This weekend, Saturday January 18th, Diablo Rock Gym will be holding another Ultimate Fitness Experience Event. The three-hour event provides members and non-members an opportunity to check out the other classes at the gym. There will be sport and Swedish masseuses, chiropractors, physical therapists, cycling instructors, yoga teachers, core instructors, and climbing guides all providing short classes on their various disciplines.
Read more: Ultimate Fitness Experience
Trip Report: In defense of Joshua Tree
By: Georgie Abel
I hold a tangle of quick draws at my side and use my other hand to shade my eyes as I look up at the rock. I squint, scanning the line for anything that catches the sun, that shines, that's metallic.
Hey dude will you check the guidebook for how many bolts this climb has? I can see two but there's gotta be more. This thing's like a hundred feet.
He flips through the guidebook and eventually stops. His brow furrows as he brings the page closer to his face and laughs a little, letting out a single "ha".
You're right. There are more. His scabbed finger points to the route description. Three bolts George. 90 feet.
I look down at my harness, a few stray quick draws still hang from my gear loops after cleaning the previous climb. I set the bundle of gear on a small rock, and my stomach telescopes as I remove all but five quick draws from my harness. Suddenly I crave the heaviness on my hips of a full, noisy rack.
Hopefully there's a bolted anchor up there. Otherwise you're carrying two too many draws--so much extra weight! He laughs again, this time louder.
I appreciate his joke but also become aware that it's threaded with a serious warning: this climb is run out. Like, really run out.
I got it. It's a 10c. I convince myself that I'm doing a good job of appearing fearless.
Alright. Have fun. I got you. He squeezes the carabiner with his hand and its gate doesn't open. Locked and loaded, he says.
This climb marked the first step on my ongoing quest of understanding why everyone hates climbing in Joshua Tree.
I know very few people who actually love the climbing in Josh, and they tend to either be 1. old men or 2. a little weird. Usually they are both of those things. Rarely are they 25 year old females, and rarely are they professional climbers, but two of the people who I know that are Josh-lovers fall into those categories. I'm talking of course about me and my boyfriend. He is the professional climber:
Ethan on Iconic Strength, Wonderland North, Joshua Tree. Photo credit: Robert Miramontes
Ethan on the second ascent of Iron Resolution, Real Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree. Photo credit: Damon Corso.
And this is me:
Me on the approach to Crest Jewel Direct, North Dome, Yosemite Valley. Photo credit: Ethan Pringle
So, according to my above proclamation, since neither Ethan or myself are number 1's (old men), that must mean that we are number 2's (weird). Maybe so. But all of this really well-researched science and math doesn't answer my question or help me fully understand why Joshua Tree is, arguably, one of the most hated climbing destinations in the world.
Maybe hate is a strong word, but it does say this on one of the first pages of the guidebook: some climbers hate Josh. And I believe it. Even before I had been to Joshua Tree myself, I heard horror stories of crazy accidents, top rope panic attacks, and grown men crying on 5.9. These were the kinds of things I was told whenever I asked someone if they wanted to go down there with me. Or, they would rattle off a long list of excuses: the boulders are too high and the routes are too short, the climbing is too spread out and we'll probably get lost, the cracks aren't splitter and the sport climbing is too run out, it's always windy and driving down I-5 sucks. Oh, and everything is sandbagged.
This is usually the point in the conversation when I say, yeah, you're totally right, so when do you wanna leave?
That one time I had to aid the first 20 feet of a 5.11a on The Lost Pencil, Geology Tour Road, Joshua Tree. Photo credit: Ethan Pringle
What's even more surprising to me than Joshua Tree's bad reputation is the lack of climbers who have actually been there. Even well-rounded and well-traveled climbers don't seem to make it out to Josh these days. I don't know why.
It took some convincing (babe, my Dad has a house in Rancho Mirage with a hot tub) and a little guilt-tripping (I'm sick of sitting on the valley floor while you climb El Cap) to get Ethan to agree to a Joshua Tree trip. I've never roped up down there, he said. Only bouldered. But I do love it, it's probably my favorite place for bouldering.
Cool. Good answer.
Ethan on Slashface, Geology Tour Road, Joshua Tree.
As we drove down I-5 I told Ethan the story of the 90 foot line with 3 bolts that I climbed a few springs back. What I remember the most from that climb was an overwhelming awareness of not having the option to fall. That was a feeling I hadn't experienced before. Even on multi-pitch trad climbs, highball boulder problems, or somewhat run out sport routes, falling is never ideal, and you might even get hurt, but it's still a reasonable last resort. But on many of the climbs in Joshua Tree, falling is out of the question entirely because of extreme run outs, tall boulders, or very bad terrain/landings.
Uh.. we got you bro?
Ethan on So High, Real Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree. Photo credit: Damon Corso
So if falling is not an option, this causes a few other things to occur. First off, if you want to project something (ground up), the option to fall needs to be available. Onsighting is simply what has to happen on most routes in Josh, and this pisses people off. Onsight climbing is just not of this time. These days, climbers like to try things over and over again in a way that is relatively safe (see: Iron Man Traverse). Most of us like to climb routes that are at or even way past our physical limits, and often in Joshua Tree that would not be considered projecting, it would be a death wish. And then there is, of course, the massive amount of fear that comes along with mandatory onsighting.
Ah, the joys of well-protected sport climbing:
Me on July Jiihad, Ten Sleep, Wyoming. Photo credit: Joe Bakos
And then, there are the grades. You're a responsible adult so you conservatively decide to get on a 5.10 because hey, you one hung that 5.12 in the gym last week. But then all of the sudden you find yourself trying really hard. And you're about half way up that 90 foot climb and you've clipped one draw. Now you're scared. The next section is completely blank. The next bolt is just a glimmer in the distance. So you quietly but most definitely proceed to freak the hell out.
But on second thought, maybe it isn't the grades. I honestly don't feel that Joshua Tree is sandbagged. It's the climbing. It's like nowhere else. Spending hours in the gym won't help you. I don't think you can train anywhere but Joshua Tree if you want to climb well in Joshua Tree. Unless you're Ethan, then you can onsight things like Equinox without ever having roped up there before. But I'm not talking about him. I'm talking about us, the common folk.
Ethan on Equinox, Geology Tour Road, Joshua Tree.
The climbing mimics the desert landscape upon which it is set. It's exposing and airy. There is nothing straightforward or easily fathomable about it. You'll look up at a move and deem it impossible, but then once you try, once you just start to move, the sequence starts to unlock. You must be creative. Even what appears to be a straight-forward crack can be broken, varied, and inconsistent in size.
This causes some pretty obscure body position and movement.
Me, the day I learned how to smear with my cheek on Stem Gem, Hidden Valley Campground, Joshua Tree. Photo credit: Chris Daulton
Ethan on an unknown problem, The Underground, Joshua Tree. Photo Credit: Damon Corso
The shapes that your body must take to move on these rocks blatantly resemble the iconic Joshua trees that give the national park its name. This creates movement that is much different from that of the more favored climbing destinations. It isn't flashy like the overhanging jug hauls at the Red, it's not glorious like the water-polished big walls of Yosemite, and it's definitely not sexy like the straight-in jamming of Indian Creek splitters.
All of this tends to make people a little angry.
But this is exactly the kind of climbing that we need to be doing. The overhanging glory jugs, the lowball traverses, the straightforward splitters--these things are all good, and they should be climbed, but I don't think we learn half as much from them. The kind of climbing that actually teaches us lessons of value, about our ego and how to be honest/kind/all that other good stuff, is the climbing that's bold, thought-provoking, and humbling.
Can't be too cocky when you fall off a v1:
Me on an unknown climb, Hidden Valley Campground, Joshua Tree. Photo Credit: Chris Daulton
I'm a yoga teacher and a bay area native so I'm a sucker for this kind of stuff.
My fingertips won't stop sweating. I slowly reach behind my back to dip my hand in my chalk bag, praying the movement won't cause my smeared feet to blow. One draw clipped, 20 feet below. After ten minutes of attempted crimping, I finally accept that I do not have any hand holds. My breath is rapid and choppy. Just climb, I say out loud. This is my only option, so I start to move. One foot and then the other. Pushing with my hands instead of pulling. Trusting my feet and breathing like a yoga teacher would. After a few shaky moves, I start flowing and the climbing feels like its 5.10c grade. I am no longer under the control of thoughts about the rope, bolts, or lack of quick draws on my harness. I just climb. I climb to the top.
'Free' is a good word to describe the way climbing in that desert makes me feel.
Me hiking back from The Lost Pencil, Geology Tour Road, Joshua Tree. Photo credit: Ethan Pringle
So, if I may leave you with my humble opinion: go climbing in Joshua Tree. Get scared. Flail on 5.9. Wish you were in Indian Creek. Make sure that cute girl knows you send 5.12 in Red Rocks. Get lost. Round up ten crash pads to try a v3. Get super annoyed by the wind. Hike for an hour to do one climb. Hike back to the car because the first gear is 20 feet up. Don't project. Don't fall. Don't have any idea how to do Stem Gem.
This is the kind of climbing that our community needs: the kind that humbles us, that makes us brave, that makes us less of an asshole when we get back home.
See ya in the desert!
Dogpatch Boulders manager Justin Alarcon took a trip to Kalymnos, Greece last year. He submitted this trip report to the Touchstone blog.
Almost all of my favorite climbing experiences have played out on climbs that I would be hard pressed to objectively call favorites. The rock quality might be akin to kitty litter or the line may lack the inspiring aesthetic characteristics even a non-climber recognize. Some of my favorite climbing experiences happened on routes where one false move could have resulted in my death. It's hard to recommend such routes, but however much those qualities diminish the likelihood of a climb becoming a classic they often make for memorable climbing, which is why I seek them out from time to time.
Just your standard lower out in a Kalymnos grotto.
Read more: Manager's Favorite: Kalymnos Sending
At 172 pounds, I often outweigh many of my sport climbing partners. The weight difference makes hard catches, falls where the leader swings violently into the wall, more likely. While losing weight is one of my many New Year’s resolutions, I can also give softer catches by following the proper technique.
A hard catch results from the lack of proper rope out. The climber falls and then swings back towards the wall. When the leader swings their ankles, hands, hips, or if they invert, the back of their heads may hit the wall. While broken ankles are the most common injury, a hard catch can result in death if the leader hits their head. Giving a soft catch is as important as tying your knot correctly. One of the best ways to give a soft catch is to provide a dynamic belay.
Dynamic belaying refers to a method of belaying where you slightly lengthen the fall to soften the impact on the rope. This method prevents the leader from swinging back into the wall. When the belayer moves as the climber hits the end of the rope, the leader will gently lower.
The dynamic belay was invented at Indian Rock in Berkeley by Dick Leonard and the Cragmont climbing club. The climbers would jump off the overhanging rock and give each other slack to allow for softer falls. The climbers then used hemp ropes and padded themselves to prevent rope burn. Modern gear helps make things easier.
Having a new rope helps immensely. Old ropes tend have significantly more stiffness and act like static lines while a new rope will stretch and absorb more of the fall. Auto-locking belay device can also cause harder catches.
Notice in this picture that the climber has just the right amount of rope out and is standing below the first bolt but can still see Ethan Pringle climb.
Make sure to stand close to the first bolt clipped. When the climber reaches the third bolt and is safe from decking, then step back to watch the climber from a distance where they are more visible.
The best way to give a soft catch is to wait until the rope comes taut onto the last clipped quick draw and then jump. Watch the lead climber and be poised at all times. Make sure to hold onto the end of the rope so it stays in your hand. Jumping will make the fall as gentle as possible.
If the belayer is significantly lighter than the climber, than it is useful to anchor the belayer to the ground. The anchor line should have a small amount of slack in it to allow the belayer to be pulled off the ground but kept from being pulled into the first bolt.
In this video, the belayer comes off the ground and softens the leader's fall.
There are a few exceptions to giving soft catches: if there is a risk of decking, they are on a slab, or they are working a project and want to stay close to the bolt.
Practicing in the gym with your partner will help immensely. The dynamic belay is less than intuitive but very helpful. Also, Touchstone offers belay classes. Make sure you use proper technique and climb safely.
In 2011, I vowed to work out 5 days a week. In 2012, I vowed to work out 3 days a week. In 2013, my New Year's Resolution was to drive past the gym at least once a week.
For 2014, I'm sticking to my resolutions. Like millions of Americans, I vow to change my life every year. One of the biggest New Year's resolutions is to exercise more and lose weight. I'm far from alone. In January, the number of new members at the Touchstone gyms sky rockets as people fight off the holiday weight. Exercising more and losing weight are two of the most common New Year’s resolutions. Achieving these resolutions can be easier by remembering a few steps.
Read more: Making and Keeping New Year's Resolutions
Remy, a Studio Climbing front desk member, raised money to rappel for a good cause last month. Check out her trip report on this unique experience.
I rappelled off a building, hurray! I have so much to tell you about all of it! Where do I begin?
We – staff, members and guest climbers at the Studio in downtown San Jose – raised $500 for Shatterproof, a non-profit focused on helping families battle addiction. It’s fun to help out organizations when there’s a climbing niche involved. Actually, a different organization called Over-the-Edge handles the ropes and gear. In a nutshell, Over-the-Edge is a group of journeymen climber peeps that travel the country setting up rappel lines for fundraising events like the one I pledged for this year.
Speaking of pledging, I cannot stress enough how amazing the members and guests are at my gym. They did not hesitate to help me out with raising the funds. Like, for real a member dropped $20 in exchange for a couple of brownies at our bake sale. And another member turned her purse upside down on the counter and gave me every penny that fell out of it (like $5 total). She didn’t even take any bake goods in return! It’s astonishing that our member community could care so much about helping others. Shatterproof and Over-the-Edge want us to participate again next year. They raved and raved about how awesome we are as climbers and community members.
Now about the rappel: it was rad! I learned so much about cave rappel or BASIC ascender gear, like the Petzl STOP and CROLL. Basically, the STOP is a long, slender self-braking belay device that runs on the descending line; I grip it to descend and unclench it to stop. Leading along the descending line is the belay line with the CROLL; it basically just acts like a seatbelt, halting my descent if I jerk around or begin to descend too fast. All the while I’m hooked in to both via a full-body harness, and they made me wear a helmet and gloves because apparently it’s like safer (wink wink – wear safety gear, guys!). The rappel only took about two minutes to complete, and onlooker said I looked like I was dancing on the way down. It was more relaxing than anything, and I would have done it again if they let me. It was actually my first manual rappel outside of a gym. And stepping over the edge was super easy.
All in all, the Over-the-Edge guys said I was among the easiest to coach on the lines, and they invited me to volunteer/rappel with them at an event in San Francisco in March. Hurray!
For those obsessed with climbing outside all the time, winter rock climbing can be amazing. Cold crisp conditions and lots of solitude are easy to find in the shorter months. While long routes may be out for the season, now is a perfect time for sport climbing or bouldering. The best way to climb during the cold season is to be prepared. Below are a few tips to help you get ready for winter climbing.
Michael Pang photo- the author keeps a puffy jacket and lots of hand warmers nearby
Follow the sun- This seems like a no brainer but if it’s really cold out then it’s best to not only climb in the sun but climb where the sun has been. Rock that’s seen some sun will be more pleasant than the rock that has just gotten the rays.
Keep the right temperature- When hiking, avoid sweating. The moisture on your body will freeze when you stop hiking. While approaching the crag or boulders, strip down to the thinnest layer possible to avoid overheating. If you sweat excessively, bring a dry shirt to change into at the crag. The same goes for climbing. Hats are really good for providing warmth when getting off the belay and easy to toss off.
Wear Warm Clothes- Shorts and t-shirts are for summer. Bring your warmest puffy jacket to the crag during the winter. A hood helps cover the cold area around your face while belaying on your partner’s mega project. Gloves and a hat offer significant warmth for little space in the pack. Skimp on the warm clothes and your climbing session will shorten drastically. Some climbers wear long johns while others prefer leg warmers as they are easier to take on and off. A scarf will warm your neck and make you fashionable.
Eric Ruderman photo on a cold descent into Owen's River Gorge
Use Hand Warmers- Open a chemical hand warmer and drop it in your chalk bag as soon as you reach the crag. The warmth takes a few minutes to activate. By the time you tie in you’re fingers will reach into a toasty chalk bag. A hand warmer will help with the initial climbing and may make the difference between numb fingers and a comfortable send.
Drink warm liquids- Hot chocolate, tea, soup or even hot water will help significantly. Some climbers like to bring a Jetboil to the crag. Others bring a large thermos. Either way, the warm liquid will help keep you warm. Just remember that caffeine can hinder blood flow to your extremities so drink coffee after you lead if you want to feel your fingers.
Keep Eating- When the weather turns arctic, your body burns calories just to stay warm. Eat plenty of food- Bars, leftovers from last night, a good burrito. Bring the type of food that inspires you to consume it even in cold weather. Remember to ear often.
Wear Belay Pants- An extra pair of pants over your climbing trousers will help keep the chill down while belaying. Windproof pants work well but any kind of large pants that slip on over your harness and climbing pants will help significantly.
Climb in Blocks- On really cold days, smart climbers break up the day instead of the pitches. One climber warms up and continues climbing for half the day, never belaying just climbing. The other climber belays for a few hours and then switches into lead mode. This block style climbing helps the climber stay warm by minimizing resting between climbs.
Go to the gym¬- If it’s so cold out that you’re damaging the rock by blow torching holds or having to put tarps over boulders to keep them dry from the snow, it might be time to climb inside. Get strong for when the weather is good.
Dogpatch Boulders desk staffer Alex recently injured himself while bouldering in Oregon. He took the time to write up an article for the Touchstone Blog about the accident, along with tips for smart climbing.
When I heard, rather felt, the crack in my left ankle as it rolled sideways off the crash pad, I immediately found myself in a state of denial. My ankle was fine, just badly twisted. Heck, working full time at a climbing gym I see this with relative frequency, I can comfortably say that most of the accidents I encounter are just badly rolled ankles. The crack must’ve just been a pop, a tendon being pulled too hard, something mundane.
I felt my pride well up in my chest and I pushed to contain it as fellow gymgoers asked me if I was okay. I writhed around, holding my ankle, assuring everyone I was fine, that it was “just a bad roll.” When I’ve faced an injury like this at work, I’ve often thought that most of these injuries could have been avoided. Adjustments in pad placement, body awareness, confidence, control, and general safety when pushing your body into the unknown seem are ostensibly lacking. Yet, here I was, having disregarded all of that and in the exact same position. Instead of worrying about myself, all I could think was that I had made a silly mistake and I felt guilty for imposing any stress on the gym’s staff.
Fortunately, the staff didn’t show an ounce of resentment or stress; everyone there was more than accommodating. I hobbled my way over to their café where my girlfriend was working on an essay. I felt guilty for being selfish, for being so stupid. It was her 21st to hit the breweries that evening, but now I had completely usurped her day. I thought back to the problem I had fallen on… I remember telling myself, even the guys I was bouldering with that I was pretty burnt and ready to head out soon. I hadn’t climbed in a few days and I felt my ego push me to get in a couple more attempts, to really make sure I was spent. Well, gravity was quick to assure me that I, indeed, was done with my session.
The end of a climbing workout is typically when my technique goes out the window and I’m just trying to burn my muscles out. I had started making desperate throws without much forearm juice in reserve. Not only was my body incapable of performing the moves I was forcing it to attempt, I was also ignoring the gym’s padding situation.
Since climbing at Dogpatch Boulders, I’ve conditioned myself to become ballsier indoors. I’ve become more willing to make moves and attempt climbs I believe to be above my limit, at times in very precarious positions or at potentially dangerous heights. The floors are so good that I’ve never felt close to hurting myself. Even my worst falls have been softly cushioned by our beautiful Flashed flooring system. With this mentality, I didn’t even consider the padding situation at the oldschool gym I was climbing in was not nearly as forgiving as the one back home. Looking back, there were red flags everywhere. Old crash pads littered the floor. Underneath the roof I was climbing lay a dilapidated old mattress, and at the lip where I fell the pads were a few feet too far back to protect a fall. I didn’t once adjust a pad throughout my session.
Now, here I am. Fractured tibia. Surgery imminent. Three days post-accident, waiting for my ankle to stop hurting so I can maneuver my old, manual transmission van down from Eugene, Oregon to the Bay Area. Now, my life that is usually full of climbing, running, and hiking has been stymied. Percolating up from the depths questions arise, what does climbing means to me, what led me to this unfortunate circumstance.
Over the past few days I’ve found myself struggling to accept the truth. My ego is what brought me here. My ego is what led me to think that I was strong enough not to fall, that even if I did I would be fine, that I’m invincible. My ego is what led me to keep pushing my session, even though my body was telling me I was done. My ego is what made the climbing injuries I had witnessed back home so frustrating. My ego led me to believe I was somehow different from the people I’ve seen get injured, that I somehow couldn’t be hurt.
While most of this is just a stream-of-consciousness reflection, there’s an undercurrent message that I hope to share with anyone else in my position—those of you that love climbing in and outside the gym. As fun as climbing is, as amazing as it is to push yourself constantly to new limits, to test your mental and physical prowess, to reach beautiful flow states, there’s a cost to ignoring the practical side of what we do. Let my accident remind you that safety should not be ignored in the race to the top. Vigilantly analyze your surroundings, your climbing partners’, be mindful of your body and mind before, during, and after your climbing session. Even if it means you bag the route for another go another day, that’s okay. The problem will still be there when you get back. And even if it isn’t, there’ll be something else just as fun, exciting, and challenging waiting for you to find it.
The price we pay for being overeager and ignoring general safety precautions can be hefty. For me, my single-minded desire to climb one last problem resulted in a lot of forced downtime. I only hope that my accident can help some of you become more aware of safety as a primary concern when entering any climbing environment, be it inside or out.
Here are some easy safety tips that I think could’ve prevented my injury had I considered them:
Pad Placement – When present, check for proper pad placement. When you’re going for a hard move, you want to be confident that your landing is sufficiently padded.
Spotting - Sometimes it’s great to have a solo session, but if you’re going for a move that may result in an uncontrolled fall, look around and ask someone to give you a spot. Even if you feel pretty confident with the move, our bodies swing in unpredictable ways. Having someone ready to resquare you with the mat can be an ankle saver!
Body Awareness - Be aware that as you lose strength, you lose movement becomes uncoordinated and sloppy. They symptoms can be subtle but a fatigued climber’s movements will often appear more dynamic, impulsive, or lethargic. Being mindful of one’s body a climber can focus on problems that fit their current energy level. The more your try that really hard move in a progressively weakened state, the more vulnerable you are to injury.
Ego - Don’t let your confidence get you in trouble. It’s okay to ask for a spot. It’s okay to admit defeat and let a problem go for another day. It’s okay to be off or to feel weak. Climbing can be a lifelong pastime. For me, the key to staying motivated is to remember to enjoy every step as you walk down path of rock climbing. To heck with the grades, the difficulty, the strength or weakness, all of that stuff comes secondary to just enjoying the sensation of climbing. That’s what it’s all about.
Bay Area Bouldering 2013 from Phaedrus on Vimeo.
Here is a video of happier times! We're wishing you a speedy recovery!