Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Climbing Dictionary

While I was at Outdoor Retailer, I picked up a couple of books, one a memoir by Margo Talbot, the other a compilation of climbing terms by Matt Samet. I plan on writing more about the first book later but this review is about Matt's book. First a couple of disclaimers. Matt is a friend of mine and indeed has been interviewed on this blog. Plus his book is published by Mountaineers Books, the same company that is publishing my book.

So naturally I would like to start off by saying that this book is amazing. When I showed it to the folks at the counter in the SLC airport, I was immediately upgraded to first class and had 10,000 miles added to my frequent flyer account. When I first opened it, a hundred dollar bill fell out, then another and another, which I found remarkable. Reading it on the plane, I noticed that attractive women continually stopped by my seat and casually dropped phone numbers in my lap, forming a confetti pile which created quite a nuisance by the end of the flight.

Brushing aside this importuning, I delved deeper into the text and found that I had the distinct sense that immediately billions of new neural connections had formed in my brain and that somehow I could see into the future and far into the past. A pleasant glow tingled along all of my chakras. It turns out that the universe does have a purpose and that its design is the work of benevolent yet somewhat absent-minded deity who resembles Dumbledore. Pretty cool so far, I thought, but how can this little volume help me as a climber?

Well as it turns out it can help a lot. After getting back to Colorado, I immediately went bouldering and now, armed with a better command of the lingo such as Euroblow and drive-by and gaston, started crushing my projects left and right. In fact last week I cut up my RMNP annual pass since I had nothing left to do there. I may in fact have to go back to Rifle and build up my jessery skills.

I have also lost five pounds and recently discovered a gold vein in the backyard while cleaning up after the dog. Now these results may not be typical, but why take a chance and miss the fun? For more information, visit the website and become enlightened.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Solitude and the Art of Bouldering

Lower Chaos Canyon
The summer is almost over and with it the opportunity to go up to the Park on a regular basis. As I look back on the past two and a half months, time which has evaporated with incredible rapidity, I am reminded of the precious quality of solitude and contemplation which these days in the mountains have offered. For many bouldering is a group activity, something done in the company of friends, acquaintances, even a random group of fellow boulderers. For me it is something different, even essentially different. This is partly because of age. In my late 40s, I have very little in common with boulderers in their 20s and most climbers my own age are interested in other goals. But there is also a different mindset at work, a different worldview perhaps. I don't really know.

I boulder for its intensity. Intensity and concentration in a beautiful environment is the essence of the pursuit. Colors, forms, light, atmosphere and the fine edge between success and failure; these are the essence also of making good art. You can't pay close attention to them with a lot of extraneous distraction in the background, which sadly enough is what too often is the case when other climbers are near. Quiet, distilled time, time that is all too short, is what I need, time to think, time to focus, time to see what is really going on.

What am I trying to see? I am looking for patterns, lines of strength and weakness, shapes that regenerate themselves in infinite variations over time. The movement of water over the land or in the sky, the outline of tall spruce trees battered by the wind, the bands of quartz set in a dark matrix of stone. If I happen to climb something in the process, all the better. But the art of bouldering has become something different over time for me.

In a sense, I am returning to the patterns I knew as a child in Maine. Long walks along the shore were spent studying the eroded forms of the rocks, the beauty of the sky, and the movement of the ocean. The instinct to seek solitude seems to me at its heart an instinct to seek meaning, meaning that is inaccessible in the company of others. As the weather begins to shift in the high country and I have to settle for the tamer low-lying areas closer to home, my thoughts will constantly be shifting back to the mountains and the hours spent there, alone but in the company of the infinite.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Outdoor Retailer 2011

For only the second time in my life, I got up too early Saturday morning and caught a plane (which left two hours late for a one hour flight)from Denver to Salt Lake City. A quick bus ride into town (no expense account for a taxi) left me blinking in the bright sun outside the Salt Palace, a sprawling building surrounded by vendor tents and athletic people on cell phones. With no time to waste, I picked up my media badge and strode in, more or less beelining it to the climbing ghetto in the farthest corner of the hall. The usual buzz of music, people chatting, and the occasional presentation on a PA system (Ueli Steck doing something for Wenger) began to drum against my skull urging me forward. Going to OR is, for me, like a party where you start with the hangover and gradually begin to feel a bit better as time wears on.

I was here to check in with my publisher and touch base with sponsors as well as meet up with friends and acquaintances who are usually flying around the globe looking for fresh rocks to climb. OR is a bit like academic conferences where, by flying a few hundred, or thousand, miles, you may be more likely to have time to talk with someone who literally works down the hall at the same college. And just like at academic conferences, I never quite feel I really understand what's going on or what I should be doing differently. That said, I had a great, albeit abbreviated time at the show. I talked a good deal with Ben Moon, who traveled an epic distance to bring his excellent clothing to the show, sadly having his newest stuff held up at Customs.

I also finally met up with Josh Helke, owner of Organic, whose pads have saved my backside on too many occasions to count. The talent certainly ran deep among those hanging out at the Organic booth including some I have not seen in quite a while. Paul Robinson was excited about plans for an extended tour of southern Africa while Angie Payne and Alex Johnson were psyched to be back in the US after epic flights from Europe. Sonnie Trotter, whom I have not seen in years, was at the Five Ten booth, where we discussed the need for someone to repeat Tommy Caldwell's materpiece, The Honeymoon is Over, on the Diamond. Chuck Fryberger handed off a DVD copy of his new movie, The Scene, a review of which will turn up soon on this site. And so on.

So the time went way too quickly, especially thanks to Delta Airlines (note to self: do not fly with them unless absolutely necessary) and I had to get back to the airport where this time I got back to Boulder on time. As I said before, I am not quite of this tribe of hardcore OR-ers. Full-on merchandising and branding leaves me with an ambivalent feeling as I tend to admire companies who are original, make great products and stay true to their communities. Seeing the likes of Adidas and Fila trying to make inroads on the climbing market, for example, makes me concerned about the fate of smaller, grassroots companies. Some might argue that that is what capitalism is all about. But should a full-on commodification of the experience of climbing should be too eagerly pursued, what is left over once the marketeers are finished? Some photos on a wall? An ad campaign in a magazine? In the end, I find it extraordinary that such a production can be made of something so simple as someone stepping outside and going for a hike or climbing a rock.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Summer 2011 in RMNP

I have been trying to get in as much time as possible bouldering in the Park, building up strength and muscle memory for several projects in hopes for sending when the temperatures begin to let up. Most of these trips have been solo, grabbing a window of time when I can for as long as I can. Besides age, this is the primary contrast I have with most boulderers up here. Time, or rather the lack of it.

Time is a relentless opponent in the game of getting anything interesting done up here. The season is ruthlessly short, the approach and drive anything but swift and convenient, and conditions are constantly changing from hour to hour. There is also the bigger picture of time as in my age and the question of physical decline. I perceive a narrowing window of possibility with every visit. How many seasons more? Can I become strong enough to realize my ambitions? Persistence and luck seem to be the answer, in roughly equal measure.

The compensations are tremendous. The setting here is sublime, unparalleled in the pursuit of bouldering. The boulders are sculpted with a master's hand, not literally, but metaphorically. The shapes, colors, arrangements, and textures seem the result of some native spirit, a spirit who has shaped a private garden of stone, water and trees, a site that constantly reveals new insights into the natural world. Though temporarily lost in the flurries of crowds and chatter that occasionally drift by, this sense of understanding and engagement with nature returns with solitude. One is faced with the rock and one's own mind and spirit and body. This is all that matters. That and the light that illuminates the forests and distant peaks.