Thursday, October 18, 2012

RRGCC Rocktoberfest, 2012

          Having spent the better part of two days sitting in cars, in planes and in airports on our way back from Pakistan, the prospect of leaving home again, so soon after returning to the States, had me feeling a bit anxious.  But this occasion, Rocktoberfest, is one of my favorite climbing events of the year and has always felt like a sort of homecoming; the moment I peered out the window of our puddle-jumper and saw the green pastures of Kentucky bluegrass surrounding Lexington, the stress of travel--the baggage fees, the TSA, the tight connections at Detroit--seemed to melt away, and my annual autumn pilgrimmage to sample some of the Southeast's finest sandstone had begun, in earnest.
          The Red River Gorge in October is an amazing place to see, let alone to climb; it's always at about this time each year that the foliage explodes with rich colors and the cooler temps make the already great friction even better!  This year's Rocktoberfest was an important milestone for the RRGCC, the Red River Gorge Climbers' Coalition, as it celebrated its final payment for the acquisition of the PMRP, the Pendergrass-Murray Recreational Preserve--home to popular climbing areas such as the Drive-By, Purgatory, Solar Collector and Dark Side crags.  Rocktoberfest 2012 also saw SCARPA among the event's title sponsors, and in addition to their support in helping to make this year's celebration one to remember, SCARPA also brought out their demo fleet of the latest rock shoes for participants to try out.  The Red is home to some of North America's steepest sport routes, and so it wasn't a surprise that our new Boostik drew the lion's share of attention--but let's not forget just how good the trad climbing is there, too!  Though the Boostik, by all accounts, stole the show, I was pleasantly surprised, too, by the number of participants who were seeking a less-aggro, more comfy shoe, like the Reflex, for the countless splitter cracks that the Red is, perhaps, less-known for these days. 
          Sunday at Rocktoberfest is clinic day, and for the second year-in-a-row, I'm proud to say, my Intro to Trad class was SOLD OUT!  Due to a last-minute scheduling mix-up, my OR teammates, Madeleine Sorkin and Nik Berry, found themselves without clinics of their own to teach, and so the three of us decided to join forces.  Together, and with the expert help of local guide Mark Ryan, the four of us headed out to the Global Village crag where our participants grilled us on all things trad--from nut placements to anchor equalization--enjoying what was, no doubt, the best climber-to-guide ratio of all the event's clinics!  Thanks to everyone who joined us for another terrific Intro to Trad class, to the RRGCC Board, Rocktoberfest volunteers, and to the great folks at SCARPA for their continuing support of grassroots climber-advocacy organizations!  I'm already looking forward to next year's Fall Trip!

Friday, June 8, 2012

From behind the counter...
          Rock shoes have come a long, long way. One of my favorite climbing stories comes from IME’s own Andy Ross, who recalls purchasing his first-ever pair of sticky-rubber climbing shoes, Fires, just after arriving in Spain in the early eighties. After months of sampling some of the best limestone in Europe—and thoroughly wearing out his shoes in the process—my famously frugal boss was flat-broke, barely able to afford his return trip back to the U.K. Upon arriving home, however, the typically abysmal English weather began to steadily improve, and despite his lack of funds—or a functional pair of rock shoes—Andy was determined to make the most of the unexpected opportunity, as well as avoid cutting short his extended climbing holiday. Rather than borrow the money, our ever-resourceful co-worker decided, instead, to simply swap his right shoe for the left, trading his worn-out edges for “fresh” ones, thereby extending his season by another day, another pint…
          Such a novel, low-budget solution would be impossible today; in the years since Andy’s trip to Spain, manufacturers continued to develop and refine construction methods, and designers have radically altered the shapes of contemporary rock shoes to excel on nearly any type of terrain, and to suit every climbing style. Though rock shoes have seen dramatic improvements with respect to fit—just imagine, trying to swap left for right with an asymmetric shoe like our Boostik—and to overall performance, in order to achieve such a high level of climbing functionality, something has to give. In the case of rock shoes, we climbers willingly sacrifice our footwear’s durability for unparalleled sensitivity on stone; by whittling away all excess material, today’s designers are able to create the near-seamless, almost “painted-on” feel that is the ideal. This, combined with the unprecedented popularity of climbing gyms—with their extremely abrasive artificial surfaces—has led to an alarming trend: most rock shoes, these days, seldom ever see a resole. Is this new paradigm a sustainable one?
          The most common mistake climbers make when it comes to their shoes is overuse. Let’s face it—it’s often difficult to anticipate exactly when one’s shoes will develop a hole, and to make matters worse, it’s often just before a hole appears that most climbers feel their shoes are nearly perfect, that they can stand on almost anything. The key is to keep a close eye on the shoes' level of wear.  Here are a few tips:

          Here, we have three pairs of Vapors.  From left to right:  a brand-new shoe, a broken-in shoe and one that is nearly ready for a resole.
          Here's the brand-new Vapor, with plenty of camber and fresh edges.  
          This is my broken-in Vapor.  When I first noticed my old pair getting close to needing a resole, I broke these out and started bringing them along, mostly when cragging.  I run mine on the tighter side, so it takes a bit of time--about a week--to get them to where I can stand to have them on for longer than a pitch.
          And last, but certainly not least, this is my trusted and well-worn Vapor.  As you can see, it's seen a fair bit of action on the granite...  Though, from this angle, it is difficult to see the level of wear on the edges, notice the top of the rand; my Vapors are my go-to trad shoe, and it's evident I've been climbing cracks!
          Here's a head-on view of my broken-in Vapor.  Note how the outsole maintains an even thickness along the toebox perimeter; the edges are still well defined and trace a near-parallel line with respect to the seam, the bottom of the blue tape.

          This is the broken-in shoe, in profile; again, notice the near-parallel thickness of the outsole.
          Here's a head-on view of my old Vapor.  The bottom edge of the blue tape here, too, runs along the seam between the outsole and the rand.  Upon closer examination, it is just possible to make out the line formed by the well-worn edge.  It appears as a faint, white line that, in contrast to the even, parallel edge as seen on the previous shoe, seems to gradually taper toward the apex of the big toe, just above my thumb.  The area where the gap between the tape and the edge is at its closest is of the most concern; if I continue to wear this shoe, a hole will inevitably form.  If the hole continues to expand, it will eventually wear into the shoe's rand, which will necessitate a much more involved and expensive repair, in addition to the resole.  Shoes that have severely damaged rands often require the cobbler to replace them; in the case of this type of fix, there is no guarantee one's shoes will retain its original fit characteristics.
          My old Vapors, in profile, illustrate the level of wear along the edge.  Unlike the newer shoe, it's obvious just how rounded and worn these edges have become.  
          Here's another look, this time it's of the medial edge of the newer Vapor.  Climbers generally favor standing on this side of their shoes when face climbing; rock shoes worn frequently in the gym will often have disproportionate wear in this particular area, so it's important to keep tabs on this spot, as well as on the apex of the toe!
          Here's the last one, I promise!  Again, here's the medial view of my old Vapor, and it's easy to see the difference.  The edge is nearly impossible to distinguish, as it is nearly completely rounded; these babies, though they probably have a tiny bit more life left in them, are destined for the cobbler, ASAP.  Rather than risk allowing a hole to develop either here on at the toe, I'd rather not take the chance.  When they return, they'll boast the crisp edges of a brand-new pair, but with the custom-molded fit of a familiar friend.

Friday, February 24, 2012


I'd have to say that the best part of what I do is the opportunity to interact with like-minded individuals from all walks of life, from all over.  And although I'm more accustomed to attending both regional and national climbing events on behalf of my sponsors, I had the good fortune--Thank you, SCARPA!--to attend my first-ever ski festival this past weekend in Washington.  Vertfest, founded in 2007, is the largest gathering of Sidecountry and Backcountry skiers and snowboarders in the Pacific Northwest.  This year's event, hosted by Alpental Ski area at Snoqualmie Pass, boasted its biggest turn-out yet, with more competitors in Saturday's randonee race and more Sunday clinic participants than ever before--a testament to the strength of the region's off-piste community, as well as to their commitment to NWAC, the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center, the primary beneficiary of the funds raised throughout the weekend.
The highlight of this year's event was, no doubt, the snow.  The precip began in earnest as we drove along the 90 towards Snoqualmie Pass Friday afternoon and it never stopped; though Alpental reported totals of 24" by Saturday morning and an additional 14" overnight into Sunday, I can attest to finding much, much more in backcountry terrain adjacent to the ski area boundary--so much more, in fact, that I opted out of Saturday's race in order to assess conditions for my Sunday clinic.  In retrospect, though I regret skipping out on what would have been my very first randonee race experience, my decision to scout the terrain ahead of the clinic turned out to be a wise one.  On Saturday's tour, we discovered quite a few debris piles--most likely the result of the previous night's natural cycle--in and about the same zone where I'd planned to lead my clinic participants.
Despite missing out on Vertfest's "main event," it was Sunday's clinic that I had really been looking forward to.  I chose to focus on backcountry trouble-shooting, calling my clinic, "Lighter, Faster and More Fun."  The idea was to provide a forum in which beginner to intermediate ski tourers could address many of the issues we've all suffered through, especially early on in our backcountry careers--everything from how to dress, what to pack--versus what to leave behind--as well as techniques, such as how to execute a kick-turn and how to remove one's skins with skis on.

 Here's the SCARPA booth at Vertfest early Sunday morning--the calm before the storm of demos!
Here's my clinic, with Molly, Cody, Teresa and Jeff--ready to slay over three feet of fresh POW!
 Molly and Jeff, makin' it look easy on the up-track.  Check out just how much snow fell!

 Molly near the top of the headwall, with Jeff close behind...  It would be Molly's very first real powder day!
 Almost there!  Here's the crew adding a couple hundred extra verts to our tour--the turns were pretty phenomenal!

Finally, we're at the top, no worse for the wear...  These guys did great; we even squeezed in another lap, with energy to spare!
In homage to SCARPA's Italian heritage--as well as that of SkiTRAB--we lunched on Italian Salami and  cheese--you gotta eat well in the mountains if you're looking to cover ground!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Adventures in the Swell

The San Rafael Swell in central Utah is, arguably, one of the more remote and--largely--untouched wilderness areas in the state.  Though there are a great many other Utah landmarks--such as Arches and Canyonlands National Parks--that are, perhaps, better known, the "Swell" is, undoubtedly, the preferred destination for climbers seeking total solitude and full-value adventure.  I was fortunate to have shared two action-packed days with none other than Paul Ross, prolific adventure-first ascensionist, amateur naturalist, breeder of champion Jack Russell terriers, Renaissance man and a living climbing legend--he's also my boss Andy's old man.  With routes to his credit spread across the UK, the French Alps, North Africa, New England and--most recently--the desert Southwest, Paul's what I'd call, the climber's climber--at 76, he's still opening new lines, often in bold, ground-up style, and with more tenacity than climbers a quarter of his age.  He's been at it pretty much non-stop for over six decades, having witnessed the world of climbing change dramatically since the very first time he tied into a rope.  As much as I know to what extent he'd abhor me saying it, Paul--not to mention his son, Andy--is a personal hero of mine, and I'm still sort of buzzing from our time together.
In two short days, we:
opened three new multi-pitch routes, drilled on-the-lead from stances
rescued two toads, a garter snake and juvenile rattler from a deep pothole in the slot-canyon portion of our approach
witnessed two Peregrine falcons hunt mourning doves, both diving at full speed from high above us--we were well off-the-deck ourselves, a few pitches up on the wall
camped with the full moon shining so brightly that we didn't need headlamps
sat in lawn chairs and drank wine, watching lightning strike all around us in the vast desert--I've never seen so much lightning all-at-once in all my life!
bailed from our final route just moments before the skies opened up and a huge thunderstorm engulfed the Eastern Reef slabs

Thanks to Andy and to Paul for an incredible introduction to the area!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Annus Mirabilis

From the Latin, meaning "year of wonder," or, "year of miracles," I'm borrowing this phrase to name a new route we completed yesterday, just one of three FAs this week.  About a month ago, our friend, Andy, needed some help in documenting a long-neglected zone in Little Cottonwood for his upcoming guidebook project. Despite its proximity to the road, for whatever reason, the area had eluded other first-ascensionists--a rare thing in this town, as the Salt Lake valley is home to, perhaps, the highest concentration of climbers and of climbing talent in the country...  Take that, Boulder!  Anyways, it was during this early recon that I spotted several lines, all of which--through my binoculars--appeared to boast some of the best rock quality in the canyon, made evident by its orange-pink color.  And so it all started, in earnest, last Saturday; Georgia Shaun and I set out early to explore the area, and, after spending the better part of the morning unable to forge a new line without the use of bolts, we decided to go at it the old-fashioned way and hoof it.  Had we been successful in opening the initial pitch--in other words, had I not been so stubborn and brought the hand drill--we would have climbed right to the base of the intended buttress; instead, Shaun and I endured several hundred vertical feet of sketchy, unroped "adventure-neering," as Andy calls it, to finally reach the base.  Uncertain whether we'd have enough daylight to complete the first ascent, we admired the views for awhile until my ambition got the better of me and I rushed to rack up and tie in--it was nearly 3:30 in the afternoon, and we were going for it!  Here's what we put up that day; I have yet to decide on a name for the route, and I suppose that as it's an unclimbed feature, I get to christen it whatever I wish.  But I'm not quite there, yet. 

The following Monday, Coby and I revisited the zone, and I tried to open the independent, left-hand line, on-sight.  I fell at the roof, which, on Thursday, I finally sent with my buddy, Tyler.  Both lines are of superb quality, in every respect--great, remote position, excellent rock and stellar movement...  What more could one ask for? 

And just when I thought, "how can I be so lucky, to discover an unclimbed--and very aesthetic--feature in a canyon that's been crawling with strong, imaginative climbers for decades?"--BAM!!!  There it was:  a pillar of perfect, pink-orange granite, separate from any other known formation, complete with its own mini-summit!  I spied what appeared to be a reasonable weakness, and after hours of examining zoomed-in digital images on the laptop, and peering endlessly through my binos, I asked my boss, Andy Ross, to join me in climbing it.  Yesterday, with the help of our friend Gene, it all came together:  a new and challenging route, on a formation that's remained untouched by humans--let alone climbers--until just before five in the afternoon, when, fighting the jitters, I launched into the insecure liebacks of the upper headwall and managed, just barely, to top out above the difficulties and clip the anchor.  Annus Mirabilis, 5.11, Andy Ross, Gene Vallee, Shingo Ohkawa, 4 June, 2011--how better to celebrate what has, no doubt, been one hell of a year, not just for new routes and for climbing, but for life, in general! 

 Here's a pic from our first recon; on our way down, a light rain made capturing a clear image a bit difficult, but as you can see, it's a bit steeper than what the next image suggests--once on the route, however, the climbing is quite a bit steeper!

Monday, May 23, 2011

The weather...

here in SLC has been very, very wet--in the past week, the mountains received over two feet of new snow, bringing the season total to over 750 inches!  Lower down in the valley, it's mostly come down as rain, making this desert-basin city as green as I've ever seen it.  The climbing's been off-and-on due to storms; just last Saturday in Little Cottonwood, some friends and I were just about to launch into some interesting, new territory when a rather exciting thunderstorm rolled up unexpectedly from the west...  After a quick retreat, my buddy Shaun--the same friend from a few of this season's earlier posts, I just learned that his name was spelled with a "u," instead of a "w"--and I took cover in a small cave I'd noticed the week before, a spot I dubbed, "the Dog-House Cave," as it's most likely where I'd come to bivy in the event I ever really pissed Coby off, or was ever to be, "on-the-lamb."  The feature is an enormous, house-sized granite boulder that, as it fell down the gully some time ago, split in this most elegant way, creating a gap that--from a distance--appears as if framed by the outline of a large standing wave.  We sat underneath the huge natural roof and sipped cans of Coors as the storm passed, every now and again catching the fleeting arc of lightning in our periphery.  After about an hour-and-a-half, the thunderstorm subsided and the canyon was, once again, filled with Sun, it's long, unbroken slabs glistening.  We descended; all along the trail, boulders had already dried--just another of the canyon's secrets, as the dry, desert air which, in the valley is responsible for the static shocks I've become conditioned to fear from our car door does a wonderful job with rapidly dessicating our beloved stone.  Nevermind that it rained this morning--it'll be drier than you think! 

The mighty Gargoyle Wall in LCC:  the shaded, right-facing corner near the photo's center is the goal.  Could it be that it has gone unnoticed and unclimbed all these years?  I wouldn't be surprised to find some sign of passage beneath the prominent roof!  The Dog-House Cave is a few hundred feet below, in the gully. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Spring's first nice day and the view from 454 S 500 E

Yesterday morning, Tyler and I skied the two main shots on Gobbler's Knob with nearly a foot of fresh, on top of roughly a foot from the storm three days prior--which we also got to ski first, incidentally.  Yet today, it seems that Spring has finally arrived.  I had plans to be picked up at 5am this morning for another round, but fortunately, my partner bailed, and I stepped out to see this from our buiding's front step. 

This last one I took from the second-story parking lot of the Smith's across the street.  Of the entire Central Wasatch skyline, this part's my favorite, as you can see--starting just right of the light pole, from Little Cottonwood to the Draper Ridge--the Coalpit Headwall, Thunder Bowl, Bighorn Peak and Lone Peak, with Peak 10,292, the Crow's Feet and the Dolphin, visible as well.  This is the backyard, and just one reason I tend to be so distracted at home!