Thursday, March 27, 2014

Atomik Training Series: Week 1

While the weather is slowly warming up here in Colorado Springs, I have been focused on power, endurance, cardio, and all sorts of other training for Dominion Riverrock. I am also working on a training series for Atomik Climbing, featuring the Large Bombs. Each video will feature an exercise or set of exercises that work on lock-off strength, power, core, etc. Here is the first installment--let me know what you think!

Stay tuned for upcoming videos...
Week 2: One-Arm Wonders
Week 3: Core Up!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Ring of Fire

Checking my messages
After a grueling V-point volume workout, while waiting for the bathroom, I decided to finally check my voicemails from a couple days ago.

First message: “Hey Galina, this is Abby from Central Rock…”

Turns out, there were very few girls signed up for the first Ring of Fire competition the following day. I had briefly debated participating in and even training for the comp, but ultimately decided I didn’t want to commit to ropes. On top of that, I had done unrelated power endurance workouts Sunday and Tuesday, a full campus workout Tuesday, and 5-hour volume workouts Thursday and Friday. In other words, I was wrecked. Wrecked, as in train-wreck wrecked. Thumb tips raw, forearms burning, not even capable of topping a 6 on the 45. Actually, I don’t think I had ever been in as bad shape as I was that Friday night.

Train-wrecked (Photo:

Around 8 pm, however, two hours after hearing Abby’s voicemail, I decided to do the comp. Yes, this would be the most unprepared I have been for anything. But, there was a $2500 cash purse. Plus, Brittany, one of the organizers, offered to waive my entrance fee. I had nothing to lose, other than what little was left of my rope-climbing dignity.

What followed was two hours of intense forearm rehabilitation, everything from a hot shower, to a sub-140-degree sauna sesh, a deep tissue massage from my mother, and layers upon layers of Climb Fixe.

The next morning the throbbing sensation all throughout my arms had gone down to a measly 7.5 out of 10 (not too bad considering it was hovering just below 9.5 the previous day). However, 7.5 was sufficient, and even 5.10 seemed out of reach. So I packed my New Balances on top of my Solutions (which, to add insult to injury, had just come in Friday, and still bolstered the thick product-info packet.). If climbing wasn’t meant to be, then I would least take advantage of the free treadmills.

Before (Photo: Garrick Kwan |

After (Photo: Garrick Kwan |

After warming up on some boulders and realizing there were only eight of us (hence everyone would be advancing to Finals), we were faced with Qualifier #1. The route looked good, but there were two glaring issues: 1) it was barely overhung, 2) it was longer than 15 feet. Also it was a route and involved a rope, which automatically made things more complicated. Even though we got video previews for all the Qualifiers and a live preview of the first route, no one wanted to go first. Which is totally understandable. But, seeing as this was a rope comp and my bag of fucks was oddly underweight, I decided to break the ice and give it the old college try. After spending about two minutes trying to clip the first clip, skipping a bunch of key footholds, and generally becoming beta-oblivious for most of the route, I found myself at the top. My forearms were at about 8.2 and even though everyone said I looked super solid, I felt like I had just crossed the finish line of a 10K (for reference, the route was mid-5.11).

Qualifier #2 (Photo: Garrick Kwan |
Qualifier #2 looked fun. No better way to describe it (sorry, teachers). It started on a sub-30-degree overhang, quickly merging into a perfectly horizontal roof filled with huecos, pockets, volumes, and handlebars. No slab here. Mere perfection. If I had a bit more juice left in my forearms, I could have easily finished, but ended up falling at the last move. Which, in the end, was irrelevant because scores were based on total points rather than tops. I was just happy to have made it through the roof without pumping out, ecstatic to have climbed on something so beautiful.

By contrast, Qualifier #3 seemed dreadful. Not that it wasn’t set well; it just had a few too many pinches and slopers. Actually, it was all pinches and slopers, on top of sketchy clips and heel-hooks. Including pretty much the entire Big Fat Slopers series, which, as much as I like Teknik, is a rather mean and sadistic creation. To add to my misery, the first move seemed low-percentage and finicky, with an awkward palm move to a textured foothold. Although I was pumped at around move #3, I somehow managed to get to the third-to-last hold—farther than the rest of the competitors. Which, unfortunately, left me in first after Qualifiers, meaning I would be climbing last in Finals, leaving the audience with a highly disappointing finale. On top of that, forearm frenzy had gone up to a solid 9.5. I guess the BOF was not as underweight as I initially thought. Nonetheless, I grabbed my NB’s and hit the treadmills.

Sticking the rose move on Qualifier #3 (Photo: Garrick Kwan |

After all was said and done, we were booted from the gym until 5:45, to give the setters time to put up Youth Finals and tweak(?) Open Finals, which were covered by an enormous tarp for the duration of the comp. With a couple hours to spare, Brynn, Annalisa, and I decided to join Melissa and her two friends, brothers Derrick and Garrick, at Plan B for a pre-game dinner. This was my first time at the burger joint which, all things considered, was pretty damn good (either that or I was pretty damn hungry). At the dinner table, amidst very classy and very appropriate dinner conversation, I revealed my secret obsession with the song “Turn Down For What”. Which, in case you have not had the pleasure of getting down and dirty to it, is embedded below:

The crowd gathered for Finals was decent, though nothing like the turnout at ABS Nationals and Riverrock. Even so, the dramatic orange-tinted lighting coupled with blaring music and crazy-featured walls made for a pretty amped atmosphere. I wasn’t particularly nervous for a few reasons: 1) My forearms were so utterly wrecked, to the point where it was actually humorous, 2) I had no ropes reputation, nothing to uphold, 3) The Finals route looked absolutely incredible, with a carbuncle of custom-made stalactites (courtesy of the one and only Brent Quesenberry!) smack in the middle.

Previewing the Finals Route (Photo: Garrick Kwan |

In isolation I decided I wouldn’t climb anything above V3, to avoid becoming even more pumped. As such, I ended up going up and down the same blue V0 about 50 times before being escorted into the climbing arena. After Josh had finally concluded his 10-minute head rest, it was the last two climbers’ turn to climb. My first rope comp ever, and it all came down to this:

Le creation (Photo: Garrick Kwan |
Then, a familiar beat dropped from the speakers. Rather, obnoxiously muscled its way through, pushing all others straight through the ground. That’s right. “Turn Down For What” was in the building. And I was PSYCHED. (THANK YOU Julia for requesting it!!) Literally, I had never been that excited to hear a song. Suddenly, the BOF filled up, my forearms felt a tinge better, and I jumped on the wall, ready to go all the way:


Unfortunately, the forearms simply could not handle that much abuse, but still enough to put me in 2nd, after Annalisa. Not bad for my first rope comp, and a pro one at that! The $425 paycheck also made the loss a bit more bearable. And, embarrassing as it is, I might be psyched on rope comps. Riverrock is the main priority right now, but don’t be surprised if you see me sporting (no pun intended) a harness in the near future!

Turning down for what (Photo: Garrick Kwan |
Making my way through the stalactite forest (Photo: Garrick Kwan |

Wearing in the brand new shoes (Photo: Garrick Kwan |

Skipping holds 38-40 due to forearm malfunction (Photo: Garrick Kwan |

Josh on the men's super-final (aka speed-climbing the women's route) (Photo: Garrick Kwan |

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Regarding Ropes

First crux (photo:
This may sound stupid, but... I had a revelation today. That I am actually quite capable of doing difficult sport climbs, if I spend a week or so building up endurance. To put things in perspective: today was the last day of my four-day block break. I was sufficiently wrecked from yesterday's (and Thursday's) four-hour training session. I wasn't planning on doing anything too physically demanding, aside from maybe a small volume workout at City Rock. But, in the middle of suspended crunch #96 of the morning ab ritual, I received a message from Tony asking me if I was interested in a Shelf sesh (yes I go on Facebook and watch Netflix while doing planks). I wasn't, really. Shelf is climbing with ropes, after all. Not my exactly my steez. However, it was 60 degrees and sunny outside, this was the last day of break, and I'd be climbing with Tony, who basically knows all there is to know about rock climbing. So I said yes. 

We each climbed on a grand total of three routes: two 5.11 warm-ups and a beautiful 5.13b/c called Deeper Shade of Soul. Which wasn't even on the bucket list, but Tony had left some draws up three years ago, and I was kinda curious. My first go on Deeper was quite bad, especially since I climbed bolt by bolt, unclipping rather than clipping. However, I still managed to do every move in one or two tries. And the funny thing is, despite being terribly sore and having no forearm stamina, the climb did not feel impossible. Actually, it didn't really feel all that difficult, especially imagining the whole thing unfolding under more optimal circumstances. The line itself consisted of an easy opening into a ten-or-so move crux sequence that could be broken down into two V8ish boulder problems. The first involved a big deadpoint to a good right-hand slot. The second was a series of bumps on monos. Incredible flow and movement all the way through, with the exception of the mantle-y third or fourth move.

My second go (by this point I was completely wrecked) I hung three times and managed to do the route in two sections. First section, I made it through the deadpoint to the slot, then pumped out. Second section I climbed through the monos then hung. I then decided I wanted to  down-climb and try the second boulder problem from the slot. Next go, very much to my own surprise, I made it through the monos and the third crux, all the way to the anchors. Essentially climbing the route in two sections. No, I did not send it. But there is hope after all.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Power Struggle 8

Top three East Coast comps, in no particular order: 1) Dark Horse, 2) Riverrock, 3) Power Struggle. The Power Struggle may not have the acclaim or recognition of Dark Horse; however, its roots go back farther than Dark Horse and Riverrock put together. And the setting—pure and gimmick-free—speaks for itself (shout out to Greg, Burg, Cliff, Hunter, Neil, Brian, and Jeremy, who stayed up until 2 am on the last day tweaking and re-setting Finals problems!)

photo: Alex Syphers |

As such, I was extremely grateful when, a few months ago, Brien asked me when I wanted Prime Climb to host the Struggle. Actually, he asked me last year as well, except then the whole Nemo/four-feet-of-snow situation happened, so the comp was postponed. So I flew back to Colorado and watched the highlight reel afterwards. Then, two years ago when I was living in Connecticut, I competed in my first Power Struggle. And lost. Second place, which, essentially, is just the first loser. Clearly, my personal Power Struggle history was still unwritten.

Top: Feats of Strength 2012 (photo: Anne Kavalerchik). Bottom: Power Struggle 2014 (Photo: Alex Syphers |

The funny thing is, I hadn’t done a real comp in so long (excluding my attempt at dry-tooling a couple months ago) that I was quite jittery that entire morning and especially before finals. Not that there was anything, at all, to be jittery about; I finished my five top qualifiers in about an hour (with a score good enough to compete in men’s finals) and messed around the rest of the time, acting as little Kayla’s hold brusher/short-person-beta-figurer-outer. On top of that, the women’s field, unlike the men’s, was not very stacked (my friend Maddy, who could only climb on one foot due to a hamstring injury, made it to finals!) and I knew I could win. The problem, however, was that everyone else also expected me to win.

Temporary ice climbing stint (photo: City Rock)
The entire week the crew was setting, I had been on the campus rungs, getting my “flow” back on the smallest edges. There was really nothing else to climb (unless, of course, you’re counting ropes) except the cave, which hadn’t been reset since the summer. (Which, though somewhat disappointing, turned out to be a neat experience because I got to re-climb one of my heinous, sandbagged classics that was inspired by Riverrock. Still heinous and still classic!) Even the cave was finally taken down to make room for last-minute qualifiers. It was super-tempting to peek at the Finals problems that Greg and Burg had left up, especially in light of Greg’s snarky comments regarding the copious amounts of slopers and slopey pinches (clearly an exaggeration). But, my back was turned. At least until Greg asked me which slopey pinch I preferred.

The vibe leading up to and all the way through Finals was homey and brilliant. The setters were wrecked, the crowd was loud, the climbers were psyched. Like last time, the format was completely relaxed, with none of those dreadful countdown clocks that say things like "Climbers, you may begin climbing," "Climbers, you have one minute remaining," and "Time, time."  Despite all this, I still managed to mess up the first problem (which was a V5, tops), thanks to insufficient warm-up and ample nerves. Fortunately, I pulled it together fairly quickly and finished it off. Even Maddy somehow managed to top it, hopping on one foot the entire time. Definitely one of the more impressive sends of the night (the other belonging to none other than Power Struggle veteran Vasya Vorotnikov on Men's #1).

Final #1 (photo: Alex Syphers |
Problem #2 scared the shit out of me because it had a techy beginning into a stem dyno. Clearly, the best of both worlds. It also didn't help that Jenna had managed to stick the dyno, though she did not finish the problem. I struggled significantly on the opening moves as they required footwork and flexibility, neither of which I have. But even after establishing in the stem, I found I could not stick the goddamn dyno. As always, it all came down to the last attempt. I had less than 30 seconds remaining when I got back on the wall--absolutely no room for error. I stood in the stem for quite a while, chalking up, shaking out, and contemplating life in general. I knew I had to stick the dyno to stay in the running. I chalked up again. Cringed. And jumped. And for some bizarre reason, my hands latched onto the holds, upping my life dyno-count to about four. After that, the problem was simple, and there was no way I was going to fall (despite, as Greg informed me afterwards, completely missing the sequence).

After that, Problem #3 (around V9) did not particularly phase me, since neither Maddy nor Jenna had topped the second climb. Besides, it was powerful, overhanging, and exactly my style, with the exception of the (as promised) slopers and slopey pinches towards the end. Which is precisely where I fell. Although, in retrospect, I was a tad too comfortable and probably should have gotten at least a bit farther. (On the men's side, Vasya continued his domination, being the only person to top a Finals problem, with sends of both #1 and #2.) Overall, however, I was happy (hard not to be with a $400 check). Redemption was finally within reach and I was surrounded by incredible friends and the Prime Climb family. I was home.

Final #2 (photo: Alex Syphers |

Women's podium: Jenna Keller, me, and Maddy Grupper (not pictured) (photo: Mike Bowsher)
Men's podium: Charlie Schreiber, Josh Levin, and Vasya Vorotnikov (photo: Mike Bowsher)

Vasya topping Men's #2 (photo: Alex Syphers |

Uncut footage from Finals, courtesy of my mum, Alexandra Parfenov:

Compilation video, courtesy of Mike:

For more photos from Alex Syphers, check out

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Déjà Vu

Last year, on the very last day of winter break, I sent what I consider to be my hardest climb to date, a V12 located on the desolate upper decks of Prime Climb. I had spent an entire month working out the intricate sequence, managing to link the problem with the exception of the opening move. True to form, it came down to the last attempt of the last day. Even better, all my PC friends happened to be watching (oddly enough, since no one ever goes upstairs) and the camera happened to be rolling. I generally dread people saying that they sent a line “on their last attempt,” because obviously it will be their last attempt unless they plan to run laps on it. However, I explicitly told everyone: “I’m gonna try it one more time. If it goes it goes, if it doesn’t then c’est la vie” (though I might have used a dumbed down form of that particular expression). More importantly, and unlike my dozens of “last attempts” on Pressure Drop, I meant what I said. Break was over, time was up, and I'd given up the idea of ever sending the rig.

I stuck the first move (which I had done before, so no guarantees there). Then the second. Then the crux, a wild helicopter swing off terrible slopey crimps which were obviously intended to be footholds, not handholds on near-horizontal terrain. Then a few more just-to-wear-you-out moves. Then the second crux. Then the finish jug. THE FINISH JUG. And while the climb was graded a measly V11, I decided it must have been a 12, for three reasons: 1) it’s Prime Climb, which equates to less-than-subtle sandbagging; 2) I worked on it consistently for a freakin’ month; Gusher took me two days; 3) no one else had even come close to sending it. So yes, in case you are still wondering, my hardest climb ever was a plastic problem that never even made it on my 8a.

This year the weather had been less than ideal for a good two weeks up until that final week, which somehow spawned two beautiful, sunny days with temperatures reaching the mid-40s. Perfect for a trip to Great Barrington, where, believe it or not, I had not been in over a year. It was strange and beautiful returning to the place that had been the very essence of my teenage outdoor ventures. There were so many memories embedded in those aesthetic gneiss walls: sending and almost sending Filter, almost having to carry Mike home after he almost sent Filter, nasty vanilla energy gels, relentless mosquitoes, French baguettes from the Co-Op, and so much more. As soon as we pulled up on the side of the road, I knew Great Barrington would always remain my favorite.

Filter V9. Summer 2012.

The entire month building up to break I had been ranting to anyone who would listen (and to those who wouldn’t) that I was going to do the V11 sit start to Fotowa, a V9 I’d sent oh so long ago. The funny thing is, I couldn’t even pull on the starting holds two years ago, never mind stick the crux. Now, on January 13, 2014, the holds were jugs, the move no longer stopper. The crux likewise went down in four or five attempts, thanks to a tiny 1/8-pad intermediate crimp. All that was left was to link it. Which I did, up until the very last move to the jug lip. Because the tape on my left index finger slid off because I hesitated and didn’t go for broke. Flashback to Hong Kong Phooey, Dead Rabbit, JIBS, every other climb of my life. Idiot. Especially knowing that this was probably the last warm day before I was off to Colorado. After that, I couldn’t even stick the first move. Maybe I should have taken a rest day after two days of climbing (including an all-day competition and an intense campus-rung workout.)

Fotowa Stand V9. Summer 2012. Featuring Mike's pastiness.

Fotowa SDS V11. January 2014. Featuring fleece-lined leggings and wool socks. Photo: Andrew Avalone
The first thing I did when I came home from Mass was rage Please, just one warm day. That’s all I needed. One more day, one more session, one last ground-up attempt. Rain Tuesday (goddammit), clouds/46° Wednesday, 36° Thursday, 36° Friday. THERE WAS HOPE. I knew then and there, in an ecstasy of desperation, that I would return to Barrington even if that meant sacrificing precious time at Prime Climb and spent with my family. This time I truly was, going for broke.

And so I came back, Friday at 10:07 sharp, with Josh and Andrew. I had sacrificed that morning’s hour of abs to ensure that I was well-rested (as in more sleep, not that abs ever got in the way of climbing) and that we would catch that day’s high temps. I stocked up on hand, toe, and body warmers at a local Shell. I charged the camera battery. I brought the extra camera battery. I made Andrew carry my mondo pad instead of paying for gas. It would happen. I would send. I had to.

When I stepped out of the car, I immediately noticed the difference in temperature from Monday. If Monday had been somewhat manageable, at least for a few hours, this was surely pushing my cold-weather limits. After pulling on the Fotowa stand a few times, I was completely demoralized. The left-hand crimp felt moist, although that didn’t matter much anyways, since my right hand turned numb as soon as it hit the next hold. Useless. Utterly useless.

I decided to take a break by trying out a nearby 10 called Pressure Drop. Being a one-move-wonder (crappy left-hand crimp + quarter-pad undercling pinch + high right foot to a slopey right-hand gaston), Pressure Drop is definitely not the proudest line at Barrington; however, the intricacy of that one move is something I’d never experienced. In order to even come close to sticking it, I had to engage my fingers 100%, which, I realized, is something I don’t typically do. After tearing up two of 10 tips, something magical happened: the sun appeared. And not the flimsy, hesitant winter sun. No, this was the sending sun. Fotowa wasn't going to have her way again. Not this time.

I tried the stand and made it to the lip first go. I tried the sit and fell at the crux (moving to the starting crimp rail of the stand). I ripped off all my tape and tried again. First move, 1/8-pad crimp, starting rail, crack, juggy crimp (crimpy jug?) before top, top, done. DONE. That simple. Although I knew I was more than capable of sending, the frigid morning had drained all hope and grabbing the lip came as a complete surprise. Once again, it had come down to the very last day. With 5 of 10 tips gone and bleeding, I flailed some more on Pressure Drop (by which, of course, I mean “stuck the crux move over 20 times with two fingers and one time with three,” which still is not enough to move through the next move). Even tape was no longer a match for these disfigured tips. I lied down on the black surface of the pad, body warmers and toe warmers in place, and soaked up the dying rays of the sending sun. I was content.

Fotowa Sit V11.

Summer 2012 (Fotowa Stand V9) v. January 2014 (Fotowa SDS V11). I fell going for the lip both times.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Return to Ute (and Blogging!)

For the past few weeks (actually, since last summer), Max had been pestering me to re-climb The Gusher, so he could get footage for his new video featuring the bouldering of Colorado Springs. After sending the mega-sharp, mega-fun, mega-classic line last year (to be read with deep sarcasm) and almost dying on the slabby down-climb, I vowed to never climb it again. Also, returning to old problems is almost always demoralizing and makes you feel like shit about your climbing. However, I was guilt-ridden for already having bailed once, plus I felt I owed it to Max. And I really did want to be in the video.

Anyways, we chose the warmest day that week (mid or high 50s). Unfortunately, that didn't matter because the lighting was terrible when the sun was out, so we had to wait until it got nice and nippy to do the actual filming. Honestly, I was super nervous. Yes, I didn't want to disappoint Max. But even more so, I didn't want to disappoint myself. What if I couldn't do what I had done just a year ago? Would that mean I had gotten weaker? Worse at climbing? Already, I was questioning all my training up to this point. What if I had this all wrong? As such, I was very relieved when Max told me I didn't have to climb the whole thing again and that he would just clip bits together afterwards. 

I tried the crux a handful of times. All the holds felt incredibly small and greasy and for a few minutes I had trouble contemplating how exactly I had held on to them just a year earlier. But, after thorough brushing and taping, I managed to stick it. Not too bad. After that, Max had me try just the opening sequence, up to the crux. It went second or third go, but Max wanted another angle, so I hopped on again. After cruising through the first four moves, I was faced with the crux. And I decided to face the crux, just because. And somehow, I stuck it. Easily, not even full effort. And the next few moves after that, all the way to just below the V5 topout. It only hit me when I was back on the ground, that The Gusher was no longer an elusive burden, a lucky break. I mastered the Gusher, I got stronger, and maybe I had the formula right after all. Stay tuned for Max's movie, out Summer 2014!