The beaches of Seaside, Oregon are a scenic three hour trip by car from the glaciated slopes of Mt. Hood. But on August 23rd, Touchstone members Caydie McCumber and Sebastien Lounis, along with a team of 10 other friends, will link those landmarks on foot, covering a winding 200 mile course in the 2013 Hood-to-Coast relay.
Read more: Hood to Coast Bake Sale
Stacks of stones line the trails in Yosemite. Piles of rock often mark the summits of mountains. These groups of rocks, called cairns, are found all over the world, varying in size from small stone markers to enormous conical rock piles.
Read more: Cairns with Diablo Rock Gym
Every Spring and Fall, Great Western Power Company, our Oakland location, hosts “Girlz Climb On”, a climbing adventure program for young women, administered and organized by GirlVentures. Since they have another session coming up this Fall, we decided to check in with the GirlVentures Team to learn more about this amazing program!
Can you describe your program (Girlz Climb On) to someone who isn't already familiar with it?
GirlVentures’ signature after-school program provides meaningful one-on-one mentorships and rock climbing experience for girls in grades 6-9. Trained female volunteer mentors and girls meet after school for 2.5 hours a week for twelve consecutive weeks at two Touchstone ClimbingGyms, GWPC in Oakland and Mission Cliffs in San Francisco. These mentors coach girls on both climbing skills and the transference of character-building experiences of climbing into girls’ broader lives. Girls learn trust, perseverance, self-confidence, communication/self-express and team collaboration. They enjoy improved self-esteem and gain access to a nontraditional, male dominated sport that is financially inaccessible to many families.
How many kids do you service in this program? Are there any requirements/qualifications to participate?
We serve 20 girls from 6th-9th grade (10 at GWPC, 10 at Mission Cliffs) twice a year during our fall and spring sessions. There are no requirements for participants except for an eagerness to learn!
Are there scholarships available for families who cannot afford the program fees?
Yes! To ensure that ALL girls have the opportunity to participate in our programs, we award financial aid to two-thirds of all participants.
What types of skills do the girls typically learn? Is it just a climbing program, or are there other elements to it?
Each week we work on developing technical climbing skills: everything from tying a figure-8 follow-thru knot and belaying to techniques like smearing and edging. We also focus on issues that connect rock climbing with a strength a girl already has or would like to improve on like building relationships with friends, trust, leadership, self-expression, working as a group, communication and resolving conflicts. We begin with a one-day ropes course at Fort Miley, practice indoors for 10-12 weeks, and conclude with a weekend outdoor climb at Castle Rock State Park.
Where do your program mentors come from? Is there a way for interested members to get involved with this program?
GirlVentures mentors are a diverse group of women from all walks of life and climbing experience. Generally, we seek mentors who have the following qualifications, though they are not required:
Coaching, teaching or mentoring experience with adolescents
(informal experience with friends & family counts...) Diversity/anti-oppression training or experience
(women of color strongly encouraged to apply) Passion for empowering young women
(i.e.: a desire to share your belief that girls can do anything) Climbing/belaying experiencing
(if you have belayed and/or can climb a 5.8 or higher we are already impressed)
Strong candidates without climbing experience are considered IF they are able to commit to taking a belay class AND practice climbing at the gym a few times prior to the start of the program.
Touchstone members can certainly get involved! Interested members can learn more about the mentorship role and commitments here. Girlz Climb On for mentors begins on September 16, 2013 and for girls on September 21, 2013. The program runs for 10 weeks from 4-7 p.m. on Mondays at Mission Cliffs and Wednesdays at GWPC.
Recently Chris Ahlgren, who works at Berkeley Ironworks, climbed the West Face of Leaning Tower. After a eventful and successful climb, Chris submitted this report to the Touchstone Blog to talk a little bit about something we all face in climbing; fear.
Fear on the West Face of Yosemite’s Leaning Tower (V 5.7 C2F)
There was something profoundly terrifying about watching my climbing partner’s left shoe float away from his twisting body and fall a thousand feet onto the boulder field below us. The nut Will Skinner was standing on had just pinged out of the crack and Will was falling backwards in what seemed like slow motion. After having just back-cleaned the last two placements, he was going for a ride. Presumably tripped by the rope, which had ripped his off shoe, Will was in the middle of a back dive that may have been beautiful had he been headed for a pool.
Instead, it was horrifying! Perhaps the scariest fall I had ever witnessed. Due in part to the steep overhanging nature of the Leaning Tower and due in part to a dynamic catch, Will’s back contacted the wall with no more force than a hearty slap. Besides being a bit shaken and wearing only one shoe, he was fine. I sent him up one of my shoes on our tag line and he finished the pitch in proud fashion.
This was not the first fall of the day. Earlier that morning at the outset of the third pitch and my first lead, I too had taken a whipper. The pitch began steep and technical, too hard for me to free-climb, but I was looking for my opportunity. You see, one reason Will and I chose this route was to dial in our aid climbing skills in an attempt to speed up our sluggish pace. One way to speed up aid climbing is to get out of your aiders whenever possible and climb free, even if only to make a few moves.
About 25 feet from the belay, I reached a decent enough looking bolt near a shallow dihedral that allowed me the stance I needed to bunch up my aiders. From there I could attack an otherwise tricky section of C2 aid using good ol’ fashion pull power. The free-climbing felt great even in the absence of protection. After about 15 ft., I reached a roof that began a mean section of overhanging 5.12d. I opted to get back on aid. Balancing precariously on thin edges in my clumsy approach shoes I plugged a small offset cam in what looked to be a tight but flaring pod.
Now came the tricky part-- transitioning from aid to free and back to aid which is more awkward than it sounds. It became apparent that this was an aspect of my big wall game that needed some work. As I fumbled the twisted mass of aid ladder and daisy chain, I hung one-handed, a la French free, from the offset cam in the roof above my head. CRUNCH! I was airborne. The rope pulled taunt and I swung towards the wall. As the rope steched, Will was hoisted from his meager stance, and I contacted the wall lightly with both feet. Safe. Looking down at my left hand I had a white-knuckle death grip still wrapped around the webbing of my failed cam. I was scared, but managed to force the fear to the back of my mind. I re-worked the free moves, got a better placement in the roof and finished the pitch.
By early afternoon, Will reached the top of the sixth pitch which was to be our high point for the day, and rapped back to meet me on Guano Ledge. The sun was on us now and besides the occasional cover from scattered clouds, we were cookin’. Instead of cleaning the pitch then, I suggested laying low to conserve water during the heat of the day. I suggested cleaning the pitch nearer to sunset. I’ve never slept well on the walls I’ve climbed and until we laid down to nap I’d successfully suppress the fear that was building through the course of the day. Closing my eyes brought horrible images of Will in free fall, his shoe drifting above his body then disappearing to a dot below, and the sound and feel of my cam ripping from the wall. Sleeplessly, I writhed, baking in the afternoon sun.
By the time I was ready to clean, ascenders locked into place, fear had thoroughly permeated my body. My heart was racing, my palms were sweating, and my mind would only let my feet shuffle along the ledge, .The first move off of the ledge involved a pendulum that required me to swing into space leaving me dangling with nothing but air and the boulder field far below my feet. I moved slow and shaky but managed to make it back to the ledge before dark.
Did I mention a thunderstorm was in the forecast? As if I wasn’t rattled enough already, clouds full of electric potential began to flash to the west just as we slid into our sleeping bags. As I “slept”, my nightmares included being soaked in a downpour and struck by lightning in addition to the usual dreams of rock avalanches and free falls.
The next morning I spilled the beans. “I’m feeling rattled dude,” I confessed to Will. “I slept like s**t. I don’t know, my head’s not in it.” Much to my relief he admitted to feeling the same way. Simply talking about the fear and knowing that I wasn’t alone really helped take the edge off. I jugged to our high point and set out on my first lead. I planned to link pitches 7 & 8 and by the time I reached the top of the the 7th I was feeling much better. Before me ran a series of beautiful cracks that seemed climbable. I was so psyched to get out of my aiders that I free climbed the entirety of pitch 8. When I reached the belay I felt refreshed. I could relax knowing that was my last lead. Will led pitches 9 & 10 , I cleaned, and we hugged it out on top feeling the way that only finishing a big wall can make you feel-- like an f-ing champion!
When people asked me how the climb went, I’ve taken to this one line response: “It was the most psychologically demanding route I’ve ever done.” Since coming home I’ve thought a lot about what caused such a visceral fear response. I’ve certainly taken and caught my share of falls in the past, so that alone couldn’t have been it. The overnight lightning show certainly added a thrill, but naw, that wasn’t it either. It must have been the exposure. For so much of the route the very base of the wall was in plain view, pulling on my psyche. Watching Will’s shoe plummet let me imagine my own long freefall. Honestly, this is a safety paradox since it was the steepness of the wall that kept my and Will’s fall so clean. Clearly the effect was psychological.
Ultimately, climbing Leaning Tower was a lesson in fear management. Lying down on the ledge and replaying the falls in my mind that afternoon had allowed the fear to take hold. That began a snowball effect that culminated in my secret wishes to be home with my girlfriend and beautiful baby girl. On the flipside, climbing free and focusing on the logistics of big wall belay management allowed me to regain my focus and enjoy the climb.
Coincidentally the week before our climb I began reading a book called The Fear Project by Jaimal Yogis. In the early chapters, Yogis delves into the neurobiology of fear. Does it help to know that fear emanates from the amygdala? I don’t know. Perhaps more importantly Yogis goes on to describe modern experimentation in overcoming fear. Specifically the research indicates that exposure to the object of fear in a safe and reassuring setting can help the brain overcome the fear response. On the other hand, simply thinking about the object of fear, without action, will only reaffirm and further cement the fear response. More exactly, it seems possible to train our advanced human neocortex to dull the fear impulse that emanates from our primitive reptilian brain. Unwittingly I had made things much worse by lying on that ledge when I thought I was simply taking a break. Conversely, by continuing to climb I was reliving my fearful experience but overriding the experience of fear with the more familiar experience of the joy of climbing.
Rock climbing is always going to be scary. Fear of heights is what experts call a primitive fear (versus an acquired fear), but that doesn’t mean we have to allow that fear to control us. Go climbing. Be sure to build a solid foundation of positive, safe-feeling experiences so that the fearful moments are fleeting and never allowed to take root. Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun.
See ya on the cliffs.
We've got exciting news about our next competition series! As the Touchstone Climbing Gym family keeps expanding, our competition series is growing right along with us! We're psyched to announce the creation of TCS, the Touchstone Climbing Series, which will kick off in 2014.
For those of you familiar with our bouldering and roped competitions, TCS is the holy consummation of TBS and TRS. With 9 gyms and such a dedicated climbing population, we've combined the two comps and created a schedule that will run annually, visiting each Touchstone location and rotating between a ropes competition and a bouldering competition. One comp to rule them all!
The 2014 TCS comp schedule is as follows:
Feb 21 - Ropes at Pipeworks
Mar 21 - Bouldering at BIW
April 25 - Ropes at MM
May 23 - Bouldering at SJ
June 20 - Ropes at DRG
July 25 - Bouldering at LA.B
Aug 22 - Ropes at GWPC
Sept 26 - Bouldering Finale at Dogpatch Boulders
Oct 24 - Ropes Finale at Mission Cliffs
Here are some commonly asked questions regarding the new comp scheudle.
Q: Does this mean there are less competitions?
A: No! Creating TCS doesn't mean we will have less competitions, that's the beauty of it. Instead, we'll be able to involve more people since some of our members only boulder, or only rope climb. No more waiting.
Q: Are the competitions still free to members?
A: Yes! Comps will always be free for our members, because you are awesome and we love you. Plus, guests are only $10. It's the cheapest way into the gym.
Q: How will this affect routesetting?
A: In a good way! By organizing the comp series by annually, we'll be able to keep our routesetting team on top of all 9 gyms, bringing you more new climbs more often.
Q: Do we still get free t-shirts, booze, pizza, and tons of new climbing?
A: Le duh.
Q: Will there be on-sight finals?
A: Yes, there will be a bouldering finale AND a rope finale. 2014 is going to be a very big year. On-sight finals will go down at Dogpatch Boulders and Mission Cliffs for the over-all bouldering and rope leaders.
Q: Do I really have to wait until 2014 for the next competition at Touchstone?!
A: No way. We wouldn't deprive you of the heart-pumping adrenaline rush that is a Touchstone Comp. There will be other events this year to keep your fingers strong and your livers in shape. There will be a Grand Opening competition at LA.B, our newest bouldering gym in Los Angeles. The gym is set to open in late 2013, and we'll be sure to kick it off right to show LA how we party -er, um, climb. Also, the Mission Cliffs expansion will be completed in early 2014, so we'll be sure to have a grand re-opening party. And if that wasn't enough, stay tuned for events at all our gyms this fall. We've got some awesome events planned for you guys.
We can't wait to kick off the new comp series - and we hope you're as psyched as we are!
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
Recently 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.
I'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 8a.nu, 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.