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.