Knot again!

A few years were not enough for becoming an expert in using knots as climbing protection. Yet I learned a lot by placing my fair share of sandstone-friendly Saxonian protection and watching other much more experienced climbers. This post is NOT a recommendation or an exhaustive guide to climbing with knots, but simply a summary of what I did. If you really want to learn how to use knots as pro the best way is to take a specialized course. That being said, I found the following tips extremely helpful when climbing with knots.

  1. Sort them out. Since you’ll be going up with plenty of rope segments of different lengths and diameters, it’s crucial that you have a good system for organizing your slings without ending up with a messy tangle of knots. The simplest way to do this is to girth-hitch them through the gear loops of your harness. There are two ways to do this:
    1. Knot up. The knot is closest to the harness.
      1. Pro: Easier to retrieve slings.
      2. Con: Bulky gear loops. Limits the number of knots you can comfortably carry.

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    2. Knot down. The knot hangs freely away from the harness.
      1. Pro: Many more slings per gear loop without added bulk near the harness. The reduced bulk will also make climbing narrow chimneys or off-widths more “comfortable” (as if that were possible…).
      2. Con: You have to pull first the free strand of the knot AND later pass the knot through this loop to remove the sling. Obviously, this costs valuable strength when trying to protect a move in an uncomfortable position and can create tangles when carrying many slings of different lengths.

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  2. Organize the long slings. Nothing beats carrying sewn or knotted loops of various lengths for tying horns, blocks and trees or for threading sanduhrs. If you, like me, don’t plan on going spartan on the pro, you’ll probably be carrying several 60, 120 and 180 loops. How do you organize them?
    1. The easiest way is to holster all loops above head and shoulder, folding two or three times the sling depending on the size. However, when carrying around multiple knots and slings of different lengths and sizes, trying to pull one of your long slings will inevitably result in a tangled mess (obviously during the overhanging crux of your endurance on-sight attempt…).

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    2. The “twisted method”. Take a long loop, double it and twist it on itself with your fingers. Bring the ends together and clip into a carabiner. This way you can pack a considerable amount of slings without tangling and occupying relatively a small space in just one carabiner hanging from your harness. Of course, the downside is that you’ll have to unclip the carabiner and remove the sling you need withouth dropping all the others.

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      Without the long slings, you can comfortably keep several short 60 cm loops over the shoulder for fast use.

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  3. Keep them loose! Before starting the climb, loosen up your knots. A loose figure-eight knot has a narrower profile compared to a tightened one and is much easier to place in thin (relative to the sling diameter) cracks.

    Keeping your knots loose is also very important for Kevlar slings, as tight knots reduce the fibers’ life-time.

  4. Keep long ends. Of course, long ends on your knots are essential to prevent he knot from slipping and untying at high loads. Additionally, the long ends will make retrieving knots an easier task for your second, as almost all jammed knots will be easily retrieved by a small tug at the ends. Your followers will be grateful.
  5. Keep the carabiners out of the way. I am betting you also love narrow chimneys and off-widths (really, who doesn’t?). Then, you’ll find that keeping the biners out of the way by clipping them to a loop over your shoulder instead than at the gear-loops will give you more freedom when changing sides or entering chimneys (unless of course you have a thing for parallel cracks, in which case you probably don’t need the biners..).

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  6. Shorten the loop on flaring cracks. Sometimes your only choice will be an asymmetric crack that widens on the outside. In this cases a pulling force directly towards the ground will likely remove the knot. A good preventive measure is to shorten the sling loop closest to the rock. This will result in an asymmetric pull that rotate theknot towards the inside of the crack, probably jamming more tightly.

All of these points are very basic and most likely you have experimented with some or all of them. In fact, you might even have more efficient and comfortable methods. Nevertheless, I hope this post gave you ideas to develop a system that works for you. Once again, the best source of information in this style of climbing is always a specialized course with professionals If you want to learn from and climb with one of the legends of Elbsandstein, check out the courses by Bernd Arnold.

Clean(ish) Slate

It is not that I forgot about the blog. In reality, it just stared awkwardly every time I opened my browser as if saying “Why you left me?“. The truth is I was mad at it. Two years ago I embarked on an ambitious project to climb full-time and, at the same time, create a better climbing database for Sächsische Schweiz. Both failed and I needed a lot of time to recover from the blows. I kept climbing, of course, but without the Sächsische spark. Slowly, I stopped regular training, planning, taking pictures and, lastly, writing. In the meantime a lot of changes happened in my life: found a new job, moved to Switzerland, finally learned some mountaineering skills, started sport-climbing (with cheat-stick and pre-clipping included) and (my guiltiest pleasure) took up video gaming.

The calmness of 2014 gave way to redefine plans and ideas. With 2015, training began again and goals started filling the calendar. However, the last piece of the puzzle, the rekindling of the blog, was still missing. To me, the crux was to answer the following: What is the place of a blog with hand-drawn topos and descriptions on a country were there are plenty of high-quality resources for finding and assessing climbing routes? Although I do not know the answer, I have a lot of fun photographing and writing about the routes I climb. That is reason enough to continue with this effort. I’ve decided to focus on area and route descriptions for outsiders like myself, both in Switzerland and abroad. The plan is to slowly start with an overhaul of the blog to include new areas, an improved rating and description system, and a new layout. I hope you continue to read el lloc during this process and, most importantly, find it a useful resource for your climbing.

Let’s get back to it!

Eastern promises part 5

4: Satisfaction

I didn’t say goodbye. Maybe I was too tired or maybe I just didn’t feel like doing it. With rain falling hard (again) and the river rapidly growing I just packed everything as fast as I could. I did not look back, the Teufelsturm would have to wait.

A Dresden-Düsseldorf train ride gives you a lot of time for reviewing memories. With the lull of the tracks I tried to recount all the May experiences:

  • 13 climbing days in 4 weeks
  • 25 new routes
  • Plenty of failed attempts
  • 8 different areas (Affenstein, Schmilka, Grosser Zschand, Wildenstein, Kleiner Zschand, Rathen, Gebiet der Steine, Bielatal)
  • 8 partners
  • 5 – 10 mm of rain on average every day
  • 40 kg of gear
  • 6 showers
  • 500 mg of vitamin C daily
  • Countless protein and energy bars, pasta, fuet, salami and gummy bears
  • 4 books (Various Pets Alive and Dead, 1989: The Year that Changed the World, A Life Without Limits, The Prague Cemetery)

It turned out to be a difficult train ride. I wanted to stay longer and climb more, but at the same time discouragement and exhaustion made me happy to be on the way home. (In hindsight, heading back was the best decision. A few days later the floods hit hard on the Elbe area). Once there, I spent the next weeks recovering and adjusting to household life.  My body was so tired that I had plenty of gum injuries every other day and my nails stopped growing regularly. My most challenging activity was to wash the dishes. It was time to let the past month settle down.

I gambled a lot on a single month. As the high of the adventure receded, I felt that I had not won. I spent day after day in a dark mood and regretting the failures, the missing partners and the lack of rocks in the West. However, when I started climbing again the failures became opportunities, the missing partners were a chance to improve my bouldering, and missing rocks were the excuse for new trips. The machinery was ticking again, and I started searching once more for that elusive climbing high. Maybe it was not so much about satisfying a whim, crossing out tick-lists, or sending projects. It started feeling more as gathering fuel for the things to come.

I did not say goodbye to Elbsandstein. It slapped me on the face, taught me how to climb and, when I thought I understood a bit, slapped me again. It was great while it lasted, but it has been a hard break-off. Now I’m off to see new places. I hope I return one day to fulfill all those promises. I hope we can still be friends.

I CAN’T GET NO… BUT I TRY, AND I TRY, AND I TRY…

Next?

Thank you, readers

There are two things I find terribly frustrating: losing one sock and not finding a ring in a topo. For the latter, after hours of drawing and image processing (and plenty of silent swearing) I sometimes manage to get a decent topo. Three years after I started with the blog, the rings are still hard to find. Luckily, there is a great reward: your visits. I always get a surge of adrenalin and joy when I see the growth of daily stats. Even the darkest, rainiest day is special when I see a new Flattr, like or follow.

Thank you for taking the time to read and support the blog!

Your support is the perfect fuel for striving to make more topos with better quality.

Finally, there’s the ring! I’d better start looking for that sock…

Eastern promises part 4

3: Common people

There is something about Sächsische Schweiz that helps me remembering every detail of the routes I have climbed over the past 5 years. However, the truly unforgettable experience was getting to know its people. I was always amazed by the saxon climbers and their worn-out gear and toughened skin. One could always find them in the train forming closed groups around a guidebook, quietly (but mostly heatedly) discussing the climbs for the day. Of course, the real show always began next to the towers. I am not talking about the local strong climbers (which are also plenty), but the “common” people for whom Elbsandsteingebirge has always been a huge backyard and the stage for their athletic endeavours. The father who solos a route to belay his 6-year-old son and later quizzes him about the routes and peaks of the area (“NO, NO, NO! The Reginawand is at Falkenstein and not Falkenturm“). The family (complete with grandparents) who bivouac below the tower and waits for the leaders to scout for hard lines for all to follow. The young daughter who eagerly asks his father if she can lead that VIII when she is older. The 2-year olds scrambling up the easy routes. The  70-year-old who grins at me and very calmly says “it is very cold today, no?” before sprinting to solo a big route. Or the man celebrating his 60th year of climbing who quickly unties from the rope upon reaching “easy” terrain. All of them form a fantastic collage whose image I will take wherever I climb next. partners

I am lucky to have found friends among them. There were plenty who inspired (or tricked?) me into climbing harder (“But why don’t you try the direct version? It doesn’t look more difficult”) and many more who were patient enough with my requests (“So, let’s take the 6:00 AM train, walk the longest approach and then do some off-widths” :)) or suggestions (“Sure, I’m sure you can do it! Just maybe there is an interesting move at the chimney, but it’s OK”). It was great to share the rope with beginners and experienced climbers alike, watching them develop their skills and always learning from their commitment and enthusiasm. That’s why, although I did not reach the goal of climbed routes, the biggest reward in May was climbing with almost all my partners. Today, 600 km away from Dresden, I do not feel sorry for ticking fewer routes, but regret not making more climbing friends. As I struggle to build a new climbing network in a non-climbing city, I long for the “common” Sachsen climbers.

Vull fer las cosas que fa la gent normal…

Bé, veurem què s’hi pot fer.

Next: Part 5 – Satisfaction

Eastern promises part 3

2: Bon día

The growing sound of birds in the distance reminded me we were in Spring. Unbelievable as it may sound, I always slept inside a down-bag rated for – 10 ºC. With warm underwear. In May. “Overequipped! Light is right!”, shouts the Extreme Alpinism enthusiast. However, there were solid reasons behind my choice of gear. As my former partners could testify, I never managed to rest well when sleeping outdoors: the mattress was broken, the sleeping bag too thin, or my feet too cold. Whatever the reason, I usually woke up bleary-eyed, moody, and with back pain. This time I took extreme measures against this under-sleeping. Luckily, all the extra weight payed off the first morning when I found myself drooling in my mattress feeling totally refreshed (if I could only take care as easily of those birds singing at 5 am…). Now I was ready to welcome the next challenging day!

Which routes would we choose? Those who’ve climbed with me for some time probably guessed right: there would be chimneys! I can’t help it, I love that uncomfortable, awkward struggle while the rope hangs freely from the harness directly to the ground. I could only laugh when I noticed that, contrary to what happens in sport-climbing, the skin of my hand hardened at the palm and not the fingertips. Another side-effect was that my harness’ gear-loops (together with the climbing jeans, pull-over, and wallet) wore-out faster and needed replacements before my climbing shoes. However, the reward of finishing the route feeling totally wasted with bruises in the knees, elbows, and back was always worth it. Now you probably understand a bit more why I go crazy about Elbsandstein: you never run out of chimneys.

On special occasions (meaning when I felt extremely tired… usually after a long, narrow off-width) I would run to a restaurant and dive into the local treats: wild boar goulash, wheat beer, knödel, kartoffel klose. “A restaurant? But then that’s not a real expedition anymore!”, exclaimed skeptically my former boss when I explained my plans. Strictly speaking he’s right, however some days I just couldn’t deny myself a treat. Besides a warm meal, the thought of not having to clean the dishes was always invigorating.

No more chimneys for today

No more chimneys for today

With sunset it was time to stop climbing, say goodbye to friends and start heading back to the bivvy site. This was never boring, as there were always surprising people sharing the boofe with me. I met burping-farting-drinking men, a charming quiet old couple who read aloud to each other at night under candlelight, professional photographers setting up time lapses, a loud and large group of boy and girl scouts that sang and prayed every evening, and a group of liberal hikers that heartily discussed about many topics, but mostly about EU policy and national sovereignty. Surrounded by so many stories, sleep usually came easy (unless I had extra onions at the restaurants). Next, the same daily routine. Resting. Dreaming. The birds. Wake up! Bon dia! Ningú ho ha demanat però fa bon dia!

Next: Part 4 – Common people

Eastern promises part 2

1: Walking on sunshine

To be clear, there wasn’t much sunshine. Yet, to make up for it there was plenty of walking. And reading, but that doesn’t sound very much exciting, so I’ll just cross it out from the story. “But didn’t you want to go climbing, what’s with all this walking?“, wonders the impatient reader. That is an excellent question, which, in fact, I kept asking myself during several weeks. Although part of blame was on the weather, mostly it was my fault. I wanted to start climbing at the eastern-most area (meaning Grosser Zschand, I am not hard-core enough to consider Hinterhermsdorf) of Elbsandstein and then slowly walk through every area until Rathen. At the time this sounded like a brilliant idea.

Or perhaps not, since I had not planned all the itinerary with that monstrous backpack on my shoulders. At least I managed to get it on my back on the first try. And it didn’t feel that heavy! Maybe I was not so weak? WRONG! The food bag was not yet strapped in…

Three little piggies

Three little piggies

After some heaving and pulling I managed to get everything on board and dashed (metaphorically speaking, of course) to catch the train. Then routine kicked in and everything went smoothly: board off at Schmilka, take the ferry walk up the slope through town.

No, that last part is a blatant lie. My legs realized very quickly they were carrying at least 40 kg more and started to buckle. No wonder I had to sit down, rest, and eat even before I reached the start of the forest. And now the well-informed local wonders, “aren’t there easier ways to reach Grosser Zschand, using the bus, for example?”. Unfortunately, I was walking in with a friend that would arrive after the last bus left. Common sense would have dictated to take the bus by myself, leave everything at the bivouac and then walk back to meet my friend. However, as my father used to say: “Roberto, WHERE is your common sense?” In the end, after a long hike that stretched into the night we managed to reach our base camp for the week and quickly ate a well-earned dinner.

The first of many dinners

The first of many dinners

My body started to complain the next morning. My feet and knees were stiff and my ankles painful when walking. I wish I could say things eventually got easier as I adapted. NO. Carrying everything around when changing areas was so much of a pain that I decided to forego of my plan to cross all areas. On the other hand, there was no much use on complaining since, no matter what, I was forced to walk. Running out of water? Walk. Running out of books? Walk. Resting days? Walk to Dresden and bring back more food. And I’m not even counting the pleasure walks or the mandatory walks to get to the climbing walls. No wonder I was starting to feel tired. And I hadn’t even started with the climbing!  What would I do when sunshine arrived? Hope for the best, since, as I told my wife over the phone, whatever I do, I can’t avoid getting fitter. 

Next: Part 3 – Bon dia