Thursday, January 21, 2016

Anchor Replacement; or, A Midwinter's Tale

Just back from Smoke Hole and Reed Creek where, despite sunshine, the temperatures were in the upper teens and low 20s throughout the afternoon. Wanted to do some trail maintenance, but just too bitter to do much of anything when, even in gloves, my fingertips went numb in about 15 minutes.

Replaced anchor on Spanker Right at Darkside of Long Branch yesterday, while Miss Cindy, my lovely wife, wisely waited in the RV and read Asimov, monitoring the radio in case things fell apart on me while in the air. Temperatures in the shadow of the north-facing ridge were in the upper teens by noon, with high cloud cover moving in and snow flurries starting just as I shouldered my pack at the road.

Despite keeping drill warm all night and morning, by the time I got on rappel, had to warm it inside my jacket again to thaw the grease in the hammer drill enough to operate. Pulled both old cold shuts and bolts, all very rusty, especially at point of contact between cold shut and bolt shaft.

First new bolt hole went south when ice formed in the hole from my breath through the blow tube.

Finally got in two new anchors and rapped with just over 1/4" of dry snow fallen and beginning to blow around, making the descent through the talus field a challenge to say the least.

 We inhaled a pot of coffee and snack for energy as the engine warmed up for our escape, then retreated to Thorn Spring Park for large servings of chicken Alfredo and strong libations, sending out texts and sitreps while watching The Martian on my computer's DVD player and huddling next to the wood stove.

Returned to Reed's this morning, but bitter temps had once again plunged the area into nuclear winter, and we retreated after a short hike.

Back across South Fork Mountain and over Shenandoah Mountain to Virginia by early this afternoon.

Now we're tarping up the Lindy, watching the approaching storm and all the frenzied last-minute preparation and doom-saying. We'll just have to see what happens back there in our little corner of Heaven; talk in Franklin is of a possible 2 feet or more, with drifting, and that kind of accumulation will linger for days, even weeks, in the lower canyon, with the ground frozen by a week of temperatures in the 20s and teens.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

And a Happy New Year

Weather for the weekend's trail and anchor survey was a bonus.

At Reed Creek, Saturday began downright cold, but a breakfast burrito and cuppa fresh-perked dark roast later, the day was on its way to being sunny with mild breezes.

Despite temps at cliffside that reached the upper 60s, there was no climber traffic beyond the Gypsy Wall until mid-afternoon allowing us a chance to address some of the problem areas without inconveniencing anyone who had just come to climb.

Cindy and John took on the heavily impacted area at the popular Reach Wall, in particular, the belay below Golden Horseshoe; clearing the displaced steps and platform down to solid rock, reinforcing the edging along the trail in both directions.

Meanwhile, your humble editor rebuilt the steps leading up from the lower trail, which Cindy then tested for quality control.

We moved up the trail and took a run up Dr. Taco to stretch out after our labors.

A chainsaw-like noise kept buzzing around, and we decided to move on; after a quick look around at the trouble spots on the way down and a conversation with Chris Beauchamp that revealed the sound had been his drone, taking pictures of us aware as we relaxed, we were on our way to the Lower Canyon to see what we could see and to knock out a bit more trail work while surveying anchors and bolts for replacement.

While Cindy remained at the vehicle and enjoyed the afternoon sunshine along the river, John and I marched up the sustained approach trail to the Guide Walls, where we saw Tyrel Johnson and Heather Jiles, sending routes and loving the sun at the Guide Wall's Sunnyside.

We kept on trekking, and soon ran into Nick Kurland and Travis Wilson, back towards the Ninja Walls, fresh off some goodness of their own.

Nick and I talked about new development and discussed the problem of the wedge of private property that divides the Ninja Walls from the Sunnyside, something most people just don't seem to register, instead choosing to believe that we just suddenly stopped developing routes on all that 'perfectly good rock'.

The problem of drills is they seem to preclude the reading of maps and a basic understanding of boundaries. I've been guilty of it myself, which is one reason I work so hard on instilling respect into today's climbers, and have reached out again and again to local landowners for permission to climb on their lands.

The conversation turned to drones, trails, and the weather before we parted ways; Nick went to finish his climbing day as John and I turned back to trail work.

After weighing our options, we decided on a focal point and built steps down the slot, on the section of trail that leads from Hummingbird, on the south end of the Ninja area, down to the trail below 'Carpe Diem' and around the corner to 'Slight of Hand' and 'Dread Skills'. At the bottom of the slot, we redirected traffic with a short switchback to encourage wear on the inside of the hill, rather than on the unstable slope.

The trail around the north end remains a work in progress, with hopes of returning next weekend to finish our efforts there.

Afternoon turned to early evening, it was time to go, and Cindy was waiting at the car.  We drove out of the canyon to the sounds of the Cocteau Twins, letting the memories of other times and climbs roll over us like the river as we passed Shreve's Store, Fat Boys and Eagle Rocks Campground, climbed up over the gorge and Copperhead Cove, dropping down to the Entrance Walls with sunshine glowing on the far ridge.

John waved good-bye at our van, parked at the end of Reed's, and we stowed gear before walking back up the hill to visit with some non-climber friends of ours who live nearby, in Upper Tract.

Sunday, the sun was out again, but a cold north wind was roaring, as it had since midnight, pushing temps down towards freezing.

I revised my plan for replacing anchors and bolts on The Spankers when a branch the size of my thigh tumbled down on the scree field about fifty yards ahead of me on my initial approach, throwing fist-sized shrapnel over my head.

Switching gears, I began clearing the Darkside approach trail from the parking area, typically used during the winter, when runoff  in the creek between the crags often made it a necessity to walk up the south bank instead of crossing the creek.

After almost an hour of raking gravel and shifting stones, with more incursions by branches, blasts of road dust, and leaves that went right back in the holes from which I had just scooped them, the warmth of my waiting RV began to look more and more attractive. My knee throbbed in confirmation, the wind dropped another handful of branches on me for emphasis; I surrendered and limped for shelter.

The trail up to the Darkside of Long Branch is a challenge, probably the greatest challenge to be found for trail builders in Smoke Hole; the talus field makes everything harder by refusing to yield a lot of readily-shifted stone, then giving you far too much of it at either edge.

We've done a lot of work here over the last twenty years; Troy, Rachel, Big E, Melissa and I were constantly installing and repairing steps during the early years, while Fred Topper and I spent a week shifting stones and steps across the lower talus field back in '03 or '04. As long as limited funds and time, the demands of family and a beat-up body allow, I will continue to do more, but I'm also contacting some folks with heavier tools and experience, to see about their aid.

In addition, I would encourage anyone who belongs to the Access Fund to nominate the approach to Long Branch and/or The Guide Wall trail for work by the Conservation team, perhaps in conjunction with the rock wranglers of the Potomac-Appalachian Trail Club's Mountaineering Section, and the assistance of the Vermont Sensei and his Lyndon State College crew.

Today, I am making notes, ordering hardware, icing an elevated knee and watching episodes of "Criminal Minds" as the thermometer defies all encouragement to rise above freezing, an snow flurries play against the glass.