Friday, September 22, 2017

Mithral Dihedral climb: Mt. Russell

Me and my partner climbed Mithral Dihedral, a 5.9+ or 5.10a 1000 feet long alpine route on Mt. Russell in the High Sierras, California. Mt. Russell has an elevation of 14,094 feet (4,296 m) and is the seventh-highest peak in the state.

For the trip report and story on how we epiced this climb, please read this post on Mowgli and Panda.

If you are in Lone Pine, do not miss a breakfast bite at Alabama Hills Cafe.

Our last good breakfast before heading out in the mountians.

Iceberg lake as seen from the Whitney-Russell col.
Start of the climb: Pitch one & two link up in a 200 feet long pitch



Still in the shade before starting on the dihedral proper

Dihedral proper: Sun and the hand jam corners



Beautiful views all round


Offwidth at the start of pitch 5

Last pitch before topping out the dihedral

Close up of the last layback section

Summit selfie



From L to R: Third needle, Day needle, Keeler needle and Mt. Whitney

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Milky way rising over Mt. Whitney & Mithril Dihedral climb on Mt. Russell

This is almost a repost from my blog post on Mowgli and Panda.

Two of the most memorable moments I experienced outdoors were separated by less than 24 hours. I had just climbed one of my proudest line yet - Mithril Dihedral - a 1000 feet 5.10a alpine route on Mt. Russell in the Californian High Sierras. Some people may call it 5.9/+ route. But, at almost 14000 feet it felt like .12a to me!



A short time lapse video of the milky way rising over Mt. Whitney and the needles. A series of 500+ images shot over four hours from the Iceberg lake (12,600+ feet) to compile this 10-second clip. 

The peaks seen in this clip are (L to R) - Third needle, Day needle, Keeler needle and on the far right, the tallest peak in the contiguous United States, Mt. Whitney. 


Just 24 hours before I shot this time lapse, we (myself & Prajakta [PK]) were benighted on a small 4x4 feet ledge around 14000 feet high up on Mt. Russell. The night on the ledge was cold and miserably beautiful. The milky way overhead and the glittering stars reminded us of the unimaginable vastness and beauty of the universe. 

We eventually did summit the peak the following day and safely descended to the comfort of our tiny tent and sleeping bags the next day. However, the night on the ledge left and indelible impression of the milky way on us. Never before did we see our galaxy so clearly with our naked eyes. It was unreal.

The unparalleled magnificence of the night sky untainted by our urban lights made me realize how small and insignificant was my proudest climb yet (barely a day old)  as compared to the vastness of our universe - a meaningless pursuit worthless beyond the radius of my own personal bubble.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Adventure tours: An oxymoron

This post is triggered by a promotional email I recently received titled 'Some XYZ Adventure Tours'. The term 'adventure tour' is an oxymoron. Rather, it is a marketing bullshit trying to capitalize on the mass needs of doing something 'cool' that is 'share-worthy' in social circles, digital or otherwise.

The feeling of adventure should be discovered, not planned. Adventure includes an element of chance occurrence, and we wish that our adventures turns out to be a positive one. However, there is a likelihood that it could also turnout to be a painstaking one. And it is precisely this uncertainty, this element of chance that makes it worthy of being called as an 'adventure'.

We strive hard to make our undertakings a successful one. And it is in this bid of ours that we indulge in the process of detailed planning. We heavily tilt the probability of our undertaking being serendipitous and not a painstaking epic with type II fun.

Now, don't get me wrong, I am not saying that we should be unprepared and clueless about our undertakings. We should plan and be prepared so that we don't die out there. And to a lesser extent, we don't have to lose our gear and partners (at worst!) for those unplanned bails high on the route.

But today, with the detailed topos, accurate weather reports, trip logs and high resolution close up photos, I can plan my trip - heck, even the moves on individual pitches to such an extent that I can virtually visualize the alpine route - like I do at single pitch sport crags.

Is it a good thing? Bad thing? I don't know. I just don't feel the thrill of adventure at such a detailed level of planning. The joy of discovering things for oneself and making in-the-moment impromptu decisions as against pre-programmed ones definitely adds spice to the entire undertaking; and it is this spicy flavor that is sorely missed from an undertaking marred by the ultra-detailed level of planning. I have been guilty on more than a few occasions of indulging in such detailed planning to make it safe and successful. {Super Topos anyone? Do I really need a pitch by pitch description with details about the size of crack fist jam, lie backs and that hidden crimp behind the bulge? May be not, just the correct ridge and the line to be taken would have been enough.}

Now, the definition of success if an altogether different topic of debate and demands at the very least a separate blog post in itself, if not the whole book! It is  very much about the process vs product orientation. Anyway, don't we spend 99% of the time on planning, packing, approach and climbing and one or probably less than one percent on the summit?

Well, put yourself in the shoes of these tour operators (adventure companies?) and try preaching this to your prospective clients. Hell, yeah! All your clients and your potential revenue will go to another tour operator down the lane. The truth remains that your clients will want you to assure them of putting them on the summit and make every penny they spend worth it.

So these 'guiding services' are reduced to nothing more than a 'tour operator' who must employ all their logistical prowess, planning and manpower to ensure the 'success' of their clients, even at the cost of literally raping the mountains with fixed ropes, ladders and porters. As a tour operator, you will not leave the outcome to a chance occurrence. You will do everything possible to ensure that the summit bid turns out to be a successful one for your clients. I feel dissonance between the terms 'guide' and tour operator; a dissonance that is unwelcome in the sanctity of the wilderness.

These tour operators (a.k.a. guides) don't have much options either. Either they can do it (lug them up the mountains?) for their clients, or someone else will. Hence, I am not rambling to vilify these adventure tour operators, though at some level I feel they do their part to abet this soulless pursuit. However, with this post, I am throwing a larger tantrum at all the clientele who want to be guaranteed a successful outcome, come what may.

Having said that, I do understand that not everyone desires to have their asses whipped on their hard earned vacation after years of dreaming and planning. But, just realize that what you are doing out there is no adventure. It is a planned tour, a service guarantee that you buy in exchange for cash and someone else's expertise. They do the homework for you. Heck, not just the homework but also the fieldwork. Their expertise and planning attempts to remove all possible uncertainties that you may otherwise encounter along the way. And, the moment you remove this element of uncertainty to skew the probability away from the type II epic fun, then your outing no longer remains an adventure. It's a planned tour on vertical terrain.

Be glad. Go ahead and share that photo on social media. But remember, for God's sake think twice before abusing the word adventure in your next post riddled with a ridiculous number of hashtags. It was nothing more than a tour, far removed from adventure. The term adventure tour, truly is an oxymoron.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Seneca rocks, Franklin gorge and Earth Treks Crystal City

The month of June was a mixed bag of beans for me as far as climbing is concerned. I logged good training hours in the gym and has a good indoor bouldering spree. I bouldered more than I did routes, but did well to stick to the planned training schedule.



Then came the urge to climb outside and I responded. I went to my friends place and crashed for a week as he is just a couple of hours from Seneca. Boom! Out went training and regular sessions. I did climb at Earth Treks Crystal City and found that I onsighted much harder grades there (V7/5.12) than I do in my home gym. I also hand-dogged my way up a 5.13b (almost clip to clip). But I realized that none of the moves were really harder than a V6/7 on the route and with enough power endurance (PE) training I could readpoint routes of similar nature. That was an encouraging discovery.

While I float these grades around, I am perfectly aware that the Fish hook arete climb on Mt. Russell, which is less than a month away now, is going to kick my butt despite being classified as a moderate at 5.9. But hey, it's alpine you see! You know throwing around the word alpine here and there in a blog post makes it sound badass, doesn't it? Ok, coming back to the blog post now ...

Other thing about Earth Treks experience - fantastic route setting. The grades out there were consistent across heights and styles. My wife, who has major reach issues, still could stay strong and send routes that she could due to technique and strength without her reach being a barrier.

Other than climbing at Earth Treks, I plugged some gear at Seneca during this trip and also clipped some bolts at Franklin gorge. Seneca was encouraging, but an eye opener that overall body strength is so much more important on those multi-pitches than those single pitch crux-fest. I was probably tired from the 13-hour drive the previous day and less sleep. In any case, I could onsight a good 5.8 trad line, going off route and finishing some stout 5.10a moves on the adjacent route! It was heady and the blue Metolious #1 came in handy in the thin crack. Also, the slick limestone of Franklin taught me to persevere and focus more on mid-route rest and recovery before going for the chains.

However, the short time on the rocks (due to Fire at Seneca and rains) did not really help us with our outdoor mileage goals. Well, in any case it was a good experience to climb at Seneca and Franklin.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Most important training principle: Simplicity

I followed a very typical climbing curve so far. That is, if I were one of the statistic from a sample population of climbers, I will live on the regression line and not be an outlier.

Like any typical climber, I progressed rapidly at first, then plateaued for a small time, then progressed with some harder climbing efforts, got injured, plateaued and stayed on the plateau for long. Then I started paying attention to my climbing methods, dabbling in some self-made training regimen, taking a critical view of my nutrition and rest periods. And again saw marginal improvements, which is still steadily increasing. All these phases have taken around 4 years, with 3 years climbing and a year of time off in between.

Like any climber who wants to improve, I have been reading a lot of training material, listening to podcasts, buying books and reading blogs. Here are a few important things that I have learnt.

  • Keep it simple and realistic
  • Showing up every single time and doing something is more important
  • Stick with a plan long enough for it to make some impact 
  • Listen to your body - pay close attention to nutrition, sleep and rest
  • Periodization & Progression works - Non-linear periodization is better than linear periodization
  • Whatever you do - For climbing, you always train three sport-specific things - Strength, Power, Power Endurance. These three are built on a solid basis of good basic fitness and general strength
Let's look at these things in a bit of detail.



Keep it simple - If it's complex you probably will not stick with it. Keep it simple and realistic. 

Show up - Consistency is they key. Immediate muscular adaptations that happen after a training session is short lived. For consistent and longer term adaptations, give any activity / exercise a minimum of 10-12 sessions over a period of 12-15 week cycles for it to be effective. Be regular, stick with it and give it some time to have an effect. 

Sleep well - After a heavy session, get at least 8-10 hours of sleep. Even on rest days, try and get in at least 8 hours of sleep. Most of the recovery and supercompensation happens in sleep, give yourself a best shot at it.

Have a balanced diet - Don't run away from good fats. Don't avoid carbs. For high intensity activity like climbing, carbs help you to fuel your sessions. Well, there have been fine example of Ketogenic diets doing wonders for some climbers, for eg. Dave McLeod. But it is a very strict and demanding diet and most people will fail at following it. A balanced 50/30/20 diet of carb/fat/protein will work well for most.

Rest - Rest for at atleast 24-48 hours between intense sessions including heavy weights, limit bouldering or strenuous power endurance sessions. Aim for a minimum of three days of climbing for strength, power and power endurance in a week. If possible, try and squeeze in a fourth day if your body permits. Climbing / training when tired and below par does more harm than good. I need to try and follow this more. However, it's important to note that maximal performance is not the goal of training. Training will result in a bit of fatigue and soreness. One must be able to differentiate between healthy soreness and unhealthy fatigue. When you feel the latter, stop, don't climb / train. In general, I take it easy (read half the regular volume every four weeks).

Training strength - Train general upper body strength by doing weighted pull ups and dips. No more than 5 reps at 85% of maximum capacity in a set for 3-4 sets. You can add dumbbell rows, I don't do it. For lower body, you can do squats only if absolutely required. I don't do it, except for when I am training specifically for a long alpine objective. I would also consider adding lock off strength training in my regimen. These are intense and short sessions that I would add after a redpoint session. In the rest periods between strength sessions, I do hanging leg raises as a part of my core strength routine. You can also add ab rollers or windshield wipers. In general, I like to do no more than 3/4 exercises in 30-45 minutes for general body strength sessions. 

Training finger strength - I like to do two fingerboard sessions - 1) Repeaters protocol including 7 sec on 3 secs off for 6 reps in a 1 minute. Do 2 sets each for 4/5 different hold/grips, and 2) Max weight protocol, which calls for 12 seconds hang followed by 3 minute rest for five sets each on two to three different holds/grips. Overall hangboard session lasts for around 50 minutes. I get a good session on Sunday, but accommodating a good fingerboard session after climbing is usually difficult for me on Wednesday. However, I try.

Training power - I am a big advocate of limit bouldering for training power. Go and bouder hard. Focus on hardest possible moves, not volume. Train for specific weaknesses, small crimps, dynamic moves and/or deadpoint moves. Can also incorporate campus board routines, but watch out for pesky injuries if you decide to do campusing. Instead dynos on big holds or maxi pull rungs is better.

Training power endurance - Route intervals mid intensity involves 4x4 (120/130 moves per set) on lead, while higher intensities involve 4x2 (60/70 moves per set) on lead. Do this once a week. I also add second power endurance session in the form of linked bouldering circuits, with 4x4x4 (50 moves per set) for high volume sessions and 4x4x2 (25 moves per set) for love volume high intensity circuits. 

In general, I like to incorporate a high level of specificity and keeping away boredom. Hence my preferred training volume is split in 30% of training (non-climbing time) and 70% climbing (climbing time).

This is what has been in effect for the past 4 months, with one months of injury-forced rest in between. Injury was not climbing centric and no way caused by the training. The training has helped me achieve my personal bests after nearly a couple of years plateau (read that is a few 5.12s and V7s).

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Putting it down matters as much as sending

I always loved to write, be it on sticky notes or the last page of your notebook, I always loved it. Then I started blogging. Initially, I wrote about things, things that affected me, inspired me, disheartened me -- all that was external to me. Then I started about myself, my thoughts, my process, my failures and accomplishments. I enjoyed this subtle transitions in my writing. This was well before I started to climb.

Then climbing came to me in 2013. Well, it came earlier than that, but I really never climbed in a focussed and committed way till 2013. Like every new climber, the quick initial progression from V1 to V4 made me feel great. I blogged about grades and climbing process and the routes I sent. The suddenly the strange feeling of 'tooting your own horns' came to me that said stop blogging/bragging about your accomplishments.

I don't know why it came or what triggered that feeling, but it came for sure and hit me hard. I deleted a lot of my old climbing posts and the subsequent posts that I wrote gave more of an objective description of my outings, climbs. Everything was mostly from a third person point of view. It started sounding more like a report rather than an experience. An objective viewpoint, rather than my own subjective one. And then I wondered why the process of writing was no longer fun. I lost faith in the process of writing. And eventually stopped writing about my climbs. I merely posted a few photos, but that did not help me relive the experience or process.

Anyway, climbing always remained close, but had to take a year off in 2015/16 to manage professional commitments. Even then I tried to train whenever I could. It was an honest, but poor effort. Then, things changed and I had access to climbing once again.

In March this year, it was 6 months that I had come back to climbing (Since October 2016) and I was starting to immerse myself in climbing again, with more zeal if anything. The break was surely good. In these 6 months, I took my first lead fall on gear (trad climb), I onsighted my first 5.9 trad.  I was charting down my training regimen and my schedules. It was fun and inspiring. Although I realize now that the training plan is an ever evolving sheet and I have to modify it as I grow. But the point is that getting back for surely great.

Then I had my first major finger injury where I crushed my pinky under a loaded barbell and could literally see my tendon sheath severed. The extensor tendon was hurt bad. I learnt the process of being patient and recovering. Eating well. I still visited the gym to remain stoked. I learn restraint and not climbing on my injured finger. I ran a lot and did some core exercises, but nothing that even remotely required my hands. My return to climbing lasted 4 months before I had to stop climbing for a couple of months due to finger injury.

But like everything else, the injury phase passed and I started climbing again. It's been four weeks now. I am training religiously. I haven't had the chance to go out, but indoors I sent my first V7 and am very close almost sending my first 5.12b (7b) route.

Well, I know many will say its plastic, but, that's where the prologue of this post comes into play. I should start being subjective about my sport, about my passions and my skills and my accomplishments. I should believe in them and describe the process. Because when describing the process, I am not just putting down what I managed to do, but I also rethink and relive the process. It's helps me understand the subtleties of the process and helps me appreciate the finer moments.

And above everything else, it teaches me a lot about myself. And I believe that it may teach or at least inspire someone else to apply it to their own processes. The send on any route, lasts for 4/5 minutes. Considering that average route is around 40-50 moves long, with a couple of rest stances where you can shake out for 20/30 seconds and at an average rate of around 5-6 second per move -- all totaling to around 250 seconds. Yeah, so besides the math, the average redpoint send lasts for 4/5 minutes, but the process lasts much longer if you are conscious.

Consciousness is the key here. The process can be reduced to mere neuromuscular coordination without any conscious learning if you focus on mechanical movements and sequences. But if you are conscious the very process can be a rich and rewarding experience where you know the exact angle of your heel hook and at what moment to engage your core and when to breathe.

I am beginning to learn this and enjoy this. I want to be a good climber, a better one. To the level of what? Well, I wouldn't mind 5.15s and V12s. But for now, I lay my aims on being able to redpoint 5.13 grades in sport. Which means, I need to be solid at V8 (and be able to pull off V9 after some work) and pretty comfortable with 5.12s in sport. When I say solid, I mean I should be able to do it in a few tries, almost on all styles. Which would directly translate to being competent 5.11 trad leader (including cracks, at which I currently suck) and being able to send mega classics like Casual Route or Beckey Chouinard without any epics.

I am taking a big leap and putting it down. Because I need to be more subjective about it and be conscious about it to be able to ingrain that  process in my routine -- training, sleeping, diet and the actual climbing sessions. I truly believe that writing helps and putting in down on paper or blog or anything will help me realize it. It matters as much as sending.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Serendipitous climbing experience at T-Wall

I am an aspiring trad climber for long now. I do not get to do a lot of real rock climbing being in Florida; and hence trad climbing as a discipline, which is honed after a lot of vertical mileage, has always been an elusive skill for a guy like me used to plastic pumping indoors. I should say that this is even more true in the niche of crack climbing.

Cake Walk 5.10a


I have done a few 5.8 trad climbs at Lost Wall, where I could avoid the crack and use features on the face. I have done a couple of long alpine routes in the High Sierras, which were more of ridge climbs rather than 'real cracks'. I had never yet attempted a 5.9 trad climb, leave alone crack climbs. And unless I really did a few decent cracks, calling myself a trad climber seemed a far fetched epithet.

Well, this trip to T-Wall changed it a bit, except for the fact that I still don't hesitate to consider myself a gumbie, or a beginner at the best in terms of crack climbing. I simply need to have more mileage on dihedrals and splitters before I can consider myself a competent crack climber.

Coming back to the T-Wall trip, I was happy to onsight a couple of stiff classics and even attempt a 5.10a finger crack.



Nappy 5.7

Golden Locks 5.9

Golden Locks 5.9


Besides Nappy (a good consistent dihedral crack at 5.7) and Blind Date (an ok 5.7 crack) as warm up climbs, I managed to onsight some higher grades on Razor Worm (5.8+) and Golden Locks (5.9). Razor worm came to me easy, but Golden Locks was really stiff and the fact that I could onsight it, no matter the Elvis legs, really helped my confidence.

I also went out of my comfort zone to lead Cake Walk,  a 5.10a finger crack, albeit with a couple of falls at the crux and near the chains. This was also the first time I took a fall on gear and that too on a #0 Metolius TCU that I managed to sink and clip seconds before my foot popped at the crux. It was a small fall, would have been more like a take if it were not for unanticipated foot slip. In any case, I am glad that it did not freak me out!