Monday, July 27, 2009

Working with Brent Apgar Part II

As anyone who has followed my summer is aware, roughly a month and a half ago I definitely had something appear in my left elbow that hindered serious climbing. It has a history that goes back to May at least. For the past four weeks I have been meeting with Brent Apgar of Synchro Chiropractic and getting the elbow and other areas treated with a pretty painful massage method called the Graston technique. I feel confident in saying that yesterday I had a session at the Spot that clearly indicated that Brent's treatments were having a considerably beneficial result. I did around 20 problems overall including a near flash of a crimpy five minus and several four spots at various angles. Today, my arm feels fine with only negligible soreness and no obvious negative aftereffects from what was a fairly solid session.

I would certainly recommend this treatment along with a dedicated stretching regimen and a careful self-analysis of what went wrong in the first place. My main problem as I see it now was trying to do too much at the same time, training really hard on my home wall and not allowing some time for healing and recuperation, especially during a very busy and stressful semester. This inattention to the obvious cost me six weeks of climbing time which I was able to compensate for only somewhat through trail running and easy climbing. I would advise any climbers who are thinking about having bodywork done but are balking at the expense to consider the psychological and emotional cost of having to take two or more months off to heal and hopefully get back to square one. The monetary investment in physical health is equivalent to say a new rope but infinitely more important and more difficult to get back once damaged

One of the advantages of working with Brent was that he is a dedicated climber and focused on understanding the mechanics and physiology of movement in climbing. We talked for a long time about issues related to climbing movement and its potential for injury and strategies for prevention and healing. He was very open to discussion and straightforward in considering options for getting past the injury. So I am hoping that I can learn from this experience and pass some of this knowledge along to readers who are wondering where to turn. I would add that there is never an easy fix for an overuse injury of any kind and especially not one that may have been months or years in the making.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

New Releases

The latest new offering from Wolverine Publishing is a superb guide to the climbing in Boulder Canyon. Bob D'Antonio asked me to assist by writing the bouldering section which has been included in the book. After receiving a copy earlier this week, I reviewed it very closely and have to say it is the definitive work on the subject. For reasons of space, a few areas have been passed over and there is a lack of FA info, which is a common trend in guidebooks these days. These minor points aside, I am very pleased to have helped with a guidebook that has turned out so well. The accuracy of the information and quality of presentation along with a generous helping of high-quality action photos and personal essays make this book a must-buy for local climbers and visitors alike. If it were possible to do such a thing, I would propose that the NSFS land on which most of the climbing is found be designated a Climbing Reserve with more done to facilitate access and maintenance of trails, etc. With the sport route explosion of the last 10 years, Boulder Canyon has become one of the most desirable locations in all of Colorado, one that I would recommend highly to visiting climbers who want hassle-free easy access routes across the spectrum of grades and styles. For sample pages and ordering info go to Wolverine's website. The book is out August 4 but early orders receive a five dollar discount. I am confident this will sell really well.

The other big news is the opening on Saturday of Movement Climbing + Fitness. This is a big deal for local climbers as it expands the indoor options for Boulder considerably. The space looks great as I hope the photos below clearly show. They were putting the final touches on the floors and other last-minute details so it looks to be on schedule. The opening day on Saturday should be the place to be so check it out. A couple of weeks ago Mike Moelter and Justen Sjong took me on a tour and the attention to detail as well as the open, well-lit atmosphere were clearly apparent.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The End of Climbing History?

The recent death of John Bachar has had me contemplating more than just mortality and age, it has also led to me to consider a broader change in the sport, namely that history no longer is being made in climbing. I don't mean that there is nothing left to do in climbing, far from it, but that there is no significant innovation in terms of technology, practice, arena, or destination likely to emerge in the future that will be considered truly historical.

While it would take a much longer essay to develop this point, I want briefly to consider where the end of history in climbing occured to begin the discussion. My personal preference is sometime between 1975 and 1985, an era when pretty much every form of technology and practice that we take for granted today was introduced and accepted and has not changed a great deal since. If we look at rock-climbing, this period saw the introduction of camming devices, sticky rubber, adoption of harnesses, and of course acceptance of bolted climbs. We could also throw in psychological innovations such as training, the concept of "beta" for remembering climbs, topos, and high-end free-soloing. Free-climbing big walls was already being explored and achieved in pathbreaking climbs such the Erickson-Higbee ascent of Half-Dome in 1976 and Hudon and Jones on the Salathe in 1980. Sport climbing was well established by the mid-80s and Tribout's 1986 "To Bolt or Not to Be" established a benchmark 5.14. Peter Croft's solos of Astroman and the Rostrum in 1987 mark a new departure in solo climbing. The same trends can be seen in bouldering, aid-climbing, alpinism and high-altitude mountaineering.

Climbing in the time prior to 1990 could still be described as exploratory, historical and foundational in nature but since then, it has become a sport with a well-defined set of practices, pretty clear parameters for performance and not much possibility for genuine innovation. I saw a recent headline on the cover of Urban Climber "5.15b now exists" and thought so what? This kind of ascent is not meaningful in the history of the sport, however impressive the climb, as it represents an incremental advance in physical difficulty, not a new, qualitatively different direction. Does this mean climbing is boring? Not at all. But is it innovative or exploratory in any real sense? Beyond the subjective experience of the individual, I would argue no. Climbing can longer have a history of the kind that was made beginning in the mid nineteenth century with Whymper on the Matterhorn in 1865, and ending maybe with the 1988 Skinner-Piana ascent of the Salathe or the 1985 ascent of the West Face of Gasherbrum IV by Schauer and Kurtyka. We might have news but no more history.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Longs Peak Run Part 2

This morning my knees are aching and my quads are incredibly sore thanks to an excursion up to the Keyhole on Longs Peak. I got a leisurely start, arriving at the trailhead around 9 am and started up feeling pretty good. After an annoying encounter with a horse train, the way was clear up to Chasm Junction where I stopped before. I could see individual climbers on the Diamond pretty clearly from there. I headed off to Granite Pass which went very quickly and then the Boulderfield was in sight. After a bit of rock-hopping, I was at the Keyhole by 11:15. While I would have liked to get the summit, it was at least an hour away still and I had to be back in Boulder. So back down, more or less uneventfully, to the car by 1 pm, a slow time induced by not quite enough to eat and dehydration, a state which persisted well into the night.

To do this mountain fast requires a lot more food and water than I carried yesterday but I think I have learned my lesson on that point. I look forward to a proper summit attempt soon, hopefully under six hours round trip. I will post pictures once I figure out how to download them from my phone.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Jim Collins in Fortune Magazine

Go here for a very interesting story about Jim Collins, best-selling business book author and management guru.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Elbow Improvement

So Saturday morning, I was getting pretty tired of how my elbow was feeling so I decided after a thorough warm-up on the west side of Nook's rock, to try That Flakes It, the hardest V4 on the mountain for my money and nailed the dyno first try and without any pain. I went to Cloudshadow and did Hagans, The Consideration, East Inside Corner and the Pedestal Traverse as well. I caught up with Bruce Miller there, one of the great unsung talents in the Boulder scene. Then I went up to Red Wall and did the Standard Red Wall problem and Varney's from the lower start (V7?) and after did a bunch more really easy stuff. The temps were pretty hot and the rock greasy so I definitely had to work for the holds. Sunday my arm felt like somethung had definitely loosened up so that even a fairly hard run up and down Green Mountain felt OK.

I am increasingly convinced that many elbow issues can be traced to excess biceps tension as that seems to be what is at the root of the problem. Stretching the area seems to produce the best results. Brent Apgar's last treatment focused a lot on my left triceps and biceps and while my arm hurt quite a bit the next day, clearly something was beginning to change for the better. I hope this remains the trajectory for the future.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Ten Commandments for Aging Climbers Revised

Matt Samet, in the Sporting Life column in Climbing writes about the big elephant in the room of climbing, i.e. the problem of age. Readers of this blog know that this is an ongoing interest of mine, not least because everyone is an aging climber to some degree or another. Maybe age is just another name for gravity.

Anyway, while I admire Matt's writing (and really think he has done a lot to get Climbing back to where it should be editorially speaking) and think of him as a friend, I would like to address some issues, maybe even errors in his piece and suggest some alternative "commandments."

1. "Thou shalt have no other hobbies"
Climbing is not and never can be a hobby or even a pastime for an "aging" climber. If you are climbing past 30, you will probably keep at it to the bitter end and that's not a hobby, it's a passion. However, as you get older other passions can compete with climbing. That's a good thing, especially if you get injured. Take good care of your lower extremities, i.e. stay away from highballs, so you have an ambulatory option when things go pear-shaped.
2. "Thou shalt not display thy graven image shirtless in the rock gymnasion (past say 30)"
Sure there is some justice in this, though the placing seems a bit high, even if MS is following the original. However on reflection, which would you rather be, "a goggle-eyed man-child who's just discovered sprinklers in the park" or someone who's self-conscious and uptight about appearances. In Boulder you see all types and that's the way it goes. I'd rather be goofy, goggle-eyed, but inspired to climb better and not give a hoot about the rest of the crowd. But maybe I'm just not hairy enough.
3. "Thou shalt not say take in haste"
Again some justice in this one. Getting upset and angry about routes is a waste of time no matter what your age bracket. But on the flipside, "Thou shalt not be a weekend climbing tool and spend free time grimly pounding out the route mileage" is a good thing to consider. Balance, always balance.
4. "Thou shalt learn to use thy feet."
OK, but I would say if you haven't done this by now, you had better get as strong as possible instead.
5. "Remember rest days and keep them holy."
Good point except that older climbers have plenty of rest days enforced upon them by the demands of real life. No real need to worry about that one.
6. "Thou shalt not attempt routes thou onsighted in thy youth."
I would amend that to never go back to an onsighted route regardless of age unless you are going to be cool about the outcome. And good luck with that.
7. "Thou shalt not hate on the younger generations."
This is an important one. You can learn quite a lot from younger climbers and even if you have to work at it, make friendships with kids young enough to be (gulp) grandkids. It's good for them as well. They will be 30 before they know it.
8. "Thou shalt not wax poetic about "Back in the Day" (BITD) nor bear false witness on climbing forums."
Absolutely yes on this. Nothing traps you in the past like bad nostalgia.
9 "Thou shalt not tell other people how to rock climb"
Except when they are clearly committing a safety faux pas that will lead to the hospital and/or the morgue. Some experience might carry weight here.
10. "Thou shalt not wear socks with thy rock shoes"
Well I don't and never have but I would say if you're still climbing and having fun, wear whatever you want, however you want. Watch out for those old ratty harnesses and other obsolete gear though. Fashion is one thing, safety another.

Some replacements suggested
1. I'll keep it, reword
2. Replace with "Thou shalt be considerate of others"
3.Replace with "Thou shalt keep it fun, no matter what"
4. Replace with "Thou shalt always be learning to become a better climber"
5. Replace with "Thou shalt be committed to staying healthy and injury-free"
6. Replace with "Thou shalt pick thy battles carefully"
7. I'll keep it, maybe reword a bit
8. Yes as stated above.
9. Replace with, "Thou shalt be mindful in sharing thy experience"
10. Replace with "Thou shalt use climbing gear that helps you climb your best"

Oh and I almost forgot, weigh carefully any commandments for "aging" rock climbers from writers who are less than 40, however much they say they are "over the hill." Things are not as "confused" and "terrible" as you might think from Matt's intro. That state is reserved for your late 20s, when you are no longer young and still have no idea what to do with your life.

Monday, July 6, 2009

John Bachar 1957-2009: The End of an Era

The climbing community is truly reeling from the report of John Bachar’s death while soloing near Mammoth Lakes in California. Tributes are being posted at various sites by close friends and distant admirers alike. And as I read them I sense that a particular kind of loss has been experienced, one not quite like any other I have seen or experienced in the world of climbing and one that deserves closer inquiry and examination.

First of all, I was not a friend of Bachar and only met him once in Joshua Tree, a very long time ago, and briefly talked with him about bouldering. My only other connection was my sole appearance in a climbing magazine being in a very old issue of Climbing with him soloing Outer Limits on the cover. So I can’t speak to his character or personality except of course as he was depicted in the media, and there was a lot over the years. He came across to me as someone who knew very well how good a climber he was and had incredible skills and confidence along with a keen sense of understanding what the game of climbing was about. The famous $10,000 Camp 4 wager speaks of a climber who was not merely commenting on his own ability but that of his peers, a gesture unprecedented in American climbing not least because of its aggressive forthrightness.

So why does his death matter to anyone besides family and friends? I believe it matters because he became a symbol for an idea of something far greater than climbing. For anyone who cared about the problem of climbing harder routes, he represented an ideal of perfection and grace fronted by a cool and remote personality that appeared even and measured no matter how intimidating the path ahead. The eponymous Bachar-Yerian route epitomized this quality as Bachar seemed to have placed just enough bolts to encourage others to see where he could take climbing if he really wanted to push it out even further. Bachar went way beyond where the rest of us would choose to go but he did it with an icy edge of rationality that contrasted with the more out-there personas of his time.

Thus to watch Bachar was to believe that poise, control and reason were at the heart of climbing well. Somehow with him soloing 5.11 onsight made sense or you could at least try to make sense of it. He never looked remotely in any danger or ill at ease with his surroundings. His example could encourage you to master yourself and your own fear to live up to your aspirations. Even if you found his sense of climbing ethics overly strict or his media persona overdone, at the core something endured that was hard as steel and genuine.

Yet a reading of John Long’s short and masterful essay The Only Blasphemy points to a darker side, an atmosphere of almost inhuman severity that Bachar inhabited and even seemed at times to cultivate. We all marveled at the ease with which he climbed difficult and dangerous routes. See for example Bachar soloing the 12c route The Gift at Red Rocks on the video Masters of Stone 3. Anyone who has climbed on this route knows that it is not very secure and hardly on solid rock. The crux is up high on a sloping sidepull/gaston that certainly had me in suspense when I did the route. I have soloed some climbs myself back in the day and I know that I would never have dreamed of going there. Bachar deliberately explained himself in the video by saying “You don’t try, you just do” and somehow watching you know you can’t, won’t ever do it. Why? Because you realize there are other ways of finding out what you are made of that don’t require the isolation, the total inner focus, or the deadly risk of free-soloing. Some have it and some don't, that is all.

Now Bachar’s era is truly over and with it the sense of youth and immortality that he almost literally embodied, even as he aged. Bachar stood for the 1970s, a time before climbing became much more circumscribed and defined. With nothing but the famous blond hair, a chalk bag, running shorts and his Firé climbing shoes, he tackled climbs that had been considered cutting edge just before he arrived. He became an emblem of the American climbing scene, especially that of the Valley, a symbol of fresh, brash, energy with no limits or precedents to obey. Along with the surfers and the skateboarders, Bachar represented a vision of California as the land of youth and sunshine and open, endless freedom. The world is different now, climbing is different now, we are ambivalent about where to turn next, and now one of our guides is no longer with us.

When the Legends Die: John Bachar dead at 51

UK Climbing reports that John Bachar, whose career represented the epitome of American free-soloing in the seventies and early eighties is dead, apparently while solo climbing near Mammoth Lakes. This truly marks the end of an era. The influence that he had upon the sport of climbing was immense and his contributions in the form of very bold ascents will live on forever.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Working with Brent Apgar

Last Thursday I went to the Spot to meet with Brent Apgar, an old friend of mine who is now a chiropractor. Brent read of my recent issues with my elbow and offered to help. I accepted and volunteered to share my experiences with readers who may be interested in finding solutions to similar problems. Brent began by asking about the nature of the injury and its likely origins and explained his views on how tendinitis starts, views which made sense to me. Essentially the issue is almost always the disparity between muscle growth and tendon adaptation, a disparity which can result in a separation and irritation where the tendon inserts in to the bone. This will eventually heal but usually in an unproductive and weakened fashion resulting in more pain and problems down the road. Brent proposed a few sessions using the Graston technique which is a massage technique using specially designed stainless steel instruments to break down and realign muscle and tendon fiber and promote circulation of blood. In practice this means a few minutes of fairly painful work on a specific area, just painful enough to make you want to kick something but not enough actually to do it.

After this was over, we talked a bit about how to proceed with regard to climbing. Having taken two weeks off, I was definitely hoping to find some way of resuming climbing that would not re-injure me and hopefully promote healing. Brent suggested that at this point it would be more productive to resume climbing at a pain-free level, i.e. whatever grade or type of move allows unimpeded movement. The theory behind this is that movement is always better than rest in regard to recovery and strength-building only happens in response to manageable stress. This creates an interesting problem for the climber of course in that the challenge is to find but not get to where you are making things worse. It is a game of self-control which I believe many climbers have had difficulty with, myself included.

So this morning I did about 15 very easy problems at Flagstaff up to roughly V2 but mostly much easier and for the most part had no issues. The biggest problem is crimping on a steep wall. I don't think I have ever had my elbows hurt from crimping before but such is the nature of lateral epicondylitis. It was surprisingly busy up there, not least because of two teams from Rocky Mountain Rescue doing drills in the ravine west of the Monkey Traverse.

Finally, I want to recommend a novel by Italo Calvino, The Baron in the Trees. It is a fantastic little novel about an Italian nobleman who abandons his family and station in life to live in the trees of the valley he grew up in. Any serious climber will recognize something of him or herself in the attitude of Cosimo the main character and his determination to leave the mundane terrain of the world behind. I first read it about 10 years ago on a road trip when I was working on the Present at the Gorilla Cliffs near Saint George, UT. Everything I have read by Calvino is beautifully written and thought-provoking and if you like this book, I would add Invisible Cities and If on a Winter's Night a Traveler to your list.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Local News? Not so much

Since Jamie Emerson is in South Africa, I will add my slightly jaded perspective on the local bouldering scene which can be summed up in this sentence: Evans and the Park are now like Rifle. Exhibit A is Nalle Hukketaival's rampage where he repeated Jade(V15) quickly, established a beautiful and tall V13 called Sunseeker (check out Carlo's video) and dispatched the old-school testpiece Nuthin but Sunshine (V13) in 30 minutes. Now the rest of us are making the drive "over the hill" and doing the approach to throw in a few burns on the "proj" before heading back to town. The filling in the gaps era is here, the veterans, lifers and addicts spending weeks and months on a problem or a grade are all going to be here. Colorado is no longer where it is happening. Go to South Africa or Switzerland or who knows where else but not here.

As you can tell from other posts I am trying to stay off climbing altogether as my left elbow is stubbornly refusing to let up. This is a difficult condition to work with as sometimes it feels as though the slightest movement in the wrong direction can aggravate it. This has prompted looking at a number of training books, as I have mentioned already, and I am reading in preparation for a survey of the most recent, in particularly Eric Horst's Training for Climbing and Hague and Hunter's The Self Coached Climber. Both contain useful advice but both ultimately are missing the point in my opinion but more on this topic later. So I am doing a lot of running and painting and generally trying to keep hopeful.