I ran out to Hickory Nut Gap for some more meat products for the evening's grill.

Sunday, Brutal Sunday. I think Jay asked for it, but I'm not sure he really wanted it. When this trip was planned a few months back, he wanted to do some things they'd never get to do in Ohio. How about a 10 mile climb with 6 miles of loose gravel? How about we do some steep climbing before that. And we'll introduce the whole day with some more gravel? Adding to the fun, I actually got up and did some mountain biking at Bent Creek in the morning. Katy and I met in the parking lot a year ago, to the day. I rescued a cute little out of towner from riding aimlessly around the forest. And the rest, is (little known semi-secretive) history.

The road ride then started around 11:30 from the house. Route: River Road -> Broadway -> Through UNCA -> Up through Luella's BBQ to Kimberly -> Beaverdam Road -> Webb Cove -> BRP -> Ox Creek -> Reems Creek -> Maney Branch -> Paint Fork -> Barnardsville Hwy -> Dillingham Road -> Stoney Fork -> BRP -> Tunnel Road -> Home.

We kept it nice and easy for everything that wasn't a climb today. Rolled out nice and slow to Webb Cove, and stayed pretty much together. The first gravel climb was well received, no one was too put out by the extra effort needed, and all the seated climbing. Jay and I pushed it up the Ox Creek switchbacks, and we all descended into the Reems Creek Valley together, and eased along the flat section leading to the day's first steep climb. Jay had asked for a few sections to go off on hard efforts. I offered up the Maney Branch climb and he took it. After the rest of us snaked our way to the highpoint, Jay quickly admitted, "that hurt." Good. He's getting the full value day.

Another long descent down into Barnardsville, and regrouping in the valley below. Everyone was a bit low on water, and the thought that Easter Sunday may close my favorite Dillingham gas station entered my head. We pulled over under a bridge to cool off in the river. It was well over 80 degrees, and the last climb had been wide open, windless, and hot. The river gave everyone a chance to soak their legs, cool off, splash some water over themselves.

Thank goodness for the good 'ole boy gas station on Dillingham Road, and their willingness to be open on Easter Sunday. I think it saved the day, and offered some local color for our ride. There's always a few mechanic types in dirty overalls hanging on the porch, perfectly willing to talk bikes and mountains and gravel, as long as you can understand the dialect. I've been doing it a while, and still miss 80% of what comes out of their mouth. They always know how many people have been up Stoney Fork lately, and what condition it is in, and usually what the weather is like up top. They just site there like some kind of Oracles, but I'm ever thankful they do.

Ahh Stoney Fork. You Suck. I forget every time I go out there that its actually pretty unrelentingly steep, and now looser than ever. I stuck with Jay for a bit, but let him go to pull off and splash in two of the waterfalls on the way up. Eventually, I actually caught him, standing, dejected in the middle of the road. We remounted together, and then he needed another break. This break involved laying down in the road. I left from this point and finished it off, struggling to keep my bike upright, and tracking, in the loosest and steepest sections just before the final right hand turn. Happy to be on top, I turned back and watched for Jay. He emerged, broken, around the corner, one foot in front of the other, and bike next to him. Best quote of the day. "I don't know why you'd ever do this more than once." Jay had done Stoney Fork, and would never do it again. George was next, looking surprisingly good after yesterday's cramping and walking. I was imagining him coming up to me and punching me, but he was in good spirits. The top does a great job of erasing the last hour. Guy rounded the corner last, after having to walk a few stretches due to a pulled groin aggravated over the past few days.

It was a great climax to the weekend. I nice progression starting Thursday, and more or less ending Sunday at the top of Stoney Fork. The 40 minute descent back down to the 70 exit from the BRP came easy, stopping a few times for photos. The day was once again erased over a big meal, burgers and beers at UJ in West Asheville.

More than one of those guys will see Stoney Fork, or Rose Hill, or maybe the views from the Parkway in their dreams this week.

20 April, 2011

Multisport weekends over and over again.

Two plus years ago when I moved here, part of the motivation was that I'd be able to sneak climbing back into my life. Over the past decade I had gone from a dedicated/full time climber, living in my car at NRG or RRG, making lots of trips to Seneca, The Gunks, ADK, Red Rocks, Zion etc etc to a guy who owned a lot of climbing gear that mostly stayed in a rubbermaid bin.

Biking became easier. I was a messenger, then I was a sport racer, then I was training, using intervals and a trainer, and then I was racing pro/expert all over the country. Riding was just more accessible when I lived up north, and it squeezed climbing out; completely.

So with the move I've put myself 45 minutes from Looking Glass, Cedar Rock, Rumbling Bald, and an hour (or two) to Linville depending on which side of the gorge I'm heading to. Gotta say; Life is good again. I like the balance of riding and climbing I've found. And I've been consistent enough with the latter so that I'm no longer just frolicking up 5.8s anymore.

Case in point. Last weekend...going way back now...Todd and I climbed Flappin in the Breeze, 5.10a at the Flakeview Area of Rumbling Bald. The next day I rode with a team in from Atlanta, and did 6 hours of Pisgah riding. We stopped a bunch early on, extending the ride time, but I eventually just left the group and added on a section at the end. Black Mountain - Turkey Pen - Mullinax - Squirrel - SMR - Buckhorn - Black - Avery. Both days were things I felt really good about.
Flappin in the Breeze is at Flakeview area at Rumbling Bald, soaking in the sun. Three pitches go at 5.9+, 5.9+ and 5.10a. Both the 5.9+ pitches were harder than the 10a pitch, but that always seems to be how it goes. The gear was awkward, and sparse, and the gray area of 5.9+ is about my limit right now on gear. Climbing that many pitches at my limit is good for me. And, after a fall and early spring of throwing ourselves at 5.7s and 5.8s, it finally felt like Todd and I were climbing again.
Looking down on some sparse gear on p2
After leading the second pitch, in a great headspace, I got to do the other enjoyable thing about climbing. Set up a belay on a comfy ledge, and sit back while Todd went and figured out the third pitch.
Fast forward to this past weekend. Saturday I did the Heartbreak+penalty miles ride with a couple folks (Sunday's post), and Sunday I made my way up to Linville to finally start exploring the southern end of the gorge, Shortoff Cliff. Linville style climbing is more up my alley than the climbing that western NC is known for. I just haven't found my rhythm on those slabby, friction domes of the Nose Area of the Glass, or even made the trip down to Green Mountain or Laurel Knob. I like to hold on to stuff. And I like vertical to overhanging rock.

Maginot's Line. A nice little 5.7+ to get acquainted with the area, and its supposed to be the best 5.7 in the state. Can't over look it. Linville promises Todd and I a nice progression through the grades, with classic 5.8s, 5.9s and 5.10s littered all over the cliff. Summer is going to be good. First we had to get there.After all the rain we'd had, the approach was a little wetter than usual. Todd ended up with a lap full of water on this move, and had to suffer through the first shaded pitch still soaked through. The approach is definitely a little rough, but it keeps the crowds down.
Found our route pretty easily. Todd's up there, about halfway up the first pitch. The second pitch climbs up to the last chockstone below the giant diving board roof. Pitch 3 climbs out and around on to the face, for some great views. Pitch 4 is just a necessary evil to top out, 5.5 climbing and scrambling.Sidenote: we took my new half ropes out on their maiden voyage. At 8.4mm they tie some tiny knots, but no rope has ever handled as nicely as these for me. No longer having to trail a second line for raps is nice, plus the added redundancy you get from climbing on two ropes. I think its going to be a system that gets used quite a bit for everything more than simple cragging.
Todd checking our scaled down guide book to see where pitch 3 went. You can see the burned out side of Linville Gorge below. The fire never jumped the river, so the other side of the gorge stands in stark contrast.
More great ledges to hang out on and contemplate life. By the time Todd had finished up p3, I was finally in some much needed sun. For photo sake, I actually have to slip time here for a minute. I returned to the same climb on Tuesday, taking one of Katy's friends out for his first multipitch. Figured Maginot's would make a good introduction. There's great ledges at all the belays, it gives you full value adventure with the approach and the exposure, I had JUST climbed it two days earlier, and I wanted to do all the pitches, having gotten the short end of the stick on the weekend. SO....Here's a sharp end self portrait of me enjoying some pretty easy moves on beautiful rock in the sun on Pitch 3. Peter coming up behind me; enjoying the air beneath his feet and the friction of Linville's metamorphic sandstone. He's used to the super slick quartzite up at Devil's Lake, WI; this was an eye opening experience for him. More great ledges, this at the top of P3, looking north into the gorge. The upper gorge is definitely a little more scenic, but the logistics down here make for an easy day. We started kinda late, leaving the house at 9:30 or so, and were back at the house, with a beer stop, at 4:00. Nice lazy way to get 4 pitches of climbing in, see no one the whole day, and live in your hands and head for a day. Certainly no complaints from Peter.