Every year, the Syracuse University Outing Club (SUOC) makes the pilgrimage down to Thorn Spring Park in Franklin, West Virginia. Apart from non-stop, campsite tomfoolery, the members engage in pretty much any outdoor sport imaginable. Today, we will be looking at Franklin’s local rock climbing crag, a beautiful stretch of cliff with a variety of superb routes. What is sport climbing you may ask? Sport climbing is a form of lead climbing, meaning that climber (and his/her rope) start on the ground and attach the rope to the cliff as they ascend. It may be hard to visualize, so I’m going let climbing powerhouse, Chris Sharma, explain by doing.
So that’s the idea. Keep in mind, Chris Sharma has been the reigning king of sport climbing for some time now, and the route shown in the video is unbelievably difficult. However, sport climbing routes exist at all difficulties. Frankin Gorge has a range of routes ranging from pretty easy to pretty darn tough. Today, I am going to catch up with former SUOC president, Ana Ally, and discuss her ascent of Wintermule, a fun 50-foot route, located right in the middle of the cliff band at Franklin.
Tell me a little about your climbing background.
I started climbing with SUOC the summer before my junior year. I did a little bit outside and then moved indoors for the fall semester. I climbed a bunch when I was in Ireland and abroad in Spain. I think most of my climbing has actually been abroad. In Spain, I did two weeks of sport climbing, probably got in forty or fifty leads, and then bouldered in Fontainebleau (France). It was awesome.
What made you want to lead this one climb in particular?
It looked like such a smooth climb. You could see there were good holds on it. It wasn’t that difficult and there was a really fun roof move to go through. I guess I felt confident enough in leading at that level and I knew if I fell off the roof it would be a clean fall, which it was! And it was fun to fall. I took too many falls! But it was pretty wet.
(Ana pulling through the roof on Wintermule, 5.8+)
Why lead instead of top rope?
That’s a hard question. In the end, I guess it comes down to why you climb. For me, I need to learn how to lead climb so that I can push climbs in other areas like alpine environments. So at that level, I need to learn how to be comfortable leading a 5.8 climb to be able to do that. So it’s practice. I was practicing, trying to gain experience.
Describe the mental aspect of lead climbing.
I feel like I turn a piece of my brain off. I know that sounds stupid but you have to get over the fact that you are going to fall and you have to accept that your gear is going to catch you. I think in the end with sport climbing, it is pretty safe. The odds are in your favor and the statistics are pretty good that you’ll be fine if you fall.
What are some tricks you use to keep calm when things get a little heady?
My breath. If I realize I’m freaking out a little I try to make sure I am keeping calm breath-wise. You’ll notice if you are freaking out, you start breathing a little heavier, so reminding yourself to take long deep breaths as you work your way through something is good. Additionally, I’ll tell myself, “Ana, don’t get stuck, just make the move. You gotta commit.” I’ll find myself just waiting at a section and I have to remind myself that I can make the moves and just gotta go for it.
How challenging was the climb physically?
None of the moves were really hard. It wasn’t that physically challenging. The only hard part was getting over that roof. It was very slopey and crimpy and wet so I had trouble trusting my feet on these slopers I was trying to hold onto.
Were there any especially cool moves?
Working my way through that roof was like a boulder problem which I really appreciated. I had these two great underclings I was holding onto with high feet and you had to stand up and reach around to grab this really great jug. Making my way through that move and then transitioning out of that was great. I really enjoyed it. I took a bunch of falls on it but it was really fun the whole time. The move was so solid each time. It was the exact same sequence. It totally made sense. It was really cool.
(Grabbing the key hold at the crux)
Do you have any advice for people considering doing their first sport climb?
Yeah. Make sure you have climbed before and are confident in how to clip safely. If you’ve definitely got that, just try to stay calm and remember that if you fall it will be fine.
What goals do you have for sport climbing?
Sport climbing is more of a fun, weekend activity for me but not something that I set goals for or high sights. In the end, it is a type of exercise or practice for climbing up in the mountains. It’s like going the gym, but you’re sport climbing.
What is the number one destination you would like to climb at?
What kind of climbing?? Holy shit. If we’re talking about sport climbing I want to go to Tensleep, WY. It sounds like they have ultraclassic sport climbing style there. It’s on dolomite rock which is super sweet. I’ve climbed on it before and it was amazing. The first time I started climbing outdoors was there, so it would be nice now to go there after two years of climbing and really see what I can do over a couple weeks.
Are there any projects at Franklin you’d like to get back on?
That roof climb that you did! Fuck yes. I want to hop on that one day that was awesome.
Which one, the 5.12?
What?! It wasn’t 5.12, was it?
The one Wes, Nick, Tim, and I were working?
Yeah it’s a 12b. Haha. It’s hard. So is that a goal for climbing?
Yeah. Definitely a goal. Years down the road…
(Wes Ryan being lowered after clipping the chains on Davey Jones’ Locker, 5.12b. Fun, steep, & sustained.)