Night Climbing Tips

The time change and the fall season means short days. In Yosemite, darkness falls in the Valley at 5:30. If you are driving out from the bay or sleep in at all, that translates to very little time to climb. The best way to make the most of your trip is to climb at night. If you're into alpine starts to climb El Capitan, you will probably need to do a fair bit of night climbing. Not only will a night session extend your climbing time but it will kill the long boring hours before bed, it allows for better temps and more time to get up the wall. 

Camp4 night climbing

John Dickey photo of Paul Barraza on Yabo Roof

Get A Good Headlamp:

There's a variety of options for headlamps out there. Use the brightest one possible. Grab some fresh batteries. Better is to use a rechargable headlamp. Bay Area climber Dan Freschl produced the escellent Bosavi headlamp, which recharges with a USB cable. Also check out the Black Diamond Sprinter headlamp.  

Look at Your Feet:

Be extra precise with your footwork when climbing at night. Shine the headlamp in small circles to double check on shadows. Move carefully. The temps tend to be significantly better and your feet will stick way better at night if you take time to place them well. 

Bring a Lantern:

While you can't exactly swing a Coleman lantern half way up El Capitan, you can bring a lantern to the boulders. Get a propane lantern. They tend to be brighter than the battery operated variety. Some companies sell sticks to hang lanterns or find a tree. Make sure you hang the lantern in the spot that casts the least shadows on the wall. 

Night climbing

John Dickey jumaring the Stoveleg pitches at 3am

Know Where You're Going:

Earlier this fall, I climbed to Dolt Tower on the Nose with photographer John Dickey for a sunrise photo shoot. I got lost looking for a pendulum point because I failed to see the bolt in the dark. I checked the topo a few times and found the spot where I needed to swing to the Stoveleg Cracks. If you're out bouldering, know where the problem is, how to get off and what the holds are. Knowing where you're going helps significantly. It's easy to get lost in the dark. 

Stay Warm:

The colder conditions may make climbing easier but it also gets a lot cooler when you're inactive. Grab a thermos of hot tea for bouldering and a belay jacket for longer routes.

Staying warm with plenty of light, knowing where you're going and climbing well will add to a succesful night of climbing. If you want practice, the gyms periodically have night climbing sessions. Stay tuned for the next event, bring your headlamp and have fun.

Fall Yosemite Bouldering

The temperatures in Yosemite Valley have been slowly dropping. The fall storms have been light and sporadic. Conditions have been slowly improving in America's best granite bouldering destination.

One of the best parts of bouldering in Yosemite this fall has been climbing on all of the newer boulder problems around the Valley. Since the last printing of a bouldering guide, the volume of problems in Yosemite has nearly doubled. Areas like Bridalveil have been developed by the BetaBase crew and have yielded awesome moderate and difficult climbs.

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Bridalveil Pogo sits just a few hundred feet from the parking lot on the massive boulder. A heel hook to an undercling, a huge slap to a sloping hold and a difficult jump mark this height dependent classic. The problem's dynamic nature marks a stark contrast from the traditional static style of most Yosemite boulders. Further up the hill are the awesome Meat N Potato climbs.

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The left arete, Meat features a difficult move over a bulge, surmounted with either kneebar trickery or a calf hook. The climbing afterwards involves balancey liebacking up the arete to a good hold. At V4 and just up the hill from the Bridalveil Pogo, this is another not to be missed Yosemite problem. The adjacent Potatoes (V5) is also quite good.


Outside of the Bridalveil circuit are more new problems like Avocado. Slab crusher Beth Rodden made the first ascent of this Curry Village slab testpiece, clocking it in at a very conservative V6. A few climbers have repeated the problem guessing it to be closer to the V9 range. In this photo, Ironworks manager Lyn Barraza crimps down on the tiny holds high above the pads. This problem is another great new addition to the Valley slab circuit.


Beyond the new problems are the old Camp 4 classics like The Force. Jerry Moffatt established The Force during a trip to Yosemite in the mid 90s, naming the line after one of the first lines in the Michael Jackson hit "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough." In the chart topper, Michael sings, "Because the force, it's got a lot of power." In this picture, Robin Puro is climbing The Farce, a slight variation to the Force. Moffat started just left of Thriller and climbed straight up, making a powerful move and then gastoning a reinforced hold. Most climbers now use the second hold on Thriller, which splits hairs and makes the problem a bit easier.


One of the classic and often overlooked aretes in Yosemite, Fish Eye arete rests just next to the Hexentric at the Cathedral boulders. Orginally given the sandbagged V4 rating, the problem sees very few repeats. Here, Tommy Caldwell shows how it's done. He sit starts the problem, goes high right hand to a crimp, slap the arete then crushes to the top.

The temperatures are dropping low this weekend and conditions will only continue to improve. Head out to Yosemite soon to see the best new problems and some of the classics.

All the Comps: A TCS2014 Interview with Kris Terry

This year, the Touchstone Comp Series switched between rope and bouldering comps at the nine different Touchstone gyms. Going to one or even two of the local gyms was a challenging feat for many California climbers. Kris Terry, a Sonoma County resident and climber of six year, managed to tick off each of the TCS. He spoke with the blog about this year's comp series.


The 23 year old Vertex Climbing Center route setter coaches the gym’s youth team and spends his free time woodworking, producing Murphy beds and carving wooden cutlery. In between all his work, he managed to hit all the comps.


“My motivation for not missing a single comp in this years series came two years ago when I left early and lost my chance at winning a hangboard in the raffle. My buddy called to ask where I was because they called my name for the big prize but I was already on the road home. So I guess it all began for the schwag (lol!) but it has grown into much more than that. I love the process of training with a powerful goal in mind and seeing the pay off by being ranked high amongst some serious talent.”


“Besides having a great time with my awesome Vertex friends, my favorite part of the series was the ability to check out all the different terrain Touchstone has to offer,” said Terry about the comp series.

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“My favorite comps this year were: 1) Metal Mark because I performed my very best there and left with first place; 2) Mission Cliffs because I got to participate in finals; and 3) The Studio because my girlfriend finally joined me for her first TCS comp and got just as addicted as I have been. She ended the series 3rd intermediate! “

Triple Adopt-A-Crag at Indian/Mortar/Cragmont

Join the Bay Area Climbers Coalition, the Cal Hiking and Outdoor Society (CHAOS), and Cal Climbing for the first annual Berkeley Triple! On Saturday, November 8, 2014 from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, the groups will be participating in an Adopt-A-Crag at Indian Rock, Mortar Rock and Cragmont in Berkeley.

These three organizations will be joining forces to take on the cleaning of three (yes three) of the Berkeley Rock Parks in one day - Indian Rock, Mortar Rock, and Cragmont Park - and you are invited to join us!


Sign up for the event at Event Brite

It is extremely important that the climbing community support our outdoor climbing areas - the maintenance and conservation of these areas is our responsibility. These types of stewardship events go a long way in maintaining relationships with land managers and ensure our continued access.

Please be sure to sign-up for which "team" you want to join: Indian/Mortar - Volunteer - No Experience Required - we will train you

Cragmont - Volunteer - No Experience Required - we will train you

Cragmont - Trail Building - Experienced Trail Builders Only

Volunteer Roles

Volunteers are needed to help with the following projects at the three sites:

Glass and Trash Clean-Up

Clearing of Pathways Around Park

Trail Maintenance and Building - Experience Required for Cragmont

General Park Beautification and Landscaping Work

Where are these Rock Parks?

Indian/Mortar Rock = Mountain Project website provides a great overview and directions.

Cragmont Park = Mountain Project website provides a great overview and directions.


Safety - We are HUGE on safety! There will be a safety talk at 10am on the day of the event. Please note that we require all participants to be present for the safety talk and wear closed toe shoes. Unfortunately, we cannot allow anyone to participate that does not wear closed toe shoes and/or attend the safety talk.

Parking - These crags are nestled within the neighborhoods of the Berkeley Hills - so while the parking is free, it is limited. Our suggestion would be to try and carpool. If this is not possible, please be patient and know that you might need to park a block or two away - the walk over will be a great warm-up.

Food - Lunch has been graciously sponsored by BUILD Pizzeria in Downtown Berkeley. Their pizza is amazing and we encourage all of you to check them out and support the business that support our community.

Water - There are drinking fountains available at Indian Rock and Cragmont Park - please be sure to bring a water bottle.

Tools - we will be getting tools and gloves from the City of Berkeley Parks department, you are also welcome to bring your own lucky shovel, push broom, or gloves.

Joe Kinder: Touchstone Climbing Athlete

We're pleased to announce that we will be bringing on Joe Kinder to join our team of Touchstone Athletes. As a recent California transplant, we're happy he's found a home here at Touchstone Climbing. Joe’s personal climbing highpoints include numerous 9a routes, V13 boulder problems, and many first ascents and route development. His work with the Access Fund and other organization in the past year makes him a sage voice in the climbing community. He's been there. He's done that... and he's helping to educate a new generation of climbers. 

He is also a talented videographer and photographer, and we're excited to collaborate with Joe over the course of the year to create videos that give the viewer a inside look at the communities within Touchstone Climbing. Our first project will be a unique look at a day in the life of a route setter. It's an idea that came from seeing first hand what these men and women do day in and day out, and wanting to share that with everyone who samples their products on the walls of our gyms. 

Welcome to the team Joe! 



"Joe Kinder’s first climbing experience was in Estes Park, Colorado on a family vacation when he was 13. It wasn’t until two years later, while living in New Hampshire, that Joe became fully overtaken by the sport of rock climbing. Known for his outrageous personality and infinite psyche, Joe is walking motivation. He eats, sleeps and breathes climbing and stays true to his personal slogan “ALWAYS PSYCHED!!!”.

After graduating college at the Maine College Of Art he became a professional athlete by age 20. A true business man sets him aside form the rest and allows him to travel the world, climb all year long and share his stories through videos and photos which can be seen on the popular Throughout his entire climbing career, consistency has been his forte. J Kinder’s personal philosophies stem from experiences, friendship and travel throughout his life as a climber.

The approach or “One life to live” is how he lives day-to-day and it shows in his positivity, which is infectious. Whether reaching out to people through his well-read, popular blog, or meeting climbers in person at crags around the globe, he is able to share his genuine passion for this sport in an amazing, unforgettable way. No one forgets meeting Joe." 

-Andrew Bisharat, Rock & Ice Magazine


Women Racing up El Capitan

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.

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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.

El Cap

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.

Chalk Talk: Route Setting with Jeremy Ho

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

Remembering the Topo in Yosemite

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.

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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.

the lurch 3.1

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.

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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.

Mahtah 4.1

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.

Training with the Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit

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.

Many thanks to Berkeley Ironworks for being a long-time supporter of BAMRU! For more information about the Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit, visit or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Donations can be made at the BAMRU website and are greatly appreciated.

Yosemite Climbing History

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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

Inside Culver City

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. 

Smith Rocks Climbing

Climbing year round on basalt splitters, volcanic tuff faces, and amazing columns, Smith Rock offers a variety of climbing, relatively close to the Bay Area. Located in the high desert of Central Oregon, Smith almost always has dry weather. On my way down from Squamish, I stopped by the world-class sport climbing area.


Jess Groseth takes on the steep section of The Quickening (5.12c). This route features unusually steep climbing for Smith

Smith Rocks development began in the 60s but in the early 1980s, Smith became the spot to climb. Local Alan Watts rappel bolted Watts Tots, a 5.12b on the front wall. Watts ushered in the concept of sport climbing to the United States, pushing American climbing towards European standards.

A video of Alan Watts on Rude Boys back in 1986, when climbers wore lycra without any sort of hipster irony

While Smith’s lines feature bolts, they are a far cry from today’s definition of sport climbing. They are more like 80’s face climbing, run out and bold. There are a number of amazing moderate routes though that protect well. Newer areas like the Llama Wall have more sport climbing style routes. The Lower Gorge at Smith Rock contains amazing bolted lines with much better protection. The stem boxes include the classic Pure Palm, which is 60 feet of perfect stemming in a box.

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Ryan Palo on White Wedding, a classic 5.14 in Aggro Gully.

Forty minutes north of Smith Rock rests the basalt splitters of Trout Creek. Cracks and columns define the area with stem boxes between them. The dense concentration of high quality routes and the consistent size of the cracks make the crag reminiscent of Indian Creek but far closer to California. The cracks mostly range in the 5.10 to 5.12 range. Having a solid base of crack experience helps as does a triple set of camming devices.

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A climber on JR Token, a great 5.10 handcrack on the Main Wall at Trout.

Over the past decade, I have taken half dozen trips to Smith and have always been impressed. The high quality of the volcanic tuff and the cryptic climbing of the basalt makes the area amazing. The historic climbing significance makes the area a requirement for any climber.

Past blog entries can be found at



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