Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Trouble with Hubble: Be a Climbing Locavore

The climbing manufacturer Mammut has been releasing a series of short videos about classic hard routes from the beginning of sport climbing. Most recently Hubble, in the Peak District in England and freed by Ben Moon in 1990, came in for this treatment with a short segment featuring Sean McColl, the super-strong Canadian climber. McColl came in for some heckling because he wore a kneepad in order to kneebar his way through the undercling crux. I had a theory that McColl was set up by some Sheffield locals in the pub the night before. These locals saw that since McColl was new to the Peak climbing scene, he could be persuaded that,"of course we're all kneebarring this (iconic power) route these days." This might explain a certain sense of detachment that can be seen on the part of Ben Moon when McColl discusses the beta he's using. Regardless, the film concludes with McColl walking away empty-handed as all contenders have done since Steve McClure.

Here's the Mammut video:

Here's Steve McClure on it with no kneebars along with footage of Ben Moon on it.

Ire was expressed at ukbouldering.com http://ukbouldering.com/board/index.php?topic=24273.0 where this kind of situation was seen as a national emergency, which in a way it is, primarily because what the route represented and still represents for British climbing. In an era where "pros" seem to spend most of their time on 40 meter monster pitches in sunny Spain (whatever happened to France?) or on quickly forgotten film projects in some previously unheard of remote tropical/desert/arctic locale, Hubble is a semi-obscure relic of an era when top climbers in Sheffield had issues affording bus fare to far-flung destinations such as Cheedale. During my time in England, only a few years before Hubble, affording the 2 or 3 pound round trip fare to the limestone areas in the Peak was a real issue, one that apparently also hampered the efforts of the second ascensionist Malcolm Smith.

 Thanks in part to the overtaking of media production by commercial interests, climbers get the impression that the best chance of recognition and sponsorship comes from tackling projects that look good, that are so-called "king-lines." A certain degree of scorn is visited upon local testpieces that lack the perceived quality of routes or problems in celebrated (and often more softly graded) areas. For sponsor-fed media, grades, which are hard to settle on and even harder to portray on video, are secondary to photogenic qualities which can be reproduced for branding possibilities across multiple social media platforms. The reality of these king-lines often enough turns out to be more complicated in retrospect. Does anyone remember Ambrosia or Luminance in the Buttermilks?

 Relatively scruffy short roadside testpieces such as Hubble are overlooked today. Indeed it is easy to write off failure on such routes as the inevitable effects of their "uninspiring" nature. Even Adam Ondra felt it necessary to apologize for both his Hubble-like 5.15c  route Vasil Vasil and the 2011 V16 (and still unrepeated) boulder problem Terranova. Sadly both will probably go unrepeated unless someone puts up a bounty of some sort. There is no question that  Hubble clearly needs to be upgraded.

  In my view this situation has got to change and should be actively discouraged by all means possible. Are we reaching a point where many elite climbers actively avoid investing effort in creating and repeating local testpieces,  instead pursuing photogenic sponsored projects in distant attractive and "exotic" locales? My view is that the future is in local testpieces which among other things offer more sustainable climbing practices and much lower carbon footprints. Here in Colorado, I feel especially blessed with the plethora of local roadside projects across the difficulty spectrum. Lacking the mysteriously copious financial resources of my underemployed peers, I will have to make a virtue of necessity and remain a climbing locavore. I hope that others follow in the footsteps of climbers like Dave Graham and Daniel Woods, who, in addition to various globe-trotting adventures, have found so many good accessible problems here on the Front Range. Who will produce the next Hubble?

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Clif Hanger: Raising the Bar on Sponsorship?

The latest mini-whirlwind to strike the micro-world of climbing was the announcement, first made by Rock and Ice, then confirmed by the company, that Clif Bar was no longer sponsoring five climbers (and no I won't call them "athletes" or "ambassadors"), the most prominent of whom, Alex Honnold, is primarily known for hair-raising solo exploits. Vituperation was swift from the Internets, including a remarkable variety of unflattering flavor comparisons and vows to never eat Clif Bar products again, because you know, there's a picture of a climber on the wrapper and now Clif Bar hates climbing. Or something. Clif Bar will surely rue the several thousand dollars it loses from all the slackliners out there who will take a hard stand against this injustice

Clif Bar's take on this was relatively sane. As a company with over 500 mil in sales, they realized the potential for liability lawsuits and bad publicity linked with promotional material featuring soloing, especially.  The statement noted:
 "We concluded that these forms of the sport are pushing boundaries and taking the element of risk to a place where we as a company are no longer willing to go. We understand that some climbers feel these forms of climbing are pushing the sport to new frontiers. But we no longer feel good about benefitting from the amount of risk certain athletes are taking in areas of the sport where there is no margin for error; where there is no safety net."

 The rest of the world, outside of climbing, tends to be horrified by the thought of climbers plummeting to their deaths from a high height, and finds statements such as "at least he/she died doing what he loved" small consolation to those left behind. The company's association with the Yosemite "outlaw" epic "Valley Uprising" (in the spirit of which, can someone send me a bootleg copy so I can review it? Just kidding, kind of....) must have clarified some thinking up in the executive suite as well since illegal BASE jumping and drug consumption, among other diversions, feature prominently.

The climbers let go were relatively nonplussed because, well, you have to be when every OR can bring the hatchet down on your measly stipend. This stuff happens, like, a lot. Apparently Clif Bar had second thoughts with a couple of them but Cedar Wright rebuffed the offer of renewed affiliation, being quoted in the New York Times as saying, "It’s like your girlfriend who breaks up with you and wants to get back together. But she’s not really that loyal.” I wonder though, if one had a girlfriend worth half a billion and is paying you to go climbing, whether there are more than a few self-professed "dirtbags" who could overcome their scruples to come back, for a little longer anyway. But I digress.

So what's the upshot of all this? Mostly the sorry spectacle of a climbing scene once again seriously overestimating its marketing clout, let alone its purchasing power, and even more laughable, endorsing the notion that somehow a company has a responsibility to support climbers and activities that are "pushing the boundaries of the sport" or whatever it is that sponsored climbers are supposed to do. I'm sure we can all think of prominently publicized and sponsored climbers who are not all that. If I name a few everybody will hate me so discuss amongst yourselves.

Perhaps most laughable of all is the utter absence of actual dollar figures, that perennial conversational staple of sports with real compensation. If an NFL player is let go because of criminal activity, we know what's at stake. A lot of green. But in climbing, what are we talking about? What a lousy semi-pro golfer makes at a master's tournament? Is this like academia, where it is said, "the fighting is so fierce because the stakes are so low"? Will we never know what so-called pro climbers actually earn, what  kind of income they are supposed to be risking their necks for? Apparently that topic is reserved for the lower orders in the climbing hive such as the Sherpas on Everest who actually work and really risk their necks and are dying en masse in recent years.

None of the media covering the story bothered to ask and nobody has offered to tell. That all fits nicely into the self-deceptive narratives of climbing and its threadbare concepts of individual freedom and independence. How gauche to discuss money and corporate policy and while we're at it, damn the man for not paying me to climb rocks! Whatever. Dear pro-wannabes, my advice is, if Clif Bar comes knocking, answer the door quickly and reply nicely, even enthusiastically, "YES." And wear a helmet while you're at it. Plenty of room for sponsor stickers there.

(Full disclosure: I have eaten many Clif Bars including the frequent free samples left at local gyms, and not having such sensitive taste buds as others in the climbing community, have found them delicious)

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Change: A Review of the new film from Petr Pavlicek

For various reasons I have been uninterested in writing recently, in part at least because I have been spending every spare moment either bouldering or playing guitar. And besides that what is there to write about? Climbing is in deep stasis right now and shaving a few seconds off an El Cap speed record or creating a Kickstarter video for your latest media project is not going to change anything very much. We are all in self-promotion mode these days, everyone a brand ambassador for something or another, even if it's only ourselves.

The state of climbing media feels more closely brand-driven than ever as companies have embraced the need to "tell their story" to viewers who are busy telling their own stories via social media in the hopes that a brand will be interested in picking it up to make them a brand ambassador/athlete so they can tell their stories with a cool #hashtag attached. This has made for a remarkably homogenous series of productions featuring agreeable photogenic people getting to the top of things with the assistance of slider shots, focus pulls and plenty of time lapse. At some point I just began to swear off watching anything involving climbing, at least until I saw this:

I Heart Estes from scientia on Vimeo.

Then I got a FB message from the maker of 2012's sprawling and uneven Wizard's Apprentice and saw a glimpse of light on the horizon that promised to cut through the torpor. His long postponed film about Adam Ondra's 9b+ first ascent in Norway from 2012 was finally ready. Two hours in length and described on the author's website as unconventional, Change, named after the climb it chronicles, seemed like a film that I needed to see.

It opens up with a disclaimer of sorts, namely that the filmmaker was tired of making films, that he wanted to get away from the crowds and media frenzy that seems to constantly surround Adam Ondra in the competition scene and the currently hot crags in Spain. Only when Ondra himself enters the narration in earnest do we find Pavlicek willing once more to document his next big project, far from the scene of Llieda or Oliana. Instead it's found in the colossal cave known by climbers as Flatanger, north of Trondheim in Norway.

Indeed one of the most remarkable things about this film is the deep involvement of Adam in its making. He personally narrates roughly 2/3 or more of it and does a fantastic job with a sincere and straightforward style that stands in marked contrast to his trademark screams on the actual routes. While the film focuses almost entirely on him, there is not a trace of ego or boasting in his voice or delivery.

The narrative arc of the film follows Adam from his decision to bail on going to university in 2012 and instead find a personal challenge on a route of his own, having by this time climbed almost every other high-end sport climb in the rest of Europe. Petr wants to take him north to Norway to what is in a sense the last frontier in European climbing and so it begins. Over the next few months we visit a number of crags and boulders in Sweden and Norway, ultimately focusing on Flatanger and the struggle to link up the monster pitch that will be called Change. We know that Adam will succeed; what we find out is how he changes along the way.

Especially refreshing is the normality with which he climbs routes and boulders, most of them at a stratospheric level of difficulty. With just a few friends and a very small camera crew (i.e. Petr and his friend Barbara), Ondra appears to be simply going climbing, not as part of an entourage. The sense of solitude and remoteness is enhanced by the lack of crowds and a scene. A short sequence of a bouldering comp underscores the point of how contrived and even aggravating such events can be. It's with a real sense of relief that we get back to the sublime glaciated landscapes of northern Norway

For those viewers used to a more aggressively plotted and edited mode of film making, the leisurely pace of Change may prove an obstacle. Petr and Adam have more than just a story of a climb to tell. This film is about retreat and renewal in the heart of a remote environment that one hopes will never attract the media circus which plagues more accessible locales. As the days and attempts on the project mount up, the film shifts its focus subtly but inevitably towards this environment and its extraordinary personality and presence, shaped by primal forces of ice and fire. It's a powerful and brooding granite landscape where every climb and feature is geometrically sculpted to some degree and then shaped by water and time.

In the end, this sense of place is what won me over the most. Change is a film that inspires the viewer to find meaning in place, not merely to chase a big number but to realize one's potential deep in a natural world that is full of so many more possibilities than we can even imagine. It certainly spoke to my own interests as a climber, writer, and artist in a way that most media out there does not. Change is far and away the best climbing film I have seen in a very long time.

Movie website with lots of extras including photos and video

Download link:

A look into the process of making the film

Adam Ondra - Change - Backstage movie from BERNARTWOOD on Vimeo.

Here are some stills I picked from the film.

Adam Ondra on an 8B+/8C in Metre

The massive cave at Flatanger

Adam on his 9a+ Thor's Hammer

Adam on the infamous low crux on Change 9b+

Mist over the mountains of Norway

One of dozens of remarkable scenic shots

The extraordinary glaciated coast of Norway

Mountains and water!

Monday, August 4, 2014

25 reasons I am a lousy climbing writer

I have been thinking about why my writing career is languishing and besides the usual reasons like actually having to earn a living or not having enough cash to head to the Trango Towers or even Alaska, I realized what the real problem is or more precisely what they are. Basically I do not have the right profile. So in the spirit of self-improvement and working on my weaknesses, here is a shortlist of reasons I am a lousy climbing writer. There are probably more but thanks to my daughter's pestering, I can't concentrate long enough to come up with more.

1. I have never been to Alaska.
2. I have never met Alex Honnold.
3. I have never lived in a van.
3. I scare easily.
4. I do not have any crazy hookup stories from the Valley or Hueco or anywhere else.
5. I never went soloing because of a bad breakup.
6. I can’t use “stoke” or “stoked” in a sentence with a straight face.
7. I have not climbed El Cap.
8. If I drink more than two beers I will pass out.
9. I have never flown in a helicopter or small plane.
10. I have never slept on a glacier.
11. I have never been to the Himalaya. I think I can find (some of) them on a map.
12. I have never broken a crampon 1000 feet up a north face of something.
13. I have never eaten anyone’s leftovers in Yosemite Valley.
14. I have basically forgotten how to climb cracks.
15. I cannot remember what a summit looks like.
16. I do not beard well.
17. I have never ridden on a “third-world” bus along with livestock and colorfully dressed natives.
18. I do not own glacier glasses, snow pickets or a Jetboil.
19. I cannot set up a portaledge.
20. I have never ferried loads of any kind.
21. I have never beheld a glorious dawn from a precarious ledge on the side of a remote mountain.
22. I have never been published in Outside magazine, Men’s Fitness, National Geographic or the New York Times.
23. My frequent flyer miles stand at approximately zero.
24. I have never ridden out an avalanche or been pinned down by a storm (longer than half an hour).
25. I have never met Yvon Chouinard.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Great Everest Articles

Grayson Schaffer at Outside Magazine has just published this very good piece on the 2014 Everest season which I highly recommend you all read.


Grayson Schaffer's awesome photo of lights heading up the Khumbu Icefall at dawn hopefully before the ice starts to move
For anyone looking for a survey of the many factors that went into the disastrous 2014 season, this is a great place to start. I also recommend "Everest Interrupted" by Tashi Sherpa in the latest Alpinist (#47) along with some wonderful portraits of Charlie Porter, one of the most important and least-heralded American climbers of the last century.

Speaking of high altitude siege tactics, I am mostly up to this kind of climbing. Here's a photo I took of Fort Collins local Blake Rutherford on Wildcat, on the other side of the boulder from Jade, which was just repeated by Sam Davis, the talented photographer.

 Alex Puccio's back-to-back ascents of Top Notch and Nuthin but Sunshine were the other big news of the past week. Can't wait to get back up there myself after a week of training on the flatlands. Hoping to one-hang Automator after figuring out the end of it last week. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Maybe Blogs are Dying After All? This Isn't Just Clickbait! :)

There are times when I begin to wonder if Andrew Bisharat was right after all. OK so that link doesn't work. Here's my response to it if you are interested. And maybe I was too harsh on it and got blocked by him, like everywhere. Which I may well have deserved but whatever. Water under the bridge, as they say.

Anyway, maybe climbing blogs are getting old. Having just turned 50 myself, it's logical enough to see a connection between one's one encroaching mortality and a decreasing lack of enthusiasm for writing about the latest trend/event/marketing campaign in the world of climbing. And said lack of enthusiasm has been abundantly manifest in my not updating this blog in close to two months. And something important surely has happened in the world of climbing (besides Everest getting shut down). OK so nothing really important has happened but maybe I just forgot about it. Middle age has its blessings.

But seriously, what has happened in the last two years to climbing blogs is not inspiring much confidence in their future existence as a corrective to what is being published out there in the climbing MSM. I may be oblivious but I have not read a good polemic on the internetz in a long time (except maybe Stevie Haston's) and even Jamie Emerson is apparently off doing something a lot more interesting than updating B3Bouldering these days. In fact in an ironic twist that only Hegel could appreciate. Bisharat's blog is by far the most productive, excepting the ever-industrious Climbing Narc. (OK he's linked on my blog but I might as well be consistent.) AB even gets real comments which makes me extremely jealous as all mine are spambot generated ones like "very inform blog. much informing and links. OK."

For now I will be thinking about what to do next and spending as much time here while I do. That's all for now. And if you actually want to know what I am up to, please follow me on Instagram.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Everest Show and the Post-Mountaineering Era

Anyone following the climbing scene (which is just about everyone these days including NPR and the New York Times) has been following the disastrous inauguration of the 2014 Everest season with the tragic deaths of 16 Sherpas in the Khumbu icefall. This catastrophe, which is one of the single highest death tolls ever in modern mountaineering history, finally has exposed the contradictions inherent in the Everest system in a way that nobody can now ignore. There are conflicting reports that the mountain is "closed" though the financial implications of that for the country as a whole, as well as the Sherpa community are significant. And there are the grieving families of the victims, for whom one's heart goes out to.

But it was all coming to this point, inevitably. The photos last year of the hundreds of climbers on the Western Cwm, the traffic jams on the Hillary Step, the incessant coverage of Everest the annual event and of course the occasional casualty, no more to be noted than a freeway car accident. In my view, there is no question that Everest is a spectacle now, feeding on its own image, becoming a bigger version of itself, if that is even possible. It is not just the tallest mountain on earth, it's the biggest show on earth, a Barnum and Bailey three-ring circus with ringmasters, roustabouts and tents galore.

Adventure as far as the eye can see. Photo from the Times of London

Isn't there some way to kill off the Everest mystique once and for all? The environmental degradation, the commercialized media events (the first wingsuit flight was to be televised this year), the frozen corpses, and of course the ceaseless tide of updates on weather, conditions, and ascents and behind it all money, money, money. At this point, I can think of no reason why anyone would want to climb Everest under the present set of conditions. It is devoid of all significance, the process being so methodical and choreographed that it resembles more closely the flotillas of gondolas one sees in that classic ersatz sea-level tourism locale, Venice.

It has been fascinating to see the debate about whether it's right to go on climbing this season, that somehow the deaths of sixteen young men crushed by falling ice has this time truly gone too far. But Everest has long been going too far, pushing it in exactly this fashion while watching the trash and bodies pile up. And for what exactly? Because it's there? The Sherpa deaths are forcing us to look harder and closer at that question. If we are climbing for money, why are we climbing at all? If people are dying en masse so that we can claim we climbed something, why even bother?

The question is pressing harder and harder in the world of climbing overall. What is the merit in climbing anything when the drift is constantly toward commercialization and professionalization? When the media clichés fall thicker and faster, it becomes clear that what is happening now is empty ritual, and more than ever, the closer the camera is, the farther away the truth becomes. The reality show of modern climbing has run into real reality and we are alarmed that this could ever have happened. The blogs, the news reports, the press conferences, the articles; all of them try to sidestep the question, "Why are we doing this?"

Sir Edmund Hillary, upon returning to Base Camp, uttered the classic quote, "Well George, we knocked the bastard off." His later line, "It's all bullshit on Everest these days" seems to close perfectly the arc of modern mountaineering from the nineteenth century to the present. All we are doing is shoveling it into ever more ornate piles. Let's stop.

(for an amusing and naive view from 2003, read "The message is this – stop calling Everest a circus, and stop calling it bullshit.")

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Notes from A GenX Climber

I am not necessarily a fan of defining generational eras, not least because it always seems to boil down to what cool bands you listened to in your 20s. And whining about your fate in the clutches of a less-than-providential historical trajectory seems so, well, negative in the age of social media's Upworthy-esque positivity and uplift. Given the contemporary emphasis on personal brand-building and the "community," it's hard to imagine that there was once a time when many top climbers apparently had an attitude problem best summarized by the 1991 profile of American star Jim Karn titled " The Positive Aspects of Negative Thinking."

I think this stereotype of so-called Generation X has persisted into the present era with remarkable durability. The lycra tights, the wobblers, the dieting, the finicky obsession with technical mastery are all seen as hallmarks of a best forgotten age. Almost without exception the climbers from that era have disappeared from the common knowledge and history of the sport. I think this ought to be changed.

The period of 1985 to 1995 was plagued by dysfunction on a lot of levels but I think its bad reputation is wildly overstated. Among other things this period marked the last time that Americans male or female were serious contenders on the world competition stage. It was also one of the most creative periods in American climbing as the focus shifted from the well-known areas of the 60s and 70s such as Yosemite and Eldorado Canyon to radically different locales such as Smith Rock, American Fork, and Rifle. That era is almost 30 years old yet I don't sense a lot of enthusiasm for remembering it. No photocopied articles or extended reminiscences on Supertopo or coffee-table books  sold through Patagonia books. At least so far.

I think it is increasingly an article of belief that modern sport climbing and bouldering suddenly emerged fully formed in the person of Chris Sharma, a genial and phenomenally talented wunderkind who appeared to refute the intensity and obsessive approach of earlier leaders in the sport. Well maybe. But what is forgotten is the degree to which the leaders of new trends in climbing in the 80s were quite literally attacked by the old guard. Comments by the likes of John Bachar or Henry Barber that hard sport climbing was the equivalent of golf or that the likes of Fred Nicole were merely number-chasing Euros were matched by the destructive and hypocritical bolting wars (of which I was part of). In other words, there was next to no genuine support or positive recognition from the older guard that the world of climbing was changing. Karn lived in Europe in a cheap tent on terrible food while competing in the World Cup. Meaningful sponsorship was unheard of. Too many top-level climbers from the mid-80s to the mid-90s were considered the bastard stepchildren of the sport. We even had the famous "You Suck!" article by Dave Pegg in 1996. There was a reason we sucked and it wasn't just about anorexia and bad attitudes. Who really wanted us to get as good as the Europeans? Answer: not too many people, especially of the previous generation.

This changed with the arrival of the cute and youthful stars who emerged in the mid 1990s such as Sharma, Tommy Caldwell, Beth Rodden and Tori Allen. Often with substantial parental support or at least approval, they swiftly eclipsed their predecessors, breezing past the obstacles once posed by the old guard of the past. Climbing became a youth sport, not the pursuit of grumpy old men obsessed with ethical purity. Suddenly nobody cared about bolting on rappel. "Number-chasing" was seen as a media-savvy move for climber and manufacturer. Selling-out became a mark of authenticity and commitment to the sport, not a cause for ostracism.

For climbers who came of age in the GenX era, there is a certain satisfaction in seeing the old verities and personalities that dismissed their dreams now fading from view, or at least issued restraining orders, as in the case of Ken Nichols. Sport and gym climbing, and of course competitions are now the standard, not the exception. Bouldering is not just "for practice" anymore. Climbers from the US are still mostly irrelevant in the international scene, with only a few exceptions. And oddly, outside a very very elite crew, the standards set by the climbers of 20 years ago have proven quite hard to get past.

The standard take on Generation X is that they were the most neglected children in American history, overshadowed by the sheer numbers and cultural momentum of the Baby Boomer and superceded by the successive generations,Generation Y and the Millenials. I think this has been echoed in the climbing world to a large extent and those of us who emerged as young adults in the later 1980s are more or less resigned to it. Perhaps, however, a few more people will begin to look around and recognize the degree to which the shape of the sport of climbing is defined by the ideas and ultimately the attitudes of a now obscure group of climbers.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Review of The Circuit: World Cup and Performance Climbing

Recently I had heard via Facebook of a new climbing media project  called The Circuit, a magazine dedicated to the World Cup and the climbers who compete in it. I was interested in this for several reasons, not least because it was actually being published in hard copy form at a time when climbing media (and sports media in general) has been focusing on its online aspects. Also, as Eddie Fowke points out below, English-language readers do not get much in terms of stories and interviews about this kind of climbing in general.

 Eddie Fowke, the publisher and editor of The Circuit, kindly sent me a copy for review and I have to say right away that this is one of the most interesting and entertaining magazines I have seen in a long time. Long interviews with leading competitors and other figures such as longtime routesetter Jacky Godoffe and coaching and climbing analysis wizard Udo Neumann provide the best insight into contemporary competition climbing you are likely to find between two covers. Some of the climbers interviewed include Shauna Coxsey, Mina Markowic, Alexander Megos, and Chris Webb-Parsons.The magazine is loaded with high-quality photographs from around the world printed on very high quality stock.  This issue focuses on bouldering both inside and outside but future issues will have other themes.

The first issue has virtually no advertising, though I would expect this to change going forward, meaning an uninterrupted reading and viewing experience more similar to a book. In fact it reminded me of two books from the 90s, Rock Stars by Heinz Zak and The Power of Climbing from David Jones, both of which opened a window onto the state of the art at the time. Also 8a.nu published a yearbook for a few years which I thought was worthwhile for the record it preserved for the world sport climbing and bouldering scene.

Anna Stohr at Milau FR
If you want to get a better picture of how the competitors approach the challenge of climbing in World Cup comps or what the routesetters are trying to do, The Circuit is an invaluable documentary effort in that direction. If the climbing world wants competition climbing to be taken seriously, as in being part of the Olympics, it will need publications like this to help make the case.

I think this is a great project to support so to purchase a copy just go to http://www.thecircuitclimbing.com/Buy for more info.
Make sure to check out the Facebook page and blog as well.

In order to get a better idea of what Eddie is trying to achieve with this project, I did a short email interview with him.

1.      When and how did you get the idea that international competition climbing needed a magazine like this?

I’ve always loved climbing magazines and in the early 90’s it was the only way to follow the competition circuit. Sadly even with growing participation and following worldwide there never seemed to be much content in the existing English Language magazines. It’d always be a paragraph or two at best.

If you look at any other sport or activities they have specialist publications that act as aspirational and educational platforms, climbing magazines (again I only speak of English language ones) had never had this niche filled.
I felt it was time to fill that niche and get some psyche out there!

2.      How did you actually get the process started and what did you need to learn along the way?

I’ve been taking photos of some of the top climbers, boulderers especially, for several years now. After my friend James Kassay did some of the IFSC Bouldering World Cups in 2012 and it watched the streams of all of them I decided to attend some of the World Cups myself in 2013.
For the World Cups I was shooting and writing competition reviews for the Australian digital magazine Vertical Life which gave me the opportunity to get really involved and the more people I shared my vision of a high performance climbing magazine with the more engagement and psyche I got back. It just gained momentum from there.
I had to learn every aspect of assembling a magazine from scratch, I was a competent photographer so that I was comfortable with but I had to learn to interview and how to transcribe the interviews. Some interviews I left very natural as I felt by anglicizing the answers it would take out some of the subject’s personality and personal flavor. For instance Mina Markovic is one of the most passionate climbers I’ve ever met, to her English is not a first language but when I tried to paraphrase her answers I would lose some of her passion, her absolute love for the sport. It was very much the same for Jacky Godoffe who spoke with such flair and belief, an open integrity that it wouldn’t have done him justice to water that down.
The hardest two aspects for me so far have been layout and logistics. I had only very limited experience with indesign from about 7 years ago so I had to learn that basically from scratch. I put so many hours into watching tutorials and reading about how to put together a magazine, then I just flogged myself, putting in hour after hour laying up pages… Discarding them… Repeating… It was hard, soul crushing work at times.
Lastly the logistics of freight has been an intense learning curve. To make a self-published print magazine work I needed to keep the costs as low as possible and mailing to purchasers directly from Australia was going to be a nightmare so I ended up having to find a workable freight solution. Not easy!

3.      How did you finance the project? I noticed that there is virtually no advertising.

The single biggest expense for The Circuit has been the time I’ve put in. Compared to most startup businesses, the actual financial commitment has been kept in check by doing the vast bulk of the work myself. Sure traveling to the World Cups last year was expensive but I was going for me, it was also a holiday so I don’t really consider an expense.
Now though, the simple truth is I need to sell plenty of copies to fund this year’s trip where I intend on getting the raw material for the next couple of issues.
I ran issue 1 almost devoid of advertising for two reasons. Firstly I was just so busy that I didn’t get the time to write up proposals for prospective advertisers and secondly I didn’t want to undervalue the advertising space I had available by giving cheap adverts as The Circuit was an untested product. As an aspirational magazine I only want quality advertising and the companies I want to advertise need to be supporting the sport in a positive way.
I know the current magazines operate on a very advertising dependent business model but I think a lot of magazines are just drenched in advertising so I’ve made a conscious decision to limit the advertising space available to let the content shine through.
I only had a single advertising spot in Issue 1 and that was given as a free ad to CAC (Climbers against Cancer). I strongly believe in their cause having spent time with John Ellison in Europe last year and seeing my own father lose his battle with cancer while I was writing the magazine. I don’t have a lot to give back but if The Circuit can raise awareness and give a few thousand dollars to CAC to help in the fight against cancer then it’s a start. 

4.      Is the magazine going to be annual, bi-annual, or more frequent?

Initially we will be an annual publication but long term the goal is to go bi-annual. With the content we have being based around the athletes and legends of the sport two issues a year should be easily manageable. I would rather have a content heavy, quality magazine that is collectable than dilute the content over a number of issues and chase the more news based market of existing magazines. Although magazines have a definite place reporting news, for the most part they can’t compete with the internet. Paul Robinson’s thoughts on reporting news such as a hard first ascent are in the closing interview of issue 1. I agree with what he’s saying and think magazines become the archives for the exceptional, not the 8c’s in a hole as he so succinctly describes them.
I think that climbing news these days is very immediate. It’s like if somebody does something it gets reported on and it’s old news in 24 hours. Whether it’s 8c, 8b flash, whatever it may be. So in that regard I think yes, however I think that really important news like mega first ascents, lots of though needs to go into the news. Grading it, creating it, the climbing media gets such a small amount of the story and for me, when I do a really hard first ascent, a really meaningful first ascent I like to try and bring as much of that story to the forefront of the media as possible. It’s not just “Oh Paul did another 8c first ascent” you know I mean that’s happened in the past and whatever but…
If I do an 8c first ascent and it’s in a hole you know I’ll shoot some pictures, I’ll put them up on Facebook, ok cool, I’m psyched. But if I do an 8c or 8b+ first ascent that means the world to me, I want (and not because I want popularity and fame or whatever) I want people to know because I’m just so proud of the line. I don’t want it to be just another of these little news stories on 8a.nu like “Paul’s done an 8c, here’s what he said.” That’s like, ok, that doesn’t mean anything. That’s why I’m always trying to capture photo, to capture video of these lines that I put up because you get just such a small percentage of what really went down and what went into these lines. That’s what I hope people get from my Instagram and my blog and the photos I post on the internet. It’s not that I’m climbing just to do hard grades, I’m climbing because I want to produce, and make the sport a better sport. To make the sport more worldly in all essences.” (Eds. note, read the rest of Paul's interview in The Circuit)

5.      What kind of readership are you aiming at, what do you want the magazine to provide for its readers?

The Circuit is a platform to capture the history of high performance professional climbers. Through interviews and feature articles I want to get into the heads of these amazing athletes, to learn their stories and share them with climbing lovers worldwide.
I see The Circuit being aimed at two main groups in the climbing community. One group is the aspiring elite who want to augment their vision of the sport with the wisdom of their heroes. The juniors, the local elite who want motivation to put in that extra hour of training in their goal of one day being an elite climber. The other group is normal climbers, lovers of the sport like me who just want to know what makes this incredible sport tick. The people who get up all over the world and watch the IFSC World Cup streams at stupid times of the day just because they love the sport.

6.      In an age where print publishing is apparently on the decline, why did you opt for a glossy high-quality print magazine?

I believe that a printed magazine can have collectible value. A digital file doesn't have that. If a magazine like The Circuit can capture a time and place in the history of climbing it can be placed on a shelf and referenced later. With a digital file odds are it’ll end up on some hard drive that’ll eventually fail, some tablet that’ll get superseded.
One of my main inspirations for The Circuit was Rock Stars by Heinz Zak. Even though it came out in 1997 it is still a fascinating view of climbing in the 90’s, the birth of professionalism. If through a periodical format The Circuit can achieve the same in the 21st century than it will be mission accomplished. To do that I believe print is the best medium.

7.   What directions do you want to see the magazine take in the future?

Building on the first issue I’d love future issues to be more collaborative efforts. I was lucky enough to have a great multilingual European correspondent in Nat Berry help me with issue 1 as well as the talented Dutch photographer Bram Berkien and Dave Mason from the UK supplementing my own photography. For the future I would like more interviewers and photographers on board to bring different perspectives and to let me have some degree of a normal life again!
Ideally I’d like The Circuit to be available at the IFSC World Cups where fans could buy copies and get them autographed by the pro’s. Like how you’d buy a program at a major sporting event now.
Lastly I want to theme the issues. Issue 1 had a working title of Origins and looked at where the included climbers came from. For the coming issues I want to look at climbers who are doing it all on their own for the love of it. The trail blazers of their countries on the international stage.  That and the growth of the sport in the east. From the time of Yuji Hirayama coming to France to pursue his dreams through till today where the Asian climbers are among the best in the world.

Thanks Eddie and good luck with this magazine!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Bouldering with Ueli Steck and a New Years Resolution

Sometimes just the right thing comes along when you least expect it. I headed off to The Spot last week in a mood of resignation, a stoic apathy induced by icy roads, cold temperatures and the usual mid-winter stagnation. I warmed up in a non-committal fashion, pumping out on the large semi-greasy holds that this gym favors and which bedevil my dreams of making real training gains. This was going nowhere, I thought to myself, as I scoped out the more vulnerable looking 4-spots, looking for an easy kill or two before reality set in.

Across the room I saw a group of climbers, some of whom I knew, so I went over to say hi. One of them I had not met before but he looked strangely familiar from somewhere. The context of the gym wasn't helping, for good reason, as it turned out. I worked in with the group on a problem that had a hard move at the top, one that I attempted and fell from trying to set a high heelhook to reach the top. The unknown climber said, in a European accent, "That's how to do it" and sent the next try. Then it clicked; I had just given beta to Ueli Steck, recent soloist of the South Face of Annapurna and achiever of too many crazy things to list here. In the confines of The Spot, a normal looking guy in climbing shoes looks very different from someone running up the North Face of the Eiger in under 3 hours.

Ueli Steck taking a break between burns at The Spot

I try not to be too overawed by world-class climbers. You meet a lot of them in Boulder and the average OR show has enough to stage a production of A Chorus Line. What they can do is amazing to me. As it happens, most of them are very nice people as well. For me however Ueli Steck is really a breed apart. And frankly, trying to make the leap from the guy I was trying the purple 5 minus with and the guy who charged up and down Annapurna in just over 24 hours was no easy feat. (Neither of us sent BTW)

We chatted about various things, climbing training, balancing family and climbing time, future plans, pretty normal stuff. And really, besides the sheer insanity of his climbing résumé, he struck me as perhaps the most normal climber I have met in a very long time. Which in its own way was the most inspiring aspect of this meeting; that there might actually be less separation between the great and the rest of us than you might think and that this encounter is much more possible in the climbing world than pretty much anywhere else that I can think of.

I left the gym pondering how I could make the best use of this meeting (besides a quick blog post) for the future. I don't really believe in New Year's resolutions but a good one for this year might be to keep your eyes open for your inspiration and your mind in a state of open-ended expectation. That inspiration may come from out of nowhere, in the least expected fashion. It may be meeting a climbing idol or it may be someone trying their hardest on a three spot. And also train harder. A lot harder. I took a rest day the day after. For his part, Ueli onsighted Octopussy, a classic Jeff Lowe M8 in Vail before heading to Ouray.

This interview and others in the same series gives a good view of Annapurna and Ueli's mindset. Epic TV hasn't organized these well but it's worth searching around for all of them. Also his account of the Annapurna in the latest issue of Alpinist (#45) is well worth the read, an instant classic really.