Archive for the ‘Bouldering’ Tag

The Gray Zone

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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…


The Philadelphia Theory

I have this theory about climbing and Philadelphia.  My studies for my MBA tell me that my analysis is biased because I am looking for a certain result, but go with me on this:

There are a lot of climbers in Philadelphia.  More than I think any of us realize.

This is how I came to formulate this theory: follow the money.  There are, within about 1 hour of Center City, at least 6 climbing gyms.  There are 2 REIs, and 5 Eastern Mountain Sports stores.  While it can be argued that the retail end is making its money off of cycling and clothing more (and they are), someone, somewhere, is spending money on climbing and climbing equipment.

My time at Philadelphia Rock Gym as a coach and as the shop manager, I can tell you that most gyms out here are operating at pretty thin margins; yet these 6 gyms have all been in business for at least 10 years.  That means that each of these locations, just to stay in business, has to have at least 160 paying members (and that is being really conservative…most of these gyms probably need to see that kind of growth every year just to keep up with expenses).  So it is safe to say that there are well over 1,000 climbers living in the Philadelphia Metro Area.

That being said, wouldn’t it be nice to have some real rock to climb near by?  I mean, the Gunks are only 3 hours away, so we have that.  There’s Stover (overrated, polished and meh), there’s the Water Gap (decent climbing counteracted by the worst approach on the planet), there’s Birdsboro (a nice approach tempered by fair to middling climbing), Livezy

As I mentioned in previous posts, there is more climbing to be had, should we decide to look for it.  I stumbled across some rocks at Pennypack back in May, and I developed a corollary to the Philadelphia Theorem called the Pennypack Corollary: if there is some rock, there must be more rock.  Geologically speaking, it is unlikely that if the forces of erosion of have revealed climbable rock in that area, that it is the only climbable rock in the area.

So far, my theory has been proven correct.

G-RockI went back to the rock that I scouted the other day (which I am calling G-Rock) to put some problems up, and I was 2/3 successful.  That is to say, I was able to put up 2 out of the 3 lines that I found.

G-Rock has some nice features.  Of the three exposed sides, one is very overhanging, one is completely vertical, and the third is a steep slab.  It has a little something for everybody.

Philly-Theory-001The first problem I completed today was on the slab.  The most obvious line started in the dead center and went straight up.  There were a couple of very small ledges and tiny features that I was able to get purchase on and eventually scramble up to a juggy point at the top of the thin seam that I followed.  After climbing it a few times, I think that The Philadelphia Thoery goes down as a V1/1+.

Philly-Theory-002(I have been finding myself really erring on the side of underrating the problems…I am so afraid that I am going to call it a certain grade, only to have someone else climb it and feel that it is much easier than the grade I give it.  I think that would possibly be the most embarrassing thing.  Granted, grades are highly subjective and generally judged via community consensus, and thus are likely to change.  Still…I don’t want to be “that guy”, the one who claims a hard ascent when in reality, it wasn’t that hard.)

backscratcher-001I worked a project on the opposite side at the overhanging section and put together a nice bendy problem.  It starts on the left side, traverses right, then moves upward and tops out to the left.  The bottom section has big hand holds but keeps you very close to the ground; in fact, part of the fun is trying to complete the traverse while staying off of the ground and squeezing between the boulder and some rocks sitting right behind you.  The top section is a little crimpier, and the final move requires you to feel around blindly for a small gouge so you have something to use in the top out.

backscratcher-002The first time I attempted the bottom traverse, my foot actually slipped out of a heel hook and I fell onto the aforementioned rock behind me, hence the name Backstratcher. It goes at V2-.  (And as it turns out, there is no need for a heel hook there.  Lesson learned.)

The large vertical section in the middle is going to require some more work.  I need to have better grip strength to grab the minuscule holds above the start hold, and better flexibility and core strength to even get on to the start holds and off of the ground.  Guess it’s time to get back into the yoga routine.

Biohazard Level 2

I swear, the park is practically a hot zone, what with all of the poison ivy growing in there.  As soon as I got home, I immediately stripped down to the undies and went through a decontamination procedure like I had been bathing at a Superfund site.  This is how much I don’t want to get poison ivy again.

I was getting a touch of cabin fever, and I hadn’t been working on any bouldering projects since my last outbreak of Chinese rot, so the plan, initially, was to head out and repeat some of my recently completed problems today.  I think I may have overdone it on the hand board the other day, and my deltoids were a little tender, so I decided to hop on the bike instead and see if I could scout out some new rocks.

The problem with finding rocks there is that the terrain is rather deceptive.  One, there is still significant foliage this time of year, obfuscating the features of the terrain.  Two, the terrain can play tricks on your eyes, making it appear as if there are rocks where there are none, or making it appear that there is nothing when there is climbable rock available.  Even if you find some rock, it is nearly impossible to discern the angle of the stuff; for instance, today I thought I saw a nice section of 20 foot high rock sitting on the other side of the river from where I was biking.  I back tracked to cross and see it more closely, and it turned out that it was simply an exposed slab, not even worthy of a second look (from a climber’s perspective).

There was a little success today, though.  Right off the bike path, there is a nice-sized boulder covered in graffiti.  Aesthetics aside, there looked to be at least one problem on a steep, overhanging section, and several problems on the slab side.  It has a great top out and easy access to get down.  The only thing that worries me is the drop on the overhanging section…I think that at least one more pad is called for while the problem is being worked out.  The nice thing: there doesn’t appear to be an abundance of that God-forsaken itch weed near by.

It was during the excursion to the other side of the river on the ride back where I found myself engaged in battle with the poison ivy insurgency.  I hadn’t planned on getting into the brush today, but the appearance of what appeared to be rocks high enough to possibly top rope on was too good to be passed up (the results being what was described above: shite).  The last time I was there (about a month ago), I came home with a case of poison ivy that required a dose of prednosolone and constant Benadryl, and only finished clearing up last week.  This time, I immediately doffed the offending clothing and used liberal amounts of Tecnu to rid myself of that evil plant.

Tecnu is awesome.