Earlier this spring, a group of Berkeley climbers headed to one of the best rock climbing destinations in Oregon. Ben Steel wrote a bit about the group's trip for the Touchstone blog.
I suppose the first thing I should do is apologize to you for the misleading title. I haven’t been hiding this trip report away for 5 years just so I can spring it on you now; it’s just that “Spring Break Oh-Nine” has a much better ring to it than “Spring Break Twenty-Fourteen” when you scream it along the base of the crag. Or at least that’s what “Red Ben” Corbett said the first day we were there. We had heard some other spring breakers screaming the chronologically correct, age-old mantra of college students everywhere and he thought it could use some sprucing up.
Regardless of how we titled it, we were on spring break from UC Berkeley, and were up at Smith Rock to sample some of the United State’s finest “sport” climbing. I put sport in quotations since the bolt spacing at Smith is a far cry from the gym. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy small runouts; they induce a moderate level of terror and make the climbing take on an adventurous feel, which is ironic seeing that I was often clipping pre-hung draws after a 5-10 minute walk from the car. The great Cal Climbing herd and all around madhouse.
Photo Ben Steel
Anyway, for this trip we managed to bring along quite a large number of folks from the Cal Climbing Team. I believe the final tally was with 27 people, 15 tents and 7 cars, all crammed into one sweet (not) group campsite. Since only two people in our group had ever been to Smith before it was everyone else’s first time there. And, as with most of our group trips, this one involved a lot of other “firsts” as well. There were a handful of “first times climbing outside”, “first leads”, “first harness purchases”, “first trad leads”, and even my personal favorite “first time freezing your ass off in that insufficient sleeping bag you brought.” This is one of my favorite parts about being on the climbing team, being able to introduce new people to climbing outdoors and new types of climbing that they may not have been able to experience had they not come along on one of our trips. For example, a couple of people on the team had never climbed more than single pitch routes, and they got to climb this sweet multipich 5.7 along with some of the more experienced leaders.
Riding the arête on The Last Waltz 5.12c. Photo Casey Zak
Climbing at Smith was quite different from the trips I’m used to taking to places like Yosemite or the Needles. In the valley we usually (always) end up hiking (way) farther than we anticipated for some climb that’s not necessarily on the beaten path. Smith on the other hand is a 6 minute drive from the campground and a 7 minute walk from the parking lot, has nicely built and maintained trails, and has toilets at the crag! That’s right, if you had to cut down to sending weight before your next burn you didn’t even have to make the 7 minute walk back to the bathroom at the parking lot, you could just saunter over and take care of business in comfort and privacy. Also, the main area is literally littered with classic climbs of all grades. There are 5.14’s two climbs away from 5.10’s, which are four climbs away from 5.12’s, which are right next to 5.6’s. My climbing partner Casey always says that one of the things that makes climbing so great is how elite climbers are so accessible and easy to interact with for the everyday climber. Now it’s not as if I swapped belays with Ondra or anything, but basically climbers of all levels were climbing within spitting distance of each other all day. I always find watching climbers who are better than me is a great way to generate psych, and I must say that it helped me to try hard on my routes when I knew that right around the corner someone was climbing 5.14.
Ana Stirniman on Chain Reaction 5.12c Photo by Casey Zak
But I’m getting ahead of myself. With an alpine start time of 8:30 PM, we drove through Friday night, crammed into Casey’s Pathfinder (affectionately named Lonestar) like a bunch of sardines. We were so wrecked by the drive we couldn’t really sleep much, but were up and getting ready to climb by 8am. In terms of being comfortable and well rested for the trip I’d say we nailed it.
Apparently a lot of schools had spring break that first weekend so the main area was packed that first day! The full range of climbers, from crusher to first timer, was out in full force and basically every route with over 2 stars had a line to climb it. On top of that, the beautiful scenery attracts non-climbers from far and wide. With 2 hours of sleep and a swarming mass of climbers, dogs, children, backpacks, hikers, runners, walkers, joggers, and families to contend with I felt okay with only climbing 5 routes over the span of 8 or so hours. However, we did manage to get on some pretty cool stuff that day. The highlight was when Casey flashed a notoriously stiff 12a that was essentially a long series of slopey crimps that sucked away all hope as soon as you touched them. Somehow he held on through the crux and battled his way up the top headwall to the anchors for a proud send. Back at camp that night we were so exhausted we went to bed at 8.
Casey: stoked to climb on our first day or delirious from lack of sleep? Photo Ben Steel
The second day we decided to ditch the crowds and climb on the Monkey’s Face instead. Unlike many climbing destinations, at Smith, avoiding crowds is as simple as walking to the other side of the formation. The Monkey’s Face is one of the most iconic sights in all of Oregon and is definitely worth the extra 15-minutes of hiking (did I mention how much I liked the approaches at Smith?). It’s a super rad formation that, depending on the angle you view it from, looks either like a perfect monkey’s face (duh) or disturbingly phallic.
Guess which view this is! Northwest Corner (green) and The Backbone (red) on the Monkey’s Face. Photo Ben Steel
Casey and Steven climbed the Backbone (13a) while David and myself tackled the Northwest Corner (12a). The Northwest Corner was frickin’ amazing! The first two pitches can be led in one massive 50-meter pitch up through the band of red rock to end on the biggest cave/ledge you can imagine. The route involves long reaches between perfect fingerlocks and sweet laybacks on gear with 3 bolts sprinkled into the mix. After a fun and semi-cruiser bottom section I ended up making it through what I thought was the crux and was able to catch my breath on some okay jugs with bad feet. Once somewhat recovered, I launched into the “easy” section above only to find the actual crux of the route, get pumped out of my mind, and take a nice big whipper to put me in my place. Trying it again, I soon found myself shaking with fatigue above a couple of well-spaced and suspect cam placements while staring at a bolt guarded by a mantle-highstep move with a smeary foot…It was a full exhilarating (read: terrifying) minute before I committed, scrunched my knee into my face, and got to better holds. The rest of the day was a blast, except when some other party dropped the rope that I had left fixed so Steven and Casey could do a double rope rappel from the top of the formation. Luckily I saw it happen and nobody ended up stuck on top of the Monkey. I will say, whenever you come across a fixed line, provided it’s not dangerous, you should always leave it where it is and simply be thankful that you can speed up your rappelling.
On Friday March 21st, Berkeley Ironworks will hold the second comp in the 2014 Touchstone Climbing Series. Touchstone started these events to help build community and to provide climbers with an opportunity to socialize. The comps also provide a great chance to learn how to climb in a comp setting, a challenging facet of rock climbing.
Preparing for a comp, a day of climbing when you perform your absolute best, can be difficult. Justin Wood, a Salt Lake City climbing trainer with Maisch Training, provided solid advice for preparing the Ironworks bouldering comp. “Warm up really well. A lot of people get excited and they get flash pumped or beat up.” Take the time to stretch, and do lots of easy climbing. The Touchstone setters reset huge sections of the gym, which translates into amazing problems including great moderates. Warming up well will allow your muscles to relax and perform at their best. Check out all the new problems.
During the comp, take the time to relax. Enjoy the atmosphere and allow your muscles to recover. “Rest more rest than you think,” said Wood. “Watch people between the burns. Then give the problems good redpoint goes.” While resting, you could meet a new climbing partner or see another climber provide you with crucial beta on the problem you’re having difficulty with. Hydrate well and be ready to climb when your chance comes. When you do pull onto the problem, climb with intention. Execute the moves and do your absolute best.
If you want to train before the comp, climb a lot of problems with a focus on onsighting and finishing problems in as few tries as possible. You want to conserve strength and use it efficiently over a long period of time. Wood pointed out the need for significant stamina. “Schedule a bouldering pyramid where you’re doing lots of hard problems,” said Wood.
Forget about your performance in terms of the people around you. Earlier this year, former Zero Gravity member, Josh Levin competed in a half dozen comps across the east coast this fall. He provided some excellent insight into the mentality of comp climbing. “As hard as it may be, trying not to base your own performance on how other people do is absolutely key to succeed. If you lay down the absolute best performance of your life, but still do not come out on top, those people deserved to beat you that day. The results may not reflect your personal desire to do well, but it is important that you realize the true value of your efforts,” said Levin in his blog. “Conversely, if you win a comp but you know you didn’t perform at your absolute best, you should still be openly happy with your performance, but reflect on what you could’ve done better for future events. I’ve found that the true victories are the ones that don’t come easy.”
Most importantly, have fun at the event. After you’re done climbing, enjoy all the free pizza and beer that the gym has to offer. Train hard before the comp and then have a good time in the moment. The Touchstone Comp Series provides an excellent mixture of athleticism, community, and a good time.
By Narinda Heng
So. You’ve made a tiny human! Does this mean no more climbing gym time? No!
You may have noticed that door between the drinking fountains and the men’s locker room with the “Childcare” sign above it. Here’s what’s inside:
Berkeley Ironworks offers childcare for children age 6 months to 6 years four days a week:
Tuesdays & Thursdays 4:00pm - 8:00pm
Saturdays 10:00am - 1:00pm
Sundays 2:00pm - 5:00pm
The pricing is pretty incredible at $7.50/hour for members and $10.00/hour for non-members.
(You’ll still be on diaper & potty duty, though, so keep an ear perked for the intercom in case those needs arise.)
I’ve been one of the childcare staff since August 2013, and I wanted to offer some hints and tricks for parents leaving their babes for the first time:
1. You may be called back to the childcare room for soothing. The first visit or two might be a little rough for those kiddos under three. They get worried. They think you’re never coming back. They start crying. Desperately. We’ll try to soothe them with toys and books and videos, but if that doesn’t work, we’ll ask the front desk to call for you over the intercom. It’ll happen less and less with each visit!
2. Sometimes it’s so hard to say goodbye that it’s better not to. Some babes mainly have trouble with the letting go part. It helps to let the childcare person know what your child is excited about playing with, so that they can distract them as you quietly leave the room to go climb your project, take a yoga class, or run a few miles on BIW’s super-fancy new treadmills.
3. The more the merrier! We can have up to six children in the childcare room at a time, and the babes tend to do better when they have other kids to play with. Play/belay dates are highly recommended. Are you a part of a pair of parents taking turns watching the little ones? Are your toddlers good pals? Set them on a play date in the childcare room so you can all get your climb on. Everybody’s happy.
4. There’s no place like home, but the toys don’t have to stay there. We have plenty of different toys for varying ages, but it’s great for them to have more familiar happiness- making things to play with, or a favorite book to read. Bring a few along. Here some creative tikes integrated their set of Squinkie toys with our map play rug:
The four year old’s had a grand ol’ time.
Weekday evenings can get a little wild at the gym. You can pay ahead for childcare time so you can just scan your member card and then come straight to the childcare room, where you can sign off the amount of time (in 1/2 hour blocks) that you’d like to use. Precious minutes saved! And it lets BIW know that there are folks interested in the childcare service, so we can keep it going for the parents yet to come.
These are some things I’ve noticed since I joined the childcare team. You know your child better than I do, of course! You never know whether this will be a good fit unless you try, right? What’s the harm? You wouldn’t want to leave us to sit alone polishing the toys all shift long, would you?
In an indoor rock climbing environment, one thing's for sure: the routes you climb are our product.
Sounds stupid and maybe overly philosophical, but the very talented and hard working Touchstone Routesetters literally create a commodity that is so unique and high quality that people pay a monthly membership or for day passes just to experience it. If you've ever ventured outside of the "bubble" of Touchstone setting, you'll always come back with a holy-moly-I-didn't-know-I-had-it-so-good kinda feeling. Not to toot the Touchstone horn, but these dudes set amazing climbs 40 hours a week, at nine gyms across the state (that's not even touching on the hard work that goes into competitions).
But inevitably, you'll still hear members say something like, 'I could do that.' Maybe that's true, but most of the time it's without knowing how much is actually included in the process.
Maybe what people mean to say is, 'I really, really, really WANT to do that.'
Ok. So now we have people saying they 'could' and 'want' to route set that are not actually route setters themselves. After hearing over and over, we created the Member Setting Clinic that took place at Berkeley Ironworks on February 21st.
When creating the clinic, we had a few goals in mind. Obviously, we wanted the participants to do what they came to do: route set. We also wanted to make sure our beloved members would get a chance to interact with the Touchstone Routesetters in ways they don't normally get to. Right now it's pretty easy for any of the desk staff at our gyms to create a relationship with the members and vice versa, but the setters don't always have that opportunity and although all of us have a unique relationship with the way they set, we rarely get to know the person behind the wrench.
Enough of the sappy stuff, aren't you here to find out what happened in the clinic?!
We provided 4 hours for the clinic in total because we knew that the participants have little to no setting experience and putting up just one route might take longer than expected. We also factored in forerunning (trying out the problems and making necessary changes) and clean-up. It was decided that the Campus Board Wall to the far left of BIW's bouldering area would be the best terrain for the event because of the height, simplicity, and low impact to the rest of the gym. You have to remember, this was an experiment. If it went terribly wrong and EVERYBODY set bad problems, people would be bummed.
The clinic began with a freshly stripped bouldering wall and holds spread out all over the ground. Each of the 11 participants were handed a Route Setting Guidelines sheet and listened to Ben Polanco (Flea) and Anthony Vicino (AV) give an impressively informative rundown on what makes a route good based on their own experiences as long time wrench turners.
The next step was claiming valuable real estate on the wall and selecting the holds necessary for the boulder problem.
Ben observed a theme, "Apparently, everybody wants to set tweaky gastons."
Anthony described the biggest, but most useful challenge was helping people realize their intention. "It's easy to get tunnel vision when setting and think that there'll only be 'your' way to climb the problem. More often than not, it was fairly easy to see a simpler way of doing a sequence than the setter had wanted for the climber. Nobody likes to see people botch their sequences. The other constant struggle was getting people to think about comfort. You think your problem is 'amazing', but you want to make people WANT to climb it. No tweaky stuff!"
Thankfully the criticism was taken well across the board and remained a positive experience with both sides. Long time Touchstone member, Josh Eads, said "This is the most fun I've had in FOREVER!" Both Anthony and Ben felt that the problems set were 'way cooler than we expected' and that the clinic was generally a very good experience.
Check out the problems from your peers next time you're in BIW on the Campus Board Wall to the far right of the bouldering area and stay tuned for this clinic to appear a gym near YOU!
Now the February is upon us, it's becoming easier and easier to forget your lofty New Years Resolutions. Ready to keep the momentum going?! Berkeley Ironworks has got you covered! As a reminder of the pure AWESOMENESS that is BIW, the staff is setting up a challenge to help member new and old get the most out of the gym and everything there is to do there. "We got the idea from out sister gym Diablo Rock Gym," said manager Lyn Barraza. "The DRG challenge model seemed like a great way to encourage new members to explore the gym and have a great time doing it!"
"For those of you who think you're up for it, prepare yourself to compete with fellow BIW members," said desk staffer Ryan Moon. "Taking part in this challenge will transform you into the fittest person in the WORLD (East Bay)!"
This event kicked off February 1st, which is why you may have noticed score cards around the gym. With the score card, you can check off challenges in the form of climbing, yoga, cardio, BIW specific fitness classes, along with some fun community challenges to help get to know the gym and the community better.
Ready to get started?
Ask any of the desk staff for a BIW CHALLENGE sheet and get moving! February is almost half way over - but it's not too late to grab a challenge sheet and see how many challenges you can knock off the list.
Along with finding new ways to push yourself and get in shape, the challenge comes with an added bonus - a sweet T-shirt! Here's how it works. Each 'challenge' is worth a 10 points. Once you reach at least 300 points, you get at T-shirt. Aka: Major BIW street cred.
Once you start racking up the points, you'll get closer and closer to 'Camp 2'. Once you complete enough challenges for earn 600 points, let us know and we'll mark off your milestone.
And for those truly brave and pure of heart, 810 gets you to the summit! Be sure to get your friends to join in and complete the events together. Grab a sheet from the front desk today and let us know how you're doing on the event page.
On November 24th, a crew of Touchstone members and staff ran the Berkeley Half Marathon. The race followed a beautiful and scenic course through Berkeley and helped to raise funds fro Berkeley Public Schools Fund, Berkeley Food and Housing Project, and Berkeley Partner for Parks. Touchstone manager, Lyn Verinsky wrote a bit about the race for the Touchstone blog.
When I first heard that the city of Berkeley was going to host their first-ever half marathon, I thought, how cool would it be to get a team of runners from Berkeley Ironworks to run the race? So BIW created a team and since we are such an eclectic place, I decided that spots on the team would be based not on running ability, speed or anything related to performance, but rather by folks inspiring us by overcoming challenges or making us laugh with their funny stories or just telling us about why they love BIW a whole heck of a lot. Here are snippets from the essays written by three of the member-runners who made the team:
Most of the team assembled pre-race. Evangeline Black, Danielle Parfitt, Robin Puro, Zach Stauffer, Lyn Barraza, Amy Stauffer, Jessica Reddit, Sam Schwartz, Pat Hastings, Peter Marietta, Chris Ahlgren, Ponon Shyu, Phil Yip, Ari Oppenheimer.
Read more: BIW Crew at Berkeley Half Marathon
Recently Chris Ahlgren, who works at Berkeley Ironworks, climbed the West Face of Leaning Tower. After a eventful and successful climb, Chris submitted this report to the Touchstone Blog to talk a little bit about something we all face in climbing; fear.
Fear on the West Face of Yosemite’s Leaning Tower (V 5.7 C2F)
There was something profoundly terrifying about watching my climbing partner’s left shoe float away from his twisting body and fall a thousand feet onto the boulder field below us. The nut Will Skinner was standing on had just pinged out of the crack and Will was falling backwards in what seemed like slow motion. After having just back-cleaned the last two placements, he was going for a ride. Presumably tripped by the rope, which had ripped his off shoe, Will was in the middle of a back dive that may have been beautiful had he been headed for a pool.
Instead, it was horrifying! Perhaps the scariest fall I had ever witnessed. Due in part to the steep overhanging nature of the Leaning Tower and due in part to a dynamic catch, Will’s back contacted the wall with no more force than a hearty slap. Besides being a bit shaken and wearing only one shoe, he was fine. I sent him up one of my shoes on our tag line and he finished the pitch in proud fashion.
This was not the first fall of the day. Earlier that morning at the outset of the third pitch and my first lead, I too had taken a whipper. The pitch began steep and technical, too hard for me to free-climb, but I was looking for my opportunity. You see, one reason Will and I chose this route was to dial in our aid climbing skills in an attempt to speed up our sluggish pace. One way to speed up aid climbing is to get out of your aiders whenever possible and climb free, even if only to make a few moves.
About 25 feet from the belay, I reached a decent enough looking bolt near a shallow dihedral that allowed me the stance I needed to bunch up my aiders. From there I could attack an otherwise tricky section of C2 aid using good ol’ fashion pull power. The free-climbing felt great even in the absence of protection. After about 15 ft., I reached a roof that began a mean section of overhanging 5.12d. I opted to get back on aid. Balancing precariously on thin edges in my clumsy approach shoes I plugged a small offset cam in what looked to be a tight but flaring pod.
Now came the tricky part-- transitioning from aid to free and back to aid which is more awkward than it sounds. It became apparent that this was an aspect of my big wall game that needed some work. As I fumbled the twisted mass of aid ladder and daisy chain, I hung one-handed, a la French free, from the offset cam in the roof above my head. CRUNCH! I was airborne. The rope pulled taunt and I swung towards the wall. As the rope steched, Will was hoisted from his meager stance, and I contacted the wall lightly with both feet. Safe. Looking down at my left hand I had a white-knuckle death grip still wrapped around the webbing of my failed cam. I was scared, but managed to force the fear to the back of my mind. I re-worked the free moves, got a better placement in the roof and finished the pitch.
By early afternoon, Will reached the top of the sixth pitch which was to be our high point for the day, and rapped back to meet me on Guano Ledge. The sun was on us now and besides the occasional cover from scattered clouds, we were cookin’. Instead of cleaning the pitch then, I suggested laying low to conserve water during the heat of the day. I suggested cleaning the pitch nearer to sunset. I’ve never slept well on the walls I’ve climbed and until we laid down to nap I’d successfully suppress the fear that was building through the course of the day. Closing my eyes brought horrible images of Will in free fall, his shoe drifting above his body then disappearing to a dot below, and the sound and feel of my cam ripping from the wall. Sleeplessly, I writhed, baking in the afternoon sun.
By the time I was ready to clean, ascenders locked into place, fear had thoroughly permeated my body. My heart was racing, my palms were sweating, and my mind would only let my feet shuffle along the ledge, .The first move off of the ledge involved a pendulum that required me to swing into space leaving me dangling with nothing but air and the boulder field far below my feet. I moved slow and shaky but managed to make it back to the ledge before dark.
Did I mention a thunderstorm was in the forecast? As if I wasn’t rattled enough already, clouds full of electric potential began to flash to the west just as we slid into our sleeping bags. As I “slept”, my nightmares included being soaked in a downpour and struck by lightning in addition to the usual dreams of rock avalanches and free falls.
The next morning I spilled the beans. “I’m feeling rattled dude,” I confessed to Will. “I slept like s**t. I don’t know, my head’s not in it.” Much to my relief he admitted to feeling the same way. Simply talking about the fear and knowing that I wasn’t alone really helped take the edge off. I jugged to our high point and set out on my first lead. I planned to link pitches 7 & 8 and by the time I reached the top of the the 7th I was feeling much better. Before me ran a series of beautiful cracks that seemed climbable. I was so psyched to get out of my aiders that I free climbed the entirety of pitch 8. When I reached the belay I felt refreshed. I could relax knowing that was my last lead. Will led pitches 9 & 10 , I cleaned, and we hugged it out on top feeling the way that only finishing a big wall can make you feel-- like an f-ing champion!
When people asked me how the climb went, I’ve taken to this one line response: “It was the most psychologically demanding route I’ve ever done.” Since coming home I’ve thought a lot about what caused such a visceral fear response. I’ve certainly taken and caught my share of falls in the past, so that alone couldn’t have been it. The overnight lightning show certainly added a thrill, but naw, that wasn’t it either. It must have been the exposure. For so much of the route the very base of the wall was in plain view, pulling on my psyche. Watching Will’s shoe plummet let me imagine my own long freefall. Honestly, this is a safety paradox since it was the steepness of the wall that kept my and Will’s fall so clean. Clearly the effect was psychological.
Ultimately, climbing Leaning Tower was a lesson in fear management. Lying down on the ledge and replaying the falls in my mind that afternoon had allowed the fear to take hold. That began a snowball effect that culminated in my secret wishes to be home with my girlfriend and beautiful baby girl. On the flipside, climbing free and focusing on the logistics of big wall belay management allowed me to regain my focus and enjoy the climb.
Coincidentally the week before our climb I began reading a book called The Fear Project by Jaimal Yogis. In the early chapters, Yogis delves into the neurobiology of fear. Does it help to know that fear emanates from the amygdala? I don’t know. Perhaps more importantly Yogis goes on to describe modern experimentation in overcoming fear. Specifically the research indicates that exposure to the object of fear in a safe and reassuring setting can help the brain overcome the fear response. On the other hand, simply thinking about the object of fear, without action, will only reaffirm and further cement the fear response. More exactly, it seems possible to train our advanced human neocortex to dull the fear impulse that emanates from our primitive reptilian brain. Unwittingly I had made things much worse by lying on that ledge when I thought I was simply taking a break. Conversely, by continuing to climb I was reliving my fearful experience but overriding the experience of fear with the more familiar experience of the joy of climbing.
Rock climbing is always going to be scary. Fear of heights is what experts call a primitive fear (versus an acquired fear), but that doesn’t mean we have to allow that fear to control us. Go climbing. Be sure to build a solid foundation of positive, safe-feeling experiences so that the fearful moments are fleeting and never allowed to take root. Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun.
See ya on the cliffs.