Here in Touchstone Land, we pride ourselves in creating a healthy and supportive environment for fitness enthusiasts, CrossFitters, and yogis. But let's be real. We love climbing, and we'd be nothing without our routesetters. We are grateful to have the largest full time route setting crew in the nation. But with 9 (soon to be 10) facilities in California stretching from Los Angeles to Sacramento we have a growing need for quality, experienced route setters.
"Route setting at Touchstone is something we take pride in," said Head Routesetter Jeremy Ho. "We are looking for experienced route setters with a solid grasp on quality of movement and hold selection wanting to provide the best possible commercial setting for our massive member base. With a focus is always on safe, comfortable, consistent, fun and fair route setting, our goal is to have our members walk away happy and wanting more with each session they put in on our walls."
A typical day on the job involves working with a crew numbering from 5-10 at one gym per day. All applicants must be comfortable working with numerous setters buzzing about. (It's one of those 'embracing the chaos' things that we're sure as a climber you already know and love.) Our Bay Area crew is required to travel to all 6 Bay Area locations with occasional trips to our satellite gyms in Sacramento, Fresno and LA. And of course, compensation for travel is provided after a probation period.
The Nitty Gritty:
Requirements: We are looking for strong climbers to fill this position. All applicants must be able to redpoint 5.12 and V7. Any USAC certifications are a plus but not a guarantee of employment.
Compensation: Hourly wage based on experience. Relocation incentive available for qualified applicants. Plus perks!
If you're ready to join the largest crew in thr country, please email jho at touchstoneclimbing dot com to apply. We just keep getting bigger, so we'll always need quality guys and gals on the team.
Reader Q and A
In a blog post last week entitled 'Learning to Sport Climb,' we included the following statement when giving tips on climbing routes. "..Feeling relaxed on a sport route is essential. Breathe well. Move efficiently. Despite 13 years of climbing, I still get terrified climbing. To overcome my fear on a difficult route, I test falls. “Every time I fall, I get less scared,” said Mary-kate. Being comfortable with the falls will help you move fluidly and well."
After the post, a reader reached out with the following question:
I wanted to ask this in message concerning your recent blog post. One of the things mentioned was 'test' falling. Everything I have read on climbing contradicts this idea. "If you fall, you fail" is what I have always heard. The equipment is a safety net, not an aid, and resting on your harness/anchor puts undue strain on it. Plus, you never know how good the bolt is unless you placed it yourself. Am I reading your blog post wrong, or am I mis-informed? Thank you for providing the gyms as a great place to learn.
We wanted to really tackle this interesting question that mixes safety, ethics, and climbing culture. Justin Alarcon, manager of Dogpatch Boulders and avid climber jumped at the chance to respond.
I'll offer you two answers, a short one and a long one. The short answer is that in the past falling was not okay because it meant you were likely to get hurt. Even to this day a climb is not considered a free climb unless it is done without the use of aid (including hanging on the rope) except at belay stances. In modern sport climbing and top rope climbing falling is a regular part of the activity, though one should not claim a free ascent of a route if they had to hang on the rope before making it to the top.
Long answer, and forgive me if I ramble here because there is actually a lot to say on this subject.
In early climbing history climbers had very little to protect themselves with. They climbed using static goldline rope tied around their waists and very little protection in the rock (if any) to protect a fall. If they somehow managed to escape a fall unscathed but were left hanging on the rope it would quickly start to crush their rib cage and make it difficult to breath. It wasn't a pleasant experience. This is why the 'do not fall' mentality is so ingrained in climbing culture even to this day.
As climbing technology improved, dynamic ropes were invented, nuts supplemented bolts and pitons, swami belts and eventually harnesses replaced a rope tied around one's waist, falling became less hazardous. Climbing standards went up as a result. No longer was 5.9 the limit. Still, the old mentality persisted. Yo-yo-ing a route was a technique that was born out of these developments. 'Yo-yo-ingA climber could try a difficult route, one that they might expect to fall on, but the ethics of the day dictated that they would then be lowered to the ground where they could begin again without having to pull the rope or all the gear they left on the climb.
The next development in climbing tactics was the 'hangdog' technique whereby a climber would fall, hang on the rope and try again to sort out the moves. Once the moves were learned they would lower, pull the rope and gear, finally starting again from the bottom with the intention of climbing it from bottom to top without falling.
In the early 1970s Kurt Albert of Germany started a free climbing revolution by developing a technique now known as 'redpointing' or 'Rotpunkt' in German. Kurt realized that by using hangdog techniques over a long period of time he could master very difficult climbs that he would never be able to climb first try, without any prior knowledge of the route (a style we now call 'onsight').
So, fast forward another 40 years and here we are today. There are a lot of people that really hold dear the old-school belief that onsight climbing is the purest style of climbing. These die-hards are the ones most likely to propagate the adage 'falling is failing' and they're not wrong in so far as the pursuit of their goals. Other climbers are more interested in testing their limits by climbing the most difficult series of moves they can possibly climb. Almost by definition, these climbers must rehearse the climbs they're trying, which means falling and hanging on the route. Neither camp is right nor wrong, they're just different.
As far as safety is concerned there are several things to consider. If you are sport climbing, bolts should be free of corrosion, nuts should be tight and bolt hangers should be the same type of metal as the bolt. Unfortunately, its impossible to know how well the bolt was placed, but with modern drills it is pretty easy and you can reasonably assume that a popular route with no signs of corrosion probably has decent bolts. For traditional climbs, even those with a few bolts, there are other considerations. The bolts on these routes (especially old routes) are often crappy and could snap or pull if they are in poor condition. If you are using cams or nuts you have to consider the quality of the rock and the quality of the placement. Even a well placed cam in fragile rock may fail. Conversely, a skinny nut on a thin wire placed in a perfect crack with solid rock can be as strong as a well placed bolt.
Regardless of what kind of climbing you're doing, you'll always want to be aware of the condition of your rope. A high quality rope can last a very long time and hold a ton of falls without any noticeable dip in performance. That said, even a brand new rope can be cut in half by a sharp edge on the very first fall if one isn't careful.
If you are climbing in the gym don't worry too much about the ethics of it all. Just have a good time and do what feels right.
I hope this helps, and wish you good luck in your climbing adventures.
Moonlight Buttress in Zion is one of the world's best crack climbs. With four hundred feet of fun sandstone followed by six hundred feet of amazing crack climbing, the exposure, consistency, and aesthetics make the route nothing short of amazing. Free climbing such a difficult route seems daunting but it is fully possible. While Zion may be a bit far for your next weekend trip, these tips can help you on your next long, difficult Yosemite route.
Most professional climbers who want to send a difficult traditionally protected climb at their limit start by getting the rope to the top. Sometimes that means aiding or French-freeing, pulling on gear. Other times, climbers rappell into the crux.Do what ever is the most efficient. Conserve your energy for the climbing instead of the toiling. The hardest part of climbing big routes is the hiking and carrying gear. Once you have the rope up there, begin interrogating the route.
Toprope, toprope, toprope. Start by finding the crux of the route. Figure out the difficult moves. Next, decipher the climbing into and out of the crux. Are there other spots where you might have a section of unprotected climbing or where there are hard moves? Finally, find where you can place gear on the pitch. Take the time to find stances, good locks, or stems where you can jam in some gear. Having the moves figured out can help significantly with being confident when you're leading. It becomes easier to punch through difficult sections high above gear if you are confident on the climbing. Some people rope solo routes to decipher the moves. On steeper traditional routes, it is easier to lead climb them. This is true if finding partners will be difficult as well. In that case, make sure you're going to send the route quickly.
Set yourself up for success. When you're leading a pitch only carry what you absolutely need. Going light helps you climb faster, easier and keeps you out of bad weather. You should be keeping tabs on the weather report anyway. Climb in the shade or when conditions are best. Conserve your energy as best as possible. Often, tagging a thin line and hauling a small bag with extra water and gear can save time and eneregy. Use a Guide ATC or Petzl Reverso to hand haul the bag. Sometimes, it is easier to lead in blocks, where the leader leads a few pitches in a row. Swinging leads can be taxing because the follower climbs then leads. However you decide to climb, do so in the style that gives you the most satisfaction. Make sure you're efficient at belays and can make quick change overs. A huge amount of energy can be spent hanging at belays.
Train before the route. Chances are that climbing a big route with a difficult pitch will make you weaker. The best way to fight this is to be extremely strong before heading out to the crag. Boulder and sport climb in the winter before your spring trad climbing. It's hard to gain strength on the wall. Make sure you're fit before hand.
Most importantly, be willing to try. Climb as hard as you can and if that doesn't work, try again.
By guest blogger Georgie Abel
"You're pretty strong for a girl," he says to me. I clench my jaw. I'm sitting around a campfire in the Buttermilks with three of my closest male friends. The apparent attempt at a compliment comes from a guy we met earlier that day. The space between my shoulder blades aches from multiple burns on my project and I'm mentally exhausted. I tilt my beer back, trying to muster the energy to come back with some witty response, even though I just want to pretend I'm one of those girls who isn't bothered by a comment like that. My eye catches a glance from one of my friends. His brow furrows and his mouth looks tight, he does not approve of what the dude said. I know in that moment that I shouldn't either.
"That's a really weird thing to say," I say to the guy. "That compliment was spiked with something that feels pretty demeaning." My friend's face softens and he nods, the other guy doesn't know what to say. He doesn't climb with us the next day.
Being a climber and a writer naturally makes me a curious person. Being a woman in a sport that is ruled (for the most part) by men makes for a lot of gender-related experiences, all of which I find to be really interesting. I knew that other female climbers were interested in this too, and that they had stories of their own about being a woman in the bro-ed out world of rock climbing. I wanted to hear their stories. So, I asked.
I asked almost 100 female climbers of varying ages and ability levels to tell me a story about a notable experience they had while climbing with a male. Most of the women are from the San Francisco Bay Area, some are from elsewhere in the United States, and a few are overseas. I have kept their names anonymous, mostly for the sake of the men who their stories are about.
I have arranged this article in the same manner that the responses were received. Initially I was told about moments when women felt degraded, looked down upon, or judged. Then, slowly, the positive stories started coming in--stories of empowerment, inspiration, and recognition. You'll find those accounts toward the end of the article. No matter the age, strength, or experience level of the woman, the themes of their negative experiences could easily be grouped under a few main categories. I decided to share only a fraction of the stories I received, selecting the ones I did because they echoed what many other women had expressed, or because they were particularly hilarious.
These are the true stories of female climbers--from five-year old girls who only climb the routes in the gym that have purple tape, to professional female climbers who have established routes on multiple continents, competed for national titles, and ticked countless 5.14s. And of course, all of us in between.
Here is what we've experienced while climbing with the boys.
- There was no conversation about who would lead what pitch, he just assumed I didn't want to lead at all.
- He told me not to worry because there were some smaller, easier boulders down the hill, unaware that I was completely comfortable with highballs and trying hard boulder problems.
- He set up a top rope on a climb I had led as a warm up several times in the past and told me it would be a little heady for me.
- He kept on shouting beta to me on a climb that was like five V-grades below what I usually climb.
- This guy was spotting me on Acid Wash, a really low climb in the Happy boulders. I really didn't want a spot because it's so low and I had enough pads, and he wasn't spotting any of his guy friends.
- One time a boy said I probably couldn't do the one he did because I don't play any sports.
- All of my friends had to leave Smith, so I met up with this guy who was a mutual friend. I had never climbed with him before. We got to the wall and he started teaching me how to tie a figure eight knot. This was the day after I sent my first 5.13.
Discouraging women from trying hard, heady, or powerful climbs:
- He told me I should stick to vertical climbing because girls aren't built to climb anything steep.
- We were climbing at the Red and he said I shouldn't try anything in the Motherlode because women don't usually like those kinds of routes.
- My boyfriend was belaying me on Pope's Crack in Joshua Tree and some random guy walked past him and said, "Bro, I hope you know this isn't one of those easy climbs. She probably shouldn't be on that."
- The same dude at Dogpatch tells me not to even attempt a problem because it's too hard for me because I'm short.
- I like climbing with girls because they say, "Good job! You're almost there!" And they cheer me on. Boys don't usually say that stuff.
- A guy told me I probably shouldn't try any highballs because women are all afraid of heights, and the only reason why they climb heady stuff is because they want to be seen as a badass.
- My climbing partner never encourages me to try anything harder than what he can climb.
- One time this guy I barely knew told me that if I was going to try this certain route that I should be very careful because it's sandbagged, has tricky pro, long runouts, and insecure feet. I did the route and yeah, it was hard, but none of what he said was true.
- He discouraged me from climbing a certain boulder problem because he said if I sent it, it would probably get downgraded.
Being Bro-ey, Cocky, or Douchy
- When I said that I wanted to onsight a route he started racking the quick draws on to his harness and said that putting up the draws was the only was he could control the situation of me leading.
- One time at a birthday party there was a boy who climbed all the routes I couldn't get to the top of and then he told me about it a lot.
- He told me that I need to wear Lululemons to do a high step.
- I was warming up in the gym and this guy started tickling me while I was climbing.
- I don't think I'll want to climb with boys when I get older because I usually don't like people who show their nipples in public.
- About five other girls and I were trying Go Granny Go in the Buttermilks and this guy came and did it in his approach shoes and then did pull ups on the finish jug.
- When we were climbing in Joshua Tree he asked me and my friend if our boyfriends had given us enough pro for the climb we were about to do.
- I climbed with a boy once and he got mad because he couldn't get to the top.
- I was climbing a boulder problem in the local climbing gym and about four guys were watching me climb, but none of them pulled the mats underneath me. I fell and landed on the floor, which is cement.
- There is this one guy at the gym who follows me around and only climbs the boulder problems I try, even though he is much stronger than me.
- One time one of the boys in my climbing camp was belaying me and I looked back at him and he wasn't looking at me so I got really scared. I think he was looking at his friend doing a handstand.
Attributing our strength to something other than...our strength:
- I overheard a guy say that the only reason why this girl sent Tales of Power in Yosemite is because she has tiny hands.
- He told me that I was better at slab climbing than him because having my center of gravity lower on my body gives me an advantage.
- After I sent my project, he said that it was probably easier for me than him because I weigh less.
- Whenever I send something that climbers typically think of as "girly" (slabby, balancy, delicate, or crimpy) he always mentions that I did it because I'm a girl.
- If I can climb a crimpy boulder problem he can't, he says it's because I have small hands.
- One time when I was climbing with a male, I suggested that we avoid a certain pitch because I had a bad feeling about it. It looked like it could be chossy and maybe even wet. We ended up doing a variation that led us to the left of the line we were originally planning to do, and as we climbed we could see that it was in fact chossy and damp. He asked, "Who told you to avoid that pitch?" totally assuming that I couldn't have predicted the bad conditions all on my own.
So there you have it. To be honest, when the stories started rolling in, I cringed a little (after laughing out loud in a coffee shop and nodding my head in agreement). I so badly didn't want to write some man-hating article that bashed on dudes and didn't address the fact that men can be valuable climbing partners. But, that's not what I was hearing from the girls. I thought to myself: where are the stories of that time you sent your highball project because you had some burly dude spotting you? What about when that guy said, "You're gonna crush this," even after he flailed? What about when he asked you if you thought you guys should rappel down or walk off the back, because you're always good at judging that kind of stuff? What about that time it wasn't about gender at all, what about when it was just rock climbing?
Slowly, I started hearing about these experiences. I didn't have to ask for them. It usually happened like this: a woman would tell me about a time a guy did something totally degrading, and then a few minutes or days later, she would come back and say something such as, But I have a lot of male climbing partners who don't act like this. Many of them treat me no differently than their guy friends and recognize that I bring something unique and valuable to the table, that they can learn things from me that they can't learn from male climbers.
Yes, how true that is: women experience this sport in a way that is so different from men, and we all have a lot to learn from each other. All of the negative stories were that of men assuming we had nothing to teach them. That's the common thread.
I received one story about a positive experience while climbing with a male that captures the spirit and character of all the other stories as well. Here is it:
I'm all racked up. My shoes are on, uncomfortable as always. They feel tighter than normal. The brisk Squamish air bites at the back of my neck. I tuck the remaining stray peices of hair behind my helmet. I take a deep breath and look up at my climb. I think of turning to my partner and telling him to go ahead. Tie in to the sharp end, I want to say. Lead this pitch. Lead all of the pitches. It's not that hard. You're much better than me anyways. My pride or my stubbornness stops me. My male counterpart is a much stronger climber than me and he's much more experienced - perhaps not in trad climbing, but he's certainly been exposed (and exceled) at this sport much longer than I have. Squamish used to be his stomping grounds anyways and for more than one reason I feel like I haven't earned my spot here. I feel pre-emptively embarassed and also that I have something to prove. You've got this, he tells me. Against almost exactly 50% of my will, I slip my hand into the crack. I make a fist and feel the granite against my knuckles. Right, I think. This is about climbing. Four pitches later and we're at the top, looking over a beautiful deep blue sky filled with clouds and mountains. I stopped being concerned with if the climb was hard enough or if my technique was good enough a long time ago, somewhere on Pitch 1. I looked at my partner and his male-ness did not concern me, impress me, depress me, or intimidate me. In fact it did not enter into my mind at all. It was just beauty and human-ness that filled my soul now. Weeks later we are sitting in his father's kitchen, recounting details of our Canadian explorations. He says, completey seamlessly, that I'm actually the better climber in a lot of ways. I think he's insane but that is besides the point. He tells of how he respects the way I push my limits, how I deal with my fear. He is being genuine. Honest. His ego isn't in the room and though he could walk up boulder problems I could only dream of one day touching, he isn't concerned with that. He's not trying to prove anything. I didn't need his validation; certainly not in the way that I as a female would want validation from a male. It's not about who the better climber is and in what ways. It never really is about that, for me at least. I didn't need his encouragement as a male, only as a climbing partner. And yet. I have to admit that I've had enough experiences as a female climber that make me weary; weary of being judged, weary of being undervalued, weary of being categorized by something other than my experience or my ability. I'm not afraid because I'm a girl. I'm afraid because I'm 30 feet up on a highball and this crimp is fucking tiny. I'm not sending my projects - not because I'm a girl, but because I haven't been training. You can go ahead and include me in the list of people who would like to lead this pitch. I'm a girl and I'm also capable of placing gear. Sometimes those dynamics are real and sometimes they are imagined. But what a nice experience to have had, a really lovely break from the chain of stereotypical bro-yness that can wear us ladies down sometimes. I'm sure we have our own stereotypes to break too. I've tried my best to let go of taking too seriously the gendered aspect of climbing now. There are those experiences that will re-affirm the great things about climbing with guys and there are the experiences that will inspire us to prove them wrong. It's kind of a win-win if you ask me.
A sincere thank you goes to all of the women who contributed their stories. You are the authors of this article. I'll leave you with more of their words; this is very important and overdue: To the males respecting and encouraging the females out there, a big thank you. We know you need the respect and encouragement too and we've got your back.
Mary-Kate fought through a series of pockets. At the last bolt, she grabbed a sidepull, pressed her foot onto nothing and made a delicate mantle to the anchors. Ecstatic, she clipped the anchors of Pocket Line, a 5.11 at The Wailing Wall, sending her hardest sport route to date.
Mary-Kate, a long time boulderer, has enjoyed the new transition into sport climbing. “It’s humbling and super fun,” said Mary-kate. One of the best parts about trying a new aspect of climbing is the quick acceleration. The learning curve moves quickly. No matter what your experience level, learning to sport climb can be a challenge. Below are a few tips on beginning to sport climb.
Warm Up Well
Some crags have plenty of warm-up routes and picking a suitable route is easy. At crags like Jailhouse, the warm-up can be a project. Make sure to warm-up properly. Hang if you get pumped to avoid the dreaded flash-pump, where your forearms fill with lactic acid and recovering becomes impossible. Climbing the bottom of a route several times can be a good way to loosen your muscles. Traverse the base, do a short run, swing your arms, or be like Ethan Pringle and bring a jump rope to the crag.
ABS- Always Be Sending
Sport climbing can send people deep into project mode. You try a route once then suddenly you’re spending days interrogating the route for better beta. You focus only on sending that one route and each day at the crag becomes a routine. Escape the bad habit of total route fixation. Make sure to mix it up a little bit and climb easier routes that you can complete quickly. This will teach you how to fight to redpoint and give you confidence on your project. “Climb at a place where you can succeed,” said Mary-kate. This will keep your confidence high, a crucial ingredient to climbing hard. It will also increase your technique for climbing other routes as well.
Feeling relaxed on a sport route is essential. Breathe well. Move efficiently. Despite 13 years of climbing, I still get terrified climbing. To overcome my fear on a difficult route, I test falls. “Every time I fall, I get less scared,” said Mary-kate. Being comfortable with the falls will help you move fluidly and well. Make sure you know where you’re clipping from. It’s easiest to clip when the draw is at your chest or waist. Depending on where the good holds are, you may need to clip from lower or higher. Be aware of which way the carabiner gate faces and clip quickly.
There’s a ton of strategy involved in sport climbing. To redpoint the most difficult routes involves being extremely efficient. Learn the basics of dogging up a route, how to rest well on holds, and how to memorize long sequences of beta. If you fall onsighting a route, make sure to figure out all the beta so that you can climb it better your second try. Also climb where and when conditions are good. Sometimes that means waking up early. More than anything, the best sport climbers are tenacious. Get after it!
In case you missed the announcement amidst all the weekend fun, we're happy to share our hopes to bring a world class indoor climbing gym to Pasadena, California in 2015.
LA Boulders officially opened to the public in January, 2013. "We always knew this wouldn't be our only Southern California location," said Touchstone General manager Markham Connolly. "Having several gyms in LA, just like we have in the Bay Area, allows people to use more than one gym with one membership. Members love that they can rope climb in Berkeley, take yoga in Oakland, and boulder in San Francisco. It's exciting to be thinking about brining that to LA."
"I'm psyched," said Remi Moehring, who moved to Los Angeles from San Francisco to manage LA Boulders. "Seeing people walk into the LA.B and be blow away by the walls and the community is just the beginning. Just wait till the LA climbing community has a Touchstone rope gym too!"
While the project is still in the preliminary stages, the gym will include rope climbing, bouldering, and more. "The reception we've received from the LA climbing community has been amazing," said Touchstone Climbing owner Mark Melvin. "We're very excited to take what's worked from our existing locations and create something truly spectacular in Pasadena."
Stay tuned for more information!
Resting can be one of the most difficult parts of rock climbing. When on a trip, there’s always a need to take a day or two off to let your muscles rest and recover. For obsessive climbers, finding ways to keep yourself busy during rest days can be brutal. Below are a few tips.
Hayden Kennedy reads during a rest day in the desert
Clean Up Your Act
Many climbing areas, like Squamish, Moab, and Mesquite, have recreation areas where you can purchase a shower, sit in a sauna, or swim in a pool. Besides rec area, showers are often available at local gyms or hostels. There’s hot springs around Bishop and Mickey’s Beach as well as vapor caves outside of Rifle. Find the local swimming holes if you want to save a few dollars but still smell rustic. Bathing helps heal the inevitable small abrasions that occur while at the crag or in the boulders. If you’ve been climbing long enough to take a rest day, then you probably have some dirty clothes. Finding a Laundromat with Wi-Fi, laundry detergent, and all of the dirty socks in your car can take upwards of eight hours. Beyond the laundry, clean out your car, organize your tent and camping area. Sort out your rack, collect your draws, and cut the ends of your rope if needed. Buy groceries, chalk, and climbing tape.
When you woke up, you probably made a slow breakfast, then hit the coffee shop or library. The rest day Internet sessions can last anywhere from two to fifteen hours. Be prepared to find the ends of the information superhighway. Update your Facebook status with a list of things you’ve climbed. Upload pictures. Find out who’s heading to the crag in the next few days. Ask your friends if they’ve climbed the routes you’ve been trying or if anyone has beta on a potential climb. Facebook can be an excellent resource for gathering beta and arranging partners. Make sure to contact your mom and tell her you love her. You never know when you might sprain your ankle, break a bone, and have to move back home. Plus, moms love to send care packages. Five-day-old brownies sent to general delivery in Leavenworth Washington still taste good.
Brittany Griffith does some stretching and band work out to rehabilitate her shoulder during a rest day in Indian Creek
Plan for the next climb
Take advantage of your day off by researching what you’ll do on your next climbing day. Devouring the guidebook for beta, finding the routes or problems you want to climb, and putting a rack together for tomorrow helps you climb more efficiently the next day. Finding partners for the next day and then prepping for the climbing can take a significant amount of time especially for longer routes. Make a tick list of the routes you want to climb while you are on your trip and schedule the days that you want to climb them. Account a few days for rain and bad weather. Prepare to make yourself as efficient as possible for the next day of climbing.
Alex Honnold takes an active rest day by hiking up the top of the Sentinel in Yosemite
Take An Active Rest Day
Heading out for a hike or a run can be a great way to recover. While some climbers abhor any exercise that isn’t directly related to climbing, getting a bit of physical activity can provide an opportunity to find new boulder problems, figure out approaches to long routes and provide a bit of fitness. Use the run or hike as an opportunity to stretch sore muscles. Heading to the boulders to brush holds, or to the crag to look at routes, can provide an excellent diversion for a few hours. Scoping out the descent route can also keep you from having an enormous epic.
Check Facebook Again
Something must have changed in the past five minutes to warrant you checking. Your fifth grade elementary school teacher probably updated their status. If Facebook offers little entertainment, read through past Touchstone blog posts, check Climbing.com for the latest news, or fixate on your 8a.nu card. All of these websites offer great training posts on how to improve your climbing. Purchase new climbing shoes from one of the dozen of online climbing sites. While you’re on the Internet, look for a job. If you’re on the road long enough to take a rest day and not have to work, then you need a job.
Document Your Travels
One of the best parts of taking rest days is the amount of free time you have. Many climbers take the day to invest in their hobbies. Drawing, reading about, and taking photos of the area can be rest day activities. One of the best parts of climbing is the different areas of the world it takes to. Hueco offers petroglyph tours. Arches National Park sits just outside of Indian Creek. Dinosaur museums litter the towns around Ten Sleep Wyoming. Yosemite National park offers a ton of museums about glaciers and Native American history. Every climbing area has a unique culture and documenting it offers a great rest day activity.
Nothing beats a good rest day. Have fun, prepare for your next day of climbing, and relax. One of the best parts of being on a climbing trip is being able to sit back and enjoy it.
While traveling around North America climbing for the past thirteen years, I’ve hit a few speed bumps. Injuries, epics, and car troubles have hindered my climbing but the biggest hurdle I’ve faced is finding climbing partners. From bouldering in Hueco to climbing big wall routes in Yosemite, the need for climbing partners changes and who I’m willing to climb with varies greatly. Last minute partner bails or vacation time but no one to climb with should never stop you from going to the crag. Line up lots of people to climb with through a few of these tips.
A good spot will guarantee you have a partner
Get Involved in the Community
Meeting solid climbing partners involves putting yourself out there. Internet forums, bulletin boards at climbing areas, and message boards provide a way to troll for partners but finding a solid long term partner involves a little more personal effort. Beyond calling for a new partner over the climbing gym speakers, the Touchstone climbing competitions, Access Fund cleanups, slideshows, and events like the Yosemite Facelift offer perfect venues to meet and greet other climbers. The climbing gyms offer partner meet-ups as well. Meet other climbers and become a fixture in the climbing scene. While a boulderer may not want to climb El Capitan with you, they may know someone who will. Attending climbing events will facilitate introductions to new partners. Often, friends of other climbing partners make for good climbing companions.
Provide a Perfect Catch
A good climbing partner offers a solid belay or spot. Nothing beats a partner looking out for your safety. While climbing a sport route at Utah’s Wailing Wall, I broke a hold on a run out section of climbing. The rope went behind my leg and I rocketed towards the slab below. Joe Kinder caught my unexpected and brutal fall perfectly, preventing me from slamming my head into the rock. There’s little doubt that I’ll climb with Joe again. Having excellent belaying skill or providing an attentive spot go a long way with developing solid partnerships. Beyond being a solid belayer, know how to manage the rope, how to clean pro, and how to arrange pads well will guarantee you a partner. Work on your spotting, belaying, and trad climbing skills and any potential partner will be psyched.
Long term friendships can develop out of providing a good catch
When climbing with a new partner, be honest with your abilities. Hiking all the way out to the base of a long trad route and then learning your partner has never crack climbed can turn a casual climb into a total epic. Honesty helps us find better matches and keeps us safe. Let your partner know you’re experience. Just because you love to toprope and hate climbing anything higher than three feet, doesn’t make you a bad partner. That can be many climbers’ dream partner. Also, never overestimate another climber’s abilities. A 5.14 sport rock jock may be able to crush at Jailhouse but unable to climb Yosemite’s Serenity Crack. Begin by climbing conservatively and testing the water. Learn what your partner is comfortable with leading, following, spotting, or bouldering. Establish a solid reporte with any new partner.
Show up on time. Never flake. Be pleasant to be around. While these ideas seem basic, a surprising number of socially inept climbers forget these basic human concepts. Being a nice reliable person goes a long ways. Buying a huge trad rack, having a nice crash pad, or always driving to the crag are certainly nice but these things can be bought. Having a great personality and being agreeable can’t be. Being the ideal partner will insure that anyone who climbs with you will want to climb with you again.
There’s times when everyone seems busy and unable to get to the crag. Head out anyway. A short trip to the boulders may yield a life long friendship. At the very least, climbing is always fun and going out will show potential partners your level of commitment.
By: Georgie Abel
It's summertime in Berkeley. I sit in the hot living room of my friend's apartment, the overhead fan creates a weak breeze. We are watching Reel Rock 7, I'm missing Bishop like crazy and getting inspired and terrified by Alex Honnold's first ascent of Too Big To Flail: a micro-crimpy, foot-work intensive highball in the Buttermilks. I start to wonder if "highball" is an appropriate term when talking about a climb that's 50 feet tall.
Well, that's never gonna be repeated. Joe tilts his beer back, finishing off the last sip.
Someone will do it, I say.
Oh yeah? Who?
Someone. I don't know who. Maybe we don't know their name yet, I reply.
A year and a half later I find myself shlepping crash pads and encouragement up to the Luminance boulder so that professional climber, Ethan Pringle, and some 19 year old Cal student named Steven Roth can try to bag the third and forth ascents of Too Big To Flail.
The afternoon before, the pair threw a rope down the thin line of the boulder's North face and took turns sussing out the moves. They shouted words of positivity to each other from the ground as they broke the climb into different sections. Their beta was vastly different for some moves and identical for others, but neither Ethan or Steven looked like they were having to try all that hard to pull the sequences. It was obvious to everyone that for them, sending Too Big would mostly be a matter of just going for it.
Neither of them are a stranger to highballs--Ethan has ticked countless airy Buttermilk classics including Evilution (Original Exit), This Side of Paraside, and The Beautiful and Damned. As for Steven, on the weekends when he doesn't have to teach Intro to Climbing Clinics at Berkeley Ironworks, he quietly climbs some of Bishop's proudest lines like Ambrosia, Rise, and Footprints.
Ethan on This Side of Paradise. Photo credit: Damn Corso
Steven on Ambrosia.
I reach into the bottom of my pack, fishing for my headlamp. The sun dropped behind Mount Tom an hour ago. Ethan lowers Steven to the ground after his last burn, he unties as he looks up at the green and yellow lichen-streaked face.
Cool, Steven says. I'm gonna do this thing tomorrow.
Nice dude, Ethan says. I can tell Ethan isn't sure at this point if he'll go for it without a rope, otherwise he would have said so.
After dinner we drive to the Thunderbird hotel. I'm wondering how it doesn't smell like feet or a barn or a dumpster considering there's four boys in here. We huddle around a laptop and watch the teaser footage from Alex Honnold's latest solo of El Sendero Luminoso in Mexico.
Holy s---, Ethan says.
Holy f---- s---, I say.
This is awesome. But he's fine, he's on a slab, Steven says. I shake my head and laugh a little.
I envision the eve of a big, committing send to go something like this: eat a salad, do yoga, mentally rehearse the moves on the climb. Ethan is pretty much doing that, minus the salad, but it's clear that the route is on his mind. He's still undecided about whether he'll go for it ropeless, wondering if he's ready, if it's worth it, if going for it means he's being reckless or impatient.
I'll have to see how it goes tomorrow. I want to do it clean on a rope a couple times before I decide, Ethan says.
But for Steven, this night is different. He's putting off doing his thermodynamics homework by showing us videos of cats with very short legs. You guys have to see this, Steven says. They're called dwarf kittens! They're soooo cute. Oh wait! Type in "munchin scurry!" It's just a whole page of dwarf kitten GIFs! Anthony and I exchange a look and laugh immediately. No seriously! You guys are gonna love this. I want one as a pet so bad!
Wes puts his palm to his forehead.
Come onnnnnn, Steven says, drumming his fingers as the page fights to load with the weak internet connection.
There are no thoughts of the climb, no reconsidering his decision to go for it tomorrow, no wondering if he'll pitch from the top, no phone calls made to acquire more crash pads. Tonight, Steven's mind is on the homework he'll have to do on the car ride back to the Bay and dwarf kitten adoption possibilities.
We wake up the next morning to mild, almost warm weather in town--uncharacteristic of February in the Eastern Sierras. Ethan and I head over to our friend's house and grab several crash pads, we have to rearrange them a few times to make them all fit in the Honda Element. After the bumpy ride up Buttermilk Road, we park at the Birthday boulders and sit in the car for a moment. I look out at Buttermilk country. It's bright and sunny just like it was in Bishop, but there is evidence everywhere of strong winds--a whooshing sound coming from the car windows, crash pads being lifted up and carried into the sage brush, some dude running after a plastic grocery bag up by Iron Man Traverse.
Sending temps, Ethan says to me. This is the first time he has even slightly suggested that he may be considering going for Too Big To Flail at some point today.
We meet up with the rest of the group and drive over to the Luminance parking lot. Four cars, about 15 crash pads, eight people to carry them. We strap pads together and hike up to the boulder, confident that we'll be seeing at least one attempt of one of Bishop's proudest lines. The wind sprays sand into my face and my crash pad catches a gust. I fight to keep my balance, to stay standing.
Ethan and Steven rope up again. This time they try the route starting from the ground on top rope, trying to link the entire climb without any falls. They both successfully do so about three times. In the background, the rest of us jabber on about mindless subjects like poop and protein powder, assuming Ethan and Steven would each spend another hour or so top roping. Little do we know that Steven is about to go for it.
We duck behind boulders so we're out of the photos that Anthony is shooting from up the hill, and as Steven takes off his harness we're all still arguing about how many times a day a healthy person should poop. The boys say three, minimum. Heather and I say once. But then he chalks up. He looks up at the line. He climbs up the small boulder to reach the start holds. As soon as his feet leave the ground, we are all quiet for the first time the entire weekend. I hear Mike swallow hard, he turns away. I can't watch this, Mike whispers. My stomach tightens as Steven balances through the opening sequence.
Steven pulling through the first section.
The thing I remember most was the silence. How even scratching the back of my hand felt disruptive.
The wind starts to pick up as Steven comes into the rest. He adjusts his feet, reaches behind his back and dips a hand into his chalk bag. A stream of chalk twists into the wind. He reaches far to the right for the next crimp, his left hand follows. He climbs out of the rest. The higher he climbs the stronger the wind grows. He finishes the section of three long moves in a row, the wind is now coming in steady gusts, strong and unannounced. His signature Jimmy Newtron hair is matted down to one side. His Ironworks Belay Staff hoodie puffs up like a sail. He's about thirty five feet from the ground.
Steven, high and battling the wind.
I wonder if the wind will blow him off the wall. I wonder if he realizes how committed he is right now. I wonder if he's scared. I wonder how he climbs something this tall, this hard, in these conditions, with seemingly no consideration of not climbing it.
Soon, he's pulling through the delicate moves close to the top of the boulder. His pace is faster than it was through the first three quarters of the climb but he looks secure and steady. A few crimps later, he gains the last hold, a huge jug on the boulder's lip. Steven stands on top of the boulder that Bishop's hardest and highest lines call home, and he has just done the third ascent of Too Big To Flail. We all hoot and holler and clap, abruptly breaking the silence. Steven smiles, he's quiet and stays atop the boulder for just long enough to pose for a celebratory picture before heading over to the down climb.
Steven on top of the Luminance boulder after sending Too Big To Flail. Photo credit: Wes Miraglio.
The boys exchange high fives with Steven, I hug the everliving daylights out of him. Eventually we quiet down from the excitement of the send, and soon it becomes apparent to everyone that it's time for Ethan to decide if he's going to go for it or not.
I sit next to Ethan, we both look at the climb. It starts to rain, steady for just a few minutes and stops. Off and on. The weather is good and then bad. The wind blows and then its calm. Every few moments, Ethan takes a deep, loud sigh. That's when you know he's really thinking hard.
How do you feel? Gonna give it another lap on TR? Or are you ready now? I ask.
I don't know. Honestly, seeing Steven do it doesn't really make super eager to climb it. This is really serious.
Yeah. Well, just go have fun. But be safe, I say. Thanks, he says. I'm gonna run up the hill to stay warm. Ethan takes off up the gravely slope. We all know the actual purpose of this run is to make his decision.
His struggle is this: he knows that he is more than physically capable to do this climb. But is now the right time? He has every excuse not to go for it today--the wind, the rain, his feet hurt, he's getting cold, he can't feel his fingers, maybe he needs more crash pads, maybe he should rehearse a few more times on top rope, maybe he should just call it good and find another project because crimping isn't what he's best at anyway.
The sky is inked with dark rain clouds as the afternoon storm rolls in. Ethan jogs back down the hill. He walks to the base of the boulder, slips on his shoes and straps his chalk bag to his waist. He climbs up the small boulder to gain the start holds, leaving his harness sitting on the ground.
He's going for it.
He exhales audibly and pulls on to the face. Slowly he shifts through the first moves, deliberate and slow. He pauses sightly after each move. After a few moments, he makes it to the rest.
Ethan, just before the rest.
Ethan stands in the rest for a long stretch of time. He takes off his hat and it slowly flutters to the ground. He presses his fingers to the back of his neck as to warm them, shifts his weight left and then right, takes several full breaths. After a few minutes he looks up at the rest of the climb. He chalks up and keeps climbing.
Traverse right to a good hold. Pause. Exhale. The insecure slopey foot move. Pause. Move to gain the better foothold. Big move, big move, big move. Exhale. Getting close to the top. 5.12 slab climbing section. Trust. Move. Breathe.
Ethan pulling through the middle section. Photo credit (middle photo): Wes Miraglio.
He climbs with such great attention that he notices small raindrops landing on his next hand hold.
40 feet from the layered crash pads, he reaches high and pauses with his palm just skimming the rock, mid-move. He is still for a full breath. My jaw clenches. He finishes the move, balances through the finishing section, and soon his hand is on the line's only jug. The silence breaks again. YEAH! We yell. Ethan rocks over the lip of the boulder, screams and puts his arms into the air. The wind pushes him back forcefully, he looks alarmed as he regains his footing. He yells down to us. I almost just got blown off the top!
Ethan smiles so big that his eyes squint. He takes his time on top of the Luminance boulder, shouts some more, but eventually the strong winds persuade him to down climb.
I remember the drive out of the Buttermilks that day, how I looked out at the Whites and thought about both of the boys up there, how they each stood on top of that boulder in such different ways. Everything was varying--the mental preparation, the struggle or lack of struggle with the decision to go for it, their attitude about climbing something that committing, the way they climbed, their reaction to sending. But it was the same climb, the same day, they took almost the same number of top rope rehearsals and they both eventually sent.
It worked because both Steven and Ethan trusted their own unique processes. There was no question in either of their minds that perhaps they should be going about this whole thing more like the other one. They weren't acting like anyone else up there. And that is why they both ended up sending one of the tallest, hardest boulder problems in the world, Too Big To Flail.
Steven, before hiking to the climb, carrying four crash pads and probably dreaming of dwarf kittens. Photo credit: Ethan Pringle
*All photo credit goes to Georgie Abel unless otherwise noted.
Trip Report: In defense of Joshua Tree
By: Georgie Abel
I hold a tangle of quick draws at my side and use my other hand to shade my eyes as I look up at the rock. I squint, scanning the line for anything that catches the sun, that shines, that's metallic.
Hey dude will you check the guidebook for how many bolts this climb has? I can see two but there's gotta be more. This thing's like a hundred feet.
He flips through the guidebook and eventually stops. His brow furrows as he brings the page closer to his face and laughs a little, letting out a single "ha".
You're right. There are more. His scabbed finger points to the route description. Three bolts George. 90 feet.
I look down at my harness, a few stray quick draws still hang from my gear loops after cleaning the previous climb. I set the bundle of gear on a small rock, and my stomach telescopes as I remove all but five quick draws from my harness. Suddenly I crave the heaviness on my hips of a full, noisy rack.
Hopefully there's a bolted anchor up there. Otherwise you're carrying two too many draws--so much extra weight! He laughs again, this time louder.
I appreciate his joke but also become aware that it's threaded with a serious warning: this climb is run out. Like, really run out.
I got it. It's a 10c. I convince myself that I'm doing a good job of appearing fearless.
Alright. Have fun. I got you. He squeezes the carabiner with his hand and its gate doesn't open. Locked and loaded, he says.
This climb marked the first step on my ongoing quest of understanding why everyone hates climbing in Joshua Tree.
I know very few people who actually love the climbing in Josh, and they tend to either be 1. old men or 2. a little weird. Usually they are both of those things. Rarely are they 25 year old females, and rarely are they professional climbers, but two of the people who I know that are Josh-lovers fall into those categories. I'm talking of course about me and my boyfriend. He is the professional climber:
Ethan on Iconic Strength, Wonderland North, Joshua Tree. Photo credit: Robert Miramontes
Ethan on the second ascent of Iron Resolution, Real Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree. Photo credit: Damon Corso.
And this is me:
Me on the approach to Crest Jewel Direct, North Dome, Yosemite Valley. Photo credit: Ethan Pringle
So, according to my above proclamation, since neither Ethan or myself are number 1's (old men), that must mean that we are number 2's (weird). Maybe so. But all of this really well-researched science and math doesn't answer my question or help me fully understand why Joshua Tree is, arguably, one of the most hated climbing destinations in the world.
Maybe hate is a strong word, but it does say this on one of the first pages of the guidebook: some climbers hate Josh. And I believe it. Even before I had been to Joshua Tree myself, I heard horror stories of crazy accidents, top rope panic attacks, and grown men crying on 5.9. These were the kinds of things I was told whenever I asked someone if they wanted to go down there with me. Or, they would rattle off a long list of excuses: the boulders are too high and the routes are too short, the climbing is too spread out and we'll probably get lost, the cracks aren't splitter and the sport climbing is too run out, it's always windy and driving down I-5 sucks. Oh, and everything is sandbagged.
This is usually the point in the conversation when I say, yeah, you're totally right, so when do you wanna leave?
That one time I had to aid the first 20 feet of a 5.11a on The Lost Pencil, Geology Tour Road, Joshua Tree. Photo credit: Ethan Pringle
What's even more surprising to me than Joshua Tree's bad reputation is the lack of climbers who have actually been there. Even well-rounded and well-traveled climbers don't seem to make it out to Josh these days. I don't know why.
It took some convincing (babe, my Dad has a house in Rancho Mirage with a hot tub) and a little guilt-tripping (I'm sick of sitting on the valley floor while you climb El Cap) to get Ethan to agree to a Joshua Tree trip. I've never roped up down there, he said. Only bouldered. But I do love it, it's probably my favorite place for bouldering.
Cool. Good answer.
Ethan on Slashface, Geology Tour Road, Joshua Tree.
As we drove down I-5 I told Ethan the story of the 90 foot line with 3 bolts that I climbed a few springs back. What I remember the most from that climb was an overwhelming awareness of not having the option to fall. That was a feeling I hadn't experienced before. Even on multi-pitch trad climbs, highball boulder problems, or somewhat run out sport routes, falling is never ideal, and you might even get hurt, but it's still a reasonable last resort. But on many of the climbs in Joshua Tree, falling is out of the question entirely because of extreme run outs, tall boulders, or very bad terrain/landings.
Uh.. we got you bro?
Ethan on So High, Real Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree. Photo credit: Damon Corso
So if falling is not an option, this causes a few other things to occur. First off, if you want to project something (ground up), the option to fall needs to be available. Onsighting is simply what has to happen on most routes in Josh, and this pisses people off. Onsight climbing is just not of this time. These days, climbers like to try things over and over again in a way that is relatively safe (see: Iron Man Traverse). Most of us like to climb routes that are at or even way past our physical limits, and often in Joshua Tree that would not be considered projecting, it would be a death wish. And then there is, of course, the massive amount of fear that comes along with mandatory onsighting.
Ah, the joys of well-protected sport climbing:
Me on July Jiihad, Ten Sleep, Wyoming. Photo credit: Joe Bakos
And then, there are the grades. You're a responsible adult so you conservatively decide to get on a 5.10 because hey, you one hung that 5.12 in the gym last week. But then all of the sudden you find yourself trying really hard. And you're about half way up that 90 foot climb and you've clipped one draw. Now you're scared. The next section is completely blank. The next bolt is just a glimmer in the distance. So you quietly but most definitely proceed to freak the hell out.
But on second thought, maybe it isn't the grades. I honestly don't feel that Joshua Tree is sandbagged. It's the climbing. It's like nowhere else. Spending hours in the gym won't help you. I don't think you can train anywhere but Joshua Tree if you want to climb well in Joshua Tree. Unless you're Ethan, then you can onsight things like Equinox without ever having roped up there before. But I'm not talking about him. I'm talking about us, the common folk.
Ethan on Equinox, Geology Tour Road, Joshua Tree.
The climbing mimics the desert landscape upon which it is set. It's exposing and airy. There is nothing straightforward or easily fathomable about it. You'll look up at a move and deem it impossible, but then once you try, once you just start to move, the sequence starts to unlock. You must be creative. Even what appears to be a straight-forward crack can be broken, varied, and inconsistent in size.
This causes some pretty obscure body position and movement.
Me, the day I learned how to smear with my cheek on Stem Gem, Hidden Valley Campground, Joshua Tree. Photo credit: Chris Daulton
Ethan on an unknown problem, The Underground, Joshua Tree. Photo Credit: Damon Corso
The shapes that your body must take to move on these rocks blatantly resemble the iconic Joshua trees that give the national park its name. This creates movement that is much different from that of the more favored climbing destinations. It isn't flashy like the overhanging jug hauls at the Red, it's not glorious like the water-polished big walls of Yosemite, and it's definitely not sexy like the straight-in jamming of Indian Creek splitters.
All of this tends to make people a little angry.
But this is exactly the kind of climbing that we need to be doing. The overhanging glory jugs, the lowball traverses, the straightforward splitters--these things are all good, and they should be climbed, but I don't think we learn half as much from them. The kind of climbing that actually teaches us lessons of value, about our ego and how to be honest/kind/all that other good stuff, is the climbing that's bold, thought-provoking, and humbling.
Can't be too cocky when you fall off a v1:
Me on an unknown climb, Hidden Valley Campground, Joshua Tree. Photo Credit: Chris Daulton
I'm a yoga teacher and a bay area native so I'm a sucker for this kind of stuff.
My fingertips won't stop sweating. I slowly reach behind my back to dip my hand in my chalk bag, praying the movement won't cause my smeared feet to blow. One draw clipped, 20 feet below. After ten minutes of attempted crimping, I finally accept that I do not have any hand holds. My breath is rapid and choppy. Just climb, I say out loud. This is my only option, so I start to move. One foot and then the other. Pushing with my hands instead of pulling. Trusting my feet and breathing like a yoga teacher would. After a few shaky moves, I start flowing and the climbing feels like its 5.10c grade. I am no longer under the control of thoughts about the rope, bolts, or lack of quick draws on my harness. I just climb. I climb to the top.
'Free' is a good word to describe the way climbing in that desert makes me feel.
Me hiking back from The Lost Pencil, Geology Tour Road, Joshua Tree. Photo credit: Ethan Pringle
So, if I may leave you with my humble opinion: go climbing in Joshua Tree. Get scared. Flail on 5.9. Wish you were in Indian Creek. Make sure that cute girl knows you send 5.12 in Red Rocks. Get lost. Round up ten crash pads to try a v3. Get super annoyed by the wind. Hike for an hour to do one climb. Hike back to the car because the first gear is 20 feet up. Don't project. Don't fall. Don't have any idea how to do Stem Gem.
This is the kind of climbing that our community needs: the kind that humbles us, that makes us brave, that makes us less of an asshole when we get back home.
See ya in the desert!