Shortly after the sun crested Half Dome this morning (October 28th), two of the Valley’s fastest women began the Yosemite Grand Prix- The Nose of El Capitan. Libby Sauter and Mayan Smith-Gobat hit the stop watch at 7:18 am and charged up the big wall.
Tom Evans photo of Mayan Smith-Gobat leading while Libby follows under the Great Roof of the Nose.
Libby Sauter pulling on cams through a section of 5.10 wide climbing to Dolt Tower
The pair climbed the 3,000 foot route in two blocks with Sauter leading the first half to Boot Flake and Smith-Gobat taking the reins to the summit. Though they planned to take a “practice” run, the women climbed quickly. A loud cheer broke the meadow when Sauter snagged the tree, joining Smith-Gobat at the summit in a mere 5 hours 2 minutes- a new women's speed record.
Smith-Gobat stops to hydrate during the 5 hour ascent
This past season, women have dominated El Capitan speed climbing. Earlier in the year, Sauter and her partner Quinn Brett climbed El Capitan twice in a day via the Nose and Lurking Fear. They are the first female pair to climb two El Cap routes in a day and one of very few teams who have climbed El Cap more than once in a day.
On Sauter and Smith-Gobat's speed ascent, they moved quite well. They had a major setback when they lost an aider and Sauter had to follow with one aider. It's quite clear that the women's speed record could drop well below 5 hours.
Climbing so quickly requires a solid climbing ability. The women climbed 5.11 with enormous death loops of rope out and set the standard for bold climbing on El Capitan. Congratulations to the team.
Every wonder what establishing new routes on over 100,000 square feet of climbing terrain would be like? Head routesetter, Jeremy Ho spoke with the Chalk Talk podcast recently to discuss managing one of the world's biggest teams of route setters, bringing comps to the Touchstone climbing gyms, the theory of setting, expansion plans for Touchstone and dealing with the physical problems of route setting. Ho has been setting for the Touchstone gyms for over 5 years and is a level 3 USA Climbing certified setter who has set for a number of national competitions. Check out this great podcast about setting for the Touchstone gyms
Adventure comes in hundreds of ways in Yosemite. Most of the time, the fun starts when something essential is forgotten. Leaving the head lamp, the water, or the topo can all lead to more adventure than planned. This fall taught me the importance of bringing and following the directions on a route.
Stoner's Highway climbs the left, sunny side of Middle Cathedral.
Stoner’s Highway follows discontinuous features on the immaculate rock of Middle Cathedral. Though the route sits only a few hundred feet from the splitter cracks of Central Pillar of Frenzy, the two routes could not differ more. Where Central Pillar involves well protected jamming, Stoner’s Highway follows technical slab climbing between highly spaced bolts and sparse gear. I snapped a picture of the topo with my iPhone and quested up the slab. I followed a few bolts, saw a feature, climbed back to some bolts and built an anchor forty meters from the ground. When I pulled my phone out to check the topo, I saw a dead battery. That’s when the adventure began.
Bronson and I knew that the route wasn’t harder than 5.10 plus so I quested, looking for any signs of life. I spotted an old piton and followed a dirty corner and bad rock. At the end of the corner, a new bolt marked the route 40 feet to my left. I slung a piece of rock and gently lowered down and then reclimbed the route to the correct path. After a few more harrowing pitches, we rappelled after four pitches.
I read the topo for The Lurch and though it showed a crack system up higher, it said to traverse onto the face. I followed the topo and soon realized why they avoided the cracks. The corner was formed by a pair of instable stacked blocks. I'm glad I read the topo and didn't blindly follow the corner.
A few days later, British climbing ace, Dan Mcmanus and I hiked towards Widow’s Tears. A pair of local climbers established The Lurch ,a 5.12c/d seven pitch route, earlier this spring. I took a picture of the topo and locked my screen to save battery. We managed to make our way up the route with few problems. I fell on the first 5.12 pitch and did some tactful skirting around loose rock on the fourth pitch. On the crux pitch, we took the name of the route to be literal and did a wild Lurch move across the wall. Dan began descending but instead of following the anchors for the previous pitch, he attempted to link the rappels. He had to build an anchor in the middle of the wall. I rappelled the traversing last pitch, prussiked back to the anchor, pulled the directional and descended again. I pulled the rope and picked up Dan. We continued our descent with less problems.
Doing the crux sequence on the Lurch, which involves a wild move to the arete.
A few days later, Dan and I woke in the dark and hiked to Liberty Cap to climb Mahtah, a new 14 pitch 5.12+ route. We treaded carefully across the ledge to the start. A climber had died falling off the ledge the previous spring. We started the route at sunrise and dispatched the difficult right facing corners. This time, I took a picture of the topo with my phone and we followed it exactly. We found the grades to be a bit generous, which was nice since we’d hiked so far. The route took us all day to climb and the hike down took awhile as well but of my Valley adventures, though it was the biggest day, it was the least epic.
The Crack of God pitch on Mahtah is a 130 foot dead horizontal traverse which links the corners of Mahtah with the Harding route.
Dan Mcmanus following one of the 5.12 corner pitches on Mahtah.
One of the big lessons I learned this fall in Yosemite was to follow the topo. It makes route’s significantly easier, far less dangerous, and allows you to have bigger adventures.
Recently, Alice Ng trained with the Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit. She wrote a bit about it for the Touchstone Blog.
Thump thump thump thump thump thump...
The Blackhawk was just over the tree line, a mere 75 feet above us. The wind generated from its propellers forced me to the ground and blew my colleague’s 35lb pack down the hill. Our team, one of several from the Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit (BAMRU), was being extracted from our assignment by hoist at the conclusion of our search mission. Hanging by a single line, I took a moment to examine the terrain we had just searched. Steep and overgrown, our “trail” quickly disappeared into the landscape. Above us, the military officer signaled us to enter into the helicopter.
The following week our unit was deployed to the Trinity Alps. Joined by other SAR units from other counties, we searched the ridgelines and gullies along steep alpine terrain. If necessary, we would rappel and ascend ropes for better vantage points. Both assignments required searchers to spend the night out in the backcountry. We carried our shelters, food and climbing gear with us and prepared for every contingency from weather restraints, to terrain considerations to possible injuries. While roped technical skills are not needed for all BAMRU missions, being able to move quickly and efficiently across varied terrain is, and a skilled searcher would need to practice this regularly.
Training at Berkeley Ironworks helps keep me in shape and ready for deployment. Its yoga classes keep my body flexible and nimble while the weight room helps to me to build up my core strength. Being a climber has greatly impacted my ability to move confidently around exposed terrain and handling situations that require me to use rope protection. Training on the wall gives me the strength, endurance and comfort on exposed walls that is necessary on many SAR operations. These competencies allow me to contribute to BAMRU and its overall mission to help lost or stranded people in the wilderness.
The Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit (BAMRU) is an entirely volunteer-based non- profit IRS recognized 501(c)3 charitable organization serving the community that requires commitment and flexibility. BAMRU is accredited and nationally recognized by the Mountain Rescue Association, and our members have to be at the top of their game. Being a member means deploying for search and rescue assignments at a moment’s notice and participating in rigorous trainings throughout the year. It is demanding work but can also be incredibly rewarding. To provide such a service to our community makes a remarkable difference in people’s lives.
. Donations can be made at the BAMRU website and are greatly appreciated.
World renowned for its immense glacial polished granite, Yosemite is the mecca for rock climbers. For nearly two centuries, from the days of scrambling peaks in the Sierra to the cutting edge free climbing on El Capitan, the cliffs of Yosemite National Park have set the standards for climbing.
Warren Harding topping out on the first ascent of the Nose of El Capitan.
The earliest climbers in Yosemite summated the granite formations in the most rudimentary ways possible. In 1869, naturalist John Muir climbed the technical Cathedral peak in the northern Sierra ropeless. Six years later, George Anderson employed eyebolts, drilled hand and foot holds and fixed rope to summate Half Dome. Through the history of Yosemite, there would remain a stark contrast between the minimalist style and the heavy-handed siege tactics.
For over fifty years, climbers in Yosemite climbed the formations at great personal risk. It wasn’t until the 1930s, when Robert Underhill, after a season in the Alps, brought the use of pitons and rappelling to Yosemite. Over the next decade, California climbers develop rope techniques for catching and holding falls. They also imported pitons from Europe. The climbers hammered the metal into the rock and used it as a means to ascend, aid climbing, The advancements in rope and gear contributed significantly to climbers summating the Cathedral Spires and other formations during the decade.
Royal Robbins and Tom Frost hanging in hammocks on the first ascent of the North America Wall. Frost photo.
In the mid 1940s, a San Mateo black smith, John Salathe revolutionized the piton game when he joined the climbers at the Sierra Club lodge in northern Yosemite. Salathe used his experience as a blacksmith to create hard steel pitons from the axels of an old Ford Model A. The pitons worked significantly better in the hard granite of Yosemite than the European soft iron models. Salathe began climbing extensively in Yosemite, making the first attempt on the Lost Arrow Spire, climbing the Southwest face of Half Dome and making the first ascent of the Steck-Salathe on the Sentinel over the course of five days.
The 1950s saw one of climbing’s greatest rivalry. The two greatest prizes of Yosemite, the faces of Half Dome and El Capitan, remained unclimbed. In 1957, Harding raced his Corvette to Yosemite Valley to climb the Northwest face of Half Dome only to find Royal Robbins on the route already. With the help of Jerry Gallwaas, Robbins completed the five day first ascent of the Regular Northwest Face, Yosemite’s first grade VI climb. With Half Dome climbed, Harding took to the last prize of Yosemite. Over 47 days spread out in a year and a half period, Harding fixed a long series of ropes up the Nose of El Capitan. In November of 1958, Harding, George Whitemore and Wayne Merry made a record 12-day push for the summit. The highly publicized ascent cemented the wine drinking Harding as a hero and forced Robbins to the cliffs.
The 1960’s saw Robbins making a quick second ascent of Harding’s Nose route on El Capitan followed by an ascent of the Salathe Wall on the Southwest face of El Capitan with two other Valley climbers. Robbins, Chuck Pratt and Tom Frost climbed the Salathe Wall with only 13 bolts and sparse use of fixed ropes, making a 6-day summit push from 600 feet up the wall. Robbins ascent proved that El Capitan could be climbed without siege tactics.
Harding and Robbins continued to attempt to out climb each other. The steep West Face of the Leaning Tower and the remote South Face of Mount Watkins fell to Harding. Robbins answered with the first solo of a big wall route, climbing the West Face of Leaning tower in a storm. Along with Tom Frost and Yvon Chouinard, Robbins climbed the North America Wall on the Southeast face of El Capitan, completing the most difficult climb to date.
Billy Westbay, John Long and Jim Bridwell standing in front of El Capitan after the first one day ascent of the Nose.
During Robbins and Harding’s fight for Yosemite big wall supremacy, other Yosemite climbers raised free climbing standards and shortened ascent times. The Steck-Salathe, the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome and other Yosemite walls fell to single day ascents. Using only nuts and not the rock damaging pitons, Robbins and his wife, Liz climbed The Nutcracker on Manure Pile Buttress. Their clean ascent of the 800-foot route established a new ethic for climbing. Free and clean became the standard.
The 1970’s saw an increase in the number of climbers and a greater focus on free climbing. Advanced climbing gear allowed climbers to link delicate features on the sides of El Capitan. Jim Bridwell established a number of futuristic routes, including the Aquarian Wall, Pacific Ocean Wall and Zenyatta Mondatta. Beyond the advances in aid climbing, the 70’s saw a jump in the free-climbing standards. Sticky rubber shoes helped climbers stand on smaller edges. Bridwell lead the Stonemasters, a group of Yosemite climbers, into the new world of free climbing. The Yosemite Decimal system went from 5.0 to 5.9 but during the 70’s, Bridwell expanded the rating system to an open ended scale, introducing 5.10 and including the sub A, B, C and D grades. Bridwell furthered the standards of Yosemite by climbing The Nose with John Long and Billy Westbay in a single day. John Long, John Bachar and Ron Kauk, three of the most influential Stonemasters, free climbed the East Face of Washington Column completing the first ascent of the sustained Astroman. In the middle of Camp 4, the Stonemasters left their mark, drawing a lightning bolt below Midnight Lightning, a boulder problem established by Kauk and Bachar and recognized as one of the hardest climbs in the world at the time.
The 1980’s saw greater advancements in free climbing. Todd Skinner and Paul Piana managed a team free ascent of the Salathe Wall, ushering the concept that El Capitan was a place for free climbing. John Bachar, Bill Price and Ray Jardine all established 5.13 routes and Canadian Peter Croft climbed Astroman without a rope. Camming devices made protecting difficult cracks easier and faster, which greatly raised free climbing standards. More notably was the punch thrown in Camp 4. Ron Kauk visited Europe in the 80’s and returned to Yosemite with a top down ethos. John Bachar feared that the adventure of climbing would be lost with the European tactics of rehearsal and inspection. A fight ensued between the friends when Bachar chopped the protection bolts on Kauk’s Punchline route. When the dust settled, Bachar’s ground up ethic was left behind to pushing climbing harder.
In the early 90s, climbers began drag racing up El Capitan with Peter Croft and Dave Schultz climbing the Nose in under 5 hours. More impressively, Lynn Hill made the first true free climb of El Capitan, with an ascent of the Nose. She returned a few years later to free climb the route in a single day. Hill made the first true free ascent of El Capitan. Later in the decade two Austrian brothers, Alex and Thomas Huber stormed through Yosemite, adding to El Capitan free climbing. After freeing the Salathe Wall, they established El Nino, Freerider and Golden Gate.
Lynn Hill on the Nose
The early 2000s saw the Huber Baum continue their El Capitan free exploits. They freed El Corazon and the Zodiac, which they then blitzed in one hour fifty-one minutes. Other climbers raced up El Capitan as well with the Nose speed recording dropping from 4 hours to just over 2. Tommy Caldwell brought American talents to El Capitan, repeating many of the Huber’s free routes and establishing other free routes including Lurking Fear, West Buttress, Dihedral Wall, Magic Mushroom and the Muir. He climbed a number of El Capitan routes in a day. In 2005, Caldwell free climbed the Nose and Freerider in a single day. Caldwell turned to the steep section of the Dawn Wall, which he has been working on free climbing for the past decade. When he completes the route, it will be the hardest long free climb in the world. In mid 2000s Alex Honnold began climbing in Yosemite as well, free soloing Astroman, the difficult Phoenix and making the first free solo ascent of the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome. His steel-trap mind allowed him to set numerous speed records on El Capitan and do an enormous free climbing linkup with Tommy Caldwell of El Capitan, Half Dome and Mount Watkins in a single day.
Thomas Huber climbing on El Capitan
The past few years have seen other climbers freeing new routes on Middle Cathedral, Mount Watkins and the smaller formations in the Valley. The ability of the average climber has increased dramatic with single day ascents of El Capitan happening regularly. El Capitan becomes more accessible and easier to free climb every year and climbers like Caldwell continue to raise the standards. The future of Yosemite remains unpredictable but very promising.
Yosemite legend, Tommy Caldwell working his project, attempting to freeclimb the Dawn Wall.
Happy First Look Friday!
Last week we gave you a look at the juicy innards of our HUGE bouldering gym currently under construction near the 101 freeway. This week we're taking a look at the soft underbelly of what will soon be our climbing gym in Culver City.
This behemoth gym will house over 10,000 sq ft of bouldering AND 10,000 sq ft of top rope and lead climbing terrain, along with a dedicated yoga and programming studio, weight room, and kids area. Soon our Southern California members and guests will finally have a chance to rope up at a Touchstone gym! We're currently working with Walltopia to design both bouldering and rope climbing terrain, and can't wait to share the finished product with you!
Want to stay up on ALL the Southern California Touchstone Climbing news? We're starting our first EVER newsletter. Sign up here, and we promise to only send you things we think you'll love.
Ten years ago, on my first trip to Squamish, I free soloed up a 5.11 slab route on the Apron thinking it was 5.8. I got 1/3 of the way before some helpful Canadians turned me around. Two weeks ago, I free soloed up a 5.10 on the Apron thinking it was 5.7. I was 1/3 of the way before some helpful Canadians turned me around. Again. There's a lesson to be learned from these experiences.
Ryan Moon on Black Water 5.12a at Pet Wall and Jens Holsten on Sentry Box 5.12a at Nightmare Rock
This summer I spent 5 weeks in the Canadian climbing town, repeating boulder problems and routes that I had done on my first trip to Squamish. The differences between the 22 year old James Lucas and the 32 year old version seemed small. Ten years ago, I slept in a cave behind the campground. This time I bivied in my new minivan. My first trip, I fell leading Pipeline, a 5.10d offwidth on the Squaw. This time, instead of going 30 feet onto a number six and a wood block, I climbed it like a hero. I laid it back on toprope. In the previous decade, I told bad jokes in the back of my friends truck. This time, I did a 5 minute standup show at YukYuks in Vancouver. Here's a video of the ceiling while I do my routine. I was older, fatter and a little more experienced.
I used to sit in Tim Schaufele's truck and tell jokes. Here he attempts Division Bell 5.13d at Chekamus
I repeated a few routes in better style. I climbed Dancing in the Light, an 11b slab route on the Apron, with Alex Honnold in 2006. He rope gunned me up the route. This time, I swung leads and led the crux pitch. The scary friction climbing felt a bit easier. I toproped Flight of the Challenger on my second try, a route that had taken me 13 tries to send 10 years ago. I repeated Tea Bag Undies, which is a contender for one of the hardest V4s in Squamish. I climbed Freeway a couple of times, and did a 90 meter pitch of 5.11+.
Kevin Daniels climbs the first 5.11 slab pitch on Dancing in the Light
One of the best parts of any Squamish summer is hanging out with the other climbers. Touchstone represented with Ryan Moon, Lauryn Claasen, Jordan Shackelford and Diane Ortega all coming to hang out in Tim Horton’s and eat way too many donuts. The posse of climbers in Squamish is always fun, and I got a chance to hang out with some good old friends and make some new ones.
I climbed Timeless a few years ago. This summer I went out there with Alex Honnold, Stacey Pearson and photographer Michael Pang to do it again. I had dinner at the brewery with Alex for his birthday. It was the third time we had a birthday dinner for him at the brewery.
The weather in Squamish stayed fairly moderate for most of my trip. There was a few days of rain. Towards the end of the month, the rain became horrendous and so I left for Smith rocks. I guess the good friction and features of the granite come at the cost of having to deal with wet weather sometimes.
Hand fanning at work in the boulders of Squamish.
Ten years ago, I downclimbed Unfinished Symphony and found Diedre. This summer I down climbed Two Scoops of Delicious and found Banana Peel and the Squamish Buttress Light. There’s a lesson to be learned from these events, how I’ve changed over the past ten years. I just don’t know what it is.
Ryan takes on his nemesis, the Crescent
Recently, Andrew McAleavey sat down with the Touchstone blog to talk about his experience with climbing and Cerebral Palsy. The Berkeley Ironworks Kid's Camp director will be at the American Physical Therapy Association’s pediatrics conference in St. Louis to discuss how cerebral palsy affects muscle development. Read a bit about his climbing experience.
“I don’t...I don’t know if I’ll be able to climb, but…but I just wanted to look around and…”
The man at the desk has long, dirty-blond curls and a strangely compelling gravitas. He looks past my stammer-babble, regards me with a kindly intensity, and says, sure, I’m welcome to have a look — as long as I stay off the blue mats. This is my second time at Berkeley Ironworks; the first time, I drove by but was too scared to go in. With permission granted, I wander off, stumble around the gym, and decide that even if I’m never able to climb, the energy of the place is just so good that I want to be a part of it. I come back the next night for intro to climbing.
I have Cerebral Palsy. I’m brain damaged, my leg muscles are too tight and too weak, and my walking is, in a word, funky. There’s still no real treatment for brain damage, so they treat CP orthopedically — physically rearranging the muscles and bones to compensate for the faulty signals from the brain. As a child, my left femur and right ankle were broken, re-aligned, re-set. My hamstring and Achilles tendons were lengthened. My quads were rearranged. Some of the best surgeons in the country wanted to make me better, faster, stronger. They succeeded — and then they ran out of ideas. Cerebral Palsy is a lifelong, non-degenerative condition, but it’s too often considered a pediatric problem. Children with CP often face what George W. Bush once called "the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Adults with CP don’t often get follow-up and fade into obscurity with their ability to move declining. Rock climbing is not on anyone’s list of things that people with CP “should be” able to do.
I was 34 when I walked into Berkeley Ironworks that night, about 18 months ago. I’d spent at least 20 years in physical therapy, the previous 8 years draining my savings to work with some truly innovative physical therapists and athletic trainers. I was bored, and broke, and under orders from my athletic trainer to find something in the fitness world that I really wanted to do. Only then, he implied, would I really progress. Only then would my heart truly be in it.
The first night I tried climbing, with Jerome smiling from the desk at my reappearance and Jeffrey Kosoff belaying and encouraging, I made it fifteen feet up a 5.4 before exhaustion hit. I barely had the range of motion to get my feet on some of the holds, and as there wasn’t enough power in my legs to push up very effectively, I was doing most of it with my arms. I felt pure joy. I was hooked.
It took me a month to finish a 5.4. It took months more for my range of motion to show permanent improvement. I tried harder and harder routes and spent almost every night at Ironworks. I found a partner who knew exactly when to encourage and exactly when to tell the most egregious, hilarious “cripple” jokes I’d ever heard — at my expense. Every night, the desk staff had a nugget of advice, a word of encouragement. The small kindnesses piled up. “Ok,” Dani Kottman warned me one afternoon after volunteering to belay for me in a few minutes of free time, “I’m going into coach mode!” What followed was an incisive and thorough dissection of my technique and everything that needed to be done to improve it.
As I started to take classes—anchors, trad, technique—I realized that some of the staff had biomechanical instincts rivaling those of the best physical therapists I’d worked with. During a trad clinic, Chris Ahlgren realized, without a word from me, that I’d exhausted myself just standing on the cushy flooring for an hour. The next night, for the next clinic, he dropped a thick, hard block of foam in front of me: “Here!” he said, “Stand on this tonight. It should help!” I managed my first 5.10a, then another, then another. I tried climbing outdoors at Cragmont Park in Berkeley. I’m working on a 5.10c now.
I love children, and when I found out that Ironworks was looking for a kids camp director, I applied. The interview was short; the paperwork was handed to me. With no small amount of trepidation, I decided to take the job. I’ve been chasing children around the gym almost every week since. It’s wonderful. “You’re just goofy!” one of the staff members said during summer camp this past summer, “And you’re, like, nine years old!!” Right and right. Sometimes, I worry that I’ll run out of things to teach the kids; I worry that I won’t be able to correctly demonstrate technique for an overhang, or a good backstep. Then I quiet my fears. I show them how much climbing means to me. I show them how much I love them and want them to succeed. Somehow, it works out.
By happenstance, I found a professor of physical therapy in Connecticut who was interested in “long term outcomes” of people like me. I’d been climbing about six months at that point, and as I told her tales, she slowly got interested. First, she asked me to sit on an advisory board for a grant of hers. Then she came to the conclusion that she should study me. We made plans — in March of 2014, a full-on computerized movement analysis, the same technique that had been used to plan my surgeries as a child. In June, my collaborator, Mary, came to visit me, to see and record my climbing and workout routines. Lyn Barraza, the Ironworks manager, was kind enough to give me the run of the gym as an entourage followed me around and recorded my every move. I tethered our photographer on the rappel platform, rappelled down, and climbed back up again. I did every stretch I could think of for the cameras. At this point, all of it was routine for me. I didn’t think about how unusual it might be for someone with CP to do all of the things I was doing until Mary broke into tears watching me walk across the padded floors — and then almost fell down trying to follow me.
In October, I’ll be giving a talk with my two professor-collaborators at a meeting of the American Physical Therapy Association, essentially a master class on exercise and training for climbing for people with CP. The talk begins with the basic science, explains what happens to the structure of muscles in people with CP, and goes from there. The short version: climbing has improved my strength and range of motion, prevented serious declines in function, and kept me extremely happy doing it. In the slides for the talk, I’m wearing my favorite Ironworks shirt — and there’s a huge grin on my face.