Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lord of the Rings and Climbing





The Dave Graham problem Mithril 8b at Cresciano from Moon Climbing.

Periodically I reread the classic fantasy trilogy by JRR Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings. For some reason, this year I was really struck by the impact this book has had on climbing. Granted that climbers can be a nerdy bunch, but a search of route names in the US and abroad shows a prevalence of borrowing that no other work of literature can compare to. In the quite literally Misty Mountains of New Hampshire, route after route was directly named after places in the book with examples like the Mordor Wall, Mines of Moria or the less appealing Orc, a nasty 5.8. Here in Colorado, boulder problems such as Gandalf indicate the enduring appeal of the books. In Switzerland, a place that had a great affect on Tolkien's vision of Middle Earth, Dave Graham problems such as Shadowfax and Mithril seem to reflect the atmosphere of Rivendell. As it happens the Swiss valley of Lauterbrunnen was the model for this mythic valley, based on Tolkien's visit there as a young man. The list goes on and on.



Paul Robinson on Shadowfax 8B at Chironico, photo from 27 Crags.


What is the appeal of Tolkien's writing for climbers? I think there are a number of possibilities. First the books are ultimately about a long expedition to climb a mountain to find, what else but The Cracks of Doom, later immortalized in climbing history as the first 5.10 in Yosemite Valley. The terrain that the characters traverse in the book is very well-known to climbers including mountain passes, craggy valleys, deep forests and so on.

There is also the whole idea of the quest that appears on the face of it ridiculous. Many critics have found fault with the idea of the Ring as an object of desire because it seems too small and innocuous to have such power associated with it. What could be more similar to a boulder problem?.

Finally there is the idea of creating a fantasy world out of the raw material of nature. Climbing is at its essence an act of imagination, imposing order and meaning on the chaos of the natural environment. Tolkien's genius created entire languages and geographies that mirror in interesting ways the naming practices and customs associated with climbing. Little wonder then that many climbers over the decades following the publication of LOTR have honored this connection.

I think there are many other parallels and connections that have made the climbing world find particular resonance with Tolkien's creation. Somehow, I feel confident that the associations made so long ago with these books will persist well into the future.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Rich Simpson Controversy

Recently I have been steering away from current events in climbing, mostly because it really has been more of the same, and also because I have been too busy with other things, especially in terms of writing. However a special case has emerged that says some very interesting things about climbing and its meaning, and particularly its intersection with commerce. If you have been using the Internets, you were probably alerted to the situation by a remarkable article at UKC which in essence declared that owing to a lack confirmation by the climber, "UKC has now removed all news items and article references from our website regarding Rich Simpson's climbing achievements. These have not been deleted however, and we would be happy to republish these news articles if proof of these ascents comes to light." (Full Disclosure: I have had a couple of reviews published by UKC, albeit with no compensation)

The article/editorial also noted that Simpson's primary sponsors Wild Country and Scarpa have apparently dropped him though with a bit of searching, he is still on their websites. According to statements published by UKC, Simpson, when asked to verify his accomplishments, declined to do so and submitted resignations with both companies. He is still listed at Moon Cimbing.

A number of topics on message boards in the UK discussed the topic, sometimes at agonizing length, but with little resolution to the central questions, questions that will persist well after this instance has faded from the headlines.

What is the best response to the appearance of doubts about a climber's achievements? It seems to me that this case is a difficult one and in part because Simpson appears to have the strength and ability to have made good on his claims. However also peculiar is the absolute media silence about the bigger picture, that is the process of vetting and confirmation of news and sponsorship agreements. In a properly professionalized sport, such as world track and field, it seems that this situation would have been handled very differently. Indeed it appears that claims by Simpson about running almost certainly brought to light questions about his climbing record.

Running is by nature a more verifiable and quantifiable sport, even at the amateur level. Chip timing and the internet have made verification of race times a matter of a quick web search. Climbing is much more murky, and bouldering even more so, relying on one climber's word or a previous record of achievements. In the world of alpinism, especially solo alpinism, controversy and debated ascents are surprisingly common.

Is it really a problem that there will be individuals who take advantage of a relatively loose scoring and monitoring system? Perhaps, but given the lack of openness about sponsorship contracts and criteria for them, it is hardly surprising that these things can happen. Maybe the loosely enforced and mostly honor-system-enforced historical record of climbing is just an intrinsic part of the experience that athletes and sponsors must deal with as best they can. In this regard, the silence surrounding this particular episode, at least in terms of real news and not just secondary commentary, is telling. We may never know the real story behind this turn of events but we may see a change in how the climbing industry does the business of reporting news and checking climbing CVs moving forward.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Breakthrough Bouldering Clinic Recap

After some speculation whether anyone would show up, I had at least 10 people at the Boulder Rock Club last Thursday night for a clinic that went close to two hours. I started off explaining my philosophy of climbing better, namely paying better attention to what you are doing and understanding why. To me this is the essence of maximizing your potential as a climber and yet is so hard to do well. Then we had a little bit of falling practice. Much like in sport climbing, safe effective falling technique is crucial to feeling confident trying moves. Because trying harder moves is the key to doing harder problems, I wanted the participants to feel free to fail safely.

After the opening part, I had people move through a relatively easy but steeply overhung sequence getting them to think about body position,foot placement and speed. I am not trying to critique their climbing so much as open up other possibilities for thinking about climbing. Then we tried a long dyno type move, working on seeing the differences that momentum and foot placement can make, as well as speed of execution. Another harder problem was used to illustrate the need to make the most of good foot choices to use smaller handholds.

Finally I made some suggestions about effective bouldering gear, especially slippers, as many intermediate boulderers use shoes that are too stiff and take too much time to put on and take off. I also showed them what makes a good crashpad (representing Organic!) and why you need one (or two, really). I answered a ton of great questions.

I had a few chalkbags to distribute, courtesy of Chris Danielson at Trango climbing, and some free chalk, courtesy of Metolius, as well. I will be working on the schwag for the next clinic, for sure. Where to hold it next is the question.

I think the comments of one BRC member (on my previous post) said it best:

"I was lucky enough to go to the clinic, and it was great. Thanks for all the good advice! I thought it was a great balance of on-the-wall work, and mental training. I got some new perspective on trying hard, redefining failure and success, and some great training and technique tips. I'm ...trying to break out of the v5/6 grade, and I got a lot out of it. I'd go to another one of these in a heartbeat."

Definitely looking forward to doing more! If you think your gym might be interested, let me know.

Friday, December 3, 2010

BRC Bouldering Clinic Next Thursday December 9


I am very psyched to be offering my first public clinic on bouldering at the Boulder Rock Club next Thursday evening from 7 pm to 8:30. This clinic, titled Breakthrough Bouldering, is intended to help the serious boulderer or roped climber make the next step in proficiency and difficulty. If you are a boulderer who has had trouble getting out of the V2 or V3 grade, I will offer some ideas on how to self-assess and take concrete steps to improve. My primary focus will be on the psychological and mental paths that can be explored in conjunction with better utilization of physical strength, hoping to dissolve the artificial distinction that too many climbers make between the powers of mind and body.

The clinic will be a great learning experience for me as I wrap up my book, listening to climbers and their reactions to my experiences and ideas. Aimed at typical time-pressed climbers, I certainly hope it will help them learn to make the most of the limited time that most of us have to practice the sport we love so much

While this first offering is only open to BRC members, I will be contacting Boulder and Denver-area gyms with the offer to conduct this clinic, free of charge, for their members and guests. I will keep you posted on how it goes. It sounds like there may be some serious interest already

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Story of Two Worlds: Conversations with John Gill and Dave Graham

In the last two weeks, I have had the curious pleasure of talking at length with two of the most influential boulderers in the history of the sport. By curious, I mean that they essentially bracket the beginning and the end of the development of the idea of bouldering. The conversations made me reflect on the constantly evolving nature not just of bouldering but of people and culture overall.

About two weeks ago, I met up with John Gill at the American Alpine Club Museum in Golden. It was a great time and began with us touring the actual exhibits before sitting down for a conversation. It felt a bit like touring the Louvre with Leonardo da Vinci. John is a truly modest man, reserved yet with a penetrating sense of humor, as he recalled the ways in which he thought about bouldering and essentially founded the sport. We talked for close to two hours, exploring the meaning of climbing in our respective lives and the way in which our thoughts about moving on rock, training, and even thinking itself affects the experience of climbing. I recorded the conversation and hope to have the time to transcribe it in the near future. While John began climbing in era steeped in the auras of alpinism and big wall climbing, his ideas about bouldering ultimately revolutionized all areas of climbing. I felt while talking with him, that I was meeting not just a historically important character but one essentially contemporary in his thinking, who did not seem caught in the past. I have been talking recently with some truly legendary figures in climbing but my time with John was one of the most interesting moments in my climbing career.









The week after, I talked with Dave Graham in Boulder. Dave, much like John, needs no introduction. Dave rewrote the rules of the sport of bouldering in the mid-1990s, much as Chris Sharma did for sport climbing. Tearing through the standard testpieces in Fontainebleau, Dave then went on to establish numerous testpieces in Switzerland and all over the US. His intensity and keen intelligence are notorious in a sport where exuding a sense of laid-back cool and detachment are more typical.

The conversation was fast-paced and wide-ranging as we discussed his plans for the Island, the media outlet he is forming to distribute his vision of contemporary climbing. A child of the 90s, Dave is into electronic media in all forms: video, audio, the Web, anything and everything, all pasted together. His international celebrity and reputation within the climbing community ensure his ideas will bear fruit somewhere on a global stage. As with John, two hours flew by like nothing. Dave's restless mind hopped effortlessly from one subject to the next, digging deeply though never for too long, giving me some insight into how he is able to read rock so quickly and so intensely.

There is an interesting contrast in meeting with these two very different characters so close together. It shows that really there is no such thing as the typical climber and that while there must be some commonality among climbers across time, there are also huge differences, differences shaped by truly profound influences and forces. The world that I live in sits somewhere between the two, offering I hope, some perspective on both the world of Gill and Graham.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

An Accident and Some Thoughts on the Cost of Climbing

Shannon Forsman and I were getting in a short late afternoon session at Flagstaff Mountain. The air was calm and still a bit warm, though the rock was beginning to feel crisp where it had cooled facing away from the sun. I felt like I was moving fairly well, nothing out of the ordinary, just OK. It's times like this that I sit back somewhat mentally as I climb and think about the simple beauty of light on stone, the straightforward presences of the rocks swelling up out the earth, and visually drift, like a bird, across the distance space above Gregory Canyon.

We were talking about the Adventure Film Festival at the Boulder Theater (which I did not go to) and I commented on how so many climbing films still seem focused on selling the adrenalin rush, the sensation, and the difficulty. It seemed to me that climbing film makers seem deliberately to decide to avoid the merely human, the humble reality of the act of climbing. I speculated on why nobody that I knew of had really gone there, looking for example at the impact of serious climbing injuries and fatalities on people's lives, the ways in which lives are altered forever, ruined even, in the midst of a search for, well, what exactly?

I was moving across the initial jugs of the Monkey Traverse when another climber came running down the hill saying that a rescue had been called in and that a crew would be coming down the trail very soon. We headed down the trail ourselves and I saw a man lying near the base of one of the many gullies below Alamo Rock, awkwardly perched on a slab, clearly not in good shape, vomit dripping from his lips, eyes half-opened. He looked like any number of typical visitors to Flag, not really a climber, just a guy who was out with his friends and decided to scramble up a rock. Shannon went up to see what she could do while I went up to the parking lot to see if I could carry gear or assist in any way.

The sirens coming up the road grew louder and louder and soon a group of vehicles from Rocky Mountain Rescue, OSMP and the Sheriff's Department were parked, their walkie-talkies scratching away under the glare of flashing red-blue lights while the rescue group got under way. I followed them down the trail, watching with growing respect the way in which the situation was quickly assessed, duties assigned, and gear deployed. While it didn't seem to be a particularly difficult spot, the victim was pretty big and his situation seemed serious. Within a few minutes the location was thoroughly covered with personnel and the victim secured.

Within less than an hour he was loaded on an ambulance and taken to the hospital. I talked briefly with Rick Hatfield, ranger with OSMP, who commented that, despite the obvious risky nature of the rock formations in the area, such incidents were rare, considering the visitor numbers. Yet, he added, these accidents seem to come in sets, with long gaps punctuated by closely grouped accidents. He didn't know why, just that it happened that way.

On the drive back down, the rescue teams having dispersed, I mused on this observation some more, considering how one person's tragedy becomes in the long view, a statistic of sorts, part of a pattern as natural as the rhythm of the pines growing across the mountainside or the distribution of the boulders. We want to take meaning from all of this, find something deeper and valuable, but is it really there?

In the face of this dilemma, do we as climbers face the facts of death and injury with a sort of insouciant denial, a recognition that we are all condemned to this fate in some sense anyway? This is one option but not the most interesting or meaningful reaction in my view. The truth is most of us will not suffer any heroic martrydom on the slopes, washed away by an avalanche, obliterated by rockfall, or buried deeply in a crevasse. Instead, we will succumb to gravity slowly, bit by bit. We fall by degrees but finally, inevitably, we fall.

I kept contrasting in my mind the simplicity and clarity of angular holds basking in the light of a late fall afternoon, glowing orange and red in the fading light, with the ugly complex and amorphous truth of a man's body, sprawled, bleeding and in shock, his mind unclear of place or time, his fate completely at the mercy of others. What can we, as climbers, make of this state of things? Do we acknowledge, but ultimately ignore, it as simply the cost of doing business or do we take a more human view of it, recognizing that in a quest for this experience of climbing, there will be failures and catastrophes and that these failures make us human, make the sport meaningful? I don't pretend to have the answers. My faith in climbing is far too tentative for that. But the question seems important, too important to leave unexplored.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Winter Bouldering, The Book and the Big Stone

I finally had a session at Flag that would begin to count as winter bouldering. After some recent light snows, the weather has cooled down considerably and shaded north-facing formations are still holding the white stuff. On Sunday, I stayed out almost until dark in 40 degree temperatures trying a silly contrivance on Red Wall. A couple of things are needed. One might be some good sized handwarmers, another would be a light on a tripod, like the Gorilla Light, to make the most of the little time I have. Anyway I am refining my winter kit and will let you know what the final ensemble looks like.

On the bouldering book front I am excited to have some prominent people in the bouldering community helping me out at this point (names to be named later) and hope for more contributions as the word gets out. Sending out emails for this help is like sending messages in a bottle, one hopes for the best. Thanks to all who have generously helped so far. And if an email from me is languishing in your inbox, please consider responding. You will be making it the best how-to book on bouldering published.

On the climbing news front, the most exciting (and ongoing) event is surely Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson on the Dawn Wall, freeing a humongously difficult sequence of pitches in what will be certainly the hardest big wall freeclimb on the planet. Kevin is posting updates on his Twitter feed at this point. If this climb goes on this trip, there will be likely contenders for hardest sport climb (Sharma on Jumbo Love at Mount Clark), hardest big wall free climb, and dare I say it, hardest boulder problem with Daniel Woods on The Game right here in Boulder Canyon, all in the US, not in Europe. I should add also hardest trad pitch with Beth Rodden on Meltdown. Speculation but a potentially very interesting state of affairs in my view.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Writing, writing, writing

I have been keeping my posts and short and far apart recently due to my commitment to writing the bouldering book and keeping up with my college work. I have been getting out only a few hours at a time, meaning the gym or Flagstaff at most. The Park is becoming a distant memory at this point. A cherished one nevertheless.

Nevertheless, I feel reasonably strong and am inspired by the goings on out there and of course Internet video. The ever-productive Jon Glassberg has a new short video from Switzerland:



as well as a new installment from his work on Lincoln Lake:

Lincoln Lake GIANTS! Chapter 2 • Bones... from Louder Than 11 on Vimeo.



These give a good comparison of the cinematic potential of some locales versus others. Chironico has changing light, interesting backgrounds, amazing texture, and best of all life. Things grow there such as trees meaning the frame always has something else besides rocks. And this is the problem with Lincoln. Almost always you are shooting someone climbing a grainy round rock with piles of other rocks, mostly identical in nature, sitting just behind. The light is almost always a dull flat gray owing to Lincoln's east facing sunken location. Great for bouldering,lousy for video. I think Jon has done a pretty good job with the limitations of the area. I look forward to see if he can get something really good out of Switzerland,especially something without a hip-hop or techno soundtrack:)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fred Nicole Video from the 90s

While doing research for my book, I came across this video produced by the indefatigable Udo Neumann. Neumann is co-author of the essential book on training, Performance Rock Climbing and has created numerous useful and interesting videos. I think most of his books are available only in German, sadly.

The video of Radja, the first V14 in the world, comes near the end but all of it is worth a view. Nicole has been such a major influence on the sport of bouldering that any opportunity to see him climb is worth the time.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Beta Series Continues

The Beta - Branch Bacardi from Andrew Kornylak on Vimeo.



If you want to see climbing video done right, Andrew K can show you. Funny monologue, beautiful filming, good soundtrack. Speaking of video, make sure to check out "Enter the Wolvo" from the Island. Maybe more on this video later.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Alpine Season is Over

After a few hints that the end was near, the snow came down hard in the mountains over the last few days, shutting down what had been a nice extended season. I have been very busy these days, barely able to do much besides work on the book and my classes, hence the lack of posts. Here's a video of a problem at Flagstaff to indicate the kind of locales I am likely to be spending my time for the near future.

Southern Sun V7/8 Flagstaff Mountain from peter beal on Vimeo.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Inching Closer


On Saturday, after visiting Flagstaff to do a bouldering tour (nobody wanted one) and talking with OSMP Ranger Rick Hatfield, I headed home to regroup and head off to RMNP. The Park was looking gorgeous with the high peaks, dusted with snow, glistening in the sun. The Bear Lake parking is still touch-and-go on these nice weekend days,sadly the only time I can make it. A pleasant hike up to Lower followed and I settled in for another session on the project. After a fun warmup on the many moderate problems in the immediate vicinity, I started working European again in earnest. At this point I am consistently hitting the second crimp on link and sticking the undercling move almost every time I try it. I also easily did the last move.

It's hard to say what the deciding factors will be. Certainly Saturday was by far the best conditions for trying the boulder that I have ever experienced. I suppose having a partner would be helpful but my schedule hemmed in by work and family is much too irregular for the typical Chaos visitor. The main thing is ultimately constantly building finger strength and hoping the season extends just a wee bit longer. Otherwise, I'll be there in May digging it out!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Flagstaff Bouldering Tour This Saturday


For anyone who wants beta on bouldering at Flagstaff Mountain, now that the fall/winter season is in progress, please join me for a tour starting at First Overhang and continuing down the mountain from there. Rick Hatfield from OSMP will be there as well.

We will be meeting up at 10:30 on October 16th at the First Overhang Parking Area. Here's the OSMP official announcement:

Bouldering on Flagstaff – Get the Beta!
Sat Oct 16, 10:30 am – noon
Fall is finally here and Flagstaff Mountain’s prime season is just beginning. Join local climber/OSMP trail guide Peter Beal and ranger-naturalist Rick Hatfield for an introductory program about bouldering on Flagstaff Mountain, one of the most important urban bouldering areas in the country. Get the beta from Peter on Flagstaff's major formations, dozens of problems, and information on environmentally sound bouldering practices. Rick will answer questions about park resources and policies.  The tour will not provide technical instruction or safety advice related to bouldering or climbing.
Meet at the First Overhang Parking Area, located at the last hairpin turn before the entrance to the summit area, approximately 1.7 miles from the Panorama Point kiosk. Due to limited parking, OSMP encourages tour participants to carpool, hike or bike to the meeting point.

Monday, October 11, 2010

It May Be Over

Snow and Wind, Lake Haiyaha October 2010
On Saturday, despite the RMNP webcam showing high winds and snow, I, and as it turned out a surprising number of others, decided to give the Park a try. Even though it was obviously not great weather above 10,000 feet, the parking lot at Bear Lake was almost totally full. I met up with Ryan Young on the trail and we set a fairly brisk pace up to the Autobot Boulder. A stiff breeze was blowing across the boulders, accompanied by regular snow showers, which made warming up considerably difficult. After a few cursory turns on the easier problems there, I decided to get out of the wind and see if European Human Being was at all feasible to try. Amazingly the problem was tucked away sufficiently from the relentless wind, and though it was cold, I was able to get warmed up reasonably well. While I would have liked to have been able to report a successful send of this problem, the humidity level alone was prohibitive and in fact not long after I started packing up, water started running down the wall. I was however able to hit the second crimp from the start and complete the other moves quickly. While I am not necessarily the hardest of the hardcore when it comes to climbing in bad conditions, this session was certainly one of the toughest I have had recently. I am still remaining optimistic for one more good session on it.


Autobot V4 Ryan Young October 9 2010

While there may in fact be a few days left for the truly dedicated, for most it may be time to declare the season over, especially above treeline. Jamie Emerson gives the official wrap-up for Lincoln Lake while Chad Greedy's more impressionistic version is here. While the consensus about Lincoln is still settling, there is no doubt that this summer represents one of the most active seasons in Colorado bouldering since the first wave of bouldering in RMNP roughly 10 years ago.

For the Park, it was a relatively uneventful season, consisting primarily of repeats,such as Dan Beall, Jimmy Webb, et. al. on Jade. The interesting new developments have come from Jon Glassberg and Co. heading up to Upper Upper Chaos and really digging around to find new problems. I am confident that Upper and Super Chaos have many possibilities remaining. Sadly the hike is far more epic than Lincoln, which will keep many away.

For me it has been an education in many ways, encountering the weather, trying to be persistent in the face of time pressures, working on hard problems, often solo, usually getting frustrated, yet always enjoying the incredible sense of freedom that comes from hiking and climbing up in the high mountains of Colorado.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Climbing and Art: A Debate that Needs to be Re-opened?

As a companion to a new essay (with accompanying paintings) that has just been published in Alpinist 32, an online feature I wrote titled "Climbing and Art" was added. In the online essay, I argue that it is time for a new vision of climbing:

"In other words, the outer frontier in any objective sense is now closed in climbing. It's my view that only within inner frontiers does the art of climbing have any future. We have yet to see very many contemporary portrayals of the inner vision of the climber that compare with examples from the 1960s and '70s."

In the essay I argue that a long time ago, writers in major journals took these questions seriously with a view toward maintaining some vision of integrity in the sport. I cite Harold Drasdo's important 1974 essay, "Climbing as Art" as one important example.

I am definitely concerned that with the newly emerged category of the "professional" climber and the emphasis on exploiting the commercial potential of the sport, important and creative voices are being buried. Especially worrying is the thought that climbing continues to be a reflection of a leisure class with seemingly endless amounts of time and money to burn, a class that is overwhelmingly white, prosperous, and self-satisfied with its view of the world. While I recognize that this has always been the case, any real innovation in the sport, and of course in society as a whole, comes from those outside the system. Trends in the society as a whole, not to mention the Great Recession, are working against diversity of voices and views, a situation that is unhealthy for both climbing and the broader social picture.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Threading the Needle-A Great Vimeo Movie

Threading The Needle from Craig Muderlak on Vimeo.


Every once in a while, a really good lo-fi homemade film comes along. This is a great example. Kudos to its makers for sharing it with the climbing community.

Craig's blog is at www.blownminds.blogspot.com

Friday, October 1, 2010

Stone Fort Guidebook


A few weeks ago, Andrew Wellman sent me an advance copy of his new guidebook to one of the more popular areas around Chattanooga, typically known by boulderers as Little Rock City but called by its owner "the Stone Fort." This is not a climbing area I have ever visited before but it certainly looks excellent going by the photos in the book. Lots of gorgeous gray and tan sandstone boulders, beautiful features and holds, mostly flat landings, and low to zero approach times are what await the visitor.

The excellence of the visuals in this book is certainly a major attraction and the layout, maps, and descriptions appear to be very clear user-friendly and accurate. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the guide is its extensive collection of interviews and essays, digging up the stories of past visitors from decades ago. The feel is one of a close community and having met some of the locals from this area over the summer, I can see why that might be the case.

There is a good pre-order deal and extra motivation in the form of donations to help the medical bills of Lee Means so visit the Greener Grass website to find out more. If I ever make it to the South for bouldering, this book will be in my luggage.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Death of Kurt Albert

The climbing world was shaken by the news of a serious accident involving Kurt Albert, the German climbing legend who invented the concept of the redpoint and hence the modern concept of free climbing. Planet Mountain has the full story as do many other websites. Kurt was 56 years old.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Back in the Park

Since my project at Lincoln Lake broke, I have been focusing my efforts in RMNP, trying to get up there once a week to try European Human Being. This crimpy V12 has long been on the to-do list and I have finally begun to really apply myself to it. A session last weekend didn't feel too bad but one glaring omission remained, the undercling move to the upper small crimp. This weekend I squeezed in a short session and started to really closely analyze it.




Pictured above is the classic position for the move with a high left foot. After repeated tries (and failures)to make this work, I have finally succeeded on the move by keeping my feet lower on smaller edges to the left. While I don't know if I can get this problem this season, solving that obstacle is a big step forward. It is obvious that one thing, more than anything else, is required for success on the problem and that is having the right hand lower crimp feeling like a jug. Everything else becomes much easier if that is the case.
The last obstacle is sticking the powerful but subtle throw out left. This is a hard move to a pretty good edge but the possibility for losing the left foot and spinning off is very high. I have done this move but always find it a bit touch-and-go. Here Aaron from Fort Collins shows how to set up for the move.



The temperatures over the past week have been curiously warm for this late in the season and the fear is that suddenly winter will swoop in and shut the alpine bouldering areas down. It would be nice to try this problem in crisp conditions for once.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Three Red Wall Classics


Three Red Wall Classics from peter beal on Vimeo.

The top three problems on Flagstaff's Red Wall, done on a hot greasy September afternoon. Listen to your own favorite music while watching or enjoy the silence:)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Andrew Kornylak's The Beta Continues: Alfred Hitchcock


The Beta - Alfred Hitchcock from Andrew Kornylak on Vimeo.

Pretty much anything Andrew creates is well worth watching. No exception here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Broken Arms at Wolverineland

Just as the summer season is wrapping up and I was getting psyched on a new project at Lincoln Lake, catastrophe (or opportunity) struck. I went to Lincoln Lake last Saturday to try Small Arms and after a few tries on the hard second move found that I was very close to sticking it,meaning that the problem might go, maybe even that day. Unfortunately as I was trying the third move, I felt the sharp gaston give just a little. A few more pulls on it showed that the hold was detaching. I called over a few other locals to see what they thought and the consensus was that the loose part of the hold should be broken off. This was very quickly done leaving a much worse edge and a far harder move. While we were there, the last pair of holds was looked at again and the loose part of the left edge was removed as well. This will make the ending move a bit harder but still doable the old way.

I was reluctant to modify such a classic problem but for the fact that if the either hold had broken on a climber, a serious fall could have resulted. I am sure the second move goes but the overall grade of the problem has risen from a soft V11 to a likely hard 12 or 13. I know I am not strong enough to do it at this time and will probably stick to other areas for now. Even though I would like to discover the other hard problems there, I have so many undone attempted problems in RMNP, and of course Clear Blue Skies on the other side of Evans, that I will focus my efforts elsewhere for the rest of the season.

So if you were planning on trying Small Arms, here is what the holds look like now:
The two broken holds on Small Arms
Buena Suerte!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Labor Day at Lincoln Lake

Looking down at Lincoln Lake
I finally decided to visit the area that has been the focus of many of the most active boulderers in the Front Range for much of the summer. Lincoln Lake, AKA WolverineLand, is a pile of huge boulders below the Mount Evans Road, just above the lake. The access was pretty straightforward. After paying for a pass and driving up one of the most spectacular roads in the lower 48, you park above the lake and make your way down the tundra to the boulders, which sit somewhere around 11,700 feet. This is a steep hike and at some point a switchbacked trail is going to need to be marked. Erosion could soon be a concern given the inevitable popularity the area will enjoy.

I soon approached the boulders and had no idea where things were. There are so many literally house-sized boulders that it is difficult to see anything or find your way. With the aid of some other climbers I found Unshackled, a spectacular roof problem that sits more or less in the middle of things. There are about a thousand photos and videos of this problem so I am not posting one here. Suffice to say that for a granite boulder, this kind of a feature on such a steep wall is remarkable and an indication of the incredible potential that the area is yielding. After a few minutes of scoping it out, I decided to go over to check out Small Arms.

Trying Small Arms V11, photo taken by Caroline Treadway
I really wanted to try Small Arms, a crimpy V11 put up this summer by Carlo Traversi, and after bumping around the talus I found it. Small Arms is found on the north side of the talus, close to the bottom of the slope, climbing a beautiful steep wall on edges and small crimps. It vies with Unshackled for the most beautiful line here.


Sizing up the last move on Small Arms, photo Caroline Treadway

Small Arms felt very doable and much easier than Clear Blue Skies, its oft-compared counterpart on the other side of Mount Evans. The second and the last moves are hard,while the others went very quickly. With a spotter and another pad (and a more healed tailbone area) I think this problem should go pretty soon, assuming the road stays open.

I had to get back to Boulder so after packing up, I headed back up to the road, stopping on the way to chat with various friends and acquaintances. Angie Payne, Flannery Shay-Nemirow and Jamie Emerson were trying a new Dave Graham problem, Little House on the Prairie, an innocuous looking V13 high up on the slope.

Jamie Emerson, Little House
Angie Payne, Little House

 The view to the southeast, approaching the road





































The walk out was tiring but oddly enjoyable as the views expanded across the Front Range and the sun added a warm glow to the ridges and broad slopes of Mount Evans. Given all the hype that this area has received recently, I wondered if it would actually be that good, but having explored only a little bit of the possibilities here, there is no doubt in my mind that I will be back soon.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Flagstaff Climbing Video: 30th Birthday Roof (Tommy's Arete "Bonus")

I was up at Lincoln Lake yesterday and it was amazing but I don't have time to write about it today. Here are two so-so videos instead. Sorry :)

30th Birthday Roof V6 Flagstaff Mountain from peter beal on Vimeo.


Tommy's Arete V7 RMNP from peter beal on Vimeo.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

8C at Lincoln Lake?

Daniel Woods and Dave Graham reported on 8a.nu that they both did Warrior Up, a roof problem at Wolverine Land, the newly developed area near Lincoln Lake on Mount Evans. Both note the problem as soft for the grade.

A fuller report is available at the Low Down.

(Update: Video of the ascent by Daniel)

Video Of Jamie Emerson's ascent of Evil Backwards V14

The cooler weather will see more high-grade ascents in the coming weeks, no doubt. For my part, I am hoping my lower back and pelvis feel better fast. The timing of last Sunday's slip-and-fall could not have been worse. I took a quick trip to Chaos on Friday afternoon and found that bouldering was very frustrating owing to the constant fear of hitting that area again. I am confident things will get better but time in the high country is running short.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Rough Gem

My favorite kind of video; a beautiful boulder, atmospheric location, shot long. Wonderful. Found on UKClimbing via the Low Down

Nalle Hukkataival Rough Gem (8B) FA from ZeroSkillz on Vimeo.


Also it appears that Jamie Emerson has succeeded on Evil Backwards 8B+ at Lincoln Lake, for its possible 4th ascent. Nice work!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Watch Your Step

On Sunday morning I made a very early morning run up to Boulder Canyon to try the Hug. While standing on the riverbank by the tyrolean crossing and checking the creek for a way across, my feet very suddenly came out from under me and I landed hard on my rear end, resulting in one of the worst falls I have taken in recent memory. I wasn't carrying anything and have been to that site many times before so no excuses, just a sudden slip and fall.

I am still recovering from it but am glad nothing more serious happened, such as a sprain or fracture of something, or hitting my head, any of which could have happened. I still ferried my pads across and tried the problem, which was stupid since over-the-head heelhooks are kind of difficult with a severely pounded posterior. The point of all this is to remind readers that incidents of this type can come out of nowhere. After a summer of tiptoeing across huge talus an hour from the road carrying three pads, I would not have guessed that I could take such a fall, literally next to the road. Maybe I let my guard down or was not quite awake. Whatever the reason, it was a hard reminder to never let your guard down.

Obviously I am glad I emerged with only a bruised butt and some scrapes. Sadly the climbing world recently learned of the death of Chloe Graftiaux, killed when a hold/block pulled while she was soloing easy ground while descending from a route in the French Alps, sending her for a 600-meter fall. A very experienced and talented young climber, Ms. Graftiaux was a master at multiple climbing disciplines with a plan to become a climbing guide. It is a shame that she is gone. While we can never know exactly what happened or why, the accident is food for thought. Always be aware and alert when climbing, even on the approach or descent and maybe especially then.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Adam Ondra Movie Preview

ADAM ONDRA - a few shots from the movie from BERNARTWOOD on Vimeo.


Not much time for writing as the semester starts. I am wondering exactly how this movie is going to turn out. "The True Story of the Best Climber in the World"?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Defining the Problem: Continuing the Discussion

Recently a discussion emerged on the interwebs about the possibility that Paul Robinson had renamed a Fred Nicole problem in Rocklands South Africa. Originally called Black Eagle, Paul had appeared to propose the new name "Bleagle" to reflect the new status of the problem, on which crucial holds had broken. Among the most vocal critics of this step was Jamie Emerson who asked hypothetically what exactly constituted a boulder problem and by association, who had the right to define and name it. Shortly afterward, Paul explained that no he hadn't renamed it and the affair died down, as these things do. But the more interesting question came earlier in Jamie's blog, " So how are we to understand our sport if we haven’t or don’t define what it is exactly that we are doing? I would argue that we have, in some sense, but this is so rarely discussed that I thought it would be interesting to do so here."

Now to me the renaming controversy was not interesting per se, and defining starts, sequences, etc. has merit but ultimately threatens to sink into arbitrary positions that beg for contradiction.But the topic did awaken a question regarding purpose in climbing. The question is, in its essence, what are we doing when we try to climb something? On the surface this seems idiotic to ask at all, a kind of question that only a philosopher could ask, yet in some ways the fact that such a question seems ridiculous applies perfectly to a ridiculous game like bouldering or climbing in general. In other words, by climbing we are arguing that climbing seeks to achieve something. What, we might ask ourselves, is it exactly and what actions are justified in the process?

The philosopher Aristotle proposes in the Nicomachean Ethics that all human actions aim at some good, and that the ultimate purpose of human effort is ultimately a state of flourishing, called eudaimonia in Greek. I tend to agree with Aristotle's vision of human purpose and find it helpful in understanding the general drift of human behavior. So what state of flourishing is fostered by climbing? Well some might argue that physical exercise is the benefit, that a "good workout" is a good reason to boulder or climb. Others might argue that we climb to seek new challenges or push the boundaries of the possible. A few might do it as a career. Aristotle rightly asks, "And then what?" What are the purposes of exercise, or money, or the belief in progression of difficulty? What problem is being solved by these actions? Again the idea of flourishing emerges, that we aim for some state of happiness that humans are destined for by their nature. A closer look at the idea of flourishing reveals a preoccupation with qualities perhaps best summed up under the terms reason and virtue. For Aristotle, humans flourish when they develop virtue in conjunction with their unique human ability to reason. So to Aristotle, climbing would have no important purpose if it did not foster human excellence through the exercise of reason and the development of virtue. And I think most climbers would, if pressed on the issue, tend to support the idea that climbing, as opposed to say, stealing cars, is relatively virtuous. It relies upon character traits (virtues) such as courage, prudence, generosity, honesty, etc. Physical and mental health seem to stem from the activity for many. So far so good.

Yet I think there is something deeper, and Aristotle points at this as well. He argues that the highest form of living is ultimately that of contemplation, of the exercise of reason in understanding the world, and that ultimately all other modes of existence are incomplete. Now climbing seems far removed from such high-minded ideals but I would argue otherwise. In other words, climbing asks of its participants to participate in a game that continually forces the habit of asking "What is the right thing to do?" This can be in the form of problem solving, as in how to do a move. It can also be in the situation of getting out of danger safely. And it can be in the form of acting ethically toward the environment and one's fellow climbers. At every turn, whether the climber recognizes it or not, the opportunity arises to consider one's actions and whether they result in virtue and flourishing or the opposite. And the most interesting part is that the game is not merely a game in the end, it is real in terms of the ultimate effects on the players.

So for instance, claiming an ascent that one has not actually done results not in happiness but uncertainty in one's own ability and suspicion that others may know the truth. Chipping holds implies not exercising the virtue of prudence and courage in admitting one's limits. And so on. What is interesting about Aristotle in this discussion is that he is relatively flexible, admitting that we all find our way to virtue individually, according to our abilities and situation in life. Using the virtues as guides, we aim for appropriate responses to challenges in life. Thus we learn by doing and in doing we develop our ethical and reasoning capacities.

For me, climbing is a marvelous way to move in the world, to discover things about the world, to discover new questions about the world, especially questions about myself and my understanding of the world. The actual minutiae, as in bouldering,, whether one has dabbed on a problem, or started on the "wrong" holds, or stashed pads, all point to a bigger issue (or problem, if you will), namely have I become a better person through my thoughts and actions? And as in climbing itself, the process is a slow one, marked by errors, retreats, and uncertainty, but always with the hope of genuine understanding as the ultimate end.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Angie Payne on Automator

Recently, I haven't been posting on the news in climbing since A. there hasn't been too much of interest and B. many other sites do it. However a new standard has just been set in women's bouldering; that is, a woman has sent a solid confirmed F8b. Jamie Emerson is the first to post news that Angie Payne linked the Automator, a low line of sloping edges and crimps in RMNP and a well-known testpiece in the grade. From working it, I can attest to its difficulty personally and the list of those who have done it reads like a who's who of bouldering. Nice work Angie!

DPM has also posted good footage of Angie on No More Greener Grasses

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Pleasant Surprise

As the fall semester picks up, time will be short and climbing trips strategic in nature. The seemingly ample leisure of an afternoon teetering across the talus of Chaos Canyon may have to give way to more focused endeavors. I have been trying to lay foundations for success by getting better acquainted with several potentially doable projects, the most recent of which is Element of Surprise. I went back up to Lower Chaos on Friday with Jenn Fields, the outdoor recreation columnist for the Colorado Daily and the Daily Camera to show her around and get to know a bit of what alpine bouldering is about. It was a fun afternoon and I got some real progress in on Element, doing all the moves including the exit crux and starting to get linkage.
On Sunday, I had to stay closer to home and decided to travel up Boulder Canyon to revisit a nemesis from a while back. Hardboiled is a relatively unassuming short V11 with a steep start and a perplexing lip encounter and rockover move at the end. I fell quite badly from it one time while working it and then fell again,literally on the very last move, a few years ago. In other words I have a history with this problem. When I figured out the stream crossing(the log jam is gone) and got to the boulder, it looked pretty doable and the conditions not too bad. After a few tries, I started getting over the lip from the start and began feeling like this would go. A small refinement on beta and the next try it was done. A great sigh of relief followed. Now if I can just keep the send train chugging on a few others.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Summer is Winding Up

The summer is ending all of a sudden, I reflected, as I wandered around the crusty jagged boulders of Upper Chaos on Wednesday. I went up there to try Barbed Wire Beard, which for once was dry. The weather was perfect, though a bit warm for this very crimpy problem. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the altitude was proving to be a problem here. A few inconclusive tries after working out the end was I all I had to show for my efforts. I feel as if I could get there feeling OK, the problem would go so it may have just been an off day. I did look around at other problems up there, finding the two-mover, Friday the 13th,  for example which looks pretty good. But in general, it was mostly a wearying hot hike, quite a contrast from other times up there.

On Sunday, I stuck around Lower Chaos, hoping to make more progress on Element of Surprise. This is a relatively obscure problem, despite its excellent appearance and proximity to Tommy's Arete and Deep Puddle Dynamics, two of the most well-known classics in the Park. It could be because it is fairly low angle and very thin and crimpy and technical in nature. This is a style I tend to favor so it is a natural project for me to invest some time in.

After the initial rush of sending in the Park in May and early June, it would seem that everyone (who is anyone, which counts me out) is going to Lincoln Lake, high up on the summit slopes of Mount Evans. Wolverineland is the moniker being created for it, since a wolverine was sighted there in the spring of this year. Whether M56, as the creature has been named, is going to be psyched to come back to a place suddenly popular with boulderers is an open question. I will say that pine martens are doing just fine in Lower Chaos, as one started scoping out my Clif Bar at the base of Element of Surprise.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Riddles of the Park

Mist Clearing Over Upper Chaos Canyon
As the summer winds down, I have been trying to catch up with bouldering in RMNP. The weather has been very difficult recently with virtually every afternoon offering a soaking rain that effectively shuts down the rest of the day. On one recent visit I did no climbing at all, thanks to wet holds and volatile weather. The photo above is a view looking into Upper Upper Chaos, named by Jon Glassberg as Super Chaos. It was taken from the vicinity of the Green 45 boulder, home of the remarkable Jade, V14.

Erica Block warming up


On my most recent visit, I did a few of the moderates in Lower Chaos, including a flash of Potato Chip SDS V8 and Geeks of the Industry V7. This formation is a popular warm-up spot and I met up with some nice folks here. Potato Chip was a bit scary actually to do, especially as you can check out all the moves from the ledge nearby, giving a false sense of security. What actually helped most, besides a good spot, was a few test jumps down to the pads below the problem giving at least the feeling that a fall would end up OK. We actually saw a woman come off and nearly slide off the edge. Only a solid grab from the spotter prevented it.

After this, we went over to the boulder just a few yards away where Geeks of the Industry is located. This is a great little problem on amazing rock. I had tried this about two years ago on a very bad day and never finished it. Today it went first try, going a bit more direct than the regular line I think. After this a bit of time was spent trying Secret Splendour but again with the rain, the session was shut down. It's been good meeting up with Dan Beall, a very talented young climber from California, and his friend Tim. The perspectives of people from out-of-town is always valuable and Dan's own turf of Bishop is of course amazing. I can't wait to go back there.


Geeks of the Industry V7 from peter beal on Vimeo.



So why the word "riddle"? For Park aficionados, the pun is instantly recognizable of course. However there is a deeper meaning. It is to say that the Park is variable in all its aspects. Grades are literally all over the map. Rock types seem to change from problem to problem and even move to move. Holds and body positions never cease to surprise me. The weather of course is notorious and the elevation has sent more than one boulderer back down with altitude sickness. The landings are almost always a problem, adding a curious kind of difficulty in its own right. Some people seem to fit right into it. Not me. I am still finding my way around and I have a suspicion that even with a new guidebook on the way, others will experience the same feeling, especially if they try to get on harder problems and explore their abilities as boulderers.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

David Lama and Cerro Torre

Red Bull can found in Upper Chaos Canyon, July 2010


One of the most interesting debates raging in the climbing community right now is the issue of Austrian climber David Lama's attempt to free climb Cerro Torre in Patagonia. Lama's sponsor agreed to underwrite the trip but wanted a high-production value film out of it. The quick summary is that in the effort to make a film of the climb, a team of guides added extra bolts  to safeguard the film crew and ultimately abandoned a fair amount of gear on the mountain. The initial story is best read in this article from Alpinist.com.

Recently Lama, no doubt after prompting from Red Bull, issued a statement which if anything only aggravated the situation more. Primarily, as far as I can tell, Lama was unrepentant about one central point. "Bolts or no bolts, for many the controversy lies in whether or not someone should even attempt a production like ours on such a mountain. That question is what divides climbers. Film projects and photo shootings will always be a part of professional climbing and with that also a part of my life." This naturally leads to a question which is what is the point of climbing media of this type? Today climbing video and photography are increasingly available for free to a degree that I would never have believed possible when I was a teenager. And for the most part, I think it's OK. But I am wondering why there isn't more emphasis on environmental preservation, especially when a great deal of the media being produced is repetitious depictions of climbs that are neither new nor intrinsically interesting. I have reviewed a number of videos on this blog and increasingly find myself bored by those that focus on physcial action, such as sport climbing or bouldering. That was interesting for its own sake in the 80s and 90s when climbing was changing radically. Now that type of climbing is commonplace. Nobody cares about, say, video of Hueco Tanks, unless it tells an interesting story or in some way brings an important new angle to the place.

My feeling is that so-called "adventure climbing" is in much the same spot, that in the end nobody will care if Lama free climbs Cerro Torre, just as at this point another free ascent of El Cap is ho-hum. Climbing media as a platform for sponsor promotion is going down a similar road. Adrenalin rushes and spectacular scenery are a short-term fix and as the media becomes more disposable, the environment can only suffer collateral damage in the process. As the priority shifts from the climb to the film, clearly something is being lost. In chasing an image, we are looking at ourselves in the mirror and ignoring the self within and the world outside.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Bradbury Mountain State Park

The second place I wanted to visit in Maine was Bradbury Mountain State Park. While there I had found some obvious and pretty good bouldering near the top of this hill (not really much of a mountain), it was only while wandering around the lower slopes that I found a remarkable small pile of huge boulders. This was back in the early 90s, well before crashpads, so I brought out a rope to rappel down and clean the best lines. The first was the amazing arete called Heaven, a V3-4 that would compare favorably with any problem I have seen of the grade anywhere. I did most of the others in the area,with difficulties up to about V8, before moving to Colorado in 1994.

On this trip, I mostly wanted to revisit the area and look around from the perspective of passed time. The first problem was finding the place as it had been 13 years since I last came there. Thus I missed a turn on the trail and embarked on a half hour of unnecessary bushwhacking through the trees. But at last I stumbled upon the boulders and took a look around. The first thing I noticed was the size of them. Although I had two good pads, the average height of the problems is over 15 feet, making the place more committing than most. The second was the nature of the rock, very crystally and sharp. So every attempt had to count, especially in the humid woods.

I really wanted to repeat Heaven so I set up the pads and started up. A few moves up, I could not find a crucial left hand, owing to the complex crystalline texture. But after a few more false starts, I found the good holds at mid-height and worked my way to the top. The second half is an elegant balancy, mid-5.10 arete section with just enough security to offset the sight of pads shrinking at the base. A classic highball experience.

Sadly I had to get back to the boat and didn't have time to climb much else so I found my way back out of the woods. Reflecting on the drive back to Portland, I realized that while I loved these areas, small, unique and rarely visited, they also had a role in limiting my vision of what was possible. The terrain around here is low-angle, technical, small hold climbing that ultimately rarely added up to a substantial level of difficulty. Yes the potential exists for harder problems at Bradbury but even for locals, I doubt the motivation is very high for working them out. So these boulders will remain as they more or less always have been, looming gray presences in the Maine forest, seeing the seasons come and go, and hosting occasionally the visit of a pilgrim or two.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sea Level Climbing

Yesterday, I took the ferry from Peaks Island, where we are staying for a short vacation in Maine, into Portland. Growing up in South Portland, I learned to climb on the local sea cliffs and spent a lot of time climbing at Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth. The rock is a very featured and fragile metamorphic type offering all kinds of holds and moves, typically in a gorgeous setting. Deep eroded pockets and extruded fins of gold quartz are common making unique and interesting holds. Though the climbing is not worth a trip unless you are already in the area, it is very different from the more typical granite in New England and I have no doubt that this kind of climbing made me more focused on bouldering as a climber overall.

I started at an area in South Portland that I actually first climbed at when I was about 10, soloing a fairly tall 5.7 wall when I was wandering along the shore with friends. Although I didn't start climbing seriously until a few years later this was a really transformative experience for me, making me in the end the person I am today, still deeply involved in climbing and the natural world. Climbing this wall alone, ground-up, with no idea what was ahead, instilled in me the idea that something was special about the act of climbing, something that has stuck with me since. Here is a still from video I took of doing this route on this visit, at least 20 years since the last time I climbed it.


Another important climb I did, this one a bit later, was on an adjacent formation called the Anvil, a striking 20-25 foot roof. I have rarely seen anything quite like this anywhere else I have climbed. A great jug haul leads to a committing reach at the top off very loose holds. It still tested me when I did it this time. Somewhere I have a picture of me on it at the age of 14 or thereabouts, painter's pants and EBs casting off up this amazing problem.


I did a few other problems that were standards for me when I climbed here regularly in my teens in the late 70s, mostly in the V2-3 range, with good movement on steep terrain, climbing more like limestone than anything else. In a very real way this area served as my local climbing gym, even down to the cushy landing on deep sand. Sadly, the terrain was so featured that harder climbing was not really feasible, limiting my ability to push limits further, but nevertheless it was a great training ground. I was interested to see traces of chalk visible and am pleased that people still climb here. I will have a video of some of the problems up shortly.



After this I went over to Fort Williams to do a little climbing underneath Portland Headlight. There is an excellent slightly overhung 12' wall with numerous problems on it, some a bit committing due to the width of the shelf below. I spent many hours here developing problems and climbing them repeatedly. Again nothing really hard here exists, with the hardest clocking in at V7 or V6 but the position is superb and in summer, once the sun is off the wall and the sea breeze kicks in, you are experiencing probably the best conditions south of Bar Harbor. I climbed most of the best problems here including the traverse and called it a day and headed back for the ferry to Peaks Island.

In a way every time I come back to these areas, I am revisiting my childhood and the memories of the places and people from a different time. However it doesn't feel nostalgic but more reaffirming of the value of choices I have made to be a climber. Even as I have followed different paths in life, this theme remains constant.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Alpine Bouldering Ethics

I have been up in the high country quite a bit recently and have been considering what it is that makes alpine bouldering different from bouldering in the lowlands or the gym. Clearly above all it is the magnificence of the surroundings, their relative inaccessibility and the presence of powerful natural forces, sublime even, that have created the playground upon which we climb. Other famous bouldering areas in the US such as Bishop, Hueco, etc., in the end lack this fundamental characteristic of an austere and almost alien distance from civilization and culture. In a word they are closer to wilderness.

Sadly this sense of wilderness is a fragile presence, one easily displaced by signs of human activity. Is it possible to respect these vital characteristicsof the alpine setting, those ultimately untamed and untamable aspects that make the high country so desirable? Here are some points for discussion.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Chaos Theory

Lots of high-altitude hiking this week. After doing Gang Bang Arete, I decided a change of scenery was in order. Unfortunately Boulder got rained out on Wednesday so it was off to the Spot and a good session there, doing more 5-spots in one session than I have done for a while. I felt reasonably rested by Friday so this time I headed up to Upper Chaos. I really wanted to look at Barbed Wire Beard and Golden Rows of Flows and get a better look around up there. After an epic boulder-hopping hike with two crashpads, I found myself at the base of Pterodactyl, an amazing looking V12, but also a sign I had gone a bit too high so I dropped down and made my way to the meadow. After bumbling around a bit, I managed to orient myself properly and found Barbed Wire  and also two crash pads. Uh-oh moral dilemma time here. But actually I didn't think too much about it. Opting to be a hypocrite and also preserve my back and head I moved them to the base of the El Jorge Boulder to try to the right problem. Right around this time Ryan Y from Boulder showed up so now the landing was pretty safe. After some intense inspection, I tried R El Jorge and flashed it.

I was quite surprised to do this, especially as it had taken me at least a week of serious attempts and literally dozens of  tries to do GBA, rated V8 and only one try to do R El Jorge, rated by many at V9. While I put it down as V9 on my 8a scorecard (hypocrite again, I know), really V6 would be appropriate, V7 tops, if I judged by how it felt. Then I wanted to try Golden Rows of Flows. This is essentially a two move problem, hitting a very small edge LH off a sloping undercling and grabbing a decent edge from there. Stepping off the ground felt pretty easy and within a few goes I was hitting the crimp. After some frustrating attempts, including slipping off both holds simultaneously, I stuck the crimp and did the rest of the problem. This presented another dilemma. Again if GBA took numerous attempts and days and GRF took about 45 minutes and maybe 10 tries, should it be given V7? Grades. Sigh...

Sunday I went up to Upper Chaos again on a very quick trip to try to do Barbed Wire Beard. This is essentially a nice v3 traverse into a hard V10. Very cool thin edges and a crux near the very end. Lots of rain, a bit of wind and thunder; it was feeling like October up there. I was under a tight time deadline here, made worse by a twenty-minute rain-induced timeout on the hike through the big talus. When I got to the problem, there was water dripping down it and things were not encouraging. Even a paper towel stuffed in the good keyhole slot couldn't keep it dry. The hoped-for quick send was not to be. But I did most of the moves quickly and hope to be back up there when I return from a vacation trip to the East Coast.

So back to the stashed pads. Someone commented in a previous post, and obviously the gossip train rolls quick in Boulder, that I had used the two stashed pads (by the end of the week, the word will be I used four and I will have left my own up there as well) and hence was "all talk." This is a tough call, and related to some issues that I had recently been discussing with Jamie Emerson. Jamie urged me to moderate my comments and tone and after some consideration, I have agreed with this approach. To be doctrinaire on the point is to be unrealistic. If you are alone up there and can add to the safety margin, would you be a hypocrite for using stashed pads after you had denounced their use? Sure, why not but then again so what? Does carrying two of them up there with you offset the sin? Maybe, in part. But the truth is they are up there, just like the many improved landings, and it is common sense to go ahead and use them, unless you are really trying to make a point. I have tried to make my point already by carrying more than most other boulderers ever will. Will I rely on their presence? No. Will I haul them out of there? Again, no. It is far too much effort with the load I already am bringing up and will only annoy people I know who they may belong to and who do rely on them. I am not going to play law enforcement on this issue. If this makes me inconsistent and a hypocrite, I will just have to try to live with myself. I know that a. I am not stashing pads myself and b. I am carrying far more up there than others. If you have constructive comments on how to resolve this point, please feel free to contribute.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Bouldering Book Project















In the past two months or so I have been busy researching and writing for a new book I am working on for The Mountaineers Books on bouldering. Along with this writing I have started another blog called The Bouldering Book. This blog will include snippets from the work in progress, thoughts on the process both of writing and mastering the art of bouldering, photos, interviews with boulderers, and so on. The blog is in its incipient phase right now but will continue to build through the fall and winter as I develop the book. It's a big project but one that I am excited about and will keep you posted on continuously here as well.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Park Life Contd.

Conditions were excellent up at RMNP yesterday but I was feeling tired from several hard previous sessions. After a sluggish warm-up and some chalk-testing, (I have tried three different types of chalk out up there since Metolius is just not working out anymore. Results to follow), I wandered over to the Centaur boulder to see how GB Arete felt. It felt terrible but slightly more doable, so I started working on it again. Strangely, I found I had the strength to cut down the swing after the first move and soon had the dyno move in hand. After a couple of failures, I stuck the dyno and held it together on the throw to the top and the nemesis was done. The hardest "V8" around has been climbed and I can move on.

A couple of things to note. While I like climbing alone, there is no question that group energy can assist in getting some motivation that initially might have been absent so thanks to the crew that was there that afternoon. Also the air was dry and breezy like I have almost never found recently there so the slippery opening holds felt quasi-sticky. Anyway, I will be moving on, though the Marble Sit looks appealing. Two recent videos give some perspective on this side of the boulder.


Alex Puccio: The Centaur from Prana Living on Vimeo.


Aslan V14 - Carlo Traversi from Carlo Traversi on Vimeo.

Props to both climbers, especially Carlo's proving you don't need to stash a pile of pads to do a hard and scary problem. Thanks everyone for the suggestions on dealing with  this issue and yes, stashing pads definitely is coming back in vogue this season. It's a shame. Keep the ideas coming.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

How Not to Leave Your Mark in Chaos Canyon



Obviously RMNP is not the pristine bouldering area it might once have been but it is clear from a number of things I have seen and heard recently that boulderers are not doing what they could to help keep it as natural as possible. Above is someone's contribution to the problem. This information was added to the overhang just left of the Automator, a pretty ordinary piece of rock at best. Nobody really needs to know (and probably nobody cares) about the grade of this problem but in any case, nobody needs to write it on the boulder itself. I am assuming this has been erased by now. I didn't have a brush when I took the photo. Obviously it's not as bad as the photo below. This was some graffiti recently added to Flagstaff Mountain and a great argument for outlawing spray paint. Thanks to Andy Mann for the photos.
 But the impulse to mark the rock is essentially the same and it should be stopped. No excuses, no rationales, no nothing. Leave the rock the way you found it.

I am also seeing and hearing indications that pad-stashing is creeping back into style. I am thinking Upper Chaos especially but I have heard of climbers leaving gear elsewhere as well. I have seen a few groups of "hikers" who were obviously boulderers (sorry, the big shoulders and Organic packs don't fit the typical hiker profile) cruising on up the trail, free of pesky burdens like crashpads. I guess they were going to "freebase" Eternia or some similar objective. I cannot emphasize enough A. how weak it is to stash gear and B. how easily Chaos could be closed because of poor climber behavior while RMNP comes up with a more restrictive management plan. Needless to say I feel a bit foolish carrying two and a half pads plus gear when I see others carrying nothing but a light daypack but I know it's the right thing to do. I am planning on a survey hike very soon to see what's up at Upper Chaos. I am not looking forward to the results.