Member Route Setting Clinic at BIW

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).

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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.

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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.

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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!" 

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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!

Touchstone Hopes to Bring Rope Gym to Pasadena

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! 


Rest Day Planning

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.

Check Facebook

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.

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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 for the latest news, or fixate on your 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.

Learning to Rope Climb at Touchstone

Climbing is the the heart and soul of Touchstone, and since we make a point to do what we love... We LOVE teaching people how to safely and efficiently climb. If you're new to roped climbing and want to get started, you've got a few options. Read on to find out which option is best for you! 

#1. Come climbing with a friend!

Climbing is historically linked with a culture of mentorship. Way back when there were no climbing gyms, (gasp!) if you wanted to rock climb you typically went climbing with a mentor who would take you under their wing and show you the ropes. (yuk yuk yuk!) These days, teaching someone to climb is almost a right of passage. Someone taught your friend to tie a figure 8 knot, and now it is their duty as a conscientious climber to teach you.

Pros: Cheap. We give our members 2 FREE guest passes each month. One 'anytime' guest to use whenever they want and 1 pass on 'Member/Guest Night'. Shmooze your friend who has a membership to get them to use their guest pass and teach you to belay. You'll still need to pay for rental gear ($5), and probably owe your friend dinner.

Cons: Real Talk. Who knows if your friend is really such a great belayer!? Sure they might have climbed the rock wall at REI once, or belayed outside... But to know, is not to know how to teach. Too often a fun trip to the gym turns into hours of frustration.

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#2. Take our Intro to Climbing Class

This is our most popular class, offered daily at every Touchstone Gym that has rope climbing. Be sure to check the calendar at your local gym to find out the daily schedule. In this 1 hour class you'll learn how to be a self sufficient climber and belayer in the gym. This means everything from securing the harness, to tying the figure 8 knot, to belaying your climber and lowering them down to the ground.

Pros: This is the perfect class for two people who want to climb the walls - NOW! The class lasts about an hour and is only a few bucks more than you would pay for a day pass. Once the class is done, you are free to practice your new found skills in the gym for the rest of the day. Also - it's FREE to members. Cha-ching.

Cons: Since there is a lot to teach in 1 hour, you typically wont have much time to learn about climbing technique. You'll be able to climb your heart out - but might be missing out on helpful tips and tricks that can make climbing way easier.

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#3 Take our Intro to Climbing PLUS Class

This is a new class for Touchstone. Since the ICC class only offers safety and basic belaying skills, we wanted to give new climbers a little more CLIMBING instruction right off the bat. This way you build good habits from the very beginning. In the first hour you'll learn all the important stuff: belaying, knot tying, harness checking ext. Then, in the second hour you'll climb with the instructor to learn basic body positioning, hold recognition, footwork and more. This is a GREAT way to jump start your new climbing career/ hobby!

Pros: Not only do you get 2 hours of instruction from one of our dreamy staff members, you'll get a FREE day pass so you can come back to the gym within a week and climb again!

Cons: Nada.


How To Find Climbing Partners

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.

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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.

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Long term friendships can develop out of providing a good catch

Be Honest

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.

Go Climbing

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.

Member of the Month: Ryan Rougeux

By Jason Bove

Sacramento is abuzz with chatter about the Touchstone Climbing Series coming to town TOMORROW, February 21st. At which time, we will all revel in excitement as we merrily eat, drink, adorn new T-shirts, and climb new routes! What you may not remember as you are enjoying all of these things this weekend, is the hard work that goes into bringing together such a magical night of festivities.

One of the many individuals that have spent long hours bringing this event to fruition is this months’ staff pick...Mr. Ryan Rougeux. Besides working at Sacramento Pipeworks and Stone Age Climbing, Ryan has many more talents up his sleeve. First and foremost, he has already climbed most of the routes that you will lay your calloused paws on this weekend...because he helped to set them!


Bove: Some folks describe you as a modern day renaissance man, due in part to all the activities that you participate in. Can you tell us a bit more about what you do around Sacramento Pipeworks for Touchstone Climbing?

Rougeux: I’ve worked behind the desk for over 7 years, and a few years ago I started to diversify my roles at Touchstone. I started working at Stone Age almost 3 years ago assisting Wes Tite in manufacturing the glorious holds that grace every climbing wall in the Touchstone universe. Somehow, they also let me set routes twice a week at Pipeworks. I am mostly in charge of the Pipeworks Facebook page, and for a short stint I was coaching the kids team. Wearing so many hats at Touchstone keeps me from getting burned out on just one job. Oh, and I also teach clinics from time to time.

ryan3Bove: Your rope access duties for ISCC (Industrial Structure Cleaning Company) have taken you to various countries and places around the United States. Do you have a favorite destination thus far? Is there somewhere in particular you would like to go next?

Rougeux: I just got back from 18 days in Houston, TX, and I don’t ever need to go back. By far my favorite destination was Brasil. After a week of work and partying with the Cirque du Soleil crew, myself, Phil (PW member), and Sarah headed to Rio for a week. We then climbed a 4 pitch 5.9 route called K2 up Corcovado that ends at the giant Jesus; it was as awesome as it sounds! My boss is currently working on expanding his business into Dubai, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for that trip.

Bove: I know that your busy schedule includes lots of fun things as well. How do you mainly enjoy your free time away from work?

Rougeux: When I’m not climbing I train a lot of different aerial acrobatic skills. Static trapeze is my current favorite apparatus. I’m also hoping to do a lot of mountaineering this spring and summer to complete my quest of all of California’s 14’ers.

ryan2Bove: You have been involved in dance and acrobatics routines for years. Where is the next level that you want to reach in these pursuits?

Rougeux: I really want to put together a routine on the static trapeze--maybe solo, maybe doubles, nothing too crazy, just something polished enough for small shows. I also want to get more climbers interested in aerial acrobatics; it’s great cross training!

Bove: Are there any upcoming shows where we can watch you showcase your skills?

Rougeux: Nothing in the books currently. However, it looks as though I’ll be an extra on stage for the Sacramento Ballet’s production of Carmina Burana on March 27-30. It’s more of a stand there and look pretty role.

Bove: Back to the competition on Friday at Sacramento Pipeworks...are there any format changes that may be different from years past? Are there any particular routes that you are excited about and/or want to see someone climb? Why?

Rougeux: Pink with a black stripe, because I set it! The route clocks in around 12b, and is a compression / heel hook masterpiece--one of those climbs it’s hard to breathe on, because your entire body is squeezing. Really, all of the routes will be worthy of a send! We have received a huge new order of Teknik holds, and Stone Age is debuting a few new lines of holds. If you’re a gym rat that already knows every hold, then there are surprises waiting for you on the wall!


Get Ready for TCS in 5 Easy Steps

The Touchstone Climbing Series - or TCS2014 - is a fun and friendly competition series that will tour all nine Touchstone gyms throughout California. It's a great way to challenge your climbing, have a blast, and visit different gyms. This year, the competition series will rotate between roped climbing and bouldering each month, so everyone gets a chance to climb. On February 21st at Sacramento Pipeworks, we're kicking off the season with ropes!

Comp nights are one big, huge, climbing party. Come prepared to have an absolute blast. This event is FREE for members, and only $10 for guests.

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How to prepare yourself for TCS2014.

#1. Bring a paper waiver.

Yes, you've already signed one. And yes, you get to do it again. A printed paper waiver is required for ALL competitors. You can either print one up ahead of time HERE, or grab one from the front desk of your local Touchstone Climbing Gym.

#2. Register online to get your comp code.

That's right. 21st century baby! Every competitor will get a 3 letter code that will follow you for the rest of your life. To get your code, click HERE to sign in once you're done reading. It will look a little something like this:

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If you've competed in a Touchstone Climbing Competition in the last 2 years, you should already have a code. Click 'Already Registered?' Once you know your code and have registered for the Pipeworks comp, write the 3 letter code on the top of your wavier. You'll need both to pick up a score card on Friday.  

#3. Plan ahead

Think about riding your bike or carpooling to alleviate parking woes! Even though we happily added a ton of parking this year, our lot has been knows to fill up on busy nights like this. The competition will begin at 5pm and end at 10pm. You can come or leave at any point during the night - just remember to turn in your score card when you're done climbing!

#4. Come hungry and thirsty

Climb your little heart out, then feast on local pizza, beer, and beverages. 

#5. Have fun.

That's what it's all about, right? Be sure to post photos and tag them with #tcs2014 to share the magic with all your friends. 

See you at the comp!



Jailhouse Climbers Topping Out Crag

“To get to the top, untie, and watch the rope disappear over the edge is pretty special,” said Rick Miller. The 45 year old wood molding mill manager completed the first ascent of Lolita, a 150 foot 5.14b route at Jailhouse Rock in Sonora, California in late January.

Double Jailhouse Send

Rosie Cahoon on the left and Rick Miller on the right top out the crag. Matt Pound photo.

Miller’s addition is the only the third route to top out the crag out and also the most difficult.  In the world of sport climbing, most routes stop in the middle of the wall and the majority of sport climbers never summit the crag.  Miller’s addition solidifies the concept of summiting even in sport climbing.

A 12 year Jailhouse climber, Miller began working the route in January of 2013 and redpointed a year after first bolting the overhanging basalt wall. Miller calls the route “working man’s 5.14b” and described the top of the ampitheatre saying, “The climbing at the top isn’t physically as challenging- it’s a mental game to not blow it.”

One of California’s best sport crags, Jailhouse remained locked until 2010 when the Access Fund negotiated with landowners for public access. Jailhouse boasts nearly a hundred climbs from 5.11d to 5.14d with the average route clocking in at 5.13c. Located two hours east of San Francisco and two hours west of Yosemite, the crag sets the standards for northern California sport climbing.

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Miller after summiting U-Haul 5.14b

“The only way to rock climb is to walk off the top,” said Mike Kerzhner.  In the spring of 2011, Kerzhner bolted the 145 foot 5.14a U-Haul­, the second route to top out at Jailhouse.  “That applies to bouldering, sport, and trad.” Reaching the summit is gives people a deep sense of fulfillment and also an opportunity to enjoy the area surrounding them.

"This crag is kind of unique in that the top out is so beautiful," said Rosie Cahoon, who recently topped out the crag via the 5.13b route Three Strikes. "The strange rocky landscape and the horses that hang out on top make it really special."

Kerzhner, Miller, and other Jailhouse climbers plan to continue extending routes at Jailhouse to the top.  

Too Big to Flail

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.

unnamed-3 Ethan on This Side of Paradise. Photo credit: Damn Corso

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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.

unnamed-4Steven 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.

unnamed-5Steven, 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.

1920299 579659285458123 373154734 nSteven 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.

unnamed-3-1Ethan, 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.
1618622 10153811281155573 2037629990 nEthan 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.

unnamed-2-1Steven, 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.

Berkeley Ironworks Challenge

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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!"

unnamed"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.

unnamed-1Along 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.

Good luck!










Mission Cliffhangers

The "Mission Cliffhangers", Mission Cliffs' teen climbing team, has been enjoying a fun-filled, successful run in this year's Northern California Youth Climbing League! The Mission Cliffhangers are a fun-loving group of twenty Touchstone members between the ages of 7 and 17 who all share boundless enthusiasm for climbing--and the YCL competition series provides the perfect venue for them to have a blast and climb their best!


The Youth Climbing League (put together by Andy Puhvel and Lisa Coleman of Yo! Basecamp) is a series of climbing competitions for kids and teens that takes place at rock gyms in and around the Bay Area--the competitions themselves are judged in two separate categories: difficulty and speed. On January 12th, Touchstone's very own Diablo Rock Gym hosted the season-opening competition, and seven excited Mission Cliffhangers traveled out to Concord to represent their home gym, climb some awesome new routes, and have a good time! Team members Nilo Batle, Audrey Duane, Elsie Karlak, Elias Lawson-Fox, Zephir Lorne, Cosmo Maddux, and Elijah Whitlam-Sandler all climbed their hearts out at this event...and they even won some prizes! In their respective age categories: Nilo placed first in both difficulty and speed, Cosmo tied in second for difficulty, Audrey placed fifth in difficulty and fourth in speed, and Elias placed fifth in difficulty! And after all the chalk dust settled, the Cliffhangers, utterly exhausted but proud of their accomplishments, made their way home.

Cosmo Nilo Elias sitting

The Mission Cliffhangers' most recent YCL competition took place on January 25th at the Rocknasium rock gym in Davis, outside Sacramento. Team members Nilo Batle, Audrey Duane, Oscar Herrera-Sobal, Elias Lawson-Fox, Lucas Lawson-Fox, Cosmo Maddux, Cate Tam, and Elijah Whitlam-Sandler all attended and made the long hour-and-a-half trek from San Francisco. The Rocknasium competition proved to be quite significantly more difficult than the previous event, with the gym's shorter walls demanding more compact, strength-based climbing from the competitors. However, the Mission Cliffhangers stuck to their guns, climbed as hard as they possibly could, and gave it their all--by the competition's end, bouldering a V0 seemed just as hard as freeing The Nose! In the end Nilo placed first in both difficulty and speed, Audrey placed second in speed, Elias placed fifth in difficulty, and Lucas placed fifth in both difficulty and speed--an all-around good showing in what was most likely the hardest YCL event in the series.


February 8th marks the Mission Cliffhangers' next YCL competition, and this time the venue will be Vertex Climbing Center in Santa Rosa. The Cliffhangers are especially looking forward to this event, as they will be cheering for their head coach, Malcolm McMahon, in the adult climbing contest immediately following the main YCL event! After this third competition, the Mission Cliffhangers have two more stops: the penultimate competition Planet Granite in Belmont on February 23rd and the series championship Pacific Edge in Santa Cruz on March 1st.

The Northern California Youth Climbing League is an awesome competition series that affords Mission Cliffs' teen team a great opportunity to climb with their teammates, explore new rock gyms and meet other climbing teams, and just have a huge amount of fun! The Mission Cliffhangers themselves are an awesome group of kids who really put a ton of effort into their climbing and seem to have endless enthusiasm and passion for the sport--and by participating in these competitions they show their desire to push their climbing to the next level, to put their skills to the test and do their best!


Past blog entries can be found at



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