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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.”
“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.”
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.
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.
Congratulations to Chris and Mark for another successful ascent of El Cap!
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.
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.
We're lucky to be able to surround ourselves with climbers. Turns out that whole "by climbers, for climbers", thing really rings true. Therefore it is not unusual to see a familiar face in the headlines of climbing publications.
This winter, Berkeley Ironworks desk staffer Ben Steel appeared in Rock and Ice.
Last month, Luke Stefurak and Ben Steel completed a long-time project when they made the first free ascent of Scarface (5.12) on the southwest face of Liberty Cap, according to Stefurak’s blog Dream In Vertical. The route was originally climbed in 2010 by Josh Mucci and Steve Bosque and given the aid grading of 5.8 A3 before Stefurak and Steel freed it last month. The free version of Scarface ascends approximately 1,500 feet over twelve pitches before topping out on Liberty Cap. Though most of the route features solid 5.10 and low 5.11 climbing, two 5.12 cruxes at pitches five and eight require thin fingerlocks and laybacking with little to no footholds. On the day of the first ascent, Ben Steel redpointed the first crux, a feat Stefurak had accomplished back in March, while Stefurak finally managed to stick the crux of the eighth pitch. They swapped leads throughout the rest of the lower graded pitches.
To read the whole article, click here.
Since Stefurak and Steel made the first ascent,the route has seen considerable traffic this spring with Boulder Colorado climbers Cedar Wright and Nelly Millfield making the second ascent. A number of parties have climbed into the rock scar as well. Touchstone Blogger, James Lucas headed into the perfect white rock with his partner Jens Holsten this spring. "Scarface features one of the best 5.12 finger cracks in Yosemite," said Lucas. "It's really good." The initial laybacks feature fun, adventurous climbing into the large scar. The route name derives from the prominent feature, an enormous scar which was the result of an 1872 earthquake triggered rock fall. The rockfall has nearly 36,000 cubic meters of rock and destroyed a hotel located at the base of Nevada Falls. It also made an amazing route.
The route is bound to become a classic in Yosemite. Congratulations to Luke and Ben for putting the line together.
In late April five members of the Touchstone’s family ventured to Colombia for a little adventure and a healthy dose of climbing. Justin Alarcon the manager of Dogpatch Boulders, Lauryn Claassen the director of Social Media and Marketing, and Ryan Moon from the Berkeley Ironworks team were joined by Justin’s wife Becky and longtime member and friend Eric Vergne. Justin, Lauryn, and Ryan offer some insights into their travels.
How’d this trip come about?
Ryan: After pretty much committing to a trip to Kentucky's Red River Gorge, I bumped into a BIW member friend of mine (Camilo Lopez) who had just returned from Colombia. He mentioned the price of the plane ticket, how far the US dollar goes, and last, but not least, the adventure.
Lauryn: You know [when] people are talking about a trip, but nobody is pulling the trigger... it's just not meant to be. After Ryan ran into Camilo tickets were booked within the week. I love spanish, collecting passport stamps, and trips that include exploring new cultures along with climbing.
What did you know about Colombia before departing?
Justin: Aside from a little soccer history and a dangerous reputation, not much. Of course I researched the climbing as best I could before we left but there is not a ton of information out there. A few videos and trip reports, but that’s it really.
Ryan: I literally had very few expectations. The general lack of information I had about Colombian climbing had me feeling pretty in-the-dark about the experience as a whole. However, I knew whom I was traveling with (awesome girlfriend + great friends) and that Colombia had become MUCH safer than it's reputation suggests.
How were you surprised on the trip?
Lauryn: I was surprised by how friendly every. single. person. in Colombia was. EVERYONE. People would just ignore you and let you go about you day, until the moment that you stopped to ask for directions or needed help. Then they would go out of their way to help you out. I was also surprised how safe I felt. Walking down the street in the booming metropolis of Bogota or the small town of Sesquile, it didn’t matter. This country is amazing and everyone should go and feel bad about thinking it's a dangerous place.
Ryan: I forgot what 9,000 feet of elevation felt like. I had heard that Colombians were super nice, but they even were nice than that. Unfortunately, unpleasantly surprised at how lack luster the food was. Although it wasn't "terrible", sampling local cuisine on travels abroad is one of my favorite things to do. I can eat chicken and french fries back at home.
Justin: We did have two amazing meals in Bogotá.
How did you like the climbing? What would you recommend to other climbers looking to travel to Colombia?
Justin: We spent all of our climbing time in Suesca. The rock quality was great, but lines weren’t worth writing home about in my opinion. Unfortunately, due to the short duration of our trip and a combination of lost luggage and poor planning we weren’t able to check out some of the many other areas in Colombia that, in my opinion, look far better than Suesca.
Ryan: The climbing was, dare I say "fun". Unless I'm cleaning boulders, it's not very easy to get me on a rope. Although a lot of the climbs were pretty short by sport climbing standards, this made switching gears into endurance mode a wee bit easier. It seemed like most of the climbs were fairly easy moves separated by hard-ish boulder problems and get-everything-back ledge rests. While quality of rock was high, quantity was low. I most likely will not be revisiting Suesca (the climbing area) having done most of what I can do.
Lauryn: If you're going to go on a climbing trip to Colombia, you should bring gear. We only brought sport gear by accident, but we needed cams too.
What were some non-climbing activities you would most recommend?
Lauryn: Museums! Bogota! Lake filled with gold! Practicing Spanish! Watching soccer! Buses!
Justin: Plan to spend at least part of your trip in Cartegena. Take the gondola to the top of the mountain in Bogotá for amazing views of the city and get your picture taken on the back of an alpaca.
Ryan: Check out the Botero museum — best paintings of chubby people ever!
Did anyone eat any bad empanadas?
Justin: Two of us caught a belly demon towards the end of the trip.
Ryan: Bring extra underwear.
Mike Papciak, a well-known Bay Area climber and bodyworker, has been a longtime member of the Touchstone community. Born in Detroit and growing up in Atlanta Georgia, Papciak traveled and climbed across the western United States before arriving in 1992 at Diablo Rock Gym Manager Hans Florine's Bay Area home. Mike has climbed for more than 30 years and has helped climbers with their bodies for the past six. He spoke with the Touchstone blog about climbing and bodywork.
John Vallejo snapped this photo of Mike climbing at Mortar Rock
When did you start climbing?
1983 during the Atlanta years. Westerners might not know it, but Atlanta is in fact a great climbing town. I wish I had more time there.
How did you start climbing?
My high school youth group took a bus trip around the U.S. after freshman year. This included a few days in Yosemite. I saw dudes bouldering in Camp 4 and that was it. We also hiked Half Dome and looked over the edge and that was it, too. I went back home and used the Rockcraft books and the Sierra Club book that was shot at Indian Rock, and taught myself how to climb from those. Mostly bouldering, because there were some funky jungle-covered boulders within biking distance. Usually I climbed alone, no pads, just me and the skeeters. This is probably how I fell in love with The Move. Eventually I found a couple partners and mowed enough lawns to buy some Goldline, a Whillans harness, and some hexes. There were no gyms and we were always keen to climb, so we did weird, nerdy stuff like free-solo skyhooking on the sides of brick buildings, rappelling off the high school at midnight, lots of buildering and traversing on retaining walls. A couple times a month we could take the car and the rain would stop and we'd get out to the excellent crags of North Georgia, Alabama, Chattanooga, etc. My first love has always been bouldering: simple, powerful, social, solitary. I'll never quit.
What are some of the highlights from your climbing career?
France in 1993. I spent a month there, mostly at Ceuse, which is one of the best and most gorgeous crags in the world, at a time before internet media, when little was knowable in advance about these almost-mythical places. Most of the homies who went to France back then did so with a crew of other Americans. They'd rent a house and a car together, climb with the same partners they climbed with at home, and have lots of bickering and drama. Fine and good, but I wanted the cultural sink-or-swim experience, so I went alone, took a train down south from Paris, hitchhiked to the crags (I got an epic ride thru the Hautes-Alpes in a convertible Maserati), and climbed with random Euros. I did some 7c onsights and a few 5.13s in a couple tries each. Brilliant routes on immaculate rock in an exotic setting. Hueco in the late 80s/early 90s was another highlight: open, empty, and quiet. A secret that hadn't been spoiled yet. You would actually be psyched to run into other climbers in the park, because it was so rare, and because it was so cool to run into other climbers who came all the way to west Texas to go bouldering. Like meeting members of the lost tribe. My indoor highlight was winning a couple comps in the mid-90s, which showed me that people who were too cool to talk to you beforehand would come up to you after you won, and kiss your ass -- lame! Locally, my highlight is the second ascent of The Kraken at Mortar in March 1997. Over thirty years of climbing, my first ascent record has been undistinguished: a couple forgettable routes in Arizona and a few eliminates on the local choss around the Bay Area, the best of which is probably Hoop Dreams -- all five feet of it. I'm noticing that all my highlights are from last century! Hilarious and pathetic. Time to go climbing.
Mike doing body work in Berkeley
What do you do for work?
I'm a bodyworker. The paperwork says "massage therapist," and that term is correct if you want to use it, but there's some baggage around the word "massage" that I don't like, and it also suggests an approach and style of working that's different from what I do. The term bodywork has been in use for a few decades and I like its literalness: I work on bodies. I work with all of your contractile and connective tissue -- muscles, fascia, tendons, ligaments -- to unravel the stored tension, adhesion, and neuromuscular dysfunction that we naturally accumulate with the stress and exertion of modern life. I help with pain or discomfort if you're injured chronically or acutely; I help optimize performance if you're a performing artist or athlete; and I help give you more ease and relaxation in your body. Working closely with different kinds of people and their experience of embodiment is truly special. I love it. My practice is diverse: in a given week, I might see a pro climber, a retiree training for the AIDS ride, a computer professional with hand and wrist problems, a choral singer who needs more ribcage mobility, a yoga teacher, an exhausted parent or two, and a couple folks who are refugees from mediocre massage and want some expert, precise, thorough bodywork, and deep relaxation. I also teach individuals and corporate groups how to self-treat their own aches and pains. I call this muscle hygiene: just like brushing your teeth, you can, in a few minutes' time maybe twice a day, live with less pain, more comfort, and better performance. Take care of your musculature and you will reap astounding benefits.
How does bodywork apply to climbing?
One of my basic messages is: your body's probably not as injured as you think it is. But it needs maintenance. Maintenance takes time, effort, and money. Many climbers and other athletes come to see me after months of despair over what they assume is some kind of slow-healing tendonitis or joint-related problem. Often it turns out that the tendon healed long ago, and the joint is undamaged. Their lingering pain, weakness, and restriction comes from adhesion, dysfunction, and compensation in the surrounding neighborhood of contractile tissue. When those areas are restored to full functionality, the supposed tendon problem dissipates. Another basic message is: even the good stuff makes us tight. This includes our exercise -- climbing, running, even yoga. It's not that these things are bad, or as climbers like to say, "hard on the body" -- our bodies evolved beautifully to do things like run and climb. Instead, where many of us blow it is in the aftercare. We don't do that maintenance. We might do a hasty warmup, throw a few stretches at our hamstrings now and then, and do some pushups, and think we're being all sophisticated and preventing injury. Those pushups won't do anything to release tension from overloaded and imbalanced shoulders. And stretching can actually make us tighter. (This is not to be confused with yoga, which is so much more than stretching. Yoga is one of the best technologies I have encountered for staying healthy in your body, and it is a shoulder re-education like no other. I predict that in the future, yoga will be considered essential cross-training and injury prevention for climbers.) What's missing from many climbers' programs is release work. This is my generic term for therapies that release tension and adhesion in the musculature: bodywork, massage therapy, chiropractic, self-treatment with foam rollers and other tools, etc. I'll leave you with this thought: A tight muscle is a weak muscle. It takes much more effort to use a muscle that's stiff and dysfunctional than to use a muscle that's pliable and responsive. Tight muscles are also slower, less coordinated, and more prone to tearing, spasm, and injury. An athlete who's not getting regular release work from a practitioner and/or doing it on their own is hobbling their performance. Loosen up!
Has climbing helped with your bodywork, and has your bodywork helped with your climbing at all?
Yes in both directions. They're great cross-training for each other. Climbing keeps me strong for working on bodies. Working on bodies five days a week is a kind of manual labor, so after some years of decline, I'm getting stronger again. Now I just gotta take a climbing trip!
Find out more on mikepapciak.com, and Like Mike Papciak Bodywork Facebook to ask questions and receive occasional content about bodywork and your health.