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!

A preview of climbing at Hound Ears – and announcing the GU Energy giveaway winner!

Either I’m still reeling from my incredible trip out to North Carolina, or there are just truly no words to properly describe the bouldering mecca that is Hound Ears. My first experience competing in a Triple Crown Bouldering Series competition was phenomenal, and even though I’m still anxiously awaiting the final results from my score, I already feel like a winner.

I climbed the strongest I have ever climbed this weekend.
And it felt good.

There are still plenty of pictures to sort though (although somehow 75% of them turned out just slightly blurry, ugh!), and I am eagerly waiting for the final competition results to be posted so I can tell you all how I did, but here’s a little taste of my weekend up in the North Carolina high country:

We spent Friday night setting up camp at Grandfather Mountain Campground and feasting on Indian food provided by Triple Crown, and then climbed the entire day on Saturday. After the competition, we celebrated with beer, barbecue, and a very, very lengthy award ceremony.

On Sunday, Niko and I packed up early, and headed to Hendersonville for a wonderful little date excursion. I took him to my all-time favorite breakfast buffet, Dixie Diner, where we gorged on southern fixings and chatted with locals at the family-style seating. Then we headed out to JH Stepps Hillcrest Orchard for a few hours of apple picking before loading up the car and trekking back to Florida.

 
Successful weekend, eh? But now for what you’re really reading this post for – the announcement of the GU Energy Labs and BlenderBottle giveaway winner! There were a lot of great entries, and you all had wonderful things to share about what inspires you to train – but there could only be one winning answer:

 “My training inspiration? Checking off those boxes each day and knowing that I’m pushing myself to achieve a goal. Every workout builds on the previous day – I’m getting stronger, faster and when it comes to race day? Even though there are no guarantees on the outcome, I know I gave it my best effort.” – Erin Graves

Congratulations, Erin! For your perseverance when it comes to training, and a great attitude about pushing yourself, you’ve won a package filled with GU Energy Labs performance treats, and a sweet new BlenderBottle. Shoot me an e-mail at [email protected] to claim your prize. 

Didn’t win this giveaway? No worries, there are plenty more on the horizon – including a giveaway for a environmentally-awesome, BPA-free Eco Bottle! Click here to enter the Eco Bottle giveaway (all you have to do is leave a comment)!

Stay tuned for more on my weekend out in North Carolina, including an in-depth post on my climbing competition, and a look at my romantic apple-picking date with Niko. Until then, keep climbing, keep adventuring, and keep gettin’ outside!

30 Days to Triple Crown at Hound Ears – My 4-week Climbing Challenge

Last week, my adventure soul-sister Gina Bégin announced the beginning of her first 90-day challenge in a series of training hauls designed to prepare her for an epic race in Patagonia. Almost immediately, the outdoor community erupted with declarations of all sorts of personal challenges – and naturally, I hopped on board too.

With an upcoming full year of traveling to climb all over the country, I reckoned I ought to really start overhauling my training to elevate my climbing to the next level before the journey begins in late January. I knew I wanted to push my limits, but I didn’t have a solid direction.

This morning, in a perfectly timed twist of fate, everything came together – thanks to Dead Point Mag’s “Fit For Fall in 4 Weeks” article (and Aiguille Rock Climbing for posting it on their Pinterest boards).

I woke up a bit early today, and began my morning social media scouring, which quickly led me to the article. Maybe it was the coffee coursing through my body, or the general hype on the idea of finding a formal plan for my climbing, but the moment I read the article, I was fully committed.

Combining both fitness training and a not-so-strict (but still slightly demanding) diet, this four week climbing regimen targets four elements that can be effectively improved within a single month: “strength to weight ratio, hand and forearm muscular efficiency, and mobility.” Along with hangboard exercises, the plan calls for a lot of yoga, aerobics, rice bucket workouts, and fitness circuits.

Bring it on.

As I mapped out the 30 days of dedication and perseverance, I noticed that my 4-week plan is perfectly aligned with one of the best events of the season: the Triple Crown bouldering competition at Hound Ears in Boone, North Carolina.

Photo by Andrew Kornylak.

This legendary crag has access so limited that the only day of the year you can climb there is during the Triple Crown event. Niko and I had made it a goal to attend a few days ago, and now with the 4-week challenge ending the Thursday before the competition, it seemed like destiny. I’m registering us both today – it’s going to be my first outdoor climbing competition, so I’m both very nervous, and very stoked.

The best part? Two months ago, I got a mysterious fortune cookie. It read:

Remember three months from this date. Good things are in store for you.”

As luck would have it, that date happens to be October 6th – the first day of the Hound Ears competition. Coincidence? I think not.

So, today marks the first day of my climbing challenge. What’s in store for me this week? Well, first comes the dietary aspect. During the first week, all I have to remember to do is drink a gallon of water every day. For those of us who live by Nalgene, that means four full Nalgenes a day. Easy, right?

Here’s this week’s training schedule:

Day 1: Aerobic training, and the first hangboard workout, including a 9-minute rice bucket session. For the aerobic portion, I’ll be riding my bike to and from the rock gym.
Day 2: Full body workout circuit, including my not-so-favorite exercise, push-ups.
Day 3: Yoga and the second hangboard/rice bucket progression. My lovely friend Katie is a yoga instructor, and she offered to teach me a few things to get my personal yoga sessions tuned-in.
Day 4: Another total body workout circuit.
Day 5: Aerobics. I might (read: MIGHT) try running. It will probably be more of a speed-walking/jogging, but I’m going to try.
Day 6: A second day of yoga, and the third hangboard/rice bucket circuit.
Day 7: Another aerobic day.

Doesn’t seem too hard, right? One of the reasons I felt drawn to this particular training schedule is that it doesn’t seem so outrageous. Yes, it’s going to kick my ass – but it doesn’t seem undoable.

Stay tuned as I power through this first week, and prepare for the second week of this climbing challenge.

PS: I’m also cutting out soda. Perhaps the hardest challenge of all. Seriously, I’m dying already. There has been a small bottle of Sprite sitting in the fridge for a week, and I’m about to assault it.

Do you have a personal challenge you’d like to begin?
Put it out there, let me know, and let’s keep each other inspired to stick to our goals!