Downhill Mountain Biking

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

On the Road in Rifle

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.

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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.

PMS climber

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.

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 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.

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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!)

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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.

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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).

River Party

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.

Project Wall

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!


Hood to Coast Bake Sale

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.

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Read more: Hood to Coast Bake Sale

GirlVentures at Touchstone Climbing Gyms

gwpcgroup2Every 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!

groupgwpcAre 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.

outdoorclimbTouchstone 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.

Fear on the West Face

1010923 10151669125446550_27899207_nRecently 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.

IMG 0642This 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.

IMG 0911By 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!

IMG 0942When 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.

IMG 0948Rock 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.

Big thanks to Chris for sharing his story with us! When not on a wall, Chris can be found behind the desk at BIW, or teaching an awesome Crack Climbing or Anchors 101 clinic. Remember to submit your trip reports to the This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

Touchstone Climbing Series

The 2014 Touchstone Climbing Series is winding down.. with a triumphant roar! Here is everything you need to know to prepare for the Rope Climbing Finale at Mission Cliffs on October 25th.

What it is:

TCS2014 is a 9 month comp series that has visited each and every Touchstone Climbing gym. Over 2,000 climbers from across the state have participated in the event, making it the largest climbing comp in the world! Each comp has featured climbing for beginner, intermediate and advanced climbers, along with all the beer, soda, and pizza you can stand. We throw these comps, which are FREE to members and only $10 for guests, so that we can thank them for being a part of out community. 

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Schedule: Ropes Finale at Mission Cliffs on Saturday, October 25th

11:30am- 5pm: Registration. Open Climbing. All levels.

4:30pm: Advanced Climbers turn in scorecards

5pm: All climbers turn in score cards

5pm: Beer, Pizza, Raffle Prizes 

6pm: On-sight finals 

8pm: Closed. Don't care where you go, but you can't stay here! 


To expedite your registration the day of the comp, please have your Competition Code and a paper waiver in hand when you arrive.

You can print a paper waiver

Get your comp code.

If you arrive with these two things, you'll be greeted with the highest of fives. 


• All climbers and belayers must have a valid belay card.

• Competitors may attempt any route.

• Competitors have a maximum of 3 attempts per route.

• When starting a route, your hands must remain in the start box until both feet leave the ground.

• Competitors may watch other climbers, but may not give advice while that climber is climbing.

• Points will be given when a competitor controls the boxed hold.

• Please have your belayer initial your score per attempt.

• You may not work a route. Once you have weighted the rope you must lower to the ground.

• Your final placing in the competition is determined by your three highest scores.

• It is the competitor’s responsibility to turn in their scorecard.

• Lead climbing is only permitted for advanced competitors. Any lead climbing will automatically bump you into the advanced category.

• Climb your hardest! If final score puts you into the higher category, you may be bumped. Congrats!

• Only 1 score from each grade will count towards your final score. Example: You can climb every 5.11a in the gym, but you'll only be able to count one. Why not go for that 5.11b?


At the end of the day, we will take the top 3 advanced climbers of the day, and the top 3 climbers of the series to compete in on-sight finals. The top three men and women from on-sight finals will receive a cash prize of $1,000, $600, and $350.

Overall Rope Series winners and overall Touchstone Climbing Series winners will also be announced.


Baking with Barnes: A Climber's Diet

Natasha Barnes, a Mission Cliffs climber, and bona fide rock crusher has been climbing for the past 13 years. In between sending 5.13d sport routes, bouldering problems like Thriller and Midnight Lightning in Yosemite, and going full tilt on the Yosemite offwidth circuit, Natasha works as a chiropactor in San Francisco.

For the past five years, Natasha has followed a strict vegan diet. "I only eat Vegans," she jokes. Natasha abstains from animal products, processed food, and operates her body on nutrient dense food. She took a moment to talk about what great food helps her send.

Read more: Baking with Barnes: A Climber's Diet

Late Night Climbing

For San Jose residents, Late Night Climbing offers a perfect chance to have a fun and healthy evening. Hundreds of South Bay climbers have skipped the clubs and bars for the excitement of The Studio Climbing. The Stuido has held a few Late Night Climbing sessions on May 17th, March 29th and February 15th.  The next one is coming up on July 26th.

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“Its a good time for people to sucker their friends into coming to the gym and even if they don't love it or climb that much it doesn't really matter to them because it was $5 bucks and they are in a rad environment where everyone is nice, sober and having a good time,” said The Studio manager Diane Ortega.

Read more: Late Night Climbing

Educate Ethiopia Climb-A-Thon

On September 7th, Diablo Rock Gym will be hosting the Educate Ethiopia Climb-A-Thon. Patagonian ambassador Majka Burhardt, a well-known climber and dynamic inspirational speaker, will be presenting a speaker/slide show in the evening. Along with a raffle and silent auction with gear from The North Face, Patagonia, Mountain Hardware, and the AAC, there will be Ethiopian food and an awesome presentation.


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Read more: Educate Ethiopia Climb-A-Thon

How To Make A Stick Clip

Traveling to different crags across the country, climbs have different levels of safety. Some routes begin above boulders with heinous drop offs below. Other routes have a crux at the very start. Either way, blowing the moves on these routes can be disastrous.

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In places like Smith Rocks in Oregon, the Red River Gorge in Kentucky, Maple Canyon in Utah, Rifle in Colorado, and even some of the routes at Pinnacles National Monument, clipping the first bolt can be quite useful. Not only does stick clipping the first bolt allow for a pyschological jump into the hard climbing, having the first bolt clipped also provides a significant amount of safety from hitting the ground. The best way to do that is with a stick clip.

Read more: How To Make A Stick Clip

Throwing Grades in the Trash

zachpadRecently Zach, a desk staffer at The Studio Climbing in San Jose, filed this report for the Touchstone Blog on how we treat grading in the gym. 

It's 9 o'clock on an unremarkable Tuesday night at The Studio. The influx of eager climbers has slowed, creating somewhat of a lull for us at the front desk. I take advantage of our brief reprieve and address some of the closing chores, namely taking out the trash. 
I've learned from unpleasant experience not to look too closely at the contents of the garbage; I usually try to enter a state of dissociative amnesia while I'm running trash. If I'm lucky, I don't even remember doing it once I'm done. On this night, however, I was pulled back into reality when I inspected the bottom of a trash can and found, crumpled and reduced to refuse, all of the grades from the routes that had been stripped the day before. 
I blinked. Stripped less than a day ago, the shiny duct tape had already begun to lose its luster. Numbers corresponding to the Yosemite Decimal System were decimated, wadded up and discarded like a piece of gum that's lost its flavor. The 5.12+ that had looked so imposing adhered to the lead wall now lay in a puddle of coffee, drowning sorrowfully next to a 5.11 that I had called soft. The routes which had supposedly been the measure of our climbing abilities were now little more than a piece of yesterday's trash.

Maybe you're starting to see where I'm going with this. Grades have become an inexorable aspect of the climbing gym experience, and for many, they have become the main reason to go to the gym or to climb at all. 

It's not hard to see why this happens. Climbing media spotlights elite climbers sending the world's hardest, most exciting climbs, leaving us drooling over the send footage and devising plans to be that strong some day. When your hero is some dude doing one-finger pull-ups and climbing V15, the value judgement you make is about measurable criteria: what grade he climbs and how many one-arms he can do, not something vague like how much fun he is having.
Maybe you come to the gym and train so you can be that guy, or so you can be the girl on the cover of the next climbing magazine, and that's fine.
No, really, that's awesome, I want to be that guy too.
However, I don't think achieving that success should come at the price of losing perspective of why we go to the climbing gym.
 I think many of us (including myself) could use a critical reevaluation of what a grade in the gym means, or at least what it should mean. A grade in the gym is a suggestion, a tentative guideline based on a general consensus to help you find something that you want to climb. A grade is little more than an instrument for helping you select a route to train on; in the gym, grades are stripped of whatever intrinsic value they might have outdoors. Here's what a 5.10a in a gym really means:

5.10a: If you climb 5.10, you should try this, and it will be moderately challenging. If you climb 5.12, you could use this as a warm up, or to run laps. If you climb 5.9, you should project this, if you feel like trying hard. 

We recently hosted a youth SCS competition at The Studio where the comp climbs weren't labelled with YDS grades. Instead, they were numbered from 1-40, with 1 being the easiest and 40 being the hardest. For a brief, magical period after the competition (before the routes got YDS grades), people had the opportunity to get on a climb without any preconceived notion of how hard it “should be.” And while some people took this opportunity, others couldn't stand the idea of not knowing the “real grade” of the climb, i.e. what that climb was worth to them, and others, in terms of bragging rights and send-points.

If you want to know what those climbs, or any climb in the gym is really worth, I'll tell you: They're worth whatever training you got out of trying them, and whatever fun you had while climbing them.

photoI'm not suggesting that we do away with the entire concept of grading in the gym, far from it. We all use grades to determine what to warm-up on, what to project, and to get an idea of what we could (ideally) climb outside. However, we should all notice that the girl on the front of the climbing magazine isn't pictured inside a climbing gym, she's outside doing what she spent all those hours in the gym training to do: real climbing. World-ranked climbers aren't logging their gym climbs on their, and neither are you, so don't beat yourself up when you don't send your gym project. 

By no means am I trying to diminish the joy we experience when we send a project in the gym, rather, I hope we can all realize that the pleasure we derive from our time in the gym is not contained in the number at the bottom of the route. Whatever your project in the gym may be, you can rest assured that it won't be there for long. What will last, however, is the enjoyment you derive from it, and the positive effect it has on your climbing. Six months from now when you're climbing outside and reaping the benefits of the training you're doing now, you will benefit from the overall work you put in, not the V-points you earned in the gym. As for the ratings of your training routes? You won't remember them any more than you remember the contents of yesterday's trash. 

Past blog entries can be found at



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