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.