Monday, March 16, 2020

Climbing Hits the Wall

The world is reeling from the pandemic Covid-19 and fortunately it's no longer still being debated whether it's appropriate to go outside climbing. Ugh. My answer is, right now, definitely not, unless (maybe)  you are free soloing, where, in the event of a mishap, you will likely not strain local medical resources. The thought of bouldering has me on edge (hold-sharing with Broseph and his buds ewww) but pictures of dozens of climbers in close proximity lapping up the Front Range's crowded cragging scene makes me a little freaked out. Meanwhile locals in places such as Moab are pleading with would-be visitors to stay away. (Update: Moab, like Hueco, Yosemite Red Rock Smith Rock, etc. closed) They aren't pleading In Europe, since the authorities are simply quarantining EVERYTHING. Will Instagram will develop a conscience about this issue of #vanlife and outdoor recreation in the time of coronavirus? We’ll see.

But speaking of free solo, the bigger picture (see what I did there), setting to one side the extraordinary catastrophe this is handing to the world's physical and economic health (and hopefully very swiftly setting aside in November the catastrophe's enabler here in the States), this pandemic came along just as climbing was hitting the big time and will be dealing a very hard blow to that surge in popularity.

This is for a number of reasons:

1. Climbing gyms are closing down and it could be a while. This really sucks and not just because I work part-time at one locally. In Boulder and many other locales climbing gyms are an integral part of the climbing scene. They are the place where beginners often get started and where veterans (myself included haha) are able to stay on top of new developments. They support strong climbers through employment as setters and coaches. They host competitions and other community-building events. Though there are downsides to gyms, they remain real anchors for local climbers and sources of community and communication. But their vulnerability to communicable diseases (nobody quite knows how long Covid-19 will stick around) is certainly going to cause both investors and the public to rethink the business model and a few months (very likely scenario) with minimal revenue is going to wipe out more than a few of them. New gyms (and we were maybe hitting peak gym as it was) are going to be facing strong headwinds since the investing climate just tanked. And of course many members or would-be members may find themselves unable to afford paying gym memberships. And you don't want to be a hold manufacturer right now. Nossirr. NO. Which sucks because they provide the cool stuff we climb on.

Pro tip: If you can afford it, PLEASE do not freeze or cancel your gym membership. Nobody else will be open anyway and if you don't support your gym now, it won't be there when you can come back.

2. Goodbye Olympics. Everybody (well maybe not everybody- thanks a lot, speed climbing) thought the arrival of climbing at the Olympics meant its future was assured. And now the chances of the Olympics happening in Tokyo are slim to none, as numerous news stories are predicting. In Italy, a person is dying roughly every 5 minutes. France, Spain, and Germany are locked down as is the EU generally speaking. The UK just woke up to the seriousness of the situation. We’re next. The Olympics are not happening and that's a fact. Only a lunatic would convene tens, probably hundreds of thousands of people in a tightly crowded city hot on the heels, let alone in the middle of, a global pandemic. Repeat. OLYMPICS. NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. (OK that just got confirmed)  And worse, climbing is not going to get a second chance at them because...

3. This pandemic is getting scary. I read things every day that scare me the way watching Free Solo on IMAX never did. Only lunatics enjoy scaring themselves for fun climbing rocks in an already scary world. We used to call such people climbers before sport climbing and gyms made climbing welcoming to more balanced people. Now the world is ultra crazy-real scary and the thought of picking up or even spectating one more risky activity has most of the population reaching for a cozy evening of Netflix and chill. Normalizing death and dismemberment has long been an Achilles' heel of this sport especially given the past year or so's casualty list. Even the North Face "Team" has hired a therapist to deal with managing the trauma that is caused by risking one's life in the mountains with the goal of "testing" gear that mostly ends up traversing college campuses and pub crawls. Also people won't have much money, see above.

4. Governments are going to close down public lands for a while, maybe quite a while. The "dirtbag" #vanlifer roadtrippers are going to be considered as potential disease vectors and invited to quarantine themselves for a couple of weeks in their vans at locations all around the world which won’t be much fun for anyone and a wake-up call to more than a few. The rest of us are going to buy a sh*t ton of hangboards which will wind up on Craigslist next year as everyone realizes how boring and difficult using a hangboard actually is. Watch one of the 5000 videos that have popped up on Youtube recently and see for yourself. And I love hangboarding! Some of us will build home walls but most of them will suck and, well, see hangboard comments above. Long story short, soon there will be an abundance of opportunities for climbers to pick up amazing deals on "intro" level shoes, harnesses, ropes "no falls, only used a few times" and cheap ATC-style belay devices. Climbing gear manufacturers might be having an excess inventory problem very very soon. Also people won't have much money, see above.

So climbing is in a bad way right now. Big time. Along with a lot of things.

If you have any idea how climbing is going to hit the big time now, I would love to hear it. I'll be at Summer OR (seriously, that probably will not be held this summer) or maybe CWA (are you KIDDING ME? UPDATE CWA was cancelled) or more likely glued to social media and the news watching as the world burns and hoping to somewhat save my skin and that of my family. The sick sends will have to take a back seat for quite some time.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Misogyny in the Rocks

Posted this up on Facebook today regarding this piece on Medium:

"Great essay, thoughtful and thorough. Route names in areas that have associations with native culture and traditions, especially spiritual ones, and most especially obnoxious names like the one under discussion, reek of old-school imperialism and colonialism, just under a modern adventure sport guise. The least that climbers can do is honor both the natural setting and native culture in creating and naming them. This goes triple for visiting climbers.
Here in the USA, the most egregious example I can think of are the numerous obscene names for boulder problems at Hueco Tanks, most of which have strong misogynistic contexts, and have no place in a sacred area for Native Americans, not to mention a place with its own natural beauty. Thanks to Fred Nicole for beginning to turn around that tendency with both his amazing FAs and their evocative names. I wonder if/how the new edition of the guidebook will handle this problematic legacy."

Jeff Achey at Wolverine Publishing was quick to follow up with this comment:
We all discussed it back and forth quite a bit, and none of us had exactly the same opinion on what to do... In the first edition of the Wolverine book, Matt and Dave retained all of those names. At this point they are part of the historical record, in a way, maybe best serving modern and future climbers as an example. Jason Kehl in particular was against "censorship," and I'm sympathetic to that point of view. Also, the sophomoric misogyny seems a bit pathetic at this point, with women boulderers absolutely crushing in Hueco. Females are so well established in the elite bouldering community there that sexist putdowns lose much of their punch. It makes the misogynist simply look like a fool. But still. It's an unfortunate, weird situation. We did put a note in the intro about obscene names, and did a bit of judicious new abbreviation, but maybe not enough. I'd love to hear more people's comments on this issue and how we guidebook scribes should deal with it! Fortunately most books we deal with don't have this problem in anywhere near the degree as Hueco!"

Thanks Jeff!

My view on this is that certain aspects of "climbing history" and their preservation are very open to debate, especially route names that later climbers find offensive, and that the "rights" of first ascensionists to preserve those names are basically non-existent. The whole FA culture that has developed in climbing (rooted in a quasi-colonialist worldview) itself is a topic for review in another and much lengthier post.

I remain amazed that TPWD has not moved to modify or eliminate its use of any of the route and area names from the 80s and 90s when such names were much more common. I guess we'll see how that works out.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Starting Up This Time For Sure

So yeah I spend way more time than I should on social media (anyone remember when that wasn't even a thing?) fiddling while Rome burns. But in between that and working I definitely still climb haha. A new thing in the past couple of years has been semi-speed laps on the Second Flatiron behind town. It's a very basic template for running. 15 minutes to the base, 15 minutes up the climb 15 minutes descending. My fastest time is about 38 minutes, the slowest, well a lot longer. Speed climbing isn't really my thing but the Second is pretty much the perfect arena for a steady but mixed diet of aerobic conditioning. It certainly beats easy autobelay laps in the gym!

You might recognize this climber! We did the Second recently as a fun run.
Anyway, this post marks a revival of this blog (as obnoxious as that word is) and I will be updating at least weekly on topics of general climbing interest as well as my own specific activities.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Time To Go To Outdoor Retailer?

I've decided after a hiatus to start writing this blog again. A logical step is visiting Outdoor Retailer, now in Denver, thanks in large part to the retrograde environmental politics of Utah. I just sent a registration request to the show so we'll see what happens...

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Adam Ondra and the Dawn Wall: Veni Vidi Vici

Just about the only bright spot in the unfolding catastrophe that the Trump-era United States is becoming was the autumn visit to Yosemite by Czech master climber Adam Ondra. His plan was to attempt the Dawn Wall, something he promptly got started on, going ground up to investigate the climb and doing substantial amounts of free-climbing on the route including an onsight of most of the last third of the climb. He worked in a trip up the Nose with his dad, in only 17 hours, during this phase as well. After further work on the crux section of the route, roughly pitches 10-16 he embarked on his single push ascent and in eight days was at the top, having cleanly led every pitch free.

Interestingly, in comparison with the media frenzy that accompanied the first ascent, the major source of specific info about the climb was Adam's Instagram posts via his own account, that of Black Diamond and his belayer and more informal photographer Pavel Blazek. Indeed the tone of what media there was seemed to anticipate a comeuppance of sorts, as though Adam would be humbled by the peculiar nature of Yosemite granite and the sheer difficulty of the route. The New York Times, which appears to be uncertainly grappling with its future in the "post-truth" era, had a story on Ondra which came in for justified criticism for both its title and its tone. The title "Adam Ondra Expected a Short, Hard Climb. Now He’ll Be Happy Just to Finish." implied that somehow Ondra had come to the Valley expecting the proverbial walk in the park but had been humbled, a sentiment that came through elsewhere, where the reconnaissance ascent was described as an "aid climb" instead of what it actually was. And of course there was the usual "he's just a sport climber/boulderer/comp climber" internet commentary. One writer stated "It’s safe to say that it’ll be a long time before anyone repeats this rock climb." That was about a year and a half ago.

In the end, despite  the qualifiers and naysayers, the fact is he took the route down in eight days with no real problems to speak of and with plenty of time left still for an onsight attempt on the Salathe Wall. It was done with minimal support or fanfare. It was done using mostly ground-up tactics. Adam was gracious, crediting Tommy and Kevin for their vision and acknowledging the effort and difficulty of the climb, not to mention its boldness. Yet, it's worth saying, he wasn't the only one doing amazing things on El Cap this fall. The Zodiac (5.13d) had a third free ascent, the Dihedral Wall (5.14a) saw a long-overdue 2nd ascent, the Pre-Muir had a 4th ascent and Freerider was rope-soloed free in a day. Oddly none of these were accomplished by "pro" Americans. Where were they? Good question. Climbing boulders in Colorado, some, though still no American repeat of Hypnotized Minds, despite a rapid ascent by Rustam Gelmanov in grim summer conditions. Ticking routes in Rifle? Sure, though Mark Anderson doing Shadowboxing underlined that Rifle 8c+/9a is hardly the preserve of fulltime climbers anymore. And of course there's the Red River Gorge in fall. So what's up? Is everyone too depressed by the election? Too busy staying current on their Snapchat posts?

The Instagram/Facebook game may be strong for Americans but all the social media marketing in the world cannot make up for this truth. Once again the bar has been raised substantially and the question has to be asked whether there is anyone ready to match it? I'll be interested to see who rises to the occasion.

For more insight into Ondra's mindset read the interview I did with him a while back

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Five (okay make it Six) Stages of a Route in the Social Media Age

Now that the millennials are firmly in charge of the climbing bandwagon and Brooklyn Boulders is headquartered in Denver, it's time to talk influence, how to get it and how to wield it. Maybe some of you are toting your climbing resumes to Summer Outdoor Retailer right now in the hope of getting free stuff. Maybe some of you are getting free stuff and still want to keep getting it. No matter, you need to get your rep past the bean counters and the marketing specialists and to do that you must understand the process that lets you post that sponsor junkshow shot on the instagrams.

Back in the day (i.e.1895), a hemp-rope-carrying alpine dude named Mummery stated, "It has frequently been noticed that all mountains appear doomed to pass through the three stages: An inaccessible peak - The most difficult ascent in the Alps - An easy day for a lady." Much more compelling stuff than "Because it's there" from that other M-duh-duh-ly guy who also perished up high on a cold (albeit more famous) mountain.

In other words, nothing has changed, including possibly the sexism. If you want a reputation, you have to understand the relative value of your achievement. It's not a bad idea to see it in the context of the Mummery Grade system, a system that BTW uncannily reflects the Gill bouldering grade of B1, B2 and B3. Climbers have to realize that like grades at Harvard (and most everywhere else) climbing grades keep going higher and are worth less and less over time. It's kind of like Moore's Law, except for the fact that really climbing grades don't matter. Okay they do, but we don't like to discuss them too blatantly anymore than we don't want to be that gauche dude who asks  how much that sweet Sprinter van costs.

Climbing grades are like money in a lot of ways. At the top end, those who have the highest numbers need them the least. At the bottom end, we scrape and grind away to get a pittance of reward. But who cares about either of those categories, let's get to the middle class, the climber who is actually well, kind of good, as in C leaning toward B-Team good and thinking that free stuff sounds like not only a good idea but what he or she deserves for that effort, "Murica" being a nation dedicated to free enterprise and whatnot.

How can this aspirant navigate this maze without putting a foot wrong and punting in sight of the chains to use a metaphor that appeals to climbers? How can you ambassadorize yourself with maximum impactfulness through Faceblock, Snapshut, and the Instagraph Machine? These are vital questions lest you have to Kickstart yourself to sponsorship.

It's actually quite simple. First you must familiarize yourself with the (roughly) five (or six) stages of any route. Learn these basic principles and your brandworthyness will rise to the surface like a rich algae froth on a hot summer afternoon. And free stuff will surely come your way.

Stage 1: Nobody can climb the route. The route is impossible. This is getting harder to find everyday, mostly because nobody ever wants to work hard enough to say they can't do it because they aren't strong enough. Conditions, trade show commitments, video shoot on the Canary Islands, imaginary hold breakage, whatever; the excuses are legion but occasionally someone puts  some serious time in and is coming back empty-handed. The rig is really really hard!

Stage 2: The route gets done. It's a thing! Could be someone obscure, could be someone famous (see Stage 3) but it goes and it's obviously hard. Cool. Plus it's a route that people actually want to climb. If you FA it, free stuff might be available. Or not. Hope for Stage 3 to happen soon.

Stage 3: The route gets done by someone famous. This could be the FA or it could be the 2nd ascent or even the 3rd, maybe, but that's pushing it. Okay, now the media spotlight is on the climb. If this is you, you are probably already getting free stuff. But if you aren't, now is your time to shine. But you have to act quickly before it slides to Stage 4.

Stage 4: You get some (limited) attention for simply climbing the route. This is a fragile and easily disintegrating state. You need to get in and do the route while the grade holds and people are interested because of Stage 3. You won't get much attention though because the route then fairly rapidly slides to Stage 5. You probably won't get free stuff at least not from A-list companies. 6th ascent? I don't think so.

Stage 5: You get attention for the category you are in when you climb the route. First Female Ascent, Youngest Ascent, Climb for a Cause, etc., etc. Ironically this might be a very feasible way to get free stuff but choose your objective and social media strategy carefully because the final stage is approaching...

Stage 6: The deadpool stage. This can happen frighteningly quickly. Day late, dollar short. Nobody cares if you did the route. Your friend just did it and even worse your frenemy did it in fewer tries than you. The local climbing team is running laps on it. The crew found six new kneebars. If you post a video, the only people who watch it are mining beta and the Insertgram likes are from your mom. But hey, the best climber in the world is the one who is having the most fun! HAHAHA. LOL. As if. It's time to rethink your strategy if you want free stuff.

I hope this helps you formulate your self-brandification strategy as you monetarize your social media outreach via your FB athlete page and Twooter feed. Happy influencing! And remember Craigslist is always ready to take your free stuff and convert it to hard ca$h.