Mortar Rock History and Clean-Up

 On October 20 and 21th from 10 am until 4 pm, a group of local climbers will be organizing a raffle, free food and a chance to clean up the famous Indian Rock area. The climbing there is well known to Bay area boulderers.  It's been well documented as the place where Berkeley climbers developed the dynamic belay.  Just above Indian Rock is the infamous Mortar Rock.  

“It’s like Cresciano but better,” said Bay area climber Ethan Pringle. Pringle’s tongue in cheek comment of the local climbing area represents the common view of Mortar Rock. There’s a solid history of climbers who are unable to resist the park’s charm.

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Set in a residential area in the Berkeley hills, Mortar Rock hosts the largest concentration of difficult climbing per square foot in California. Approximately 100 feet long and 25 feet tall at its apex, the median boulder problem on the sharp rhyolite falls in the solid double V digit range. “As a boulderer in the bay area, it's a pretty awesome place to work on advancing your skills. Some seriously stout problems, and a shit ton of climbable days throughout the year,” said Mortar rock first ascentionist Randy Puro. Perhaps the most interesting bit about Mortar is the history of the bouldering there.


A small posse of climbers started the action at Mortar Rock. Scott Frye, Nat Smale, Harrison Dekker, John Sherman, Chris Vandiver and others, tired of the regular circuit down at Indian Rock walked up the hill to Mortar Rock. “We suffered through years and years of eliminates,” said Frye. “Like the kids got tired of street tricks and found swimming pools to skate board in, we found more physical more dynamic climbing after we’d put in our years working footwork and crimp strength.”

The initial development of Mortar Rock included just a few problems on the rock itself. The crew stole a bench from a nearby park and placed it beneath the right side of the wall creating the appropriately named Bench Wall. When the city moved the bench, the climbers moved it back. “The bench was an immediate hit. We even jokingly used to refer to giving each other "psychic spots" because we were too comfortable on the bench to get up and give a proper spot,” said Harrison Dekker. On a small boulder next to Mortar, Dekker and Vandiver competed for the first ascent of the Pipeline Traverse. A few days after working the problem with Vandiver, Dekker found a matchbook cover folded inside out and placed on the starting holds. The words “Done –CV” and the date marked the completion of the coveted ascent. A few weeks later, Dekker sent a TR problem above the Pit at Indian Rock before Chris was able to do it. He scrawled “Done” in 12-inch chalk letters on the wall. These types of competitive tactics were common in the early days. The boulderers were young and prone to hassling each other. At one point Steve Moyle chalked a couple of desperate holds, thinking the line was impossible. He lied to Nat Smale, telling him the boulder problem had gone. A few weeks later Nat climbed the problem and Nat’s Lieback was born.

The boulderers continued to try to keep up Nat Smale when he made the first ascent of Nat’s Traverse, which in 1976 was one of the most physically difficult climbs in the United States. John Sherman added the top rope problem The Impossible Wall and the group continued with a series of difficult eliminate problems. The locals focused heavily on repeating Nat’s Traverse and when they had that problem dialed, they climbed it backwards, they climbed it while drinking a beer, and they climbed it placing a cookie on each hold and stopping to eat the cookie.

Just to the right of the Ramp, the finish to Nat’s Traverse, sits Jungle Fever. Frye named the boulder problem after the root he grabbed at the top when he completed the problem in 1977. Vines covered the entire wall from Jungle Fever to the Bench Wall. “The vines were weird thick things and over the Impossible Wall they arched away from the wall then curved back in towards the base,” said Harrison Dekker. You could get inside them and see that there were holds and problems to be done.”

The thick vines remained for many years until Greg Loh arrived at Mortar. Loh worked his way through the established problems, climbing Nat’s Traverse, the Pipeline, and making a rare boulder ascent of The Impossible Wall, which had a large tree underneath it at the time and a dangerous landing. “One rainy afternoon I got a wild hair and decided to pull a few of the vines down. Once I started to see the wall, I began to pull more down. All told, I spent about 2 weeks digging, cutting, and removing any trace of vegetation on the wall,” said Loh. In the summer of 1996, Loh completed New Wave, the first problem on this uncovered section of the wall. “New Wave to me was literally that,” said Scott Frye, “A new wave.”

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The removal of the vines brought about a whole new area. “This opened up new possibilities for “fresh” lines, a pretty rare opportunity at an urban bouldering area that has been climbed on for several decades,” said Tom Richardson. Richardson added Egypt Air, a highball finish to the Impossible Wall and the difficult Don’t Worry Be Snappy. Loh continued his development with The Kraken, Mission Impossible, and Beached Whale. Further deforestation, this time the removal of the tree beneath the Impossible Wall by the city of Berkeley, resulted in another flurry of new problems including Loh’s lower start to Impossible Wall dubbed the Chinese Connection and the ascent of the obvious and extremely difficult Impossible Wall Traverse, a line that has seen only two ascents by Chris Sharma and by local Mortar rocker Brian Hedrick. Randy Puro added a few additional lines in most recent years, “I myself have added a handful of sit starts to the existing lines. Simply additional challenges, more of the same really, a toolset for developing a descent blend of finger strength, technique, and power (and skin) which can go a fair distance in helping someone move forward in the sport.” To a large extent the plums of the newly cleaned Mortar had been picked.

“I hear you’re developing a new wall in Berkeley,” a Bay Area climber said to Scott Frye. There was some truth to the rumors. In the past few years, Frye has utilized the French Fry, the Putting Green, the Milk Shake, and the Lettuce Leaf to create hundreds of different combinations of eliminate boulder problems on the ten foot wide section of Mortar called the Garbage Can Wall. “There had been a garbage can and we removed it,” said Frye, “We called an ultra eliminate session garbage canning. It became about the lowest sit start. That’s how we grew up at Indian rock. If we did it with our left hand than we’d do it with our right.”

While the limits of variations and eliminate boulder problems are endless, there remains a few proud test pieces including a link of Nat’s Traverse to the Impossible Wall Traverse, estimated at a solid 9a+. Randy Puro stated the best part of the Mortar Rock experience, “Most anyone who gets the genuine bouldering bug can find a real growth experience there as a climber, and still to this day, you'd have to be something pretty special to climb the place out, even after years of trying.”

 Come out to the clean-up. Please be sure to register online at the Indian Rock Clean-up event page. We want to make sure to have enough food and tools for everyone who is volunteering.

Yosemite Open

The National Park Service made a recent announcement that Yosemite National park is now open.  This is great news for California climbers.  The weather in Yosemite is perfect right now.  Below is NPS's press release.

Yosemite National Park reopens to park visitors tonight, October 16, 2013. Visitors can access public areas and roads immediately while facilities and other public services are brought back on-line. Yosemite National Park has been closed since October 1, 2013 due to the government shutdown.

Half Dome 5

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Ebbetts Pass Century

In late September, long time BIW member Deborah Georges completed the Ebbet's Pass Century. The 100 mile bike ride takes some of the best roads in the Sierra Nevada. Georges wrote about her bike ride for the Touchstone blog.


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Yosemite Government Shutdown

“Government shutdown. Yosemite National Park will be closed for recreating.” The loud speaker boomed up onto the granite walls. My partner and I rappelled into the middle of El Capitan’s Freerider at 6 am to work on free climbing the granite monolith. I managed to stick the crux boulder problem twice before the NPS loudspeaker shouted up from the meadow. On the corner pitch below the headwall, I fell. I would do the route soon if I could figure out how to deal with the Shutdown.


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Power Training Through Campusing

Often rock climbs come down to a single move- the crux of the climb. Being strong enough to get through the cruxes can be difficult.

“if you cannot pull a single hard move, you have nothing to endure,” said Tony Yaniro, one of the founders of modern climbing training. Yaniro spoke of having power to make sure you could have the endurance to maintain on longer climbs. Endurance is easier to train- it involves simple tenacity. Power training requires a right amount of recovery and exercise. There are a few different ways one can train power.

”I think there are a couple ways to gain power for climbing but the quickest and most efficient way, as long as your elbow tendons and shoulders are prepared for it, is to campus,” said professional climber Ethan Pringle.

In this video, Touchstone's Sam Schwartz provides instruction on how to effectively use a campus board.

Read more: Power Training Through Campusing

Indian Rock Clean-Up

Want to help out at one of the best local climbing areas in the San Francisco area? On October 26 and 27th from 10 am until 4 pm, a group of local climbers will be organizing a raffle, free food and a chance to clean up the famous Indian Rock area.

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10th Annual Yosemite Facelift

This week marks the tenth annual Yosemite Facelift.  For the past decade, the Yosemite Climbing Association has organized climbers to help with a park wide clean-up.  Trash, old ropes, debris, and litter are all collected by volunteers, who receive a raffle ticket at the end of the day for helping out.  A number of climbing companies support the event as well as New Belgium Brewery.  The prizes are awesome and the beer at the nightly events rocks.  Plus, the Facelift brings together the community of climbers and helps gather thousands of pounds of trash every year. 

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Remi Meets Remi

We are happy to announce that Remi Moehring, formerly of Mission Cliffs, will be managing the LA.B in Los Angeles, California. While those of us in the Bay Area are lucky enough to know her well, we wanted to give everyone a sneak peak at what an awesome gal we are sending south to manage our first LA gym.

photo 3Remi took a few moments out of her day to sit down with... herself... and give you the scoop on her hopes, dreams, and love of all things Touchstone.

RM: How did you get into climbing? 

RM: Two years ago my trajectory was: art school, work at industrial design firm, get rich making fancy things. Then I took an Intro to Climbing class with my boyfriend who couldn't hold onto a jug to save his life and I was instantly hooked. I got a job at Mission Cliffs a month later and never looked back. At the boyfriend or at art school.

RM: What are you going to miss about MC?

RM: ALL OF MY BUDDIES! The friends I've made there are amazing, so I plan on having a couch big enough to fit all of them. They might have to stack, but we'll make it work. The great thing about Touchstone is that wherever you are, you always feel like part of the family. I plan on being the maniacal aunt who calls you repeatedly in the middle of the night to have you remind her where she put her wig.

RM: You guys sure have had some crazy times over at MC. Hey, remember that time you all took shots of hot sauce and then free soloed the--

RM: Nope. No. I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about

RM: What are you looking forward to about LA?

photo 1-1RM: In my fantasy world, LA.B would be frequented by RuPaul or Bill Murray and we would sit on the edge of the mats and clink champagne glasses and laugh wildly about times passed. I don't know much about LA, so mostly I'm excited about a new adventure into the unknown. There will be beaches, world-class climbing, a great comedy scene, and the Getty museum, which happens to be my favorite in the country, so I think I'll survive.

RM: Is it difficult to have both a stinging wit and devilish good looks?

RM: No.

RM: Where do you think LA.B will fall on a scale from one to insanely epic?

RM: I'm unfamiliar with the insanity-based scale, but I'd say, based on the 3D renderings, location, people involved, and Touchstone's track record, we're looking at a low-end projection of blowing-your-mind-all-over-your-face.

To stay up to speed on the LA.B, be sure to follow us in Facebook and Instagram. We are only a few months out and can't wait to keep you informed on the play by play. 

Reel Rock Tour 8

The Reel Rock Tour will be coming to California soon. This year Hazel Findlay and Emily Harrington star in a short about their big wall adventure in Morocco. Daniel Woods learns about climbing from master climber Yuji Hirayama. The Stonemasters of Yosemite come to life with tales of a plane crash filled with a dirtbag's dream and Ueli Steck captures the stage with his life on Everest.

Forty-three-year-old Yuji Hirayama is one of the great legends of modern climbing. Near retirement, he plans one big swan-song mission to complete a project, one of his hardest ever, at the spectacular summit of Mount Kinabalu, on the island of Borneo. But first he must find the right partner.

Enter Daniel Woods, the young American boulderer who is one of the strongest humans in the climbing world, but lacks mountain experience. Daniel-San travels to Japan to prove himself worthy of Hirayama’s mentorship, and the unlikely duo team up for the expedition of a lifetime.



The UK climbing scene is known for its strict traditional ethic, yielding dangerous routes and a competitive machismo among the driven young climbers risking it all to prove their boldness. It’s the last place you’d expect to find a nice little blond girl putting all the lads to shame, but Hazel Findlay is doing just that.

The first woman to climb the British grade of E9 (super hard, super sketchy), Hazel is a connoisseur of loose rock, dodgy gear, and big runouts. Having mastered the scrappy seacliffs at home she teams up with Emily Harrington to tackle the massive, untamed bigwalls of Taghia Gorge, Morocco.


Sender Films is currently working on a feature documentary about the counterculture climbing scene in Yosemite over the last 50 years. Provisionally titled “Valley Uprising,” the film brings all the legends to life: from Royal Robbins’ epic battle with Warren Harding to the fabled drug plane crash of 1977 and the escalating tensions between climbers and national park rangers.


This year’s REEL ROCK Film Tour will include a teaser clip from the film that focuses on the sex-drugs-n-rock era of Jim Bridwell and the Stonemasters.

Mount Everest made headlines around the world this year when it was reported that Ueli Steck and Simone Moro, one of the strongest duos in alpinism, were attacked by a crowd of angry sherpas at Camp 2 while attempting a cutting edge new route on the highest — and most crowded — mountain in the world. Fearing for their lives, the climbers fled the mountain, and the incident sparked a flurry of gasps and angry recrimination: sherpas, western climbers, guiding companies, even the legendary mountain itself were pounded with criticism from all sides.

Amidst the bizarre event, REEL ROCK was embedded with the climbing team and given an exclusive look at what happened that day, and why.

The Reel Rock Tour will be hitting a number of the Touchstone Gyms. Check out the dates below:

October 5th San Jose The Studio

October 12th Fresno Metal Mark

October 19th Sacramentto Pipeworks

October 26th Concord Diablo Rock Gym

January 5th Oakland GWPC

New Head Route Setter: Jeremy Ho

20951 843016481083_5872611_nWe are happy to announce that long time Touchstone employee Jeremy Ho has been brought on as Head Route Setter. The Head Setter position was held by Craig McClenahan for many years and more recently by Kyle Robinson and Jeffery Bowling, and now Ho is ready to step up to the plate. He's been working with Touchstone for over 6 years, and has done everything from belaying birthday parties to route setting. "I'm so psyched to be moving forward with the company," Ho said.  

Read more: New Head Route Setter: Jeremy Ho

Mountain A La Mode: Rifle Climbing and Pie Baking

Touchstone Blogger James Lucas spent the past summer in Rifle, climbing and baking pies for the annual Carbondale Pie Baking Contest. He wrote a bit about his exploits for the blog.

“She’s a psychopath,” Ryan said. The Carbondale local introduced himself over beers at the Pour House bar when he heard talk of the pie baking contest. “My mom’s been judging the contest for years. I’ve heard of Judy Harvey. She’s absolutely obsessed. If you win, she may kill you.”

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Two years ago, I was Fruit Number 1. During a summer of Rifle sport climbing, I dropped off a butter crust Granny Smith apple pie, the first entry into the fruit category at the Carbondale Mountain Fair annual pie baking contest. I dreamed of being on the cover of Martha Stewart’s Home Living, wearing an apron and holding an apple pie. I dreamed of being a handsome climber boy killing it in the kitchen.

This spring, my long term girlfriend and I broke up. To deal with it, I threw myself at free climbing a new big wall route in Yosemite. I toiled, tried, and worked. After a few months, the route fell to my tenacity. With no goals left, no girlfriend, and no direction, I felt lost.

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Remembering my dream, I packed quick draws, a harness, shoes, a rolling pin and my pastry blender into my Saturn station wagon with plans of returning to Colorado. The competition in Carbondale would provide direction in my life, somewhere to invest my energy, and a chance to be a cover model.

Before leaving, I prepped for the contest by baking a chicken pot pie in Yosemite. Traveling east, my friends in Salt Lake City loaned me their kitchens to bake a mixed fruit pie, an apple pie, and a strawberry rhubarb pie.

On the road, I studied endlessly, listening to an audiobook version of the Joy of Cooking and searching the ends of the Internet for recipes and pie baking tips. On July 1st, The New York Times published an article about tarts, crisps and most importantly, summer pie recipes. I read the piece fifteen times. In Salt Lake, my friend’s mom provided beta on cold butter, on shredding apples and how to crimp the edges for the best presentation. When she was out of the kitchen, I snapped pictures of her grandmother’s 100 year old apple pie recipe.

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With a solid technical foundation, I drove to my friend Hayden’s house by the confluence in Carbondale. Hayden’s kitchen provided a perfect place to bake a second apple pie, a bourbon pecan pie and a chocolate bourbon pecan. I tailored my Rifle climbing towards pie baking.

The steep limestone routes provided core training. The small edges allowed me to crimp until my fingers cracked. The sidepulls worked my hand strength. By the end of the month, I used an ab roller to press out the pie crust. I crimped the edges of the pie to perfection. I broke apples in half. Beyond the training, I sought advice from master bakers.

For the past 20 years Judy Harvey has dominated the Carbondale Mountain Fair pie baking contest. White and dark chocolate mousse. Boysen berries. Caramel coconut creams peaked with translucent amber spikes of macadamia nut brittle. Judy mastered these recipes and the subtleties of pie baking. In 2005, the Aspen Times featured Judy in an article about the contest. Her husband, Roger spoke of Judy’s determination describing trial run pies stuffing their garage refrigerator and inviting friends over at all hours to test the pies. On competition days, Harvey wakes at 4 am to begin baking. I wanted her obsession.


The Carbondale phone book provided her number. Judy shied away when I first rang. “My family is setting up camp for the 4th of July. Can I call you back?” she said. After 3 days of silence, I dialed again. The call went straight to her voicemail. The master baker ignored my pie enthusiasm.

Despite Judy’s reluctance to share pie secrets and the rumor of her homicidal tendencies, my mission to bake the perfect pie held true to course. A climber’s BBQ offered a chance to serve a strawberry rhubarb pie and a third apple pie. Jen and Andrew, a pair of local Rifle climbers, invited me to bake a peach pie at their house. I baked until I only saw imperfections in the pies. I obsessed on the crust that Andrew left, the extra peaches that Jen pushed to the side, and the fact that Hayden stopped. I baked until I hated pie. My climbing schedule, my life revolved around my next chance to bake. I transformed into the obsessive Judy Harvey.

In between baking pies and climbing rocks, my headlamp lit the trail around Thompson Lake. The summit ridge to Mount Sopris, the highest peak in Carbondale’s Elk Range, hid behind the impending sunrise. A week of insomnia wrecked me. The alpine hiking helped alleviate my angst and aimlessness. While wandering lost around the lake at 3am, I fixated on a conversation a fellow lifestyle climber and I had.

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“Don’t you think it’s weird that you just climb all the time?” Colette asked me. Sopris filled the skyline above the confluence, where we split the last piece of chocolate bourbon pecan pie. A full-time climber, Colette had begun a transition towards a career, a life beyond rock. I poked at the pie crust, unsure of how to answer. This trip was supposed to be about more than just climbing. My travels east, the pie baking contest were supposed to provide direction, to provide a distraction while I found something more permanent. After the contest, I’d be back where I started- driving my car to climb at another sport crag, to find more boulders, or explore new big walls. Climbing, like pie baking, is amazing but ultimately pointless. There must be more to life than rock climbing and pie baking. What was it?

On Saturday, July 28th at 6 am, I hustled over to Hayden’s house, where I preheated the oven. The butter cut into the flour perfectly. The chocolate melted over the pecans. Maple syrup provided sweetness and the bourbon gave the pie kick. For an hour, the 9 inch pie pan full of Kentucky Derby pie baked. At 10:30, I joined a half dozen entries in the exotic category at the Carbondale Mountain Fair Annual Pie Baking Contest. A meat pie with hotdogs woven into the lattice seemed suspect. The other pecan pie appeared weak next to mine. The meringue. That looked good. The fruit category contained nearly a dozen pies from apple to cherry to pear. The crème category held just a few pies. I nervously waited for the judges results.

That night, climbers from across the US gathered in a Carbondale barn for Jen and Andrew’s wedding. Thunder, lightning and afternoon showers dissipated moments before the ceremony. Jen’s father walked her down the aisle. Andrew’s father gave a heart felt speech about new love and old love. The two climbers made a life long union, they were making more of their lives than just the rocks they climbed. It was beautiful.

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The wedding offered me a chance to stop fixating on the contest. Watching these two friends in love helped me realize that perhaps there was more to life than climbing and baking. Jen and Andrew discovered something special in their relationship. Climbing, while pointless, had brought the two together. My respite ended quickly. In between the ceremony and the dancing, a dozen different climbers asked me about the competition.

“Did you win?” “Did you beat the blue-haired grandmas?” “You send the gnar at the fair bro?”

“No.” “No.” No.” I answered, explaining the training, my alpine start, and performing my best. Baking pies while living out of a station wagon proved difficult. My lackluster excuses did little to negate my loss. The hard part to explain was my desire, not to win, but to find direction. If I’d been asked if I was still aimless, then I could have answered, “Yes.”


For six weeks, baking and climbing consumed my life. I expected an answer to my aimlessness, one that would come without having to consciously think about why I was wandering. I expected an epiphany while rolling out pie crust. Flashes of inspiration happen slower than that. They are the product of circling around an idea, drawing closer and closer to it.

While Judy Harvey sat in her kitchen shuffling through recipes for next year’s contest, I packed my Saturn station and prepared to orbit another climbing destination. I buried my pastry blender beneath my ropes. I left my pie pan at Jen and Andrew’s house. The weather in Yosemite would cool soon. I drove east from Colorado knowing Judy and I would continue our pointless obsessions. Maybe someday, we’d figure out why we did it.

The Saturn


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