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.