Team bonding is a science, and one that we don't take lightly here at Touchstone. This Summer Jeremy Yee, the manager of Great Western Power Company in Oakland, lead his staff on a 10.5 miles torture slog, otherwise known as the Tough Mudder Race. The whole team crossed this finish line with arms linked and camaraderie high.... but it's what happens in between the starting line and the finish line that brought them closer. Read on for first hand accounts of the Tough Mudder from each competitors perspective.
Jeremy Yee - After 4 hours and 10.5 miles of scaling 12-foot high walls, crawling through submerged or buried tunnels and something else called an 'Arctic Enema' (sounds amazing, I know) we'd finally reached the last and final barrier. Locking our arms together, we collectively braced ourselves for the conclusion of our ordeal; hundreds of dangling wires, each charged with thousands of volts of electricity (10,000 to be exact).
I kept telling myself "I didn't sign up for this!", except the truth was that I did, voluntarily. I even paid money for the privilege of subjecting myself to this "challenge" (ed note: torture). If you’re the one person who hasn’t heard about Tough Mudder yet, it’s the probably the largest of a growing wave of hardcore obstacle course races that essentially serve as grueling, endurance-based adult playgrounds… ones that require participants to sign a death waiver.
Founded by a former British counter-terrorism agent, Tough Mudder was made to combat the monotony of other endurance races like marathons and triathlons by adding cramped & buried tunnels, mud pits, wall climbs, fright inducing jumps, and live electrical wires. As philanthropic as it is challenging-to-its-competitors, each race donates a portion of its proceeds to the Wounded Warrior Project, raising over $5 million.
My team was composed of some of the best & brightest that GWPC has to offer. I was joined by fellow masochists "AJ" Andrew Jackson, Stephanie Jim, Zev Gurman & Jon Kennedy. Using the underrated technique of alternating between running, jogging, walking and complaining, we completed the course at the Northstar California resort in Truckee, CA in just over four hours.
The challenges were extremely fun, and just challenging enough to give competitors a sense of accomplishment (or failure). My personal favorites were the Arctic Enema (basically a dumpster full of ice that we had to wade through both partially & completely submerged), Everest (a giant quarter pipe – you had to run up the ramp and vault up to the lip), and Just the Tip/Berlin Wall, where we got to show off our climbing skills!
John Kennedy -There where a lot of good things about the race. I was psyched when I heard the race would be in Tahoe. Going in, at least I knew the race would have some good views, and fresh air. The whole race for me was really fun, especially since we didn't take things too seriously; making jokes and laughing the whole way. My favorite obstacle had to be "Everest", the 12' quarter pipe that you had to run up and top-out. Go Team!
Zev - An object's properties can only be measured through direct interaction, and that interaction tends to alter the state of said object. We all know this is true. From science....or something. As climbers, we reach out to our limits in order to measure ourselves, and in doing so, we (sometimes unwittingly) expand our limits. Whether we're sending our first V-Hard or climbing a new wall, as climbers we welcome new challenges as new metrics by which to measure our inner dimensions.
When our awesome manager, Jeremy, asked what kind of mud run we'd be interested in, I knew that we had to run a Tough Mudder, because we had to test our limits. (For science!) Everything else on the list was just too short or too painless. Though the crowd was a little bit more bro-y than anticipated, the challenges were tough, and the course was muddy. Thousands of volts, hundreds of feet of mud, a few ice baths, and 10.5 miles later I reflected that I had explored new limits that day as I explored a familiar refreshing, hard-earned adult beverage. Most of all I was happy to be exploring those new limits with friends. In the same way that climbing a few new pitches with a partner makes that bond stronger and exposes new bits of his/her character, working through the Tough Mudder with Andrew, Jeremy, Jon, and Stephanie brought us together as a team more than months of working side by side could have. I never would have run that thing on my own.
Stephanie - Tough Mudder was overall one of the toughest things I've really ever done. It was one of those courses where you really have to be physically and mentally fit - both of which, I'm ready to admit that I'm not. But now that the dust has settled, I am so happy to have finished it. Even though I feel weaker than usual, I found I do have inner strength to pull from. I loved all the climbing-related challenges because I got to show a lot of men that women can be strong too! I really liked the monkey bars because even though I was definitely hesitant to do it, it was like riding a bike and finishing that challenge brought me back to the days when I was queen of the playground. Finally, doing this with my amazing coworkers just made me feel all warm and fuzzy - maybe some of those fuzzies came from from our finale challenge where we linked arms and ran through the 10,000 Volt Chandelier of Pain (aka, "Electroshock Therapy"). Although it was painful, it was a fitting symbol of our unity here at GWPC: we started together and ended together. There's no better feeling than that - except for maybe piggy back rides from your boss in the partner-carry challenge.
Andrew - I felt like this race was a real team building experience for us all. I felt like this race really reinforced the rapport that we have as coworkers & teammates. A lot of the obstacles required you to lend a helping hand (or even just some encouragement) to your fellow Mudder, and we seemed to do really well in those ones. That's why my favorite obstacle, was the log climb ("Lumberjacked") where you had to climb over the top of a log that was suspended about 6-8' off the ground. We really had to help one another out on that one. All in all, I would definitely do the Tough Mudder again... Minus being electrocuted.
Jeremy - The bottom line – it’s a challenge, but it’s a fun challenge. You can push yourself as far as you want... and then some, but the odds are very good you’ll come away with a smile on your face. I particularly enjoyed the camaraderie and fellowship with my coworkers as we emerged from our icy baths, or whilst charging down the mountain and screaming our battle cry for all to hear.
....I guess you had to be there.
The Brotherhood of the Traveling Sombero, a team of down hill mountain bikers sponsored by Touchstone Climbing, recently completed their first race at Northstar with solid results. We caught up with them this week to get the scoop on the race.
“Northstar, which is infamous for dust and rocks, did not disappoint for the first race of the series,” said Touchstone rider Daniel Melvin. “It's a rather short course, lasting around three and a quarter minutes, with two bottom-bracket-smashing rock sections and two long flat sprints.... It was far from relaxing!"
Read more: Downhill Mountain Biking
James Lucas has been climbing in Rifle Colorado, and submitted this trip report to the Touchstone Blog along with some great photos.
Rifle Colorado offers some of the best sport climbing in the United States. The two mile canyon hosts hundreds of steep limestone routes. The approach to the crags vary from a short thirty second walk to a grueling five minute hike. Sitting at nearly 8,000 feet, the canyon with its easy access, offers a great spot for a summer climbing trip.
I left Yosemite in the beginning of June and made a circuitous drive to Rifle, stopping in Tuolumne, Las Vegas, Maple Canyon and Salt Lake before finally reaching Colorado. While in Maple, I slipped clipping the second bolt on a warm-up. The rope wrapped behind my leg, burning my thigh. I hit the ground, landing on my back. I sent the route and then limped out of Maple to hang out in Salt Lake City for a few days. When I reached Rifle, I got food poisoning the first night. Two days later, a fire in the nearby town of Rifle threatened to burn the entire canyon. The park was closed for a few days while firefighters worked to contain the blaze. It was a less than auspicious beginning to the trip.
After a few days, the fire cleared up. My food poisoning dissipated and my rope burn healed. Touchstone athlete, Ethan Pringle, showed up with his Norweigian lady friend Trine. At night we listened to Carl Hiaasen’s new audio book Bad Monkey. During the day, we climbed. Trine hiked the classic Feline (5.11a) and Ethan managed a strong show, putting down Cryptic Egyptian (5.13c) his second try, onsighting Sometimes Always (5.13c), and sending Present Tense (5.13d) in just a few efforts.
“Midgets Remain Indoors,” Ethan suggested. For the week that Ethan and Trine climbed in Rifle, we guessed at the acronym MRI that marked every port-a-potty.
Ethan and Trine stayed for a week and I kept climbing. Two years ago, I spent three weeks climbing in Rifle and did many of the easier 5.12 routes. This trip, I’ve focused on climbing some of the harder routes for me. I managed to send Hang Em Higher (5.12d), Slaggissimo (5.12d), Pump-O-Rama (5.13a), and Vitamin D (5.12d), and Hand Me the Canteen Boy (5.12d). In typical Rifle fashion, I’ve also one hung a few sport routes too.
One of the routes I’m most psyched to climb is the 8th Day, which is a mega long technical 5.13a. In the picture is Martin, a crazy Bulgarian who hangs tough in Rifle during the summers. Martin managed to tick the route in a 2 hour ascent.
American Sport climber Colette McInerney climbing on Cryptic Egyptian.
The summer weather in Rifle is hot. When Charlie Barrett arrived, I outfitted him in the proper attire. (Notice the Berkeley Ironworks tank!)
Tank tops are essential in the heat. Look Good Climb Good. In between the heat, afternoon thunder showers kept the humidity high. I often confused climbing in Colorado with pulling on limestone in Laos. There's a nice river that goes through the canyon, which makes for a perfect place to swim during the heat of the day.
Isabelle sending Quickdraws (5.12c)
There’s a constant roll of climbers coming through Rifle. There’s been a crew from Quebec who scream French when they fall. This photo shows Stephane Perron falling going to the anchors on the Project Wall classic Apocalypse (5.13c).
Former Touchstone member, Isabelle Rittberg has been crushing in the canyon. Rifle is also the former stomping grounds of Ironworks Stockboy, Scott Frye. Frye established some of the best routes in the canyon including Beer Run (5.13a), and Living in Fear (5.13d).
One of the best parts about Rifle is sitting around the river in the afternoon, when the day is hottest. The river is shallow but really cold and perfect for freezing your body after struggling up one of the hard routes.
This last weekend was the Rifle Rendez-spous, which is the annual park clean up. A ton of climbers came out for the event. Chris Sharma gave a slide show and there was a really fun bbq. I managed to get to the anchors on the 8th day twice. The first time, I climbed to the top in the pouring rain. I still have another week and a half in Colorado. I’m looking forward to more crushing! Hopefully the 8th day will go down!
The beaches of Seaside, Oregon are a scenic three hour trip by car from the glaciated slopes of Mt. Hood. But on August 23rd, Touchstone members Caydie McCumber and Sebastien Lounis, along with a team of 10 other friends, will link those landmarks on foot, covering a winding 200 mile course in the 2013 Hood-to-Coast relay.
Read more: Hood to Coast Bake Sale
Stacks of stones line the trails in Yosemite. Piles of rock often mark the summits of mountains. These groups of rocks, called cairns, are found all over the world, varying in size from small stone markers to enormous conical rock piles.
Read more: Cairns with Diablo Rock Gym
Every Spring and Fall, Great Western Power Company, our Oakland location, hosts “Girlz Climb On”, a climbing adventure program for young women, administered and organized by GirlVentures. Since they have another session coming up this Fall, we decided to check in with the GirlVentures Team to learn more about this amazing program!
Can you describe your program (Girlz Climb On) to someone who isn't already familiar with it?
GirlVentures’ signature after-school program provides meaningful one-on-one mentorships and rock climbing experience for girls in grades 6-9. Trained female volunteer mentors and girls meet after school for 2.5 hours a week for twelve consecutive weeks at two Touchstone ClimbingGyms, GWPC in Oakland and Mission Cliffs in San Francisco. These mentors coach girls on both climbing skills and the transference of character-building experiences of climbing into girls’ broader lives. Girls learn trust, perseverance, self-confidence, communication/self-express and team collaboration. They enjoy improved self-esteem and gain access to a nontraditional, male dominated sport that is financially inaccessible to many families.
How many kids do you service in this program? Are there any requirements/qualifications to participate?
We serve 20 girls from 6th-9th grade (10 at GWPC, 10 at Mission Cliffs) twice a year during our fall and spring sessions. There are no requirements for participants except for an eagerness to learn!
Are there scholarships available for families who cannot afford the program fees?
Yes! To ensure that ALL girls have the opportunity to participate in our programs, we award financial aid to two-thirds of all participants.
What types of skills do the girls typically learn? Is it just a climbing program, or are there other elements to it?
Each week we work on developing technical climbing skills: everything from tying a figure-8 follow-thru knot and belaying to techniques like smearing and edging. We also focus on issues that connect rock climbing with a strength a girl already has or would like to improve on like building relationships with friends, trust, leadership, self-expression, working as a group, communication and resolving conflicts. We begin with a one-day ropes course at Fort Miley, practice indoors for 10-12 weeks, and conclude with a weekend outdoor climb at Castle Rock State Park.
Where do your program mentors come from? Is there a way for interested members to get involved with this program?
GirlVentures mentors are a diverse group of women from all walks of life and climbing experience. Generally, we seek mentors who have the following qualifications, though they are not required:
Coaching, teaching or mentoring experience with adolescents
(informal experience with friends & family counts...) Diversity/anti-oppression training or experience
(women of color strongly encouraged to apply) Passion for empowering young women
(i.e.: a desire to share your belief that girls can do anything) Climbing/belaying experiencing
(if you have belayed and/or can climb a 5.8 or higher we are already impressed)
Strong candidates without climbing experience are considered IF they are able to commit to taking a belay class AND practice climbing at the gym a few times prior to the start of the program.
Touchstone members can certainly get involved! Interested members can learn more about the mentorship role and commitments here. Girlz Climb On for mentors begins on September 16, 2013 and for girls on September 21, 2013. The program runs for 10 weeks from 4-7 p.m. on Mondays at Mission Cliffs and Wednesdays at GWPC.
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.
We've got exciting news about our next competition series! As the Touchstone Climbing Gym family keeps expanding, our competition series is growing right along with us! We're psyched to announce the creation of TCS, the Touchstone Climbing Series, which will kick off in 2014.
For those of you familiar with our bouldering and roped competitions, TCS is the holy consummation of TBS and TRS. With 9 gyms and such a dedicated climbing population, we've combined the two comps and created a schedule that will run annually, visiting each Touchstone location and rotating between a ropes competition and a bouldering competition. One comp to rule them all!
The 2014 TCS comp schedule is as follows:
Feb 21 - Ropes at Pipeworks
Mar 21 - Bouldering at BIW
April 25 - Ropes at MM
May 23 - Bouldering at SJ
June 20 - Ropes at DRG
July 25 - Bouldering at LA.B
Aug 22 - Ropes at GWPC
Sept 26 - Bouldering Finale at Dogpatch Boulders
Oct 24 - Ropes Finale at Mission Cliffs
Here are some commonly asked questions regarding the new comp scheudle.
Q: Does this mean there are less competitions?
A: No! Creating TCS doesn't mean we will have less competitions, that's the beauty of it. Instead, we'll be able to involve more people since some of our members only boulder, or only rope climb. No more waiting.
Q: Are the competitions still free to members?
A: Yes! Comps will always be free for our members, because you are awesome and we love you. Plus, guests are only $10. It's the cheapest way into the gym.
Q: How will this affect routesetting?
A: In a good way! By organizing the comp series by annually, we'll be able to keep our routesetting team on top of all 9 gyms, bringing you more new climbs more often.
Q: Do we still get free t-shirts, booze, pizza, and tons of new climbing?
A: Le duh.
Q: Will there be on-sight finals?
A: Yes, there will be a bouldering finale AND a rope finale. 2014 is going to be a very big year. On-sight finals will go down at Dogpatch Boulders and Mission Cliffs for the over-all bouldering and rope leaders.
Q: Do I really have to wait until 2014 for the next competition at Touchstone?!
A: No way. We wouldn't deprive you of the heart-pumping adrenaline rush that is a Touchstone Comp. There will be other events this year to keep your fingers strong and your livers in shape. There will be a Grand Opening competition at LA.B, our newest bouldering gym in Los Angeles. The gym is set to open in late 2013, and we'll be sure to kick it off right to show LA how we party -er, um, climb. Also, the Mission Cliffs expansion will be completed in early 2014, so we'll be sure to have a grand re-opening party. And if that wasn't enough, stay tuned for events at all our gyms this fall. We've got some awesome events planned for you guys.
We can't wait to kick off the new comp series - and we hope you're as psyched as we are!