Archive by Author | Chris

Rocktown, part two.

Last time we posted, we were getting ready to head on down the road to Rocktown. We camped out one night in Asheville, in a quiet out of the way spot. Late in the night I woke up to Nicole jingling keys and climbing out of the car. Crap, it was raining. She put up the front windows, crawled back into bed, and we both laid still for awhile. The rain picked up, so I checked the window cover on my side. CRAP. Now it is getting wet. Out into the pouring rain I went. The back windows went up, and the Kindle turned back on. Finally we both fell asleep again, hoping to wake to a dry morning.

The sun rose to a a cloudless sky, so we packed up the car with no trouble or delay. After a quick morning chilling in Starbucks we hopped in the car one more time and headed on South. Because we’ve been before to Rocktown we weren’t at all worried about arriving after dark. We swung by Walmart and grabbed the now necessary permit and then drove on up the mountain. Fortunately, the road is in a far better state of repair than the last time we were here. Guess that recreation pass is good for something, anyway.

The morning saw us up early and worried about the heat. In the full days sun it gets pretty hot up in the campsite. Bouldering is way better at more moderate temperatures as friction between skin and rock is far superior. We were a bit worried, but hiked in to the boulders anyway.

Once under the shadow of the trees, the temps turned out to be pretty close to perfect. Rocktown is gorgeous this time of year, with a number of maple trees half changed in color. The forest is practically enchanted…but the boulders are demonic.

Sandstone is not like granite. Features are generally relatively large, as well as the spaces between them. This means that if you’re big like me you’re in luck. If you’re little like Nicole, you’re going to have a hard time. Problems here (even into the harder grades) seem to be mainly big moves between pretty good holds, though there are some notable exceptions. The climbs are by and large morphologically dependent, and the grading scale was clearly set by the corn-fed Southern climbers. No place gives me less hope for a unified grading system in bouldering. For Nicole and I, a relatively simple V5 bouldering problem (something we each would typically do in 3 tries) could have a swing of 5 V-grades. To the non-boulderers out there, consider that this means the difference betweens climbs that take a single try as compared to those that take 3+ days of solid work.

How do you settle on a ‘consensus’ in the absence of anything approaching uniformity? How can you communicate reasonably about what to expect from a problem? The answer is obvious, and should be more accepted already in climbing. Personal grades, those suggestions given by the elite of the climbing world are necessary to improve our communication and recognition. After climbing baseline problems in a variety of styles climbers learn to easily decipher how hard a problem is for them, taking into account their own specific stylistic weaknesses. Sure, some climbers would use this as an excuse to claim better efforts than they have put in, but I think the majority would understand the ramifications of prevarication. Accepting the opinion of climbers as valid regardless of the opinion of climbers from a totally different body type is important to recognizing peoples relative success. The most important part of this thought is that one climber finding a hugely height-dependent climb ‘easy for the grade’ should have no impact on how hard it is for short climbers! Should this not be obvious? Shouldn’t we all only get credit for what we’ve actually accomplished and nothing else?

Of course, this continues to be a pipe-dream. Few have the courage and conviction to stand behind their own personal opinions. Prominent supporters of personal grades one day lament the tendency of climbers to inflate grades the next! There is no obvious escape to the problem.

Whatever. We’ll dream of granite as we work hard on sandstone. Though it is likely that this thought will never reach anyone who cares, I’ll never take more credit than is my due (though Nicole might take less!)


Rain, stone, and motivation!

Nicole and I haven’t been back on the rocks for long, but we’ve already encountered the toughest part of a climbing season.

It is totally inevitable for dedicated climbers to face low periods in motivation; it only matters that we attack this and move forward. Some of us can simply will ourselves into activity, others need a friend to push them. Knowing that you’re in a little funk is the first critical step to getting out of it, so we’re endeavoring to move forward.

Nicole’s lack of motivation is probably the easiest to understand. Her cold has been far from totally debilitating, but enough to keep her from feeling like she can perform. She’s also still a little worried about another recurrence of the injury of her forearm, and she really wishes that she was in the superb condition that she found herself in when we were last in Bishop. Seven months of only indoor climbing will really leave you at your low water mark; especially if you’re not sure that you’ll be healthy when you leave. We still hope for the best, and should know soon how she is doing.

My problem is fairly typical, but difficult to overcome. My motivation really has a major ebb and flow, sometimes requiring me to find an inspiring project, or manage a climb that scares me badly. Most often my stoke will build just knowing that we both love the area we’re in. Sadly, this isn’t the case so far.

The weather sucked in the New. Big time. Our normal course of action when the weather is bad is to freak out, make a rash decision about where to go, and laugh our asses off when it turns out that we wound up in an even worse situation. This time we freaked out, made a rash decision, and wound up in a place that is…ok. I don’t want to whine; our self-selected life style is awesome. We’re very fortunate to do what we’re doing and certainly aren’t ready to trade it yet. But so far, this trip is shaping up to be better known for its difficulties than its triumphs.

Really, the humor of the situation is kind of grey. We don’t mind being out to climb, but we’re just plain bemused about the North Carolina climbing scene. Not to be judgmental, but we’ve traveled pretty extensively and experienced some great destinations at this point. We’re picky. So when I read descriptions decrying the lack of national (and international) attention for Rumbling Bald I decide it is time to check this place out. I hear all the time that North Carolina climbers don’t like to share a lot of beta. They don’t want the wild hordes to descend on their crags they call jewel boxes. This is…almost laughable. Almost. Look, I think the setting is gorgeous, the weather isn’t terrible, but the stone is just ok. Being generous, I would give it two stars out of five. This isn’t to say that there aren’t some outlying blocs that are excellent. Nor is it a total indictment of the area. I mean, we considered the stone in Font to be largely 4 star with some superb blocs. We considered Bishop (a fantastic destination by the way) to be 3 stars, with some major exceptions both above and below. And I even managed to have some fun in Moe’s, though it is largely 0 star stone trending to 1 star on occasion.

So I can put up with low quality stone, I can even put up with people claiming that it is owed its due. What I can’t stand is the attitude that it should both be owed something and be protected from the masses. Even Rocktown (the best stone we’ve climbed, period) had no guidebook until very recently. This did absolutely nothing to reduce its popularity. So it is clear there is already a reason that the Bald is not already considered an elite climbing destination.

First, the camping in the area is incredibly limited. We got some beta that we could car camp nearby, but that wound up falling through. $20 bucks a night is far too much for a tent in the dirt. No way you’re going to get traveling climbers to pay that for a relative unknown.

The second is the difficulty of finding appealing climbs. I mean, there is a published guidebook now, but the major beta for the development since then is pretty difficult to come across. Supposedly there are now roughly 1500 problems in the area. If the existing guide is any indication as to the new lines, most of them will be variations. There are quite a few listed problems that are no more than one move different. Sometimes as many as six variations are listed to a single problem. This certainly isn’t a huge deal, but it definitely isn’t for everyone. The rock quality is low in some areas, decent in others, and pretty good in a few. People certainly aren’t going to travel all the way out here for a few stunning problems.

Of course, the weather plays a role in Rumbling Bald’s popularity. When you consider the in season for the Bald, you have to remember that the direct competition lies in Hueco, Bishop, and to a lesser degree Stone Fort, HP40, Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, Font, and Rocktown. Why would anyone non-native to North Carolina deal with the camping hassles when many of these other areas are far easier? Further, why would you sacrifice quality of both climbing and stone to come to the Bald? The season really makes it tough for the Bald to ever gain any major traction.

When you consider the lack of quality in stone, the lack of variety, and the competition, the state of Rumbling Bald is no major surprise. Of course, all of this seems to fall really far from my initial points about low motivation levels. It is all connected, at least for me. I’m just plain uninspired by the climbing and the scene. I’m dreaming of our future in Rocktown.

Now I’ll freely admit that I’ve probably been a bit hasty in my criticism of the Bald. We’ve only had two days of bouldering, and that surely isn’t enough to write off an entire area. We’re just waiting for the switch to flip and the fire to light. I know it will, as soon as I find the right line. If all I do here in North Carolina is get in the shape I need to be when that inspiration strikes, the time won’t have been wasted. Until that time, we’re fighting hard to put ourselves in position to succeed.

We’ll keep working hard out here, and can’t wait to let you know that we found that spark of inspiration. We’re ready to share some success!

Chipping; why we can never accept it.

Chipping is one of the most divisive themes found in modern rock climbing, and for good reason. It supersedes the argument of whether you should be drinking PBR or a micro-brew. It is far more important than the number of pads you stack on your latest ‘proj.’ Retro-bolting and chopping have some of the same consequences, a reality of inalterability, and perhaps as much importance to the foundation of our sport. Climbers everywhere need to understand what chipping is, what it isn’t, and why we can’t accept it.

To truly understand chipping, you need to understand that the current climbing ethic creates a large amount of gray area. ‘Comfortizing’ of holds is common. Gluing existing holds to reinforce them is also common. Even more common is trundling loose stone (or fragile rock) from the line.

‘Comfortizing’ includes various types of rock modification. It may be leveling the sharp edge of a crimp. Sometimes it involves grinding the sharp edge of a pocket out. Some rock types build sharp inclusions inside pockets. These are frequently filed out. Some areas have glued on holds for reinforcement. When these are the original pieces of stone and the glue is not covering the climbed surface of the hold, I include these in the umbrella of ‘comfortizing.’ Various other tactics are used to make climbs something other than skin eating, finger wrecking nightmares. These are fundamentally a part of sport climbing and bouldering. We need to remember that these activities happen when we look chipping full in the face.

Fundamentally, chipping is about making something easier or harder than it originally was. This permanent alteration to the rock creates a route that is one person’s vision, a vision that is only truly desired by that person. The same piece of rock that had the potential to expose a masterpiece under the most creative of climbers is now permanently a travesty. The lingering doubt, the lurking fear, the desire to find a pure line drives many climbers. Others find themselves facing the challenge and are overcome by their fears. They doubt they can make anything happen with the rock as it is. They take tool to stone, and ‘overcome’ the difficulties.

Chipping might include expanding the size of an existing pocket, prying a large, solid flake off the wall, or even coating the climbed surface of a hold in glue. Some chipped holds are obvious. Others might be little dimples ground into slopers. Some glued holds might be so chalk covered that you’ll never notice until someone points it out. When you’re specifically modifying the stone to make something easier or harder, you’re chipping.

These routes are functionally equivalent to routes in the gym. They aren’t a part of our natural environment, and they don’t force us to overcome the original difficulty that was present. This is a bigger deal than a lot of people seem to believe. Instead of leaving a section of rock considered ‘blank’ for a newer, stronger generation of climbers, we are condoning the actions of those that choose to make something accessible to their ego. Instead of having the opportunity to witness the incredible vision and drive of a fantastic climber, we see a mediocre route, something ‘built’ instead of discovered. That discovery is what drives progression in climbing and is why a route like Realization was considered far more important than Akira.

Of course, there is even more to the story. ‘Comfortizing’ becomes as bad as chipping when it happens on established bouldering problems or routes. Outright chipping is simply ridiculous in a similar situation. This is a travesty, an ego driven desecration of someone else’s work of art. If we turn a blind eye to the modification of existing climbs, we set a terrible precedent in which nothing can ever remain hard anymore. Any schmuck that can’t drag their ass up a climb can just pull out the drill and make it happen. We reward failure when we accept this modification.

On a recent trip to Moe’s Valley, I was really having a blast with the climbing. I was pushing myself hard, and learning a lot. Eventually, I decided to get on a much harder climb than I had ever been on before. Sitting down under Show of Hands, I realized that most of the holds were literally JUST glue. Maybe there was rock under them at one point, but the entire climbable surface was epoxy. As I looked under to find the best part of the starting undercling, I realized that a portion was ground away to make a ‘dish.’ The entire climb was manufactured.

Climbs like Show of Hands need to continue to be recognized for what they are. As a community, we need to stand firm in the fight against chipping. We need to continue to believe that natural routes are superior to those that are created. Whatever we do, we can’t accept it as a legitimate tactic. If we do, we’ll be the last generation of progression in climbing. And nothing could be worse than accepting that we’re the tip of the pyramid.

Gender wars!

Climbing in mixed gender partnerships can get pretty interesting at times. Nicole and I have done a pretty good job of learning to manage our partnership, though we both can get pretty fired up at times. Sadly, we’ll often see female climbers berated and trodden down by their male partners. Dudes, this really isn’t cool. I can see how most of it comes down to making some very simple mistakes, so as a partner, a husband, and an easily frustrated person I’d like to give some tips on getting along and enjoying your day.

  1. Check your ego at the car. Each of you will have strengths and weaknesses. Neither your strengths nor your weaknesses are the fault of your partner. Yesterday, Nicole flashed a problem that took me multiple desperate attempts. Today, I flashed a problem that took Nicole multiple desperate attempts. If you do get down about how well your partner is climbing, maybe you should look for climbs more in your style!
  2. Don’t ever climb barefoot. Don’t ever climb in flip-flops. If you carry ‘warm-up’ shoes, never, ever climb a problem in them that you know your partner is struggling on. This should be a pretty simple no brainer. I can’t say how often we see some knuckle dragging, cock measuring, brainless excuse for a climber bouldering out the start of a route their partner just fell on in less than appropriate footwear. Before you even think about putting foot to stone, put your real shoes on. Even if you cruise the route, at least you weren’t purposefully handicapped.
  3. Don’t apologize for climbing well. If you flash, you flash. If you thought a route was easy, prepare to be honest. This may not always make your partner instantly happy, but it pays big dividends in the end. This works for several reasons. When something is hard for you, your partner knows you aren’t bullshitting. Your partner also learns to check their ego (see step 1!) because they know you’ll give your honest opinion of how each route felt for you. Eventually, you each decide that you have to be honest with yourself. It isn’t offensive or degrading if you both do it.
  4. Use personal grades. Morphologically, you are likely to be pretty different. Don’t be afraid to admit that some climbs are easier for you and others are harder. This comes back to honesty in your climbing. Every opinion is realistically a part of consensus. That is what a consensus is! If you aren’t afraid to asses grades in your personal climbing, you won’t be afraid of your partner’s opinion.
  5. Listen to the other person. If you know your partner doesn’t want to go to a certain crag or boulder, you’re going to have to learn to compromise. This isn’t to say that you should never climb what you want, but you have to be willing to give and take. Nicole really enjoys pocket climbing but is currently injured in a way that keeps her off of them. If I want to get on pocket problems, I make sure to devote part of the day away from them, climbing where she wants to!
  6. Don’t gaslight. Your partner is allowed to be emotional. Your partner is allowed to get frustrated. Most importantly, your partner is allowed to have their own opinion and viewpoint. If they tell you something hurts their feelings, maybe you ought to consider not doing it in the future!
  7. If you’re proud of your partner, tell them. Don’t overdo it, especially if you don’t mean it. Just keep in mind that offering your honest congratulations can go a long way!

These tips obviously can be helpful in a non-mixed gender climbing partnership as well. This won’t help you solve every problem you might have, but should be a pretty good start.

Bouldering 101

Climbing is growing in popularity on a daily basis, drawing in more climbers to destinations than ever before. As more climbers are drawn to the sport, and more specifically bouldering, we’re all going to need to learn how to manage the crowding. In my eyes, there are only two ways to deal with this explosion in popularity. The first and most obvious is that as we grow our climbing population we need to grow the number of climbing areas we have available. This happens naturally, those that don’t enjoy the crowds go and find uncrowded spaces. Information gets published, and then the crowds migrate. The second method we could use to handle the crowding situation is to be more polite to each other. Impeccable bouldering etiquette is necessary to make areas seem less crowded. I strongly appeal to experienced boulderers to help new climbers learn how they can best treat the climbing areas they use and their fellow climbers.

My perspective on bouldering etiquette might be different than yours. No worries, I’ll be happy to hear your point of view as well. Starting with the approach, I’ll travel the path of a polite bouldering day.

Approaching the boulders – First and foremost, drive responsibly. Some boulder fields are at the end of pretty rough roads. Throwing up a big cloud of dust into a group climbing or pulling off the road into fragile vegetation is not cool. Park where you’re expected. If the lot is full, don’t get too creative. Sometimes parking can be the biggest deal to landowner’s. Parking irresponsibly can lead to major access issues. After you’ve parked, do your best to stay on trail. The impact from threaded trails is major, sometimes causing distress for other user groups.
Setting up shop – Tough to do right, at times. Pay attention to where you’re putting your pads. Are you going to kill a rare plant? Consider protecting it with small stones. Is your dog going to cause some serious erosion where he is? Pick a spot where he can play and not be bored. Is your group just too big for the area you’ve picked? Never be afraid to split a big group into smaller groups. You’ll typically lessen the overall crowding of the boulder field by moving in smaller bunches. You should consider breaking into an even smaller group if you’re asking to join a party that is already on a problem. Rolling up with a group of 8 while people are working on something is not very nice.
Prepping to climb – Keep your shoes clean. Bringing sandals or flip flops out can make a huge difference in the amount of dirt on your shoes. Doing your best not to walk around in your climbing shoes and actually cleaning them before you boot up will not only let you climb harder, it will protect problems from polishing too quickly. Sensible boulderers try to brush out holds before they ever start climbing. For those of you that haven’t adopted the practice yet, start taking the time. See what a difference it can make! Beginning boulderers are especially prone to climbing a problem without brushing it. Don’t make this mistake, you’ll find problems are easier to clean and keep clean if everyone does their part.
Working climbs – Tick lightly. If you can’t bring yourself to just use a dot of chalk, always brush your ticks out before you leave, even if you’re coming back to the problem in a couple of days. Not everyone will use your beta, nor will they want to be confused by your tick marks. Avoid over chalking, especially for soft rock. You’ll find in time that many problems that get heavy use will end up over chalked and subsequently over brushed. Some of these climbs become shadows of their former selves. Very sad. As before starting, keep your shoes clean. If you don’t land on the pad, always take time to clean them off again.
Post climb – Always brush out your tick marks. If you’re especially polite or a very heavy chalk user, give the holds a quick brushing when you’re done. If everyone did this, it wouldn’t be part of the pre-climb ritual!
There are surely points of etiquette missed in the above. Let me know what you wish other boulderers knew!

Sending wind

After two miserable days of 70+mph winds and two nights in the cheapest motel in town to keep our tent intact and sand out of our orifices… We were ready to climb!

The weather today was cold, overcast, and breezy. It was a short day since we had to leave and drive to Vegas to take my dad climbing for the weekend. We got up early, packed the car, grabbed some coffee, and headed out to the Sads as soon as the temps were above freezing. We warmed up at the Sad Parrot area. I was careful to take extra time to limber up my sleepy muscles, joints, and tendons. I tweaked a tendon the other day while climbing Green Wall Center – got a finger stuck in a crack – and was thus working through some tenderness.

Chris was desperate to get back to Flawless, so that was our first stop after our warm-up. He was so close to getting it the other day, I was just sure he would send it first go. Unfortunately, the cold in the little alcove got the best of him and he struggled to link Flawless. Another day.

I wanted to try out some new problems on the Mr. Frosty boulder. The guidebook author described a V7 with a ‘long move’, but I wanted to give it a burn anyway. We got to the boulder and I saw that ‘long’ in fact meant ‘humongous’. I tried it a time or two before throwing in the towel and getting on the V8, Mr. Frosty. I figured I wouldn’t even be able to get off the ground, but what the heck. It was worth playing around on.

Well, one thing led to another and what felt impossible one minute I was actually able to link after putting in a few moments to learn the beta. Wow, it’s incredible how a heinous hold can turn into a decent one given proper body position! I was actually able to decode most of the moves and just needed to see whether I could link them. Time for a break.

Chris jumped on the Unnamed V7 and made quick work of the majority of it, but was struggling with the top-out. The poor boy was already frustrated due to his failed attempts to fire Flawless, and this frustration was only growing. It’s good to see him fired up! He was working hard and I was proud of him. I just gave him his space, kept quiet, and let him work things out.

Long story short, we both sent. Funny how that works out. I went over there to get on the V7 and figured the V8 would be more in Chris’ style. Nope, I was wrong. We each thought our respective problem would be a ‘project’, but that sending wind must have blown in because we fired them one after the other after only a combined hour or two of work. The V7 was Chris’ first of the trip, while the V8 was my first ever. We were stoked.

The major thing that made me feel good about Mr. Frosty was that I had to dig through my entire bag of tricks to comprehend the movement required to finish it. I would feel around on holds and think, “Don’t waste your time on that. You’ll never be able to pull on it.” I’d try moves and think, “What the heck. I’m not strong enough to do that. I’m wasting my time and energy.” More time passes, more wacky things are tried, more confidence is built, and it clicks. This is where I’m really developing as a climber. I’m more willing to invest the time and effort required to decipher a problem, and not just give up because it ‘looks too hard’ or the holds ‘seem too small’.

Afterwards I told Chris, “This route really made me feel like a climber, you know?” Sometimes we wind up surprising ourselves by applying what we know without realizing the extent of said knowledge. I love those moments when you send and think, “Dang, I can’t believe I just did that. By myself.” Probably one of the reasons I hate beta spraying – I learn so much more by failing. Here’s to not being afraid of numbers, to climbing whatever inspires you, and to working at something that initially feels impossible. Even if you don’t send, you’re bound to learn something. Anytime I’m not progressing and my frustration is getting the best of me, I think, “There is no other option than to keep working hard.” So I find another problem to throw myself at and to laugh at myself during. Instead my goal is to take away something from every climb I attempt and toss it in that bag for later.

After our sendfest, we moved on to have some fun on Slunk, one of the most aesthetic lines I’ve ever seen. We had a good time, burned some skin, figured out some beta, and hiked out of the canyon in one hell of a mood. We both want to spend more time on Slunk!

We’re in Vegas until Monday spending some time sport climbing with my dad. I can’t wait to get back to Bishop and start working hard again. Chris and I are doing a wonderful job at inspiring each other. We’re both competitive, fiery, passionate people, which can be good and bad. Each day we come to a better understanding of what each other needs. I’m very proud of the partnership we have made, and I hope we can continue pushing each other to new limits!

P.S. – It’s late, I’m tired, so excuse the poor writing. I’m sure little of it makes sense. I just had to share the pumpedness!

“What do you mean the pad is off?” Before I thought I’d ever get my ass off the ground on Mr. Frosty

Another reason to incorporate protein

I found this article interesting. Yet another reason to add a bit of protein to your complex carbs for a well-rounded meal.

Mid-afternoon slump? Why a sugar rush may not be the answer.

The Womb

Horribly terrible video footage, but funny nonetheless. Taken our first day in the Buttermilks.

Mr. Sandman

View in the Milks

After our rest day on Monday, we spent our first day out in the Buttermilks. We picked the perfect day for it, too. 65 degrees, not a cloud in the sky, just a light breeze. We parked under the Peabody boulders which are some of the largest boulders in the field. The Grandpa Peabody is about 25m high at its apex.

We hiked up the steep hill to the Bard Area. I’m as ADD as ever in new areas, running from boulder to boulder and wasting all together too much time scoping things out. I have a tendency to fly ahead of Chris, pointing to climbs and talking about what looks cool, what I want to try, what looks insane. Of course, he hears nothing and only sees a hand emerge from one side of the crash pad or the other, pointing to God knows what. The hand subsequently disappears, the little legs waddle on a bit faster, and the crash pad darts behind yet another boulder. Poor dude. I know I drive him crazy.

Chris finally gave me some direction and we went in search of smaller stones to scamper over. The Buttermilks were already messing with my head long before I ever set hand or foot on a climb. We first tried A Birthing Experience on The Womb boulder. Strangest climb I have ever attempted. I eventually managed to figure out how to emerge from the damn hueco.

No longer focused on a certain task, off went the little metolius crashpad (aka me) in search of ‘sick routes’. Often times, Chris will just give up, throw down his pad, take a seat, eat some cereal, and wait for me to return once I’ve noticed he isn’t following. I was getting off track and lost, so I just gave him the guidebook and told him to ‘get me here, I’ll follow’.

Next, we hit up the Cave boulder. I did my usual running around, shouting, “Let’s try this one! No, this one! No, no. We should try this one!” Chris would start to put his pad down at the base of a climb before I would take off in the direction of something else that caught my eye. He was growing cranky and I could tell. I eventually settled down below a very little worn V6. We gave it a few shots, pulled down lots of dirt and exfoliating crystals, and moved on to a better quality line.

We tried Pain Grain Sit Start, but the big move off the deck killed me. Chris made good progress on Pain Grain, although we never did figure out the top-out. I wanted to attempt a few lines on the Green Wall boulder especially since one of the climbs had been recommended to us.

Green Wall Center

We hiked to the Green Wall boulder and I surprised myself by sending Green Wall Center in just a couple of attempts. Following the send, I was informed by a local that most people began the climb at the highest two opposing sidepulls, not the lowest. I start sitting anywhere I can by habit. Has anyone else climbed this? Did you squat start it on the two sidepulls about 2ft off the ground? Chris had a bit more trouble, as my beta left him scrunched up and off-balance. He often forgets that our extension differs by at least 2ft. Next time!

South Arete

I walked around the corner to South Arete Sit Start. I discovered how to pull myself off the ground and to the next good flake, but had trouble moving out wide to the crimp. I wasn’t in a patient mood, so I jumped on the stand start. I pulled through the section that gave it the grade, but cried and shook my way up the top-out. The Milks are going to take some getting used to before I trust myself on them tall bouldas! Chris made good progress on both the stand and sit start, but his fingers were beginning to wear very thin and he called it a day.

I got on South Face of Green Wall and almost flashed the darn thing. I cut a foot as I was moving to the finishing jug and gave up the flash. Too bad. I got back up and sent.

All in all, the Buttermilks were quite kind to me today. Poor Chris’ skin was in much worse shape than my own. We both wanted to climb the next day, so we stopped at about 4pm. I couldn’t believe we had been out there from 9am-4pm as I didn’t feel very worked. I think I did a lot more running around than actual climbing! I can’t help it when we arrive at new areas. They’re just too cool not to explore.

Chris was dying for a burrito and we were driving right near town anyway, so we stopped at the Loco Frijole. We both got vegetable burritos and complimentary chips and salsa. Felt good to eat a warm, real meal. Both of us slept well that night.

Nothing like leftover burrito for breakfast

Today, I woke up to a chilly breeze. Luckily, it died down and we were left with a beautiful, warm morning. I had wanted to hike in to the Happys, but Chris was against it. We threw most of our belongings in the tent and packed up the crash pads in the car. We were greeted at the Happys by blustering winds that were blowing sand across the desert. What we thought was fog ended up being dust clouds. I checked the forecast and saw winds were expected to be 35-45mph with gusts up to 60mph. We put on the crash pads and began hiking up the hill. Let me tell you, crash pads make excellent sails. We were both nearly blown over a number of times, but latching on to nearby rocks kept us upright.

I stumbled through the canyon in search of sheltered areas. We weren’t so lucky. We stopped at the end of the canyon and warmed up on Circle of Life and Cilley Mantel. Chris wanted to try the Hulk, so we headed that way. Clouds of dust raged around the boulder. We met a few awesome guys from Switzerland and Chris worked with them on the Hulk. I left the pads and the boys to their own devices and ran around to the back of the boulder. I climbed Indecision, a line that had caught my eye several times as we passed it. I am inspired by cracks/seams, I guess. It was really run with superb movement for V0+.

The boys saved the Hulk for another day. Hope we run into the Swiss guys again! They were fun to climb with. I finally fired Froz first go today. I quit the head game and just climbed. Ahhhhh, felt good to get that one out of the way! My little refined beta made the difference.

Next, Chris and I went to try Rave as well as Acid Wash. Acid Wash was taken, so I let Chris work Rave for a while. I think he almost has it. He was able to make huge strides on it today. We were quickly growing tired of the dirt and dust in our eyes/ears/noses/mouths/hair/etc, so I never got on Acid Wash. Our eyeballs were too full of sand to see through. The conditions were truly miserable. We just left once Chris was done working on Rave. We almost got our heads smashed into boulders on the hike out of the canyon. Boy oh boy, those winds were INTENSE!

Working on the sit start beta on Rave

We figured the smart thing to do was to go back and check on the tent. Once at The Pit, we noticed about a dozen tents laying flat on the ground. Some people were going to have their day ruined. Our tent was still upright, but not in the greatest condition. It was FILLED with sand. All of our stuff was covered, including pillows, sleeping bags, food, clean clothes (no more). I check the weather again and, seeing that winds were supposed to build overnight and reach their highest velocity tomorrow, we made the call to pack up our things and grab a room. The last thing I wanted was to a) have dust/sand/dirt blown on me all night and/or b) wake up a 2am to a pop/rip sound and a broken tent.

This picture doesn’t really show it, but the tent is reduced to about half its size due to wind gusts.

I called twenty different hotels and found the cheapest room in town. We were so grateful to shower and wash some of the sand off. Pretty sure my scalp is still full of the stuff. Hope everyone stays safe and as sand free as possible out there! What miserable, miserable weather. 

So, here we are, showered and clean, sitting in a warm room. We just had a random person knock on the door and walk away once Chris said, “Hello,” without opening up. Hope we stay safe, too!

Our cozy room.

Tomorrow will likely be a rest day due to weather, although I really wish I could get out and climb. Feeling so good lately! Gotta keep working hard and falling hard.

Playing Blind

The freedom found in bouldering has long been coveted by many. Some want to escape from societal expectations. Others are looking to avoid rules and senseless regulation. Many just want a way to express themselves and problem solve in their own way. As bouldering becomes more popular, some of this freedom is giving way to categorization. Never ending discussions on the relative difficulty and quality of problems and areas are only slightly less common than arguments over ‘perma-draws’ in sport climbing. This quantification of qualitative attributes has become a necessity for discussion in modern bouldering. Our discussions become far less rational because we attempt to compare areas and problems to others of entirely different styles and histories. The insistence on doing so combined with the misapplication of the various grading scales has changed the face of bouldering forever. If we want to continue to quantify our problems, consensus needs to be drawn from a much larger pool than it currently is.

Sadly, the overdependance on quantitative difficulty has even begun to cost the loss of certain skill sets community wide. Consequently many slabby problems and mantles are beginning to see frequent upgrades. Steep overhangs and sloper problems of equal age are beginning to see many downgrades. Some problems have become so little understood that consensus from reputable sources ranges as much as 3 V-grades. Areas where the en vogue skill is prevalent become labeled as soft. Anti-style testpieces are left neglected to gather dust.

With the suggestions of upgrades in some skills and downgrades in others, are we really approaching the problem of grading properly? At this point it seems that calling grades a ‘suggestion’ is laughable for more than the short term. How can we develop a long term solution to the grading problem? We could try expanding our scales, becoming ever more complex. Trick moves could have their own scale, hard crimping testpieces could be measured on another, technical footwork challenges would no longer be compared to powerful climbing on positive holds. Every style would develop its own scale, each climber would likely become more and more specialized.

Instead, we could simplify. We could accept the natural fluidity of qualitative grading, embracing mutability. We could realize that grades don’t define problems, we do. We can’t be afraid to admit the difficulties of a climb to be what they are, nor can we wish to be any different. The rock is what it is. We are what we are. Trying to classify to difficulty and the quality of a climb for anyone but yourself is a concept that doesn’t work.

The future of bouldering grading could be a lot like the current grading of newly established climbs. Instead of casting off and knowing what a climb claims to be, we could cast off and try to discover what it actually is. Database driven climbing sites and applications become more prevalent and useful ever day. If we combine the power of democracy, blind studies, and databases we can all give unadulterated feedback about the problems we climb. Imagine the system. You log in to the site, tick your send, vote for the grade and quality, and ony the see the existing consensus. Problems of a committing or dangerous nature could come with a warning and an option to view the existing consensus. This approach wouldn’t be for everyone, but it wouldn’t have to be. Only the climbers that like the concept and want to have input to accepted consensus would boulder this way.

This is already a mainstream idea. Community consensus is developed for new problems, by neccessity in a blind fashion. You can’t know how hard something is before it has been climbed! In addition, gives Ray Ellington feedback on community consensus in the Red River Gorge. Unsurprisingly, he actually uses the data he collects to help provide a better guidebook. Of course, using this idea in a broader application would be far less likely to take traction. Not every boulderer will be interested, nor will every guidebook author. Selling this idea to the community will require a willingness for exploration not often seen in modern bouldering. It also isn’t common to find boulderers willing to be oppinionated at all levels of experience and skill. Finding these people is the only way to develop a broader consensus.

Would all of his change bouldering for the better or worse? Would sponsorships become more merit based? Would consensus be more or less consolidated? Would we all get a free puppy? The only way to find out is to try.