It’s time for a new story of the every day climber, brought to us by Lily He in her series Rock Roots. This month we’ve got a two-for-one deal for you with a joint interview with climbing buds Isabelle Blankmeyer and Kristen Runci. Here’s more from Lily:
Isabelle and Kristen have been friends since they met climbing at the Rock Spot in Boston, MA. This climbing pair has extended their friendship outside of the gym, but went back to their roots and took a climbing trip to Puerto Rico! They climb together because “figuring out sequences is a lot more fun as we try to work with our height as an advantage or disadvantage.” Isabelle started bouldering with a coworker at the Rock Spot and instantly loved it, later expanding her experiences to toproping and lead climbing 2 years ago. Kristen planned to just run on a treadmill when her uncle brought her to EarthTreks in Rockville, MD, but got “the most glorious feeling” when she touched the top of a 5.3, and promised her uncle she’d start climbing regularly in Boston.
LH: What was the impetus for this trip? What is the climbing environment like in Puerto Rico?
IB: The motivation behind this trip was to find somewhere to climb outside in the winter. I had gone to Greece last winter, but Puerto Rico is a much cheaper trip. We found plane tickets on sale for ~$300 round trip, non-stop, and had enough people to rent a house to make lodging even more affordable. There are 4 main crags, and though most of them are limestone, Cerro Las Tetas is basalt – so cool! It is like climbing on granite but with a lot more nubbins. The texture at the cliffs really makes it possible to climb in 80-90 degree weather.
Two locals, Edda and Rossano, do a lot of the maintenance around the crags (there is a lot of flora to clean around, and rusted bolts that they are trying to replace). We met them at their shop (Aventuras Tierra Adentro, 15 minutes outside of San Juan) on our first day, where they gave us recommendations of what to climb and what climbs to avoid…and we actually climbed with them later on in the trip! We also met some local climbers one day, and because many crags are so close to the city and there is no local gym, they train outside the same way we would train inside.
KR: The limestone in Puerto Rico is so positive, and there were hands and feet everywhere allowing me to be more creative in finding beta. On one of my lead climbs, I could probably have done a full heel hook on any foot hold. Of course, we got some days on the beautiful beaches as well. My favorite non-climbing activity was our hike through the rainforest. It was the most beautiful naturally occurring phenomena I’ve ever sensed – you could hear the pure water rushing by you, hundreds of birds chirping, and we just explored through the really old trees.
LH: What were your goals coming into this trip?
IB: The hardest thing I had climbed cleanly outside was a 5.8, but I’ve been getting stronger and really wanted to climb 5.10a. I achieved this goal on the second day, and actually ended up climbing 5.10c before coming home. This trip really helped me decide what my outdoor style is – the climbing in Puerto Rico requires precise footwork (side stepping, weight shifting) that made me comfortable on the rock
KR: My goal was to just enjoy myself. If I’m not enjoying myself, I need to take a step back and ask “is this what I really want to do with my time?” I’m a neuroscience and chemistry major at Simmons, and this semester has been more difficult than usual. It’s frustrating to see my calluses go away, realize my finger strength is lessening, and not see progress in general. I saw this trip as my way to build experience, not necessarily challenge myself grade-wise.
LH: When were you most proud of each other?
IB: Kristen had stopped leading for probably 4 months before our trip. She ended up powering through a 5.8 in Caliche very early on in the trip, even though she hadn’t yet gotten used to climbing on limestone. Seeing her get back into the mindset was really empowering.
KR: I watched Isabelle lead her hardest climb (5.10c) right next to me. I could see her feeling really doubtful about it, but she did it anyways! That girl has really been progressing in her strength.
LH: Do you have goals or plans for future trips?
IB: I really found some confidence in Puerto Rico, so I’m going back again in March! I’m planning an almost identical trip because our last one was so fun. I don’t know what my goals are going to be the second time around – try and climb 5.10d vs. more 5.10 volume under my belt, or toprope harder climbs
KR: I had an awesome experience climbing in Farley, MA where I traversed into underclings into a stemming layback crack. All of a sudden, my view on crack climbing totally changed. In the future, I’d like to go to Utah to crack climb, though I do think climbs out there will require me to be a bit stronger. Other places I want to go include New Mexico (I hear it’s like Red Rocks), and Smith Rock – places where I can do some sporty multi-pitch climbing.
Isabelle and Kristen, your supportive friendship allows two people with different perspectives on climbing to excel. We love your rock roots!
Special thanks to Lily He for doing this regular feature, interviewing all the inspiring “every day” climbers she can find. We love Lily’s enthusiasm for meeting other climbers and finding out their stories. Click here to see last month’s feature. Want to be interviewed for Rock Roots or know someone you think Lily should interview? Send us an email at cruxcrush(at)gmail(dot)com.