Inform and Inspire

Welcome to Upstate Bouldering, designed around bouldering in the Upstate region of South Carolina. This website is intended to inform the reader of local spots in SC, Western NC and Northeast GA, as well as a blog of my experiences climbing at these great spots. I hope everyone learns of a new place to climb or is inspired to climb somewhere close to them. If you have any comments, please send me an e-mail.

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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Serra de Estrela and the Main Sessions

Just got back from the trip up into the Serra da Estrela and Pedra do Urso...what a blast! We had a total of 4 different boulder sessions, over the last 2 days, in 3 different spots in the Serra da Estrela mountain range. I was amazed at how much rock there was to climb and be could climb every day of the rest of your life and never touch the same route. After travelling into the mountains, I realized that I had only seen the tip of the iceberg the day before. We took about a 35 mile drive and at no time did we go more than 100m without seeing either a boulder or cliff that could be climbed. We even found an area that hosted what looked like a minimum of 8-10 pitches of multi-pitch trad climbing, with probably near 100 different routes encircling the giant spire.

The first of the boulder sessions was in the "Deserto" area, which is an undeveloped area across the road from Perda do Urso. We climbed some pretty easy stuff in the Desert and saw some amazing wildflowers and an incredible sunset. This is where I sprained my ankle, forcing me to climb on easier stuff for the whole trip. I think the hardest climb I ticked the whole trip was in the 5c-6a or V3-V4 range. Then yesterday we had a big session in the main bouldering area listed in the guidebook, Pedra do Urso. This area has seen the most development and had some really great routes to of my favorites being "Bonsai" a 5a layback crack that had a small tree growing out of it. Other great routes included "Rapapele" a short 6a arete, "Iceberg" a 4b arete to slabby highball topout, and "Liquen Man" a 4c flake/crack to another slabby highball topout. As mentioned in the previous blog, this area reminded me a lot of Boat Rock, with almost every route having some rough slabs and quiet a few sharp cracks to climb. Someone had created a blue circuit at Pedra do Urso, marking them with small blue arrows at the start of each route, similar to the circuits found at Fontainebleau. The blue circuit seemed like it would be easy, at around 25 problems from V1-V3, but some of these climbs felt much harder than they were graded, and combined with the heat, I only completed about half of the circuit. Later in the day, we travelled to the top of Portugal, to a village called Torres, about 2000m up. There was still snow on the ground and the wind was strong on the exposed hilltops, but the view out over the landscape was breathtaking. On the way back from Torres, we stopped at a site called "Our Lady of the Holy Star ". It was a holy site with an image of the Lady and some other figures carved directly into one of the rock faces. This area's rocks were formed differently and looked like huge stone marshmallows stacked on top of each other to make pillars. We hiked a little bit away from the holy area, out onto a grassy high mountain plateau, to climb and get some pictures. This was one of the most picturesque and memorable places to seemed like an ancient site rediscovered by Indiana Jones on one of his adventures. I personally thought that this was the best rock of the trip, and even though it was only a 15-20 minute drive up the mountain, wasn’t even mentioned in the guidebook. The rock was still rough, with pebbly inclusions, but was black instead of the usual gray granite color. When you looked at the landscape as a whole, it looked like black rock giants, lined up, guarding the entrance to the higher mountains. After we finished here, we drove back down the mountain to hit the other sectors of Pedra do Urso that we didnt get a chance to see earlier in the day. Even though these were regarded as some of the best bouldering areas in the guidebook, they were almost a let down compared to the black giants of the "Holy Star" area. We ticked off several more easy routes from the guidebook and then explored and climbed in a new sector that wasn’t listed. As the sun was going down, we dragged our tired bodies out of the boulderfield, hiked back to the car and enjoyed a nice bottle of local wine on the balcony of our hotel room. Even without climbing super hard, this was one of the best days of bouldering in my life!

The room was truly 5 star and cheaper than a Days Inn, and the wine was better at 1.75 euros (about $2.50) a bottle than the most expensive wine back home. If you are ever looking for an incredibly beautiful and inexpensive area to travel to in the world...I would highly recommend a trip to Serra da Estrela, Pedra do Urso, and the Holy Star.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Pedra do Urso-Portugal

We have just got in from the morning session at Pedra do Urso...the place is AMAZING! The rock is similar to Boat Rock granite with small pebbly inclusions on somewhat featured slabs with large huecos splattered in between. The landscape reminds me of all of the pictures of Hueco Tanks I've seen, with boulders for literally miles and miles in a scrubby desertish environment. The area is about 1500m up and about 10'c cooler than the small town of Covilha that we're staying in. This should be a world destination with the quantity and quality of boulders and problems around...and if the right people find out about it, I'm sure it will be. The guidebook lists about 150 routes, but there are 1000's of untouched boulders as far as the eye can see. We crossed the road from the "developed" area and found some of the best routes around, completely covered with lichen, waiting to be exposed. I'll post some pictures later so everyone can see the near infinite possibilities. We went for a quick afternoon session, yesterday, to the undeveloped side and I missed the crashpad on a highball slab and twisted my ankle pretty bad...but it wont stop me from climbing what I can, while I'm here. Ben Moon and Jerry Moffit werent kidding when they said that this place is "endless".

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Finally...Bouldering From Portugal

After being shut down for almost a week, over here, I finally got my hands on some Portuguese rock. I took a trip out to Cascais, about an hour subway then train ride from Lisbon, today and bouldered till I was sore and red from the intense sun. The area is called "Baia Do Mexilhoeiro", which translates into the "Bay of Mussels", very appropriate due to the abundance of mussels in the tidal pools. The rock was a very porous limestone with tons of sea washed mini-huecos....some super rough and some polished smooth into perfect slopers. I felt like I was climbing at Crowder's, due to the rough rock that liked to grab your skin...and just like Crowder's it eventually turns your hands into near ground beef. The boulders were completely exposed to the sun, on a rock platform right on the edge of the sea. It provided a beautiful setting and picturesque background for a boulder session. The morning started out a cool 18'C, but heated up quick to 28'C before I finally felt like I was getting baked by the rays.
I didn't expect much from myself, due to the fact that I haven't really climbed in over a month. Despite this, I tried to psyche myself up and had high expectations...if I failed to climb hard, I wanted it to be due to lack of strength and not a mental barrier. The first few routes felt really hard, even though they were down in the 5's (font grade, this converts to V1-V3 according to the guidebook). After a few routes though, my body remembered how to move on the rock, and I started to feel a little more normal, and I started to try a few 6's (V4-V6) and eventually a 7a (V7). I ticked about 15 routes, including a powerful roof problem called Bikini, a 6b, which I'm exiting the crux in the above picture. When I was topping it out, I got a round of applause from a local climber and his girlfriend, which almost startled me off the rock, because I thought I was alone in boulders. I was so happy to top out, I didn't think I could climb anything this hard, this quick, after such a long layoff. The locals helped me find my way around the area, and then I started working on a dyno problem called Doggy Style, a 7a I had seen pictures of in the guidebook. This ended up being my project for the day...I had little problems with the crimps down low, to some small slopers about waist level, then came a slippery dyno to the top, about 10 ft up. After about 15 attempts and sliding off the top hold every time, I finally latched it with my left and quickly doubled on it, while my legs were flailing around beneath me. The top out was easy, but I was nearly attacked by a nearby nesting gull on the down climb. After cruising a couple of cool down 3's and 4's (Vb-V0), I packed it up and walked the 3km back to the train station...completely satisfied and honestly surprised with how well I climbed today.
Hopefully, I can make it to Sintra, and the boulders around the Moorish castle, before we take a trip up in the mountains to Pedra Do Urso this weekend. Stay tuned for more Portuguese bouldering...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Rainy in Lisbon

We haven't really been blessed with the best weather for climbing so far. We were jet lagged for a couple of days and were planning on heading up into the mountains to Pedra do Urso today, but with rainy weather, we decided to change plans for one of the next couple of weekends. My wife knew that I couldn't go until Monday to climb, so we headed to the indoor gym ("Rocodromo", in the bottom floor of the local soccer stadium) to get a good pump and try to catch up on the last few weeks of inactivity...but after we arrived, we found out that it is now closed. So looks like I have to wait until Monday to climb anyway. Good news is that we got tickets to the Sporting Club of Portugal football game (soccer match to us Americans) for the long subway trip wasn't a complete loss. Hopefully, I'll have some good pictures of some bouldering on the rocky Atlantic coast or at the base of a magnificent 9th century Moorish castle on Monday. Hope the scene back home was more conducive for climbing this weekend than it was here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Wedding's over...Portugal bound!

We had a beautiful wedding this past Sunday and are ready to leave out for Europe tomorrow. My new wife has been so awesome as to suggest that we take the weekend and head to the biggest bouldering area detailed in the guidebook. ( I'll hopefully have some wonderful pictures from Pedra do Urso to share this time next week. I have barely touched any rock in the last 2-3 weeks, so hopefully a few days at Urso will get me back in the groove and on my way to one of my goals in Euope, at least one 7a route in Fontainebleau!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Local Spot-Lake Keowee Climbing

Lake Keowee has seen a huge transformation over the last few decades. What once was a fairly sparsely inhabited lake, bordered by the soon to be Jocassee Gorges, to one of the most overpopulated, over used and over abused lakes in the area. The once rugged feel of kayaking on the lake is now overshadowed by the over abundance of expensive homes and landscaped lake shores. Even worse is the lack of courtesy of many of these newer if you are kayaking to these destinations, please look out for wreckless powerboats that don't care how close they come to you or if you are even there. These 2 spots are still worthy of an early season kayak trip, before the public schools let out and the masses swarm to the water. So pull out that old pair of climbing shoes you thought you'd never wear again, and get them wet for some fun lake climbing.

Falls Creek Island:

Anyone that lives in the upstate and has been to Lake Keowee, have almost certainly either jumped off of or watch someone jump off of the big rock on the island immediately out from Falls Creek Boat Landing. This has been a tradition with most of the youth and is a popular spot on "Senior Skip Day" for all of the highschoolers around. During the summer, there are more visitors, and some aren't very friendly to the careful for broken beer bottles and other random nasty items you might find at the top of the rock. Also, be aware that as the water level drops over the summer months that the rocks become exposed on some of the landings. The rock that most people jump off of, also makes for some great boulder problems. Although this rock is only about 20 ft tall, there are several different problems on the rock, with one easy, prominent line starting at the bottom right and moving up and left onto the broken shelf halfway up. There are several tougher starts, and the top out always seems to be a little sketchy. This spot is not really for beginner lake climbers, as the problems seem to be in the V1-V4 range.

From the junction of Hwy 11 & 133 in upper Pickens county, continue down hwy 11 towards Walhalla. After you cross over the bridge over the lake, continue to the top of the hill past the Cliffs community. After cresting the hill, take the next left onto Falls Creek Rd, which is immediately across from the boat dealership/service center. Take this road for about a mile and turn left at the stop sign. This road will dead end at the boat ramp and the rock island is visible from the ramp. Put in and paddle 1/4 mile across the lake to the island. There is an alternate approach...after turning left off of Falls Creek Rd, take the first right onto Falls Creek Church Rd. Look for the entrance to the boat ramp road after the crest of the hill, on the left. Follow this out to the boat ramp. From the boat ramp, walk out the gated road towards the island. About 1/4 mile down this road, you will see a trail off to the left, follow this to the water crossing to the island. You have to swim across this water crossing, about 100 ft or so, to get to the island with the rock on it. If you paddle to the island, get a map and make a longer day of it by paddling over to Keowee Falls and back.

Keowee Wall:

This is my favorite spot on Keowee to climb! It has some really fun easy lines that go up to about 30'-35'. The jump from the top is a blast and scares many first timers. The approach is much longer though. You can make the routes as hard as the 5.10 range, but most are in the 5.5-5.8 range, which makes for a great beginner spot.

The approach for this wall is much farther, but also offers a paddling or hiking approach. The paddling approach begins by putting in at the Falls Creek boat landing, mentioned above, and kayaking about 3-4 miles, about 6-8 miles round trip, around the left corner, under the hwy 11 bridge, to the right past the bridge, and almost up to the mouth of the Eastatoe Creek. A map of the lake is essential for this paddling trip. About 3/4 mile before Eastatoe is an island across from the Cliffs golf course. Past this island, on the right side of the lake is the clearly visible rock wall. You may see the red clay peninsula that juts out at the end of the Raven Rock Trail right past the wall...which is the end of the hiking approach. The hiking approach begins in Keowee State Park and follows the Nature Bridge Trail to the Raven Rock trail. Follow the Raven Rock trail to up to the ridge and follow the ridge out until it hits a junction that leads steeply down towards the lake. Follow this trail down to the point described above where you can see the wall out to your left from the point. This approach is about 3 miles or so...maybe 5-6 miles round trip.

These are just some quick descriptions of how to get to 2 fun spots to keep you cool during the summer. Remember to always spot your landing zone before you begin climbing, and keep an eye out for snakes on your way up the rocks...they are usually just trying to get a couple of laps on the rock too:) Enjoy!

Busy Few Weeks...Not Much Climbing

I have been so busy over the last few weeks that I really haven't been able to get out and climb much. J-Rock and I did some deep water soloing on Keowee last week, and this week I was able to get by the Climb at Blue Ridge gym to check out some of the newer routes he has set. As usual, great boulder problems and roped routes everywhere. It's funny how a few weeks away from climbing and training regularly and a V4 seems pretty hard again. Almost sent a V6, but the crux was at the top and my mind kept telling me to back off so I didn't jeopardize hurting myself for my wedding and honeymoon.

With only a week and change before my wedding, the focus has been everywhere except climbing. I plan on posting some blogs from Portugal, including some pictures, so be on the look out for that around the 25th or so. There are boulders in some beautiful settings over there; from the base of the sheer tidal cliffs, to a rainforested mountain top, and in the walls of centuries old Moorish castles. Until then, this will probably be my last set of posts for a little while...but I will leave everyone with a new local spot about some climbing areas on Lake Keowee that will keep you cool for the summer!