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.