Archive for the ‘Climbing’ Category

Fall Down, Go Boom

How is it that I can climb rocks that are 30 stories high and never get injured (knock on wood), but I hurt myself doing the most benign things?  4 years ago I pinched a nerve in my back while picking up my cell phone, and this summer, I bruised and bloodied myself when I fell as I was vacuuming the pool.  I am a walking calamity.  I bruised and scraped up the back of my leg, scraped up my right hand, and bent the pole that attaches to the vacuum.  Awesome. 

Fortunately, I made a fool of myself after I went running and climbing that day, and bagged another first ascent. 

I tend to take the summers off from climbing, especially August, because 1) the humidity makes it a rather uncomfortable experience, and 2) I need some time to recharge my batteries.  I was trying to avoid the time off this year, as I would really like to make a breakthrough in my ability to climb harder stuff, but between the weather and my own lack of motivation, I had once again have been without vertical movement for about a month.  While having so much free time was nice and, for the most part, relaxing, I am happy to be back at work, so that I can continue to finance my training.  (Oh yeah, and pay some bills and generally feel like a productive member of society.) 

We had been plagued by some decent storms for a few weeks, including the outer storm swell from Hurrican Bill, and as such, the park still had some significant muddy patches…you know, the kind of mud that can steal a shoe.  That day, it was just dry enough to get on the rocks, though, and I made another attempt at a project in the Cove.

I finally nailed the sequence (and, sadly, it’s much easier than I originally hoped and thought).  Free Wave (V1).

I am of mixed opinions about my climbs there.  On the one hand, there is plenty for the average climber to do there, which is appealing, as most places that I have been to don’t have a lot in the easy range.  On the other hand, I feel as though the climbs, and area as a whole, lack a certain legitimacy because of the lack of a signature, hard problem.

I am sure that this can and will be remedied by someone…but I would be lying if I said that there wasn’t a small part of me that hopes that I am able to fulfill that need.  Call it ego or whatever.  In the end, however, as long as my friends are able to enjoy the climbing there, I will be happy.

Until then, I am going to reflect on my own luck and clumsiness.


Virgin Gets Drilled

Please, watch this video, then we shall discuss below.

First, the climbing here, wherever it is, looks absolutely brilliant.  I have never really climbed sandstone as a “mature” climber, but this looks nothing short of awesome.  I also have to tip my hat to the production values, something that sometimes gets left in the snow fence on the side of the road of video production, what with the easy access to editing software and publication (via You Tube and Vimeo, as well as others).  As someone who started his career in video production, I have to appreciate when someone takes the time to do it right.

That being said, there are two glaring issues in this video, however, which are but examples of a larger epidemic: there is the scene of a drill being taken to the rock (around the 2:05 mark), and a brief scene of one of the climbers sitting next to a fire lit directly beneath the rock.  Both of these are such blatant disregards for Leave No Trace norms, and serve no purpose other than the selfish ones of the climbers.  I cannot fathom why, in any scenario, a hole must be drilled into the rock at chest height.  And lighting a fire under the rock just takes away from the natural beauty of the place.

(I am slightly less upset about the giant flake that was thrown off of the top of the boulder just before they are shown drilling it.  If it was very loose and was going to be an obvious hazard in that it would have come off under simple body weight, than…well, to me, it falls in that gray area, drifting towards being OK.  But seeing that they are drilling immediately after that makes me wonder how the flake was removed…)

The problem that these actions represent is one of respect.  To be put simply, boulderers (by that I mean those who participate exclusively, or almost exclusively in that discipline), and to some extent some sport climbers, lack a certain respect for their environment.  I blame the gyms.

Here is my theory: it is, by and large, very unlikely that someone who climbs trad to enter that discipline without being mentored by someone.  That person learned their craft from someone else, and so this relationship of mentor/apprentice goes on.  Because of this relationship, the attitudes and approaches of the older climbers gets passed on to the newer generations.  There is a fairly large “entry barrier” as well, as getting into trad climbing involves a substantial investment in gear (’cause cams ain’t cheap!), so unless the climber is serious about pursuing their craft, they more than likely will not stay involved.

Boulderers, on the other hand, need only their shoes and a soft place to land.  There is no need for a partner, and frankly, just about anyone can figure out what needs to happen to finish a problem.  Granted, there are limits depending on a climber’s strength and technique, and I wholly believe that bouldering can only make you a better climber, but bouldering is not hard to start.  A climber doesn’t require much instruction, it is way more accessible, and someone can get the gear they need for less than $200 (as opposed to the $500-700 required to get outfitted for trad).

So here we have a whole subset of climbers who don’t have that same connection to the traditions of their forefathers who have now been turned loose on the rock of the world.  Those traditions, in some respects, may be too constraining: there are certainly old heads who look down on the concepts of sticky rubber, dynamic rope and camming devices as blights on the face of “pure climbing”.  But sometimes those traditions can manifest as restraint, or as a conscience.  They can be that little angel on our shoulder who makes us stop and think about our actions.

Boulderers, I think, don’t have that angel; hence the drilling at ground level and lighting a fire at the base of the rock.  Things have started to improve some, but only because of access closures.  Once the rock is taken away, then people start to listen.  Perhaps at that point, it should be too late.  But, through the work of local organizations, the climbers start to clean up their act (and clean up their crags).  Until they develop that conscience, though, until they develop traditions that are in the best interest of the land they use for recreation, they will continue to be the source of so much angst for the climbing community at large.

Now, this isn’t to say that all boulderers are soulless crimp monkeys who fling their crap at the world…far from it.  I think that the majority of climbers who participate in that discipline do have respect for the environment and the rock.  But then, I would also hazard to say that the majority of them probably participate in other disciplines as well, and take a more balanced approach to climbing.  I would also hazard a guess to say that the problem “children” probably wouldn’t know who John Gill was if he fell on them.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am not against drilling for sport climbs when the climb is not protectable by traditional means.  I am not for climbing every rock I see, but I also don’t see a problem with responsible development or aschew the ideal of nailing a first ascent on a premium problem.  These opinons are obviously up for debate.  But regardless of your thoughts on the ethics of climbing, I think that we can probably agree on two things: 1) that the drilling incident in the video above is way out of line, and 2) that it is our shared “heritage” that, despite all other arguments, holds us together.

One last thought about protectable lines: if it is going to be drilled, it really shouldn’t be able to take any protection.  Check out this video for an awesome example of a really clean ascent.  Oh, and I would never want to take a fall like this guy did.  That is the definition of hard core.


Please note: I do not work for Mad Rock, nor do I receive any kick-backs or any kind of pay from them.

Mad Rock posted this on their Facebook page today…they always seem to have some good deals going on over there.

fukubukuroFree mystery stuff is always cool.  Unless it’s poop.  Then it is decidedly not cool.

This also leads to an interesting point:  Mad Rock’s gear is on par in terms of quality with all of the other companies out there (FiveTen, La Sportiva, Metolius, etc), yet they are able to charge a significantly lower price.  Could it be that our beloved climbing companies are, dare I say, charging more just for the name?

It is simple economics: the price will reflect whatever the market will bare.  If FiveTen can charge $135 for their Anasazi Velcros, and people will buy them, well, then that’s the price.  They don’t really do anything differently than, say, the La Sportiva Katanas, or the Mad Rock Demons.  True, there are different fits, but is the fit really worth paying $30 more?  (Note: my first pair of velcros was the FiveTen Anasazi, a pair that I wore to death and love.)

I find that the amount of money I am willing to budget or spend on climbing is in a direct-inverse relationship to how much money I make and how long I have been climbing.  When I first started, I had no problems dropping $70 on Petzl’s Corax harness, or $135 on the aforementioned Anasazis (which I purchased on pro-deal, to be fair).  As I have climbed more and moved forward in my career, I have found that I am less inclined to drop a large amount of money on gear.

It’s not because I don’t like the gear, or like climbing less.  I think that 1) I am trying to take a minimalist approach with the amount of stuff I bring with me, and 2) don’t believe that I have to spend a lot of money to get quality gear.  Mad Rock is the perfect example of this.  If a carabiner is rated to 23 kN, what does it matter if it costs $10 or $15?

Pack Your Bags

BONUS WEEK! Check out the picture of the route below.  The first person to guess the route correctly will get a random book out of Treasure Tub of Books.  Tempting, I know.  Here’s a hint…it’s in the Gunks.

My name is Brian, and I am a gear junkie.

One of the things I enjoy most about climbing (aside from the actual, well, climbing) is the gear.  It’s shiny, it’s esoteric…it’s like proof of membership in an exclusive brotherhood, where you have to know to understand, and outsiders just don’t get it.

Kevin Jorgeson posted his gear list for his upcoming trip to Yosemite, and Climbing Narcissist estimated the costs to be between $5,000-6,000.  After wiping the drool off of my chin at the sheer number of cams he is bringing with him (and will need!), I started thinking about the gear that I carry with me.

100_0037Two summers ago, my wife cleaned up and painted one of our spare bedrooms and converted into an office, obstensibly for the both of us, but in reality I probably get the most use out of it.  One of the cool things that she did was get the small closet in there cleaned out so that I could have a gear closet.  I have it all organized now, and it makes packing for trips so much easier.

This is the rack (I’m rather proud of it, modest as it is):
Metolius Rangefinder Cams, sizes 1-8 (with 2 #6s)
Metolius Stoppers, #1-8
15 OP Doval Wire Gate biners
5 BD straight gate biners
5 BD bent gate biners
5 or 6 OP locking pear biners
15-20 2′ slings (this seems to fluctuate from trip to trip)
4′ 6mm cordalette loop
Petzl Corax harness
Petzl Elios helmet
Mad Rock Demon
FiveTen Coyotes

Gunks, Fall 2008, seconds before falling as I attempted to reverse a move after my last cam popped out.  20 feet above my last piece.

Gunks, Fall 2008, seconds before falling as I attempted to reverse a move after my last cam popped out. 20 feet above my last piece. BONUS: Name that route!

During our last trip to the Gunks this past spring, we had what I would qualify as one of the best trips yet.  We only were able to get one day of climbing in due to the weather, but the one day that we were able to pull on some routes was rather productive.  We completed three routes of 2-3 pitches each (which isn’t bad considering I was the only one there able to set gear and we had a group of about 8 people there).  I was so unbelievably tired at the end of the day that I could barely walk.  I got back to the camp site (which was, rather unwisely, at the top of a very steep hill).  It was an awesome tired.

I’ve tallied the value of my gear before (I think that I still may, may be under the $1,000 mark, but not by much), but I was curious as to how much the gear that I carried up with me every time I climb a route that requires gear weighed.  My brother, sister-in-law and I started trying to figure it out, and when we got home I weighed the gear.

(I’m sure that there is more, but this is just what I can remember off of the top of my head.)

Grand total: 25 pounds of gear are clipped to my harness and slung over my shoulder every time I start a trad climb.

Granted, my rack isn’t anything special, and I’m sure it will grow (who can’t use a few more cams? I need some 0’s and 00’s).  I did make a decision early on in the building of my rack to try and cut weight as much as possible.  While I never really had the money to go completely with Dyneema slings, I did keep the weight down by going with the Dovals.  They are super light and probably have led to a few ounces in weight savings.

I love gear.  My 20% coupon from REI came today (with the catalog for the fall sale with not a single piece of climbing gear shown…a rant for another day), and if I can get the funds together, I think it’s time to get something new.  Maybe.  Any suggestions?  And how do you keep your rack light?

More Forays Into The Monochrome

In a continuation of the discussion that started on Tuesday (“The Gray Zone”), John Wolins has crafted a response from a different perspective.  John is something of an amateur climbing historian, outdoorsman, mountain man, conquistador of the useless, and an all-around nice guy.

Against my better judgment, and in spite of my genetic inclination to remain detached and observant, I will attempt to enter blog-world and try to concoct a reply to Brian. The first thing I want to do is thank Brian for starting this chat, as I sense that there’s insufficient quality discourse in the climbing community.

Well, I read the blog entry “Is Europe Taking America’s Lunch On The Rocks?” on Climbing Narcissist, the basis for Brian’s remarks, and I must say that, although it seems a fairly well considered discussion, the topic bores the hell out of me. Besides the fact that the writer just barely hints at the history of competition between the US and European climbers, which in fact extends far back to early parts of the 20th century, none of the people I’ve spent any time with on the rocks or in the mountains were ever concerned with competing, or climbing at the highest technical standards, and in fact many of us have “clipped a few bolts” in our time, but always remained traditional, adventurous climbers.

I grant the writer some credit for summing up the differences as cultural, but I don’t think he goes nearly deep enough into the distinction. My views of this go beyond the scope of these remarks.

Everything is relative. Yes, western culture likes to invent Platonic ideals, universal absolutes that float eternally out there in the ether. Brian may see me as a purist, but it’s just relative to everyone else. Of course we all have no choice as we affect the physical world simply by living our daily lives, but we also exercise “extracurricular” free-will choices when we go off to recreate. At one end of the spectrum we might find a more pure, traditional climber, eschewing bolts, climbing vedy clean, vedy clean*, someone we think of as a purist despite the fact that he or she also must pee, poop, consume and otherwise live on the earth. At the other end we might find, if I may, less traditional, sport-climbing, bolt-drilling, gym-climbing folks who may, to widely varying degrees, be less leave-no-trace oriented.

Now it’s important to note that an aspect of this spectrum may be something that, arguably, may not be relative at all. We climb for a number of different reasons. Some of us for one or two of these reasons, others climb for reasons three, four and five. I’ll elaborate. I think these reasons are culture-based. Our various motivations to climb speak to and spring from some of our basic values. I’m no psychologist so I won’t attempt to dissect and describe these values in academic terms other than to suggest the commonly held notion that there are “outdoorsy” people and, well, people who aren’t “outdoorsy”, as well as those who might be just a little “outdoorsy”. I’m aware that I might not succeed in tip-toeing around harsh value judgments.

I’m unique, but of course no more unique than anyone else. I was raised in New York City by an extraordinary man. My father was no climber but he managed to transmit to me a fundamental appreciation for nature. Despite growing up on the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn I gradually regained, over the course of my early teens and twenties, my so-called connection to the natural world. This semi-conscious sense was nurtured in the Catskill Mountains and Adirondacks of New York. Now it’s clear that I was becoming a member of the “outdoorsy” camp.

The basic value instilled in me was that the natural world had priority, not me. It was the important thing. It’s where I came from, and it’s where I’m going, like it or not. If and when one is able to make a choice, we must choose to preserve nature. It’s the only one we’ve got, and it’s clearly diminishing every single day. This is a basic value. It seems to ring true to me. It applies all the time. It’s why we recycle. It applies when we walk, when we bike, when we camp, and when we climb. It’s as if my puny life isn’t about me. It’s about every one else. It’s also about the future. It applies everywhere. Where isn’t there nature?

Of course I can only pontificate with any authority about myself. About others, I’ll risk condemnation by speculating about what I observe. Sometimes, at certain climbing venues, it seems to me that some climbers stop behaving as if nature is the priority. Bolts, pitons, webbing, chalk, garbage, cigarette butts, gymnasiums, parking lots filled with private automobiles, I realize how slippery this slope can be, and I realize also how much overlap exists with sport climbers who may otherwise behave in the most virtuous, environmentally conscious ways, as well as traditional (by the way, I hate the way we’ve abbreviated this all-important term. I just can’t be that lazy or hip) climbers who may decide that the climbing is more important than the place.

I believe that these distinctions should be what informs our ethical sense. Yes, I might be harping back to long-haired, tree-hugging granola-laced liberalism, and I know a few climbers that will react with claims that I’m against “progress” and the “growth” of the sport, but if ethics are about determining what are the right and wrong actions to take, it seems to me that any discussions that focus on topics like red pointing versus pink pointing, or whether there’s consensus for that new 5.14a, or whether Billy Boy Klimber has been able to get sponsored by Power Bar, or what country produces the most talented technicians, well, perhaps they’re missing the point.

Climb with the other parts of your being first, then let your muscles succeed. Don’t climb hard, climb smart. Climb as if you’re not the only climber on the climb, on the crag, in the state, in the world. Climb as if it matters that your great, great, great granddaughter can venture out one day into the woods, and find the lost crag, and quietly find a new and intricate way, on her own, without help, and top out in the sun.

* Pablo Casals, from “The Whole Natural Art Of Protection” by Doug Robinson

The Gray Zone

Tomorrow will see the start of Delicious Wednesdays.  Check in to find out...

GelsaThere was an interesting post over at the Climbing Narcissist page a little over a week ago that offered a comparison between American and European climbers, and why it may appear that the Euros are leaving Americans in their dust in terms of pushing the grades (“Is Europe Taking America’s Lunch on the Rocks? Yes…and No”).  Guest writer Justin Roth of Urban Climber offered this keen analysis that very well may go to the core of the differences in approaches:

In the US, bolting has been, and in many places still is, considered taboo. It’s seen as destroying the natural environment, leaving your mark on a wild place that should be preserved for others, or even a form of cowardice (gear takes more guts and more ingenuity, right? Ever heard of the Bolt Wars?). This is mostly because we have so much terrain here in the states that accepts gear. Our culture puts trad climbing up on a bit of pedestal, and looks down on those who “number chase.”

Personally, I don’t care where the climber came from when they made some kind of evolutionary leap in their climbing medium.  Sure, I would love it if the sport got a little more attention in the States (because, frankly, if golf can be televised, there is no reason why climbing can’t be made interesting for television).  It did, however, remind me of some intellectual debates I have had with climbing partners over the years. specifically about style, ethics and access.

WolinsOn the one hand, there is my friend John: a long-time climber and outdoors-man, hippie (and I mean that in the nicest way possible, John), and someone I consider something of a mentor in my vertical pursuits.  He is also what I would consider, based on our many conversations on the topic, a climbing purist.  He eschews the concept of bolting (though he has claimed to have “clipped a bolt or two in [his] day”, something that I really need proof to believe) and unlimited access to climbing locales, preferring the approach of climbing at your own risk with the gear that the rock will take and keeping the environment as wild as possible.

ChuckOn the other hand, there is Chuck, who has described himself as my “padawan” in terms of climbing.  Chuck generally takes the approach that climbing should be open and accessible to all, that there shouldn’t be “secret” crags and has no compunctions about (the theory of) bolting a route if necessary and removing small trees if it will protect the fall or top out of a problem.  (This isn’t to say that he has a scorched earth policy either, but rather a quality climb policy.)

I have had numerous discussions with both about our approaches to climbing, and often I find myself straddling the gray area between the poles of both sides.  I clip bolts, and I set pro.  I prefer natural approaches and settings, and I have trimmed back creepers to free a rock face.  But going back to the original quote, it seems that we, as American climbers, have decided on an ethic that really only allows for a particular type of climbing, and then sets individual climbers against each other based on this ethic.

Here is my issue with the whole “ethics” discussion: ethics implies a set value of behaviors determined to the “right”, and all other behaviors that don’t fall within that rigid definition are “wrong”.  There is no room for debate, discussion, or exception.

Take for example the notion of “First, do no harm.”  Seems like an easy enough concept to uphold, and an ideal that perhaps all climbers should adopt.  But what does that mean?  Does it mean that the act of bolting a route is ultimately harmful and should not be undertaken?

Here is something to think about: the very act of being in the outdoors is an act of harm in the strictest sense.  No matter how careful we are, we leave out mark every time we venture outside of our homes into the wild.  Even using established trails (which had to be formed somehow to begin with, an act of destruction) will leave some trace of our passing.  Every time we climb a route, we erode it, ever so minutely.  We leave traces of our chalk on the rock.  And every one of us as seen the results of pin scars, old pitons, and even the wear marks from repeated cam placement.

If we are going with the concept of “Do No Harm”, aren’t their multiple ways to achieve this end?  Should a route with ample protection be bolted?  Probably not.  If there is no way to safely protect the route with removable gear?  Maybe that is just left up to the local community.  As long as holds aren’t being manufactured through chipping and gluing, as long as habitats are not being destroyed, couldn’t both approaches be acceptable?

There is one approach that John and I both share without argument or debate: not every rock needs to be climbed by everyone.  It is OK to have some things off limits…there are plenty of other places to climb.  We shouldn’t approach climbing with a sense of entitlement.  The Gunks may turn into a circus on the weekends in the spring and fall, but there is hardly so much overpopulation there that it is required that the closed sections be opened to the public.  Find something else to climb.  Go explore.  Wait your turn.  Relax.  The rock has been there for millenia…it will still be there in a few days.  And who knows?  You may find something new…