Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Joe Kinder Video

Here's a short but very interesting video from Joe Kinder that he asked me to feature on the blog, a spot that he and the very talented photographer Keith Ladzinski made for Gregory Packs. It shows him on Unforgivable, a new classic 14b at the Cathedral, that he equipped. The video definitely captures the ambiance of this special cliff and the Utah Hills environment well. Thanks Joe!

Gregory Commercial 2 Unforgivable 14b/c with Joe Kinder from Joey Kinder on Vimeo.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Rocky Mountain Highball

Tonight's the premiere of the long-anticipated climbing film Rocky Mountain Highball and since a hoped-for interview about the film did not materialize, I am going to ask a simple question: What is up with the hero spot? This is where the climber is up somewhere above 15 feet, i.e. where the laws of physics dictate that any object in the path of a falling climber will be crushed like a bug, yet there is a solitary figure, occasionally a small group, arms raised (in supplication?) prepared to do, what exactly? Can any readers explain the point at which said "spotter" is only a visual effect and ultimately with regard to any fall, simply the person who picks up the pieces after impact? Should there be an admission by photographers that this "spotter" is simply eye-candy to heighten the suspense and add a sense of scale?

Here is a photo by Andy Mann of Jason Kehl on Last Dance at Mount Evans. I am proposing that there is simply no way that anyone should be under another climber at that height and to imagine that a real opportunity exists to do anything but get quickly out of the way if said climber falls is physically impossible. Yes? No?

Here is Vimeo footage of an innocuous looking V13 in Lincoln Woods with a gruesome name.

Untitled from Phillip Schaal on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Blogging in Neutral

The end of the semester is approaching which is a particularly busy time for me so I apologize for not updating a bit more frequently. There are any number of potentially interesting topics to write on, responding to John Sherman's unreasonably harsh castigation of roped rehearsal of highball boulder problems for example. However the truth is that responding to controversy on the Internet is tiresome, not least because on the Web, writers too often feel the desire to say what they feel without considering the impact of their writings on others. Two recent posts have turned into a brain and psyche-suck owing to the nature of later comments. So for now I am operating in neutral until I have the time and energy to explore something more significant.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Five Questions For Bill Ramsey

Bill Ramsey has long been a fixture on the American sport climbing scene sending many 5.14s after the age of 40. What most don't know is that he is a tenured professor, starting his career at Notre Dame and moving recently to the University of Nevada Las Vegas, in the demanding field of of philosophy. He is a serious academic as well as a serious climber. Bill took some time out of his packed schedule (and this time of the semester, speaking from my own experience, is definitely packed) to talk to mountainsandwater.com.

1. How long have you been climbing and what has made it so compelling over time?

I've been climbing for about 33 years. Some of the things I love about it that keep me coming back are the people, the combination of physical and mental challenge and problem-solving, and the fact that you do all this in stunning locations.

2. How did you get interested in working in philosophy and what fields do you specialize? What kind of links between philosophy and climbing?

I've always had philosophical ideas and thoughts, but until I got to college I just thought I was weird. My main area is the intersection between philosophy and cognitive science. A lot of questions neuroscientists and psychologists ask are also questions philosophers have been thinking about for a really long time. Questions about how something like the brain can be conscious, or have thoughts about something else or make a free choice. I prefer cross-disciplinary work because people from different backgrounds can teach each other more.

When I'm working on a philosophy paper, the process is very similar to working on a hard climb. I tinker with different parts of the problem, trying to see what works, figuring it out in stages, eventually trying to piece it all together. I find it very rewarding in both worlds. It is not surprising that so many climbers are mathematicians, physicists, engineers -- analytically-minded people who really enjoy problem-solving. I like to say that a lot of climbers are nerdy intellectuals trapped in an athlete's body.

I also find teaching to be rewarding in both areas. A lot of undergraduates, or people in general, initially don't see the point of philosophy, so showing them where and how it matters is fun. And after 33 years, I have a pretty good sense of how to train and how to climb something at your limit. Last year, I think I got more gratification out of helping friends get up hard climbs than I did from climbing my own projects.

3. How did you balance the demands of establishing an academic career with high-end climbing?

During certain stages of my career, I've had to put climbing on hold -- like when I finished my dissertation or got tenure. The time was a worthwhile investment, but when I'm climbing the juggling act is still demanding. People see me at the cliff two or three days a week and they think I have a cushy job. What they don't realize is that after climbing, I'm often working until midnight, and that on the days I'm not climbing I'm putting in a 14-hour day, including the weekends. Even when I'm climbing or training 3 days a week, I'm probably putting in a 50+ hour work-week. As an academic, you always have deadlines and commitments hanging over your head -- you need to write and do research, review articles, prepare classes and do lots of administrative work. But the good thing is that those work hours are flexible, so you can design a schedule that allows you to do something else at a high end. Some professors are accomplished musicians, others write fiction or poetry. I think combining an intellectual life with an athletic life is an excellent ideal, a good path to what Aristotle referred to as "eudaimonia" -- a kind of human flourishing.

4. What advice do you have for other academics who want to resolve the career/climbing dilemma?

Don't let the university or dept. chair or anyone else define for you what counts as a good life. As universities become more like corporations, there is a constant and growing pressure to think only in terms of a productive career -- you know, are you publishing enough articles or books, or is your research project going to bring big $$ into the university? They want you committed to scholarship 24/7. Some people are into that, and to them I say go for it. But the reality is that for most of us, our research is not going to change the world. Especially in the humanities, the most important and valuable thing that most of us do is teach. My articles and books might have an impact on a few other specialists and academics, but every time I walk into my large introductory class I have the power to change 200 lives. That's important. Moreover, the best teachers are often people who have significant lives outside of academia; people with interesting life experiences. Don't feel guilty about pursuing climbing; in the long run, it might make you better at the thing the university should care most about.

Having said all that, I do believe academia can be a good career for those who want the freedom to do other things. We typically have 3 months "off" in the summer, a spring break, a winter break, and many of us teach only 2 or 3 days a week. Of course, we don't really have all that time off because of all the commitment I just mentioned. But many of these things -- especially the writing, can be done at a time of our choosing, freeing up other time to climb and train. By the way, I find that after a day of climbing I'm far more productive because I feel intellectually refreshed.

5. What projects do you have planned for the future, both in climbing and in philosophy?

I'm sort of between big projects in both areas. In climbing, I just did a hard (for me) route (a 14.b) that took quite a bit of work, and in philosophy I just published a book with Cambridge. I'm currently working on improving my trad. skills and getting on some longer things, and I'm also thinking of trying some more hard sport routes over the summer. Academically, I'm co-editing two books in cognitive science and artificial intelligence, I'm working on a paper on our conception of bigotry, another on the nature of mental representation, and I'm starting to look into another book project. Actually, now that I think about it, I guess I've got a lot on my plate! Good thing summer is around the corner.

Thanks again for a great interview Bill!

Watch this space for a discussion of Ramsey's "pain box" theory, which seems to me at first glance a reworking of Aristotle's Doctrine of the Mean to direct the subject towards the eudaimonistic state of being that we all strive for. I will be talking more with Bill about his theory, its origins, and most of all, its applicability.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

New York Times in Hueco Tanks

What do Andy Mann and my sister have in common? Both have published photos in the the New York Times. Michael Brick appears to be the Times' roving climbing reporter and his article is accompanied by photos of Chuck Fryberger and Carlo Traversi. Brick does a good job of summarizing the conflicts that have led to the new access regulations but since the article is too short, we don't hear more about the feelings of the Native American and climbing locals who seem, according to a few quotes, to be closed out during the high season thanks to the annual migrations of out-of-town visitors.

I should add that the NYT also did a recent article on the climbing at Malibu Creek in California. The Gray Lady is going extreme!

Here's another NYT angle on locals/outsiders that deals with Juarez but on a much more serious level.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Guidebook Controversy in France

Recently there have been a few notices about the practice of non-local authors publishing comprehensive guidebooks to areas in Spain and France. This was recently discussed in Grimper Magazine where such non-native authors are described as "pirates" and "vampires." Here is the text in Fench and a translation of a leaflet left on windshields at local climbing areas:

Nous essayons de financer le matériel utilisé (goujons, colle, relais, perforateurs...) par la vente des topos locaux : "Escalades autour du Ventoux", "Buoux", "Dentelles de Montmirail"...
C'est pourquoi nous vous remercions d'acheter le topo local et de ne pas utiliser les autres topos (éditions Rockfax, Avignon soleil Jingo Woobly, Rotpunkt Mistral, Edisud... en particulier) qui profitent de notre travail à des fins purement mercantiles et sans aucun reversement en contrepartie pour l'entretien ou le développement des sites.
Merci de votre compréhension.

We try to finance the gear (bolts, glue, chains, drills...) through the sale of local topos: Climbing in the Ventoux, Buoux, Dentelles de Montmirail... This is why we ask you to buy the local topo and not to use other topos (such as Rockfax, etc. in particular) who profit from our work for purely business motives and without giving anything back for the maintenance or development of the areas. Thanks for your uderstanding.

On the whole I am sympathetic to the desires of the local climbers to in some way recoup some of the expense of equipping the cliff. My wife and I have travelled and climbed in the Vaucluse and bought some of the books that the leaflet speaks of. However they are not very good books. They are expensive, and often lack much in the way of illustration, good directions, or recommendations. The text is primarily in French which is an issue for the vast majority of visitors. On several occasions after considerable trouble we would find ourselves at truly sub-par cliffs overgrown with vines featuring 80s style bolts spaced every 15 feet. After our last trip, we had pretty much decided never to climb in the Vaucluse region again as it was clear that the best areas were not being publicized and we couldn't find better information in an accessible form. It should be added that climbing shops are very few and far between in this region and other modes of distribution are erratic.

The solution is pretty clear to me. The local climbing associations and tourist offices have to make a concerted effort to produce high quality "official" guides that clearly work to attract visitors to the region. The constant threat of car break-ins (fortunately didn't happen to us), erratic quality of climbing, and spotty information make it no surprise to me that Provence has slid in popularity in climbing tourism. While the folks at Rockfax, et al have a commercial interest in selling guides, they also produce guides that actually work and are pleasing to look through. They have thought about the needs of visiting climbers who don't have very much time to sift through the less desirable routes and area by trial and error. The locals need to do the same.

By the way, before adding any more comments on this topic please read this post by Adrian Berry who is actually doing a guidebook in the south of France. All his arguments make great sense to me. Also read the Rockfax Access page for their view of the situation.

Here is a link showing that Americans are apparently not the only arrogant ones.

And one more link on this apparently inexhaustible topic.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Some good words

Make sure to check out this short piece by Bill Ramsey, a longtime member of the philosophy faculty at prestigious Notre Dame University. He recently moved to Las Vegas after realizing that there was more to life than a professional career as defined by mainstream academia. In his essay, titled "You Are Not Your Job," Ramsey makes some important points for anyone struggling with this issue:

the bottom line is, yes, I really am so obsessed with climbing that, in certain respects, it is more important than my career. The fulfillment I get from teaching and writing is enormous. However, I determined long ago that my life without climbing—without the places, people and experiences that climbing has introduced to me—would be unacceptably diminished.

I am working this issue out constantly myself. Thanks Bill for articulating this conflict and your priorities so well.

Colorado readers should immediately visit the website for the Northern Colorado Climbers Coalition and 1. Join the organization, then 2. Download the very high quality PDF guide to Poudre Canyon by Cameron Cross and Ben Scott. A measly 10 bucks gets access to the online guides and judging by the Poudre guide, that's well worth it by itself. So check it out today.