Friday, August 16, 2013

Le Hulk

I would like to preface this post by thanking my Mother and Father for being amazing.  So thank you Jamie and Susan, I love you!

  It was 9:45pm and the final light from the day had disappeared behind the jagged horizon of the high sierra. We had just reached the summit of the Incredible Hulk and I couldn't have cared less. It wasn't that I didn't care that I had summited my first alpine route; I've just read enough books about adventures into the vertical world to know that the summit is only half way.  We still had a nerve racking 4th to 5th class descent down the side of the mountain, unroped, for 200ft at which point we had to locate two shiny bolts on the side of a 1300ft mountain. We would then rappel 80ft and begin a knee shaking descent down seemingly endless loose rock and scree while basketball size boulders slide  down the very narrow and steep gully you must walk back to camp. Oh... and because of our "lets just chill and have fun" game plan, we will do all of this in the dark, for the first time.......

The Hulk
   The Incredible Hulk is a 1300ft white granite fin jutting out of the High Sierra's of California. The summit sits over 11,000ft in elevation. It was discovered by Dale Bard during a ski trip over two decades ago and has since become a destination for anyone attracted to hard and technical alpine free routes. Its easy to imagine Dale's excitement when he saw this beautiful peak for the first time, as one can't help but look up every ten steps for the last 2.5 miles of the arduous approach to gaze up at this mountain and all its majesty. It wasn't hard to pick a primary objective when I decided to move to California with all this great peak floating around in my imagination. All I needed was a partner.

   After 4 months of networking, which isn't easy when you live in a place cut off from the outside world,  and many many emails I finally found a partner on Mountain Project from Pennsylvania that was available and capable of climbing such an objective. Brian and I met up for several training climbs the week leading up to the Hulk. After doing several long routes at Lovers Leap together and some harder single pitch lines at Eagle Creek Canyon we decided that we should have no problem as a team and started packing for the Hulk. Its funny to look at in retrospect, but most of our "training sessions" were conducted after I got of work, in the dark.

   We decided our goal should remain rather moderate since this was only our 4th time climbing together, our first time in the alpine, his first big wall, and my first time climbing above 10,000ft. With all these factors in play we decided to do a classic line put up by Bard himself called the "Red Dihedral 5.10b". Red Dihedral is 12 pitches right up the middle of the wall. The climbing is relatively easy with only two of the twelve pitches rated 5.10 so we felt confident in our ability to climb the route. We both agreed we wanted to savor our first alpine experience so we decided on a 3 day attack of the Hulk versus the optional car to car method ( which would absolutely suck unless you are of the Peter Croft breed ). We would drive down Thursday night, do the 5 mile approach on Friday, climb on Saturday and then hike out victorious on Sunday.

The steep hike in.
   We woke up early Friday morning and acquired our backcountry passes from the local ranger station before setting off. The air was warm that day, the way it is in autumn as the sun is just about to set. The sky was a vibrant blue and the sun was big and bright as it hung high in the sky. As I stepped out of the car the wind kissed my skin ever so lightly and I could smell the pine trees as the gently swayed about. For a moment I flashed back to all those early Saturday morning races and triathlons; to that feeling that soon I would be pushed both physically and mentally. The Hulk would not only test my fingers, it would test my endurance, my decision making and my ability to control my own fear.

  When I pulled my pack on over my back it contained my rack,  a 70m rope, water, food and shelter for 3 days. I turned to Brian and said, "Steve House would hang his head in shame if he saw the size of this pack." We both laughed at our enormous packs and began the 5 mile approach to the base of the Hulk. By the end of the hike I had stripped down to my underwear and felt as if my shoulders were going to snap under the weight of my pack. The last 2.5 miles of the approach ascends several 1000 feet of granite talus fields and is exhaustingly slow moving under a baking Sun. Towards the end of the approach you don't even follow a trail as much as the path of least resistance. We arrived at the base around noon and set up camp. We certainly had time to climb a few short routes but opted to hydrate and watch other parties ascend our intended line as we reveled in the beauty of the High Sierra. To our dismay the route was a total shit show with parties stalled on almost every third pitch. We would watch and watch and watch but no one seemed to be moving up! My stomach sank at the thought of being stuck behind a slow party all day, dodging rock and fumbled gear. We vowed to wake up at 5:00a so we could get to the base of the route before the other parties.

   At 8:00a the next morning I rolled out of my tent to Brian making coffee. There was one party starting the 4th pitch of our route du jour with no other party behind them. Sweet! We could take our time and eat breakfast and give that party plenty of time to get ahead of us. I wasn't in any hurry to get into climbing shoes anyways since my feet were chilled to the bone. It had reached below freezing that night and my 40 degree bag just couldn't keep me warm enough. By the time I finally warmed up and got some coffee and a few cigarettes in me it was 9:45a and we were hiking up towards the base. Again, proving nothing comes easy in the alpine, we must first ascend a 45 degree slope of car sized boulders before we reached the base of our route. For the first time in my life I began to feel the effects of altitude. I was a little nauseous and short of breath but this was expected so I said nothing of it. Besides we were at the base and it was time to put our ideas into action.
At the base of the route.

   We free soloed the first pitch and a half before Brian set off into linking the next two pitches on lead. His lead would deliver us to the crux pitch of the route and my first lead of the day. I quickly followed Brian and cleaned the gear, anxious for the namesake pitch of the route. The 4th pitch is a beautiful red corner system split by a hand crack leading to an exposed 5.10 bulge crux. As I racked Brian asked me if I wanted to take some extra gear but as I looked at the bomber hand crack I decided that I didn't really need more than a single rack as.
   At 80 feet off the belay I realized that I had underestimated the difficulty of climbing 10a at altitude, with a pack on... and I had underestimated the length of the 120 foot pitch and how much gear it would take.  I looked down at my harness, out of breath, and realized I had two cams and a sling. "FUCK!", I still had 40+ feet to go, including the crux. I reassured myself I hadn't fallen on a 5.10 in 7 years but my feet were popping off unexpectedly left and right and that made me nervous about running it out. I was struggling to climb in good style and I was well aware of it.

   Stemming below the crux on burning legs and sweaty jams I had a choice to make: a) protect the crux and have one piece of gear for the anchor or b) run it out and face a potential 50 foot fall but have at least two potential cams for an anchor. I began to panic a little. I thought to myself  "You really fucked it up Eric. Why didn't you take the stoppers and extra cams?!!" Then I had a moment of clarity and thought ," SHARP END, GERMANS, KNOTS!!!" I could tie a knot and use it as pro! I had no choice, I reached for my sling and with one hand and my teeth I tied a surprisingly decent barrel knot. I shoved my knot into the smallest constriction I could find and began to stab it with my nut tool to set it even deeper. ( This isn't crazy. There are entire eastern European climbing communities that climb bold lines solely protected by knots. Ok its a little crazy)
Top of Pitch 4

   Semi positive that my knot would hold a fall I fired into the crux. A few exposed face moves and I was back on easy but unstable terrain. I was climbing over loose rock that if knocked off would spell an immediate end for my belayer below. I slung a horn with my prussik cord for one last piece of "protection" before carefully arriving at the belay ledge, only to find a gift from the climbing gods. Someone had left behind a brand new X4 leaving me enough pro for a 3 point anchor. I set the anchor and popped my approach shoes on and lit a cigarette. Brian followed quickly and informed me that he nearly knocked himself off the wall trying to get my knot out. I smiled, knowing somewhere, I made an old german climber proud.

   After my brief moment of reflection on my sloppy climbing I got my head together and relaxed into a more graceful rhythm. Brian linked pitches 5 and 6 as the sun began to peak around the corner. This was a welcome change to the cold shade and warmed my body as well as my spirits. I absolutely hate being cold in a hanging belay. I quickly followed Brian's lead, trying to climb as fast as I possibly could. I arrived at the belay out of breath and jumped into my next lead of the day and our final hard pitch. I linked the easy pitch 7 into the 5.10 finger/hand crack of the 8th pitch. Unlike the last crux pitch, which left you tucked into a corner, this pitch left you completely exposed with, at times, only a few fingers and the tips of your toes in the crack. I love finger cracks and as I jammed my fingers into the thin granite crack I was overcome with joy as I looked below to see nothing but 1000 feet of air and the Sierras jagged peaks fading into the horizon. I felt free, moving with the rock rather than fighting against it.
Top of the stellar 5.10 splitter pitch with camp far in the distance below.

  After a few quick easy pitches we arrived at the false summit with only two dirty and awkward chimney pitches to the true summit. As we made the exposed 3rd class traverse across the ridge line to the base of our final two pitches the sun dropped behind the horizon. It was clear now, we had misjudged our speed and as a consequence we would be finishing this route in the black of night.
An hour later I followed Brian up the final 5.6 chimney and emerged to join him on the summit. We quietly celebrated with food and suckers saved for this moment. It was clear to both of us that our night had only started.

  As I sat in the dark and rested on the summit I stared up at the clearly visible band of the Milky Way, some surprising thoughts came to my mind. I began to think of my family and how I hoped they didn't think this life I lead is me trying to run away from them. I hope they understand that I love them and miss them daily but I also have to know what's around the next corner and experience life for myself. I began to think of my high school cross country team and how I missed running through golf courses late at night with them. I thought of all the relationships that had fallen apart because of my addiction to climbing. I thought of the future and realized I still had no idea where it would take me. I thought of myself as an old man, alone and broken down. I thought of myself with a son and a wife and a house in the mountains. I reflected on the good sends of that year and the projects back home that I couldn't wait to get back to.  I thought of this last year of my life: getting laid off from my dream job, living out of my car in a cold and rainy Brevard, the warmth of my parents home and now my time in California catering to the rich. And finally I thought of the Hulk and that it didn't feel as hard as Whitesides. Then it was time to start moving again and all this vanished as quickly as it had arisen. As always, climbing keeps my mind in the here and now.

   So there we were, wondering around the top of a mountain at over 11,000 feet in the pitch dark. After several minutes of debate I decided to tie in to the rope and start wandering down the 4th class terrain in search of anchors. If I found them I would yell up to Brian and he would follow my rope line down. The rope would serve to stop a catastrophic fall but in reality with no pro for over 210 feet of rope I knew that it would merely make it easy for search and rescue to find my body the next day in the event that I fall. I tied my knot and looked at Brian and quoted a scene in Fight Club, stating" I feel like a monkey ready to be fired into space...." then began my descent into the abyss. For an hour I wondered and scrambled around this massive mountain looking for two tiny bolts. Finally, just when I was getting ready to give up and nearly out of rope I spotted our glorious anchors. Had I not found the anchors we would have been forced to spend the night on the summit, exposed with no shelter and little water.
The last of the light fading into the Sawtooth Range.

   After our quick 80 foot rappel to the gully had finally got off the mountain, but we still had a very long way to go. To our left was the North Gully, certain death at night. It looked like death's winter retreat, covered in rock and black ice. Then there was the South Gully which descended down steep, lose rock so technical it still makes my knees hurt when I think back on it. For the next two hours we slid and stumbled down unstable terrain, the falling rocks echoing off the high walls that surrounded us on all sides. The sense of space and size around us made it seem as if we were walking at the base of Olympus Mans herself. By the time we reached camp I had gone through all of my reserves after being on point for over 10 hours. But as is true with the alpine, you are never really finished.

    We still had to go filter water as we were both severely dehydrated and still needed to eat dinner. After another half mile hike and an hour of cooking and lounging we finally passed out at 3:00a. I woke the next morning to a scorching sun and chapped lips. We watched people climb for a few hours through binoculars, ate lunch then contently packed our heavy bags onto our sore bodies. Only 5 miles of knee aching hiking and we would actually be DONE!
Chilling in my La Sportiva Vertical K's, Superlight & Sticky!

    I'd like to tell you that over the next few days after the trip I experienced a fantastic high and achieved a new level of enlightenment but thats just not the case. I was proud of my accomplishment but as I get older as a person and as a climber I've learned to stop projecting these ideals onto my objectives. No one climb will ever satisfy the thirst I have. No one climb will ever be transcendental. Some will be better than others but in the end they are just routes and there will always be something harder or scarier to climb. I know as long as I'm smart and lucky I'll be doing this for a long time and because there is no finish line in this sport, there in turn is no reason to be in a rush. I try to just take it one day at a time, one breath at a time. In the end I simply hope to take joy in the compilation of it all, the way one body of work flows into the next.

 The Blue Water 9.1 Icon. The perfect rope for all things vertical!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Singleguy Update

   We often plan for things to happen a particular way. We make schedules for and have dreams about the way we want it all to work out. As we all well know the human experience functions on an entirely different premise. There are truly to many variables for any plan to ever go accordingly. The essence of our existence is based upon the practice of adaptation. If nothing else, our most impressive trait as a species is our ability to adapt and over come the ever flowing stream of orchestrated chaos that governs our lives.
   For the last 6 months I have existed on a fringe that I feel most civilized citizens of this country can not understand. All in good sport I might add. I chose this path, blame it on my love for Russian philosophers I guess, because I have found that throughout my life my greatest moments have come after long periods of suffering.
   My idea was noble in theory. I would ask myself the hard questions about my character and what my future should be during the long night hours by a lonely campfire for one. I would climb day upon day upon day upon day on hard and bold North Carolina lines. Life would be simple and stoic. Hot showers and warm beds would be luxuries.  My entire existence would be summed up in the acts of eating, sleeping and climbing.
   For three months I couch surfed, camped and crashed my way around my network in Brevard. If it wasn't raining, I was climbing. If it was raining my mind was on the weather and when it would break. The majority of my time was spent in preparation for and execution of a classic North Carolina king line known as "Pawing the Void".  It is a nine bolt 5.12b/c face climb that spans 80ft up a seemingly blank wall. To avoid being too dramatic and alluding to acts of valor and Spartan dedication, I will simply say I was in love. While the actual red-point only took 8 attempts, the process was, in my eyes, a long arduous journey to a sense of self realization that I was so close but yet so far from. I knew from the beginning that the version of myself that would stand atop Pawing The Void had not yet arrived. That he would be delayed and sometimes halted, humbled and damn near broken. Like all my favorite lines, this one was not just a feature to be climbed but an allegory to be understood.
    Pawing the Void will forever be my most proud ascent. For 80 ft of steep and delicate granite climbing one has to be absolutely calm, composed and engaged. One rushed motion, one moment of haste or panic and you're taking a whip and starting all over. If you are in the least bit forceful and inpatient then you wont make it to the third bolt, 40 ft off the ground. There is no rest, no place to gain composure or settle one's mind. From the moment you leave the ground this route demands your full attention for 20 plus minutes. To add to this technical difficulty, my patience and mental fortitude were tested exponentially more by my environment than the route itself. Rain, snow, and ice were constant saboteurs in my quest for perfection only to be multiplied by the obstacle of finding a climbing partner when you have everyday off. Most people, normal people, work. The entire experience was truly magical. It went in the same fashion all great lines go in, transcendental beauty. It was one of the top 10 most enlightening days of my life. To see something go from impossible to possible is always the most rewarding moment in climbing.
      The weeks after this triumph I went into a mild state of depression. That is the burden of passion. It asks everything of you. My great project was over and once again my life was relatively meaningless. And as it often does in this life I lead, my mind went deep down the rabbit hole. See in a "normal life" we have foundation, consistency, and capital. My life revolved around climbing rock faces and when that wasn't being done there was a massive hole in one's daily algorithm. Couple this with the crash from operating on all cylinders, plus some, for days on end culminating in extreme highs and you get a crash that is nothing short of titanic. My 3 month "walk about" had cracked the armor and I was beginning to bleed.
   After 3 months of being homeless, cold, hungry and averaging a bank account balance of $100.00 I was damn near, if not far past broken. As any good climber does when his composure has long vanished, panic rattles the chambers of his mind and his heart knows nothing but the worst kind of fear, I started moving and moving fast! Within a few weeks I made a decision to accept an opportunity that would forever change my life. I landed a revolving seasonal job at Stanford Sierra Conference Center in South Lake Tahoe, California as the assistant dining room manager. At the time being I do not know the words I would use to describe how deeply content I am with my current forecast so I'm not going to try. My roommate and I have agreed that we have one the Vagabond lottery
    On April 2nd I packed my car with all that I owned and drove 3,551 miles across this beautiful country. I stopped briefly to enjoy the monastery that is the Moab desert before arriving in my new home in South Lake Tahoe. After 2 days of staring at Cathedral Ridge, the ominous mountain that looms behind my house, I decided to have a go at it just before a big snow storm hit, later dumping 4 feet of snow. Alpinism is something I've always respected but never pursued. I don't like the cold, I don't like avalanches, but I do like to suffer. So on a Saturday after work I ran to my apartment and packed the bare essentials I assumed I needed. I put on my hiking boots, synthetic pants, soft shell and hard shell. I duct taped my pants to my boots to, in theory, keep the snow out. I made some matte and walked 300 meters from my porch and started going up my imaginary line to the steep left chute.
    The first 400 meters felt as if I were crossing the rive Styx. I had to brake trail through head high bushes covered in snow on 30 degree slopes. It was as if I were swimming up stream, all the while getting poked in the eye by branches and snowed on. Finally I broke through what I now call the demon bushes and looked up at a steep rock chimney covered in ice. I climbed 30 feet up this icy bastard until my "No" alarm went off inside my head. This particular alarm is the only one I never ignore. It's the alarm in my subconscious that tells me that if I proceed with my current plan of ill advised action that I will most likely....die. So I down climbed and traversed to a large scree field that would deliver me to the base of my glorious gully.
    After 30 minutes of tiptoeing up ever shifting rock fields I made it to the first snow field. For the next 900 ft I kicked steps up an ever increasingly steep and narrow chute. 200 meters from the top a storm popped of the top of my now not so little mountain. I had a moment of clarity looking 1200 ft back down the steep snow to my warmly lit home on the lake. It was dumping snow and I was 2 hours from my aforementioned home. I was so close to my goal, 10 minutes of step kicking away max but it was getting dark and I had no idea where the walk off summit trail was. I thought it best if I called my friends and AMGA rock guides and asked them what the signs of AVI conditions are.
    I quickly learned that I was the current poster child for an avalanche victim. I hung up the phone and asked myself one question, "Up or Down?". As I thought about this question I took a look around.... I looked to my summit and I looked back down to home. Home was very very far away and invisible behind the wall of snow that was falling down on this "little" mountain. I realized that my awesome end of the day work out had quickly become a really fucking serious situation. I began to bound down the snow slope as fast I as I could, occasionally sinking waste deep into the snow, headed for tea and a sauna.
    Long story short I made it home with sore knees, numb digits and soaked clothing and stumbled the last 500 yards down steep and woven "devil bushes". But since my employer provides me with a full kitchen and spa I recovered very quickly and was instantly proud of my chosen line as I drank beer with my 40 co workers, in a sauna. When I woke up the next morning the gravity of my choice to solo an improvised line up an unfamiliar mountain in terrain I had never seen before dawned on me. I was proud of myself and nothing less. I went into the unknown and made all the right calls while still putting everything on the line.
    It was on the windy, dark and cold descent that I realized that my "walk about" had just started. That all the trials before this were just in preparation for what I think my be my finest hour. I am 3 hours from the Valley, the High Sierras are at my finger tips, and there is rock littered about every square inch of my quaint little California town. I have the opportunity to truly step outside of all that I have ever known and test myself on some of the greatest mountains that exist on this small planet. With these challenges and unknowns comes a depth of fear I have not felt in my life. Very soon, when this work season is over, I will go to the big mountains and I plan to test myself against them.  So for the time being Fallen Leaf Lake is my own personal training camp. I run from my work shifts to my car and go do 21 boulder problems into the dark sans pad or I run free solo laps on the 300ft Hogsback. When I can find a partner, which isn't hard because everyone I've met is very open and friendly, I go plug gear on the 500ft granite ridge line that is Lovers Leap. Mix in some improv alpine, weekends in the Valley and a few stand up paddle board sessions and you've got a recipe for success in the High Sierras this July.

To all those back home,
I miss you dearly, I'm having the time of my life. In case I don't see ya....
Good morning, good afternoon, good evening and good night! :)

To see pics of all this nonsense you can stalk me on FaceBook or follow me on Instagram @ esingleton_se

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Men, Monsters, Myths and Whitesides

Alpine Start
    The alarm went off at 5:00 am. My bed, a mat on the floor in the corner of a living room, was warm and the air was heavy and dark. Bennett and I tiptoed around the creaky hardwood floors, trying not to wake up our sleeping roommates as we loaded our packs and made breakfast. We ate oatmeal and drank coffee in silence under the buzzing of the dim fluorescent lights in our kitchen. It was time to go, we had to move fast all day. As we went down the dark stairwell that leads to the street I ran my hands over the Tibetan prayer flags that hang overhead. It wasn't an empty gesture, it was a big day and I wanted everything to go like clock work. I needed the mountain's blessing, even if it was only a figment of my imagination.We stepped out into the cold air of the dark morning. We were welcomed by empty roads and buzzing street lamps. The predawn  air was crisp  in our lungs. Off into the dark we drove, to go see about a monster from the storybooks.
    Just the word WHITESIDES carries a heavy tone. At 700 vertical feet of bold climbing it is as respected as a wall can be. Reading the guidebook descriptions alone will turn most away. The climbing is steep, exposed and run-out. You could fill a hard drive with the numerous accounts of epics and giant whippers from the history of this mountain. The men that established this cliff were masters of the mind so the routes will test you physically, but the mind is in the most pain on a Whitesides ascent. It is not uncommon to be 600 feet off the ground, 30 feet above your last piece of protection, trying to decide whether or not you're going the wrong way as you hang from your finger tips and stand on questionable footholds. All this lore made for grand images in my curious imagination and the Monster from the stories began to pull at me.
    My love in this world, that which drives me and makes me feel whole is.... "on-sight, ground up,Traditional climbing". One go, one chance to understand a line perfectly, get the gear right, and keep the chatter of your mind silent as you wonder up the path of another's imagination. Whitesides seemed like a great place to be perfect and I wanted to be just that, perfect. To be perfect on a cliff like this would mean having to make 1,000's of correct decisions for hours upon of hours.
    I decided that the OR should be my first route on Whitesides, and coincidentally mine and Bennett's first multi-pitch together. An 800 foot 5.11a R Grade III with  a 140 foot 5.8 free solo for the the first pitch seemed like a fine test for my gumption. As we hiked down the trail the darkness began to give way and the sun peaked over a silky layer of clouds and turned the cold night sky into a warm ambient light capable of inspiring men to great things. We turned a corner and there it was, the monster from the stories. As I looked in amazement at the wall for the first time I felt something unexpected. I did not feel like I was standing at the feet of a monster at all but rather at the door of a welcoming mother eager to have me home. I knew at that moment that I would spend many days of my life on this wall.
    At 8:00am I started up the first pitch. I chose a line with a single bolt, 70 ft off the ground and began to climb. The first pitch of the OR could reward one missed foot or one lapse in concentration with serious injury but more likely, death. At least in regards to the first pitch, all the lore was spot on. My mind was in a quiet room for 20 minutes. After 50 feet of moderate slab climbing I clipped my first and only piece of protection. The lack of comfort this bolt offered was almost humorous because just a few minutes later I was right back into the no fall zone with no chance of gear. I topped out the pitch and let out a deep breathe of satisfaction and relief. We climbed a pitch of 5.8 and 5.7 before arriving at the first difficult pitch of the day, a 5.10c corner that is oddly polished compared to the entire cliff. I was pressed into a gastone and lie back, fully dependent on the pressure provided by my feet, when both my feet cut. My shoulders fired into overdrive as I held an awkward iron cross and drove my feet back into the wall. Another pitch of run out 5.8 led us to the crux of the route, a pitch I had built up in my mind for years, trying to imagine what it would be like to pull on edges with nothing but air below and then run it to the anchors.
Top of the crux pitch
    Three bolts on a 75 foot 5.11 stood between us and a perfect first day on Whitesides. We were moving at a great pace and making no mistakes, so I just had to fire this quickly and it would basically be over with just a few pitches of 5.9 and 5.10 to the top. I laced up my shoes and did a few big moves off the belay and it was all over, except for the remaining 40 feet of the pitch with no gear. At this point in the day it was just understood that an entire pitch my  have 3 pieces of protection total and that's OK. Bennett and I swung leads to the top. At one point I laid down on a grassy belay ledge as Bennett built the anchor for the next pitch. The sun warmed my body under a perfectly blue sky and the cool wind kissed my skin and rattled the stalks of grass all the while 500 feet of air lay below me. I almost peacefully fell asleep while belaying until the roar of a near by diving Peregrine woke me,  I told Bennett later on the car ride home.

    Once at the top we briefly celebrated, took some photos and answered a few questions from a couple hiking to the top. I can only imagine how we looked to them as we crawled out of the void and over the fence to the overlook where they stood. We began our hike back to the car satisfied and proud of our perfection. I was excited about the future. I have my hopes wrapped around the harder lines on the headwall... the Arno lines especially. Lines with stacked 5.11 and 5.12+ pitches. As my mind raced I made my one and only mistake of the day. In my haste I placed all my weight onto a wet step on the hike down. I was shot into the air and my full weight came down on my lower back with a carabiner to break my fall. I laughed and groaned wondering if my back was broken. I stood up and hobbled down the trail with a firm reminder that I'm not invincible. A good thing to keep in my mind as I venture into more difficult terrain on my new favorite cliff.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The End is the Beginning

   It is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to this wonderful place. I have accepted an amazing position for an Outdoor Retailer in Atlanta that will allow me to take my climbing and role as an ambassador for my sport to the next level. In just a few short weeks I will sadly have to put Brevard in my rear view mirror. I can not convey how hard it was for me to decide to leave this beautiful forest and all the amazing people that make up this small mountain community; but one must forever be pushing forward, deeper into the zephyr of Life. 
   I'm sure many people have seen the title of my blog and thought " Well that's a bit arrogant.", but you must remember the story from which this clever title was derived. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was a young and confused boy that needed a new start in a place with more possibilities for prosperity and happiness than his home, which he left behind at a turbulent time in his life. He needed an escape from the world he knew and he needed the guidance of his new family to help him reach his full potential as a person. The Fresh Prince also brought a new perspective to his new home, not better nor worse, just something different...something fresh. In the end he walked away a better and wiser man. In so many ways I care not to expound upon this story is my story. I came to Brevard in need of healing, guidance, direction, peace, and strength. I came here to find myself in the silence of the forest.  I hope that in my short time here I too brought something new, something fresh to this community and the paths that I crossed. 
   It has been over a year now and I can say that while I have not yet reached my full potential as a climber and more importantly as a person, I am on the cusp of something grand in my timeline. It is because of my time in this majestic corner of the world that I can now go on this new journey with a clear mind and a renewed energy. 
   The granite walls of North Carolina have made my mind strong and taught me that in moments of fear and chaos it is best to just breath and move forward slowly and deliberately...and that Death should be the least of our fears. The cold water of the Davidson River has cleansed my soul and taught me that if something takes your breath away, it's more than likely good for you and that you shouldn't fight it but rather let it wash over you. The trails have taught me that in life you have to react fast and stay balanced or you may come crashing to the ground; but you can't let the uncertainty hold you back from experiencing something great. The forest has taught me to be still and listen to my heart. 
   I want to thank all the amazing people I have met in my short time here. I have never seen such a happy place full of so much wisdom and unique perspectives. But there are a few people that have been pivotal in my reconstruction of the spirit.        

Julia Tellman, Dan Ennis, Tyler Crotts, and Chuck Carlson: Thank you for reminding me to dance and that four drunk friends in a living room is better than a 400 person party any day. Julia: good luck on your walk-about. Dan: Kill it this season! I will be at the Clemson and home races for sure! Keep me posted.

Bennet Anderson and Davis King: Thanks for sharing Cathey's Creek with me. We've had some pretty amazing times... I can't remember them for some odd reason, but I know they happened and that they were awesome. Come see me in ATL. Keep climbing and be safe.

John Carpenter, Josh Baggett and Dan Horne: You're my boys! I've enjoyed every minute of your company and I hope you stay in touch! See you at Triple Crown!

Jeremy Whitworth: Thank you for believing in me and trusting me with your gym. I've enjoyed every moment with you and the Brevard Rock Gym family. You've shown me that a smile and the right words go a long way in life. Pardon my French but... you've really got your shit together man! You're going to go far in this life.

Wes Dickson: Thank you for reminding me that "Its all or Nothing" in this life and if you want something you can't wait on it but you just have to take it.....and thank you for the GALLONS of free coffee.

Carlos, Art, Joey, and the Sycamore Crew: It has been a pleasure joking, talking and working with you. Stay in touch. I wish you all the best  Art: You owe me a game of chess!

Phillip Hoffman: What can I say man.... I wouldn't be here if it were not for you and I would not be stepping into this great opportunity without your guidance. You taught me to take the time to think hard before speaking. I think I may have developed a filter between my brain and mouth in our time together. The world will thank you. It has been a real pleasure working, climbing and talking with you over the last 15 months. I wish you the best and hope to see you frequently throughout this life * Jess: You have the most beautiful baby girl in the world and I can't wait to see her grow up! Thanks for being a great boss and for all the delicious baked goods :) 

BREVARD: I see a bright future for you! Embrace that future and always adapt but never change what you are. Keep it simple and protect your forest! I am saying goodbye but I will be back. I will always come back to you. I first set foot in your forest as a young boy mountain biking with his dad and one day I hope to be an old man climbing here with his son. No matter where I go I now know that this will always be my home.

"You'll see one day when you move on, it just sort of happens one day and it's gone. You feel like you can never get it back. It's like you feel homesick for a place that doesn't even exist. Maybe it's like this rite of passage. You won't ever have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself for your kids, for the family you start, it's like a cycle. I don't know, but I miss the idea of it.. Maybe that's all family really is, A group of people that miss the same imaginary place." 

Goodbye Brevard and in case I don't see you.... good morning , good afternoon, good evening and GOOD NIGHT! 

- Eric Matthew Singleton
"The Fresh Prince of Brevard" 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Gear Review: La Sportiva Ganda

      There have been many great accomplishments in design and function over the centuries. Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel, Bugatti created the luxurious 1001hp Veyron and then La Sportiva created the Ganda. This shoe will simply leave you speechless and smiling. La Sportiva made a bold claim when they said this shoe would allow you to carry a 30 pound pack on the approach then also have the ability to climb 5.12! I was skeptical until I put them on. WOW!!! I didn't climb 5.12 in them (  Honnold certainly could) but I did easily lead gently overhanging 10c trad in them! Throughout the hike in and the climb there wasn't a moment where I felt the shoe had any notion of a short coming in either discipline. On the hike it was supportive and gripped the mud well and on the climb it edged and smeared better than a lot of climbing shoes on market. It really is the best of both worlds. Simply put... the Ganda is a climbing shoe that you can hike in.
     These shoes are not magical nor divine, they are just engineered to perfection with every detail accounted for. Slip lasted in the forefoot and board lasted in the back, the Ganda is built around a 3D sculpted anatomical PU Lite mid-sole that molds to your foot over the life of the shoe. The upper is a combination of leather, Vibram rubber, and synthetic leather giving you comfort where you need it yet durability and friction in the areas of the shoe that take abuse. $250 dollars may sound steep for an approach shoe but you are really getting an approach shoe and climbing shoe in the same package (the Ganda's are designed to be repeatedly resoled). That's $125 a pair if you do the math, not a bad deal if you ask me!
     These shoes can make every climbers experience more efficient and enjoyable but the demographic that truly benefits from this amazing design is the professional guiding community. I work at a gear shop and moonlight as a guide and I honestly think that behind the Gri-Gri, the Ganda is the second most important tool in a guide's arsenal. The Ganda eliminates the need for a second shoe and they are sleek and professional in appearance. La Sportiva never fails to amaze me with their attention to detail and ground breaking designs. The Ganda is just one more piece of evidence in the testament to this company's passion for innovation.

     " I choose the Ganda because of its comfort and versatility. From guiding clients on North Carolinian slab to running them up the Grand Teton, the Gandas edge and smear perfectly. They are so comfortable, when I get back to the car after a long day in the mountains, that I routinely forget to change into my sandals!" - Karsten Delap- AMGA Rock Guide- La Sportiva Athlete

Thursday, June 21, 2012

GEAR REVIEW: BlueWaterRopes Dominator 9.4

BLUE WATER 9.4mm Dominator
    Surgeons don't use dull scalpels, cyclists don't ride heavy bikes, and soldiers don't use BB guns. If you're going to do a job you need the proper tools in order to get the absolute best results. Climbing is no exception to this rule. You need the right shoes, the right harness but more importantly... you need the right rope; a rope that doesn't just catch your fall but moves effortlessly with you. A good rope is like a guardian angel; you don't even notice it's presence until you REALLY need it to be there. A good rope should  move over the rock with the elegance of a viper over the forest floor, it should feel like an extension of your hand when clipping, and it shouldn't be the heaviest part of your rack.
My Dominator and I sending Waverly Waster 5.12  @ Looking Glass,NC
     Enter the BlueWater 9.4 Dominator.  This rope is amazingly strong and at 55 grams per meter, one of the most lightweight ropes on the market. The core and sheath diameter are only separated by (.1 mm) giving the rope a tight and organic feel in your hands. It is available in 60m and 70m with the options for bi-pattern and dry treatment for a few extra dollars. This is my go to rope when I'm attempting on-sights and red-points of both trad and sport lines near my limit. The best part is when I'm hiking out and I'm completely wrecked; I barely notice this low profile and feather-light rope in my pack. And this is no wimpy skinny. The Dominator is rated for 7 UIAA falls. Even climbing almost every day I'm amazed at the durability of this rope. One Dominator can last me through 2 or 3 active seasons. Not bad for a skinny 9.4mm, right? Pair the Dominator with the BlueWater 8.4mm Excellence and you'll have the best multi-pitch set-up on the block
TC and his 9.4
    Cedar Wright flat out calls it "The best rope in the world." ( He would know). Don't believe Cedar? Well pay attention to the rope Tommy Caldwell uses on almost every route for the past 5 years. If its good enough for  Tommy on The Captain, its just fine with me! Pro or not, everyone likes a durable, lightweight  rope with all the bells and whistles that catches you like pool of feathers. Needless to say, I give the BlueWater Dominator 10 out of 10 stars and I confidently trust my life to it daily. Thanks BlueWaterRopes for going above and beyond to help us perform at our best and... stay off the ground!

+++ Click the link to Blue Water Ropes on the right hands side of the page to see more amazing products made by the great American rope company.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Shattered Glass and a White Room

     It was a quiet summer afternoon at Rocks and Ropes when only a handful of the committed gym rats were there, because we had nothing else to do. We had set some routes, slack lined, and performed one or two stupid acts that ended with a few mild injuries. Occasionally a family would pop their heads in but immediately leave at the sight of our pack of shirtless, long haired hooligans taking top rope whippers to see how close we could get to the ground. Eventually we all settled in to the back room which we called the "climber's lounge" to chill and watch a video for the 100th time. Our lounge was really just an vacant, dusty room in the far back of the building with industrial beams and stone walls . There was a TV that only had 8 channels to choose from, a VHS player, a stack of climbing videos and a raggedy old couch that I can only imagine was abandoned on the side of the road at some point before its arrival in our little " lounge".
Just a few of the Rocks and Ropes gang out climbing. ( Cecil Foster, Eric Singleton, Doug Ianaurio and Collin Tice)
     I can't remember which climbing video we watched that day, maybe Dosage 1, but what I heard in that video had an enormous impact on my climbing. It was in a dose of Klem Loskot bouldering somewhere in Europe, Klem was our hero and a master of the mind. We all imitated his psyche and we would scream loud and passionately for each other when we were mid crux and on the line between success and failure, afraid to commit to the next move. Sometimes we would frighten customers because our words of encouragement to our friends could easily be mistaken by an outsider as pure rage. We would grunt and scream, like Klem, as we clawed through a crux as if we were charging straight through a battle towards the gates of Valhalla, committed to seeing our actions through to the end. There was an interview with Klem in which he spoke, in his monk-like Austrian accent, of this specific moment in time he experienced working a hard route, when everything in the world disappears from your mind except you and the rock, a "white room". I loved this allusion of his mind being suspended in time, purely focused on one single objective. The world could be ending behind you at this moment and you wouldn't know it because the mind is in some far away place playing chess with your soul.
Klem Loskot in the zone high above the water.
     Fast forward 9 years. I'm still screaming wildly for my friends and now I have new lines of my own, unclimbed projects that I'm obsessing over, like Klem. The line that sets the stage for my experience is called "Shattered Glass". It is a line I found and admired for months. It goes up an overhanging face with streaks of quartz that resemble the scars of a dramatic lightning strike long ago. I teamed up with my good friend Dan Horne to equip this route and see if it were possible. Dan paid for the bolts and I borrowed a drill and we spent a stormy afternoon establishing "Shattered Glass". Dan bagged the first ascent on his first lead burn of the day; I don't think my drill bit had even cooled when he clipped the chains. I then gave it 2 goes falling at the upper crux each time. I was psyched because now I had a real project! The lines I had established earlier that month went in a day, which upset me a little. I like to work routes for weeks if not months. I love going through the process of failing over and over before realizing success. Shattered Glass would be a route that could provide me with this experience and more.
    Two days after establishing Shattered I destroyed my big toe on a curb in a gas station parking lot. I'm constantly amazed how graceful I can be on an overhanging rock face but yet so clumsy walking on flat ground. As the blood poured from my throbbing toe all I could do was laugh, but deep down I was heart broken. I had waited so long to work this line and two days after getting that opportunity I couldn't even get my foot into a pair of street shoes much less tight climbing shoes. I spent the next week training in the gym on hang boards, H.I.T systems, and anything else I could do to alleviate the chaos in my mind. If I couldn't work my project I sure as hell was going to be ready for the day that I could. One week later my toe had not fully healed but if I taped it enough I could get it in loose climbing shoes.
    I spent the next six days in a frenzy trying to find partners to belay me after work. I would run to the cliff and do a warm up line, hang the draws and give Shattered one pumped go before the daylight would escape into the night. I was making no progress at all, falling at the desperate final crux each time. Most days the holds after the crux were soaking wet but I'd desperately lunge for them anyways. I was basically in my twisted version of heaven! After six days and six failed attempts my friend Nathan suggested I go to the North Side of Looking Glass to clear my mind on some familiar routes and since I felt that I may be developing a mental block, it sounded like a great idea. I spent that Friday evening climbing fun 5.10's that I had done countless times well into the night with my friends. Hanging off the enormous wall of  the North Side with the stars and black sky surrounding me really cleared my head. I was psyched to wake up Saturday and work my project all day with some good friends from Clemson, with a refreshed state of mind.
    I went into the day with high hopes and I was sure I would send because in my mind I did everything right. I hydrated, loaded up on carbs and didn't go out at all so I could get 8 hours of sober sleep. I packed my food (2000 calories), my Katana Laces (my sending shoe), my chaos harness and my super supple 9.4mm Dominator ( my "project" rope). I gave Shattered two great burns that day but failed to keep it together when I was pumped and stabbing at the desperate slopers and edges of the final crux. It wasn't that I didn't know what to do or that I didn't want it bad enough, I just wasn't focused or maybe I was too focused. I was starting to get upset with myself. Physically I could crush every move but mentally I was somewhere else. My mind was lost in the dark and haunted by the whispers of my ego, the distant footsteps of my insecurities, and the quiet breathing of my selfish desires. I vowed that Sunday would be a much need rest day and I would put Shattered Glass out of my mind for the day.
    I woke up the following morning at 8:30 and felt like I had been run over by a train, repeatedly. Six straight days of projecting had taken its toll on my body. My shoulders felt like knotted cables, my fingers throbbed and my elbows were on fire. I got up, had some coffee and packed my bag with my worn out shoes, a harness and a belay device, leaving my draws and rope behind. I packed a little food but nothing to support a high performance day. I  met my friend, Josh Baggett at Brevard Rock Gym and I immediately told him that he had a belay slave for the day and that I would not be climbing. Josh had several lines he wanted to work and I was happy to offer a catch and encouragement as he had done for me many times before.
   We arrived at the crag and began warming up. Throughout the day several people asked me if I was going to give "it" a burn  and I would reply, " No, I'm wrecked and its probably wet again. I'm here for Josh today." Josh set about making quick work of Crown Royal, bagging his first 5.12 and I like to think my "Klem-like" screams of encouragement helped. Riding the high of his send Josh set out to climb Cathy's Corner, a bouldery 5.11 mixed line, just a few feet right of Shattered Glass. Josh fired Cathy's in one go and lowered down happy and accomplished. I agreed to clean the gear from the route and maybe take a look at the hold in question on my route when I got to the top. I felt surprisingly light on Cathy's Corner and when I reached the top I realized the holds of Shattered were bone dry! The voice of my "dark passenger" immediately began to whisper into my mind, " Just give it one go! You need this, WE need this!" I always listen to my "dark passenger", so I called down to Josh that I was going to brush it, hang the draws and give it one burn.
Briefly resting after the initial crux
    So there I was doing exactly what I said I wouldn't do just hours earlier. I was standing below my project for the 8th time, shoes on, bowline tied. Typically I spend a few minutes with my eye's closed, imagining my beta for each move. I try to calm my mind and slow my breathing. I try and try and try to do all these things so that I may be calm and peaceful during the stress of the cruxes, but not this time. Something in me snapped and my mind went to a place it only goes when my back is against the wall and I have to fight my way out. This is a dark but powerful room in my mind where nothing but my most primal rage exists. The walls are painted with images of war, lust and chaos. In the center of this room is my monster chained to the floor, foaming at the mouth and breathing heavily, waiting to be unleashed on the world. I came to and my eyes focused, I began to breath  heavily as goosebumps covered my body. I charged toward the rock and asked Josh if he had me. I was simply hungry for a war, I wanted to be perfect or be ripped apart in the process.
   I moved through the lower V7 crux, turning to stone on each delicate hold. I clipped quickly, without pause on my way to the next move. In seconds I was at the black roof that lies mid route. I hung only briefly to catch my breath then pressed on to the crux. I was not just grabbing the holds I was trying to crush them under the weight of my quiet rage. I made the final clip before the crux and the world vanished. I was in the "white room", the place that Klem spoke of years ago in Dosage. I could hear sounds but they seemed to be universes away. The wind slowed as it kissed my skin and I could feel the granules of rock being pressed into the pours of my finger tips. My monster was gnarling and thrashing at his cage and I happily unlocked his door. I began to squeeze and compress the slopers of the upper V8 crux and before I knew it I was lunging through the air for the final  hold and as I hit it my skin bonded to the rock. I was not coming off. I clipped the anchors slowly and deliberately, savoring what I had waited so long for.
     I didn't make a sound and dropped into the quiet, still air. I sat suspended 60 feet off the ground and took in the moment, trying to absorb every detail  and remember how many times I had been humbled by this beautiful route. Moments later my world came crashing back and all the sounds of the forest flooded into my ears. I looked down at Josh and he was smiling and my friends across the crag were yelling "YEH! Way to go!". It hit me all at once and I let out a scream and kicked my feet in the air in pure, uncontrollable joy. My two month journey was over.
Entering the final crux of Shattered Glass 5.13b
    Days later I was able to reflect on the entire process that was Shattered Glass. The wonder that surrounded it, the creation of the line, the realization that it could go, the injury that kept me away, the countless evenings of training, the frustrating failed attempts and the final realization of the dream. This is why I climb, to be tested and pushed, not just physically but mentally as well. To run head first in to the storm of impossibility and continue forward when rain and lightning crash into the mind. Sadly this experience is gone now and I have to find a new route that will once again provide me with a window into my white room, that will satisfy my monster's appetite. This is the endless cycle of a climber's life and it is a beautiful process.      
   Yesterday I established "Napoleon", a route I  named for its short stature but powerful movement. The moves of this route are stunning and very low percentage. While much shorter than Shattered Glass, Napoleon is leaps and bounds harder in terms of pure difficulty. It will require even more of myself, more training, more sacrifices, more blood, more sweat and more tenacity. The process has started all over. I'll be forced once more to try and find my way back to that place in my mind where peace and power dance together.