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 supertopo.com. 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 8a.nu, 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 http://www.johngill.net/.

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 8a.nu, 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 excuses...work, 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.
video

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.