Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Players: A Review

It has been a terrible Christmas break here in Boulder and therefore a great time to look over Brian Solano's film, The Players, which he kindly sent to me. When the snow is deep and the temps are consistently below freezing, a good climbing video can help with the motivation like few other training devices.

The movie presents us with portraits of nine climbers from the US who are currently at the top of the game, "players" as the jargon has it. Fortunately this concept is not taken too far and the climbers typically speak about themselves in more modest terms.

Joe Kinder gets the job done on Kryptonite and routes at Rifle such as Zulu and Girl Talk. Joe's voiceover is engaging and honest and the action is consistent and the energy is high. Good stuff so far.

Daniel Woods' section offers a look at the little-publicized Moe's Valley in Utah. The footage is good, but ultimately we don't learn a lot about what makes this powerhouse tick. The problems all look like V7 thanks to Daniel's power but they also look classic. The segment of Emily Harrington has much the same feel, nice footage but we are left wondering what is being left out.

The Chris Sharma segment is among the best, well filmed, and more introspective. The sequence of him onsighting Proper Soul at the New River Gorge is almost worth the price alone. Gorgeous shapes and colors dominate the screen as Chris walks the route. This is continued in the portion featuring Lisa Rands in South Africa's Rocklands, featuring aesthetic lines and appealing commentary and attitude. The camera movement on Nutsa really explores the boulder, giving an almost 3-D effect.

Chris Lindner explores the limits of deep-water soloing in Vietnam both in terms of death-defying plunges and the 360-degree possibilities of horizontal tufa-ridden ceilings. Ultimately this segment lost me as it was unclear what the purpose of the trip was, climbing or jumping in the water. The excursion into town to buy machetes to defend against escaped convicts turned pirate seemed slightly ridiculous, even if Joe Brooks is wielding them.

Although an unlikely locale for good innovative filming, Flagstaff Mountain in Boulder is the site where Alex Puccio does Trice (V12) and is perhaps the best-filmed 30 seconds in the movie. Alex is an amazingly gifted climber and her portion of the movie clearly shows this. I would say that overall it was one of my favorite parts of the film.

Not so much with the segment featuring Dave Graham. Dave loves to talk which is great for a change but the climbing itself is not as well shot as the rest of the film. The segment on Elefunk does not compare well with a similar shot seen in Between the Trees. The Island (V15) is sick hard but somehow its appeal is lost on this viewer. The segment seems hasty and we learn next to nothing about the problem itself. Switzerland is better but V11, however beautiful, is not what we want to see Dave climb and V8 at Hueco? Seriously?

Ethan Pringle is on some really good hard trad routes around Boulder and it is here where things really come together for The Players. Great routes, superb camera work, a real standout overall. The Independence Pass segment is really good with a dynamic and scenic route but the Iron Monkey piece is even better with excellent cinematography that really captures the ambiance of the route's location perfectly.

So overall I liked the movie, despite some uneven patches. The geographical diversity is excellent and the filming is at times as good as any I have seen elsewhere. The question that all video producers are going to face at this point is one that Brian might possibly be considering which is what is the future for this kind of production given the widespread availability of free video on the Internet? I hope to get a brief interview together with Brian on this question and others. Stay tuned.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Move

The first afternoon out in a long time yesterday and after my usual Flagstaff warmup routine, back to the move. Why is it that bouldering is addictive like this? I have tried the move something like 30-50 times, and am literally only half a millimeter closer to success than when I started. This is a problem that should have gone at least a month ago yet I go back for more self-abasement. Is it time to move on? Probably, but I will be back. Just this one more time, I promise.

Next post I review the Brian Solano movie, called The Players.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

End of semester

I have been seriously limited by end of the semester time pressure. Hoping to get out reviews of Chuck Fryberger's film Pure and Brian Solano's Players, once I receive them. Also trying to decide on Bishop for the break. Hueco is too much of a clusterf**k for a family, I have decided. Anyway more to come shortly.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Losing My Religion

"Is the acorn better than the oak which is its fullness and completion? Is the parent better than the child into whom he has cast his ripened being? Whence then is this worship of the past?"

Ralph Waldo Emerson, from the essay "Self-Reliance"

I have always had a great regard for the past history of climbing, indeed as a boy I absorbed with great enthusiasm the stories of the heroes of climbing, both European and American. A great body of literature was produced in the period that climbing emerged as a sport, encompassing works as diverse as those of Edward Whymper and Paul Pritchard. Among the authors I admired was naturally Pat Ament, who, with remarkable subtlety and insight, could transport the reader into states of mind and being that no previous writers had really explored. The aesthetic experience of simply being in a place and a time that seemed in harmony with the world was a fount of inspiration that he returned to again and again, seeking, it seemed, some resolution to deeper questions.

At times, I am not ashamed to say, I have modeled my own style on his prose, hoping that I might convey the emotions I have felt while experiencing the natural world through climbing. Ament's writing served as the example of how it could be done, the true path toward an understanding of the world. Or at least it did until this week.

Readers might remember my brief review of his new movie, "Disciples of Gill" which he premiered in Boulder last week. I commended the work on many levels and made a plea for others to support this project. The sole comment that could be construed as "negative" was a suggestion that perhaps the thirty minutes of uninterrupted talking-head style interviews could be reconfigured to include some younger voices, reflecting the long-term legacy of Gill to bouldering.

In an optimistic frame of mind, I forwarded my comments to Pat, hopeful that he would recognize my awareness of the great potential this project had. Well my expectations were rudely crushed as he sent back two messages which have genuinely made me rethink what I had ever seen in him. By the way, I have been writing this blog and responding to critics of it and me for years so I am not thin-skinned. I can deal with criticism, in other words.

Here are a few selected passages:

"There are very clear reasons why I didn't include all the modern voices. That will come in the third film and some in the second. I knew some would feel left out and feel they needed to have a voice in things, being so "masterful" as they are. This film had a different purpose, though, and whether you can believe it, no new or modern climber has any better knowledge of "things" than the old timers."

(I should add that no mention was made of a second or third film at the showing. Nor did I make any comparison between old and new.)

"One person told me the film was a spiritual experience to watch. But you're the first to "cut it down to size." And of course that was predictable that a few would say the film need a modern voice. And then when I told people I will be making improvements, I found it interesting how everyone suddenly became critics and threw out their penny's worth from the peanut gallery."

(He did mention it was a work in progress, seeming therefore to invite comment, not merely adulation)

"You didn't seem to get any of the subtleties of the interviews. Well, those are just of(sic) few thoughts, but that you weren't touched and moved the way so many others were probably doesn't surprise me. You come across as though you need to put me down and put me in my place, in order to give yourself that intellectual credibility or something."

(As anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, I have repeatedly held up examples of Pat's work as important and innovative climbing writing. As for intellectual credibility, that has never been the point of this blog.)

"People with real credibility told me they were in tears at times and deeply moved. They got it. Frankly your comments made it clear to me you didn't get it. You may have been so engrossed in the pure competitive, rock climbing element you missed the real purpose of it. Or so it feels."

(Not the first time I have been told I just didn't get it, probably won't be the last. But the pure competitive rock-climber in me never will, apparently)

"I think you may do as much damage to yourself as to me, as already people disagree with you, and I think people may get the feeling you have some self-aggrandizing motive."

(I may be doing damage to myself but self-aggrandizing? By writing about a movie? The third one, by the way, in the last two or three weeks.)

I emailed him, naturally, and without trying to sound too pathetic or craven, attempted to explain myself, urged him to revisit my comments and reconsider his own. To no avail. Only silence.

I don't post this as a stinging rebuttal. Perhaps it might serve instead as a warning to others. Be careful about your heroes and be careful about your understanding of the past and the people who were there. History is not just another word for reality.

(In another post I will be exploring more deeply exactly this issue of the 60s and 70s and how they have persisted in climbing. For example, Pat Ament has traded consistently on this theme of "The Golden Age" of climbing. I would like to find some voices that present an alternative and then consider what my "generation" can take from it. Mythology and legend have their purposes but sometimes the truth can be more useful and even more beautiful.)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Alan Watts Interview

There is a great interview at Planet Mountain with Alan Watts, the pioneer of sport-climbing in America. His attitude about the past is frank, straightforward,and real. Remember when "hangdogging" was a sin? You're lucky if you don't. A refreshing voice.

Here's another interview.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Andre DiFelice on Trice

Andre DiFelice Trice V12 from peter beal on Vimeo.

Since every website needs video of Trice on Flagstaff, here's mine. A few days later he did it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Disciples of Gill: A Film by Pat Ament

Pat Ament under King Conquerer Crack at Flagstaff Mountain, November 2009

Yesterday was a beautiful day, cold but clear and dry. The snow was stubbornly hanging in there from the last snow in shady spots but the boulders up on Flagstaff were mostly dry and warm. I put in a long afternoon up there, logging around 40 problems from VB to V8 moving from the Crown Rock area up the First Overhang Ridge. Towards the end of the afternoon, as I was climbing in the Upper Y area, I ran into Bob D'Antonio who mentioned that Pat Ament was coming up the trail. I had not seen him in many years so I felt it was an auspicious coincidence. He was in town to premiere his latest film, "The Disciples of Gill."

I chatted with Pat briefly and headed down to the Red Wall for a final set of problems, doing the Moffat Direct (V8) quickly and the standard V4 on the right. This last took a couple of tries as I had forgotten a crucial foot placement and reminded me of how solid these problems from the 60s can be, especially at the end of a long session. This put me in a ruminative mood and my remarks about the film which I watched, albeit in a somewhat truncated way, are influenced by this.

Climbing, it has been remarked, is an art but it has a singular characteristic that makes it difficult to compare with say painting or even music. That is the aspect of performance. The climb itself is not like a painting, that is to say the climber does not write upon a blank canvas. It is more like dance where the climber writes upon a surface that will be once again what it was before the dance. A few patches of chalk linger but little else remains to record the performance.

Pat was among the earliest to recognize this need to preserve not just a "record" of the climbs but also the attitude, the grace, the style of the climber In John Gill, he had the perfect subject as Gill quite literally became the embodiment of ease on rock when he was climbing.

The short clips that Pat took of Gill in Pueblo form much of the heart of the film as well as a few sequences of Jim Holloway at Cloudshadow on Flagstaff. Here the idea of movement is clearly visible. The climbers, moving silently in ghostly black and white are like presences from another place and time. Yet the distance is complex to measure or even describe. The player in all of this is time, a topic too vast to touch upon here.

There is a moving opening sequence of Pat belaying his young daughter on the cliffs near his home in Fruita as he explains to her what changed in climbing in the sixties. There is a great deal of material consisting of interviews with important figures from that era as well. I missed much of this as my 3-year old daughter decided it was time to do something else. And to be honest, I think that part of the film needs to be reconsidered and reconfigured. I know I would like to see a bit more in the way of contemporary voices assessing the idea of bouldering and the legacy of the sixties and seventies in this age.

There is something about moving over rock that talking about it can never recapture, something young and vital, that isn't self-conscious or reflective. It is one of the sorrows of climbing that so much that matters is lost so entirely. This film is a tribute to that truth. Pat is to be commended for singly taking up a task that should be embraced and sponsored by the climbing community as a whole; that is the preservation of an era that founded climbing as we know it in America. It is sobering to realize that its leading figures will soon be gone.

I understand that the film is still a work in progress and I anticipate the "final" version eagerly. History is written in many ways and its essence, with regard to the act of climbing, is and always will be elusive. Any gesture to rescue it from oblivion is a gesture of bravery and generosity.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Between the Trees Part 2: Questions for Keith and Ty

Here's a follow-up for readers interested in the film I reviewed in the previous post, Between the Trees. There is another good interview at the Low Down. This was first published in French at the site along with a very favorable review, again in French.

Questions for Keith

How did you get into hard bouldering?

I'd been bitten by the climbing bug very hard, and I started going to the climbing wall as many times a week as I could. Soon time spent climbing outweighed time spent at university, and I made possibly one of the worst decisions of my life. I decided to drop out of university in 2003 and move to Sheffield, simply based on the fact that that's where climbers live and I could move there and go pro. How naive I was. It's truly incredible how naive I really was. I found a room in Sheffield, packed all my stuff, and just moved there. I didn't know a single person but I was psyched and that's all that mattered. Soon I met more and more people, and one day I finally got invited to go up to the school - the mythical training venue of Ben and Jerry!!! This was an eye opening moment for me, and perhaps a crystalline moment in my climbing career. I went in there and saw very, very strong climbers. They were another level to anything I'd seen before and this was all the fuel I needed. I began training harder, and soon got a membership to the school which was where I began to truly learn about climbing power. It was an amazing apprenticeship and I was lucky enough to always be climbing with strong climbers up there, so my psyche levels never really dropped below maximum. As time passed I got stronger and stronger, and eventually reached a point whereby I was regarded as the strongest climber who'd done the least climbing! I then decided I need to rectify this imbalance and began climbing on the rocks more often. This is when I started to also fall in love with Fontainebleau. My first ever trip to Fontainebleau I went expecting to climb an 8A and after one day realised I needed to set my sights on a 7A first. After 6 days of flailing I finally did one and I remember just how amazing it felt! From there the goal was pushed to 7A+, then 7B, and eventually up to 8A. That was a great moment when I did my first 8A in font but the goal just got shifted again. That's who I am too. Somebody who never stops pushing. Nothing is impossible. I firmly believe that. So from that point on I just climbed more and more, working and playing poker to earn some money, but all my energy really went into climbing. This was my focus. Then reaching 8B was the next big goal and I really felt like I'd validated my climbing in some way then that happened. It might sound ridiculous, but I felt like this was a very different level from 8A or 8A+. Now I'm chasing 8B+ and once again feel like is a completely different level to 8B. Maybe it's just because it takes so much more work to reach the next grade in the higher levels, but then again, the feeling of success also take on deeper satisfaction. Nothing good ever came easily.

What moved you to decide to make films instead of just climbing?

A couple of years ago, I was going to amazing places around the world and I suddenly realised I just wanted to have some memories of these trips, and what better way to do this than recording it all on film. I did a bunch of research and bought the best I could afford, which has turned out to be a great investment. I really wanted to capture these moments because I put so much energy into climbing and these moments are what I do it all for. Those moments of overcoming all odds and getting to the top are amazing, and bring me some feeling of inner satisfaction when I watch them back. Hopefully one day my children will see it and say that I'm a crazy old man!

What story are you trying to tell through your films?

This is a good question. I'm not trying (not yet anyway) to bring climbing to the masses. I definitely view my films as more of a representation of how I live. L'Étranger was literally a video documentary of my days in the forest, a view that the birds or boars of the forest may have witnessed. Between The Trees was a little different, because I tried to tell the story of how Tyler and I live our lives. We spent a few months in Switzerland last year and I didn't really dedicate any time to capturing footage, so when I looked back I felt like I'd missed an opportunity. Tyler is a world class boulderer and also a good friend of mine. We have a lot of fun when we go climbing but he also does a lot of crushing, so I wanted to try and get both of these things captured and shared. We go climbing because it's just what we love to do. We don't go climbing to film it, or to prove something to anyone else, we just go out and do it because we love it. If the climbing world stopped turning and there was no scene, nothing would change for us. We'd still go out and go climbing. This is a trait I've seen in plenty of other climbers and I think it actually binds together a whole lot of climbers, which is nice.

If you could make the ultimate climbing film, what would it look like?

The ultimate climbing film... wow. I think the ultimate climbing could be truly amazing. I would invest so much time in building amazing gizmo's, have multiple cameras on wire all remote controlled, and be able to capture the life of the greatest climbers. However, as visually stunning as I would like to make it, I'd like to make it follow the life of a climber, showing more than just the routes or boulder problems. I'd like to convey the life behind climbing, the reason we go climbing, the love we have for it. After all, there is no reward in climbing apart from the climbing itself. No one is rich, no one is famous, no one really gets anything from climbing (when you consider it in comparison to Snowboarding, Mountain Biking, BMX'ing, Skating, etc) so I'd like to just show the love for climbing. I'd love to have access to some amazing cameras (like the RED) as I think the visual beauty of what you can make it somewhat determined by what you film with. Basically, I'd like a fully professional setup and with that I genuinely feel I could make something really amazing. Of course, this would require a big budget, but I do think the time will come when big companies will get behind endeavours like this. It's already happened in snowboarding with films like That's it, That's all and they definitely set the bar a notch higher. If anybody wants to fund such a project, I promise you something amazing, so get in touch! ha ha.

There was an article at UK Climbing recently about the issue of making a reasonable return on climbing video. You experimented with donations with The Outsider. What does the future look like in your view? For example will we see the end of "free" content on the Web?

. L'Étranger was an experiment for me in a number of ways. I wanted to see if people would even enjoy it, and further if they did enjoy it, would they voluntarily give up some money for it (AFTER they'd seen it). I didn't expect or need donations, I'd made the film and I just wanted to share my slice of Fontainebleau with anyone who was interested. Over 5000 people watched the film (in the first month - I stopped counting after that), and I got about 20 donations. It wasn't disappointing because I didn't expect anything, but it was very interesting. I'd wanted to release Between The Trees a little differently, but it turned out that the climbing world probably wasn't ready for such a release so I fell back onto the DVD and HD download options. I do think that climbing is inevitably going to follow other sports like biking and snowboarding, especially in terms of the media, but people like BigUp are changing it with much higher production values. I think that when the bigger companies start to get behind some film makers, we'll see some incredible things getting released.

In my opinion, free content on the web will not end. Far from it in fact; I expect it to increase as more and more people turn from consumers to producers. However, as the tail increases in length (ref; The Long Tail) giving us more and more "home-made" media, we will also see the top production companies putting out absolutely incredible films. That will be what we're paying for, but it might not come from the people we expect it to come from, or in the traditional delivery formats. The internet is changing everything, giving people new opportunities, and opening up new ways to get products to people.
I'm interested to see how sales go with Between The Trees, because I honestly have no idea how it will pan out. I don't really know what to expect as this is my first endeavor into sellign a film, but ff you want an update in a couple of months feel free to get in touch! Will I make enough money to convince me to try and make another film? I don't know. I'm not looking for another film to make, but I'm very open to any ideas that may fall into place. I think life has a way of presenting opportunities at the right moments, so we'll see what it brings in the next few months.

Where did the quote at the beginning, “I was a eagle, and I flew down and I was a fish swimming” come from?

The quote at the beginning... Well, My original idea for the name of the film was "The Snake and The Worm". I favoured this name for a lot of reasons as it had connotations throughout the film, throughout climbing, and direct reference to Tyler and I. I view his climbing style as the snake style. It's hard to explain but when you see him climb it's the first thing that comes to mind. Similarly, a couple of years ago I was in font and a certain person commented that I wormed my way up a problem. When I started climbing a lot of Tyler I saw the contrast. The snake and the worm aren't a million miles apart, but what they achieve is very different. I like all that, so I wanted to call the film The Snake and The Worm. I doubt anyone would have understood the title, but in the end it was vetoed by Tyler. He didn't like the way it sounded. Perhaps climbing wasn't ready for the title! It seems like all climbing films have to use a 1 word adjective/noun. We nearly went with Consternation, but then I realised it's a word which is out of use and everyone just asked me what it meant, so that was ousted.

Perhaps the quote at the beginning was a remnant of the previous title. I don't know to be 100% honest. Tyler is a bright kid, and without a doubt he (or I) take things that are completely farcical and move them into a more serious world. Perhaps serious isn't the right word, but you know what I mean. Meaning has so much to do with context, so putting the same thing in a different box it appears to have changed it radically. When I was going through all the footage, choosing what to keep and what to cut, I heard that quote and immediately (perhaps subconsciously), put it at the very beginning of the timeline. I don't normally do that, but this just felt like it had to go there. All the space and meteor parody stuff came afterwards. The quote was the beginning for me. I guess I went with a feeling on this, rather than a strict recourse to rationality (a VERY strange move if you know me). (Editor's note: Ty claims the quote was derived from the Kevin Nealon character in a movie called Grandma's Boy. If you search for its likely source, you may be surprised at what was made out of it!)

Any technical notes?

In terms of set up, it was all pretty low budget. I only had one camera (a Canon HV20), one Tripod (a Velbon DV7000), one mic (Rode videomic), and a wide angle lens (Raynox HD6600). You could probably buy this whole set up for $700, but it's a lot more powerful that people realise. For a start, the HV20 has a huge sensor for it's body size, and it also shoots 24p. That's something I value quite a lot actually. It's a feature not found in any other cameras under a few thousand dollars... Most shots were set up organically. I'd wander around a bit, decide what I thought looked good, and plonked it there. We didn't go back to film stuff after I viewed the footage, for better or for worse. As I said before, this was primarily a climbing trip, so given the option between refilming and going climbing, it was obvious that climbing came first. Plus, I know Tyler well enough to know he doesn't want to refilm stuff from many angles, do hold close ups on everything, etc. He just wants to go climbing. That is his motivation for climbing. He loves to do it. We chased good conditions on the rock, not good conditions for filming, and if they happened to align it was just extra great. I did build a boom, but didn't end up including any of the footage as I wasn't happy with it. I've got more ideas that need realising in terms of building more equipment... maybe next year...

Tyler Landman, one of the strongest and most gifted boulderers I have seen in recent years, was the focus of much of the film. I caught up with him and he added some remarks for the interview.

Some words from Tyler Landman

Ty, how did the project get started?

I had done some filming with Keith a couple months prior, when we were both in Switzerland. I've never been a fan of filming things in a such a way that you are expected to perform, or are put on the spot. And I certainly have no urge to be made a super star of any sorts. Keith asked if I minded him filming my ascents and I obviously said that I had nothing against it, so long as I had some sort of say in what we would do with the footage etc. I knew what he had intended but also knew that he would not use it in any way or for anything I was not down with.

What was it like making the film?

We didn't really work on 'the film' until the last five days of the trip. Until then he would just film me climbing. I've always thought a good photographer or filmer is one who can produce amazing results, without you even knowing they are there. I'd never have to repeat problems or do ridiculous things that he asked me to, just for the sake of footage. Towards the end of the trip, realizing how much amazing footage we had, we decided we could make a film out of it. In that case, we needed to film an introduction, some interviews, and filler basically so that we could make something more than just ascents. So we conjured up some ideas and basically got to work on the quicktime. It was pretty hilarious coming up with the ideas and even funnier trying to film them.

How do you feel about the results?

If we had been serious about it, there is a lot more we could have done. Given the freestyle nature and home grown style I think it turned out very well. Those two characteristics are what make it stand out from mainstream films. It depends what you like. Some people like the mainstream over produced style, and others like the understated natural free flow style. I prefer the latter which is why I had no issue being a part of the film.

Thanks to both Keith and Ty for their contributions. Make sure to visit for more info. As I stated in my review, this is one of the most interesting climbing films you will ever see, for me the best in years. From an aesthetic standpoint, it is truly innovative.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Between the Trees: A Review

Looking at the world of climbing video, it is clear that the trend is towards the Big Up style of video. We see big names in amazing locales, the latest testpieces filmed using high-tech equipment, and a generally professional polish put on the whole thing. Yet often we are left wondering in the end about what it is exactly that is being captured. Yes there is a big show and we are left amazed but not much else.

In the very beginning of Keith Bradbury's latest film, between the trees, we hear the voice of Tyler Landman, one of the most gifted boulderers of his generation, utter these words, "I was a eagle, and I flew down, and I was a fish swimming." These lines indicate right from the start that something very interesting is going on here. This is not going to be your typical climbing movie. The introduction merges parody and comedy set in the evocative ambience of grainfields and forest. Credits roll, so minimal as to pass almost unnoticed, and we are off to Fontainebleau.

The first scene is the forest in winter as Keith walks into a dark snowy forest to try a problem called Gecko, a problem that will figure prominently elsewhere in the film. Here as in many other places in the film, atmosphere, mood and ambience play the leading role. The footage is minimally edited and the movement is natural and uncontrived. In other words what is interesting about Between the Trees is what is left out, what is left unsaid.

A gorgeous panning shot across the rise of land at Cuisinere Franchard that holds Karma leads seamlessly into Ty leaping onto the starting holds. As he completes the problem, a frozen image of Ty remains at the top while another Ty runs back down to the base. This kind of camera work could go all wrong, seem pretentious and “arty” but here it just works. Ty comments on the problem while the boulder just looms there in the background like a kind of sculpture, framed by three pines.

The setting sun shimmers on the horizon across the valley at Cuisiniere Crete as Ty finishes Duel. The light filtering through the trees provides a striking backdrop as he ruminates on the complexity of the problem. The gray-green textures of the magnificent Partage are as fascinating as the problem itself. Keith’s orange shirt is a striking accent point in a maze of crossed tree branches, mossy green walls, and the stubbly texture of fallen leaves. The problem itself is almost an afterthought.

You might say that it’s inevitable that Fontainebleau would shape the film and to a certain extent I would agree. However this emphasis on environment emerges time and again, too often to be merely coincidence. It is a trait I noticed also in Keith’s other films, a tendency to seek out subtle, understated visual environments that frame both climber and problem in the realm of the natural world in all its mystery and complexity. By way of contrast, one might refer to the old-school classic, The Real Thing, with Ben Moon and Jerry Moffat, which often literally rides roughshod over the same terrain. I wonder if Ben is performing an act of expiation by sponsoring Keith’s efforts to film Fontainebleau. It would be an appropriate gesture. Keith has truly got the real thing here.

The less artistic among you may appreciate other aspects including the sheer diversity and number of problems depicted. An eclectic soundtrack keeps things lively and unpredictable. Ty reflecting on the nature of climbing in the forest brings us back to the dual natures of Font climbing, how it is cerebral and athletic at the same time. Seated in a wheatfield, or a deserted picnic area, he reminds us of the uniquely meditative aspects of climbing. If I have one issue with the film, it’s this: Keith tie your shoelaces already!

Perhaps it is the time of year that gives this film a valedictory feel, an elegiac tone. The colors are somber, the skies mostly gray and subdued. The photographer constantly seems to reach beneath the surface to what is buried rather than what apparently meets the eye. This to me is the essence of art and what makes this film special. It is beautifully realized in the sequence featuring Elephunk, where the problem is immaculately captured at close range and then the view is lengthened to reveal piles of stacked piles of logs, dead objects in front of the living forest, the climber caught between these two states of being. This is an extraordinary moment in climbing film, in my view, and one that deserves real recognition.

The film closes on an ambivalent note for both climbers. Keith faces down failure on the sit-start to Gecko, a situation any serious climber can recognize. He can clearly do the problem but for whatever reason, cannot actually finish it. An intensity of emotion emerges here, not one rooted in success but in frustration. It feels like a doomed relationship and indeed in some footage not included in the film itself (I wish it had been; it is in the Extras) Keith really goes, as he put it, “close to the bone.” Ty finishes on a high note climbing-wise but followers of this immensely talented climber have seen him retire from the world of high-end bouldering. He decided not long after the filming, that at least for now, climbing full-time is not for him, and went to college instead. So for both, there is a sense of incompleteness, again understated and implied; a redemption postponed for Keith, a quest in different directions for Ty.

Keith tried asking for donations with his last film and apparently got 20 of them out of 1000+ downloads of the L’Etranger video. This film deserves much more support and recognition than that. It is quite literally the best climbing film I have seen in years and Keith should be rewarded for taking the genre in new and important directions. So go to his website and find out how you can purchase this work and support authentic climbing films.

I will be posting an interview with Keith later this week, including some words from Tyler as well.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Dear Deadpoint Magazine

Dear Deadpoint Magazine,
This is to say I am not so upset you defriended me on Facebook the other night. Apparently my response to the “Suburban Wankster”, a new entry in the admittedly difficult-to-appraise genre of climbing parody, offended some member of your thin-skinned editorial staff. I received a note via Facebook to this effect:

“Peter, I don't watch Fox news or Dancing with the Stars. It isn't my style. I would go crazy hating on both shows if I subjected myself to them. If DPM is so deplorable to you, don't visit our site or pick up the publication. You will be a happier man. It isn't geared towards your demographic anyway."

Well, here is the deal DPM. My demographic is that of a climber who thinks that sexism, sensationalism, homophobia and malicious insults are not only bad form but injurious to the sport. My role as I see it is occasionally to point out when the climbing media appear to foster values that degrade climbing and the unique species of humans that pursue it. This isn’t just about style; it’s about what you stand for.

What I have heard from you so far and what I have seen in a number of examples is a “do whatever it takes” approach to get attention. In climbing, this is called cheating and it doesn’t matter if it’s the latest boulder problem at Hueco or a free ascent of El Cap. Cheaters get a bad reputation and they get called on it.

The shame of it is that when you were called on it, you apparently didn’t feel comfortable about it, like someone adding bolts to a route or chipping a hold. You got whiny and called me a “hater.” But it isn’t you I hate, DPM. It’s seeing my friends insulted, it’s seeing videos of people getting hurt being posted on your site for profit, it’s hearing me dismissed (because of age,as far as I can tell) as belonging to a demographic that you aren’t interested in listening to. And that’s just a start.

DPM, the world of climbing media is littered with the graves of upstarts who thought they could make a splash and soon enough faded away to extinction. The ones that have endured fostered genuine values that build community, celebrate excellence, and document the many facets of the amazing world of climbing. Sure there were lapses in taste or judgment and they got criticized. But they learned to deal with it and moved on and got better. My advice is to do the same.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Some Home Video

The Basement Tapes Part 1 from peter beal on Vimeo.

A few problems I have set on our home wall.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Director Commentary from Andrew Kornylak

As previously promised,here are the comments from Andrew Kornylak about two of his Beta films. Anyone interested in making video should find these comments useful and even inspiring.

The Beta - Six Feet Under from Andrew Kornylak on Vimeo.

"Six Feet Under: We partnered with another Triple Crown sponsor, FiveTen, who also sponsors Brion Voges, to see if we could shoot both a Beta video and an advertisement for FiveTen's new "Team" shoe at the same time. It was really last minute. Andy is super mellow and mostly focused on climbing (he's a pro after all) so we all had fun trying to squeeze something else out of him for the interview. I think that came out in in the video. The Six Feet Under cave had some amazing light, but only for a little bit. At one point Brion was chalking up and these shafts of light appeared. Luckily I squeezed in a couple clips, because the light all disappeared about 20 seconds later, no matter how much chalk cloud we made. I shot the climbing footage on this one entirely as stillmotion footage from a Nikon D3 camera on a steadicam. The camera does not shoot video, instead I used a high frame rate to capture short sequences of images, edited in Photoshop and rendered as video in Final Cut. This stillmotion footage ranges from 2-4 times the resolution of HD video. The FiveTen ad in the magazines are directly pulled from the video, which is one cool thing about this approach. The interview footage and voiceover was recorded on a Nikon D5000, which does shoot regular HD video."

The Beta - Super Mario from Andrew Kornylak on Vimeo.

"Super Mario: Andy Wellman is a transplant from Boulder who has done a ton of climbing of all kinds, bouldering, sport, trad, and big wall. Rifle full-timer... He is the classic well-rounded strong type of climber you run into traveling out west, and as the video tells, he moved to Chattanooga after some "work" visits to Horse Pens 40 to work on a guide with Adam Henry. Adam deserves a video all his own, and I wish I could have done one for this series before the HP40 comp. He is a giant of southern climbing - literally - he is like 8 feet tall. He can be intimidating at first, but he is a really nice guy and cares a lot about the traditions and stewardship of the south. I think it's great he basically told Andy he had to live there if he wanted to make a guidebook, and that's exactly what happened. This was mostly shot on a Sony PMW-EX1 HD camera, and the Nikon D5000 with a wide angle lens. There is some footage from Horse Pens and scenic and still footage that Josh Fowler and I shot while making Heart of Stone."

Friday, November 6, 2009

Five Questions for Andrew Kornylak

I first learned about Andrew Kornylak's work through viewing the now-classic Heart of Stone, a short film about climbing and community in the South. I was struck by the richness of the imagery and the sensitivity of the narrative. It stood out in bold relief from the typical mode of climbing film-making. Andrew has a new project, The Beta, a series of short clips about classic problems in the South. Today I will post an interview with this thoughtful and innovative photographer. Tomorrow I will post his comments on two of the films he has up on Vimeo. Be sure to check out his blog as well.

1. Who is Andrew Kornylak?

Im a photographer from Atlanta. I grew up in Ohio, spent some time out West. I've been climbing since '93. I have a degree in mathematics, and worked as a software developer for about 10 years while I transitioned to photography. My roots are in climbing photography. I've lived off and on in Atlanta for about 8 years now.

It's funny you should ask that way. Someone had just emailed me with advice about becoming a photographer, and I told him, among other things, that he needed to think about who he was as a person and then express that through his photography. I was thinking about how your work starts telling your story for you, more than a bunch of stats.

2. What is the Beta series all about?

I've been involved with the Triple Crown and the climbing organizations like the Southeastern Climbers Coalition for a long time, especially through my photography and video work, which I think can be a powerful tool to get people motivated to get involved with stewardship of their climbing areas. So this year, I partnered as a Gold Sponsor with the Triple Crown to produce media specifically with this goal in mind: to keep the interest level high leading up to the competition, and to keep people coming back to the website. The other sponsors also benefit from content for their website. I thought a series of videos where a local gives you the beta on classic boulder problems would be cool, and something easy to riff on. Short and sweet. I don't think it will ever get old as long as you have interesting people and cool problems. There's an infinite supply of both of those down here. Technically speaking, a video series was an opportunity to experiment. I used different cameras and techniques in each episode.

3. What does making a climbing video mean to you?

The first real climbing video I produced was Heart of Stone, which was shot mostly by Josh Fowler, and it really didn't have all that much climbing in it. I'm obviously really psyched on climbing, and I love watching great climbing, but I think only climbing nerds really like to sit and just watch someone climb. You owe it to everyone else to tell a story. That's what I'm psyched on with climbing videos, its a way to tell a story with more dimension than a photograph. The climbing part is just the hook though, there has to be something else interesting there, in my opinion.

4. Who are other filmmakers you admire and why?

Actually shooting climbing is a separate pleasure. It's so challenging and to have the kind of skills, access, and time to do it well is rare. Guys like Eric Perlman, Peter Mortimer, Josh and Brett Lowell along with Cooper Roberts, David Breashears - those guys have that juice in the climbing niche. Outside of the climbing world, there are so many great filmmakers, but with bigger productions its hard to pin down really who is responsible for what you like. I'm more interested in documentary filmmaking. Anything with David Attenborough in it is gold. I've always admired the IMAX filmmakers, Greg MacGillivray and (the late) Jim Freeman. Sean Fine, who directed War/Dance is amazing. I'm a fan of the Coen Brothers.

5. Where is the future of climbing video headed?

Video is heading in a lot of directions at once right now. On the technical side you have an explosion of technology from still cameras that shoot HD video, and video cameras that shoot at extreme resolutions, with the modularity and operability of still cameras. The web is a sandbox for experimentation, because you can easily display and distribute any format, resolution, or frame rate digitally. Production software that used to cost millions you can now run on your laptop for a few hundred bucks. For the climbing world, it means you are going to have to wade through a lot of bad video! But these are mainly tools that benefit documentary filmmaking, so it means that if you are interested in telling a story beyond sick climbing action, you have more opportunity. that's where the future is.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Two videos I plan on not watching

This entry is about two climbing videos that I plan on never seeing. This may sound strange but I think it's worth exploring what I mean. The first will be video of the Right Graham Arete in Boulder Canyon, a cool little granite egg buried in the trees adjacent to Boulder Creek. Except that there are a few less trees than there used to be. Jackie Hueftle, climber, writer and route-setter, sent me some photos of the destruction of several small but sizeable trees near the boulder, an act that appeared motivated primarily by the desire to have a better view of the boulder. I hope I'm wrong but this shot of Chris Schulte holding up the chopped-down tree leads me to that conclusion. So if you killed a tree to get a better video of this problem, make sure that is noted in the credits.

The other is currently posted on Deapoint Magazine and has a somewhat convoluted history. Not long ago a talented young climber named Max Zolotukhin decided to try to solo a short and very bouldery 14b called Supernova in Rumney. The attempt did not go well resulting in a very serious ankle injury. Max blogged about it in a very serious and thoughtful way, mentioning in passing the lure of media coverage of a hard free-solo. Soon a video was up of the accident on Vimeo, which spread rapidly to a number of sites, before it mysteriously disappeared. Then it resurfaced at (agghhh, not again!) Deadpoint Magazine where I believe it currently resides. And no I will not link it. If you want to do the climb, check out this video instead:

Supernova: Dave Wetmore from David Wetmore on Vimeo.

Jamie Emerson has written on the topic of media attention given to hazardous climbs and there is little I would add to his thoughts. I think that viewers of climbing media should seriously consider what they support when they view scenes of potentially lethal climbing, let alone actual disaster in action. While I am aware that climbing is by its very nature potentially lethal, there seems to be a line somewhere that gets crossed when danger, rather than the skill and courage required to get past it, becomes the selling-point. So to videos that cross that line, or trash the natural surroundings to get the shot, no thanks.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Andrew Bisharat's Sport Climbing Book: A Review

Andrew Bisharat, an editor at Rock and Ice, recently sent me a copy of his new book published by The Mountaineers. I promised I would take a good look at it, not least because I am an admirer of his straightforward writing for R&I but also because in an interview with Splitter Choss, he described his view that difficulty is very much a matter of perception. In that interview, he said, "However, I honestly believe that it is realistic for an average person to do 5.13+ or 5.14." This is a great attitude to promote.

So the question might be posed; can this book help the average person do 5.13+ or 5.14? Well yes and/or maybe. The book's ambition is to provide a thorough introduction to and explanation of many sport-climbing specific techniques that help a climber get to the essence of sport-climbing's main challenge, solving hard moves and linking sections of routes. Thus he offers a detailed description of stick-clipping, "boinking," etc., all basically modes of aid climbing that help an aspirant climber get acquainted with the features and movements on the route. Not so long ago, these methods were considered to be cheating(?) by many sport climbers. Rightly Bisharat considers those attitudes, which he surveys in a good chapter on the history of the sport, as self-limiting and elitist. Do what it takes is his approach and one I agree with completely. The bolts are there to pull on and fall on and how you choose to do that is up to you.

However, the biggest problem with the book for me is the relative lack of attention paid to physical aspects of the sport. There is quite a good chapter, though briefer than it ought to be, titled "What is 'good' technique?". There is relatively little on the physiology of climbing and next to nothing on injury prevention or diet (it's not even in the index). This to me is a mistake as the climber ultimately depends not on stick-clipping or other techniques but on physical strength and ability combined with a keen mental focus. The aspiring "average" climber needs to be able to understand at some point what's under the hood or a lot of wasted time may be spent trying strategies that do not work. I am surprised that Andrew twice characterizes bouldering as "crushing every hold" and less complex than sport climbing since numerous boulder problems rely on many of the same strategies as sport climbing. In fact a significant opportunity is missed here to emphasize continuities and commonalities instead of differences. Bouldering is simply the easiest way to build the technical prowess and physical strength to succeed on hard sport climbs. I have been able to maintain the stamina to easily onsight mid-to-hard 5.12 in the gym through a steady diet of bouldering, mostly on short boulder problems, the only accessible form of training I have available right now.

So is the book good? Absolutely yes. There are far too many good things in the book to begin to list here. The chapters on falling and belaying well are very helpful for example. Even its price is reasonable. Is it a complete guide to success at sport climbing? No, because you will want at some point to explore more deeply the physical and mental sides to the sport that affect movement and technical proficiency. I still have not seen the book that really combines both well.

Which leads to another question. Has the era of climbing instruction books begun to wane? Have climbing videos and internet-based information begun to replace not only guidebooks but also climbing instruction books? As a climber who read avidly classics like Royal Robbins' Basic Rockcraft and Advanced Rockcraft, I wonder if something is changing here.

Bisharat's contribution is to lay out clearly the technical foundation for getting on harder sport routes, laying out in concrete form the knowledge that you could only obtain previously by hanging out in the Skull Cave or the Arsenal at Rifle (ugh!) along with the other spraylords. I haven't been to Rifle in years but thanks to Andrew, for way less than the cost of a tank of gas, now I can brush up on the beta I need to link up one of the many steep polished monsters that lurk in that dark canyon.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Soul of Climbing

Sometimes the real meaning of climbing gets misplaced amid the hustle. Here's my reminder of what matters in the world of the vertical.

Tree Slab VB from peter beal on Vimeo.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

More media matters

Periodically I am sent emails from various parties wishing to get publicity for various events, books, etc. I don't quite have the heart to tell them that the readership for this blog is such a minute portion of the climbing webiverse that it might not be worth the effort. But here are two notices worth passing along, one in a good way, the other not so much. No prizes for telling which is which.

Here is the first announcement.


WHO: Eddie Bauer’s First Ascent Guides and Legendary Mountaineers– Peter Whittaker, Dave Hahn, Seth Waterfall, Chad Peele and Jim Whittaker speak on Mountaineering at MountainFilm On Tour in Denver

WHAT: MountainFilm on Tour Presents the following films:

The Red Helmet

Tyler Young 6 Minutes

In a dark and drab world, a fearful young child discovers a bright red helmet that transforms everything.

History Making Farming Author on the Move
Matt Morris 7 minutes

Vern Switzer is an idiosyncratic character: A black farmer in Rural Hall, North Carolina, his passion for growing watermelon found new meaning when God directed him to write children's books. Now this "farming author on the move" brings his message of sustainable farming and character building to schools across the country.

The Great Hopkins Rescue

Tyler Young 9 minutes

As climber Gregory Crouch guides up Wyoming's Devils Tower, he recounts the famous 1941 rescue of the parachutist who landed on top. With fascinating archival footage of the actual rescue, this short documentary will have you climbing in the handholds and footholds of history.

Presence: 40 Days in Greenland

Masaki Sekiguchi 15 minutes

This is a record of what we have done and what we have found while spending 40 days in west coastline of Greenland.

Tickets are $10 and available at the door.

WHEN: October 23, 2009 at 7pm

WHERE: American Alpine Club Thtr.

710 10th Street

Golden, CO

(303) 384-0110

Here is the second.

"hey Peter,

That granite crimpers video you posted with Adam Ondra was intense, I would imagine that granite would be very hard to climb.

We are running a story that you might be able to use about Champion And Duofold Apparel Brands Launching a Mount Everest Expedition

Here is a description of the story

Hanesbrands Inc. announced today that its Champion and Duofold apparel brands are going to the top of the world, leading a Mount Everest expedition to drive brand awareness and showcase the company’s research and development innovation and textile science leadership.

And here is a link to the video

Yours, etc., etc."

I agree that granite can be very hard to climb, especially when compared to sandstone such as on Flagstaff Mountain or plastic such as on my home wall or CATS. I was actually hoping to join the Hanesbrands Everest expedition but no follow-up invitations (or packages of fresh underpants) arrived and so I am still stuck at home staring my laptop trying to make sense of it all.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Media Matters

Tonight from 11-12, I will be talking with Mike Brooks on KVCU, 1190 AM in Boulder. I hope to discuss a number of topics including the Flagstaff tours project as well as the role that digital media is playing in climbing. There is little doubt that traditional print media is evolving to respond to the challenge that more flexible, immediate, and cost-free formats present but there is also the challenge that those qualities present to new media itself.

As an indication of one possible trend, and not a particularly encouraging one, Dead Point Magazine, a recently launched and free publication that operates both in print and online, posted a picture on Facebook which consists of a young woman in a bikin (with the DPM logo in a prominent location) pasted over a picture of a boulder problem with the text "challenge" "It's OK to Look." I responded saying it was cheesy and that it made DPM look "not so good," a polite way of saying sexist and pandering to the lowest category of "reader." Later I received a message which I hope the editors at DPM will not mind my sharing:

"Thanks for the input about the photo. Imagery like it was a debate for over a year. Climbing is becoming more and more image based and we feel the market will follow the lead of surfing, snowboarding, skateboarding, windsurfing, kiteboarding, wakeboarding, motocross and all the other extreme sports. As much as we may hate the evolution, it is happening, and the effectiveness of an add like this for generating traffic is undeniable. DPM has taken several risks along the way. We have pulled back in some respects and pushed on through others. Ultimately we will find a medium that we hope we all can live with. On a personal level, I agree about the ad being "cheeeezeee". I tend to respond best to rad photos of climbers in remote areas putting their ass on the line, but I'm not Dead Point's audience. Anyway, for what it's worth, we appreciate the feedback.
Matt "

On the one hand I am amused by Matt's use of the phrase "ass on the line" as clearly someone already had that angle covered (barely to be sure) and I am relieved to know that DPM would rather show pictures of climbing instead of young ladies' posteriors. However the thought that climbing is going the direction of kiteboarding (kiteboarding!!!???) and focusing on simplistic sexualized images of women to move product is depressing to say the least. I have always assumed at some point that climbing was a bit more, well, mature and reflective. Certainly as the father of a girl, I have a vested interest in a culture that sees women as equal particpators in all aspects of life and not as sexual objects.

In this vein, DPM and John Sherman have truly jumped the shark in his "blog". Not really a blog, more of column really but whatever. In the latest installment, Sherman asks the following question:

"how is it some cad nicknamed "The Verm" can solo 40 feet of 5.9 and hours later be rocking his van's leaf springs with a smoking hot gal but you solo Half Dome's Northwest Face and come back to an empty van? "

Sherman proposes it's the van that the ladies love. We see a picture of a faceless woman with no shirt and a strategically placed scarf standing in said van . Sherman notes the van is for sale, and I think he is serious here; maybe once you get past 50, the nomadic life begins to get a little weary. He lists, in true Smoove B/Hugh Hefner fashion, the features that women apparently find irresistable. Now setting aside the ick factors of buying that van, which are too many to describe, what is the point here? An aging Lothario captures the audience, hopefully, by posting a picture of an adolescent fantasy (classy, keeping those chewed on strawberries in the photo and the Eiger Sanction on the TV). Kinda sad really.

Not to pick on DPM or Sherman but can't we do better not just by women but by ourselves?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Climbing and Evolution

I was reading a very interesting piece in the New York Times about predators and the role that fear has played in the evolution of the human species. The author vividly reflected on the nature of dying by being attacked by a lion:

It’s hard to imagine how terrifying such a death must be. To be asleep in bed and to wake to hear a rustling sound, to see an animal leaping, to feel its breath on your face — think of the sweat, the panic, the contraction of your gut, the pounding of your heart, the gasping screams.

In a number of regions of the world, this happens with amazing regularity and of course it happens all the time to animals. Her larger point was in regard to the problem of fear and what humans find scary as opposed to what they should find scary. Thus logically we should fear mosquitoes more than bears. However, the author points out, "But here’s the thing. Today, in many parts of the world, the human being most likely to cause your violent death is: you."

This in my mind leads to an interesting question. Why, given that humans have evolved to become masters of nature in so many regards, do so many seek to revisit the primal sensations of fear? And even more interesting what are the ways in which fear is sidelined, channeled, even erased in these situations?

Climbing is always a potentially lethal activity and yet there is the sense that the human mind can and does find ways of adapting to situations that pose mortal danger. Some are technical solutions, such as equipment, while others are more mental or psychological. As climbers, I think we are all aware that fear inhibits performance and can indeed represent a greater danger than the actual climbing situation presents. How did we get to the point where we could discuss with ourselves rationally entering a dangerous scenario and moving through it safely? It seems to me that there is an aesthetic question at the heart of the matter, that there is something beautiful that we seek in the midst of danger and that beauty consists not in the fear itself but in its successful banishment or at least suspension for a while. This behavior is not be primal, it seems to me, but evolved, like much of our human behavior, in a relatively brief time and reflective of the same remarkable traits that brought art and language into the world. Its higher purpose may ultimately remain a mystery.

Monday, October 12, 2009

CATS again, early winter

I am feeling extra sore today after a session at CATS and then the Spot yesterday. CATS was lonely and cold but good enough for training hard. I tried one of James' "mundane V10" problems and realized I might never do it so went to work on the left Keen, easy V12 or so says. Things went much better there. So close on two moves, the rest either go or will definitely go. Small crimps, long tensiony reaches and a great challenge.

The Spot was much warmer and more crowded. Met up with Wade, Seth and Alex and did a few more easier problems, dispensing with two 5 minus and a 4 plus first try. Very tired after.

Thursday was a short session at the BRC, doing 11, 11-, 12-, 13- and 12 all first try. The 13- was one of the very few I have flashed at that grade in the gym. A good fight.

The weather has been awful so outside has been a real cat and mouse game with the weather. You work real hard inside to be ready when the weather window opens. This weekend it just didn't.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Flagstaff Bouldering and OSMP

Instead of going to the Horsetooth Hang this fall, I was on the phone with Rick Hatfield from Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks talking about ways in which the agency and climbers can come together to improve the situation at Flagstaff Mountain. As they say, charity begins at home.

As any regular visitor knows, there are always issues with erosion, litter (including climber trash), grafitti, and sadly chalk. Flagstaff has long been the poor relation for Colorado bouldering despite the fact that it offers the most extensive and accessible bouldering area in the state. In this case familiarity may be leading to contempt. For example, I am dismayed by the amounts of chalk on many problems, including footholds (!) and even worse, just dumped on the ground. Tick marks are clearly not being brushed off. A new trend is unhelpful large Xs to show what someone thinks is a loose hold on problems that have been that way for 25 years. For a vivid illustration of all this in action, visit Beer Barrel Rock which is literally bathed in chalk right now. Clearly there are many parts of Flagstaff that need trail maintenance as well.

I will be working with OSMP to develop educational bouldering tours focusing on spreading the word both about the many lesser-known problems across the grades in the park and also on building a consensus towards a Leave No Trace ethic in bouldering there and elsewhere.

Friday, October 2, 2009

CATS and Book Signing

A busy couple of nights this week. Wednesday, I decided to visit CATS as a cold front had whipped up the wind along the Front Range. This was the first time in literally many months. After a quick warm-up, I set to work on the Sportiva problem described as the "girly" V8 in James' blog. Well adjectives like that are pretty sexist and obsolete given the likes of Alex Puccio, et. al. and as the father of a girl, I'll be happy to see them go away. Nor is it V8 which I expected anyway. After some tries figuring out the two cruxes, I sent it on the 4th RP try. I was pretty psyched for a one-session send since the problem is likely solid V9 and would probably be a Hueco V10. After that I worked on the Bear problem "V10" which feels very doable if I can get the second move down. I also worked on the roof a bit, finding a ridiculously hard but very good crimper problem, V13 or V14, as a long-term project. Better than Organic, probably harder than Petzl. I wrapped things up with a short (ca. 25 move) 12b traverse, kind of a hard flash. I hope to get back there more often as the training possibilities are probably the best around.

Last night I was at Neptune Mountaineering, eating pizza with Sophia and watching some slides of Boulder Canyon climbing presented by Bob D'Antonio. This was a book-signing for the new Boulder Canyon guidebook and was well attended. Bob is a real workhorse when it comes to both writing and route creation and really has, along with only a few others, transformed Boulder Canyon into a genuine destination area, ironic, considering its proximity to Boulder.

The weather has clearly turned much cooler so I am hoping for success on Flag soon.

Monday, September 28, 2009

"Is Europe Taking America’s Lunch on the Rocks? Yes…and No". Ummm, Yes

In this post I am responding to a guest post at the Climbing Narc:

"In short, holding two cultures up next to each other and saying this one is “behind” the other is this or that regard is to take things out of context. It’s certainly no big deal to do this, but I think it reveals maybe too glib an interpretation of micro trends in the reported (with emphasis on reported) ascents."

Well at the danger of being perceived as "glib" I would argue that on every front and for quite a while American climbers have been behind the curve. The trend is not "micro" and the idea that "unreported" ascents would somehow affect this argument is not tenable.

Let's look at gear climbing. European/foreign climbers have had little trouble with fast ascents of some of the hardest gear-protected routes in the US. The examples are too numerous to count at this point. The thought that there is any US supremacy in this field can be dismissed at once.

In big-wall free climbing, Alexander Huber dominated El Cap for years. If Tommy Caldwell was excluded, Americans would be virtually absent from significant contributions in this area. The difficult 5.14 multi-pitch alpine "sport" routes in Europe (the ones with 30+ foot runouts) have been done by no American climbers that I know of.

The example of Jorgeson, Honnold,and Segal on English grit would be interesting but for the fact that most of the routes they did were first climbed more than 10 years ago, 20+ in the case of Gaia and End of the Affair. They were done in good style, but they are not exactly cutting edge at this point.

High hard boulder problems? What about Huber doing a 14a solo? Hasn't Evilution has been done by many Euros at this point? Nalle's new V15 problem in SA looked pretty tall in the photos.

To turn to sport climbing, have any Americans since Dave Graham and Chris Sharma really been able to climb at the same level as say Dani Andrada or Paxti Usobiaga, let alone Adam Ondra? Seriously, who are they?

Stating that because American climbers focus on rock not competitions obscures the fact that Americans have been behind on rock as well and for years now. Again set aside Dave, Chris, and Tommy and what do you have? Remember the standard is 5.14b/c onsight, 2nd try 14d, redpoint 5.15a/b. In bouldering, flash V13, do V15 after work. Take out Paul Robinson and Daniel Woods and then who? The European depth in numbers is astounding by comparison.

To assign the cause to cultural values is to exclude the commonalities that climbing shares across national or geographic borders. In other words climbing is about getting to the top of the rock. Claiming that Americans are somehow playing a different kind of game or in a different cultural context is passing the buck at this point. Europeans would be the first to admit that they are inferior at American football and vice versa for soccer. However climbing is climbing everywhere and the bolt wars are not really the issue they were.

Oddly, Justin omits the role that climbing media plays in this situation. As I pointed out in my previous posts on this topic, I feel that American climbing media could do more to promote solid achievement over image, starting by not reporting the 5th ascent of anything, even if it has killer photos. Climbing companies could be supporting solid achievement in a similar way. Instead it's about appearance, lifestyle, and staying cool and laidback.

The reason so many top climbers are attracted to Europe is that is where they can learn and become better climbers. The routes are there, the culture is there, and the support is there. And most of all, the better climbers are there.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Comp at the Spot

I planned on a session at Flagstaff Saturday morning but upon parking the car, realized it was much too hot for serious bouldering and headed home. Phoenix can keep its weather, thanks, especially this late in September. Caolan suggested that I try the comp at the Spot, the first of the Spot Bouldering series and I decided that it might be fun. So at 4:30 I was in line with the rest of the climbers. The energy was palpable and the vibes were good; the problem was that the temperature inside was pushing 85-90 degrees. But for this type of event it doesn't matter. Everybody faces the same conditions and you just deal with it. After a quick warmup including Advanced 4, I tried the first Open problem and flashed it which is not typical for me. However the other lower Open problems rapidly shut me down so I tried the top four Advanced problems. I should have flashed A10, but did it 2nd try, then flashed A9. A7 proved impossible for me, even with the encouragement and beta from EZ Harrison. By this point I was pretty tired so A6 was skin-of-the-teeth 2nd try, literally pumping out on jugs. I think the range of problems that I did was between V7 and V3/4. Home to dinner and the Tigger movie with Sophia.

Overall, it was a good experience and today I felt pretty sore, not surprising since I haven't climbed in a gym in about a month. The type of problems encountered at the Spot are not found either outdoors or at CATS or my wall but I may be tempted to rethink some of the holds/problems on the home wall at this point.

This morning I took a quick run up Mt Sanitas' South Ridge finding it very manageable and taking 50 minutes for the entire loop, including the Dakota Ridge. Still hot, so no climbing today anyway.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Bad Day of (for) Adam Ondra

I am a big fan of Adam Ondra and even bigger fan of granite crimpers. Thanks to this video, found at The Lowdown, I can see both. In this video, Adam Ondra never actually gets to the top of a route on link. However he nearly onsights two 14as and a 14b and puts in a good attempt on a 14c/d, again all on granite in the Zillertal, a medium not known for its onsight potential. If you want a good look at Ondra's climbing style, go no further.

A bad day of Adam Ondra from BERNARTWOOD on Vimeo.

I also recommend this video by BERNARTWOOD.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What should I be writing about

ia always a conundrum for me. I don't have the opportunity to post dispatches from Mallorca or Nice nor am I interested with compiling bits and pieces from other sites that more or less record the pulse of the climbing world and leave it at that. There is now a never-ending stream of roughly the same stuff out there. The fifth ascent of 5.14 Blah or V13 Blah by a (fill-in-the-blank) 13 year old, 50 year old, Dave Graham, etc. It's not so much who cares but who cares enough to add one more layer to an already unsavory digital media cake? Facebook is already the roost of way too many press release/publicity posts. Blogs have been descending down the same path for a long time as well. Sponsored athletes pass along the latest nugget from the marketing folks, hoping for that viral buzz.

Here's a piece that I would recommend every climber read and it has nothing to do with climbing. Instead it's about life and choices we make. It's about how we look at other people's lives and compare them to our own. If I could read just one or two times a month something on the same level that related to climbing, I would be much more sanguine about the state of digital climbing media on the web. In other words, if from time to time, we could talk about reality and not just fantasy, we might actually be saying something worth hearing.

(Update) Here's an example of what I mean.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The world standard

is not projecting 8c or 8c+. In my previous post, I pointed out that the American climbing standard is beginning to slip. Planet Mountain has pointed out where things are headed next and I agree. In the last few weeks, two separate climbers have done different 9as second try. One was in the Frankenjura,an area not known for its soft grades. And Enzo Oddo did another 9a, his third in two weeks at the age of 14. I cannot think of any American climber, except perhaps Chris Sharma, who is performing at this level. Am I missing someone?

The exception to this is perhaps Phil Schaal, a relative unknown,who recently repeated Jade, hanging in there at V15.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What I 've been up to

The beginning of the semester is always a busy time with lots of paper and emails flying around and less time for climbing or blogging than I would like. Climbing-wise, I have been sticking to logging lots of easy climbing on Flagstaff. My proudest send outside recently was the standard route on the Pinnacle Colada boulder which tops out at 20+ feet. I have not had much enthusiasm for tall bouldering in recent years but a renewed interest in understanding psychological factors in climbing well has led me to look again. The climbing while pretty easy, is not trivial in difficulty and the crux really is just accepting the situation for what it is, moving through it and keeping your reaction to it all together in the process.

I have not had the time for more distant destinations and conditions down low have been alternately hot or cool and damp which is frustrating.

On the difficulty front, I actually had a training session on Sunday that left me sore. I worked on my fingerboard(s) as well some bouldering. I am feeling much better on one-hand hangs on a .75 joint edge. and could do a pull-up off same with 85 pounds.

In climbing news I am not seeing much happening out there worthy of note, except perhaps the climbs of Enzo Oddo, age 14. He did within the space of two weeks two 9a routes of solid reputation with no fuss or fanfare. It is obvious that we are witnessing the normalization of this grade. Go here for more about these ascents (in French). I am beginning to think that once again American climbers are slipping behind the curve as no comparable things are happening here or abroad, as at the Gorges du Loup near Nice.

Kairn climbing puts it well:

Mais même si un "crew" de stars américaines est présent, ce sont les locaux qui ont réglé les plus gros projets ce week-end. Cédric Lo Piccolo a réussi sa voie "Just One Fix", 8c+, un chantier datant de l'an dernier dont il s'était fait piquer la première par le tchèque Adam Ondra. Quant à Kevin Aglaé, il en profite pour s'octroyer l'un des plus beaux 8c+ d'Europe, "Trip tik tonik".

"But even if a crew of American stars is here, it's the locals who have dominated the really big projects this weekend. Ceric Lo Piccolo has done his route Just One Fix, 8c+, a project dating from last year which he was beaten to by Adam Ondra. Also Kevin Aglae demolished one of the most beautiful 8c+'s in Europe, "Trip tik Tonik".

Monday, September 7, 2009

Three Worthy Causes

Helping out the greater community is an obligation for all of us who can afford it. My wife is running the Boulder Back Roads Marathon on September 20 and is looking for sponsors (starting at $1 a mile but please think higher $$$)to help her raise money for Camfed, an organization dedicated educating girls in Africa. This is a great cause so if you want to help, please visit her Facebook page and she will take it from there. You can also email me at petergbeal at hotmail dot com. She is getting close to her goal of $600, enough to educate two girls for a year, so please consider helping out.

On Wednesday evening 5-8 is the famous Flagstaff Trash Bash, a gathering of the climbing community to help restore one of Boulder's most important climbing resources. Sadly too many visitors see fit to show their appreciation by strewing trash and throwing glass bottles against the rocks, creating a mess and a health hazard. I have been taking my daughter Sophia there, climbing and scrambling and I don't want to see any more broken glass up there again. The condition of certain parts of Flagstaff is a disgrace so let's get it back in order. Details at the link above.

Finally visit Layton Kor's fund raising website to see how you can help this legend in American climbing cope with the expense of a kidney transplant.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Visit to Movement

Yesterday evening Caolan and I went to Movement, the new gym in Boulder, with Sophia in tow. This was the second time for Caolan, the first for me, so I thought I would share my impressions of the place.

First of all the excellence of the building and the interior space and layout is immediately evident. Things are clean and bright and open, even with a decent crowd in the place. But obviously that isn't why one visits a gym, so on to the nitty-gritty.

The walls:
I only climbed on the steepest wall on the south end of the building, doing a few routes from mid-10 to 12a so my remarks are confined to that sector. The terrain is good but immediately I noticed a certain erratic quality to the arrangement of the bolts, meaning, for example, a fairly substantial mandatory runout on a "12a" that fortunately was only 11b. A flash attempt on a 13a was shut down by a sketchy, out-of-place clip. A survey of the wall showed a number of these gaps where clips would not be available. Wall designers,WTF? Can't this problem be solved? The BRC has a number of these so the sense of deja-vu was pretty strong here. We also witnessed a bad-looking fall induced apparently by a spinning hold, a phenomenon warned against with notices on the wall. Something about T-nuts settling into the new wall? The climber literally fell directly on his belayer. Very scary to see.

So the steep terrain is OK, unfortunately there is too little of it. The steep wall is maybe 25% of the total, meaning I was waiting in line with virtually the same cast of characters I would be meeting in Rifle or at the BRC. The rest of the gym is very slabby and clearly aimed at the intermediate-level climber. The cluster below the steep wall was really unproductive time-wise and I am past the point where I feel like jockeying for a route in a gym. If I were an upper-level climber looking for training options, I would have to go during the day or go somewhere else.

The bouldering is simply meager, Two good walls but most of it is simply not steep enough. I flashed a good "V8" that was probably V5 and let it go at that.

The route-setting:
Not much to say here. It's gym-climbing. The easier climbs I did on the steep wall were over-graded jug-hauls for the most part which were perfect for warming up. Since I couldn't get on anything harder very easily, my review is incomplete. The first third of the 13a I tried seemed good.

The vibe:
This is entirely subjective obviously but for some reason the climbing part seemed to me to be understated too much and the fitness part too prominent. It didn't feel like a climbing gym in the sense that I am used to. Maybe that is the intent, maybe it will come with time. Can't tell.

Yes! Sophia had a great time and this is by far the most innovative and important aspect to the gym for our family. Affordable and a great space for the kids. I was definitely impressed. Unfortunately they close at 7 making for a tight schedule for families after work.

Movement is trying hard to be all things at once and doesn't do a bad job of it. Is it the ultimate climbing gym? Not really, for the reasons I mentioned above. Is it worth switching memberships? Many of my friends who were once BRC regulars seem to think so but I am not convinced of the superiority of the new space over the established places in town. For my money, the best wall in town is my home wall and maybe CATS so I am probably not the best source for opinion in this matter.

In sum, Movement is worth a visit though to try out the facility and get a feel for the place. I would be interested in hearing other responses from readers about their experiences.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

40+ Masters Ranking in Climbing

Masters Ranking 40+
Global, based upon scorecards, on September 1, 2009

1. 11970 Evgeny Krivosheytsev 1969 Ukraine
2. 11550 Oleg Chereshnev 1963 Russian Federation
3. 11505 Jibé Tribout 1961 France
4. 11375 markus eberl 1964 Austria
5. 11315 Laurent Zoutte 1969 France
6. 11210 Andrea Gennari Daneri 1965 Italy
7. 11150 Jacek Jurkowski 1968 Poland
8. 11105 Pesche Wüthrich 1964 Switzerland
9. 11025 Marc Bourdon 1969 Canada
10. 11024 Thierry Caillaud 1963 France

1. 9953 Hocquemiller romain 1950 France
2. 9715 EZ Harrison 1968 United States
3. 9670 Peter Beal 1964 United States
4. 9590 Sobczak Greg 1968 France
5. 9460 Wolfgang Antz 1967 Switzerland
6. 9353 Bart van Raaij 1969 Netherlands
7. 9324 Pesche Wüthrich 1964 Switzerland
8. 9310 Johan Luhr 1961 Sweden
9. 8953 Roger Mygga 1966 Spain
10. 8902 Mike Wohner 1967 United States

I created this list to reflect the level of true Masters level climbing worldwide. In every other sport that I am aware of, Masters designation begins at 40, not at 35 as 8a places it. It is interesting to note the absence of any Americans in the routes list and the presence of three in the bouldering list. There are a number of possible reasons for this but I find it a striking indicator of the popularity of V10 up bouldering among older climbers in the US. The top redpoint level in climbing routes is approximately 8c while in bouldering, 8a+ is pretty much the maximum grade.

I will update this list periodically, checking scorecards for anomalies or other curiosities. Let me know what you think of this.