The California Death Ride with Deborah Georges

Recognized as one of the premier cycling events in America's West, The Death Ride tours California's Alps. The five pass ride includes 129 miles and 15,000+ feet of lung busting climbing. This summer, Touchstone cyclist Deborah Georges completed the brutal race through the Lake Tahoe region. She wrote a bit about the event for the Touchstone blog.

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Bikers climbing over Monitor Pass

First off, if you love bicycling and are looking for a difficult yet doable challenge, the Death Ride is for you, and a must! This was my second time riding in this "exclusive" bicycling event! What draws me most to the Death Ride is that it allows me as a competitive athlete to realistically evaluate how fit I really am, how much power I can generate on my own accord over long distance, and how tough I am mentally to keep my body moving when the going gets unbearably rough.

The Death Ride is a chance in a lifetime experience. Located in Alpine County/the Lake Tahoe Area, the natural environment and breathtaking scenery stand in sharp contrast to urban/city living. Completing the entire 129 mile course entails riding 5 extremely diverse and not-so-easy mountain passes: Monitor Pass (front and back), Ebbetts Pass (front and back), and Carson Pass. Each Pass has a character all its own, making the Death Ride an awe-inspiring, life-changing, unique athletic experience.

The downside of the Death Ride derives from accommodation logistics. Markleeville, where the Death Ride starts and ends, is sparse in lodging accommodation. Because of this, many riders either stay in Gardnerville, Nevada where economy motels are a plenty and yet entail a 45 minute transportation drive to the start come ride day, or vey like heck to reserve a camping site nearby. To manage my personal stress, I chose to park my Toyota Rav4 on route 89 in front of Turtle Rock Park, Headquarters of the Death Ride, and camp inside my vehicle. This is the ideal situation. It makes no sense to go to a motel, when one can easily erect a tent or sleep in one's vehicle free-of-charge right at the start!

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Start times for the Death Ride vary according to a rider's desire. I personally did not want to start off in the dark so I chose to get on the road at the break of dawn slightly before 5:00 a.m. That said, slower or more ambitious riders opt for a 3:00-3:30 a.m. start with the more popular start option commencing between 4:00-4:30 a.m.

Monitor Pass is an ideal route to begin the course. Its road is wide, open on both right/left sides, and not particularly steep. I enjoyed "warming up" on Monitor to get my "climbing legs" primed. The backside descent to Topaz rest stop is fast, technically "moderate" in terms of difficulty, and overall what I label "a joy ride"! Beware, it gets unexpectedly windy flying down Monitor Pass. Regardless of how warm the temperature might seem, the knowledgable rider dons a wind jacket to keep from shivering prior to making the long descent!

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With two mountain passes notched on one's belt, the next challenge becomes the majority of a cyclist's favorite - Ebbetts Pass. Quite distinct from the openly expansive Monitor Pass, Ebbetts is more introverted in the sense that it lies within a forest of sorts surrounded by subtle creeks, calming burbling waters, and aesthetically beautiful tall-trunk trees that indisputably have been digging their roots in the earth's soil for centuries. I encountered absolutely no difficulty climbing Ebbetts Pass quickly, descending the back side swiftly to Hermit Valley, and then climbing back up to the top in order to make a very fast descent to the rest/lunch stop at Wolfcreek by 11:10 a.m.

Wolfcreek lunch stop is pleasurable because it affords one the opportunity to mingle and exchange riding stories with other cyclists. I lunched at a table full of guys who interacted with me and with each other in an enjoyable "we're in this together" way!

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Carson Pass

With four mountain passes tucked securely behind me, I now faced the final "dreaded" Carson Pass. In defense of Carson which largely gets a negative rating from the majority of riders, I came to understand this time around what really sours me from what otherwise would be a positive response to this particular Death Ride pass. Carson, sadly, is not beautiful or aesthetic or naturally attractive. Located on a well trafficked motor vehicle county road, the asphalt is torn up in many parts making it impossible for a cyclist to hold a straight line. In terms of coverage from nature's elements, there is none to speak of. The route up Carson Pass to the end rest stop of the Death Ride is wide open making cyclists extremely vulnerable to the sunshine and heat. Simply put, it's not a particularly memorable experience one will opt to talk about with family and friends in a positive tone after the Death Ride is completed. Knowing that Carson Pass was going to be the most physically challenging for me after having successfully ridden 94 incredibly breathtaking and delightful miles, I determined to reach deep inside myself to tap the final reserves I had left to make it to the top of Carson in strong form!

Indeed, I made it! I accomplished my goal of completing the Death Ride without the Death Ride beating me! At the Carson Pass final rest stop, I ate the traditional ice cream sandwich with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. The ladies "manning" the finish line, hugged and congratulated me not only for having successfully finished, but more so because I was the fifth woman to get to the top shortly after noon among the larger majority of men who dominated the 2014 Death Ride! It's both sad and incomprehensible to me that more women don't aspire to taking on the challenge of the Death Ride. With determination and training, the Death Ride is doable for anyone. It's a chance in a lifetime open to all!

Riding the final 21 miles back to my car stationed at Turtle Rock Park after an exhilarating descent from Carson Pass rest stop, I was astounded to find that I had completed the 129 mile end-to-end course in 8 hours and 42 minutes! If memory serves me correctly, I had completed my first Death Ride saddle time in 9 hours 55 minutes. Imagine knocking off an entire hour two years later the second time around! Woot woot - pom poms furiously shaking!

I wish to thank my sister Wendy, for always standing by me and encouraging my athlete endeavors, my Berkeley Ironworks/Touchstone spinning buddy Marty Kaplan, for both teaching and educating me on how to be a safe and skillful descender, and Pat Ross, an extraordinary competitive cyclist whom I highly admire and would gladly trade places with in terms of strength, skill and ability! These three individuals have served me the most over the years in bringing out the best of me in terms of my athleticism.

Cheers to all, happy safe riding, and get your asses over to the Death Ride at some point - you won't regret it!

Crag Etiquette 101

While many find the Climber’s Book of Etiquette to be thin and flimsy, the actual nuances of proper climber behavior are plentiful and important. A faux pas at the crag can mean the difference between getting helpful beta from locals or having them throw rocks at your head. The majority of climbing etiquette comes down to basic courtesy, safety and genial human behavior. For those that need a few extra hints, below are a few extra tips.

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Fun times at Cathedral outside of Las vegas

Minimize Your Impact

Picking up Clif Bar wrappers, climbing tape, and keeping chalk in your chalk bag remain the basic essentials of crag etiquette. Tiny bits of tape easily escape people’s fingers and back packs. As do old tape gloves. When leaving the crag, sweep through and pick up the little bits of debris, the ends of the rope, the banana peels, and other trash. Showing up and leaving trash everywhere is what people do at their parent’s house. It’s unacceptable at the crag. Carefully dispose of human waste. Never use the bathroom underneath a route or boulder problem. That just stinks. When arriving at a climbing area, keep from throwing your crash pads, back packs, and ropes in the vegetation. Stay on trails when hiking to and from the climbing zone. Protecting the climbing area will ensure that people welcome you back.

Turn Down The Volume

Many climbers head to the crags to escape the loud grind of their daily lives. Noise remains one of the most over looked forms of crag pollution. From bumping the latest Miley Cyrus twerking hit to screaming beta, loud climbers affect the people around them. If you want music at the crag, wear headphones. Providing tips on how to do a move on a route can be helpful but screaming them across the wall annoys everyone around you. Know when your beat spray is unsolicited. Not every climber wants to hear the nuances of the route you’ve been projecting for five years. Unless you’re sport climbing at the Virgin River Gorge, where the sound of sound of a four lane highway and jackhammers will drown your screams of “Mono, mono, gaston!,” keep the volume to a minimum. Throwing wobblers, emotional temper tantrums, is never acceptable. It’s just rock climbing. Keep the crag peaceful by turning down your volume.

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This is a climber's truck that exploded due to excessively loud beta spray. Keep the volume down

Know the Area

Every crag has a specific style and etiquette. At some crags, the locals will scald you for breathing through your mouth in a cave. “It increases humidity!” They’ll scream. Other areas, locals will wonder why you forgot to bring the circus of pads, videographers, and production assistants. Know the history of the area and who the locals are. Treating the locals with respect helps avoid problems. Also, be especially considerate when making a first ascent. Gluing, cleaning rock, and bolting are all hugely important to the local community. The majority of climbing guides contain a section on local ethics in the introduction. Read these tiny nuggets and they’ll help you stay out of trouble. Being informed about the area you’re climbing at will help minimize social blunders.

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Ron learns a little about batting practice after a lengthy discussion of local ethics.

Consider Other Climbers

Think about other people climbing on the same routes as you. If you’re out bouldering, put chalk on your hands before you touch the holds. This keeps the rock from getting greasy after you finished your salami sandwich. Brush the holds after you climb and erase tick marks. Most people like the adventure of deciphering a climb. Tick marks can be confusing and an eyesore. If someone is climbing below you on a trad route, be careful not to drop anything or kick loose works. Keep from rappelling onto their heads. Be as organized as possible when meeting other parties on routes, this will facilitate the process of moving around each other. Pick routes or problems that you will be able to climb quickly and efficiently to avoid congestion on popular routes. Leaving a top rope on a climb all day can be serious poor form. If you have a rope on a route, be actively climbing on it. Also, be willing to share anchors with other parties on nearby routes. Separate your gear as much as possible to avoid problems. Being considerate of other climbers will allow them and you to enjoy the climbing more.

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Tyson heads to The Grail to avoid crowds and have a mellow experience.

Be Patient

The most popular routes often have a ton of people climbing on them. If there are other people in line to climb a route, think about trying something different. This goes for climbing long traditional routes as well. Be considerate of the queue. Climb the most popular routes on weekdays to avoid crowds. Climb something different if there are people already on the route. Avoid congestion at the warm-ups by starting your climbing day early. If you decide to climb a route with another party on it, be patient. The climbers ahead of you have the right of way. Keep from chatting too much with the belayer as this often causes them to lose focus and could lead to an accident. Enjoy the outdoors and be patient while you’re out climbing.

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Hayden relaxes on a weekend, going for a bit of a later start to the crag to avoid the crowds.

Control Your Junk Show

Having three crash pads, two stick brushes, and eight chalk buckets directly below the start of a boulder problem aggravates everyone who wants to climb. Keep your climbing gear orderly and in a central location. Keep control of your junk show. If you bring an animal to the crag, make sure your pet is leashed and on good behavior before you take them out. Dogfights at the crag stink for everyone involved. There can be vet bills and general chaos from the fights. If you’re dog is nosing around in other climber’s gear, tie it up. I’ve seen dogs eat climber lunches. This makes for a horrible situation, as there’s nothing worse than a starving sport climber. They get really angry. Just like with human waste, clean up dog poop at the crag and pack it out. If you’re bringing children to the crag, make sure they are quiet and obedient. Crags are dangerous places with rocks and gear falling constantly. Be careful with your children. Keep a handle on your equipment, your pets, and your children to avoid trouble and irritating other climbers.

Better Know a Setter: Wes Miraglio

DSC 0203-2They're up with the sun, chain coffee-drinking and working hard to bring you the routes you love to send, project, and crush. 'Touchstone Routesetting' is an industry term for excellence, and each member of the crew brings a little somethin' somethin' to the team. In our ongoing segment, Better Know a Setter, we bring you a closer look at what makes 'em tick. In this weeks installment, we sat down with Wes Miraglio. 

How long have you been route setting?
5 years total, 1 year with Touchstone this September.

How did you get into route setting?
My friend, Chris Bloch. Thanks buddy for giving some punk kid a chance to learn.

What is your favorite gym to set at and why?
Dogpatch and LA Boulders. Yeah, the floors and the boards can be heinous at times, but I think the terrain and layout of the gyms are cool.

What are you route setting pet peeves?
Striped bolts and t-nuts. It's the hate.

What is in your route setting bag right now?
Wrench, harness, drill, charger and extra battery, shoes, chalkbags for bolts and regular chalk, headphones, gri gris, jumar and aider, dogging draw, sweatshirt, extra shirt, shorts, phone charger.

What inspires your routes?
I don't know. I just strip and screw for a living. Seriously. I wish I could say "Oh this route inspires this moves or that problem got me psyched to try this" but I can't. I maybe have a thought then forget it. It's kinda bad.

What is your favorite memory setting with the Touchstone Crew?
The Bishop trip last year. Just don't let Flea get a hold of a BB gun...

Where is your favorite place to climb outside?
Anywhere in California really, specifically Bishop and/Tahoe areas. Hueco is cool, but you have to put up with the restrictions and being in Wanda's World and the rangers. Colorado you have to deal with the snow the attitude of the Boulder climbers. Vegas is a shitshow. I'd say California has it pretty much made. Tahoe, Yosemite, Tuolumne, Eastside, and other areas make it hard on other areas.

What is your proudest send?
You mean something I'm proud of? On a rope it's easily "Warp Factor"( 5.13a) at Donner Summit. But whatever. On to the next one.

What is your advice for aspiring setters?
Ask questions, be open to change. And take credit for your not so good routes. Turds happen from time to time. But in reality, don't ask me. I don't know shit.

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Taking Better Climbing Photos

Taking good climbing photos can be quite difficult. Most professional photographers snap around 100 pictures for every 1 decent shot. They spend days scoping lines they want to shoot, finding climbers and aligning everything. For most of us, taking a good picture of our weekend adventure can be fun enough. A few pro climbers offered up tips on making your climbing pictures just a little bit better.

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“Stick with shade or sun but not a mix,” said Eddie Bauer adventure photographer Ben Ditto. Knowing your light helps immensely with photos. Capturing the golden glow of a sunset on the rock makes a low angle slab turn into a beautiful scene but on an even more basic level, stick to one style of light. Mixing exposures creates blown out backgrounds or a difficult to see subject.

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Andrew Burr, a Climbing Magazine photographer, offered sage photo advice for me in Indian Creek earlier this year. “Make sure your fingers not in front of the lens.” After getting that basic down, he told me to be prepared for a day of taking pictures. “Make sure your camera is charged before heading up.” Take the time to order your equipment before getting in position to shoot.

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National Geographic photographer Mikey Schaeffer offered the advice to use the Rule of Thirds. Placing a grid of 3 x 3 squares on your photo, the subject matter should reach the intersection of these. This creates a greater sense of tension in your pictures. Crop your pictures well for Instagram, Facebook or a framed gift for your mom.

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“I want to see the eyes,” said Yosemite photographer Gabe Mange. Capturing your subject's face will add emotion to the scene. Make sure they are looking towards the feature they are climbing. The viewers eyes will follow.

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Ashley

Other good tips include: getting all four limbs and face in a climbing picture. Shoot from above or to the side of the climbing to show where the climber is and what they are doing. Go heavy on the edits. Most importantly, take lots of pictures. Use your SLR, use you’re your point and shoot. Get out there with your iPhone. Snap lots of pictures and you’ll start to make great ones.

Climbing on Everest

Touchstone member and Bay area resident, Gulnur Tumbat spent much of the spring 2014 season on Everest this year. She wrote a bit about her experience for the Touchstone blog.

Getting ready for an 8000-meter expedition is a big deal. It is even bigger for someone like me who has a day job and doesn’t get to climb big mountains too often. Extensive financial commitment, months if not years of mental preparation, time off from work, organization of the life left behind including the apartment and the dog etc for 2+ months… In the midst of this craziness, which I am not doing justice here in any way, one has to be physically training really hard.

Everest Base Camp

Professional mountaineers always say the best way to train to climb a big mountain is to climb big mountains. Period. They are wise. But living a rather “normal” life makes it too difficult if not impossible for someone like me to regularly climb real mountains. Now it was my time to go climb Everest. I am an endurance athlete. I run, bike, and rock-climb. I work out 5-6 days a week. Mostly I run long distances. Aerobically I have been in fantastic shape. Yet big mountains are a different story. You need to be strong, really strong.

Everest from Pumori Basecamp

While searching and trying work-outs to achieve more of that for years in the city, I discovered a boot-camp class very randomly at my climbing gym, which is a full-facility gym with all kinds of classes but none got my attention before. Kristine Rios, the super experienced trainer, knew what she was doing. Proper warm-ups and intense crazy work-outs were capped by proper stretching. I was impressed by how she took every step seriously and paid attention to improper forms if any. She did everything with detail to minimize injuries. Every class she’d come up with something different and interesting for people like me who really wish not to be in a gym. Nothing became repetitive or boring. She has everything for you including some Cross-Fit-like moves without the irritating cultness associated with the name. I was able to observe how much stronger I was getting and felt fantastic after only the first 6-months. I am thankful to her for that.

Climbing Half Dome with James Lucas and Christina Freschl

My toes dangled over the ledge. I pushed against the tiny sidewalk and shuffled with my back against the wall, staring at the 2,000 foot drop. I fought into a chimney at the end of the narrow “Thank God Ledge.” A few more feet and I’d be done being scared, I hoped.

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In June of 1957, Royal Robbins, Mike Sherrick and Jerry Gallwas made the first ascent of the The Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome. Using pitons and tenacity they fought their way up one of the greatest technical rock climbs of the time. The large granite dome remains one of the more difficult rock climbs in Yosemite and an excellent challenge for rock climbers.

The previous day, while I rested and enjoyed riding my bike around the Valley loop, Christina Freschl, a Bay Area teacher and Touchstone crusher, attacked the Cedar Eater, a notorious offwidth boulder problem near Happy Isles. The wide climbing did little to deter the Oakland teacher's psyche and the next morning we biked towards Mirror Lake at 5 am.

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I spent the first two hours complaining about the hike as we marched to the base of Half Dome via the infamous Death Slabs. The trail features a number of fixed ropes and requires hiking through a gully. A large white scar on Half Dome taunts climbers hiking up. About a decade ago, a few thousand pounds of rock came off the formation and smashed into the gully, nearly killing two climbers on their way down. I kept complaining and hiked faster to the base.

A small spring runs seasonly at the base of the route and we filled our water and hydrated. Christina took off on the initial pitches, leading the first large chunk of the climb. The route follows alpine rock with difficult route finding through a short bolt ladder and cracks to a large traverse section. I grabbed the rack and hustled through. Christina had been on the lead for nearly four hours.

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We swung across a series of bolts, climbed a long section of chimneys and kept pulling on gear through the steep Zig Zags. I wanted to climb the route to scope the potential of free climbing the formation later this year. I realized that I was awfully tired from all the hiking and though the Zig Zags were quite good, the hiking left something to be desired. We continued along the top across the infamous Thank God Ledge. I left my aiders on the ground and pulled on gear when I felt like the free climbing was too hard. We topped out the formation in eight hours. As soon as we began the descent, I started complaining about the hiking.

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At the base, a squirrel had attacked my pack, despite my hiding it under rocks. I should have hung it in a tree. We had lost our precious chocolate and nut trail mix. Christina remained in good spirits but I complained as we hiked down the trail. We reached the base in the early evening and celebrated by going to the Ahwahnee bar for dinner. We ate hungrily. Christina headed back to the Bay area the next morning to climb in Tahoe for the weekend and I returned to toiling in Yosemite.

Climbing the route was an awesome adventure with a good friend. Christina got a chance to learn a bit more about jumaring, moving fast over varied terrain and climbing efficiently and I got to complain about the six hours of hiking to the eight hours of climbing we did. And have a great time!

 

Brotherhood of the Traveling Sombrero Racing at Hood River

The Brotherhood of the Traveling Sombrero, a Touchstone Climbing sponsored down hill mountain biking team recently raced the first round of the Oregon endure series held at Hood River. Enduro, popularized in a last few years, is a race format that involves timed downhill stages taking between 3-8 minutes each and untimed transfer stages involving the majority of the climbing. After 2 days of racing and 8 stages, the lowest combined time reins supreme. A few of the team members spoke about the race.

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Wow! All I can say is what a race! Driving 8 hours on Thursday and another 2.5 hours to arrive at the Hood River Enduro on Friday around 11:00 was a speedy trip. I did not know what to expect from an endure race. Having raced downhill races, cross country races, dual slalom, and super D I had a little bit of a background to racing but I didn’t know how I was going to tackle 8 stage races within two days! Friday we got shuttled up to the top of the mountains behind Hood River and followed other riders to the beginning of stage 1. We got a little confused and lost but ended up riding stages 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, and 8. By the end of just the first shuttle run, all three of us were pretty dead tired and didn’t feel like going back up to ride stages 3 and 4 deciding to save our energy for race day tomorrow. Saturday came and so did the race excitement! Going into the first stage I decided to hold back just a bit thinking I was going to not be able to recover my strength between stages and saving some for the last stage. I was wrong. I learned I could go all out each stage and be able to recover pretty much 100% in between stages. On stage 2 I got a flat tire but that didn’t slow me down; I peddled it out to the end of the stage and quickly changed my flat. Stages 3 and 4 we ran blind having not practiced on them. Stage 3 I got a good time but stage 4 I ended up crashing, bending my handlebars, brake levers, and seat! Stage 4 wasn’t a proud moment. All in all, the first day of racing enduro I learned a lot: you can ride as fast as possible and be fully recovered by the next stage and to peddle every chance you get!

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Sunday came with a new mentality: ride fast and be dead tired after each stage. We rode all stages for Sunday and I knew that they were more downhill oriented which gave me a bit of an advantage having raced downhill quite a few times in the past. The first race of Sunday, Stage 5 was a long one but very fun! Stage 6 had a very steep section that felt like home to me on the bike; steep is where I gain speed! Stages 7 and 8 were both very fast and I ended up finishing 22 out of 50 riders for the entire Hood River Enduro Expert Men 19-39. I’m very satisfied with my results and added onto my bicycling racing experience. I can’t wait to ride my next enduro race knowing what I’m in for.

-Andy Goldman

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The race was great fun; the whole vibe of the event was low key, and surprisingly Happy-go-lucky. The whole thing felt like a long ride with friends. That said, the expert men 19-39 field was fast, very fast. With lots of mistakes throughout the 2 days including 2 pedal ejects on rock sections, 2 off track excursions, and thinking stage 6 ended 800 feet before it actually did, meant I had to settle for a 27th. But cold beer on tap, and free lunch helped sooth the fact that my compatriots beat me. On to the next one!

-Daniel Melvin

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The first Oregon Enduro Series was definitely one of the most fun races I've ever competed in. Probably the most epic part of the race were the trails at Hood River. I had never ridden there before, so showing up to race on unknown territory was a little scary. What we found were trails that were similar to those of our home territory in Marin County. There was ton of flow, some sweet techy sections, and a lot of fast and dry corners. My favorite stage probably had to be the first one- the first half of it was super dry corners with tons of rocks. After a harsh little climb, you then went into a super fast flow section that shot you out into the finish, creating a fun ending to the race- I ended up in 5th on this stage. I'm super pumped we made it out there to the first Oregon Enduro Series and I definitely plan on competing in at least one more this summer. The whole enduro scene is pretty amazing and very chilled out, making it an epic experience each race day.

-Daniel Thompson

 

10 Signs You Shouldn’t Climb With Someone

Finding a good climbing partner can be challenging. There’s quite a few people wandering around the climbing community looking for partners. Most of them are great and awesome to climb with but there are a few people who might not be so fun. To weed these people out just look for a few tell tale signs:

1. They have four notches on their Gri Gri- one for every time they’ve dropped someone. If you miss the death marks on their belay device, these partners also have a tendency to spray about their past four hours of accident free climbing.

2. Their quick draw selection looks like this:

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3. They insist on bringing new X4 cams, two dozen biners weighing less than 24 grams each, a double wide portaledge, two grade VI haulbags, a poop tube and an 80 meter 9.2 lead line on a bouldering trip to the gym.

4. They wear a stop watch around their necks and discuss the time splits between putting on their left and right shoe. These climbers have a tendency to yell, “GO! GO! GO!” when you’re putting on your harness.

5. They spot you by grabbing their iPhone and yelling “If you break your ankle now, you’ll be famous on Instagram!”

6. They ask if they can climb on your rope. Then they ask if they can use your draws, your rack, borrow your back pack, if you have extra shoes, what snacks you brought to the crag, how much money you make and when they can move in to your house.

7. While talking about 5.14, V15, new El Capitan free routes and their trip to Gasherbaum V, they drop names like Chris Sharma, Tommy Caldwell, Ryan Moon and Vanna White.

8. They show up at the crag without a rope and then insist it’s ok. They start climbing and then insist you follow them shouting, "It's no big deal, I've only fallen soloing once."

9. They throw trash around the crag, they never clean up their dogs poop, they make random tick marks all over the rock even on routes that are nowhere near where they are climbing and they blast Miley Cyrus on their stereo every chance they get.

10. They ever say this:

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1,200 miles In the Footsteps of a Wolf

Jay Simpson, a Touchstone Climbing Member and National Geographic Young Explorers Grantee, is currently on a hiking and biking expedition across Oregon and Northern California, retracing the tracks of Oregon’s famous Wolf OR-7. Wolf OR-7 attracted international headlines as the first wild wolf in California since 1924. The Wolf OR-7 Expedition is retracing his GPS route across Oregon and Northern California to explore human and wolf coexistence and the challenges wolves face returning to their historic rangelands. We caught up with him by email this week.

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Q: Where are you now and what are you up to?

Jay: This morning I woke up for an early morning trip up to the rim of Crater Lake to see the sunrise—it was a great way to close a six-day section of cycling that has taken us most of the way across Oregon. At this very moment, I’m eating all the breakfasts foods I can manage at the lodge, taking a last grasp at wifi, and packing up for four days of walking the Cascades along part of the Pacific Crest Trail.

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Q: What has happened during the expedition so far?

J: Well, my biggest highlight comes at the very start of the trip when we found the tracks of a wolf in fresh snow of the Wallowa Mountains. They were huge, and luckily heading in the opposite direction from our route. My favorite thing about them was being able to walk along side the tracks for about 4 hours as we continued to walk along our planned route. Our entire mission has been about walking 1,200 miles in the tracks of Wolf OR-7, but here we were able to literally retrace the path of a wild, lone wolf in the mountains—mind-blowing.

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We’ve also been able to have some great conversations with the state biologist who gave Wolf OR-7 his GPS radio collar, a rancher, a hunter, a National Parks Ranger, and others to hear what they have to say about Wolf OR-7 and the return of wolves to areas they haven’t been for decades.

Q: Has anything really surprised you?

J: I loved seeing and learning about the shared use of some objects like stop signs in forests—we use them to know when to stop, but many animals use them to scent mark and gnaw on. My favorite was a stop sign in a National Forest that tons of sign of bear activity. It had bite marks all over and fur stuck in the splinters from bears rubbing their backs against it. It’s their version of a status update to their friends in their forest, I just got to notice it.

Q: And what’s been your biggest challenge so far?

J: We’ve had some really long cycle days, with lots of sandy/dusty roads, overgrown jeep tracks, huge hills, and goat head thorns that lead to about 30 flat tire repairs. That day was hell in the movement, fun looking back at now. We thought it would be an easy early morning ride (3 hours max) but it took over nine. We’ve carried our lunches and bike lights with us every day since then.

Q: What did you to train or prepare for this?

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J: There’s so little you can really do to prepare for month-long, high-endurance expeditions other than be as active as possible. Before I left, I was at Mission Cliffs, Berkley Ironworks, or the Dogpatch multiple times a week so that I could climb, do yoga, cycle training, stair masters or anything else whenever I could. My favorite was a core class that I took at Berkley Ironworks. It was a lot of yoga-inspired exercises, but had a great pace and a challenge-by-choice style of difficulty. My first class I received a lot of tips from an older lady who was in their killing it and now I can do them out here on the trail in the morning for warm ups.

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Q: What’s upcoming for the expedition?

J: For the next week and a bit we will be cycling and backpacking across areas of Northern California, getting as far south as Mount Shasta. It’s exciting to be entering California, where Wolf OR-7’s story received so much attention after becoming the first wild wolf in the state in nearly 90 years. He spent a lot of time down there too, so I really can’t wait to get down there to try to figure out why did he stop there? Also, we’ll be ending near Ashland, Oregon on June 14th, and I’m really looking forward to being a little closer to the areas of Oregon where he, his likely mate, and potential pups are hanging out. After spending so much time retracing his route, I feel like there’s an interesting kinship to him now!

The Last Dirtbag: Touchstone Blogger James Lucas

Do you ever wonder what it's like to live on the road full time? To climb every day? For some this is only a dream. For Touchstone blogger James Lucas this is reality. For the last five years, James lived out of his Saturn station wagon, climbing and traveling. The Saturn recently died and now he's holed up in a cave in Yosemite, climbing fiendishly on El Capitan and trying to live a life on the rocks. Check out the short story that Cedar Wright made about the climber.

Lurking Fear with Mark and Chris

Picture a fun day of climbing with a long time friend. For a pair of Bay area climbers, that meant a quick jaunt up El Capitan.

For the past two decades, Touchstone owner Mark Melvin has tied in with Mill Valley local Chris McNamara. Mark first dragged Chris up the West Face of El Capitan when Chris was 15 years old. Since then the pair have climbed eleven El Cap routes including Lurking Fear, Squeeze Play, Flight of the Albatross, Sea of Dreams and a girdle traverse of the entire formation.

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In early May, the pair tied in and began climbing on the fair west side of El Capitan. They started the stop watch at 7:50 am and made a quick 7.5 hour ascent of Lurking Fear. “The climbing went smooth,” said McNamara. “More exciting were the building storm clouds that provided epic summit views: the coolest I have ever seen up there.”

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“Lurking Fear is the easiest aid line on El Cap,” says Supertopo. “The lower pitches are beautiful, exposed and straightforward, while the upper part of the route involves wandering, lower-angle free climbing of lesser quality. The hauling on the last seven pitches is bad and punishes parties that bring too much.”

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Luckily the pair avoided hauling altogether. They climbed the initial slab pitches quickly then dispatched the beautiful cracks, the traverse and making their way through the final pit of low angle climbing. The pair climbed with minimal gear and water. Using advanced techniques like short fixing, they were able to ascend rapidly up the wall.

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Tommy Caldwell and Beth Rodden free climbed the route at 5.13c. The difficulties involve a series of slab pitches low. They make for excellent aiding though and a great adventure. Steve Schneider offers an aid climbing clinic at Berkeley Ironworks for those that want to learn.

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Congratulations to Chris and Mark for another successful ascent of El Cap!

Being Aware of Loose Rock

One of the most dangerous parts of rock climbing is loose rock. Climbing on new terrain, in the mountains, or even being unaware of the rock around can create a serious hazard. At times, loose rock can hurt more than just the party climbing. It is vital to learn from these experiences.

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On May 10th, a pair of climbers down climbed from Mammoth terraces to Heart Ledges on El Capitan. The pair were hoping to make a free ascent of the Golden Gate and wanted to free climb a loose section of rock between the two ledges. The first climber placed gear and the second climber down lead. While the second climber pulled the gear, he surfed a man-sized block off the wall. He took a forty-foot lead fall and badly sprained his ankle. The rock fell on a party of climbers below and broke the legs of an aid climber on the Muir. YOSAR arrived quickly and helped the parties off the wall.

A few important lessons can be learned from this accident.

1. Avoid loose rock. Even on the commonly traveled pitches on El Capitan, there is still a significant amount of loose rock. Just because something has chalk on it, doesn’t mean it’s safe. Avoid loose rock where possible. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Coil ropes so that they don’t knock debris off ledges. Be extra attentive when rappelling to keep from pulling rocks off when the ropes come down.

2. Watch out for climbers around you. Being high off the ground means that you can kill someone below you just by knocking off a small rock. This also means dropping gear. Be very aware of who is around you. Climbing a loose route on a busy Saturday during the height of El Capitan season means that there’s likely to be people below you and on the wall as well. This accident could have been prevented if the free climbing party had waited for the climbers below to clear the area. Wear a helmet if there are climbers above you and consider if you want to climb a route when there are people around. Better to be safe than sorry.

3. Move very carefully on loose rock. If it looks loose- tap gently on the rock. Listen for a hollow sound. Climb very carefully on the rock, especially if it moves. If it’s safe, have your partner pull it off after, when the ropes are clear. Make sure that the area below is clear. The rocks are often bigger than you think they are.

Rock climbing is inherently dangerous. Be conscious of what you are climbing. Even in the gym, holds can spin and falls can be erratic. Know the difference between solid and loose rock. Be aware of loose rock and help prevent accidents.

Past blog entries can be found at  http://touchstoneclimbing.blogspot.com/

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