Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Unsung Heroes of Smoke Hole: Michael Farnsworth

I first met Mike Farnsworth as I meet most people who impact my life; I was out climbing.

My wife Cindy and I had joined some of the other folks spending the afternoon at the little crag of Reed's Creek, just outside Smoke Hole Canyon. A Seneca veteran with hard first ascents scattered across the nearby states, Mike had already bolted 'Harlem', the powerhouse 5.12+/13- cave route and alternate start to my line 'Winterharvest'.

When we arrived, he was strolling up the juggy lines of The Gypsies Wall, after recon of the direct, overhanging alternate finish to the sustained 5.10 'Apophis', an extension that would eventually become the 5.12 'Skywalker'.

After a few comments on the sweet weather and good routes, typical crag chatter, Mike introduced himself and complimented us on both routes and trail work.  We talked about the crag and climbing in the canyon, exchanged phone numbers, and planned to talk again in the near future.

Drilling anchors on the old project Bad Drugs, above the floodwaters of Copperhead Cove

(Mike eventually bolted Skywalker on lead and crushed the first ascent. He later created the short but dynamic Shorty Longback.)

Over the following months, at belays between climbing and over drinks and Mexican food in a restaurant in Elkton where we were both working, we shared our fascination with Smoke Hole, as I came to appreciate Mike’s enthusiasm for the outdoors, something equaled only by his dedication to and undeniable skill in the discipline of hard climbing.

Mike in turn praised the trail work and access efforts we had made in the region, and shared his desire to create good hard lines on the overhanging walls of the canyon.
That conversation led us to the Darkside of Long Branch, where I showed him the overhanging monster face that Troy Johnson had begun climbing and bolting on lead in the mid-90s. The decades-old line had seen little or no activity, even with hard climbers swarming Franklin and Seneca, and Mike’s enthusiasm couldn’t be hidden as he scanned the overlapping roofs leading to the thin vertical finish.

Mike was soon rapping, jugging, cleaning and bolting powerhouse projects, while still enjoying moderates and sweet trad.

When we published the first edition of The Climbers’ Guide to Smoke Hole the following year, Mike was one of the people who worked tirelessly to promote the book and spread the word about our Kickstarter campaign.

Thanks to Mike and friends, we reached our goal well within the 30-day deadline, and were able to publish and distribute the guidebook, generating funds and volunteers to support trail work and anchor replacement throughout the canyon area.

We ran into each other less and less as work and life took me away from the area, but it was always a pleasure to see Mike at the crags.

Big gear and big dude vs monster crack; racking up for the first ascent of 'Overcammedensation'.

The amazing Overcammedensation dihedral and roof.
Mister Farnsworth, locked in combat with the beast.
Mike Farnsworth’s contributions to the hard climbing in the canyon include The Lightness, The Darkness, Gone Sniffin’, the Ron Jeremy Arete, Overcammedensation, and Biggest Grin Wins. His hard ascents throughout the WV region have raised the bar for climbers, and his willingness to help and support those just coming into the game, no matter how little experience they have, makes him unique in the typically narcissistic, exclusive circles of hard technical climbing.

Like most people, I thought of Mike as a nice guy and an exceptional climber. and like most people, I had no clue that this inspiring climber and fun human being suffers from Lupus.

Earlier in life, Mike received a kidney transplant from his mother, a gift that allowed him to live a life less ordinary and to create not only great climbs but great friends among the climbing community, where he has acted as a mentor to so many aspiring students and newcomers, across the country and over the years.

Recently, just as so many things seemed to be going right in his life, the disease took a turn for the worse, and Mike suffered another kidney failure. In a matter of months, he will begin dialysis.

 Life for Mike Farnsworth has returned to a schedule of medicine and treatment, but there is hope; a new kidney would see this hardcore climber and dedicated supporter of climbing back in the game in short order.

To learn more about this adopted son of the Smoke Hole tribe's fight and how you can help, go to

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Momentary Lapse of Season: the first ascent of Synergy

First ascent of Synergy, aka, A Momentary Lapse of Season:

Wednesday, January 25th saw the Smoke Hole canyon region enjoying another of its sunny mid-winter days, and the Gypsies made lemonade from automotive lemons to get out and climb with visiting trail repair guru and shredder Jed Page, a one-time resident of the Virgin Islands now living and working in NoVA.

In the last four months, Jed has worked on the Long Branch trail at the base of the Beautiful Loser wall, built steps and laid in support for Wall and Ninja Walls trails old and new, picked up trash and helped shore up problem areas at Reeds Creek. Even when his trip was only a matter of hours, Jed managed to support access while getting in some climbing on the sweet lines of Smoke Hole.

While Jed and Cindy warmed up on the Guide Wall 5.8 Arete, I dropped a top rope on a line we had looked at last week and installed a pair of anchors. Birds were singing in the trees, squirrels scurrying through the leaves as insects buzzed around my face, the river shining like a line of silver and gold through the bare limbs of the forest below. The racket of the drill caused only a pause in the midwinter celebration of life, and then the song of the canyon resumed.

Back on the ground, I warmed up on a TR run of the Arete Jed had already cruised on-sight, always an enjoyable start to the day. Threading the anchor, I visually double-checked the anchor and my set-up and exchanged verbal checks with my belayer before unclipping from the anchor. Jed lowered me smoothly to the ground, gear was gathered, and we three made our way to the project.

Cindy Gray, soaking up the Vitamin D as she moves into the crack and flake section of the climb.

We took turns working on moves and scrubbing, prying at surprisingly solid holds and establishing clip stances. Satisfied with the effort, I took a last scrubbing run, pulled up gear and rapped from the anchors to place four bolts.

Curmudgeon, in production mode; just doin' what he does best

Jed was offered the first attempt as a guest and trail work supporter, and styled the moves to the anchor in short order, grinning all the way.

I pulled the rope and followed his fine example, albeit with less grace and far more effort, with Miss Pinkpants offering encouragement as Jed cheered from the sidelines and snapped pictures.

Two generations of climbers, one great little wall

The old man going for the repeat, with Miss Pink on belay.

Jed finished the day with an on-sight of the 5.9 Hummingbird, one of the wall's first and still best lines, before growling stomachs called us home to pizza and celebration.

Getting in touch with his inner primate, Jed guns for the ledge on the sweet 5.9 'Hummingbird'

Snow came in overnight, and shortcut our plans for another day of climbing and the installation of anchor chains. Instead, I climbed to the top of the buttress and rapped down past the bolt ahnger anchors, retrieving my quick draws and hastily gathering gear for a strategic withdrawal as the blowing rain became snow and sleet coming in gale-force gusts.

Back at Casa Escondido, Jed packed and headed back to Babylon, leaving the Gypsies to plot on other lines and days to come, while snow blew across the mountains beyond their window.
Synergy, 5.8+, four bolts, two bolted top anchors, 36 feet+/-. Starting from the ledge above and left of Native Suns, clip a high first bolt and make a few interesting moves to the second bolt, before gaining a ledge with a bolt, crack and flake. Chase the crack and flake feature past another bolt to jugs and the anchor.

A #7-9 wired stopper and a .75 Camalot can help alleviate any feeling of runout between bolts #2 and #4.