Mortar Rock History and Clean-Up

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yosemite Open

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

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

Half Dome 5

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24 HHH with Jeff Hansen

Recently, Touchstone route setter Jeff Hansen headed to Arkansas for the infamous 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell.  He wrote a bit about his trip for the Touchstone blog.

The last weekend of September, I traveled to the sandstone cliffs of Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas to participate in 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell. For those who haven’t heard of 24HHH, teams of 2 attempt to climb as many routes as possible in a 24 hour period.

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Up all night at the North Forty crag (Photo Credit: Lydia Ruth Freeman)

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Ebbetts Pass Century

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

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Member Profile: Victor Bonanno


In our monthly segment - 15 Minutes with the Doctor - Jason Bove of Sacramento Pipeworks sits down with a member to find out what makes them tick.


Victor B.1Today, I was lucky enough to chat with long-time Member, Father, Grandfather, Husband, Climber, Outdoor Enthusiast, and recent Crossfit Participant...Mr. Victor Bonanno. Since 2002, and a couple of different local climbing gyms, Victor has been a part of the climbing community surrounding me in Sacramento.

I figured it was about time to get a small piece of his inspiring story to share with all of you. Enjoy.

Upon turning 50 years young, Victor decided that the time had come to finally get to those hobbies he had been wanting to do for years; amongst them, Abalone Diving and Rock Climbing. Not knowing the first thing about  becoming a rock climber, he and his wife, Mary, began to do some research. A simple belay class purchase from Granite Arch was given as a gift, and piqued his curiosity enough to get into the gym and try things out. Shortly after doing some regular days of indoor climbing, Victor was approached by the owner about an outdoor trip to Phantom Spires and the chance to get on real rock! Hesitantly, an agreement was made and the trip ensued. Getting back out into nature was just what he needed, and by pulling himself to the top of those routes, the thrill he was seeking for so long finally reared its head. Still today, Victor states, “There’s nothing finer than reaching up to that top hold of a pitch.”

Now fifteen years and countless climbs later, Victor has placed both his hands and feet on rocks in outdoor destinations such as: Yosemite, Moab, Red Rocks, Castleton Tower, Joshua Tree, Shasta City, Bucks Bar, and two different Lovers Leaps’. However, like many other climbers, he finds that his favorite climbing has to be down in the Owens River Gorge near Bishop, California.

Victor B.2Segue to 2013…

In February, Sacramento Pipeworks introduced a Crossfit program to add to their already impressive offerings. Around the same time frame, Victor Bonanno was filling out a Kaiser questionnaire that asked him how frequently he works out ‘to the point of breathing very heavy and exhaustion’... perfect timing! Although climbing is a fantastic workout, sometimes the better you get at it, the less heavy the cardio exercise you may get out of it. On the other end of the spectrum, it has been proven that Crossfit includes high-intensity and high-focus workouts designed to focus on specific movements to not only increase strength and flexibility, but the cardio benefits can be HUGE!

For the last five months of his eight years as a Pipeworks regular, Victor has been giving the new-ish Crossfit regimen a try. When I asked of his opinion, he says, “Besides the awesome and well respected instructors, Dustin and Collan, the people in the class (like climbers) are equally great!” He has found that the ‘pain and misery’ he experienced at first has now become ‘not so bad’. Crossfit has not only ramped up his metabolism, but by working on different parts of his body, climbing has become easier. More climbs were able to be accomplished by utilizing better form, having better core strength, and climbing more confidently.

Today, more climbers are making the shift to incorporate cross-training workouts like Crossfit and Yoga to supplement their routines. The strange thing, at least from what I have seen, is that not many of the people brought up in the Crossfit world are attempting climbing. Why the distinct divide, who knows? While both produce beneficial results, I’ll let you be the judge what is best for you.

In closing, I am happy to report that next month, November, Victor will turn 65 and is still going strong!

Mary, his wife, claims that with all of things he does to keep up his physical fitness, she does not necessarily agree with all of them. She is always scared to watch him climb, and thinks he is ‘nuts’ for doing so at his age. We believe, in our circle of friends, that he is perfectly sane, inspiring, and admirable for his choices.                                                                                  

I asked Dustin, his Crossfit instructor, if he had any closing words for this story. He provided without hesitation, “Victor defines the "anti-aging" aspect of living a healthy life! His unstoppable resilience during workouts redefine the possibilities capable of any human body. This leader among men will change your life and leave you with the confidence to conquer anything you put your mind to. Thank you Victor!”

Thank you for spending a few minutes with us Mr. Victor Bonanno, we appreciate YOU! Happy Birthday!

Yosemite Government Shutdown

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

Yosemite

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Power Training Through Campusing

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

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

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

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

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Indian Rock Clean-Up

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

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Lost Rocks Video

Austin Zimmerman, who has been a smiling face behind the front desk at Great Western Power Company and Berkeley Ironworks for a little over a year now, recently took a trip to Lost Rocks and shot this short bouldering flick. Lost Rocks is located in Northern California, near Arcata. "The original plan was to spend a week driving down the coast and climbing at a new spot every other day," said Austin. "However, keeping true to our road-trip track record, we found it too hard to leave the Lost Rocks and decided to spend the entire week in just the one area instead."

The footage was taken with a rebel T2i. "We shared one camera and focused on climbs that we could do quickly and repeat several times for extra angles," said Austin. 95% of the footage is hand held except for the intro scene which was filmed using a Joby tripod with Cineskate wheel attachments. 

Austin said they made the film for mostly for fun and to get a little practice filming and editing climbing movies. "My girlfriend, Emily, and I got a camera about two years ago for a road trip that we took across the country. About a year ago I started getting more interested in photography and videography and since then I have devoted most of my free time to making movies." 

Check out their flick and get psyched on California coastal climbing! 


 

Lost Rocks from Austin Z on Vimeo.



10th Annual Yosemite Facelift

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

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Staff Bio: Steven Roth

Here at Touchstone Climbing, we're lucky to be surrounded by crushers of all kinds. Today Berkeley Ironworks staffer Ryan E. Moon sits down with a fellow co-worker Steven Roth to find out more about developing a new route at Mickey's Beach, what it's like to be from Florida, and his legal troubles with Nickelodeon

IMG 0753RM: How long have you been climbing?
SR: I started climbing competitively about nine years ago, but had to take off a few years due to pesky injuries and bad luck.

RM: How long have you lived in the Bay Area?
SR: I moved out to the Bay about a year ago from Florida to go to Cal.

RM: What’s your favorite thing about Berkeley living? Bike boulevards? Berkeley Bowl? Hippies? Indian food? Passive aggression?
SR: Well, there’s nothing like the average hipster looking Joe being able to hike your projects. The food’s tasty, but not really for me.

RM: Tell us about climbing in Florida, aka not climbing?
SR: How do you compare the Bay Area scene with the Florida scene? The climbing in Florida is limited to plastic. Even so, the indoor scene there has produced some big names like Matt Segal and Megan Martin. People in the Bay Area actually assume that I’m a climber when I tell them I climb rocks rather than what I get from Floridians: “What do you climb, palm trees?”

RM: How far back can you trace the Jimmy Neutron joke? Would you prefer that people call you that from now on?
SR: After suing Nickelodeon and losing, I was forced to change my name from Jimmy to Steven. It’s sort of a sore subject, I try not to talk about it too much…

RM: What’re some of your favorite routes/boulder problems in the area?
SR: Climbing on Meldicott Dome in Tuolumne this past summer with Ben Polanco was outstanding. As for bouldering, I almost exclusively boulder at Mortar Rock in the Berkeley hills. Castle Rock is pretty stellar and my complete anti-style. I hope to get out more this fall for some bouldering in Yosemite and that awesome looking Columbia area.

1053529 10200873038081868_1044017739_oRM: How do you like working at BIW? Isn’t Ryan just the BEST?!
SR: I love it! It allows me to maintain a flexible schedule for school and for climbing trips. And yes, Ryan is pretty great.

RM: Do you do anything to train besides belaying children?
SR: My training pretty much consists of of core workouts, ring exercises, bouldering at Mortar Rock, made up problems at the gym, and going rope climbing outside on the weekends. A non-rigid regime and rests keep me from getting burned out.

RM: Belaying isn’t all you do for Touchstone though, right? Don’t you also coach?
SR: I am one of the coaches for the East Betas at GWPC which is really exciting. I basically act as a climbing partner for the kids while giving tips and insight.

RM: What do you like about coaching?
SR: It allows me to pass on helpful advice that I learned when I was young(er).

RM: Is it true you’re on the ‘Colorado Diet’?
SR: Yup! My typical dinner is three pieces of air popped popcorn, salt for flavor, gauze pads for filling, and a stick of gum for dessert.

RM: What originally drew you to ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’?
SR: From Surf Safari and Endless Bummer, the Emperor Boulder sits down the hill near the water. It’s impressively tall (around 60ft) compared to the routes up the hill. The line itself became obvious to me because of the big jug ledge about 10 feet off of the ground. I figured the start would be a ‘Superman jump’ to the beginning hold which turned out to be true and AWESOME! The line hugs the obvious arete up the middle of the boulder. All in all, the beautiful scenery and the orange lichen speckling the rock make for an unforgettable experience.

1008917 10151750371290070_1201346296_oRM: How long did it take you to clean it?
SR: I spent quite a while hanging in my harness. Prior to cleaning, I top roped the line and thought that it would go a certain way. About 12 hours later, after cleaning and sussing, the route was totally different.

RM: How many redpoint burns until the FA?
SR: I figured out all of the moves during the cleaning process and worked the sections quickly on self belay. By the time it was bolted, I was optimistic that I would get it on my first redpoint attempt, which I did. The process emphasized that really figuring out and remembering body positions and beta in little sections is the key to efficient climbing and huge gains in progress.

RM: Any plans for new routes in the future?
SR: On the Emperor Boulder there is a spectacular 5.10+/5.11- that be an instant classic once it’s bolted. That route alone would make a trip out to the coast well worth it. I’m also working on a climb that hasn’t been done on the Main Rock at Mickey’s Beach. Challenging large moves on small holds has kept it from being climbed so far. I hope that I can be the one to do it as it’s the first route I’ve been truly interested in projecting.

RM: What’s the secret to getting big hands and long fingers? Over zealous high fives? Chinese finger traps perhaps?
SR: Definitely the Chinese finger traps. Those things get the job done for sure!!!
 

Past blog entries can be found at  http://touchstoneclimbing.blogspot.com/

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