Sunday, December 16, 2007

Random updates

I'm trying to recover from a semi-grueling session at the Spot, where I was trying problems that don't suit me at all, namely big moves between pinches. Keeping the momentum for these kinds of problems is a big issue for as well as coordinating throws. The hardest moves on problems these days typically fit that profile and I want to become more proficient at them. I'm hoping the semester break will aid in this endeavor.

European wunderkind David Lama has been in town, forced to climb indoors, where he demolished the testpiece Black A-Team route at CATS, onsight. This problem is at least a 13d/14a route and shows the locals what the new international standard is all about.

I've been avoiding CATS recently since there is rarely room either to climb or bring our daughter. The Spot is much more favorable in that regard. Maybe once the walls get reset, things will change.

The Emerson-Capps New England Polar Bouldering Expedition was forced to retreat in the face of mammoth snowfall and phalangular injuries. Rumor has it that members of the party were forced to eat the sled dogs just to survive. Hope you heal soon Brian.

Here's hoping the snow melts soon

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Snow, snow, snow

Amazing to think that Jamie's climbing more in New England than we here in Colorado are. That what the Spot and CATS are for. (Can't do the BRC with infants). Nick Sherman has set the perfect project at the Spot--the fourth and final rehab problem (pink on the River Wall). Crimpy, reachy, powerful V11, maybe soft 12 but classic. I hope I can get it before the next setting cycle. The moves are falling one by one but the continuity is fierce. Also had a decent campus session on Sunday. I'm wondering if there's a chance I can tick V13 by next fall? I'm setting that as a goal.

Sophia turned one year old yesterday and we had a little party and bought a Christmas tree. Amazing how quickly that year has gone.

In case you thought bouldering was anything like extreme, visit the New York Times for this article about skydiving with a wing suit. Talk about landing technology!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Five Ten Petition--Keep the V10

Although there are many much more important things to worry about in the world, Five Ten didn't need to add to them by discontinuing the V10. Go to
and add your vote to help persuade them to keep this fundamental weapon against gravity in production. Kudos to Paul Robinson and Chris Schulte for starting this up. The unfortunately named/designed Jet7 will never inherit the aura or reputation of the V10 and the buzz I've been hearing is tepid at best.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Midnight Express Continued

Just for Olson so he doesn't get disappointed in my lack of posts. Speculation about the grade holding up surfaced the other night but I am waiting to see repeats. The video, again at Moon Climbing, shows a dynamic climb, a miniature route really, and clearly a Colorado classic regardless of the grade, up there with No More Greener Grass. While there are some big holds, the angle is extreme and they are far apart Given the patch of ice at the lip, Ty may have also done the hardest mixed climb in Colorado. Except for the knee dab at the lip, amazing form. Skeptics or not, this is a significant ascent and Ty has expressed his reservations about the grade as well. Climb it for the line which is amazing, especially for a problem 5 minutes from the road--makes it easier to shuttle the many pads required.

On the less significant side, a link-up of UCT and Trice has been done which while clearly difficult is not exactly inspiring since there isn't much hard climbing to get there. A fairly short Epoch so to speak. Unless it was the Reverse Undercling Traverse. I'll stick with the sit start as the way to go if anyone wants to squeeze more climbing blood from this mostly dry turnip. Also there's the Hagan's Wall start. Anyway snow's coming down so it all may be academic for a while. It will be for me as I correct papers and get a grad school application in order.

By the way impressive dispatches from Jamie and Brian in New England, the land of real winter. Tearing through Pawtuckaway, Rumney and Lincoln Woods in weather better suited for ice climbing--SICK!

I was psyched to dispatch the third rehab problem, a crimpy little V9 (maybe soft 10) at the Spot, a leftover from the comp (left side of the Hueco Boulder, purple tape, for you Spot crawlers). It went pretty quickly so I'm psyched. Since I have no time for outside climbing right now, it will have to do.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

A new Front Range Testpiece by Tyler Landman

A very impressive FA was done last week by Tyler Landman, Midnight Express, likely V14. Located on an outcropping/boulder just uphill/southeast of Castle Rock in Boulder Canyon, it's tall and very difficult. Go to Moonclimbing for more about this climb. Landman's account is remarkable for its detail and insight, especially for a 17-year old climber. Presumably videos will be popping up all over and I will link to them as they become available. The problem is especially remarkable for its being right off the road and hardly tried.

This will prove to be a major testpiece for Colorado boulderers as it follows a beautiful line, is easy to get to, and will, I predict, easily hold its grade. The boldness will only add to the aura. Landman has been crushing major testpieces left and right very quickly all around the US, the UK and Europe.

Now there is a V11, a V12/13, and a V14, almost all literally a stone's throw from Castle Rock. The Frontrange Bouldering Index is reaching new heights. If Paul can finish his PB boulder project before he leaves town next, we are definitely seeing something getting started. Will the roof project at Cob be next?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Thanksgiving Break is Over

Back to the real world for a few weeks as the semester ends. Over break I ran Mount Sanitas twice and Green Mountain once but virtually no outside climbing. My project at the Spot went down, well up to the lip of the Hueco boulder anyway. Those who frequent the gym may know the crimpy red taped problem on the right side (V9/10?). Rehab continues...

The holds are coming down at CATS and I know because I started on Sunday! By the end of Christmas break, the walls will be stripped, repainted, and reset for a competition in February. The density of holds at CATS is legendary and I estimate between 50 and 75 per square yard for an actual number. I'm looking forward to setting new problems, especially since there will a few new features added to the walls.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Apologies to All re: Trice

Jamie, Andy, Chip, and Justin (and anyone else reading) , my apologies for sounding too critical about the repeats of Trice. Jamie especially deserves credit for his solution to the problem. Perhaps I should have thought of it myself when I was trying it. I agree that it's time to move on and appreciate your comments on my blog. I'll try to be more moderate in my language and opinions from now on and think more carefully about their impact. Thanks for the reminders.


Monday, November 19, 2007

Further Thoughts on Trice

Climbing Magazine has published its account of the repeat of Trice. Dougald MacDonald pointed out that neither Carlo nor Jamie used the sequence that Holloway used but that Holloway's height made that irrelevant. Holloway's height had nothing to do with it. Not to beat a dead horse here but the fact is that the difficulty of the problem resided almost exclusively in staying on the two bad handholds despite a lousy sloping foothold for the left. To use the high left foot, which is small but very positive, is to negate that challenge and create a new totally static variation. For a longer problem, Automator in RMNP, for example, changing beta doesn't particularly matter. For a two or three move problem it creates a different problem altogether.

I applaud Carlo's initiative in choosing to try the old sequence as it was first done. The quibbling about the starting holds is meaningless in the context of the real crux. If Carlo doesn't get it, I nominate Paul R as most likely to actually repeat Trice as Holloway did it.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Do Rocks Have Consciousness?

I'm inclined to say yes and here's a New York Times article that gives some support to the idea. I'll write more on this later. Read the article and let me know what you think.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Real Climbing News--Ben Safdi Wins Big Scholarship

In contrast to the previous post, here's some good news, another item in the "You Can Climb Hard and Succeed in Other Things Too Department". Ben Safdi, who has climbed numerous v13 and up problems has been busy elsewhere, like science labs at CU. I saw a photo in Friday's paper of Ben receiving a $10,000 check from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. According to an article in the Colorado Daily, he has co-authored an article in the journal "Science" which is a really big deal. He is hoping to do graduate work at Cambridge or Princeton in the near future. There isn't space to cover all the areas in which Ben has impressed me as a budding polymath so congratulations will have to suffice.

I hope that other young climbers will emulate this kind of dedication. If any readers hear of similarly inclined climbers, let me know.

Fake Climbing for the Future

There is more to life than ticking the latest test-pieces, especially when they seem to be getting easier(or is it harder?) over time. The last issue of Climbing has Timy Fairfield on the back climbing the Web which is now apparently 13c, according to the photo caption. For more see my entry at It's back to the future for this pioneering sport route. See also comments at regarding Geminis at Rodellar, rated 8c, now 8b/8b+.

The phenomenon of fake climbing marches on with a pretty scary interview with Timy Fairfield at La Sportiva's website. Consider the implications, if you can wade through the jargon, of this statement:

"One of the most profound (disturbing for some) distinctions between the past and the future of climbing as an action sport, is that in the past, the practice itself dictated the way the industry advertised and marketed to sell gear, while in the future, the evolution of how the practice is manifested may be more influenced by the PR value of image-based advertising derived from youth marketing strategies seeking to distribute a codified identity.

The robotic language tries to present as accomplished fact a proposed effort to market climbing to people who aren't climbers. This might be a warning to those who, failing to actually make a career as climbers, might be tempted to try to earn a living in the "industry". At some point you may be asked to swallow the Koolaid about promoting the "rock-climbing industry" instead of promoting climbing. Again:

Eventually, kids won't even need to buy safety tested technical gear to consider themselves "climbers" (or boulderers). Practitioners already prioritize spending their (parents') disposable income on shoes, chalk bags and crashpads. They'll be able to buy videos, posters, clothing and watch our comps on television without ever squeezing a thing other than the joystick on their "super climber agro-dyno" video game. Sad, but it will only cost our industry a mere $4M to develop this game.

A climber who would say such a thing, even for the sake of provocation, should be asked why. Promoting a vision of climbing as a marketed, branded, sedentary virtual video game is a genuine failure of vision. Climbers sponsored by the company or those thinking about using its products should ask Sportiva to explain what it meant by publicizing Fairfield's remarks. I am reminded of a comment by Ron Kauk. He said that there are two types of people in the world; those to whom everything is sacred and those to whom nothing is sacred. We are always forced sooner or later to decide where we stand.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Trice/AHR Repeated

Last night Carlo Traversi and Jamie Emerson repeated Trice, a significant event in bouldering history. However the asterisk factor emerges as both climbers used a foot high and left of the starting holds. If historical specificity is an issue, as Jamie mentions regarding the starting holds, the picture that I posted below shows Holloway tackling the holds straight on and hence the problem has still not been repeated as Holloway did it.

What is interesting to me is the way that the original problem is like a work of art in a particular way. The original really is never repeatable, never really rediscoverable. Any of us who do the problem in 2007 or later are ultimately climbing something else, an idea in our heads, the essence of which vanished on the day that Holloway climbed his problem. I sense the same can be said of all climbs or ascents of climbs, that something is brought into the world that quickly vanishes and which all the cameras in the world can never actually capture. If climbing is a quixotic quest, surely trying to retrace the steps of a boulder problem of 30 years ago is the most extreme example.

There will be a mini-media frenzy about all this I'm sure but it feels to me like the participants are chasing something that disappeared long ago. To paraphrase someone,"Holloway has left the building". Now is the time to find our own legends while respecting those of the past.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Hiatus from Blogging

It's that time of the year when the semester ends and everyone myself included is too busy. Just a few quick notes

1. Climbing has decided to stop printing the F-word and it's about time. A very good sign that other periodicals should emulate. Climbing is not about gangstas, but mostly well-paid white guys hanging onto rocks. This is not the hood.

2. Momentum Video is trying out a pay-to-watch plan for its videos. A quick visit to the site reinforces my belief that the viewers should be paid to watch climbing videos. Every minute spent waiting for a tiny grainy video of a (usually) well-paid white guy hanging onto rocks is time you will never have back. I'm not sensing this business model is going to fly

3. I finally did my Rehab problem at CATS (maybe V9) after a lot of work. Thanks for the encouraging words Paul. This was last night and marked also by my doing a move that Paul did not do on a problem that he will complete long before I even get close. But little victories are worth something. I am a big fan of Paul and will try to interview him for this blog.

4. Cngrats to Olson, 3rd place in Boston!

5. Running Mount Sanitas is hard and not conducive to good climbing the next day

6. CATS will be hosting a comp in February and the holds that have been up for at least five years are coming down. Get your projects done!!!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Lots of Comments about Trice

It's good to see all the comments about Trice. I look forward to seeing it get repeated and maybe one day doing it myself. One thing about babies, they wake up in the middle of the night and take some calming down and then so do mom and dad. And all of a sudden it's 4 am. And so on. Not the ideal training environment but you learn to deal.

I'm going to a little gallery opening this evening in Fort Collins where a couple of my paintings are on display. I must admit that oil painting can be at least as addictive as climbing and far more difficult to do.Here's a video of Sophia moving along and a sample of my work as a painter.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Sunday at Flagstaff

It was a beautiful afternoon so the whole family went up to Flagstaff instead of the Spot. Such a refreshing experience to climb outside for a change. Sophia had a great time and Caolan realized she hadn't climbed outside in months!

Here is a little video of me taken by my wife Caolan, climbing yesterday at Flagstaff, doing a low start to RH Red Wall. This sequence would also be a good option for doing the Left to Right Red Wall Traverse. A few very crimpy moves to get out of the pod and then up RH Red Wall, possible V9 just for this section, but go try it!

Carlo Traversi was working on Trice and looking very strong with some trick toe hook beta to stay on the bad edge. I tried the problem and the pocket felt quite good. I also tried Hagan's Direct (proposed V10) and felt close on that also. So things are getting a little bit better with bouldering! Christian Griffith was there looking strong as ever with the usual herd of dogs. He may have logged his 1000th burn on the Undercling Traverse that evening.

We walked back to the car in the twilight and realized that one of the things you can miss about climbing is not just the climbing but the rituals that go around it. For me coming back from the cliff at dusk is a really special experience. You are meditating on the day, walking through the trees and boulders and talking and dreaming of future plans. It's an experience I want to pass along to my daughter.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Dawes Interview at

Looking at Climbing Magazine's website, I noticed an interview with Johnny Dawes, a climber who electrified the British climbing scene in the mid-80s with incredibly bold and technical climbs. Routes such as Gaia or End of the Affair remain standard headpointing testpieces 20+ years later while his 1986 masterpiece, The Indian Face, has seen very few repeats at all. He remains an endearing quirky and intense figure in climbing trying to propose a rethinking of how we approach the sport, encouraging climbers to think beyond the merely physical and approach movement more through intuition.

I climbed a few times with Johnny in 1985-6 and admired him a great deal then and still do now. A few years ago I sampled one of his clinics, which if nothing else, refreshed my views on movement and how to solve difficult sequences. However there is a peculiar sense I get in reading the interview, of an individual who is still reliving the intensity of that year 1986,when he climbed so many deadly and complex routes. The obsessional quality required to survive that kind of route can become a goal in itself and it looks like he is right there still.

Having climbed with him and sampled the 1980s British gritstone scene extensively I can testify to the lure of commitment on ripples, smears, and minute pebble. The farthest out I ever went was on an E5 5c called Heartless Hare, which has a frictiony insecure 5.10c crux roughly 30 feet off the deck. I did several E4 routes as well such as Downhill Racer and a classic E3 arete called Archangel. But more serious and difficult routes such as Ulysses, White Wand, or Edge Lane, let alone Master's Edge or Gaia remained out of reach. The call to cast aside one's reservations and inhibitions and fully commit to a potentially deadly sequence was never fully answered.

Do I have regrets from not experiencing that kind of intensity on a route? A few perhaps but I came to realize that the mindset that seeks to explore that dangerous zone can also inhibit a fuller realization of the beauty that climbing provides. In a very real way you must set that aside to survive, set aside everything really and live totally absorbed in the moment. It may prove ultimately a will-o'-the-wisp leading you ever deeper into darkness. Johnny appears to have come out the other side but at 43, my age, seems still to be grappling with that intensity and the abyss that beckons beyond, perhaps looking back like Orpheus at a love that will never return.

I can understand in many ways what that's like but the truth is we are always moving beyond a past that has made us and through a present that remakes us and hopefully a future that will introduce us to worlds we still don't know. Climbing is but one of the vehicles for that peculiar road.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Some photos of Trice/AHR

To remind visitors to this blog of what bouldering was about in the late 70s, here are a couple of photos, scanned from snapshots by Rob Candelaria. (Thanks, Rob) They show how Jim Holloway was able to reach the pocket from the ground at that time, making the setup for the crux a bit easier. However to move to the pocket from the sidepull on the UCT is relatively trivial and hence regardless of how Holloway started the problem, the hardest two moves are the same. My estimate for all three moves is around V12.

Having started climbing in the late 70s as a teenager, I definitely recall the homemade chalkbag, the EBs, and the sense that bouldering was something out of the mainstream. In my way, isolated in Maine, with only the occasional magazine, and borrowed copy of Master of Rock to inspire, I followed the same path and still try to. I hope this motivates people to learn more about the period and the people who set the standard.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Why I Write Like I Do

I ran into Herm F at the Spot who explained why he liked reading this blog. He said something along the lines of how I didn't try to cover up what I thought and felt about the subjects I write about. This was a great compliment I felt and I hope that others feel the same way. I don't have a hidden bias or a need to make myself look good for the scene or sponsors. I'm a married 43-year old climbing lifer with a job, mortgage, and a super-cute 10-month old daughter. I am sometimes possessed, to quote William Butler Yeats, by the "fascination of what's difficult". But as warning, here's a few lines of that memorable poem:

The fascination of what's difficult
Has dried the sap out of my veins, and rent
Spontaneous joy and natural content
Out of my heart

Don't let it happen to any of you--keep yourself open to every side of life.

Props to Peter Hunt for sending China Doll 13 b/c in Dream Canyon. He's a fully-tenured Classics professor at CU with twins... Yessss!!!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Putting on a Rope!

Went out to the Primo Wall today to take photos of Shine, a route I freed back in 1997. Fred Knapp is publishing a new guidebook, which looks fantastic, and wanted photos of the route. The moves felt very doable as I worked out the crux for the camera. Not too bad for 14a and thanks again to Mike Downing for the belay. First time on a rope in about 4 months. The word is that there will be an article in climbing about Clear Creek very soon. No one's asked for my view on the area, see previous post for more on this topic.

Also did a V10 traverse at CATS on Thursday and very close on a short straight-up V10 so things are coalescing a little with the shoulder injury. Cold and rainy forecast for tomorrow so Spot or CATS.

Also, inch for inch, Mirthmobile is the finest route in the canyon regardless of grade.

Finally kudos to Jim Logan who at age 60 has redpointed Sonic Youth 5.13a in Clear Creek. For more about this remarkable and modest climber who has done a little of everything from FFA of the Diamond on Longs and the North Face of the Eiger to the first ascent of the Emperor Face of Mount Robson, read his interview at
Jim exemplifies the spirit of keeping it real without making a big deal about it.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Problem with Climbing Conformity

Having sparked a little kerfluffle about Jamie's writeoff of Meathook, I should add that I have some bias about the subject. The climbing world, aided by media outlets such as magazines, etc. has a remarkable ability to filter and edit events and people that for some reason don't fit the mold. I am happy to see the emergence of blogs and message boards that allow conversations outside the editorial offices of magazines. News editors, however well-intentioned, can have a dramatic effect on the future of climbs, areas, and even a climber's reputation. Perception becomes reality in the closed world of certain cliques even when a different and perfectly valid truth is out there.

For example, two routes of mine, Eternal Recurrence in Clear Creek and Agony and the Ecstasy in Boulder Canyon are still unrepeated, seemingly ignored by the local climbing community. Perhaps this is because they don't fit the preconceived mold of what a hard route should be like. They clearly do not climb like a standard Rifle 5.14 would. They don't have a famous name attached.

It's easy to dismiss efforts outside the mainstream as irrelevant or even non-existent but then the echo-chamber effect sets in as climbers become convinced that they alone know what is significant. If climbers don't join these cliques, the climbers essentially don't exist and their efforts become lost.

I remember hearing about a route that I freed in 1997 called Shine, which is in Clear Creek. Climbers, including some top names, dismissed the climb as short, sharp, and dirty. I wonder if that would have changed if I had rated the climb 5.14 and pumped it up for the magazines. It waited 7 or 8 years for a repeat and still is rarely climbed and now upgraded to 5.14. Fortunately I had a number of witnesses when I did it or I wonder if I even would have been credited with the first ascent.

So give credit where it's due. Respect the efforts of climbers who establish new problems, especially those that are 30 years old and have no repeats. And be open to the possibility that there are people out there who climb very very hard whom you have never heard of and will likely never hear from or see video of on the Web. Jim Holloway doesn't need me to defend his efforts but the principle remains the same--Respect.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Dissing Meathook

A certain Front Range blogger was disappointed by the time he had at Horsetooth. Meathook was uncomfortable and contrived...

Said blogger expressed it thusly

"Unfortunately, the quality of this problem is so poor it was very hard to stay motivated. It is certainly hard, but I think a tall climber would have a considerable advantage. It is exceptionally uncomfortable to climb on and I don’t imagine going back. I think the contrived nature (the dihedral being off), the poor rock quality and the awkward movement will keep this one unrepeated for a while. I heard one climber say “Worst problem ever.”

Apparently Paul Robinson, who very recently climbed a half-dozen V11-V14 problems in under 3 hours and routinely flashes V12, could not solve it. Sounds like the problem was the climbers rather than the climb...

Dissing "quality" on a problem that was put up 30 years ago and has still not been repeated is like complaining about snow and loose rock on the Eiger North Face. Deal with it or hold your peace. I'm hearing sour grapes. And since when was "contrivance" a problem with bouldering? Marble Sit/Stand/Centaur Aslan? Sunspot? How many Skipper Roofs are there now? A little respect is in order--we're all standing on Gill's and Holloway's shoulders. Now there's a power spot.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Here's an example of a classic article

For anyone wondering what has changed, consider this example, anthologized in "Games Climbers Play" and scanned and posted at John Long wrote two classic period pieces Pumping Sandstone and Pumping Granite back in the late 70s. The Gill problems at Horsetooth have become standard for many yet retain a legendary quality helped in part by Long's description. To understand the mood of the piece, get rid of the following regarding bouldering: no guidebook, no crashpads, no, no video, no sponsors, no training regimens, no climbing gyms, one magazine every two months in black and white. Get the picture? For more history check

A nice session at Flag this morning, too warm but feeling a bit stronger anyway and trying some link-ups on Red Wall. Hope everyone had fun at the Horsetooth Hang and check out Jamie's reminiscence of more innocent days at Grand Ledge in Michigan.

Also props to Paul Robinson on cruising the Dali Wall. Amazing to consider what that takes. I suppose we all wish we had it...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Future of Climbing Magazines--Not so Bright?

I was standing in the aisle at King Soopers out in Gunbarrel, a popular spot just outside Boulder for climbers who actually work for a living, looking at the latest issue of Climbing and pondering who actually reads these things anymore. I have a big pile of back issues attesting to the fact that I did and actually occasionally wrote an article or two. But I have my doubts that they can survive...

The rot set in for certain around 2000-2002 in an era best described as the Thesenga years, post-media conglomerate buy-out, when it seems as though the mags were pegged to a demographic consisting of young men of average to below average intelligence who had been climbing a very short time--perhaps best summed up as "frat-boy" material. Articles seemed to be written by the same stable of writers taking a similar tone of "Dude, check it out!" in regard to anything and everything. Decent bathroom reading perhaps but nothing you'd want to keep past the sell-by date. And since then the drift continued as the Internet replaced the news function and message boards allowed instant communication, while sites like Mountain Project replaced the need for articles about crags and new routes. Blogs have certainly replaced a major part of climbing magazines reportorial and editorial function.

The Alpinist, which seems to be funded by somebody's slush fund, since its circulation (around 13,000) can't come close to paying for its production values, will stick around as long as there is a Maecenas to foot the bill. Urban Climber seems to be trying to appeal to a crowd that doesn't seem interested in actually reading anything since their layout,etc. actively discourages it. Rock and Ice which has always been the magazine that tries harder has reinvented itself more often than David Bowie. Its current print incarnation has a certain panache which is more than offset by a feeble website that offers next to none of the features that Climbing has piled together. However I would argue that all this media is appealing to an audience that is fast vanishing, perhaps literally as Climbing and Rock and Ice Readers are apparently in their late 30s on average.

Climbing magazines burst into flower in the mid-70s. Titles such as Ascent, Mountain, and Climbing all appealed to a type of reader who took the sport seriously at a time when professionalism hardly existed. In other words, Henry Barber and Yvon Chouinard were obviously much better climbers but not really paid to climb. They had to do something such as make gear or give slide shows or (horrors!) become an industry rep in order to pay the bills. A regular climber could in some sense relate to them and vice versa so that fact, combined with a respect for the power of writing produced a series of classic articles, indeed classic anthologies based upon those. There may have been something to do with the style of climbing that forced climbers to be more introspective, more aware of the mix of emotions, environments, etc. that aid in good writing.

It is tempting to argue that sport climbing eroded that sense of adventure and self-exploration that fueled the "Golden Age" of climbing magazine writing but I think it was also a growing movement towards commercializing the sport that undermined the very media outlets used to promote that commercial aspect. This trend appeared in every category of climbing from alpinism to bouldering as companies attempted to build brand awareness and expand and magazines attempted to attract mainstream advertisers. I remember well seeing the first car ad in a climbing magazine, and there was the Reebok "climbing" shoe...

Well whatever was the case, it has become obvious that while climbing media have become in a sense more sophisticated, their appeal to the climbing public has waned. Both Climbing and Rock and Ice are down seriously in circulation and advertising from their circa 2000 numbers. Climbing's relocation to Boulder, while putting it in touch with what's happening in Boulder (which is not necessarily the center of the climbing universe) does not appear to have broadened its appeal. And overall I sense that while the media types have spent a lot of time leveraging their brands, etc. their "product" has lost its luster and its actually great era is long past. Nothing I have seen in the past five years has given me a different impression. If I find the time I will present some examples of articles that set the standard.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Front Range Bouldering Index

Wasting time at CATS the other night, Olson and Paul R and I concocted the Front Range Boulder Index, based upon the popular stock market indexes like the Dow Jones or S&P 500. The idea is roughly like this--take the top 20 or so problems and generate a value for each, based upon the grade (which is variable), number of repeats (which can dilute value), reputation of repeaters (there was talk of the "Olson Effect"), speed of repetitions, and so on. The next step after calculating each problem's "value" is then to get the average by dividing the sum of values by 20. Thus at the end of say each month, you would get a number which "measured" the health of the bouldering scene.

It's an interesting idea as a new generation, obsessed with sponsorship and ranking thanks to, bouldering contests, etc., tries to find a way in which to make its mark. Perhaps such an index would ultimately highlight the futility of such a quest.

The other factor which is alien to me from my early climbing days is the emphasis on positive attitude in younger climbers. Brought up from an early age to believe that what they can do on climbs is actually important and praiseworthy, many young climbers can't understand skepticism. So don't worry if I poke a little fun at whether Jade is V15 or not:) In 20 years or so, those who may still be climbing might realize that it is just a game and should be taken occasionally with a grain or two of salt. Life goes on after the show...

And wishes for recovery of foot-ankle appendages for sock hands. Best luck with that.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Balance and Climbing

Chuffer just left a great comment on the last post about Dave Graham's Udini interview. Where can people find balance in life--Is it better to pour all of oneself into a pursuit like climbing or to consider other directions? The reason I'm interested in the question is that it seems to me that the direction that professional free climbing is going is one that to a great extent limits one's options in a way that wasn't the case before. A good example would be to compare the careers of Ron Kauk or Wolfgang Gullich or any number of late 80s-90s star climbers. They branched out in all kinds of directions even as young men and I don't see that so much today at least in America. As a college professor, my job is to point out to young people just how complex and fascinating the world is and how difficult it is to understand. I get concerned when I see someone in his mid-20s, very bright, but with no experience in any other world than high-standard climbing, which as I've said before, is an increasingly confined one.

When I think about better role models, I think of David Hume who by now has, I think, completed a PHD in physics (?) and is as strong as anyone else out there. Or even Tori Allen, who had the wisdom to forego the over-hyped comp scene and like Katie Brown, now avoids the climbing spotlight. Dave Graham, who I recognized early on as possessing immense talent and energy when he was still relatively unknown, will need to make a choice as soon he will not be driving the standards. In some ways, this is already the case. I want other young climbers to recognize that there is a price for obsession and that's not discussed in the magazines or websites. Maybe there should be a disclaimer at the bottom of every photo of a "sponsored" climber: "Climbing may be habit forming and could lead to serious injury or death. Your chances of actually making a living from this sport are practically zero." Maybe that would help enlighten young climbers make more realistic decisions about the future that would make them happier in the long run. Who knows? Hardly anyone really talks about it which I think is a shame.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Dave Graham Interview at Udini

Olson has been mentioning this interview with Dave Graham every time I've met him in the last two weeks--something about "wizardry" and so forth, and having read plenty of Dave's fairly hyperactive and rambling thoughts on climbing I hadn't actually watched it. Udo Neumann (some may recall his training book/video with Dale Goddard) appears to be talking with Dave at Ceuse after his ascent of Realization. The interview is fascinating at least in part because it reveals the sheer obsession Dave has maintained over the years but also it might be construed as a warning to anyone who takes the sport seriously or maybe too seriously. Watching Dave seated on the steps of a tiny French trailer, dissecting and parsing the different ways he approached the crux of Realization, might make you wonder if all this climbing stuff may have been going on a bit too long. I'll have to watch the rest at some point but I'm in no hurry.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Sanitas on Saturday and Sophia at the Spot--also discussions with Paul R

A tough run this morning up and back down Sanitas E Ridge--approx 20 mins up, 15 down from the trailhead at Hawthorne. 8:44-9:19 am. By far the fastest time for me. Now for the South Ridge which I have always wanted to do in under 25 minutes. I definitely had the nausea going at the top--awkward when there are other hikers up there.

Had an interesting conversation with Paul Robinson who is one of the most talented and intelligent climbers I've met in a while. I was trying to point out that the current crew is still following the path that Dave Graham laid out at least 5 years ago. For Paul to really vault ahead, he has to find a project that really stands apart for more than just technical difficulty. I forgot to add that the last three big names in American climbing also never went to college (which I would add, is a big mistake, especially these days) but I think you can and should do both. I recognized that Dave and Tommy represented a revolutionary approach to hard climbing, casting aside the aura that had developed around the big names like Dale Goddard, Boone Speed, Jim Karn, et al who had really maxed out at 14a/b. That's why I was probably the first to profile Dave and Luke and Tommy in Climbing Magazine. I hate to say it but there is nobody at this point whom I have met in the newest wave of boulderers and climbers, except perhaps Paul, who really seems worth writing about. There are many strong individuals but thoughtful, distinctive personalities who clearly will leave their mark on the sport are pretty scarce right now. No-one is even close to someone like Adam Ondra in ability and few seem to show the staying power of someone like Ben Moon or even Chris Sharma for that matter

Climbing is a hard sport and in many ways you have to be made of iron to be in it for the long haul, especially if you vault into the high grades quickly and then hit a wall and plateau. Every climber does, literally and figuratively, at some time and what they do next really shows what they're made of. Do you keep trying or do you find, injuries, etc. I have a pretty good excuse who is almost 9 months old and has already spent way too much time in climbing gyms.

At CATS I did a pretty hard little crimp problem V7/8 so again a wee bit of progress with the shoulder. At the Spot on Tues., I did three 5 minus and a 5. Week by week, little by little, patience is everything

Here's a video of Sophia, 8 months at the Spot, hanging in there. We're obviously impressed but that's what being a parent is all about.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Repeat of Realization by Ethan Pringle

Well by now the world knows that Ethan Pringle has repeated Realization at Ceuse. The last time I saw Ethan was at a CATS junior climbing camp. He was probably 8 or 9 years old and would not let go of the wall--Definitely a smart aleck but very determined and talented with unreal endurance for his age.

I just read in a book from the 80s called Extreme Rock about "grade drift" by which I think the author meant that climbers who are followers readily pick up abilities that innovators really have to strive to achieve. There is something magical about the transmission of strength and skill across generations in climbing that adds to the mystery of the sport. When I started there were virtually no 5.13s and definitely no 5.14 climbs.Now 5.14b has been on-sighted. How does this happen?

Also thanks to Andy Mann and Justin Jaeger for their compliments on my blog, Visit them here and here or in the links section...

Monday, September 3, 2007

Update on Shoulder--Sophia on the Wall

Little by little... A short session yesterday at the Spot. A handful of 4s and one overgraded but good 5 minus. I'm feeling stronger in the joint but it's still pretty wonky and sore from yesterday's climbing. At some point, maybe, the weather will permit bouldering at less than 11,000 feet

A thought--how many serious rock climbers have families with children at this point. In Boulder, I can think of very few at all, especially with infants or very young ones. Peter Hunt has young twins and that's the only one besides myself I can think of. If you are at all limited in time and have any responsibilities, RMNP bouldering is mostly out due to the time commitment involved. Where are the accessible lowland V12s? Good question and I'll compile a list shortly--don't worry it won't be a long one.

Also look for a picture of Sophia hanging out on the Font Boulder at the Spot.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Bouldering Predictions

Still convalescing with my right shoulder--two short sessions at gyms this week. Another Saturday run up Green with Willa, who just turned 11. A good role model for anyone, climbing or not.

No big news in climbing recently--not that anything in climbing is big news. In Boulder, the emphasis is still on bouldering in the Park. Talking with a young climber the other evening, the grade debate came up as it so easily does. I commented that it seems odd that so few world-class international climbers have visited RMNP, which would help give perspective on recent achievements. There are a few very talented climbers around here and two or three who are world class but the scene is very isolated and close-knit which is when it's easiest to persuade each other that everyone is setting a new standard.

Prediction on the following problems
Jade mid-V14 half a dozen repeats by next July, given normal snow
Freaks will be considered mid-V13
Ode to the Modern Man--solid V14, still only one repeat, two or three by next July
Trice will be repeated this winter and given V13
Echale will stay at V14 and will still resist the onslaught of repeats despite easy access and low-ball nature--compare with Dark Waters

To give perspective, bouldering 8b+ has been around since the early 90s with Fred Nicole (or Hubble 1990 by Ben Moon) and became standard by roughly 2001. So recent media hype, while fun to read, is roughly 10 years behind the time. Essentially, the sport, despite a great deal of consolidation remains roughly where it was 5 even 10 years ago--the names have changed and not much else. Who will be the next individual to really push things in significant way? I'm not sure it's anyone we see out there right now--it's the vision thing that's the problem. Fred had it, Dave had it, Tommy had it, Chris had it, but everyone else is following each other around, coasting on the group mentality.

One other prediction the Front Range has not had another known 5.14 since I added a bolt to connect Primeval and Shine and Daniel freed Prime Time to Shine in 2005. That's a long time. Isn't it time for a Front Range 14+? Another two years, I give it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Moderates at Chaos

Here are some photos of moderate problems at Chaos. Maybe they already have names and grades so my names are only suggestions.

New Human Being. A classic V1 or 2 behind European Human Being--It looks nondescript but has cool moves, perfect rock.

The green 75 slab. Just behind the tree are two maybe three fairly high and thin slab problems, still undone? This boulder is just south of EHB.

This I would describe as a V3 or V4 traverse "Lakside Amusement". Start low on the jug on the right and go straight left to the topout. Classic moderate warmup on the backside of the Green 75 boulder, facing the lake. A number of straight-up problems go through the overhang but the landings are bad.

A little climbing at the Spot

I took a week off and decided to try some easy climbing. First I went to CATS but unfortunately it was far too crowded. The Spot was much more mellow and I did 15 or 20 problems up to 4-spot in difficulty with no real issues which was nice. Caolan and Sophia had a good time as well. The Spot is very popular with couples who have babies because you can easily switch off child care.

I visited a website called which is all about British climbing and brought back some memories of time spent in Sheffield in the mid-80s. I'll write more on this soon...

Monday, August 27, 2007

New Video

She who must be obeyed telling it like it is.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Running Green Mountain

Still trying to rehab my shoulder from whatever rotator-cuff mess I induced at the Spot about a month ago, and made worse last week. Memo to everyone--do not push it with a shoulder injury; the joint is flimsy enough as it is. So basic exercises, maintaining range of motion, icing and rest for a week or more.

I ran Green Mountain via Gregory Canyon and the Ranger trail this Saturday and saw a fair number of people on the trail. I was running with Willa, our dog who is about to turn 11. She kept up just fine up and down though she was tired later. Amazing

Trail running has become very popular of late and I have noticed more people out on the local hills. For me there is a style element involved which means you never walk or "power hike", even if there is no speed advantage to running. The game is to maintain running momentum and stance even in hard terrain. So the challenge is one of strength and continuity. I'm hoping to run Audubon before the snow starts but we'll see.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Frontrange Climbing News and prediction

In the instant feedback environment of climbing today, news of Paul Robinson's ascent of Jade a supposed V15 in Upper Chaos spread fast. With it of course speculation about the grade of difficulty and Jamie Emerson has called it correctly in my opinion. What will be the next super project? I think for a problem to really hold its top level status today, it's going to have to be quite a bit more sustained and way less straightforward than Jade. The model for the future is a problem like Circadian Rhythm in the Poudre but longer and more abstract. The image below is from Climbing Magazine

Pulling on little crimpers, while I'm fond of it, is too straightforward a technique of climbing, almost like ice climbing so that the difficulty resides solely in angle, distance between holds, and their size, which for Paul or Daniel is almost irrelevant. The interesting question may be whether the trend is heading back towards routes, where linking sections of V13 or 14 between clips points to the future of hard climbing. After seeing Paul or Daniel easily flash V11 and 12 crimp ladders in the gym, it's clear that the search for difficulty has to take a different direction than thin crimps on a steep wall.

Monday, August 20, 2007

First day of school

First day of school so no more play clothes on weekdays for a while. We all went up to RMNP to go for a walk and take Sophia up into the mountains. We had a little rain but the sun soon came out and we had beautiful weather up to Emerald Lake. Sophia had a great time riding in her carrier so maybe Chaos Canyon next trip. The shoulder is feeling better so maybe some progress for fall? The NE face on Hallet's is amazing but I have to get my trad skills in order for a route of that magnitude.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Pad Stashing Controversy

Overheard at the Spot: "I don't know what the big deal is about, everyone should just stash their pads way off the trail." I didn't chime in,"Because it's lazy and it's disrespectful of the park and the environment". since I didn't want to get in a fight, not while holding my daughter anyway. But it's incredible that there is any controversy over a basic requirement in climbing--pack it in, pack it out. If you can't handle that, leave the sport and the area to someone who can. For more perspective visit this forum regarding a pad clean-up at Mount Evans and Chaos Canyon.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Is summer already over?

I'm starting teaching again and my mindset is already changing. I can only guess how often I'll be climbing besides the gym but we'll see. MOre later

Friday, August 10, 2007

Back to the Park

Another early morning drive up to RMNP. Very breezy, almost cool weather at first. A long warmup doing problems around the EHB boulder. I did an excellent traverse on the back of the Green Slab boulder, just south. Maybe V3/4 20+ feet long. Also a brilliant V1 on the backside of the EHB boulder itself. Sadly my shoulder is not getting better as I'd hoped so the project was going nowhere. I'll post pictures of the problems I found soon. Nonetheless a beautiful day--hints of fall in the air

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Barry Bonds, Age and Improvement

Barry Bonds reached 756 and many, myself included feel, that something is amiss. Yet one of the criticisms is that he began to improve in his mid-30s. My hardest routes/problems were done in that timespan and I feel there is considerable room for improvement yet, after 30-odd years of climbing. Is there something to be said for longevity in a sport? I think so.

The steroid/doping scandals in the news this summer seem to speak to a dissatisfaction with how we reward the "winners" in our society. What do they really deserve? In climbing there are no real rewards for winners--free shoes anyone?--so the attitude towards cheaters is generally very scornful but no one's going to trial or answering questions from ESPN.

There was a brief vogue with creatine in the 90s in climbing but that seems to have faded along with reports of 6th ascents of 14as. In climbing at least performance-enhancing drugs seem superfluous, given how quickly the pack catches up with the leaders. And the leaders, well read below...

Adam Ondra, 14 of the Czech Republic, managed a likely 14d in three tries one week and then, next week, in a day redpointed Silbergeier, a six pitch 14a in Austria. This is a route with serious runouts in an alpine setting, requiring a cool head and real rock sense. Amazing. Silbergeier has seen relatively few ascents while the previous ascent of Abysse, the 9a, took over two weeks of tries, both done by solid, respected names in the sport.

Is there any other sport that sees young athletes reach such an incredible peak so quickly? Women's gymnastics is the only contender I can think of and seems much more subjective in nature. Anyone can try a hard route and see for themselves what's involved physically but we can never revisit a gymnastics meet or second-guess the judges. So what is the factor that allows climbers to move forward so quickly? Or even "old climbers" to climb levels/routes thought impossible when they started?

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Another Visit to RMNP

Drove up to "the Park", this morning to have another go at European Human Being. Cool and cloudy, definitely humid. I was feeling very creaky--still in recovery from a really bad cold and tweaking my shoulder Sunday. I spent a lot of time creating easy boulder problems on the slabby walls in the vicinity of EHB. There's a beautiful green wall with prime V2(?) highball potential just around the corner. A slow warm-up but eventually I got on the problem. No real progress but no surprise there. I was able to move on the holds but not connect moves much.

But enough about the project... Consider the spider web hanging just right of the problem. Fragile evanescence suspended between massive boulders. Yet their silk is supposed to be stronger than steel by weight.Or the lush ferns and grasses at the base. Clouds billowed above Longs as the sky lowered and darkened. I had enough and was beginning to feel achy and stuffed up so I packed up and headed out as the rain began. Pausing along the way, I saw the sun glinting off streaming slabs in the cirque northwest of Longs, a moment passing in time.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Monday--Cloudy and Humid

Feeling very sore after a short session at the Spot yesterday. I've been recovering from a nasty cold which has knocked me out for about 4 days so far. Did a five-spot (maybe V7) and a few fours and then ran out of energy completely. Running this morning was still low-energy and a sore right shoulder didn't help. Maybe tomorrow will be better...

Tyler Landman repeated Daniel Woods' problem "Jade" recently. This is a beautiful problem, rated at V15. Will it hold its status? RMNP has had a number of top-end problems make the news and then slide into oft-repeated status in recent years. Nuthin but Sunshine and Freaks of the Industry are two classic examples. Circadian Rhythm in Poudre Canyon appears to be in this group. How does this happen? As someone who has generally seen his FAs get upgraded, I wonder why climbers are so quick to propose the higher grade without outside input. In the case of Dave Graham's problems, perhaps he was so far ahead of the curve that it took a while for the pack to get the skills to accurately assess them. In the end the problems and the routes remain after the crowd moves on to another place.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

End of Summer

I've been thinking about other things than climbing and blogging for most of the summer, mostly about art and history. Also a fair amount of trail running. But I thought I should add something anyway. Climbing-wise, I've been mostly indoors, at the Spot and CATS. A couple of trips to RMNP, one to scope out upper Chaos Canyon and another to work on European Human Being, a well-known and very difficult V12. (Beta photo attached) The second trip was nice because I went up in the morning and didn't see another climber the whole morning.

Chaos Canyon is a very beautiful spot but most afternoons resembles an open-air climbing gym. Do any of the climbers who come here just stop for a second and think, "What an amazing situation--maybe I should just sit and admire it for awhile and think about what really matters". This is the problem with the group mentality of bouldering--you can't just stop and think and watch the world go by.

Perhaps it's a symptom of age... At 43, most climbers are not seeking digital immolation on a short crimpy problem. However I want to reconcile the meditative and thoughtful side of climbing with the physical side and see where that leads. The energy of youth is wonderful but too one-dimensional at this point. The interesting struggle begins when things turn less in your favor. Do you have the fortitude to continue when the point of climbing can seem lost? When physical strength seems to be harder to maintain? When you simply have far less time? Ratings become meaningless in the face of these questions yet the quest for some sense of excellence in the sport never ends. You have to rely on yourself for answers not on others, most of whom are far too young to understand.

Art presents the same set of problems albeit in a less physical way. In painting, what is it you're trying to say? Can you say it? Do you have time to say it? Will it matter to anyone else? And as in climbing, you have many examples of excellence to admire, emulate, and compare oneself with. And time does wear on...

So if anyone reads this and is wondering what I mean, look at the clouds drifting by. It could be over Long's Peak or it could be your backyard. What part of you is more substantial than those clouds? How much of what you think is real is simply made up, a bunch of symbols to signify something you can never truly express or grasp? And as you climb, consider which is more substantial--you or the shadow cast by a passing whisp of vapor? Maybe too many questions but after 30 years of climbing, they cannot be avoided. But while playing on the rocks or painting, I consider them, if only for a while.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Spring Thoughts

The weather is beginning to change finally. A hard winter is shifting to spring and the promise of movement out of doors. I'm looking forward to some climbing and hill-running soon and the chance to awaken some long-dormant feelings and muscles. I've been working on climbing inside but despite the usefulness of climbing in gyms, I really want to get on some real rock.

This is a photograph of my wife leading a great pitch called Empire of the Fenceless at a cliff called Easter Rock in Boulder Canyon. She's at the crux which is just the point at which the creek becomes loudest as you stand about 200 feet above the creekbed. It's too cold for Easter Rock right now but soon enough we'll be back. We have an extra technical difficulty to master first, though. The logistics of moving an infant to a climbing area around here are daunting but we will work on it

I've been reading a couple of other blogs on climbing/bouldering recently and wonder about how climbing and the Internet have intersected. Jamie Emerson used the phrase "problem of the week" to describe a resurrected problem in Boulder Canyon, that now has at least two names. With climbing on the web, knowledge of problems becomes much more fluid as they pass through phases of popularity, shared through word of mouth, posted on the web, and then become out of fashion. I have always wondered whether climbers really reflect on the contrasts between the motions of climbing and the solidity of rock, the curious wedding of opposites between static and transitory modes of being.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Why the Title of this Blog?

I chose the title "Mountains and Water" for two reasons. The first is that the Chinese term for landscape, especially in the context of painting, is literally mountains and water. The second reason is that the places I feel most at home seem to be products of the interactions between mountains and water, especially in the context of climbing, hiking or running. I'll continue to develop this theme but here's an illustration for now

Monday, February 19, 2007

Thinking about Nature, Art, and Climbing

This blog is part of a project to form my thoughts about what nature means to me. I'll be putting my thoughts online about landscape painting, writing, and rock climbing, and other topics of importance to me and perhaps to other readers.