Trip Report: (Epic, Beautiful, Strong) Climbing at Hound Ears during Triple Crown Bouldering Series

I don’t know about you, but ever since handing in my score sheet on Saturday afternoon after crushing all day at what easily qualifies as the most beautiful and bountiful bouldering crag I have ever visited, I have been obsessively refreshing the Triple Crown Bouldering Series website, eagerly awaiting to see the final competitor listing – and it’s finally here: The results from the Triple Crown Bouldering Series competition at Hound Ears are officially posted!

But before I reveal how I placed, let’s take a look back at my amazing weekend out at this unbelievable crag:

The adventure began early on Friday morning, as Niko and I left Tallahassee at 6:00 AM on the dot. We wound our way through Georgia and South Carolina before crossing the North Carolina state line early in the afternoon. After a few wrong turns, thanks to my newfangled Apple Maps app, we finally landed at Grandfather Campground.

I was expecting a huge crowd of climbers to be milling around already, but we ended up arriving before registration even began. We set up camp, feasted on delicious Indian food provided free from Triple Crown, and swiftly retreated to our tent to rest up for the big day.

Holy mother of climbers – I have never seen so many folks gathered at a single crag on a single day. Since Hound Ears is only open for public climbing during Triple Crown, the event was sold out. That means a total of 300 climbers were bussed from camp to the peak of the Hound Ears boulder field on Saturday morning. Epic.

Despite having spent the previous evening pouring over our printed guidebooks, Niko and I would have been completely lost without the guidance of an old Tally Rock Gym climber, Ben Wiant, who joined us for the competition with his wife. Along with two other Tally Rock Gym regulars, Monty and Sara, we trekked through the trails towards our first stop of the day: the Air Jesus boulder.

The group warmed up on a row of V0-V2s, and then we dove into a grueling day of crushing. Despite being slightly intimidated by the height of the magnificent Air Jesus boulder, I decided to hop on the V5 version of this classic climb, and sent it within three attempts. I immediately knew it was going to be a great day.

I also quickly realized that it wouldn’t be such a great day for photography. When you’re scurrying around an enormous crag trying to send 10 problems within less than seven hours, whipping out your camera loses priority, very fast. So excuse my not-so-epic pictures, oops.

Niko jumped on a sweet V9 called Air Satan (Low Start), but kept slipping off a slick foot on the top-out. He coulda, woulda, shoulda sent it, but it was early in the day, and we decided to come back to the climb later (which we never did, naturally).

The second part of the day day my favorite send, Bleed Me Out (V5). I was working another set of V5s called Satan’s In The Tires and Body Disposal when one of the Triple Crown judges saw me climbing and insisted that I hop on Bleed Me Out. Frankly, I had already crossed that one off my list of problems I wanted to attempt, purely based on the wretched name.

The route starts on a very solid ledge, with not so great feet. You have to launch out and cross over to a microscopic crimp knob, which you have to match before delicately swinging your feet over and hurdle up to the next tiny crimp. My crux came at the last crimp before the top-out; it was literally invisible from the two non-existent crimps I was already on. I was terrified, but somehow reached up, locked my tiny fingers on the equally tiny hold, and cranked up to the top-out lip. The highlight of my trip was a feeling of absolute elation, which was amplified when I looked down and realized the judge was watching me the whole time. (Thank you wonderful lady for encouraging me to make the send!)

Our next little hike took us to one of the ultimate classics at Hound Ears, a highball V3 called Heretic. I took a little rest while watching the boys crush the huge moves on this towering problem, and cheered Niko on while he sent Unforgiven (V7). Yet again, the Triple Crown judges lent a helpful hand in revealing a hidden crimper that Niko hadn’t been using during his first attempts. With this new bit of beta, he was able to quickly make the send. (Thank you Triple Crown for having such fantastic folks running the event!)

The last truly hardcore session was at the Lost and Found boulders, where I sent two V3s while Niko worked on a vicious V9 called The Brady Problem. It wasn’t a send for him, but he did get to watch Jimmy Webb nonchalantly stroll up to the boulder, send the problem, and merrily stroll away. Pretty neat.

At this point in the day, we were wrecked from the sharp stone. We retreated to the main area in search of burritos (which we missed out on) and easier climbs to finish the day. After getting whooped by a V2 called Evil Slug, Niko convinced me to hop on a lippy V4 called The Anchor, which I miraculously sent despite an overeager spotter who literally talked me off the wall during my first attempt. I loved his enthusiasm, but couldn’t focus on topping out the problem while he was shouting “Come on, come on, get it, get your foot up, crank up, crank over, let’s go, do it!” relentlessly in my ear.

After that, I was completely drained. Who knew climbing 10 V3-V5 problems could be so daunting? I ended the day attempting a few V3 and V4 problems, but couldn’t even lift myself off the ground – so I settled with my 10th score sheet listing, a V1, appropriately named “Lard Ass.” I scored my signatures, surveyed my score sheet, and turned it in to the judges. 

At the end of the day, I had no idea how my performance stacked up against the other lady competitors, but I had already won the battle against myself. With two V5s, a V4, and a handful of V3s, I had rocked my strongest day of climbing to date. I pleasantly enjoyed the remainder of the evening sipping beer and tequila/lemonade cocktails, gorging myself on barbeque provided by Triple Crown, and laughing at the wipeouts during the crash pad stacking contest.

When the winners were finally announced, I knew my name wouldn’t be in the top 3 for women’s intermediate, but my notions of where I might place were instantly crushed when the called out the name of the top climber, Alexa Russell. I had watched her climbing earlier in the day, and she crushed every V5 and V6 she got her hands on (keep in mind, we were competing in the V3-4 category) – and apparently, she’s only 13! I didn’t stand a chance.

Final verdict? I placed 15th in the Women’s Intermediate.
Not too shabby for my first competition.

Overall, I am so satisfied with how the competition turned out. My month of training truly paid off, and I felt incredibly strong throughout the day. The biggest improvement I saw was with top-outs. I have never fearlessly mantled over a flat ledge before, and my confidence was sky-high during Hound Ears. Even on the V2s, I felt like a champion as I rocked my body over the boulders – I only beach whaled twice! 

Next time, I’m going to incorporate more endurance training into my pre-competition workouts. Seriously, sending 10 problems (in seven short hours) at your limit is no easy feat folks.

PS: WHY OH WHY ISN’T HOUND EARS OPEN EVERY DAY? It’s my new favorite crag, and you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be attending every single Triple Crown there for the rest of my climbing career. Hound Ears 2013, anyone?

Oh! Have you entered my giveaway for your chance to win a sweet, BPA-free, 100% recyclable Eco-Bottle? Click here for your chance to win – all you have to do is leave a comment telling us why plastic bottles suck! Giveaway ends on Friday!

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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. 

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A very climber Thanksgiving feast full of Floridians in Colorado

With twenty-two years of bacon-covered, avocado-filled Cuban Thanksgivings under my belt, I experienced a strong mix of emotions while preparing for this year’s November celebration – it was my first holiday spent away from home. Thanks to miniscule budgets and newly-acquired jobs, the rest of my Colorado climber family stuck around too – and we even had a Tally Rock Gym-er fly out to join us in the mountains.

I was determined to keep some of my Cuban meal traditions alive, and my fellow cohorts embarked on similar missions of creating dishes to mimic their favorite family fare. I cooked up black beans drenched in homemade sofrito with rice, avocado salad, and green bean casserole. McGoo experienced his first (and adamantly declared only) foray into chefdom with a delicious sweet potato casserole topped with pecans, and his grandfather’s savory stuffing. Niko made a great batch of garlic mashed potatoes, and donated a Honey Baked Ham gift certificate that got us a delicious brisket.

In addition to the first round of preparations, we had multiple waves of kitchen use that produced an enormous spread of Thanksgiving grub. Steve got a huge turkey from his new job, which Douso draped with bacon before popping into the oven. Steve’s mom pitied our homesick holiday and ordered a beautiful ham for our buffet. Hannah diced up a huge selection of yams, potatoes, peppers, and pearl onions that she doused in a brown sugar and butter glaze. Douso rounded things out with made-from-scratch pumpkin and apple pies.

And of course, McGoo made sure to keep the drinks flowing all morning, afternoon, and night long.

Before long, our guests arrived bearing edible and drinkable gifts. Jerimiah and Adam arrived with arms full of fresh bread from Whole Foods, exotic cheeses and prosciutto, and a hoard of spicy olives. Our bar was soon stacked with everything from Baileys, Kahluha, and cheap tequila to Absolute vodka, Red Stag whiskey, gin and tonic makings, and a huge variety of bottled beer. We made merry while the final casseroles and pies basked for a last few minutes in the oven, then it was time for our grand noshfest to begin.

The meal began with lots of chatter and silverware clinking against glass, then gradually grew into a quiet affair with a gut-clenching crowd. We pleasantly gorged ourselves on every morsel of food we could shovel into our mouths, and I couldn’t have asked for a better family to share my first ‘grown-up’ holiday with. We had all began our adventures down in Florida, and had journeyed to this very moment, crowded around a dinner table in Denver.

Our cookware was largely purchased last minute, upon realizing that none of us vagabonds had proper supplies of kitchen utensils suited for our needs. We purchased the table the night before our meal, and our chair arrangement consisted of every seating vessel scrounged up around the house, and an upside-down tub draped with fabric. It may not have been the fanciest meal, but to a vagabond like me it felt fit for royalty.

While my heart ached to have spent Thanksgiving shouting Spanish across the table and enjoying family traditions that I grew up with, this Colorado celebration was one of the best Thanksgivings I have ever experienced. We were all forced to spend the holiday away from home (besides Niko, who very sweetly came to Colorado to spend the holiday with me), but we had a beautiful time sharing this part of our current adventures. For some, this was the first holiday spent in their new home of Colorado, others saw their last true family meal before moving on to new countries, and some came from across the country just to spend the time together. Me, I was just in it for the bacon and black beans.

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What’s in your climbing pack? The readers have spoken!

I asked my loyal readers a simple question: “What are the top 10 items you’d pack for a climbing trip?” – And the most popular answer came from a non-climber.

“Whiskey, beer, other intoxicating substances, sleeping pills, cigarettes, lighter, fanny pack, sunglasses, and band aids for when you consume all the special treats from your fanny pack and fall flat on your face and break your sunglasses.” – Anonymous

Not exactly the most prolific packing list, but she clearly won the reader’s choice award for her witty answer. Other honorable mentions included mail order Russian brides, nail clippers, guts, a competitive spirit, etc.

What would I stick in my custom made Kendal Jackson pack? My camera, chapstick, fruit leathers, wet wipes and my trusty green water bottle. Check out my packing list from my November trip to Little Rock City.

My favorite answer came from Jeff Williams, who would pack “Nutella, Rigby, CLIMB ON, and Niko” – Rigby is his beautiful Jeep that I lived in for two weeks over the summer during our epic road trip.

Continue reading for more reader submitted packing lists! Continue reading

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It’s official: the new condo has passed the ‘Climber Dinner Party’ test!

Within the past year, I have developed a huge adoration for hosting, and attending, family-style dinners with my climber crew. Not quite apt for pounding shots of vodka or the Florida State ‘club’ scene, my kin from the Tallahassee Rock Gym have fallen into a trend of pot lucks, dinner parties and barbecue grilling.

My enormous old house at 2208 proved to be an excellent venue for hosting dinners; it had a spacious kitchen, lots of room for socializing and a great backyard for fire pits. Moving into my new, smaller condo presented a possible detriment to my passion for being a hostess – but fear not, because the new place has passed the ‘Dinner Party’ test with flying colors. The clean, updated kitchen was one of the first things that drew me to the property, and cooking up huge batches of spaghetti with alfredo sauce – in both vegetarian and chicken varieties – was achieved without fault, if you’ll overlook Niko’s rookie mistake of putting way too much spaghetti in a boiling pot.

What did my guests enjoy the most about the new digs? Our big, cushy couches. The last house meekly offered a painful futon that people refused to torture their rear ends with, so the new couches are a much welcomed improvement. I just need to learn how not to fall asleep on them, which has potential to become an issue.

As usual, I had a wonderful evening with my favorite people. My faithful dinner guests never fail to supply our meals with tasty treats, and this time we were delighted with John and Libby’s famous spicy guacamole, whole grain garlic bread, munchies from my mom and heaps of Pabst Blue Ribbon and Coors – which brings me to a totally irrelevant exclamation: Coors vs. Coors Light is a ridiculous battle that should never be fought. Coors, for the win.

If you haven’t had the fortune of attending one of our weekly dinner sessions, do yourself a favor and invite yourself over. Words can’t begin to express the wonderful group of people whose friendship I have been blessed to acquire. Last night, we enjoyed a smoky grilled feast at Ashley and Monty’s charming new house – and of course I’ll be posting those photos shortly.

Until then, keep munchin’ and keep truckin’ onwards. The upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. weekend had promised three days of unadulterated climbing in the North Georgia/Southern Tennessee areas, but the weather forecast seems to be raining on our parade – literally. As always, I’ll keep you updated!

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On Holiday Potlucks, Cupcake Decorating and Climber Boys Who Do My Dishes.

Genuine friendship, mutual gratitude and warm hospitality are rare qualities to find collectively within a group of friends. I hosted a holiday pot luck, climber-style, at my house last night, and enjoyed a great evening of homestyle cooking, rowdy conversation, marshmallow roasting and even a mini-baking lesson – but let me digress.

I spent all afternoon preparing treats for my guests. I started off by baking about 20 cupcakes, then moved on to a batch of sugar cookies. Naturally, I  doused it all in creamy frosting. During my kitchen escapades, my housemate’s boyfriend wandered over to the smell of warm pastries. I was in the midst of putting colorful gel frosting on a cupcake when he offered to teach me a little trick. Check out my fabulous Seminoles cupcake!

After a few hours of furious baking and cooking, my personal pot luck spread consisted of chicken and ground turkey handmade dumplings, a pesto spread with loads of bread rounds,  frosted sugar cookies, decorated cupcakes and a bowl of dried fruit bits with nuts. Not too shabby, right? Well, I was quite upstaged by the buffet of treats contributed by my lovely guests. Our final selection included: spinach and artichoke dip, a phenomenal green been casserole, freshly baked crescent rolls, garlic mashed potatoes and a sweet potato with cinnamon apple casserole. Not to mention the enormous sampling of different beers, ranging from good ‘ole Pabst Blue Ribbon to the entire holiday line of Magic Hat brews.

Naturally, we made a huge mess of my kitchen, but I was hardly worried about the chaos in the midst of all my festive cheer. When I finally decided to tackle some of the dishes, I opened my dishwasher to a surprise – one of the climber boys had slyly filled it up with dirty plates and utensils. How often do you find a strong, burly hunk of man who will also clean your kitchen?

It was a wonderful evening spent munching on holiday foods and warming our fingertips by the fire.  The event reminded me how incredibly fortunate I am to be able to associate myself with the folks that make up our community at Tally Rock Gym. If you are looking for a simple way to celebrate the holidays with friends, I highly suggest a pot luck. Tell everyone to bring either food or booze, and you’ll see your kitchen become overloaded with delicious treats. I love this season!

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Image of the Day: Climbin’ in the Clouds

It is quite an infrequent treat, but every once in a while I come across stunning images that showcase climbing in unique ways. Today’s image of the day is one of two climber-oriented graphics that I came across yesterday while taking a little break from my deadline to refresh my brain. This photo should be accompanied by some prolific quote about reaching for the sky, endless possibilities, the heights we can reach through climbing, etc. but I’m honestly too drained – and still working on a deadline.

Insert your own inspirational quote. Things clouding my mind: this article I need to finish ‘spinning,’ the Christmas decorations I need to make for tonight’s climber-style pot luck, the not-so-great forecast that’s dampening every single crag in the south east next week, and Niko’s frigid hands on my leg while he naps before his final. Honestly, it’s not a bad set of things to have on the brain, if you ask me.

It’s Friday everyone, celebrate accordingly!

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Image of the Day: Tally Rock Gym Eye Candy

Eric O'Rear crushes the most challenging wall, 'the trap,' at the Tallahassee Rock Gym in the Railroad Square Art Park. (Photo by: Katie Boue)

Ladies, behold. This fine specimen of masculine display is an example of the glory you will encounter if you give rock climbing a shot. Forget frat houses and coffee shops; rock gyms are the ideal location for oogling toned backsides and chatting with the charming climber manfolk. Let me tell you, the suave climber you see in the photo above would be more than willing to give first-time ladies an introduction to the sport – not to mention, he’s single.

Enjoy the weekend, readers.

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