Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Buttermilk Falls

Well, my goal last week was to do more mileage than the previous week. This should have been easy considering the fact that I only did 10 miles that week. I guess running just hasn't been a priority because I barely got another 10 in for the week. Sure, I could have run on the weekend, but Tango lessons, climbing gym, and ice climbing were planned. After yoga class Friday night, I was too relaxed to get out of bed Saturday morning for a run. No worries though. I've managed to get 2 runs in on the treadmill so far this week, and have a grand total of 11.25 miles to report so far. Woohoo! I might be able to break 20 miles this week!

So, what have I been doing? What could possibly be more fun than running for 8 hours on a Sunday? Well, let me tell climbing at Buttermilk Falls in the Catskill Mountains. You don't believe me? Pull up a chair and read on...

I've heard stories about Buttermilk Falls for years. It's the kind of place people talk about with excitement in their voices. They say with dismay, "You've never been to Buttermilk Falls? Oh man, it's awesome! You HAVE to go there!" I would catch a glimpse of it on the internet from time to time and it definitely looked like there was a lot of ice. It looked like an ice climbers paradise!

This year would be the year! I had looked for a partner for awhile, and then Bob asked if I wanted to go while we were eating pizza last week. I jumped at the chance (after clearing it with Dawn, of course ;-)

We met around 7AM for the drive up to Tannersville, NY. Tannersville is near Hunter Mountain, NY which is where I did a lot of skiing as a kid. I has distant cousins in Tannersville back then, so going the trip brought back a lot of fond memories for me. We took the back roads through Northwest CT. It was a very pleasant 2.5 hour drive, and then we were ready for the hike in. We could see the ice from the road and it looked like a long way up into the ravine. Temps were expected to be low with a high of 18 for the day. The climb would be in the shade on the Northface, but there was no wind which was a blessing.

We dropped into the valley, crossed a stream, and started hiking up into the ravine. It was a bit of a slog and I worked up a good sweat. Bob, known for his slow hiking, kept up just fine, and we pondered the quality of the ice.

The climb is known to be 7 pitches in length. Basically, it is the equivalent to 7 individual climbs with a 60 meter rope to get to the top of the flow. The good thing about this climb is that it is 7 tiers, so there is a flat area in between each pitch. So, it really does feel like 7 short climbs. This cuts down on the risk factor because it is easier to belay and gives more options for retreat if the weather gets bad, etc.

Bob, a very experienced rock and ice climber, had done this climb at least 6-7 times prior to this trip, so I was very comfortable climbing with him. Bob is a better ice climber than me, so he took the first pitch. The pitch had a nice vertical pillar on one side, and Bob did a great job placing 5 screws on the way up. In ice climbing, the leader places 4-6" long hollow ice screws into the ice and clips the rope to the screw for protection in case of a fall. Now, it was my job to follow and take the screws out. We were climbing with our packs on our backs since this was a long, remote climb. This allowed us to have extra clothing, food, and water, but made the climbing more difficult due to the weight and restriction of movement. My pack was riding too high, so I could barely lift my head to look upward. The ice was brittle which made it hard to get a good stick with the axes and crampons. I managed to get up the pitch without incident, but I was happy that I did not attempt to lead it. Unfortunately, I was mentally a little challenged to get my lead head on for my turn on the sharp end of the rope.

Bob took the next pitch because it was short and easy, and then it was my turn to lead. I looked up at the pitch and picked the easiest line. It had a short vertical section, but seemed manageable. I placed a screw and moved up, pulled through the hard section and got another screw in. Cool! The pitch was sweet. I looked at the next pitch with awe! It was a beautiful long pitch of blue ice. Wow! A few minutes later, Bob asks me if I want to lead it.

Hmm, I looked at it again. This would definitely be the hardest lead I have done on ice to date. I could see a line that looked doable. I accepted the challenge, and got my self prepared. I went up a few feet, and got my first screw in. Bob suggested I move a little left and stem across to the left wall. I moved up and left and tried placing a second screw. The screw went in fine, but I had a heck of a time clipping it. My left calf was cramping and I was getting tired. I adjusted my stance and tried to relax. Then, I clipped into the screw and got moving again. Whew! I climbed up the vertical ice knowing I should place another screw, but too tired to hang out to do it. I got to a decent stance before the exit, and jammed in another screw. After clipping without problems, I let out a big sigh of relief. Woohoo! After making the exit move and clearing a few more minor tiers, I was at the belay tree. Yes! My best ice lead so far!

Bob followed the pitch and led 1 more tough pitch, then I led pitch #6 without trouble. Pitch #7 is known as the crux pitch and it rated as Grade 4 ice. I haven't led Grade 4 yet, so Bob took the pitch. After getting psyched for it, we both quickly realized that this was one of the easier pitches. The top tier opens up into a beautiful amphitheatre of ice, and there are many options for the leader. The easiest line was the most traveled path, but it still looked tough. Although it looked intimidating, it really was quite pleasant. Bob said, "Steve, the pitch you led seemed harder than this one". This was music to my ears.

In reality, Bob's first pitch was the crux pitch for the day. We considered doing another pitch on one side of the flow, but it was getting late. We decided to call it a successful day and head for home.

A day of climbing ice in the Catskills. We saw about 6 other climbers all day, and the trip cost us nothing other than food and gas. The weather was great, and the sights were amazing. We challenged ourselves and had a great time doing it. Bob and I shared some stories and a few laughs, and life was good all over again! Peace.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Winter fun

This was a crazy week. After logging more than 30 miles last week, I thought I would be able to buid on it this week. Unfortunately, it was not the week I expected . Work was very busy, but I managed to get 4.5 miles in on the treadmill on Tuesday and also did some strength training. Great start. Wednesday and Thursday did not allow me to run at lunchtime, and I climbed with Dawn and the gym on both nights. No mileage. Friday was a busy day at work as well, but I managed to get 5.5 miles on the treadmill after work. Great!

Dawn and I decided to go skiing on Saturday. We went to Mohawk Mtn. and saw our good friend, Miriam, who is a ski instructor there. When we woke up that morning, it was -14 deg F. Yikes! I was hoping it would warm up quickly. It was Dawn's 2nd time skiing in 2 years and 3rd time in her life, so I was not expecting much. I did know that she is a fast learner and is very driven. After 2 runs on the bunny slope, Dawn was ready for something more challenging. We skied some easy runs and worked on her technique. Despite the cold, we were having a great time. By 11:30, Dawn's quads were toast, so I skied a few runs by myself and then met her for lunch. We went back out and Dawn gave the intermediate slopes a try. She struggled at first, but by the 3rd run, she looked like a pro. We decided to call it a successful day and head home knowing that we have another sport we can both share.

Today, the Goat and I did some ice climbing. Tara was throwing a Baby Shower for Jamie, and I wanted to evacuate the premises. I didn't expect to see so much snow in the morning since the forecast only predicted 1-2 inches. There must have been at least 3" on the driveway when I looked outside and it was still coming down hard. Damn! I quickly started the snowblower to clear the driveway before the Goat arrived. The Goat rolled in just as I was finishing the driveway and I threw all my stuff in the car. Before I knew it, we were cruising out to Racebrook Falls like two college guys heading to Florida for Springbreak. We were excited to see some blue ice. When we arrived at the parking lot, it was almost 10:30 and no one else was there. Wow! We have the place to ourselves? Yes! Then, the Goat panicked, "PB, I forgot my harness!" No climbing partner ever wants to here those words...especially after a 1.5 hour drive to escape a baby shower. Hmm, I thought, "Let's get creative." We used a spare sling and tied the rope around Goat's waist to make a pseudo harness. Cool. We're back in the game.

Another guy arrived while we were getting ready, and headed in ahead of us. Let's get going before more arrive. We hiked in and saw that the lower falls were climbable, but not nearly as full as we had expected. The pillar loolked decent, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to try leading it. Goat wanted to try the first lead as he hadn't led a pitch on ice in 2 years. I put him on belay and off he went. As you might expect, the Goat was a bit rusty on lead and the quality of the ice didn't help. It took awhile, but I was just happy to be outside. Unfortunately, I was starting to get cold though. Goat finished the pitch and we soloed up the easy sections to get to the upper falls. Now, it was my turn to lead. The climbing looked easy enough and I debated soloing it. I needed practice putting screws in though, so off I went with Goat belaying on a munter hitch. The pitch was quite enjoyable, and Goat followed with no issues.

The forest was so beautiful with fresh snow. It was a very peaceful scene. I wanted to get in more climbing, but it was getting late. Well, perhaps another day.

So, only 10 miles for the week. A small fraction of the mileage I was doing 1 year ago, but I have no regrets. In addition to the 10 miles, I went to the climbing gym twice, went skiing, and then a day of ice climbing. It was a good week with lots of fun activities. Maybe I'll get back to some serious miles this week :-)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

Whew! 2009 is here and I finally have some mileage to report. Yes, I joined the masses in the gyms this week as we all tried to get back into it. I've been a runner for over 30 years, but felt some serious ties to the New Year's resolution crowd this year. I affectionately call them the "30 day crowd". On the one hand, I am their biggest fan. I hope everyone takes their health seriously and enjoys exercise as much as I do. On the other hand, it's nice to get some extra space in the locker room at the end of January when many of the "resolution" crowd have disappeared. Well, this year I felt more kinship with these folks. I was suffering as much as they were while trying to grind out a few miles.

On Monday, I jumped on the treadmill for a tough 45 minute grind. It felt great to be running again. My mileage in December was about the lowest it had been in the past 10 years or more. My layoff was a combination of recovery from tendonitis, work issues, and just lack of motivation. Running wasn't fun, and it should be (at least on most days).

This week, I churned out around 15 miles on the "hampster wheel" over a 3 days and then managed two runs totaling 16 miles on the weekend. Woohoo! I broke the 30 mile mark for the first time in 6 weeks! More importantly, I was enjoying running again. I was happy to be out there enjoying the feel of the road/trail under my feet, the weather, and the company. I've gained some much needed weight since VT100 and feel my strength returning. I'm climbing well, and working on core strength and flexibility. It feels good!

I don't have a long list of races planned for 2009. In fact, I don't have any set plans except for my annual commitment to the Reach the Beach Relay Team (Go Red Eye!). It feels good to just be running without any major race plans. Last year wore me down. I'm going to be a Grandpa in 2 months, and life will change dramatically. I'm thinking of getting a baby jogger!

If I can get into a routine, I'd like to do some races in 2009. I also want to do some serious climbing this year, so I don't think a 100 miler is in the cards. A few ideas are:

1. Possible Boston Marathon - Dawn qualified, and it would be nice for us to experience it together. If not this year, then definitely in 2010.
2. Northern Nipmuck Trail Race - If Boston doesn't happen, then I'll likely do this race. My buddy, Jim C. is the RD, and I love this course.
3. Pineland Farms 50 miler - I really enjoyed this race. The RD's did an awesome job, and I definitely want to run this race again at some point.
4. sub 2:59 marathon - I'm intentionally not calling it a 3 hour marathon. My PR is 3:00:59, and I really want to crack this nut. Perhaps this will be the year...

There's always a lot on our plates, so who knows what 2009 will bring. We all have lofty dreams...My real goal is to stay healthy and have fun. The races are secondary.

Wishing you all the best in your New Year's resolutions or whatever your fitness plans may be for 2009! Enjoy!