On March 13th, the world lost an amazing man in Zion National Park in a base jumping accident. Sean “Stanley” Leary was well known in the climbing world. In Yosemite, he had climbed El Capitan more than 50 times and established new rock routes across North America. He explored new lines in the Arctic, Patagonia, Baffin Island, and Venezuela.
Dean Fidelman photo
Beyond his climbing achievements, Stanley was an accomplished BASE (buildings, antennae, spans and earth) jumper. He often flew in a squirrel suit, a specially designed wing suit which increased glide ratios. He established new exits around the world and helped revolutionize BASE jumping.
Born in San Joaquin County on Aug. 23, 1975, Sean Leary grew up in the small Northern California town of Pine Grove. More recently, he lived between his family home in El Portal and with his ophthalmoligist wife, Annamieka in Sacramento.
Climbers from across the world, gathered in Zion National Park to help with the recovery. Because Sean didn't just rock climb and BASE jump, he touched people's lives.
While climbing The Zodiac on El Capitan with Bryan “Coiler” Kay, Sean neglected to bring a real wall climbing hammer. Instead, he dug through his draws in El Portal and produced a humble carpenter’s tool, a Stanley hammer. The nickname stuck.
I met Stanley in 2001, when I first arrived in Yosemite. He invited me to boulder with him in Curry. Over the years, we climbed together, we laughed together, we became friends.
Years ago, I pulled brush and tossed it in a pile. Stanley ran around the yard, sawing trees at random. A Yosemite local hired Stanley to clear the brush for fire hazards. I was there because Stanley had been complaining. He loved to complain. His hot wife wanted to have sex with him so he had to drive all the way from Yosemite to Sacramento. The upcoming Arctic expedition meant he’d never get strong enough for his Jailhouse sport project. Stanley could transform gold to iron.
“The owners are paying me a ton of money to not climb,” Stanley said. I knew Stanley could use the money and I needed a climbing partner. If we finished the job, then we could both go climbing. We spent half a day working before Stanley lost motivation. Stanley hated work, preferring to live.
“I’ll give you money when I stop by the ATM,” Stanley said. I shrugged. Stanley agreed to climb the West Face of the Leaning Tower with me. That’s what I wanted. Snow fell while we worked the route. Stanley freed a steep section of granite, a thousand feet off the ground. He climbed behind a white curtain. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. Stanley sent the route the next week. I worked on the route for a while and eventually, I freed it. Stanley sent me an excited congratulation note, my hero telling me I was rad.
A year later, we stood by the Yosemite lodge. I’d recalled his climbing through the storm, having long forgotten about the job. He’d inspired me.
“Oh yeah, I finally made it to the ATM,” Stanley said. He opened his wallet and stuffed money into my hand. I laughed.
“1…2…3…go!” Stanley said, laughing. In the summer of 2013, Stanley hit the stop watch and I started running up steep granite. Sickle. Stove Legs. King Swing. I looked down. Stanley was fifteen feet below me staring at the birds swooping by. Great Roof. Changing Corners. Bolt Ladder. I looked up. Stanley was at the top, shouting for me to run run run. I touched the tree. Panting hard. Stanley laughed. I wasn’t sure what happened in between. I’d been attached to a bullet. We’d just climbed the Nose of El Capitan in 6 hours.
Stanley climbed fast. On El Cap, at Jailhouse, at the climbing gym, his gazelle-esque climbing style helped him establish numerous difficult free ascents and set speed records. When we climbed the Nose, all I wanted to do was go home and eat elk burgers. Stanley wanted climb more at the Cathedral boulders. He had a circuit there on lock down and could dispatch the classics easily. We would joke about going to "onsight" the Cathedrals. He would quickly tick away the problems. Stanley had an unbridled, manic energy.
Stanley owned two dogs. Nexpa looked like Stanley- thin and fast. He loved her dearly and would coo, “Oh Nexie.” Then he would end her shivering by wrapping her in his down jacket. Stanley found her as a puppy on the side of the road near El Potrero Chico, Mexico. Her throat had been slit. He nursed the dog back to health. Her scar remained. More recently, Stanley showed up at Mortar Rock with an energetic puppy. Bravo darted around with Stanley’s unbridled energy. Stanley and Annamieka rescued a second dog so Nexpa could have someone to lord over. They also wanted to add a little to their family.
In 2010, Stanley married Annamieka in El Cap meadow. The wedding was small and intimate. I had met Mieka in the parking lot of Toulumne years before. Quiet and beautiful in the rain, she’d smiled and been very nice to me. After dropping off his truck at the mechanics in Mariposa, getting medicine for Nexpa, and doing a bit of climbing, I dropped Stanley off at his place that he shared with Mieka in Berkeley. She smiled when I saw her and was very nice to me. Seeing Stanley with her, I saw their love for each other.
Beyond his many climbing brothers, Stanley was expanding his family. Mieka recently became pregnant. Stanley was nervous about having a child but he was nervous about all the important things in life. He would have made a great father. Mieka is due at the end of May.
Last week in Zion, climbers from across North America rallied to help search for Stanley. It was an intense time. I cursed Stanley for making me bush whack through the cactus in the desert furnace. It was an adventure that he wasn’t on. I loved him for allowing me to meet his family- his mother, his sister, his brothers, to spend time with Annamieka. Mostly, I missed him. He was a great person to have had in my life.
A memorial account has been set up for Annamieka and the baby.
Mountain America Credit Union
Sean "Stanley" Leary Memorial Fund
P.O. Box 9001
West Jordan, UT 84084
It was good ol' 100 dolla Benjamin who famously said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Here at Touchstone Climbing, we strive to do just that. Sure, you can watch YouTube videos teaching you how to belay safely, but chances are you're not reeeeally going to retain and learn anything unless you try it out for yourself in a climbing class.
Same goes for any climbing skill. We often hear from our members that they want to climb outside. We are lucky enough to be in California, where the only thing you have to consider when choosing your climbing destination is the season. Too hot out? Maybe it's Tahoe season. Too cold? Perfect temps on the Valley floor...
But taking the leap from indoor top roping to climbing outdoors can be understandably daunting. What gear do you need? How do you get the rope up there? How do you get the rope down from there? The history of climbing is closely tied to a spirit of mentorship. Someone took us under their wing to teach us the ways of the climber, and we want to share that knowledge, safety practices, and etiquette with you.
One opportunity to do just that is the Anchors Clinic with Hans Florine offered at Diablo Rock Gym in Concord. Hans is a bit of a rock star in the climbing community, holding the speed record with Alex Honnold for climbing The Nose on El Capitan, bagging countless accents around the country, and literally writing the book on Speed Climbing.
Hans is the manager Diablo Rock Gym, and his endless energy and psych for pushing personal limits definitely shows. Since becoming the manager in 2011, Hans has inspired countless members and guests to challenge themselves and 'do hard things.' Hans also spends time in front of the desk, teaching skills he has picked up over years of climbing.
Last year, Hans began teaching an Anchor Building Clinic at DRG. In this 2 hour clinic, members get a chance to set up, asses, equalize and test anchors in the safety of the gym. "You'll learn sport climbing anchors, trad anchors, multi-pitch anchoring, and more!" said Hans. "Everyone walks away with a tool or two to make their outdoor anchoring safer."
If you're interested in signing up for this clinic - click the button below!
Join yoga instructor Sandra Razieli in a Yogathon to raise funds for Mind Body Solutions, an organization that makes yoga available to people who have suffered from trauma, loss and disability.
I am happy to share that I am participating in a yogathon called Kiss My Asana. It's a fundraiser for Mind Body Solutions, an organization whose members are doing great work in the world. I invite you to read more about it below or go directly to the website to sponsor me.
Those of you who have been in my classes, practiced yoga with me, played soccer with me, shared the bimah or have just hung out together, know that one of my favorite poses is what I affectionately call Bigasana. It’s simple -take your legs wide, take your arms wide and breathe. Open to the space around you, open to your potential, open to life.
This is what Mind Body Solutions does for so many people and in order for them to do it more, they need financial support.
Mind Body Solutions is a Minnesota based organization whose mission is to transform trauma, loss and disability into hope and potential by awakening the connection between mind and body. They are best known for adapting yoga for persons living with disabilities. They also offer innovative workshops for caregivers and healthcare professionals, teaching to integrate practical mind-body techniques into daily practices, resulting in more satisfied, committed caregivers and better patient outcomes.
To support them, I am participating in their Kiss My Asana Yogathon and I invite you to join me in this endeavor. For the month of April, I will dedicate my practice to focusing on opening up some of my constricted places; to step into what is more difficult for me. I tend to love forward bends and avoid backbends. So for this month, I'm going to dedicate my practice to backbends. You may find me teaching them more often in class too.
I invite you to sponsor me (all the money goes directly to Mind Body Solutions) or make your own page and ask others to sponsor you.
Connecting with this fascinating, sometimes frustrating, sometimes exhilarating experience of living with and in my body has led me to more fully embrace life and simply feel better. This is an experience that I want to share as widely as possible. And this is why I teach and practice.
I am grateful for any way that you can support this endeavor.
It's something we've heard time and time again, 'I wish I'd discovered climbing sooner!'
Maybe you totally blew your undergraduate years living in Los Angeles but not visiting Joshua Tree, or you're lamenting the tendons of steal that could have been yours if your parents had only pushed climbing on you instead of violin. Either way, hindsight is 20-20, and we can learn from our pre-climbing lives and do better for the next generation of climbers! If you have kids, get them into climbing!
In 2012, when Dogpatch Boulders was but a twinkle in our eye, we knew that we needed to think about a kids climbing area. With a dedicated kids climbing area the little ones are able to scramble around an awesome castle complete with slide, ladder, shorter slab walls and turrets from which to keep a watchful eye on the front desk! The castle has become a popular part of the gym where members bring their kids to climb, play, run and jump.
We now have several options to kids to climb at Dogpatch Boulders with our friendly and knowledgeable staff. We've worked to develop programs to encourage climbing to kids of all ages. "Kids are natural climbers. Its amazing to see how quickly and intuitively they take on the same moves that challenge adults," said Dogpatch Boulders manager Justin Alarcon. Bring your little one to the gym and see for yourself!
After School Camp
Members $225 | Non-Members $275
Talk about a great after school program! Watch your children build confidence, make friends, and learn to climb in one of our ten week sessions. Bouldering is a great way to get your kids interested in climbing or to help them burn off a little (or a lot) of that excess energy. The next session will begin April 7th! There are still a few spots open, click HERE to register.
Members $200 | Non-Members $250
Kids get a chance to meet for 1 week with our amazing instructors to build skills, make friends and have a blast! Participants will learn the fundamentals of climbing movement, spotting, falling and route reading. Our experienced and supportive staff emphasize personal responsibility and encourage each camper to develop greater self confidence throughout the session. Weekly classes start in mid June and run through mid August for children ages 7-12 at Dogpatch Boulders. Sign up for five days of climbing from 10am to 1pm. Beginner, intermediate, and advanced level climbers are welcome. Please arrange to pick up your children promptly and please send your children to class with a healthy lunch or money to purchase snacks. Please Note: Under-enrolled summer camps may be canceled 7 days prior to start date.
Plan your next climbing birthday party at Dogpatch Boulders! Are you tired of having your child’s birthday party at a jump house, or worse… Your house? Then a rock climbing party is for you! Our staff provides basic instruction and climbing gear for all party participants. The kids will be climb, learn games, and... just PLAY. What a concept, right?! Be sure to encourage the kids to wear comfortable clothing and close toed shoes. We're happy to be collaborating with our neighbors, Kara's Cupcakes, to make Birthday Parties at Dogpatch Boulders fun and easy for parents too. When you book your party online, you'll have an option to order yummy cupcakes that can be delivered right to the gym! Click HERE to book a Birthday Party at Dogpatch Boulders.
This April, The Studio Climbing will be hosting our second SCS Youth Locals Competition. Kids from all over the Bay Area will be able to climb and compete on our walls! We're expecting a great turn out and we couldn't be happier to support the next generation of happy and healthy climbers. But what about our lovely members?! Don't worry, we haven't forgotten about you! Which is why we're planning a climbing event just for you!
The Sunday Funday Big Kid Climbing Comp will be a chance for you to climb day old routes from the SCS comp. "Comp setting is different from our usual style of setting, said Head Route Setter Jeremy Ho. "You can expect more volumes, more mantles, and more intellectual movement. The setting doesn’t necessarily focus solely on the strength of the climbing, but on the mental growth in climbing." If you're usually of the bouldering persuasion, you'll get a kick out of the new routes.
"There is nothing better than a summer BBQ," said Studio Climbing Manager and Texan Diane Ortega. "Oh wait, a BBQ at a climbing gym?! That's a thing? This changes everything." We'll fire up the grill, and members and guest are welcome to enjoy sunny San Jose after crushing the comp routes.
Local companies are pitching in to make this event an even bigger success. If your Downtown San Jose business would like to donate prizes or get involved in the Sunday Funday Big Kid Climbing Comp, please contact Diane Ortega.
Mark you're calendars and invite your friends!
If you've ever visited Mission Cliffs on a busy Thursday night, then you've seen our bike parking.. situation. When the gym was first built in 1995, bike parking wasn't taken into consideration. When we first embarked on the Mission Cliffs Expansion project, we knew that having amazing climbing terrain, killer classes, and a fantastic fitness area wouldn't be enough. We had to provide a designated bike parking area for our members and guest to safely park their rides.
We're happy to announce that after months of working with the city, our plans have been approved! We are excited to be able to move forward with our plans to build the largest outdoor bike barking area in San Francisco! "I'm so excited that we are able to provide our neighborhood with such a large public bike parking area," said Mission Cliffs manager Donna Hawkins. "It's great for our members and great for the city's bike culture."
"Our many trips to city hall have paid off," said facilities manager Russell Olson. "We're excited to begin work on the outdoor structure." The bike parking area will be 108 ft long, and located directly in front of the new entrance to the gym. Not only will visitors be greeted by our bright Walltopia climbing walls, they'll see how our members got to the gym; on their bikes!
Stay tuned for more Mission Cliffs Expansion updates. Once the front desk moves to the north side of the gym, we'll begin construction on our programs room! We owe a huge thank you to our members as we work to build something truly spectacular in San Francisco.
By guest blogger Georgie Abel
"You're pretty strong for a girl," he says to me. I clench my jaw. I'm sitting around a campfire in the Buttermilks with three of my closest male friends. The apparent attempt at a compliment comes from a guy we met earlier that day. The space between my shoulder blades aches from multiple burns on my project and I'm mentally exhausted. I tilt my beer back, trying to muster the energy to come back with some witty response, even though I just want to pretend I'm one of those girls who isn't bothered by a comment like that. My eye catches a glance from one of my friends. His brow furrows and his mouth looks tight, he does not approve of what the dude said. I know in that moment that I shouldn't either.
"That's a really weird thing to say," I say to the guy. "That compliment was spiked with something that feels pretty demeaning." My friend's face softens and he nods, the other guy doesn't know what to say. He doesn't climb with us the next day.
Being a climber and a writer naturally makes me a curious person. Being a woman in a sport that is ruled (for the most part) by men makes for a lot of gender-related experiences, all of which I find to be really interesting. I knew that other female climbers were interested in this too, and that they had stories of their own about being a woman in the bro-ed out world of rock climbing. I wanted to hear their stories. So, I asked.
I asked almost 100 female climbers of varying ages and ability levels to tell me a story about a notable experience they had while climbing with a male. Most of the women are from the San Francisco Bay Area, some are from elsewhere in the United States, and a few are overseas. I have kept their names anonymous, mostly for the sake of the men who their stories are about.
I have arranged this article in the same manner that the responses were received. Initially I was told about moments when women felt degraded, looked down upon, or judged. Then, slowly, the positive stories started coming in--stories of empowerment, inspiration, and recognition. You'll find those accounts toward the end of the article. No matter the age, strength, or experience level of the woman, the themes of their negative experiences could easily be grouped under a few main categories. I decided to share only a fraction of the stories I received, selecting the ones I did because they echoed what many other women had expressed, or because they were particularly hilarious.
These are the true stories of female climbers--from five-year old girls who only climb the routes in the gym that have purple tape, to professional female climbers who have established routes on multiple continents, competed for national titles, and ticked countless 5.14s. And of course, all of us in between.
Here is what we've experienced while climbing with the boys.
- There was no conversation about who would lead what pitch, he just assumed I didn't want to lead at all.
- He told me not to worry because there were some smaller, easier boulders down the hill, unaware that I was completely comfortable with highballs and trying hard boulder problems.
- He set up a top rope on a climb I had led as a warm up several times in the past and told me it would be a little heady for me.
- He kept on shouting beta to me on a climb that was like five V-grades below what I usually climb.
- This guy was spotting me on Acid Wash, a really low climb in the Happy boulders. I really didn't want a spot because it's so low and I had enough pads, and he wasn't spotting any of his guy friends.
- One time a boy said I probably couldn't do the one he did because I don't play any sports.
- All of my friends had to leave Smith, so I met up with this guy who was a mutual friend. I had never climbed with him before. We got to the wall and he started teaching me how to tie a figure eight knot. This was the day after I sent my first 5.13.
Discouraging women from trying hard, heady, or powerful climbs:
- He told me I should stick to vertical climbing because girls aren't built to climb anything steep.
- We were climbing at the Red and he said I shouldn't try anything in the Motherlode because women don't usually like those kinds of routes.
- My boyfriend was belaying me on Pope's Crack in Joshua Tree and some random guy walked past him and said, "Bro, I hope you know this isn't one of those easy climbs. She probably shouldn't be on that."
- The same dude at Dogpatch tells me not to even attempt a problem because it's too hard for me because I'm short.
- I like climbing with girls because they say, "Good job! You're almost there!" And they cheer me on. Boys don't usually say that stuff.
- A guy told me I probably shouldn't try any highballs because women are all afraid of heights, and the only reason why they climb heady stuff is because they want to be seen as a badass.
- My climbing partner never encourages me to try anything harder than what he can climb.
- One time this guy I barely knew told me that if I was going to try this certain route that I should be very careful because it's sandbagged, has tricky pro, long runouts, and insecure feet. I did the route and yeah, it was hard, but none of what he said was true.
- He discouraged me from climbing a certain boulder problem because he said if I sent it, it would probably get downgraded.
Being Bro-ey, Cocky, or Douchy
- When I said that I wanted to onsight a route he started racking the quick draws on to his harness and said that putting up the draws was the only was he could control the situation of me leading.
- One time at a birthday party there was a boy who climbed all the routes I couldn't get to the top of and then he told me about it a lot.
- He told me that I need to wear Lululemons to do a high step.
- I was warming up in the gym and this guy started tickling me while I was climbing.
- I don't think I'll want to climb with boys when I get older because I usually don't like people who show their nipples in public.
- About five other girls and I were trying Go Granny Go in the Buttermilks and this guy came and did it in his approach shoes and then did pull ups on the finish jug.
- When we were climbing in Joshua Tree he asked me and my friend if our boyfriends had given us enough pro for the climb we were about to do.
- I climbed with a boy once and he got mad because he couldn't get to the top.
- I was climbing a boulder problem in the local climbing gym and about four guys were watching me climb, but none of them pulled the mats underneath me. I fell and landed on the floor, which is cement.
- There is this one guy at the gym who follows me around and only climbs the boulder problems I try, even though he is much stronger than me.
- One time one of the boys in my climbing camp was belaying me and I looked back at him and he wasn't looking at me so I got really scared. I think he was looking at his friend doing a handstand.
Attributing our strength to something other than...our strength:
- I overheard a guy say that the only reason why this girl sent Tales of Power in Yosemite is because she has tiny hands.
- He told me that I was better at slab climbing than him because having my center of gravity lower on my body gives me an advantage.
- After I sent my project, he said that it was probably easier for me than him because I weigh less.
- Whenever I send something that climbers typically think of as "girly" (slabby, balancy, delicate, or crimpy) he always mentions that I did it because I'm a girl.
- If I can climb a crimpy boulder problem he can't, he says it's because I have small hands.
- One time when I was climbing with a male, I suggested that we avoid a certain pitch because I had a bad feeling about it. It looked like it could be chossy and maybe even wet. We ended up doing a variation that led us to the left of the line we were originally planning to do, and as we climbed we could see that it was in fact chossy and damp. He asked, "Who told you to avoid that pitch?" totally assuming that I couldn't have predicted the bad conditions all on my own.
So there you have it. To be honest, when the stories started rolling in, I cringed a little (after laughing out loud in a coffee shop and nodding my head in agreement). I so badly didn't want to write some man-hating article that bashed on dudes and didn't address the fact that men can be valuable climbing partners. But, that's not what I was hearing from the girls. I thought to myself: where are the stories of that time you sent your highball project because you had some burly dude spotting you? What about when that guy said, "You're gonna crush this," even after he flailed? What about when he asked you if you thought you guys should rappel down or walk off the back, because you're always good at judging that kind of stuff? What about that time it wasn't about gender at all, what about when it was just rock climbing?
Slowly, I started hearing about these experiences. I didn't have to ask for them. It usually happened like this: a woman would tell me about a time a guy did something totally degrading, and then a few minutes or days later, she would come back and say something such as, But I have a lot of male climbing partners who don't act like this. Many of them treat me no differently than their guy friends and recognize that I bring something unique and valuable to the table, that they can learn things from me that they can't learn from male climbers.
Yes, how true that is: women experience this sport in a way that is so different from men, and we all have a lot to learn from each other. All of the negative stories were that of men assuming we had nothing to teach them. That's the common thread.
I received one story about a positive experience while climbing with a male that captures the spirit and character of all the other stories as well. Here is it:
I'm all racked up. My shoes are on, uncomfortable as always. They feel tighter than normal. The brisk Squamish air bites at the back of my neck. I tuck the remaining stray peices of hair behind my helmet. I take a deep breath and look up at my climb. I think of turning to my partner and telling him to go ahead. Tie in to the sharp end, I want to say. Lead this pitch. Lead all of the pitches. It's not that hard. You're much better than me anyways. My pride or my stubbornness stops me. My male counterpart is a much stronger climber than me and he's much more experienced - perhaps not in trad climbing, but he's certainly been exposed (and exceled) at this sport much longer than I have. Squamish used to be his stomping grounds anyways and for more than one reason I feel like I haven't earned my spot here. I feel pre-emptively embarassed and also that I have something to prove. You've got this, he tells me. Against almost exactly 50% of my will, I slip my hand into the crack. I make a fist and feel the granite against my knuckles. Right, I think. This is about climbing. Four pitches later and we're at the top, looking over a beautiful deep blue sky filled with clouds and mountains. I stopped being concerned with if the climb was hard enough or if my technique was good enough a long time ago, somewhere on Pitch 1. I looked at my partner and his male-ness did not concern me, impress me, depress me, or intimidate me. In fact it did not enter into my mind at all. It was just beauty and human-ness that filled my soul now. Weeks later we are sitting in his father's kitchen, recounting details of our Canadian explorations. He says, completey seamlessly, that I'm actually the better climber in a lot of ways. I think he's insane but that is besides the point. He tells of how he respects the way I push my limits, how I deal with my fear. He is being genuine. Honest. His ego isn't in the room and though he could walk up boulder problems I could only dream of one day touching, he isn't concerned with that. He's not trying to prove anything. I didn't need his validation; certainly not in the way that I as a female would want validation from a male. It's not about who the better climber is and in what ways. It never really is about that, for me at least. I didn't need his encouragement as a male, only as a climbing partner. And yet. I have to admit that I've had enough experiences as a female climber that make me weary; weary of being judged, weary of being undervalued, weary of being categorized by something other than my experience or my ability. I'm not afraid because I'm a girl. I'm afraid because I'm 30 feet up on a highball and this crimp is fucking tiny. I'm not sending my projects - not because I'm a girl, but because I haven't been training. You can go ahead and include me in the list of people who would like to lead this pitch. I'm a girl and I'm also capable of placing gear. Sometimes those dynamics are real and sometimes they are imagined. But what a nice experience to have had, a really lovely break from the chain of stereotypical bro-yness that can wear us ladies down sometimes. I'm sure we have our own stereotypes to break too. I've tried my best to let go of taking too seriously the gendered aspect of climbing now. There are those experiences that will re-affirm the great things about climbing with guys and there are the experiences that will inspire us to prove them wrong. It's kind of a win-win if you ask me.
A sincere thank you goes to all of the women who contributed their stories. You are the authors of this article. I'll leave you with more of their words; this is very important and overdue: To the males respecting and encouraging the females out there, a big thank you. We know you need the respect and encouragement too and we've got your back.