Thursday, December 13, 2012

I shouldn't be alive...

Have you ever seen that show "I shouldn't be alive"? I feel like I lived that show for a few brief moments while camping in Panthertown Valley in Cashiers, NC this past October. The dragging paws of a 400 pound bear mixed with the peaceful pounding of my heart made for a moment I won't ever forget.


Joe on cockdiesel (5.13b)
After picking up one of my best friends, Joe DeGaetano (picture to the right) aka Mr. NRG aka Mr. Enduro (<-- remember that one for later), we hit the road for a five hour jouney to some of the best multi-pitch WNC has to offer.
We finally rolled into the Panthertown Valley parking lot around 9:30pm. After changing clothes we quickly strapped on our packs and headed in to the A-Frame shelter down near Big Green Mountain. The 15 minute hike quickly turned to a 30 minute hike since some of the shortcuts have been closed and we had to backtrack and take the long way around. It was a beautiful night with a full moon and we could see everything around.

Two semi-important things to note here. I have camped, hiked, and climbed in Panthertown Valley since 2006 and have seen bears there, but haven't ever had any problems with them and I always always camp with my gun, unfortunately I left it in my car this time.

We set up the tent about fifty feet from the back of the A-Frame and threw all of our gear in there. Joe had placed all of our food for the weekend, Subway sandwiches, oatmeal, etc inside of a dry bag and then placed that dry bag inside of another dry bag that contained his clothes. We walked over to the shelter and tied up the dry bag about five feet from the edge, inside of the shelter. The bottom of the bag was at about eye level. In our tired and semi-retarded state we walked back to the tent and saw all of the gear thrown around in there and instead of cleaning it up we figured let's just sleep in the shelter. By now it was about 10:30pm and we were planning on getting up at 5:30am to start the trek to the face of Laurel Knob. Joe laid his sleeping bag down about four feet from the hanging dry bag and I set up across from him. And so it begins...

I slept like total shit, tossed and turned all night, and couldn't stop thinking about the eight pitches of pure bliss we would enjoy in a few short hours. My back was to the dry bag and I was looking out the other end of the A-Frame.

I don't know what time it was when it all started, but it seemed like the current situation lasted two hours when in all it probably only lasted about three minutes.

I will never forget the sound of a bear walking over pinestraw and dragging it's paws. I heard this for about two or three minutes until it finally stopped and the only thing I could hear was the increasingly loud pounding of my heart. The next step is what almost caused me to shit myself...almost...the creak of the shelter floor.

I have always been told that if a bear comes in your tent then you should lie still and play dead, but if you come to one on a trail to make lots of noise to try to scare it off.

A second louder creak in the shelter floor.


Both paws were in the shelter. I was maybe eight feet from the edge, so this bear could very easily be right behind me.

I knew the bear was close and my first thoughts were of death. I remember closing my eyes briefly to try to control my breathing and heart rate and accept what was about to happen to me. I expected one painful swipe and then it would all be over.

Fortunately that never happened, but what did happen will stay forged in my mind for years and years to come.

You can see the remains of the dry bag hanging on the left hand side.
Joe started moving and I rolled over to see a huge black bear sniffing the food bag and standing about five feet from from Joe's head. I made some noise and the bear huffed put both paws into the dry bag and slammed it to the ground. Joe and I both jumped up and the bear took off into the woods.

"Shit dude I see his eyes, he's coming back!"

I leaned forward and looked out of the shelter to see the bear walking, (in my mind he was running at us full speed growling), back with a purpose. We both jumped up and started banging on stuff and yelling at the bear trying to scare it away. This did nothing. Little did we know that the bear dropped the dry bag right outside of the shelter and was just returning to take what he came for. When the bear was returning the first thought that went through my mind was to run. Joe is an enduro maniac and would have outran me leaving me to be helplessly slaughtered by the hungry monster approaching. Like they say, you don't have to outrun the bear just outrun one of the people you are with.

Seeing how we now had no food and were both terrified we figured it best to hike out, and head to the Wal-Mart in the neighboring town to get more food before the sun came up.

It was now 3:30am.

We get back to Panthertown Valley frustrated and tired around 6:30am and head back to the camp to get our gear and start climbing.

We had decided to start on the ultra classic Fathom but to keep things spicy we decided to do the 5.10d R direct variation. Not knowing much about this line and armed with the Shull guidebook and the iPhone Mountain Project app we found the line that we thought was it and started up it.

Looking down from the top of the fourth pitch of Fathom to the original start of Fathom. What a beautiful wall!!
Most pitches had a few bolts on them and little gear placements. Some of the falls seemed to be in the 40 - 50 ft range and a human fruit roll up you would become. Pitch number five is some of the most fun climbing I have ever done, a bouldery move or two over the the head wall and then some super fun slab and vertical climbing.

In normal Laurel Knob fashion after the fifth pitch we were confused as to where to go. There seemed to be 3 different choices, ranging from 5.7 - 5.10. Don't really remember which one we took because the climbing seemed run out as hell and I ended up over lots and lots of lichen, wandering and looking for a bolt or anchor.

But finally the view from the top!

The second day…oh the second day…

We were lucky because we didn’t have to do the hike again, our gear was stashed, and I think both of us had a halfway decent night of sleep the night before.

We decided to climb the Central Pillar of Laurel, 5.10.  One pitch of 5.8, followed by two pitches of 5.9 and then ending with a pitch of 5.10, this seemed to be a lighter day for the both of us. A perfect send off shall we say.

 Joe had decided he had had enough of the run-out friction slab and let me take the lead all day. Man was I happy he did that. The first pitch being only 5.8 was so much fun! It ate gear seeing how it was a sweet crack for the majority of the pitch. I think it had a bolt or two on it as well, not that it mattered with the amount of gear on it. The second and third pitch were just as much fun, because at the bottom of the second pitch you traverse out left and start up a somewhat polished quartz dike. This thing looked like the back of a huge prehistoric snake.

I don’t think I got much gear on either of those two pitches, and the bolts were maybe 25 – 30 feet apart, my type of climbing. J  For some reason I don’t have that panic thing in my mind that most people have. At least that’s what I think, because I haven’t ever really been scared in times like this. Some call it reckless and idiotic, or maybe that I don’t recognize the consequences. I do get scared though, not much but just enough to pucker my butthole. I was almost at the top of the third pitch and I was almost at a bolt when what my right foot was smearing on crumbled and I slipped. “Fuuuuuuuuuckkkk me……” I whispered to myself, un-puckered, and continued. When I got to the chains I was actually kind of pissed off at myself for not checking my feet before I made that move and that I actually almost fell.

At the top of the third pitch I was getting tired and I know Joe was as well. With the general lack of color that the sky was giving off and the darker clouds in the distance I thought best that we just rap down and get the hell off of the mountain.

(Little did we know that the Frankenstorm was closing in)

Once on the ground I yelled up to Joe to start his rappel down while the rain started to come in. By the time we were both down and pulling ropes it was a downpour. Oh Laurel, how I missed thee.

I think the story ends well here.

Of course I could go into the conversations Joe and I had on the way back, or how happy I was to be home and have a hot shower, or even how I had to cancel a work trip to sit home and watch two feet of snow get dumped in Fayetteville, and what seemed like the end of the world was happening while being cut off from the rest of society. Or even better, the plan that Joe and I had concocted on how to prepare for the end of the world using machine guns, some home made dynamite, the dogs, and roaming sentries.

But I think all of that is best suited for another post. J

Friday, July 27, 2012

So you want to work from home eh? In Fayetteville, WV...why not?

Over the past few weeks I have been asked by multiple people about getting into the field that I am in, IT Consulting. I laugh and sigh, at the same time, every time I get that question. I absolutely love what I do and wouldn't trade it for the world. Actually, I would. However, currently I wouldn't trade it for anything less than a Porsche 911 Turbo. This one!

I first started working from home about 3 years ago during the winter here in Charleston. It started out light, only 2 days a week here and there. Then it grew and grew. It went from working 20 hours a week to close to 90 hours a week in a few months time. Everyone that knows me, knows that I have a hard time doing anything in moderation and I'm a perfectionist when it comes to my work.

First problems arise: overworked and burnt out. The hardest thing that I find about working from home is how easy it is to NOT separate personal space from work space. I know everyone is saying, oh, it isn't that hard. You just work your 9 - 5 and then log off. Oh buddy, are you high? No one and I mean no one in my field works from home and works a standard 9 - 5 right off of the bat. Reason being is that there is ALWAYS work to be done and why not get some done while watching your favorite television show at night? Why not answer some emails while eating breakfast? Shit, lunch and dinner while you are at it. I, as well as many other people I work with, work all day and night. Whether it's doing development work (programming), troubleshooting client problems, answering emails and forum questions, or writing these blogs. We are always on the clock.

The somewhat endless amounts of work is very manageable if and only if one is cut out for this type of hectic, stressful work. Some people's answer to this is the money. It can be soooooo goooood.... There are those times though, and we ALL have them, where no matter the pay is, we just don't want to do it. Since we are on the subject of pay, has some good numbers.

The only problem with managing your work time, is the managing your work time part. :)

Trying to plan my day around client's needs, business needs, practice needs (departmental), and my own, can be very painful. Just because it's so easy to put off development work and my own needs until later in the day, week, or even month, and just focus on everything else. Doing this has burned me out before on multiple occasions. Finding the balance, is key.

Being in your house AND being able to focus on work is one of the hardest things possible. I have found it best to follow a few of these little tricks here and there.
  • Answer most of the administrative emails first thing in the morning, 7am, right before and after lunch, and right around 4:30. That way, you have hours in the morning and the afternoon to focus on your daily tasks, (the things that could change daily).
  • ONLY log in to work chat clients for a set time each day. Otherwise, you will be bombarded with questions, and people looking to escape their mundane tasks by bothering you.
  • I wasn't sure about posting this one, but to hell with it. Take a long 2 or 3 hour lunch, but be available at the drop of a hat. Get some personal things done, go do some yoga, climb, or run. Most importantly, do something for yourself. For me this allows my mind to rest and when I return to work, I usually have a better train of thought.

"The grass is always greener on the other side."

This saying is very, very true. The only reason I say this, is because people ony see the good parts of my position. Flexibility. What you don't see are: the 90 hour weeks, the stress induced arguments with others, the constant attachment to my phone, travel time, lack of motivation to work on other free fun side projects, the inability to disconnect while on a vacation, and last but not least, you don't see the every night on the couch working watching Netflix. All you ever see is the freedom during the day to work from wherever, whenever, as long as the job gets done and everyone is happy.

So yes, as most of you are aware, I am moving to Fayetteville, WV, if only for the reason of climbing. There are more, but that's for another post in 2 months. Rock climbing is all I want to do all of the time, and has been that way the past 2 years. With full 4G up there and an AT&T wireless laptop card, I am hoping to be seen with laptop in hand walking to the crag in a few weeks. Why not work in your dream office?

Really though, if you want to get in this field or do what I do, then find your closest community college and take two intro levels classes to computer science and a database class. If you do well, and can be content, then give me a shout and we will go from there.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

A newly wed, a newb, an asshole, a kid left behind, and 2 chefs walk into a bar...

Well it's not really a bar, but Crowders Mountain State Park sure as hell has the reputation of being as trashy as some bars. Okay back to the story of hilarity that ensued.

5:15am hit and we were on the road. We as a group of people were still half asleep, but as young adventurers were wide awake waiting for the sun to come up and the 3 hour drive from Charleston to Crowders to end. Yes it took us 3 hours, yes I speed, and yes I'm good at it. I have made it to Crowders in less than 3 hours before, but I was by myself. My smooth riding monster with all but 1 seat filled floated along at a healthy 90mph up interstate 26. I was among people from all different walks of life.

(Left to right: Joseph Styons, Me, Cameron Stall (why he is hiding I have no clue), Jimmy Thigpen, Graham Spees, Garrett Egan)

Onward to Crowders we drove until finally we reach a fully packed parking lot. Shit. It was a Saturday on Memorial Day weekend and we just made the worst mistake a pack of idiots like ourselves could have made. Oh well. We parked the car and packed up, everyone hit the head for relief and water before the horrendous mile hike up the mountain. The trail up to the top starts up a gravel path and progressively gets steeper and finally leads to ~300 stairs. Being one of weak legs I complain a lot. Thankfully JR, (Joseph Styons), has legs of a bull and carried the rack AND 2 ropes. Also I'm glad I mentioned the newb ritual of having to carry everything to the top.

The first wall you get to, and is usually the busiest, at the top is the Practice Wall. one is there...I decided back at the car that we would head to the Red Wall first and then head back up hill as the day went on. We passed David's Castle and finally we see 2 people climbing. Down to the Red Wall and it's deserted. I mean zombies came and killed everyone and we are the only people left, deserted. Too early maybe? Fuck it, let's climb.

We break up into two groups. Cameron and Garrett start on Opinonated, 5.9, which is a super fun beginner lead. A little dicey here and there, but is an extremely fun climb for the grade. I head over to Butter Knife, 5.6, with Graham, Jimmy, and JR. Jimmy leads it with ease and then Graham decides that he wants to get his first outdoor lead in and set up a top rope for everyone else. With a minor freak out moment and a little bit of gnar gnar, Graham Spees leads his first outdoor sport line like a ballerina falling gracefully down a few sets of stairs to her death.
So everyone climbs Butter Knife and Opinionated and I decide to get back on my longest standing project, Welcome to Crowders, 12a.

Welcome to Crowders is 40 ft of pure bliss for me. Three bolts and a good run to the anchors. Well it was a good run....I almost flashed the damn thing. I flew through the crux and went to make the last three moves to the jugs and forgot the damn beta. Balls. I fell, as you can see to the left. I got back up and fell again, and again, and again and then I said to hell with it and lowered off of the third bolt. Everyone else decided to try the route too, which I highly encourage everyone to try everything. After watching everyone else try their hand at it I decided to give it one more go. Again I flew through the crux and up into the last bolt and then I magically forgot the beta. Again and fell. Again. And then I figured it out and got through it. Step through with left foot, put a right foot in your throat and desperately throw for a sloping sidepull with your right, catch the crimp with your left and then pull to the finish jug. I lowered off of the chains extremely frustrated. "It's all part of the process". That's all I kept saying to myself.

Fast forward an hour and you would have seen Cameron trying his proudest sport lead to date. Desperately Seeking Juggage, 11b. Another short three bolt climb through crimps that is sure to get the blood going. A fall at the third bolt would most certainly result in a bad fall. Or at least we all thought. We saw a fall at the third bolt a lot! Cameron cruised through the first two bolts, but not the third one. He fell probably no less than 12 feet every go at it, to the point that I think more than his body got bruised. So I went up and finished it for him. He must have been climbing with his eyes closed, because it's really not that hard of a climb if you use all of the holds! He tried it again on top rope and flashed it.

After "Desperately" we headed to the practice wall to finish up the day. Again we didn't see a single person. Very strange. Where were all of the people? Despite it being 90 degrees outside it didn't feel like it ever got that hot.

We got to the practice wall and decided to set up three ropes and have everyone rappel. I forgot though. I have to show JR how to rappel! So I show him and he learns quickly and then does it perfectly fine, no big deal, end of story, goodbye.

I led The Wall, 10a, on gear. This is such a fun and great climb. Four pieces of gear and you are good to go. A blue tcu and a black Metolius cam in the horizontal, one nut down low and one nut up high to protect the ground fall and it's done. Super fun, but was super slimy and humid. We packed up the ropes and headed out after that.

As we got back to the car the parking lot, which was still full, now had ambulances and firetrucks everywhere. Not really sure what happened.

Now my Garrett sat in the back of my car in the third row. I cannot see his face from rear view mirror do to everyone else's head or headrest.

Time to make sense of that last bit.

We stopped at a gas station near Carowinds to fill up on gas and get some food. We are there probably 20 minutes and I am out waiting in the car with JR. Cameron, Jimmy, and Graham walk out and get in the car. Close the doors and start talking. Home we come. After about 15 minutes down the road, JR asks the pivotal question. "Hey, where is Garrett?!" Yes everyone we, urghh, I left him at the gas station. Once we turn around we are all talking about what to do, should we tell him that we accidentally left him? Pretend it's a joke? Worst part is that his phone is in the car, so he wouldn't have been able to call ANYONE in the car. Luckily we pull up and he hasn't yet been shot, gang raped, or sold as a male prostitute, so we yell out at him and trots over smiling and hops in the car. Sorry dude.

Lot's of traveling lately. My girlfriend and dogs are feeling the pain of it. In the past 5 days I have spent one of them at home and all of the others in different states. Sitting now in the airport all I can think of is sitting with the pups at the dog park after a long three mile walk. Back to reality, there are birds in this airport and they are pestering the people at the bar and a man is trying to get the $1 massage chair to work.

Goodbye to Columbus for the next 2 weeks, I am about to board a flight Atlanta and then my final flight of the month home to Charleston. Peace!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Leading trad...ergh...leading people? Maybe they are one in the same.

Disclaimer: I could ramble about this stuff all day and all night, and this blog is unlike all of my previous ones. You have been warned. After rereading this I feel like it sucks, but oh well just another small sliver of my brain on this screen. and I'm feeding it to you as if we were on the set of Hannibal. I have seen a lot of problems with things lately, mainly in restaurants. Okay, have fun, good day now.

I was told once and only once, can't honestly recall who told me, that leaders never fall. This is something that I have thought about a lot lately - haven't climbed trad in a while - when it comes to my career. Leaders be found in every aspect of everything these days, whether it's implementing a multi-million dollar software solution, tying in with a partner or giving instruction to your dog. We mustn't ever fall.

As some of you may know, I am not a fan of authority, I am not a fan of unneeded power trips nor am I a fan of leaders not having enough power. So since most leaders fall into one of those two categories, it is easy to see that I occasionally bump heads with leaders. Allow me to define that in more detail. I feel that every leader should be challenged, it allows for growth of both parties involved. After all everyone doesn't know everything about everything, some of us need guidance in our daily endeavors.

Now being challenged and having your knowledge questioned are two very different things and can turn a good day into a bad day quickly. Everyone that I work with knows that I won't think twice to question something if I feel that it's an inefficient waste of time or revenue and as we all know time equals money and money equals revenue and revenue keeps the businesses that we all love and cherish afloat. (I could talk all day about efficiency within businesses, but this is a blog. Right?) Anyways...

I have been reading A LOT lately about both managing people, managing business, managing dogs (dog psychology), and different types of software methodologies. While reading these I have learned about different aspects of management through people, such as goals. Goals. Goals. Goals. Goals are things that we all need to have no matter the size, especially leaders. (Speaking on goals from a management standpoint.) Goals are what drive employees, members of the team, to do good. As boring and plain as that may sound it's true. Without the proper goals no one has any idea as to what they should be doing at any given time. Yeah they may have a check off list or a daily agenda that is given to them, but that's not enough for people these days. We are in the decade of laziness and entitlement, and a lot of people now a days feel that they are entitled to anything and everything even if they are lazy. So why not be? I have now realized over the past few weeks that I want to be manager, I want to help people grow and through that grow the organization that I work for. That can't be done without goals. To everyone that has employees, give each one of them a goal every week and make sure that they reach it. Help them, nurture them if needed, do everything you can for your employees that will push them towards that goal. I'm a firm believer in this and from now on I am going to start setting weekly goals for myself. Can't preach something you don't know anything about right?

Along with goals people need things to do. Whether it's file some papers, sweep the floor, or comment code, everyone needs to be doing something that is beneficial to their organization. If you give them things to do and they don't do them then write them up, it's not that hard to do what you are told, especially when you are getting paid to do it. I remember when partly managed Kachi, a Japanese steakhouse in NC. It was easy for the workers there, either do your chores daily and nightly or don't get paid. If you don't get paid then you won't come back, it's that easy. There were multiple times when people wouldn't do their jobs correctly so I would tell them and if by the end of the night they still weren't doing their jobs then I didn't pay them. They didn't come back, so guess what, the next night everyone that was there and saw that picked up the extra work that needed to be done to cover for the ever so slack ass high school student that didn't come back. Must I say the turn over rate was very low there. Plus I paid out of my pocket extra to the employees that worked extra to help out. That restaurant was a well oiled machine and was every bit of perfect. I will not lie, I did my part of screwing up, and I was told by the owners just as I told my workers that if I didn't correct it, then I was sent home without pay and shouldn't return. The owners were good friends of mine, but this was just business. I realized right then and there that I excel at everything I do career wise and I was 21 years old.

I do nothing to boast these days, but everything to be an example and to help out where I can with what I can. I volunteer as much as possible to help the community and to help my friends. I never feel taken advantage of because leaders can't feel that feeling.

It's not hard to have goals outlined for us or be told to do certain things or to take pride in our work. It's also not hard to be lazy, inefficient, and just plain dumb. It seems that being the later part of that is what people strive for these days, after all we are all trying to be part of the new rich. If you don't know about the four hour work week, then please read it.

Some people wonder why their dogs don't come to them when they call them or why they don't heel when told too. I can tell you right now why. That person isn't being a leader and their dogs know it so why not exploit that? The dog then takes the leadership role and starts running around not listening, pulling the owner, etc. If you don't understand this then watch a pack of animals work together without any human interaction. It will blow your mind to watch the leader, alpha, correct one of his/her pack and that dog then fall back in line or do what is asked of he/she. I relate certain teams that I have seen, or been a part of, to the watching of a pack of dogs hunting. They all go off and do what is needed of each other, either to scare or distract the prey while other dogs go in for the kill. If one of those dogs that was distracting decided to not distract, then the pack wouldn't eat, because the prey would then see the other dogs coming in for the kill and flee. This same thought can be applied everywhere with a little twist. We have rational thought and can very easily have better ideas placed in front of us. But once a plan is in motion or a team of employees open the doors to their business there is no turning back. If that day happened to be a bad day for the business then it's best to reevaluate the plan.

The reevaluation can be done in many ways, my first thought when I think of this is in software development. Daily stand ups, ie every morning at 9am, are used to evaluate what you did the previous day, what you are working on that day, and possibly...what you are going to work on for tomorrow. What a perfect way to chart how your goals are going. It's a little hard for that to happen everyday, but why not at least make it a phone call, it doesn't have to be physical everyday, for that matter it doesn't have to be everyday. Try twice a week, and I promise it will make a huge difference. It may be too much for some people and if it is then maybe they should look for a career in a different field.

I was at the New River Gorge a few weeks ago climbing a route called Happy Hands. I was stupid, I was a complete and udder idiot and I know two people that would wholeheartedly agree. I ran it out, and when I mean I ran it out, I ran it out. Way past ground fall potential.

When being lowered from that climb I instantly regretted it, "What a way to not be a leader Chris, you dumbshit," I thought immediately. Sometimes it's hard to want to follow people that can be so careless no matter the stakes. I am questioning why I put this part in here now as I am typing this and I have no idea why. Maybe it's to show people that being efficient can also mean we are being careless. So when you get done reading this and start to come up with things to do in your personal/business life look at the changes you are implementing from all sides, see how you, your significant other, your coworkers, your staff, and your animals will see it. Does it effect them? In a good way or a bad way? Find the best for all and do it dammit.

There are always people that have to work more for less, yet there are also the people that do less for more.  Strive to become your own version of the 1%.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

6 on 1

Well ladies and gentlemen, I think it's safe to say that I didn't even get to touch Laurel Knob on this last trip out to Cashiers, NC. Instead, we tackled the next biggest girl in the direct area, Big Green.

The day started out great, with Vladimir picking Bryan and me up around 4pm on a Friday. As usual, we all brought way too much gear and trying to stuff 3 people and gear for a weekend into a BMW 335i can be quite complicated. Thankfully, we pulled it off. Once out of the normal Charleston traffic and safely on I-26, we headed directly for Brevard, NC to meet up with strong man Bill. I just dubbed him that, because let me tell you, this man is rock solid. Not that I have felt him up or anything, but he just looks like one of those guys that you would run and hide from, if he got pissed at you. I don't have any good pictures of him, so I will be sure to take some next time I see him.

Okay, well, we get to Brevard and decide to stop and eat at Subway while we wait for Bill to arrive. Once finished, we decide to try to leave Bill's car in Brevard and see if we can fit him and all of his gear in the car with us. Everything fit. Now, we may have had things in our laps for the last stretch of the trip, but it was one less car we had to take up to the parking lot.

Now a little side note here, small, fast cars in the mountains are a lot of fun to drive, especially at night and especially when you have people in the car that are terrified when you drive fast.

With that said, Vladimir drove us up the mountain and down the mountain. At one point, I looked back at Bill and came to find that he had actually put his climbing helmet on. By the way, Bill is pictured here to the left and Vlad to the right. If you need to be reminded as to what Bryan looks like just take a look here.

After those nail biting 30 minutes were up, and we wound our way up to Cashiers, we made a pit stop at the local Ingles grocery store and then headed up to the parking lot of Panthertown. We all decided to hike in a little ways and set up camp since the camping spot at the parking lot was full of tents. We made our way down the trail about 15 minutes and set up camp right off of the trail. Now Vlad brought his Taj Mahal tent; no lie this thing could fit 2 full sized families in it. It was huge! I set up my tent for our gear while everyone else set up the Taj for us to sleep in. All I can seem to remember about the night is rain, being wet, someone was drinking beer, and sliding off of my sleeping pads. I thought I would be smooth and bring both of my sleeping pads. Well, that doesn't work because it puts you so high off of the ground, that as soon as part of you falls off, you tend to completely fall off. I know I slept some, but can't recall how much. I do remember talking to everyone at some point in the middle of the night and Bill actually yelled at someone, "Hey asshole, go around!". Come to find out, he was fast asleep when he decided to yell that out loud and wake us all up laughing. (We think it had something to do with Vlad's driving?)

Morning came and so did the small tributaries that surrounded each one of us. My pillow was wet and muddy and looked as if someone had actually wiped their dirty ass on it in the middle of the night. My sleeping bag was wet, and so were my socks. Miserable. After everyone awoke, we opened the door to the Taj only to see the misty fog that surrounded EVERYTHING. So much for any climbing today. After multiple expletives from everyone, the general consensus was to head back down the mountain to town and get breakfast. So just like the pissed off mountain people that we were, we headed down. The normal breakfast spot was closed for some reason, so we went to a coffee shop to get bagels and cinnamon rolls and to take turns using the facilities.

While eating, I saw I had a voicemail from the legendary Sean Cobourn, old mountain man, about meeting up and trying to climb. That's Sean here to the right. Yeah, I stole that picture from his facebook because he looks mean and like a mountain man should; hard to believe he is raising two little girls. Anyhow, we played phone tag for a while, while we spent money and browsed the local hiking shop. Then once we decided to meet up, we headed back to camp. Back up the mountain and at camp, I introduced everyone and we decided to move camp up to the parking lot campsite since everyone had left.

We set up the new camp and then figured we would go for a "hike". Well, this hike ended up being about 7 miles around Panthertown. We found the most amazing shelter at the base of Big Green, which will be our home for a weekend this September. Now we have always wanted to go climb Big Green and have heard the stories of it being run-out and death slab, etc. Yeah, the stories are true, because that shit is steep. See pic below and to the left. We start to follow the face around and are all looking up at these amazing looking routes above us and then come to a fairly blank section of granite. Now little back story here, Sean is one of the Carolina Legends when it comes to climbing, first ascents, and ground up route setting. So this is like a gold mine. We can all instantly see that if we get good weather that next day, we will be drilling bolts on lead.

So throughout this hike I was reminded as to how absolutely breathtaking Panthertown Valley is. Bryan got some absolutely beautiful pictures and by the way if you have time check out his new website and blog, his humor surpasses most stand up comedians. So please read through his scripture.

Okay, now. Let's get through this hike and back to the task at hand, climbing.

After we got back from the hike, we all took our time to wind down and then head down the mountain to Micha's Restaurant. We spoke about our plans for the next day over drinks, fried foods, expletives and the occasional barking frog. Sean gave Mr. Brad Woolf a call and told him to bring a drill and bolts. Yes people we, the Charleston beach people, were going to be setting a new route with legendary mountain men. This is no normal venture for us of the salt water and bikini tops; yet a treasure that we can only brag about for the rest of our lives. Brad to right.

Wake up, pack up, rake up, and forward march. We were off to Big Green to see what we could find. Before we left the parking lot, Sean introduced us to some other Carolina legends in the climbing world, Shannon and Jodi, (spelling?). They too were on the way to Big Green to finish up some routes that they were trying to complete for the new up and coming guidebook of Cashier's Valley climbs. The hike in this time was easy, so easy, almost the easiest approach of any climbing area. The walk out is a little uphill, but not bad. Luckily, the previous day we found a bush wacking trail that led us to the far end of Big Green that made our approach a lot easier on the glass ankles that I have found myself with over the past few years. The trail is marked by only markers that we six know of, and can find, so tough shit trying to find it. :)

Bryan, Vlad, and myself decide to start climbing while everyone else decides to go find a new line to bolt, ugh, and climb. We decide on what looks like an easy warm up, but isn't in the book. Plus, it's one of the only lines that wasn't still wet. The climb started off with, in what seems to be Big Green fashion: a 25 foot free solo to the first bolt. Vlad decided to tackle it first, and boy did he! This guy sailed up it, no problem, head and body still intact. After the first bolt, there seemed to be some cruxy little moves sprinkled after every bolt and we all took our turns working them out.

Finally, after working that route, I gave up and decided to go see what the guys were doing. We kept hearing the sound of a drill and assumed that they had started with the route. We get over there and low and behold Bill is on lead drilling a bolt. How badass and nerve racking that looked! If you haven't ever seen this or even know what it is, imagine this: standing 10 feet above a bolt (if you fall, then you fall 20 feet), on your tippie toes, calves burning, holding on with one arm and then holding a massive ass power tool and drilling into the side of the mountain while still balancing on your toes. The man at work is up and to the left with the white helmet on. Bill came down and Sean looked at me and told me to get my ass up there and drill some bolts.

Terrified. Yeah not gonna lie, I was nervous, especially when the old man said to run it out. So like every good student, I did what I was told. Truth be told, I never actually looked back at the last bolt or piece for that matter, I just kept climbing until Sean told me to drill a bolt. I get up there to a half way decent stance with my hand on this, what seemed like miniature crimp that seemed to be constantly crumbling under my tips and I start to pull the drill up behind me. I start the drilling and know that I have to go 2-3 inches in and then lower it back down and hammer a bolt in, after blowing out the hole and THEN tighten down the hanger and clip a draw to it. It felt like doing surgery on the side of a mountain. When I get the drill down to them, I start hauling the bolts up and then come to find a big rock in the bag with the bolts. Like every other climbing trip, something gets FUBARed and I come to realize that we don't have a hammer. We have to use this rock to hammer the bolt in. Talk about a fun time! After numerous pounds with the rock, it goes in and Sean yells to me to keep going and do the next bolt in a pod up and to the left. So I do. Notice the rock I'm holding in the picture above.

After I finish with that bolt, I lower down and we get everyone to climb the route so that we all get the First Ascent. After everyone finished climbing the route, we all packed up and started the hike back to camp, only to stop and take a quick snapshot of us and Big Green in the background. What a beautiful slab of granite!

After this legendary picture, we headed back to camp only to go our separate ways. Sean took his truck home. Brad drove Bill to Brevard so that we could head straight for Charleston. Thanks again for that, Brad and Bill.

Sean decided that we could probably get two more pitches out of it and have a good old time in the process. In a few weeks, hopefully, it will be completed. I have ordered some more hangers and Sean has the bolts. I am really hoping that some time this September, we will all be able to meet up again to finish the route and get it down in the guidebooks.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Third times a charm?

Okay seeing how creating a blog to keep record of all my random endeavors and adventures over the years has finally come to the top of my "ToDo List" and with all fingers crossed this weekend will mark my third trip to Laurel Knob and hopefully my first summit of the mighty 1200 ft granite dome.

My first trip to Laurel Knob was last June with Bryan Deel and boy was it an epic adventure into the unknown. To start with, the hike into this thing is over an hour, while the beginning through the National Forest is pretty casual, the end going down the switchbacks becomes downright grueling with a pack on that contains about 3 gallons of water, a trad rack, rope and everything else I could fit. Needless to say, I purchased a water pump as soon as I got back to civilization.

Okay back to the first day, once Bryan and I got to Panthertown and got through the easy part of the hike, which was to the base of the CCC trail, we set up base camp. Now I don't really remember how we ended up lost as all absolute hell in the dark on someone's private land, but we did. I want to say that we had 3 different set of directions to the trail to Laurel. All of which got us completely turned around and encompassed in signs saying, "Trespassers will be shot." So like anyone from the city we decided to venture deeper into the woods. Well we started up a pretty steap trail to then find ourselves about 100 feet below someone's cabin, that was the turning point that finally kicked us in the ass and forced us to hightail it out of there.

So from there we get back to the main Panthertown trail and realize we are exhausted and just need to setup camp. So thankfully, we do and decide to get some much needed rest before our big day. Funny thing is that Bryan really doesn't know that this is, I think, my second time on a trip where I would be leading. The only other climb I had lead before was The Nose of Looking Glass.

The next day we get up and find the small CCC trail and head up it to start our ascent over the shoulder of Laurel. This trail over the shoulder and down the switchbacks to the base is one fun trail to take in the early morning, and talk about beautiful? Man, the sunrise is epic from up there. We finally get to the base of the cliff and decide to try our hand at an easier 5.8 climb called Seconds. I haven't ever done friction climbing before and it is nothing to fool with. Climbing up a water groove is now one my favorite types of climbing, and getting to do this throughout an entire climb is undoubtedly more fun that a European whorehouse to me.

 This climb has a full 8 pitches, regretfully we were only able to climb the first 4 due to a thunderstorm that came screaming in out of nowhere behind us. By the time we got to the ground and got our ropes pulled and gear packed up we were in the middle of what felt like a hurricane. I swear the rain brought the visibility down to about 10 feet and having to hike out of there back to camp and up those treacherous ass switchbacks was one of the hardest things that I have ever done. Now I honestly don't remember if it had rained on us the first night or if it continued to rain on us and we sat together in a tent hearing trees fall all around us. For some reason, I blocked the parts of Bryan and me, together, soaking wet and cold in a tent. Either way, it happened and it made for an even better story when we got back. We decided to leave that day and not spend another day there since all of our gear was completely soaked and we were both exhausted beyond all belief.
 By the time we got back to the car, we were both in so much pain and agony that all we wanted to do was take off our damned packs and sit down, but no we had to document it, so we pose for the following pics.

Now Fast forward to December, when it's much colder and there is ice and snow everywhere. We decided to meet up with some fellow CCC members and do some work on the approach trail, primarily the switchbacks. The first day we got there and set up and camp and headed directly in to start climbing. Well, we got lost again by following some wrong trail markers and ended up along the cliff line above a pair of bolted anchors, we immediately knew we were screwed. We tried to go back the way we came and realized that was damn near impossible, so like typical Bryan and Chris fashion we had rappelled and wow were we already in over our heads. Having to rappel with packs on down a moss and ice covered slab is terrifying, especially not knowing how far down the bottom is. Thankfully, we got down and found the approach trail again.

We finally got to start of all of the routes at Laurel and made our way to the start of Manatee Fluid. Bryan led the first pitch and like always the adventure kept on coming. We did a little bit of simul-climbing because I think like usual we were off route. :) The second pitch completely kicked my ass, to the point where my head said no and my body finally caved. I had to back off of my first route ever, talk about a smashed ego. In the end though, I was thankful that I backed off. Luckily Bryan was in high spirits and decided to man up and lead that pitch for me, talk about a life saver. We pulled off after the second pitch and decided to head back to camp, eat and get some rest. Well we decided to head to Rumbling Bald and pick up Spencer so that she could help with the trail work the next day and learn to do some friction climbing. We got back late and passed out. The next day we met up with the CCC guys and headed in to work on the switchbacks and man did we improve them. Those guys know their stuff when it comes to trail work. The work that was completed that day took about 10 minutes off of the switchbacks, which may not sound like a lot, but hiking up 600 feet of highly eroded switchbacks after a day full of climbing is exhausting.

After we completed the trail work, we decided to head back over to seconds to give it another try and hopefully make it to the top. I led the first pitch this time in what seemed to be a new 5.10 R/X start. I had one piece in about 20 feet up and then there was nothing until the anchors, I feel this was more of a direct start then what is mentioned in guidebook, because I stayed about 10-20 feet right of the roof the whole time. I brought Spencer and Bryan up behind me and continued this fashion for the next pitch where yet again we had to rap off because of the time constraints. Not to mention that damn water groove was cold! Spencer did very well especially since she hasn't ever done any friction climbing! Once to the ground, we headed back to camp to eat and rest up for the next day. I checked the weather forecast and it said a slight chance of rain. Boy, was the weatherman wrong. We woke up to this:

After getting camp packed up and hiking out in this mess and the hour long drive down the mountain in snow and ice we drove to Whitesides hoping to get a picture of Laurel in all of her glory. Bryan got a few awesome snapshots, one of which is my screensaver in my car.
That pretty much concludes that trip well except afterwards we drove to Phil at Looking Glass Outfitters in Brevard, NC and on the way out of there we saw this, which completely made the trip!
If you can't tell, it's two people sitting down drinking beer watching their son shovel the snow out of the driveway. It was so funny we turned around and went back to try to take a picture.

This Friday, July 15th, Bryan, myself, and Vladimir are taking another journey to see our long lost lover Laurel. Hopefully, we will be meeting my buddies Sean and Bill there as well. Either way we are looking forward to another adventure and a hell of another story to tell.