Sunday, December 4, 2011

Hunting Season

just another gritstone beauty
December has been mild for much of Pennsylvania.  Its not often we have days that get into the 60's this late into the season.  To be honest I cannot remember a time until now that I have been able to make a journey north west to Elk this late in the year without encountering 6 or more inches of snow.  Typically any amount of snow means that the roads around Elk are impassible due to the steep terrain causing most of the roads to receive little or no sunshine.  The roads remain closed until spring when the temperatures get warm enough to melt the thick ice that develops over the winter.
photo: Mike Stewart (amazing arete)
I got a call from Brian on Friday afternoon about making a trip to Elk to get one last session in before winter set in.  Our plan would be to meet Saturday morning and head north to Snow Shoe where we would rendezvous with Trevor.  We didn't have a specific area in mind when we set off, each area had projects and classics to climb but seeing new rock would be nice so we got directions to an area that Mike Stewart and a crew of guys found a few years ago that looked intriguing in photos.   Neither Brian, Trevor or I had been to the area known as Q3.1 but we had a picture to go off of (photo to the right..  Climber: Ryan Shipp, Photo: Mike Stewart) and some solid directions so we journeyed into the unknown.  We managed to find the parking and the access trail with no problem.  From there it was a 20min hike to the boulders.  20min came and went and still no signs of rock...  The trail was flat but challenging due to all the rocks that were covered by damp leaves and moss.  We kept hiking, we were already committed at this point and turning around wasn't an option.  We were gonna find some rock.  We started to have doubts when we approached the 1hr marker and still didn't see any signs of the boulders in the pictures.  At this point in the journey we are so far in that we were going to find something to climb or we would have a great day of hiking through the woods during deer season.  It was decided that we would continue for another 15min or so and if we didn't find anything we would circle back and try again.  No more than 5 min later I heard Brian yell from up ahead, he found it!  Sure enough the trail took us straight to the boulder just like the directions said.  It only took about 45min longer than we expected, it was worth it.  The area was amazing.  There wasn't a significant amount of rock but the stuff that was there was good and the setting is beautiful.  We explored the area, warmed up and got to work scrubbing and climbing lines. 
I did an overhanging problem that is completely unlike anything I had seen before.  Its a tooth looking boulder that is steep and angled out of the ground at 45 degrees or so.  I am not sure if it had been done before but either way it was really fun.  You start on a good side pull and the arete, do some challenging moves under the boulder to gain the lip to an easy mantle.  It was surprising how much more difficult it was than expected.  That seems to be a theme for gritstone.
Daylight was starting to come to an end so we headed up the hill to try the arete in the photo above.  The line was a little green so we went to work cleaning the holds and picking out beta.  It was much more thoughtful than most aretes I had climbed before.  It had a complete lack of holds at the crux and was quite a reach to anything usable.  I was able to come up with solid beta that got me through the crux but no sends that day.  I didnt have enough time to put it all together before dark set in.  We knew that it would be a good hour to get out of the woods and neither of us had brought a head lamp so we packed up and hiked out to moon light.  Thankfully the moon was very bright and we cast shadows on the trail as we walked.  It was satisfying getting to see new rock and know that there is still so much room for development at Elk.
Sunday we woke early.  We got directions to another area known as Q3.  Mike and some other guys found this area nearly a decade ago but none of our crew had ever been.  Bowers and Sam met us for breakfast, there is nothing like a greasy spoon diner breakfast to get you ready for a long day in the cold.  The directions Stewart gave us were straight forward and we made it to the trail head without a problem  From there the hike is roughly a mile and some change on flat terrain and is marked well near the boulders.  We managed the hike in about 25-30 min.  Q3 is another beautiful area that is settled in a valley equipped with water falls, ferns and house size boulders..  pretty much magical...  The weather was a little warmer but still crisp and when we finally made it to the boulders we were warmed up from the hike and ready to climb.  I would say Q3 has a lot to offer but only has a handful of boulders.  We scrubbed and climbed some new lines and repeated a pocket problem that Joel T had done back in 2003.  One of the boulders that we climbed on consisted of water runnels that formed underclings all over the wall.  The boulder had some height to it too so the underclings near the top made for an exciting exit with a proper mantel at the top.. or you can grab a savior root at the top and thank Jesus for not letting you fall 25 feet to the ground. 
Joel T's pocket problem
Some of the formations of the boulders at Q3 are incredible.  They remind me of something you would see at Font or a southern area but the rock is still pa gritstone.  You have large wave shapped boulders to smaller boulders that are perfect geometric shapes.  The same curse applies to Q3 as with other areas at Elk, the quality of the rock can be so good that no weaknesses appear in the rock.  For instance, on any given trip you to any given area you will see handfuls of house size boulders with huge gorgeous walls but no holds.  Often times you find yourself having to adopt a new style of climbing for each area that combines feature climbing, extremely technical and burly moves.  
 Sunday went by fast and it was nice to see new rock in an area that I have been climbing at for years.  Exploring for rocks and new problems is still my passion.  Thank you Mike and everyone else who have put in some seriously hard work finding and developing these areas.  The Pennsylvania climbing scene is lucky to have developers like you guys!  I am still wondering how you all are able to find some of the areas that you do.  
Brian on the undercling boulder


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