Sunday, December 29, 2013

Las Vegas Excursion

A little over a week ago, I got up before dawn, ate a quick breakfast, packed up and left the keys to my hotel room and hit the road, heading northeast back to Colorado from Las Vegas Nevada. Watching the first rays of the morning sun hit the dry peaks west of the highway near Mesquite, I knew I had a long way yet to go and plenty of time to think about the past week's adventures.

It was decided that I should head somewhere out of town solo the week before Christmas, an opportunity that I was eager to take, having not gone on a dedicated climbing trip in several years. And even if it would be only a few days, the chance to see some new boulders, meet some people, and maybe get some projects for a future visit was irresistible.

I piled a bunch of pads in my car and headed over the mountains in perfect weather. The sun was beginning to lower by the time I went through the San Rafael Swell where you really see the Utah desert landscape along I-70 and as had been the case since I passed Idaho Springs, snow was everywhere. I had had warnings that this might affect the climbing in Saint George but it was surprising to see so much snow that far south.

A quiet night in a budget motel in Saint George was a nice surprise and I took my time getting started as daylight revealed the city was surrounded by snow anywhere there was shade. I wanted to check out Moe's Valley but realized that my car would not handle the ice, snow and mud on the drive in. I realized though that it was just a mile or so, hardly a bad walk in so I hiked in on the road. This was the view from the Sentinel Boulder.
Snowy conditions in Moe's Valley
Undaunted, I started on the easier warmups in the vicinity, getting used to the soft and somewhat sandy rock. Though the landings were for the most part flat, some of the boulders were tall enough to merit care, especially on the topouts. After doing the Sentinel V2 (the groove on the left in the photo above) I did the classic Huntsman Graffiti V5, a series of long moves on small crimps on a leaning wall. This is a problem as good as any I have done in the grade and well worth the effort to visit if you are passing through.

Huntsman Graffiti V5

After chatting with a couple that showed up shortly after (the only people I saw that day) I headed deeper into the valley proper. Again, plenty of snow covered the tops of virtually all the boulders, including most of the classics such as Gription V9 and a problem I really wanted to do, Dead Rabbit, a crimpy V10. Dead Rabbit had 4 inches of snow at the top but the actual problem was dry. The hard climbing ends at a huge jug below the lip so I figured I would call it good if I got there. A big if as it turned out. While I got all the moves quickly, one in particularly proved desperate on the go and after a number of attempts, I was forced to move on. This problem has some of the best rock in the area, more like Joe's than the typical Moe's quality.
The crux on Dead Rabbit V10

Moe's Valley has a lot of boulders!
After this I went over to look for the Lindner Roof V9 which as it turned out was running with water and broken, which should up the grade a bit. In the vicinity, I did a problem called Shoulder Popper V8 which was clearly easier and a very classic crimpy arete named Hermione, a stout V3 or 4. I needed to leave to get to Vegas so I walked back out towards town feeling pretty tired. Moe's is definitely worth a stop though I wouldn't recommend it when covered with snow!

During a slow crawl through the VRG due to a truck accident, I recalled days spent working routes here such as the bouldery Hell Comes to Frogtown and the Route of All Evil. The VRG is blessed with amazing rock yet cursed with a grim location right off I-15. However there is probably no better place in North America for hard sport climbing in the cold seasons of fall and winter than Saint George and environs with numerous 5.13 and 5.14 routes, most of which are not too hard to access.

Two hours later I was in Las Vegas and checking in at the Suncoast Hotel Casino. Well removed from the Strip and 15 minutes from the Kraft Boulders trailhead, this casino is perfectly located for climbers. Throw in the fact that the climbing gym and Whole Foods are five minutes drive away, along with REI and the local climbing store and it's almost like you never left Boulder. The Suncoast is not crazy cheap (Hooters was on Expedia at 14 dollars a night) but I had a big but comfortable quiet room with a short hassle-free drive, perfect for mid-winter long nights.
Suncoast Casino

Wednesday I was still incredibly tired from Tuesday's explorations but I went out to check out the Kraft Boulders, one of the most well known and historically important bouldering areas near Las Vegas. A few tries on Slice'n'Dice V9 went nowhere and I eventually wandered over towards The Pearl, the celebrated classic from decades ago. Facing due south and polished by thousands of ascent, this problem is not a give-away. It certainly looks much better than it climbs with a tweaky shallow pocket and greasy feet.
The Pearl V4/5 Two moves of actual climbing but hard
I ran into Seth Robinson, Vegas local and guidebook author, who gave me a tour of Gateway Canyon, the area just northeast of the Kraft Boulders. This is one of a number of places where the latest development has taken place. In fact while I was there, a crew including Jimmy Webb, Nalle Hukketaival and Daniel Woods was taking down new problems left and right. I think it's safe to say that the guidebooks will need new editions soon.

Speaking of guidebooks, there are two available: one from Wolverine that is a select guide and the Tom Moulin "bible" which is a massive compendium of all the bouldering in the entire region. I bought the latter but found that the binding fell apart very quickly (while reading it in the hotel!) and returned it. I will be waiting for the next edition on that one. For a quick visit, the Wolverine one will work but is also very much out of date out at this point on the newer problems.

One of the best parts of the hike was seeing the remarkable and unique shapes and designs on the walls of the canyon

Erosion on the Keystone Boulder
Powerslave V12, a problem to come back for

At the end of the day we ran into Courtney Woods who wanted to try Lethal Design, a power-endurance V12 near the mouth of the canyon. I was able to take some good photos and also some notes for a possible session the next day.

Courtney Woods working on Lethal Design
This problem is more like a short route and comes complete with a somewhat sketchy topout over large, wobbly, jagged boulders. This landing could use some constructive reworking, no doubt, as it is unnecessarily unsafe.The climbing is intensely crimpy with lots of options for fingers and feet but no real respite until the last good edge before the slab. Armed with ideas and beta, I planned on coming back the next afternoon.

I felt better the next day and warmed up on the Potato Chip boulder which was much more fun than The Pearl and comes highly recommended.
After this, I met up with Courtney and Daniel Woods to head over to Gateway. Daniel wanted to do a problem called Burnt, a low V12 start to a V7 in the Kraft boulders. Unfortunately he had forgotten one of his climbing shoes somewhere and was forced to try it with a Sanuk on his right foot. Fortunately the problem is left-foot intensive. However building sun made it imperative to move on.

We headed over to Gateway and set up the pads for Lethal Design. The first third is sustained to several cruxy moves along a diagonal seam. Then a good hold allows a long reach to a spiky undercling, another good sidepull for the left hand and a final couple of hard moves to a good edge as the angle kicks back.

Working this problem means being careful about skin as too many tries on the same spiky crimp can puncture your fingers quickly. Fortunately the moves are not super hard. The problem's difficulty lies primarily in its continuity and complexity. Satisfied I had worked everything as well as I was going to that day, I headed out with Courtney and Daniel back to the Kraft Boulders hoping to get a good try or two on the Monkey Bar Direct, a steep and reachy V8 right on the trail.

Sadly drained of skin and power, I had to put this problem on the return list. Walking out under spitting rain, I ran into Daniel and Courtney again. Not surprisingly Daniel sent Burnt in one shoe!

Is Vegas worth the trip? Absolutely. It is definitely not the caliber of Hueco Tanks but there are many very worthy problems of all grades and this combined with a wide array of other climbing options and most importantly minimal bureaucratic hassles, make Vegas a prime winter destination regardless of your climbing style or preferred terrain. I only know that I left wishing I had three weeks instead of three days.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Bouldering Book Review of Gimme Kraft

Head on over to my blog on bouldering for a review of the excellent book called Gimme Kraft, a new German/English text on climbing training.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Can Climbers Think More Clearly About Ethics?

Can climbers think more clearly about ethics? Is there a way to make ethical arguments clearer and more relevant to the sport of climbing? What has sparked this thought is the recent revelation that Joe Kinder, a well-known figure in American sport climbing, decided to cut down a tree that interfered with the first 20 feet or so of a climb he wanted to bolt near Lake Tahoe. For any number of reasons this was the wrong thing to do but remarkably enough a striking number of Joe's defenders commented online that apparently this wasn't such a big deal after all, because after all, hey it's just a tree, and/or don't you live in a house made of wood so you are just as guilty and so and so on.

I think Joe has received enough of a shellacking from everyone else and I consider him a friend so I am not going to deliver a sermon on why cutting the tree down was a bad idea. But I am going to take issue with his defenders who are among other things  betraying a fundamental lack of understanding of how the sport of climbing actually works. Fundamental to this is an understanding of the principal issues at stake in making ethical decisions, issues that many, in fact too many, internet commenters seem willfully ignorant of.

Ethics is the study of right and wrong, conditions that humans have been aware of since the dawn of, well, humans. The argument can be made that every action we take involves to some degree a consideration of its ethical dimensions. Games, which climbing is certainly an example of, allow us to play with ethical questions in a relatively low-stakes fashion. That is to say, nothing truly significant is at stake regarding whether we get to the top of a climb. Even if we spend $50,000 climbing Everest, whether we get to the top or not really changes nothing of significance. How we treat people or the environment along the way is much more significant than reaching a summit or clipping chains on the proj.

Climbing is not superficially involved in ethics; I would argue instead that ethics is embedded into the very fabric of the game. This is something that a newer generation seems to have forgotten and is worth reiterating. Maybe a good starting point is this argument: There is no point in climbing something that has been altered to suit your abilities. In climbing there is always an easier alternative, such putting up a ladder, or walking around the back, or grabbing a sling, or just lying about what you have done. To climb something honestly is by definition to forego an easier alternative, a weaker alternative, a "less right" alternative. Therefore there is no logical way to avoid the continual presence of ethics in the sport.

Knowing this is central to thinking clearly about how to judge whether actions relating to a climb are ethical or not. So coming back to the alteration principle. Climbers violate this principle in diverse and incremental ways, the least egregious affecting primarily their own experience, the most egregious affecting the lives of others and the environment which we all share. Using shoes or other gear, applying chalk, top-roping or placing bolts are a few examples. Using shoes doesn't involve much in terms of direct alteration of the rock but purchasing shoes from an unethical manufacturer in order to save money seems to be violating some important principle, perhaps that of the Golden Rule as in would I like to be cheated out of my labor or work under a totalitarian regime? Chalk is innocuous enough unless of course I do not make the minimal effort involved in cleaning up my chalk marks, thereby affecting the experience of others including non-climbers. Top-roping seems to fit primarily under competitive ethics, the least significant in real terms of climbing ethical questions. For example top-roping a scary lead first and then claiming a ground-up ascent doesn't affect anyone else's experience very much in real terms. The rock is the same even if you told a lie. If someone else decides to climb ground-up because of a story, that climber is still responsible for his or her actions. Most of these minor alterations can be described as reversible, restorable, or of minimal external impact.

Placing bolts has long been seen as ethically complicated because of the alteration principle and yet is widely accepted in many areas because of an overpowering imperative of safety for many or even feasibility of climbing a formation at all, as in massively overhung walls that could not be toproped or protected by other means, foreclosing any likely possibility of human ascent. That said, they still violate the alteration to suit one's abilities rule and for that reason are frowned on in many places. But even with these examples, we might ask, does this alteration principle provide a guide to ethical actions?

Philosophers often think of ethics in two basic directions, actions based on possible consequences, such as will this make me or others happier or less unhappy,  and those founded in intrinsic moral duty, that is I am doing the right thing regardless of consequences or any benefit or harm that may occur to me or others. I think climbers would do well to consider their actions in both these lights and think both in terms of consequences of their actions and whether there is something intrinsically right towards which we should aim in climbing. I would argue that the alteration principle functions as an absolute one toward which we should aim and that we should acknowledge when we deviate from it. To borrow from Kant's categorical imperative, can we will that all climbers should strive not to alter the rock or the environment?

Looking at various responses to the Kinder incident, I am struck by the degree to which  relativism (the notion that there is no absolute standard of right or wrong) and utilitarianism (the position that actions which result in greater human happiness are more ethical) dominate the discussion. I am also struck by the degree to which an abstract human construct, a climbing route, which has minimal utility and a contrived identity at best, becomes something worth sacrificing a living being for. I think we should ask ourselves why it's acceptable to chop down trees and not acceptable to chop holds.  Is it coherent to argue that since we all drive cars and kill the environment in myriad other ways, we have no standing in criticizing environmental destruction by climbers? Is there a way to respond to relativism and claims of utility?

The argument is made that numerous routes have required "ethical" infractions including bolts, glue, and modified holds to make them "go." My argument is that rock modification is relevant primarily in the context of competition and utility, that is, a better route is a more natural route since as mentioned above, there are any number of ways to "get around to the top", so to speak. If there is perceived utility in bolting or otherwise modifying a climb, it seems logical that this utility should be discussed among the community it claims to benefit, much like a town would debate an eminent domain action to demolish a building. In other words, at the very least, (and I would not argue that it settles the issue of whether an action is ethical) there should be an informed public discussion on the merits of that action.

If this claim of utility is made in regard to living beings, the need for that discussion seems even more urgent than ever. Here the claims of relativism become even more shaky. Following the alteration principle, ending a life is not reversible and its external impacts are potentially considerable. For example, a number of individuals claimed that in the east of the US, trees are very common so cutting them there is not a big deal. California on the other hand is much more arid so the loss of a single tree at a cliff is more serious. But if we look at this from another perspective, say, that of human life, would we be persuaded by the claim that there are billions of people so what's one or two less? And would our concerns about trees or the environment really be nullified by reading paper books or living in a wooden house?

The latter point has some ardent defenders but upon closer examination grows less coherent. On the one hand, a tree is cut down to make a route go. On the other, well what exactly? Is the house built in an environmentally conscious fashion. Is it even a new house? And so on. On the one hand deliberate destruction to make a climbing route "go," on the other, again it's not so clear. The motives of the first action are clear, but those of the second would need to be examined much more closely.

My larger point is that climbing and environmentalism need to get closer together. The contemporary emphasis on expansion and consumerism ("Never Stop Exploring") in climbing should be at the very least matched with an emphasis on limits and consideration of the needs of the natural communities among which we play. Our game, as noted above, is rooted in an ethical decision not to take the easy way. In my view a better motto might be "Never Stop Thinking" whether it's about ethics or our impacts on the environment.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Boulder City Council Elections and Climbing Access

The recent flood-induced closures on Boulder OSMP land and in RMNP (not to mention the government shutdown) have made climbers acutely aware of how important unhindered access to public lands is to their lives. Living next to OSMP open space, I can speak to the value it adds to my family's health and that of the surrounding community. I can think of no other community in the country with such diverse and easily accessible publicly-owned open space. It is a unique and irreplaceable treasure for present and future generations.

Boulder has invested heavily in this land in many ways and discussion about the future of its public lands has always figured prominently in local politics, going back over half a century. There is a new sense of urgency in the climbing community in the wake of the flood closures, perhaps building on the West TSA plan and the establishment of HCA zones that require permission to visit or travel off-trail in. A recent proposed (and then cancelled) meeting of climbers with two candidates for Boulder City Council certainly raised the profile of climbers' involvement in Boulder politics even further.

Last week an op-ed piece was published by representatives from the Access Fund and the Flatirons Climbing Council, both of which I have done volunteer work for (as well as for OSMP), that stated that "certain City Council members, unprompted and without a formal vote, identified several 'overarching issues' for further study. The list included the twice-rejected subjects of off-trail restrictions and nighttime curfews. OSMP staff have taken council members' comments as direction to consider implementing these additional restrictions." You can read a study on night access here. Whether climbers' fears of increased restrictions are valid or not, there is a growing consensus that there needs to be more involvement with the process of planning and decision-making at OSMP.

After discussion with various climber access advocates, I decided to ask the two candidates most favored by them, Andrew Shoemaker and Ed Byrne, about their positions regarding climbing access in Boulder OSMP lands so that any climbers reading this blog can have an additional resource for choosing representation in city government. I sent them each identical questions which they promptly responded to, indicating that they take OSMP access seriously. By the way, as a resident of unincorporated Boulder County, I do not vote in the city elections and this post is not a formal endorsement of either candidate.

1. How do you see yourself as an advocate for recreational use of OSMP land?

Prior to the flood, I used OSMP every day -- either for cycling, walking my dog, hiking, fly-fishing, climbing, paddling or cross country skiing. Additionally, I organized the Boulder stage of the 2012 USA Pro Challenge bike race ending on Flagstaff Mountain; in part to publicize Boulder and its open space program. Responsible enjoyment of open space encourages the preservation of open space and the formation of an environmental consciousness. Indeed, some of our great environmental activists were climbers, surfers, skiers (among other things) first -- their environmental ethos then arose out of their passion for being in the outdoors.

EB  We are fortunate to live on the north side of the open space between Broadway and Wonderland Lake in North Boulder. We have had many opportunities to hike, run, bike, and snowshoe here and on many other trails in Boulder's system, averaging about one or two visits per week.

We did not spend our community’s hard-earned tax dollars to create opportunities for citizens to “look” at our open space – passive recreation, including cycling and off-leash dog use in designated areas is permitted by the City’s home rule Charter, and I will advocate for recreational use to continue, and to expand modestly in order to relieve pressure on the system and promote a high quality experience for all users.

When negative impacts arise, we should address them, but we will never have the resources to hire enough rangers to catch every violator – we need buy-in from Boulder’s responsible citizens, who together are our best defense against the 3-4% who don’t treasure our OSMP as much as the vast majority do.

2. What are your views on tightening off-trail/nighttime access in OSMP land? 

AS  I am opposed. 

EB  We have enough OSMP rules and regulations. I have not been persuaded that we have a problem with off-trail or night-time use of open space such that prohibition of access is warranted. We don’t need more reasons for clashes between OSMP rangers and citizens enjoying Boulder’s OSMP. I believe that our rangers have an extremely difficult job, made more difficult by an enforcement focus that tends to alter their perception of OSMP users as potential "violators" instead of "valued customers." Such perceptions tend to fester over time as preconceptions are reinforced by negative encounters, while positive ones are often taken for granted.

In the mid-1980s, when I was the prosecutor, negative encounters between parking control officers (PCOs) and downtown visitors became so prevalent that I called the PCOs in for a customer service training session. While writing 300 tickets per day, the PCOs met about 5 citizens, and every meeting seemed to turn into a shouting match. "Give them warnings," I said. Collections went up. Appeals went down. Skirmishes ended. Rangers should be trained in a similar manner. Catch people doing things right. Praise them. Warn violators. Keep track of the warnings. Punish repeat offenders.

3. If elected to the City Council, how do you see yourself affecting the decisions made about OSMP land use in the future?

AS  My demographic (mid-40s, family, moved to Boulder to make a living while enjoying outdoor recreation lifestyle activities like climbing, paddling, cycling, skiing, etc.) is unrepresented on Council, even though outdoor recreation enthusiasts, professionals, and businesses make up much of Boulder. As such, I will bring a new perspective for Council to every Council meeting and to the appointment of members of City boards (such as the Open Space Board of Trustees). The City boards are very important, and therefore who is appointed to these boards is critical. For example, the City Council appoints the Open Space Board of Trustees, which makes recommendations and decisions about open space policy. My style of affecting decisions is one that works well in Boulder -- one of collaboration and consensus building rather than telling people what to do. I have good relationships with members of the open space department (from my Pro Challenge work) as well as with the outdoor recreation community. I hope to work together with both to preserve existing access and to facilitate responsible use of open space.

EB  I have known Mike Patton since he was the Human Resources Director for the City in the 1980s and I was an assistant city attorney. His responsibilities have changed, but I know he has a strong grasp of what makes Boulder special, including our community’s love for and stewardship of OSMP lands. I believe Mike will respond effectively to the concerns I have heard from many Boulder citizens concerning a perception that an adversarial relationship is growing between some rangers and certain members of the public who enjoy using OSMP lands. There’s no call for that – it diminishes broad-based support for “crowd-sourcing” protection of our open space.

I would like to thank Ed Byrne and Andrew Shoemaker for their help. For more information on all the candidates' positions on issues of relevance to the election please visit

I invite comments or communication from other candidates or officials as well. Please remember to vote! There are serious issues on the ballot including municipalization of electricity and much more.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Getting There: Front Range Climbing Access Progress Report

Since my last post, some important progress has been made regarding access to climbing near Boulder. Eldorado Canyon remains closed but I am optimistic this will change very soon. Many more trails are open on OSMP land including Fern Canyon and Shadow Canyon, though climbing is still closed. The lower Satellite Boulders, between the Second and Third Flatiron, are now open which is really the first significant reopening of bouldering in the Flatirons since the flood. The First and Third are open to roped climbing though the south side of the Third (and the Royal Arch area in general) is closed.

OSMP is having volunteer climbing surveyors go out into various sectors to assess damage and safety issues which I think will be very useful in getting many more areas open. I am participating in this process and will report on what I know and have heard. I have visited the Satellite Boulders twice in the past week and am struck by how little damage occurred outside the main gullies and washes below the Flatirons. My belief is this will be the case for most of the popular areas including Fern Canyon and Dinosaur Mountain. That said there is a rumor that Black Ice may be no more...

Really big news was the early reopening of Boulder Canyon. The NFS is maintaining a closure on the north side of the canyon but this leaves quite a lot open on the south, including most of the good bouldering, which is all still intact and accessible. Castle Rock, on Boulder County land, is now open as well. Opening 119 also radically lessens the approach time to Estes Park, allowing much-needed tourist traffic to get to the beleagured town.

That said the antics of the GOP's Tea Party wing are still afflicting the region as the National Park remains closed. Hopefully this will be resolved soon and things can begin to recover, especially once 36 re-opens which I am guessing will be sooner rather than later.

As I said before, areas to the north and further south have been open and attracting more than their usual quota of visitors, owing to the access issues around Boulder and RMNP. And of course area gyms have helped make up for the closures as well. But I think everyone will breathe a sigh of relief once things are a bit more back to normal. And of course for those whose homes have been devasteded by the flood, things may never be back to normal. Check out
or  for info on how you can help.

UPDATE: As of today, October 12, Rocky Mountain National Park has been temporarily reopened with state funding

ANOTHER UPDATE: The problem mentioned above, Black Ice, along the Fern CanyonTrail, is no more.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Update from Boulder: Not Much Better

It's been about three weeks since the last post and I thought I would post an update. It should probably be titled, "Just When You Thought it Couldn't Get Worse" because that is exactly what has happened. Courtesy of Tea Party Republicans in the House of Representatives, a federal government shutdown has eliminated access to Rocky Mountain National Park and possibly hindered reconstruction efforts on Highway 36 from the National Guard. For icing on the cake (literally, well literally ice anyway) snow is forecast for Friday across the Front Range. This will seriously hamper the many efforts being made to clean up and restore the small mountains towns hit so hard by the flood in September.

So what's up climbing-wise? Lincoln Lake is closed now and Evans Area A is going to be getting snowier by the day, along with all other alpine locales such as Guanella Pass. Access to the Estes Park region, seriously affected by both flooding and the NPS closures already, is only by a lengthy and tedious (though scenic) crawl from Central City far to the south. Clear Creek is open, which is why I was trying Echale last Saturday, but more about that another time. Coal Creek Canyon is closed.

Eldorado Canyon is still closed though heavy equipment has been in place trying to repair the road and volunteers have been on the ground working on trails. The real mystery is Boulder's Open Space and Mountain Parks department. After an initial wave of openings, the only "legal" climbing in their jurisdiction at this writing is on the First Flatiron and the mediocre bouldering on Mount Sanitas. While unofficial word is that trails on Bear Peak and Green Mountain and elsewhere have been minimally affected, if at all, there has been complete silence on the condition of or any plans to reopen Flagstaff Mountain, the Mesa Trail or any of the significant trails on Bear or Green. In a peculiar instance of inconsistency, the trail to the Satellites is open but the boulders themselves are closed to climbing. Local dissatisfaction with this situation has been increasing as the time from the flood increases and it becomes increasingly apparent that in many locations trail damage has actually been insignificant. Furthermore despite the availability of literally hundreds of volunteers and OSMP claims of major damage, virtually no opportunities for trail reconstruction or rehabilitation have been posted. You can find out which trails are open at this OSMP page. (UPDATE: there may be plans for OSMP to enlist climbing volunteers to assess climbing areas in the Flatirons. Check the FCC page for more details. Also see this announcement from the BCC.)

Boulder Canyon remains closed as the road (SH119) is undergoing emergency repair to get it passable before winter proper begins. This is expected by mid to late October but whether the NFS will immediately re-open the land bordering the road is another question altogether. As mentioned above Highway 36 between Lyons and Estes is being rebuilt but a full reconstruction of the road will have to wait until next year. Highway 34 between Estes Park and Loveland was hit incredibly hard and will be out indefinitely. Further north things are brighter with Carter Lake, the areas around Fort Collins (Horsetooth, Arthur's) and Poudre Canyon all being open. Areas to the south, especially south of Denver, are generally accessible and open, though how the federal government shutdown may affect certain spots (such as Shelf Road) is not exactly clear.

So in a nutshell, I would not especially recommend coming to Boulder for climbing at this point. Climbing access is basically still on hold and with winter approaching, options are narrowing. This may sound like whining, especially given the catastrophic destruction and losses so many have experienced. However for lots of Front Range residents, the opportunity to run, hike, ride and climb without driving long distances is much needed stress relief in these difficult times. It's bad enough when natural destruction hinders these opportunities but worse when political obstruction extends this peculiar exile from our own backyard.

Friday, September 13, 2013

When the Levee Breaks: #boulderflood

Driving back from work on Wednesday was not a lot of fun after a full day of on and off rain. The intense and sustained nature of it made me wonder if this was not a typical rainfall for the area and the events of Thursday Sept 12 confirmed it. Writing today, I can say that Boulder has undergone a natural disaster unlike any since I have been here (almost 20 years) and probably in several generations.

Summing up what has happened is difficult to say the least but essentially every canyon between north Denver and Fort Collins has either experienced serious flooding or could do so in coming days. The brunt of the water has hit the cities of Longmont and Boulder the hardest but no municipality has been unaffected and Lyons in particular, will never be the same.

What does this mean for climbing in the area? Basically, nobody should plan on coming to Boulder specifically for climbing in the next few days at least. Although road closures will probably be lifted soon as flood waters dissipate, significant issues will remain for weeks and possibly months. Here's a quick rundown of local areas and likely problems

Clear Creek Canyon assuming it remains open, will be very unstable on the approaches up its steep slopes for some time. Eldorado Canyon State Park is closed, Eldorado Springs has been evacuated and within the park, the road washed out west of the Bastille. Boulder City and County Open Space are officially closed and many trails have been seriously damaged. Boulder Canyon has had massive rockslides and will be closed to traffic for some time Steep hillsides and loosened boulders will make for hazardous conditions in many locales for weeks, along with destroyed trails.
Highway 36 just before it washed away completely. Via Twitter

Access to the high country is seriously compromised with major highway washouts on Route 7 and Route 36, the two primary roads to RMNP from the east. The town of Lyons where 36 comes over from Boulder has seen massive destruction and there is no access west or east through it. It will be some time before Lyons is anywhere back to normal. Estes Park itself has seen major flooding and roads and trails within RMNP may be closed due to damage as yet unknown. Estes Park is currently accessible only from the west via Trail Ridge Road which could close any time due to early season snow.
Route 7, west of Lyons.Via the Denver Post

Further north, route 34 along the Big Thompson River is closed due to rockslides and the river itself may well wash out the highway completely. Further east 34 has washed over I-25 and other significant roads making north-south travel in the state very difficult north of Denver for most.
In Fort Collins proper, the Poudre river is at flood stage making access to Poudre Canyon impossible and the possibility of rockslides is high with continued rain. Areas such as Carter Lake and Horsetooth may be affected as well but I have no first hand information.
Before coming to Boulder in the next few days, I would strongly recommend checking in with local news sources and resources such as Colorado Department of Transportation. Links below.

UPDATE: Rocky Mountain National Park is closed to recreational visitors

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Bouldering with Ashima

I don't know if it's a habit of mine to stop writing for a while in August. It makes sense to me. Between the heat, getting ready for fall and a general sense of lethargy, I am content to drift down the stream of the internet and dip my gnarled toes in whatever comes along and not contribute. And given the rate of return on my investment of time and effort, maybe a long break is only right.

First try in Rocklands from Jimmy Webb on Vimeo.

The diabolically fickle weather has not prevented a number of notable ascents including a series of sends of the new V14 Wheel of Chaos, a lengthy and steep problem in Upper Upper that sent Jimmy Webb to the ER last year after a sharp block came off and sliced his arm open. (I wonder if there is a list of boulderers who have had medical attention thanks to various Park mishaps) And Jimmy's recent ascent of the Wheel of Wolvo, a tough (V14) entry into the Overcling traverse adds yet another V15 to the Front Range. Considering that he has flashed and/or downgraded a number of hard problems here and in South Africa and Switzerland, this is significant. And Hypnotized Minds still awaits a repeat.

But maybe more interesting than that was Ashima Shiraishi's very quick repeat of Automator. It was particularly interesting to me because I had the opportunity of working in with her a few weekends ago on the first afternoon she was trying it. I have a seen many many strong climbers but I freely admit I have not seen a 12-year old girl so thoroughly dominate a difficult boulder before. It was very easy to predict, considering how easy she made the moves look on a very damp and warm afternoon (in fact pouring rain came down shortly after) that she would complete the problem very soon. This she did the very next day, putting in one of the fastest repeats of the problem that I know of.

In reflecting on her ability, one of the more interesting points of comparison I came up with was the 37 years of age difference between the two of us and the similarity in the sense that we are both pretty uncommon sights in the world of climbing, on opposite ends of the spectrum. I am particularly impressed by the degree to which she presses forward in the absence of peer groups that understand her focus and drive. Assuming she decides to continue climbing at a high level, the future looks very bright for her.

For my part, I am equally interested in the fate of those, who having tasted early success, either lose the plot or leave the sport altogether. I think this is something that those who feel the sport needs to get to the next level are leaving out. The careers in climbing that can actually support a reasonable quality of life have little to do with climbing hard and more to do with more mundane skills like marketing, accounting, logistics, manufacturing, design and so forth. I am not worried about Ashima, especially as she is still so young but I do have concerns about the propostion that teen climbers might entertain that they can have a future as fulltime climbers after they age out of the protective cocoon of parental support and a heavily subsidized competition scene. I have seen way too many climbers burn out and/or drop out once this occurs.

From my side of the age spectrum, I remain convinced that the best approach to climbing is to take the longest view possible while maintaining a consistent level of motivation to do one's best. Today's climbing scene is heavily youth-oriented, possibly in part because of a recognition that parents are the most likely consistent source of revenue growth in a sport that is steadily getting older in terms of average age. Indoor climbing is being marketed as the way to reach out to broader populations and appeal to youth in the way that skate parks accelerated the growth of skateboarding. Increasingly sophisticated marketing and promotion can go along way in making the sport appealing to youth outside the normal demographic of middle to upper middle-class white people

However, my belief is (and I spend a lot of time in climbing gyms!) that ultimately the climber who bonds with the natural experience of climbing outdoors is likely to stay in the sport the longest. Here's hoping that Ashima's generation succeeds in doing the same.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Psicobloc the Future? Why I am not Drinking the Chlorine (yet)

Being off in the hinterlands of coastal Maine last week and without access to the Internet, I missed the big event in Park City that was hyped up across the Internet as the future of comp climbing. This was the Psicobloc comp, where organizers had set up a 50 foot wall over a pool normally used for freestyle skiing training, arranged so that competitors could climb side by side on identical routes. Scheduled to coincide with the OR tradeshow, the event was regarded by many as a great success and many commented that it could point to a future for climbing comps as mainstream entertainment, taking the sport to the "next level". I think this feeling was particularly strong given the disappointment of not being selected for Olympic inclusion in 2020.

Now anyone reading this blog knows that I have a contrarian disposition about a lot of things and those of you who need more "awesome" should know better than to read my posts anyway. And there's no doubt that within its own context and setting, the comp was a success. Chris Sharma put the weight of his reputation behind the event and a really good roster of talent showed up. But here's my take on the future of this format: it is probably not going to work as "the future of competition climbing"

Anyone still left reading? OK, then. I have no animus or axes to grind here, only a few basic points for athletes, organizers and spectators to consider. Some of them are the same problems with comp climbing in general, some are specific to DWS events.

1. Climbing is boring to watch. It turns out it is basically just as boring to watch it over a pool of water. In the highlight reel I saw, there was virtually no attention paid to the routes themselves and no wonder. Despite the world-class setter Dani Andrada and the A-list athletes, the fact remained that they were slowly climbing plastic blobs over a pool. Apparently the routes were fairly hard but the average spectator would not have a clue. From a TV standpoint this is a major hurdle to overcome.

2. Climbers falling into water is boring to watch. After the first few plunges, it seemed to me no more or less interesting than watching boulderers hit the mat or fall on a rope. There was no seriously engaging aspect of the falls that I could see anyone outside the sport taking a meaningful interest in. As opposed to competitive diving or cliff diving, DWS falls are extrinsic to the event, being random and uncontrolled by the athlete.

3. Format. The competition format made no sense since there was no real rationale for pairing off particular climbers against one another. The visuals were slightly more interesting but in terms of the actual competition, it really didn't matter. Apparently time was a tiebreaker in case both climbers topped out, which made no sense to me. Furthermore there was at least one close call involving a climber almost landing on top of another. Obviously this doesn't have to stay in place for the future but it is a problem regardless. How do we know who is winning?

4. Venue. How many locales are going to be able to handle a big wall over a sufficiently deep pool? There were questions as to whether the pool was actually deep enough and I heard that at least one climber hit the bottom. Regardless of safety concerns, psicobloc raises the bar on venue options, limiting the possible places for comps and increasing the expense overall since they will require installation of temporary walls.

5. Competitor safety. This was completely passed over in the lead up to the event but if we're talking "the future" then it needs to be discussed. Falling into water at 40 feet in a haphazard unplanned way is a potentially very dangerous activity with injuries like spinal compaction, concussion, etc a real possibility. The past practice in climbing competitions has been to minimize danger to the participants. DWS events cannot eliminate the possibility of life-threatening/altering injuries occurring to participants to the degree that traditional events can. Going forward, I can see climbers giving the event a pass for precisely this reason, setting aside the fact that for many the sensation of hitting the water hard from 40 feet up is simply not fun. Falling into water is part of deep-water soloing but not essential to the sport of climbing.

I appreciate that everyone got excited about the possibilities of this kind of event but from a mainstream sports standpoint, I don't see it going much farther. Maybe time will prove me wrong but I think the points raised above deserve serious consideration. Justin Roth in his thoughtful analysis of the comp, raised the specter of Snowbird, a marquee event that in 1988 represented for many the promise of a new era. Sadly the Snowbird competitions ultimately proved a financial disaster for their organizer Jeff Lowe and the story has remained much the same afterwards, at least for adult events.

I cannot predict the future of climbing competitions with any certainty but I do feel that until leaders in the sport come up with a coherent consistent vision of what achievement in the sport is and how to present it, we will be in a perpetual experimental mode, throwing stuff up on the wall to see what sticks, to coin a phrase. Part of that process has got to include media that is serious about reporting and analyzing all these developments, the way that mainstream sports reporting (at its best) does all the time. I wonder if climbing will become a mainstream sport only when its events and personalities get mainstream treatment. But that's a post for another day...

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Head Games

About two and a half weeks ago something extraordinary happened, extraordinarily bad to be precise.  I fell off a boulder (last move of Secret Splendor, which is about 6 feet tall), which is nothing new. However this time I bounced off the pads at the base and hit the back of my head on a rock. Hard. Hard, like I imagine getting hit by a 2x4 would be. Stunned and a bit in shock, I sat there recuperating from the initial force of the hit and trying to figure out what to do next. Sacrificing a t-shirt to stop the bleeding a bit, I realized that although the impact had been substantial, I knew what day it was, who the people were around me and where I was. So far so good. Nothing else seemed to have been seriously damaged in the fall. Dilation of the pupils: OK. No vomiting, dizziness, or any apparent skull fracture. Clearly time to get out of there.

The scene in the ER a few hours later

I packed up my stuff and walked out with the friend I came up with. Occasional handfuls of snow helped keep the bleeding in check and after a leisurely hike down to Bear Lake and drive home, it was off to the ER for a cleaning and six staples in my scalp. The next day I took it easy and the day after of course I went climbing at the Boulder Rock Club (where I nearly had a rerun of the same accident, bouncing off a pad). Needless to say, it wasn't great times but I felt (for no good reason) that I ought to get back out there so to speak. Trail running was certainly done with even more caution than usual

A few more indoor sessions were followed by a day at Evans Area A the day before the staples came out. The truth is that, for me anyway I became much more aware of the potential for harm outdoors and it will probably be at least a month or more before I am back at the level of confidence I had before I fell. In a way this is a good thing as it should help keep me safer and more careful about potential problems with landings. In another way, it's a bad thing as what should have been a safe fall wound up being a potentially dangerous/lethal fall and I will be second-guessing these situations for a long time to come.

Should I have had a spotter? Probably, though I have fallen off that move solo many times before. Should I have worn a helmet? The outcome says it might not have been a bad idea and having helped take a well-known bouldering author to the ER long ago in a similar fall situation, I had been warned that this kind of accident could happen. That boulderer is well known today because of his helmet use while bouldering.

There is a great article on helmet use and design in the current issue of Climbing that emphasizes the risks that climbing poses to the head and more specifically the brain. There is increasing awareness with articles like this and films like The Crash Reel that there is a price to be paid eventually for repeated blows to the head. In the world of climbing, there has been relatively little attention paid to the affects of low-grade head and body impacts so far, especially in regard to bouldering. The Climbing article mentions that Metolius had plans for a bouldering helmet but that idea will have a lot of resistance to overcome from the bouldering world.

Alexander Huber solo on the Brandler-Hasse V 5.12a

For my part, I regard thorough padding of a problem to be part of the protective gear in the sport, much like a helmet for trad climbing or alpinism, making helmet use redundant, especially if you have a good spotter. This time I misused the gear, fortunately without too serious a consequence, as far as I know. I work primarily with my brain and have a vested interest in keeping it as coherent as I can. I know that for any serious climbing I may do in the future where potential for head-impact is genuine, I will be wearing a helmet. Frankly I am surprised that some of the serious highball problems being done these days don't involve helmet use. And if children are bouldering on anything at all serious, I strongly recommend considering it. But regardless of fashion or past practice, understand that if it happened to me, it can happen to you, only you might not be as lucky. Be safe out there!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Youth and Risk: A Parent's Perspective

The climbing world has only begun to react to the tragic news of the death of 12-year old Tito Traversa following a groundfall at Orpierre in the south of France. While the exact details remain unclear as of this writing, it appears that most of his quickdraws were improperly set up and failed upon being weighted when he lowered off a warmup climb. Regardless of the emotional impact of the accident, there seems no doubt that a re-examination of the use of carabiner-securing devices like the Petzl String will be undertaken. (For what it's worth, my suggestion is only to sell them permanently sewn into dogbone-style draws so that they cannot be installed improperly or put on open slings where they can be flipped and fail completely.)

 The deeper issue is that of how much responsibility young climbers can or should assume upon themselves when climbing. Given that many climbers believe in self-reliance and personal decision making, free of outside authority or supervision, it seems natural to blame the accident on "operator error" and similar to dozens of similar incidents that happen every year, some fatal, most not. However given the age of the victim and the preventable nature of the accident, I am not comfortable with that view.

 I think that there is a different audience for this sad event and that is the parents of young climbers. I am not going to presume to speculate on the private grief and sorrow of Tito's parents and I would never call into question their judgment with their son's pursuit of climbing. Tito had just completed his fourth 5.14 and you don't get there without safe climbing practices and careful supervision. But his death puts us in very new territory for the sport where parents especially have to ask what they can do to respect their children's desire to climb while being careful to acknowledge that they are not responsible independent adults and should not be treated as such. This is a place that young childless climbers simply cannot comprehend until they have children of their own and have dedicated their lives to the all-consuming task of rearing healthy happy children themselves. To lose one's child at any age must be unbearable and there is no consolation or easing of that grief that I can think would be adequate to the task.

 In the current celebration of young climbers' recent athletic feats is often lost any discussion of a less obvious kind of skill, one that was long ago described by Pat Ament as being "rockwise." This phrase describes a state of mind that is wary, cautious and deeply aware of the constantly changing environment of climbing, be it indoors or outdoors. If there is one problem with the attitude toward modern sport climbing and bouldering, it is the dismissal of risk as merely perception, that we can handle dangerous situations simply by rationalizing our fears and developing our mental and physical strengths. There is some merit in this approach but I wonder if it would be wise also to emphasize an outlook that recognizes hazard not merely in regard to procedures or technical skills but also in appraising routes, partner behavior, belaying strategies, and so on.

 Young climbers are very adept at mastering closed systems, quickly learning the rules for success in defined games such as sport climbing, games set up by teachers, parents, or mentors. But when things are open-ended or suddenly the rules change, children are still ill-equipped to handle them, especially when they really do not understand in a meaningful sense the real and permanent consequences of mistakes in climbing. Even grownups have a hard time mastering this kind of awareness as the steady stream of climbing accident reports makes clear. Climbing is simply not a safe sport in the sense that tennis or running or swimming are. In climbing, we are much more vulnerable than we realize, finding ourselves, even on sport routes, in lethal situations in a matter of seconds where we thought ourselves secure. Climbers typically deal with this through a combination of denial, black humor, and bad analogies (such as "climbing is safer than driving") and other coping mechanisms, mechanisms that, if we have any sense of propriety, have no place in the minds of young people.

 So this is new territory for everyone. As someone who started climbing independently around Tito's age, who had numerous close calls as developing as a climber, and who, even now, has to acknowledge failure at this (I'll discuss my recent head injury while bouldering very soon) I can speak to the difficulty of this situation. As an educator and youth coach I am aware how difficult the process of education and awareness really is. The difficulty however is only matched by the serious implications of failure if the message doesn't get through. If there is a positive outcome from this extraordinary loss it is through inspiring all of us to look clearly realistically and soberly at the risks of climbing and how our children are taught to understand and handle them.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Park Life Summer 2013

The snow in Chaos that persisted into June has very quickly melted away bringing with it an influx of boulderers from all over. Access during the week is still difficult with the road being closed from Moraine Park after 9 am until 4 pm. However with a recent onset of summer heat, this coincides well with feasible climbing times anyway. I have tried both early morning and late afternoon in my attempts on Element of Surprise and have not settled on which one is better. I am certainly getting fitter  with repeated hikes up there.

May 17 on Element of Surprise
Among the more interesting treks up there was in early June with Ronnie Dickson, a very strong amputee climber who wanted to try Tommy's Arete. The hike up was much more epic than the actual boulder problem and the hike down had its moments as well, since the trail was fully covered in steep snow. Ronnie also did Pinch Overhang and Germ Free Adolescence on his visit as well as winning the Go Pro Games paraclimbing event in Vail.  Very impressive climbing given the commiting and difficult nature of those problems

Ronnie Dickson finishing up Tommy's Arete V7

RMNP has not been on the elite circuit much recently with the exception of attempts on Hypnotized Minds.With the summer warmth coming on, many have moved on to other regions such as Australia or South Africa. Shauna Coxsey, top boulderer from Great Britain, however recently broke a significant barrier for UK women with her first female ascent of the iconic problem Nuthin but Sunshine. This problem has always stood as a landmark ascent for the Park and for many male boulderers marks their entry into the V13 grade. It's great to see women succeeding in this realm and I can speak from personal experience of how hard this problem is. Check out the video of Shauna by Cameron Maier here and speaking of South Africa, this is a great one to watch also.

That's it for now. Stay cool and try hard!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

I Miss Urban Climber

There, I said it. I miss Urban Climber. It's been about a year since that much-maligned magazine was put to sleep and I hate to say it, but I wish it was back, or at least something like it. I subscribe to all the other major US publications and while they all have their good points, they all have something in common: they feel too d**n serious, or at least earnest. The stories, the graphics, even the ads are all too often about the earnest (and expensive) seriousness of it all. Contrasty, undersaturated photos of gritty climbers in "exotic" sponsor-friendly locations are staples along with reminiscences of epic near-misses in epic conditions on epic new Piolet D'or-worthy routes. Or there will be wholesome, well-meaning, family-friendly pieces about the camaraderie of it all, the nature and the love and whatnot. Which is true, but also kind of boring after a while. At this point, we seem to have lost the notion, what with the uplift and the inspiration, the festivals and the bright green shirts in the flashlit photos, that climbing is actually a pretty ridiculous sport (and that the 80-year old man who climbed Everest took a helicopter from Camp 2 to get back down-DAB). Seriously people, working toward our goals, playing hard and making a difference in the community is all well and good but does no one think it all sounds a bit earnest, a bit, well, corporate? Have we really forgotten just how useless and silly (and downright dangerous) rock climbing actually is? A close escape that was really, almost getting into the Olympics.

Urban Climber, as some noted in its heyday, was an oxymoron, a magazine that tried to inhabit a hip, urban (well really suburban) milieu while at the same time remaining firmly tied to the contemporary climbing scene, especially that of bouldering and sport climbing. Few who read UC gave a @#% about some 5.13 big wall at the South Pole or whether another 5 minutes had been shaved off the record for the Eiger. Anything to do with Everest was basically (and still is, maybe even more so) just a joke. Ice belonged in a cooler reserved for post-climb beverages. R-ratings belonged to movies, not routes. Women showed up regularly in its pages, in contrast, for example, to the somewhat-revived Ascent, where for the last two issues at least, a demographic consisting almost exclusively of white men over 50 has dominated.

Its biggest failing I suppose, given its demise, was not being reverent enough to the gods of the market, though I admit I am not even sure who/what they are now, given the ubiquity of free media. Advertisers have always driven the bus to some extent, but in the Internet age, there is no margin for error, no story that isn't ultimately about creating value for the companies that help underwrite the publication. Perhaps the notion that climbers can be depicted as ridiculous, frivolous, ironic, sarcastic, and truly self-deprecating and not just humblebragging is one whose day has mostly passed. Who can say for sure?

There are other outlets for this attitude but UC seemed a bit more tuned into this sensibility than most and only after its demise have I really begun to notice its absence. Warren Harding's motto summed this attitude up best as "Semper Farcisimus." UC didn't always get it right and sure there was fluff and yes, it took a year to get paid, but Joe, Justin, and Andrew, thanks for at least trying.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Google Apps Problems:

This is not a climbing related post but I thought I would share some problems I have been having with the Blogger "platform" and see if anyone is having similar experiences. I posted this recently on the Google Product forums:

"Hi All,
I have been seeing a lot of comments about Google Apps and thought I would share my experience.

Recently I started receiving emails about custom domain renewal for my three blogs not going through (probably because a credit card was expiring) so I thought I would straighten things out. I realized that I had erred in not setting up admin sites for each blog and then tried to figure out what to do next. After a lot of time digging around, I came to the realization that Google theoretically has three Google Apps accounts, one for each blog, and I can only access the admin site for one, leaving two to somehow still get access to. The email link that was sent to me a while back for setting up those accounts does not work anymore and trying to reset passwords using bloggeradmin@mydomain,com only results in my Google Account password getting reset.

Google documentation and support has no clear path out of this situation and it is turning into a big headache.I am planing on migrating my blog to Wordpress as a result and even starting from scratch with an entirely new domain and URL if necessary. Google has really messed this one up IMO. There should be a simple and straightforward way to regain access to these accounts

If anyone has any concrete and workable fixes for this situation, please let me know. At this point I would recommend staying away from Blogger as a blogging platform as the Google Apps administrative infrastructure is much too complicated and unreliable."

If anyone has any thoughts, please post or email. Given this catch-22, I may be starting over completely from scratch. As I stated above, if you are thinking of starting a blog do not use Google.

 Finally solved this problem through a seemingly random link found on a discussion group:

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Age and Youth: Always Learning More

Just the other day I turned 49, something that was as inevitable and unremarkable as anything else that happened that day. Oddly it seems that many of the things that get me up out of bed in the morning remain just as interesting now as they did, say forty years ago, around the time that I was first introduced to the sport of climbing. Much like the bewildered character in the song, I ask "How did I get here?" and with no clear answers other than there has been something about the act of climbing and the nature of its surroundings that keeps drawing me back.

A video still from a recent ascent of Running Scared V11 at RMNP

It's a good time to think about this perennial topic in climbing, the intersection of age/time and climbing. The attention currently paid to youthful ascents of relatively hard climbs remains high and I will say for my part that's a good thing overall. The more young people getting out and climbing well the better But more interesting to me is watching a generation that really launched the notion of youth climbing suddenly growing up. Chris Sharma is now well over 30, for instance. Some from that mid-90s era have persisted in the sport while many more have left climbing for the most part. I wonder about the process that climbers might undergo as they leave the sport, assuming that injury or other catastrophe hasn't forced the issue. It's difficult for me to understand. I find myself pretty much a "lifer" at this point, still obsessed with difficult movement on rock, absorbed for hours in the intricacies of form, immersing myself, as I have been recently, in the alpine environment of Rocky Mountain National Park as it changes from winter into spring and now summer.

I know for a certainty that very few other climbers my age are pursuing bouldering seriously, that I am an anomaly in the sport, especially in the States. I like this contrarian aspect of my climbing though it implies a certain solitary aspect to my journey. Perhaps it's strange in this hyper-social age, but I welcome the solitude that high-altitude bouldering offers, the respite, however brief, from the demands of other people's attention and opinions. But I question whether the young climbers of the day, brought into the sport on an infrastructure of parents coaches and gyms, will ever really know this feeling that sustains my pursuit of climbing. Will they persist in the sport after the support systems they have relied upon in the past are no longer there? Can they persist in the face of ever-encroaching responsibilities and demands on their time?

This is the factor that I think renders comparisons between mature and youthful climbers irrelevant, that  we are basically playing very different games. The physical differences are minuscule but the psychological and mental differences are massive. Teenage climbers are responsible for, well, basically nothing. For socially privileged teenagers (which describes most serious young climbers) there is the added advantage of unearned resources that do not have to be accounted for such as cars, travel, and so on. Rarely will anything such a teenager does have serious consequences financially or socially. None of this applies to an average adult over 35, many of whom will be starting families, owning and maintaining houses, and will be involved in full-time professions and careers that neither care about nor respect lives outside the workplace. In our culture it is near impossible for such an adult to find breathing room for any recreational pursuit, let alone a serious regimen of training and high-end climbing. This burden explains why I am much more impressed by older climbers and their achievements.

I have taken in recent years to working with a number of such individuals as their climbing coach, trying to help them reach their full potential, not merely in physical terms but also in terms of understanding the deeper nature of climbing and how it can expand their lives and their live's meaning. This is work that is a natural extension of my career as a teacher and writer and is something I hope to develop over time. Climbing well is so much more than a physical action and has benefits that stretch across an entire lifetime, not merely a brief interlude before settling into a sedentary adulthood. If I have learned anything in the 35-plus years of climbing, it is that the heroics of famous climbers are just the surface appearances of a much more complex world, one that holds incredible promise for achievement and personal fulfillment well after one's supposed physical "peak." If I could hope for one thing to happen to today's generation of young climbers, it is that they learn this valuable truth.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Climbing and the Olympics: Agon and Areté

Last week it was decided that climbing would not be on the list for sports considered for the 2020 Olympics. Despite concerted efforts by the IFSC et. al., what made the list were wrestling, squash and baseball/softball, all traditional activities, especially wrestling which has been part of athletics competition since the dawn of history. Setting aside any speculation as to the transparency of the process, it seems to me ultimately unsurprising that the IOC opted out but what is more interesting is the degree to which climber apathy manifested itself on virtually every climbing-related forum that I visited in the days following the announcement.

In fact, for the majority of commenters, the tone was one of satisfaction, if not celebration. The sense that climbing areas are already too crowded with people, overt commercialism is getting out of hand, and a feeling that public competition is not a real part of the sport; these were the most prominent of reactions. Not all of these comments were from crusty old climbers. Plenty seemed to come from younger climbers from all disciplines. And in fact the number of posts was relatively small indicating an overall apathy from the climbing community.

My personal feelings are mixed at best. I think bouldering especially has real possibilities for a great display of athleticism and sportsmanship, though some recent setting in the World Cup comps has me wondering. But I also agree with those concerned about a split between "real" climbing  and competition climbing growing ever wider. The continued persistence of speed climbing as an event lingers mostly as an embarrassment for both camps, if comments are to be believed. I will say that the bigger issue for mainstreaming competition indoor climbing is sorting out what the sport actually stands for. The Olympic motto is "Citius, Altius, Fortius" meaning higher faster stronger and while faster could be dropped for climbing, the other two are very apropos for the world of climbing.

For the uninformed spectator, and in fact even for the informed one, it is not very clear how these states are actually achieved. To begin with, every serious climber knows that a route or problem overall is not the issue; that instead the shape, texture and angle of a total surface area of a few centimeters can decide the outcome. This is completely different from any other sport in the history of athletics. Track and field athletes do not have to worry about the consistency of their surface nor do gymnasts. Claims that the problems are the same for everyone do not satisfactorily resolve the problem. Nobody should earn gold because their hands are stickier or they are taller or some other micro-factor and it's hard to avoid the feeling that there is something like that going on on some routes and/or problems. These finicky variables which are hard enough for a knowledgeable spectator to discern, are impossible for anyone unfamiliar with the sport to understand in terms of their affect on the outcome.

Yet transforming climbing to an easy set course (like speed climbing) or setting five standard problems of very high difficulty with judges evaluating form and overall routine quality (like gymnastics) doesn't seem satisfactory either and would completely remove climbing from its roots in a way that no other sport in the Olympics has had to do. Plus there is the evaluation problem. Faster seems a very weak way to evaluate climbing skill and speed climbing has never been held in high esteem in the indoor realm. Difficulty is a term that has so many dimensions in climbing that a major challenge in comp setting is avoiding too narrow a set of criteria for the climbers. Plus there is the problem of feasibility being very marginal for many kinds of moves with the result that a climber falls and the game is done or worse, many climbers fall in the same place and separation is made difficult or impossible.

I am not saying that the IOC took these factors into account but I think one of the issues at the heart of making competition climbing succeed is showing where the agon is, the Greek concept of contest that was at the heart of the original Greek games. Comp climbing can feel more like a Rubik cube contest, a very trivial type of areté, what the Greeks understood as excellence and what was revealed in the course of agon. For climbing competition to survive and even thrive, it needs to clearly define both ideas and make them understandable and compelling to a larger audience. While I don't think it's impossible to do this, some clarification is in order in the coming years if the IOC or anyone else (major TV, etc.) is going to get on board.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Late Spring in RMNP

Since the semester ended I have been trying to get up to speed for summer season in the Park. For most of the local bouldering cadre, Wild Basin is the place to be, and I am sure I will visit soon. However more often than not, I like to seek out solitude and especially like locations closer to treeline and the Continental Divide. Lots of snow came late to the Front Range so the high peaks are still deeply covered including of course the boulders in Lower and Upper Chaos. That said, some problems are totally melted out and despite a long slow and tiring approach I have been making real progress on Element of Surprise and the right exit version.
In the coming weeks, a number of problems should be coming into shape, or will need minimal digging. The Centaur boulder is melting out quickly and Tommy's is climbable right now. I would not be surprised if a number of boulders in Upper are ready with in a few weeks but I have not been up there yet to confirm. I have used snowshoes for my last two visits as the snow fields have been pretty soft and the trail has been very post-hole prone.

I have also put in a few visits to Elkland, trying Afrika Bambaataa, a classic V12 crimp problem with a very frustrating first move. It's just around the corner from Bridge of Ashes and a very short walk from the road. The main issue with this problem is that it's getting too warm to deal with the very small holds. By the way, during a recent session I cleaned a potential right exit that heads out to the arete which could add some difficulty.

On my most recent visit, I found a little gem of a problem that I am calling Two Claws (V8). It takes an overhung dihedral and then surfs out right to top out. Good landing, technical moves and a nice line, all close to the road.

All in all I am feeling motivated and ready to take down some longstanding projects after shedding the sloth of winter!