Moablandia

So, for those of you who have found me on Facebook, you’ve probably seen my photo album running down my time in Moab. I’m enjoying the photo journal as a way to easily show off brag explain to people what I’m doing on a day-to-day basis. Unfortunately there’s no really good way to present such a photo album here on WordPress. So for now, if you want to find out the nitty-gritty of what I’ve been doing, you’ll have to check out the photo albums (which I’ll link here).

As I write this I’m sitting in a Starbuckles in Reno, NV. I wrapped up my three week stint in Indian Creek on Monday and took my sweet ass time getting up here to pick up Laura for our week in Lover’s Leap. Definitely stoked for some time in the Leap — there are a lot of moderate classics I still haven’t done, not to mention old projects that were out-of-reach a year ago that I can likely crush, and new projects to thrash on. It’s a beautiful area and I’m looking forward to continuing to push the boundaries of my hard-won confidence on gear.

The Creek was amazing. Not only was I able to summit several desert towers–Castleton, Ancient Art, and the South Six Shooter–but the value of the Creek as a training ground blew way past even my wildest expectations. In a little less than three weeks, I went from feeling like I had to top-rope everything (really unusual for me) to routinely manhandling cracks sized thin hands through fists.

For the non-climbers out there, crack-climbing is a discipline of climbing very different from what I’m used to. The sort of rock climbing you see at climbing gyms involves climbing on holds which protrude from the rock. This is called face climbing, and is probably the most common style of climbing these days, as it is typically protected by bolts and thus easy for beginners to get into.

Supercrack of the Desert  5.10+ (from MP.com)

By contrast, crack climbing involves climbing what’s not there. You’re trying to move up a fissure in the rock by cramming your body parts–mostly hands and feet but sometimes shoulders, knees, or your whole body–into the crack in a way that lets you stick and make upward progress. Because you can build a safety system inside a crack without modifying the rock, i.e. without bolting it, crack climbing is sort of the rough and tumble old-school way of climbing. It takes a bit more thought than climbing on bolts, and a totally different sort of technique.

Anyway, three weeks in the Creek served me very well, and my crack technique has improved dramatically. Likewise, my confidence climbing on gear I’ve placed myself (as opposed to bolts) has also increased quite a bit. By the end of the trip I was jumping on 5.11 cracks no problem, and even managed to send a very sporty 5.12 called Anunnaki. Granted, this climb was mostly face climbing, but you’re doing it on gear–climbing 5.12 face on gear is something I’d have thought I was a year away from before I came to the Creek.

Anunnaki 5.12-

Learning a new technique like this is pretty intense. You can make an incredible amount of progress very quickly when you’re such a novice, and it almost seems like magic. You can recognize improvement not just from day to day, but from hour to hour. Even when you take a few days off and come back to it you find your technique has improved. It’s pretty amazing.

Crack climbing in particular is special since it has such a long and storied history as the “original” climbing style in the United States. Having marched up the classic Supercrack, which was originally led on hexes, a type of gear not well suited to the crack’s geometry and thus very unlikely to catch a fall, I have a much better appreciation for that achievement.

On the one hand, when you have the technique dialed, crack climbing feels incredibly secure. You know that you could hang your entire bodyweight from that one good handjam without falling. Even on easy face climbing, there’s always some feeling of insecurity. You never feel as safe as you do when you’re really wedged into a good crack.

On the other hand, moving up these jamcracks is a much more full-body experience than face climbing. Although you feel secure, staying in these things can hurt your hands and feet. At Indian Creek, many of the cracks are exactly the same size for 50+ feet, meaning all you have to do is pull the same move over and over. Thus, when you figure out how to move, the tendency is just to keep moving and not stop until you’re done–the better to limit the pain and risk of wearing out. In a lot of ways, climbing these things, once you figure it out, becomes less of a technical challenge and more of a workout. The stairmaster from hell.

Huffing and puffing on Generic Crack 5.10-.

Anyway, I really enjoyed my time down there. My sport has probably degenerated while I’ve neglected it, but the skills I learned there will stick with me for a long time, and open up a lot of new options to me, which was exactly what I wanted. I’m feeling ready for the next step, which is the legendary Yosemite Valley. I won’t get there until the fall, but I’m looking forward to continuing my education there!

In the meantime, I’m psyched to climb at the Leap with Laura, whom I haven’t seen in six weeks! After that I’m off to Red Rocks to climb with Juan and Marie. Since I haven’t been sport-reaching in a while, I’ll have to figure out some way to shoehorn my newly acquired jamming skills into the sport climbing down there. I think I can handjam those crimpers if I tape my hands in just the right way.

I still want to talk about the towers I climbed, which were gorgeous and something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but I think that’ll have to wait until another post. Until next time!

Castleton Tower

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No news is good news

Back in town today to run some errands and catch up on the internet. Having an absolute BLAST in the Creek. Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll have time today to really put together an actual, honest-to-goodness blog post. In its place, please accept this brief photo-journal of my past few days here.

I’ll get up some more detailed thoughts when I’ve been here for longer. So far, meeting lots of cool people, climbing lots of interesting routes, and learning a lot. Need a little more time to process it all! I will say that climbing a new style and being back on the steep end of the learning curve is both frustrating, because you suddenly kind of suck, and amazing, because you improve so quickly. I’m looking forward to honing my crack technique over the next few weeks!

Punch it, Chewie!

The last few weeks went by at lightspeed. I finished moving out, I gave away about 3/4 of everything I owned, packed up the rest, said goodbye to my friends, and hit the road for Vegas with my buddy Bob!

My goodbye party went really well, despite me unknowingly exposing everyone at it to strep. We partied exactly as hard as I wanted to, considering that I felt like hammered shit, and I was really touched to see all the people who wanted to come see me off. Portland has been very good to me–I have a lot of great friends there. What hit me during the goodbye party though is that you folks aren’t just my friends, you’re my community. My tribe! Considering what a deviant weirdo I am, I feel very blessed to be part of such a great group of people.

I definitely want to give a special shout out to Juan. Juan has been a really important climbing mentor to me, and although we haven’t been friends for very long, it feels like we’ve been buds forever. I don’t think I would have pulled it together to make this trip happen if it hadn’t been for Juan’s boundless enthusiasm and the positive impact he’s had on my attitude towards climbing. Juan, I’m proud to be your weekend boyfriend slash mancrush.

The trip down to Vegas with Bob was pretty uneventful, all things considered. We drove from 3:30pm straight through the night, arriving in Vegas at around 10am. After we turned off onto US-95 south, we went 200 miles without seeing a single open gas station, arriving at a Chevron at 6am. The fuel light went on at the exact moment we pulled up to the pump, which seemed like an auspicious start to the trip!

I’m here now with a bunch of Bob’s Club Sport proteges and friends in a house we’re all renting for the week. After they leave I’ll be out on my own, probably to the Owen’s River Gorge, and then I’ll turn back towards Colorado to visit my family for a while and get the platform built in my car. For now, though, I’m enjoying the company, the climbing, and the kitchen!

Oh god, pants

Yesterday as I was packing up my clothes, I had to make some tough decisions. What to store (very little) what to bring with me on the trip (even less) and what to toss (almost everything). This doesn’t really bother me that much: my wardrobe hasn’t changed much since college and frankly is in serious need of some winnowing down. I found a t-shirt I’ve had since 5th grade–apparently I liked my shirts to be more like moo-moos in my youth, because the thing fits me perfectly now.

Paring things down like this felt really good, and I was on a roll for a while, but then I came across my kryptonite. Climbing pants. I normally hate shopping for clothing, but for some crazy fucking reason the part of my brain responsible for mindless consumerism has become convinced that the one thing really holding back my climbing is my choice of trousers. And so yesterday I sat on my bed and tried on four different pairs of pants purchased/acquired specifically for climbing: a pair of canvas Levis I found on the ground at the Smith bivy, a $90 pair of Verve Xenos, a Kuhl jean of some kind, and a pair of nylon Prana pants worth about as much as the Verves. Of these, the random desert Levi’s are by far the best, but Levi’s has sadly stopped making them. The only other pair of pants to make the cut is the Verves, a snazzy spandex number that feels like wearing nothing at all.

It stings to give away a $100 pair of pants I just bought in the spring, even though I don’t really use them, but it definitely throws into stark relief some of the incredibly stupid uses I put money to. Makes me feel a little better about being on the brink of blowing through a big chunk of my savings on this trip–at least I know the memories will be worth it, unlike all this other shit I’ve bought!

While I was running errands today, I stopped by the Prana store to try on a pair of lime-green Mojo shorts. Dear god, what is wrong with me? Somehow I managed to avoid buying them.

*****

For my Smith buddies: Ben Moon put up some photos he snapped of Alex Honnold while he was hanging around our neck of the woods. There are some great shots–can anyone name all the routes? I can’t quite figure out all of them.

Louder than 11 are continuing their ridiculous run of videos over the past few weeks with a film showcasing climbing in the Northeast with Paul Robinson and Tiffany Hensley. There’s also a trailer for the new Dave Graham movie making the rounds. Looks pretty rad! I don’t have much context for Climbing Is Our Medicine, but if you’re jonesing for some straight up climbing porn that’s light on context but has good shots of movement on rock, it should hit the spot.

That’s all for now. There are a whole bunch of really interesting blog posts that have gone up this week, but I haven’t really had time to dig into and process them yet.

Cedar’s Right

It’s been a little while, so let’s start this off strong. If you’re like me, and have a hard time remember which crazy strong boulderer is named Daniel Woods and which one is named Dave Graham, this instructional video should be helpful.

Want more? Check out this video of Woods on the problems that won him first place. Despite his stellar performance lately, Woods says in the latest issue of Rock and Ice that he’s getting psyched on rope climbing and is a bit bored of bouldering. Not one for half-measures, he’s set his sights on the recent 14d/15a Siegrist route La Reve (video) and Sharma’s 15b Jumbo Love.

I was recently linked, somewhat randomly, to an old video of Cedar Wright’s. Listening to him talk about his love of travel got me thinking a little bit. For whatever reason, I’ve never been all that interested in traveling for its own sake. Call me a homebody. But I love traveling for climbing. I like that climbing has become an avenue for me to explore new places — it’s both a reason to go someplace new and a comfortingly familiar activity while I’m there.

I wonder if sometimes we miss the point, though. If all your travels focus entirely on climbing, then how much adventure are you really having? Sure, you’re doing something risky and on the edge, but in a way it’s a familiar risk–one you’ve carefully honed an ability to cope with. Same shit, different place. I definitely believe it’s important to seek out change and new experiences, and one of the great benefits of travel is that you’re forced to do precisely that.

I remember when climbing was still a very new thing for me watching The Sharp End and wondering why in the fuck Cedar would spend a day jumping around on those towers in the Czech Republic with a bunch of drunk not-Russians. Having been at it a while, though, I can definitely understand his desire to immerse himself in the local culture. There’s a routine to travel, especially if there’s a local community of climbers for you to connect with, and getting too set in that routine can insulate you from some of the things that make your surroundings so unique and wonderful.

Having done very little traveling for climbing so far, I still feel like I’m experiencing something very novel every time I arrive at a new crag. I think it’s important to keep in mind why we do all this stuff though–for the adventure!

unVideo Friday

Happy March, everyone! I decided earlier this week to do a video friday post as a regular feature because 1) loads of you seem to really appreciate the videos I put up and 2) it’s fantastically easy. However, in light of the fact that I just posted a few videos yesterday, and the realization this morning that the illustrious ClimbingNarc does exactly this same thing, I’m going to post some other tidbits today instead.

First, though, I want to add a little commentary to the above videos the Narc posted: the ABS Nationals highlights (also available: the full footage). On twitter, Jon Glassberg asked for input on these videos, and I’m relaying that request here: what did everyone think? Personally, I thought the footage and angles were great. They obviously put a lot of thought into their preparation for the comp and got some excellent shots of the climbers. Sadly, this made it all the more frustrating when the highlight videos were chopped up like mad–I don’t know if there was a single problem that was shown in its entirety.

Maybe this is reflecting my bias as someone who doesn’t do a lot of bouldering, but when I watch climbing I like to see how the entire problem flows, not just individual moves. It’s hard for me to appreciate what’s happening when I see a hard move, then a jump cut, then another hard move from a totally different position. However, I know that these are highlight videos and there’s a need to balance clarity against brevity. What’s the best solution? Perhaps show a full cut of each problem from a climber using the beta that wound up being most commonplace, followed by the more interesting parts of the various climbers’ attempts? I’d be curious to hear thoughts, and you can direct them to @jonglassberg as well.

Brendan Leonard over at Semi Rad has an inspiring post up today on his battle with alcoholism and the positive impact climbing has had on that fight. Definitely worth reading!

Daniel Woods has put up a potential new V15 boulder in Rocky Mountain National Park, but don’t know how to make that interesting without posting a video, and there’s no video available anyway, and even if there were I couldn’t post it today. unVideo Friday sucks.

Chris Kalous’ excellent podcast has a new episode up. This is Part 1 of an interview with Hayden Kennedy, which contains an extremely in-depth history of Cerro Torre, the recent controversy, and thoughts on said goatrope. It’s really interesting so far, but I haven’t had enough time to really focus on it yet. Lovely thing about podcasts though–I’ll give it a listen on the way out to Smith this weekend and come back with some Deep Thoughts for later. Check it out! Kalous has been making a go of this podcast thing for a while, and he’s always funny and deserves more attention, in my opinion.

In other, non-video related news this week… uh, Steph Davis bought a new car? John Dunne ate a bagel? Damn, this is hard. Seems like all the cool stuff happening this week was conveyed via video. Fucking ClimbingNarc, stealing my ideas years before I have them. Also, even though I said I wasn’t going to post videos, way more than half this post is videos or discussion of videos.

Ah, the hell with it. At least it’s Friday.

Blue Square

The days are getting longer here in Portland, and I was actually blessed with some twilight on my ride home from work tonight. The mountain even came out! Super pretty view coming up Barbur in between the traffic zipping by me at a zillion miles an hour, honking at me for going so damn slow. I’ve suffered through an entire lousy winter here only to leave just as the weather is getting good! I will miss it here.

Anyway, here’s a whole bunch of assorted shit.

*****

Black Diamond has released a new interactive catalog, hearkening back to the days of Chouinard Equipment when catalogs featured more than just glossy ad copy. For Chouinard Equipment, that meant fascinating essays on climbing ethics and more; for the modern age we’ve lost the philosophy but gained some youtube videos and whole bunch of beautiful, ultra-high rez images. Seems fair.

It’s actually a really cool catalog, all things considered. Bit ironic that Black Diamond, a company well-known and somewhat despised in the climbing community for moving its manufacturing facilities to China, is trying to recall the days of climbing past when gear was made by guys at a forge using metal salvaged from junkyards.

*****

Since people really love watching videos of hard climbing (or at least that dork Matt does), here’s an oldie but a goody: the New River Gorge’s Proper Soul (5.14a) done on gear. Reminds me a lot of the Black Bean video from Ceuse that was floating around a while ago, although sadly it lacks the giant whipper easter egg at the end. Very cool, and very impressive.

On the off chance you haven’t seen it by now, Park Life is a mini movie about bouldering in the Valley. That seems a little bit like going to a strip club for the food, but I have to give them credit: this is one of very few bouldering movies I’ve seen that actually manages to hold my attention, and it’s free. The producers, Louder than 11, even describe their business model in some detail if you’re into that sort of thing.

Finally, since I know most of us aren’t getting out of the city lately, here’s a beautiful video showcasing all the stars we’re missing here in our glorious paradise of lighted streets, delicious food, and hot showers.

*****

Finally, I came across a history of the Spring-Loaded Camming Device the other day that is pretty interesting, as much for its diction as its content. A choice gem, referring to a weird combination cam/big bro apparently made from a socket wrench set:

This disquieting object has fallen into oblivion.

Amen to that. I’ll stick with my Chinese-made C4s, thanks.