The drive from New Haven to Sandstone, WV is about 600 miles and 10 hours according to Google. To maximize our time on the farm Ben and I decided to leave directly after work, around 3:30pm. We didn’t miss our mark by much, getting on the road at about 4pm. The first part of the drive is the worst since regardless of the route, you’ll have to go over the Hudson River and through New York. We decided on going over the Tappan Zee, which wasn’t terrible but our most significant traffic was experienced there.
Once through New York and Jersey we had mostly smooth sailing. Passing the time listening to music, a Simpsons commentary podcast, and watching a movie on my laptop. We made good time to Sandstone and pulled into Rainbow Farm at approximately 1:00am.
Saturdays is Farmers Market day where the Brenners try and hawk their wares. Well hawk is probably a bit harsh. The market is in Lewisburg a little town—apparently the coolest little town in the US—about 45 minutes away. Despite getting in late Ben and I decided to join Paul and Lauren.
The market is a quaint little scene set up in a parking lot. The dozen or so vendors all have their own specialties, though some overlap. Vegetables, grass fed beef, organic garlic, blueberries were all for sale. The Brenner’s stand artfully displays their beets, chard, potatoes (red, white, and blue for Independence Day), as well as gluten free baked yummies of chocolate chip cookies and banana bread. In addition to all these Rainbow Farm also offers chicken meat and cage-free eggs. The eggs proved to be by far the biggest seller. All 15 dozen or so gone in just over 15 minutes.
While Ben and Lauren tended to the stand Paul and me headed out for some chores; picking up 1,500 lbs of feed, ordering some chainsaw parts, and test driving a Dodge 3500 diesel truck. The dualie towered above other trucks and was powered by a 5.9-liter turbo diesel. It was a 6-speed manual, but the first gear is actually labeled “L” rather than “1”. The power of the truck made “L” useless unless there was a heavy load attached. No purchase of the truck was made and after the chores we made our way back to the market to finish up and break things down.
Rainbow Farm invited a number of friends for a late afternoon party to celebrate the 4th of July. As such Lauren, who would be staying home to prepare, decreed that the boys needed to be back home around 3:30pm to help with the final touches. The plan was to leave around 7am and get some climbing in. Unfortunately we ran a little late with some of the morning activities and didn’t get to the cliffuntil 10am-ish.
Despite being the Sunday of a holiday weekend we thought an easy approach would be the best to get maximum climbing in. Normally this sort of place would be avoided because of the crowds. We were in luck however since when we arrived at the Junk Yard Wall there weren’t too many cars in the lot. A quick walk brought us to the base of the cliff. Paul needed a quick belay so he could set a toprope on The Entertainer (5.10a). After that Ben and I headed farther down the cliff to try our luck on a 5.7 called Chasing Spiders Right. This was short fun lead in a dihedral, that ended at some bolts. After that we headed up another called Never Alone (5.8). Despite its easy grade, right off the ground was difficult and overhanging. The jugs the guidebook described quickly evaporated and I was left with some poor hands and few protection opportunities. I was able to work my way to a couple of stances and gear placements before reaching the anchors. For such a short climb it really was a workout, especially for a 5.8.
We headed back to where Paul was toprope soloing so we could give The Entertainer and its partner climb, Realignment (5.10+) a try. Both of these start up a great handcrack in a slight alcove. Once working over the roof the climbing eases up and there are more facey type moves. After a little bobble in the beginning that tossed me off I was able to get both. Ben also had good luck with them. His crack abilities are really coming along.
While waiting for the Junk Yard Wall classic, New Yosemite (5.9), to open up I lead Jumping Jack Flash (5.7) which had a wet slippery stemming section near the bottom. After Ben cleaned that I jumped on New Yosemite. This crack is a great hand size splitter crack. The first few moves are solid with the rock being slightly slabby. Working higher the rock bulges and gets vertical. This section, about 25 feet up, is the crux. #2 Camalots were perfect on this route. I got my way up to the crux without too much trouble but then got my hands a little messed up. After making a tenuous switch of my hands I was able to pull through and into easier territory. It was my first successful 5.9 onsite.
At this point we were drawing close to our departure time so we headed out. Getting back to the farm we started helping Lauren with the miscellaneous chores left before the guests arrived. I made some tortilla chips and put out some of the dishes.
Shortly thereafter the guests started to arrive all bringing some kind of food to the party. If Lauren and her mom Ellie weren’t good enough cooks, all of their friends are pretty good as well. As such we had a magnificent spread of dishes: hummus, watermelon with a shot of rum and tarragon, golden beets and feta, fresh green salad, salsa and fresh tortilla chips, goat leg in a Mexican pulled pork preparation, beer can chicken, pears, fruit and brie, potato salad, coleslaw, chocolate-chocolate chip cookies, and brownies with caramel. All of it too delicious to only take a small helping of.
After the gorging some of us set up a croquet pitch and had a frustrating game. The Brenner’s front lawn isn’t exactly tailored for lawn sports. The lawn is littered with bumps and divots and all manner of topology to make hitting a ball with a mallet go in every direction except straight. Ben and I proved to be by far the worst players, getting through just over ½ of the course before the winners finished.
Monday all four of us headed out to climb, this time at Kaymoor—after farm chores of course. Morning chores include feed and water for the broiler chickens. These chickens are in short pens up in one of their pastures. The chickens have food and water and access to the grass in the pasture because there is no floor to the pen. Every day the pens are moved ahead in the field so the pen sits on a new section of pasture. This provides additional food and free fertilizer for the field. It also makes for a tasty chicken because of all the natural food they can get from the field. Feeding the dogs and checking on the goats were also things that needed to be done in the morning.
Unfortunately Paul had to slaughter one of the cooking chickens because it was having some health trouble. This was a pretty quick process. Slit the jugular veins, let the blood drain for 5 minutes, rip the head off, cut the feet off, then peel the skin—feathers and all—off. Pretty quick. Normally they remove the feathers and leave the skin. However since this was a single chicken it didn’t make sense to boil the water required for plucking.
Back to climbing; the rock was quite damp and the air humid. Paul set up a couple sport 5.10s, The Green Piece (5.10b) and Low Voltage (5.10b). These climbs were vertical to slightly more and had mostly positive holds. The dampness and the humidity turned these into a bit more difficult than the grade would indicate. Moving farther down the cliff Paul caught sight of Fairtracer (5.10d)—a four-star climb in the new guidebook. While the lower section of the route didn’t look particularly good to me the upper section did. The route starts in a good crack that then jogs left and then continues up steep rock to the anchor about 90 ft from the ground. Paul lead this well and I followed. From the top of this climb was a great view of the New River, which other than from 867 ft up on the New River Gorge Bridge, I hadn’t seen before. While I was rapping down Paul set up a 5.10c near Fairtracer. Lauren was able to climb it and Ben started climbing it just as we started to hear thunder. The rain drops started hitting and Ben came down. Luckily the route had someone else’s quickdraws on it so we didn’t have to retrieve anything. I did however lose a brown tricam for some reason. I guess it never made it back into my bag after I was using it.
The four of us zipped back home in time for Paul and Lauren to make a sale of a goat. The buyer, a man from Tanzania who is here in WV studying with his wife at a college nearby, wanted to slaughter the goat at the farm and take it home to butcher it. This was an interesting experience. The man brought his family and selected their goat of choice from the many running around in the enclosure. We brought the little goat up to the house where Paul and the man cut its head off then hung it upside-down to let it drain. After a little while the two began to skin it and remove the organs. The process certainly isn’t for the weak of stomach. The goat certainly wasn’t happy about getting its throat cut and tried its darnedest to get away. However if you want an omelet you have to crack some eggs or however the saying goes. While somewhat unpleasant it is part of being a meat-eater and being a farmer. No more than 5 minutes after Paul and I had cleaned up we were eating dinner—just another day on the farm.
Tuesday was a day of rest where the Webbers, the Brenners, and the slackers from CT all went out for a day on Summersville Lake. Once again we took the boat and packed a lunch for a sun filled day of swimming, boating, water skiing, and a little rope swinging. Ben did backflips off the lunchtime rock, I did a little waterskiing and Lauren couldn’t quite seem to figure out how to keep her ass from hitting the water on the bottom of the swing on the rope. Good times all around though.
Since I haven’t mentioned them thusfar I’ll take a second to talk about the Brenner’s two guard dogs, Sampson and Yeti. These two guard the goats from coyotes, wild dogs, or any other thing looking to get some free goat meat. These two Great Pyrenees are a little over 2 years old and stay in the goat enclosure 100% of the time. While there isn’t any snow right now, Paul said they are more comfortable lying out in 2 feet of snow than they are going in the barn. It isn’t hard to see why with all the long thick fur they have. Sampson weighs in around 120 lbs.
While doing some chores with Paul I got to meet Sampson and he is not shy about introducing himself. He bounded across the tractor road and jumped up on me. Had Paul not warned me of this I definitely would have gotten knocked to the ground. Even though he’s a big dog he’s not scary, provided he knows you aren’t a threat. After jumping up I gave him a swat back to the ground. Being as big as he is there is no need to be gentle. He’ll take any rough housing you can dish out and keep coming back for more. Sampson’s just a gentle giant though and just looking for some scratches and kind words. Though a heavy hand is required at times because it must be reinforced that Paul and Lauren are the alpha dogs. Yeti, a female, is a bit smaller and more reserved. She definitely is second to Sampson who asserts his dominance. The two of them get along wonderfully and can be seen running up and down the fence playing and barking. The will make some great puppies in the future (call Paul if you are interested).
My list of favorite dogs is getting filled up pretty quickly. In no particular order we’ve got Singer, Sal, Sampson, Yeti, Pheobe, and Barley. I hesitate to rank them lest I offend one of their respective owners. Speaking of Sal, he’s still here and still remembers me. Aside from a shedding problem (one of the reasons he’s an outdoor only dog) he’s a great dog to sit on the porch with and give a good scratching to.
Paul and Lauren needed to catch up on some of their work around the farm so Ben and I headed off to climb by ourselves. We headed back to Kaymoor but to the Rico Suave area this time.
I finally got to drive my car up to the cliffs. Since our first visit two years ago I had been dreaming of driving on the windy hilly roads in West Virginia in the WRX. The route to the climbing areas is largely rural and has lots of open road and no police with radar guns. Perhaps the best part about the roads is they’re meticulously labeled with what the upcoming turns are, both in nature, ‘S’ or left/right, and with a recommended speed. The number on the sign was just a relativity thing since I was averaging probably 20 mph over the recommendation. It made for some fast but safe driving. My favorite parts are just outside of the town of Meadow Bridge where the road has some 20 mph (recommended) turns in quick succession with lots of elevation changes. Windows down, boxster engine, turbo-back exhaust and Prodrive muffler made for some great driving music. Lots of up and down shifts also made it fun.
Back to the Rico Suave buttress—luckily there was no one there. This happened to be our luck for the whole day. The first climb was Sand in my Crack (5.7) trad route that consisted of a large right facing flake which got steep near the top and involved escaping right around a small roof. This lead to some bolted anchors above a 5.11a sport climb called Grit and Bear It. We TRed this a little and then pulled the rope. The namesake of the wall, Rico Suave (5.10a) is, according to the guidebook one the best of its grade in the New. Though I haven’t climbed all the other 5.10a’s I did enjoy it thoroughly. I did have a little mix up and accidentally clipped the anchors to another route. Once sorting that out I continued up. I still onsited it because I never had to weight the rope. Great, varied climbing right on the arête.
Feeling pretty good with myself I headed back over to Sand in My Crack and lead that again so that I could preclip the crux bolts on Grit and Bear It. I’ve never lead a 5.11 before, and not really too many 5.10’s. Since I TRed it a little while ago and worked out the sequence I didn’t feel too worried about it. The crux is steep so a fall is fairly benign. I worked my way up to the first preclipped bolt and got it with no trouble. Moving a little higher I was able to clip that too. The final bolt is on overhanging terrain and way out left of where the climb is. This makes for an exciting crux and finish to the climb since a fall would mean a swing left and the fall. My leg was bouncing as I pushed and pulled my way up passed the crux. Definitely a tricky lead and topout, but I got it!
We tackled another 5.10a sport route called Totally Tammy which lead up a black slab. While a slab fall isn’t fun it looked like it had plenty of feet to rest on. It turns out this climb is very deceiving. All the bolts are about 2 feet left of where they should be with regard to the actual holds you use. As a result in many cases I found myself clipping the bolts fully stretched and horizontal to the bolt. After figuring the route out successfully Ben had a go. After a little trouble getting off the ground he did a great job of following. We finished up the day on a traditional route called The Good Old Days (5.9). The route was short and I misread the protection required. I realized after getting about 2/3 of the way up I should have brought both of my #3s. Without both of these I was looking at probably a 20 foot fall. I lowered off my #2 Camalot and grabbed my other #3. Sulkingly I headed back up, my onsite ruined. The final moves weren’t terrible but would have been bad with the knowledge my last piece was way below me.
In the morning Paul got a call from the local Post Office. The new batch of chicks were in. The broilers that were out in the pasture were about one week away from being slaughtered. During slaughtering days people come by the farm and pick up the freshest chicken you could ever hope for. Things are always growing on a farm so the Brenners had timed the next batch of 300 chicks to be delivered just before the old ones got axed.
Interestingly live chicks can be shipped by USPS—provided they are only a day or so old and don’t have to go far. We unpacked the boxes, 50 chicks to a box, and placed them in the little room they would live in for a couple weeks. While the little chicks were cute they are going to look even better in about two months when they are sitting on a plate fresh out of the oven.
In order to get out climbing we had to ask a favor from Ellie to watch the new chicks. With Ellie on chick duty—basically making sure the coupe their in does go below 90 deg, which is not too hard when the temps are around 88 deg—the four of us headed back out to the crags. We took my car again :-).
After a longer than usual approach, >20 minutes, we got to our destination, Ritz Cracker (5.9). The route is a splitter crack heading up ever steeper terrain to a large ledge. From the ledge the route traverses right and up a thin dihedral to some steep jugs. I had a great time leading this one, first part is relatively easy to place gear, the second part being thin. Surprisingly the splitter crack is a little difficult for jams since it is a little jagged. Lauren followed me, while Paul lead up another 5.9 with Ben. From here we jumped over to a couple of sport climbs. I did a 5.10c and Paul a 5.12a. I enjoyed both. Splitting up Paul and Ben did a couple 5.10 trad lines while Lauren and I did Emerald Dance (5.9). This route was adventurous and long. There was no defining feature to the route. Up a thin crack which disappears, continue up until under a roof. Traverse right on Gunks like features to the arête and then pull up onto a ledge. Lots of fun.
After finishing this route Lauren and I went back to find Paul and Ben. Ben was just starting up a 5.10 crack which varied in size. The first few feet were hand jam size then it opened up into offwidth range. As it closed back up it went up and around a roof. Ben tried his best but was unable to negotiate the offwidth section— significant cursing ensued. Lauren was able to get it though. I wasn’t in the mood for another climb so I skipped it.
Friday turned out to be an inadvertent rest day. I had hoped we’d get up to Seneca Rocks and do a little multi-pitch climbing. Unfortunately the weather and schedule didn’t allow. A large front moved in and soaked the upper half of the state. Though the Brenners could have used some rain we only got a few tenths. The rain in the morning made motivation rates for Ben and me pretty low. We were interested in checking out Ellie’s apiary. It has been fairly well covered in homesteading/organic/outdoors/conservation related sources that the honeybee is in trouble in the United States. Many are dying off at alarming rates. This has prompted many gardeners and farmers to start apiaries, or bee hives. Our friend Ellie is no exception.
Ben and Ellie suited up in thick canvas suits with gloves and head masks. Since there were only two suits I could either wait for Ben’s suit or go without. As we approached the hives, always from the rear not the entrance side, Ellie mentioned that the bees are particularly docile. I decided to just approach with Ben and Ellie until I felt uncomfortable with the bees then back off. I don’t have a bee allergy so the only issue would be the pain of being stung. After we got to the hives it was pretty apparent that the bees were not interested in the humans. They were busily humming in and out of the hive with their packages of pollen.
The calm of the bees made me confident to stand next to Ellie and Ben while they opened the hives and checked for honey. I didn’t handle any of the racks in the hive but even standing next to someone who was turned out to be very comfortable. I snapped a bunch of pictures while Ellie pointed out some of the features and habits of her hives and their inhabitants.
Since we just happened to be there Ellie drafted us into helping her can some beans she’d picked from the garden. In all we made about 8 quarts of green beans, 5 quarts of wax beans, and 2 quarts of squash. The canning was interesting since I haven’t seen it done before. I’ve read about it a little and even canned some pickles at home. However I’ve never done it for real with the pressure cooker and all.
By this point in the day where Ben and I had finished up things with Ellie, and Paul had finished up his chores it was afternoon. It didn’t make much sense to head up to climb. We decided we’d just relax and enjoy the cooler weather. Another broiler chicken had died. Paul chopped it in half and gave Sampson and Yeti a treat. Keep in mind this was a raw whole chicken not cooked. Sampson scarfed it down pretty quickly and Yeti ate in a more ladylike fashion. Where the dogs got raw chicken the humans got some homemade pizza.
The last day of climbing on our trip turned out to be a great one for me. We headed to Beauty Mountain and warmed up on some routes on the Brain. This is a huge block that is separated from the main portion of the cliff. The top is kind of Gunks like in its holds except that it is convoluted and resembles a brain.
After the warm ups we—Paul, Ben and me since Lauren had to go to regular work—headed to Super Crack (5.9). As the guidebook says, every crag has one but this one really is great. The route is a long hand crack. The first portion heads up some blocky and intimidating features around a roof. Once at the roof there is a good stance before heading up the slightly low angle section. The crack is in a right facing corner and the right side goes from a little slabby to vertical for the last 30 feet or so. I made my way carefully up placing pro frequently but saving my #2-3s for higher up. Once into the vertical section there luckily was one rest. After that rest though there is a 12 foot section which Paul said is best done without stopping. He said most people’s mistake is stopping in this layback section. I placed my pro from the last good stance then launched up it. Rather than laying it back though I found it good to jam my left hand then stem. This allowed me to place another piece, one which Paul warned me not to stop and waste time on, before finishing up the last few moves. I’m not sure why I felt OK stopping but it worked out well. Ben followed and did a very good job
Moving on Paul lead a thin and really sunny 5.10a called Mushrooms. This was a fun thin finger crack where Ben figured out that yelling could help him up. Hilarity ensued.
Making our way back towards the car we stopped at Disturbance (5.11d) a sport climb. Paul spoke highly of the route because of the thin balancy moves which then lead to a jug and a dyno to another jug. After Paul set it up I top roped it and didn’t quite get the footwork right on my first try at the dyno. After figuring out the best foothold I was able to launch just fine. Riding high on my confidence from Super Crack I decided to lead it with the bolts preclipped. This was an exhilarating lead. The first moves are solid but heady since you are still near the ground. Once getting through the moderate roof you head up steep rock to some rests near the bolts. I was able to get through the balance section and get my way to the jug pod at the bottom of the dyno. Thankfully the bolt for this move is about at your shoulder so the fall is minimal and there’s not much chance of hitting anything. After shaking out I launched up and nailed the next pod jug. A couple moves then I clipped the next bolt and was basically home free, just as long as I rested a little before making too many moves. Leading this route, even preclipped, was one of the highlights of my trip. Before leaving we sweltered through a couple more climbs in the sun
Ben wanted to get back up to CT in the early afternoon so he could spend some time with his visiting brother. In order to do this we decided to wake up at 3am and head back. While a little difficult to do it turned out to be great from a traffic standpoint. We were rolling in the car in a record 8 minutes from the alarm going off. From here I drove for about 3 hours until the sun was up. Ben took over from there for a few more hours. I brought it home through New York and Connecticut with no traffic. We arrived at Ben’s place in Milford at 12:18, a scant 9 hours and 10 minutes, shaving 1 hour and 18 minutes from the Google Maps estimate for the 586 mile journey. That time includes gas and pit stops, not bad eh?
Just like last time Rainbow Farm, Paul, Lauren, Jim, and Ellie could not have been more gracious and welcoming hosts to a couplecity slickers. My two trips down there have sent me back home refreshed. This time I actually completely forgot what I was assigned at work. While driving in the early morning, with Ben asleep and drooling on himself, I truly thought hard about what I was going to do Monday morning when I arrived at my desk. I couldn’t come up with a single thing. Thanks Rainbow Farm.