Climbing year round on basalt splitters, volcanic tuff faces, and amazing columns, Smith Rock offers a variety of climbing, relatively close to the Bay Area. Located in the high desert of Central Oregon, Smith almost always has dry weather. On my way down from Squamish, I stopped by the world-class sport climbing area.
Jess Groseth takes on the steep section of The Quickening (5.12c). This route features unusually steep climbing for Smith
Smith Rocks development began in the 60s but in the early 1980s, Smith became the spot to climb. Local Alan Watts rappel bolted Watts Tots, a 5.12b on the front wall. Watts ushered in the concept of sport climbing to the United States, pushing American climbing towards European standards.
A video of Alan Watts on Rude Boys back in 1986, when climbers wore lycra without any sort of hipster irony
While Smith’s lines feature bolts, they are a far cry from today’s definition of sport climbing. They are more like 80’s face climbing, run out and bold. There are a number of amazing moderate routes though that protect well. Newer areas like the Llama Wall have more sport climbing style routes. The Lower Gorge at Smith Rock contains amazing bolted lines with much better protection. The stem boxes include the classic Pure Palm, which is 60 feet of perfect stemming in a box.
Ryan Palo on White Wedding, a classic 5.14 in Aggro Gully.
Forty minutes north of Smith Rock rests the basalt splitters of Trout Creek. Cracks and columns define the area with stem boxes between them. The dense concentration of high quality routes and the consistent size of the cracks make the crag reminiscent of Indian Creek but far closer to California. The cracks mostly range in the 5.10 to 5.12 range. Having a solid base of crack experience helps as does a triple set of camming devices.
A climber on JR Token, a great 5.10 handcrack on the Main Wall at Trout.
Over the past decade, I have taken half dozen trips to Smith and have always been impressed. The high quality of the volcanic tuff and the cryptic climbing of the basalt makes the area amazing. The historic climbing significance makes the area a requirement for any climber.
Ten years ago, on my first trip to Squamish, I free soloed up a 5.11 slab route on the Apron thinking it was 5.8. I got 1/3 of the way before some helpful Canadians turned me around. Two weeks ago, I free soloed up a 5.10 on the Apron thinking it was 5.7. I was 1/3 of the way before some helpful Canadians turned me around. Again. There's a lesson to be learned from these experiences.
Ryan Moon on Black Water 5.12a at Pet Wall and Jens Holsten on Sentry Box 5.12a at Nightmare Rock
This summer I spent 5 weeks in the Canadian climbing town, repeating boulder problems and routes that I had done on my first trip to Squamish. The differences between the 22 year old James Lucas and the 32 year old version seemed small. Ten years ago, I slept in a cave behind the campground. This time I bivied in my new minivan. My first trip, I fell leading Pipeline, a 5.10d offwidth on the Squaw. This time, instead of going 30 feet onto a number six and a wood block, I climbed it like a hero. I laid it back on toprope. In the previous decade, I told bad jokes in the back of my friends truck. This time, I did a 5 minute standup show at YukYuks in Vancouver. Here's a video of the ceiling while I do my routine. I was older, fatter and a little more experienced.
I used to sit in Tim Schaufele's truck and tell jokes. Here he attempts Division Bell 5.13d at Chekamus
I repeated a few routes in better style. I climbed Dancing in the Light, an 11b slab route on the Apron, with Alex Honnold in 2006. He rope gunned me up the route. This time, I swung leads and led the crux pitch. The scary friction climbing felt a bit easier. I toproped Flight of the Challenger on my second try, a route that had taken me 13 tries to send 10 years ago. I repeated Tea Bag Undies, which is a contender for one of the hardest V4s in Squamish. I climbed Freeway a couple of times, and did a 90 meter pitch of 5.11+.
Kevin Daniels climbs the first 5.11 slab pitch on Dancing in the Light
One of the best parts of any Squamish summer is hanging out with the other climbers. Touchstone represented with Ryan Moon, Lauryn Claasen, Jordan Shackelford and Diane Ortega all coming to hang out in Tim Horton’s and eat way too many donuts. The posse of climbers in Squamish is always fun, and I got a chance to hang out with some good old friends and make some new ones.
I climbed Timeless a few years ago. This summer I went out there with Alex Honnold, Stacey Pearson and photographer Michael Pang to do it again. I had dinner at the brewery with Alex for his birthday. It was the third time we had a birthday dinner for him at the brewery.
The weather in Squamish stayed fairly moderate for most of my trip. There was a few days of rain. Towards the end of the month, the rain became horrendous and so I left for Smith rocks. I guess the good friction and features of the granite come at the cost of having to deal with wet weather sometimes.
Hand fanning at work in the boulders of Squamish.
Ten years ago, I downclimbed Unfinished Symphony and found Diedre. This summer I down climbed Two Scoops of Delicious and found Banana Peel and the Squamish Buttress Light. There’s a lesson to be learned from these events, how I’ve changed over the past ten years. I just don’t know what it is.
Ryan takes on his nemesis, the Crescent
Sneak peek Friday! ...That's a thing, right?
Behold the juicy innards of what will soon be the largest bouldering only gym in Southern California! Climbers at our Hollywood location will have over 11,000 sq ft of climbing at their disposal. We're excited to also offer an additional training and fitness area for programing, classes, and getting swol.
We're excited about the natural light the the building provides, as well and the open layout. We are currently in the design phase of the project, and our team is working with Walltopia to create some never before seen bouldering terrain at this location. Get psyched people!
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Recently, Andrew McAleavey sat down with the Touchstone blog to talk about his experience with climbing and Cerebral Palsy. The Berkeley Ironworks Kid's Camp director will be at the American Physical Therapy Association’s pediatrics conference in St. Louis to discuss how cerebral palsy affects muscle development. Read a bit about his climbing experience.
“I don’t...I don’t know if I’ll be able to climb, but…but I just wanted to look around and…”
The man at the desk has long, dirty-blond curls and a strangely compelling gravitas. He looks past my stammer-babble, regards me with a kindly intensity, and says, sure, I’m welcome to have a look — as long as I stay off the blue mats. This is my second time at Berkeley Ironworks; the first time, I drove by but was too scared to go in. With permission granted, I wander off, stumble around the gym, and decide that even if I’m never able to climb, the energy of the place is just so good that I want to be a part of it. I come back the next night for intro to climbing.
I have Cerebral Palsy. I’m brain damaged, my leg muscles are too tight and too weak, and my walking is, in a word, funky. There’s still no real treatment for brain damage, so they treat CP orthopedically — physically rearranging the muscles and bones to compensate for the faulty signals from the brain. As a child, my left femur and right ankle were broken, re-aligned, re-set. My hamstring and Achilles tendons were lengthened. My quads were rearranged. Some of the best surgeons in the country wanted to make me better, faster, stronger. They succeeded — and then they ran out of ideas. Cerebral Palsy is a lifelong, non-degenerative condition, but it’s too often considered a pediatric problem. Children with CP often face what George W. Bush once called "the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Adults with CP don’t often get follow-up and fade into obscurity with their ability to move declining. Rock climbing is not on anyone’s list of things that people with CP “should be” able to do.
I was 34 when I walked into Berkeley Ironworks that night, about 18 months ago. I’d spent at least 20 years in physical therapy, the previous 8 years draining my savings to work with some truly innovative physical therapists and athletic trainers. I was bored, and broke, and under orders from my athletic trainer to find something in the fitness world that I really wanted to do. Only then, he implied, would I really progress. Only then would my heart truly be in it.
The first night I tried climbing, with Jerome smiling from the desk at my reappearance and Jeffrey Kosoff belaying and encouraging, I made it fifteen feet up a 5.4 before exhaustion hit. I barely had the range of motion to get my feet on some of the holds, and as there wasn’t enough power in my legs to push up very effectively, I was doing most of it with my arms. I felt pure joy. I was hooked.
It took me a month to finish a 5.4. It took months more for my range of motion to show permanent improvement. I tried harder and harder routes and spent almost every night at Ironworks. I found a partner who knew exactly when to encourage and exactly when to tell the most egregious, hilarious “cripple” jokes I’d ever heard — at my expense. Every night, the desk staff had a nugget of advice, a word of encouragement. The small kindnesses piled up. “Ok,” Dani Kottman warned me one afternoon after volunteering to belay for me in a few minutes of free time, “I’m going into coach mode!” What followed was an incisive and thorough dissection of my technique and everything that needed to be done to improve it.
As I started to take classes—anchors, trad, technique—I realized that some of the staff had biomechanical instincts rivaling those of the best physical therapists I’d worked with. During a trad clinic, Chris Ahlgren realized, without a word from me, that I’d exhausted myself just standing on the cushy flooring for an hour. The next night, for the next clinic, he dropped a thick, hard block of foam in front of me: “Here!” he said, “Stand on this tonight. It should help!” I managed my first 5.10a, then another, then another. I tried climbing outdoors at Cragmont Park in Berkeley. I’m working on a 5.10c now.
I love children, and when I found out that Ironworks was looking for a kids camp director, I applied. The interview was short; the paperwork was handed to me. With no small amount of trepidation, I decided to take the job. I’ve been chasing children around the gym almost every week since. It’s wonderful. “You’re just goofy!” one of the staff members said during summer camp this past summer, “And you’re, like, nine years old!!” Right and right. Sometimes, I worry that I’ll run out of things to teach the kids; I worry that I won’t be able to correctly demonstrate technique for an overhang, or a good backstep. Then I quiet my fears. I show them how much climbing means to me. I show them how much I love them and want them to succeed. Somehow, it works out.
By happenstance, I found a professor of physical therapy in Connecticut who was interested in “long term outcomes” of people like me. I’d been climbing about six months at that point, and as I told her tales, she slowly got interested. First, she asked me to sit on an advisory board for a grant of hers. Then she came to the conclusion that she should study me. We made plans — in March of 2014, a full-on computerized movement analysis, the same technique that had been used to plan my surgeries as a child. In June, my collaborator, Mary, came to visit me, to see and record my climbing and workout routines. Lyn Barraza, the Ironworks manager, was kind enough to give me the run of the gym as an entourage followed me around and recorded my every move. I tethered our photographer on the rappel platform, rappelled down, and climbed back up again. I did every stretch I could think of for the cameras. At this point, all of it was routine for me. I didn’t think about how unusual it might be for someone with CP to do all of the things I was doing until Mary broke into tears watching me walk across the padded floors — and then almost fell down trying to follow me.
In October, I’ll be giving a talk with my two professor-collaborators at a meeting of the American Physical Therapy Association, essentially a master class on exercise and training for climbing for people with CP. The talk begins with the basic science, explains what happens to the structure of muscles in people with CP, and goes from there. The short version: climbing has improved my strength and range of motion, prevented serious declines in function, and kept me extremely happy doing it. In the slides for the talk, I’m wearing my favorite Ironworks shirt — and there’s a huge grin on my face.
By Anthony Lapomardo
The heavily rotted gates that guarded the horse ranch hung haplessly off withered hinges. The car rolled slowly from the pavement to the uneven dirt trail and meandered downhill and into the high grass. Rolling over the first cattle guard, the sounds of 4 stroke engines broke the silence as two cyclists came into view and ripped up the hillside. The surrounding hills showed nothing but stickers and mud, nothing thus far would convince those in the car that they had not been deceived. They had been promised great climbing, steep, fully equipped and north facing.
After another 100 yards of crawling across the uneven dirt, the low belly of the vehicle dragging across high-spots, the car rolled to a stop beneath a sagging oak. Steeping down from the car, the sole of our shoes met the plastic of empty shot-gun shells and crushed BBs. Looking across the way, two beer can snipers were attempting to blow a hole in the side of a Pabst Blue Ribbon with a small handgun, oblivious to our arrival.
Pulling our gear from the car, I led the group down a lightly treaded path that wove into the canyon. Within minutes a large shadow began to block out the heat of the morning sun and pointing into the steep over-hang that shaded our group I introduced Owl Torr.
Rising at a 45 degree, with bright metal chains decorating its face the over-hanging conglomerate crag is the creation of a group of outdoor artisans, who took a largely unusable wall and carefully crafted it into their home crag. The lines that make up the crag range from 5.10d-5.14b/c and require massive upper body strength coupled with elastic-like tendons. The walls made up of a cobbled conglomerate offer stark contrasts to our group of climbers. Each line has an engraved metal plate sitting beneath the opening holds, a personalized marker not found in nature.
Tying in the first climber of our group eyed the wall and began to make her way up the route, plugging into deep two finger pockets and pinches with comfortized thumb catches. The movement pushes her to lose and regain her footing several times as she makes powerful stabs to good holds. Nearing the top she takes an extended stem position and fires for the last two finger slot guarding the chains and finds herself falling quietly into the large void beneath her. Her limbs flailed, swimming through dead air until she stopped at the 5th draw and swung into the wall. The fall broke the tension for the group and the rest of the afternoon was spent addressing the air while pawing for foot holds and stretching their core tension.
Steven Roth above the abyss on Better Than Life 5.13c
Gabriella Nobrega working through The Power of Eating 5.11d
Ben Polanco working through an open project
Wes Miraglio Hell of the Upside Down Sinners 5.12b
Owl Torr is located 25 minutes south east of San Luis Obispo off the 166. The climbing is gymnastic, the scenery always changing, and it is a great spot for those looking for a steep crag, powerful routes and the best outdoor "route setting" available.
For more information check out Mountain Project.
Technique is for the weak. Or so seems when you see the footloose climbing in the gym. Unfortunately, big muscles and an ability to campus do little on harder routes. Precise footwork and an ability to climb well will get you much farther. One of the best ways to improve your footwork is to slab climb. While climbing lower angle rocks isn't in vogue, it can be really really fun. Take the time to learn proper technique and the steep routes will be easier with your precise footwork.
James Lucas tries hard to keep from skinning his knee while slab climbing in Squamish
Position your body
You want as much downward pressure on the balls of your feet as possible. Leaning too far into the wall may lead to sliding right down the rock. Keep your butt out and your hands in front of you. This style burns your calves but offers the best position.
Smear your feet
Use the friction between your shoes and the rock to hold you in place. Get as much weight onto your foot as possible. Look for tiny edges, ripples and other dimples in the rock. The smallest wrinkles can be an excellent place to smear your foot and make some upward progress."Trust the rubber because the rubber is way better than it was in the 70s," said master slab climber Hayden Kennedy.
Jon Gleason climbs Xenith Dance in Squamish, a classic 5.10c slab route behind the campground
Moving well on slab routes requires stepping up. Usually the moves aren't physically taxing but require intense balance. Place your foot on a hold and commit to the process, shifting your weight over and then onto your foot quickly. Slabs become easier when you move confidently. "For me it helps looking to your left and right and try to stand up as straight as possible," said El Cap free climber Lucho Rivera. "Always remember to stand on your feet and don't overgrip. Its easy to do on slabs. And relax if possible, tho sometimes thats a hard one."
"Be stoked to go for it even if you're going to fail." said Kennedy. Having confidence and a willingness to be bold helps with the difficult mental game of slab climbing. Slab climbing becomes easier when you climb fast and confidently. Also, Remember that slabs are way easier in the shade.
Kevin Daniels moving quickly on Dancing in the Light, one of the test piece slab routes in Squamish.
Wear Good Shoes
Stiffer shoes work much better on slabs. Make sure your soles are clean. Slab climbing requires strong feet and solid calves. After intense slab climbing, some climbers complain of sore feet. Stiff shoes help alleviate this problem and make standing on small edges easier. Check out a good pair of TC Pros for really tough slabs.
There's lots of great places to go get your slab climb on. Try the Dike Route (5.9) in Tuolumne, FreeBlast (5.11b) in Yosemite, or Initial Friction (v1) and Blue Suede Shoes (v5) in the Camp 4 boulders. There's amazing slab routes in Squamish as well. At Ironworks, there's a great slab in the back of the gym as well as a wall in the front.
Why I Climb
By Marie Schwindler
It is a warm summer night, and the air tastes slightly of chalk. I stare at my hands after attempting one of my projects at the gym. No use in asking me how many times I have attempted to send this problem because I've lost count. Damn! Another flapper! Well, that's why tape is one of the next best things to chalk. I find myself here at the gym for the third time this week, and it's only Tuesday. Knowing that if I don't come at least another four times this week, chances are, I'll probably be twitching through out the weekend. I promised my partner that we would spend the weekend together. Even though I love them deeply, I yearn to climb. It's already August, and there may be only two more months to attempt the route that I've been working on since last summer. My climbing partner and I have visited the route multiple times this season. With each visit, we come back with the feeling of achievement throbbing on our fingertips. We've already come so far!
Thing is, this isn't my first project, and well, it won't be my last. I go through months where I am almost completely consumed with climbing. At times I have felt like I am almost living in two separate worlds. After a productive weekend of climbing, I've been known to show up to work with bruises, scrapes, cuts on my hands, and dirt deeply embedded under my fingernails even though I swear I've washed them. My co-workers don't seem to appreciate the epic achievements that I rave about, nor the trials that I have overcome as I climbed and clawed my way up the rock. They say things like, "You're crazy!" or "Is that what you consider a vacation!?"
Truth is, I can't imagine any other way to spend my free time. Contemplating on such comments, this question seemed to arise, "What is it about climbing that has me so captivated?" After meditating on this question for some time, I concluded on this. When I climb, I feel a sense of focus. On the wall, I don't think about work, the laundry, or about what waits for me at home. Rather, I find my mind consumed with what my next move or gear placement will be. With rock climbing, I push my body and my mind to places that would be hard to achieve in the security of my sheltered metropolitan life. Thus, it also offers me the beauty of adventure and insight to my own determination. And of course, how can I not mention the view, the air, and tranquility of the mountains that comes with such adventures!
Through being challenged with this self posed question, I found that my perception of climbing took on a slightly different form. All those nights at the gym, all the minor deformities that come with cramming your foot into a shoe that is obviously too small, all the falls, the takes, and days of being so completely shut down, it all just seemed so rightfully justified. Through this understanding, my love for climbing only expands. So, when the seasons turn, and it gets cold and rainy, and the mountains that I love so deeply are kissed with snow, you will find me at the gym (often).
There, with my community, we climb, and push ourselves for the preparation of next season.
They're up with the sun, chain coffee-drinking and working hard to bring you the routes you love to send, project, and crush. 'Touchstone Routesetting' is an industry term for excellence, and each member of the crew brings a little somethin' somethin' to the team. In our ongoing segment, Better Know a Setter, we bring you a closer look at what makes 'em tick. In this weeks installment, we sat down with our summer setter, Zach Wright. Zach returns to school this fall, but will be wielding a drill again in 2015.
How long have you been route setting?
I started setting for Touchstone at the beginning of this summer. Before that, when I worked desk at The Studio, I would finagle my way into setting a boulder problem here and there when the setters came around.
How did you get into route setting?
Before I worked for Touchstone, I coached a competitive climbing team, so imagining/training competition style movement was part of my job. Getting to see the routesetting at the national level was always inspiring; there's a level of aesthetics, hold selection, and movement variety you rarely see in commercial gyms. Being exposed to that level of routesetting and working with a competitive team made me want to try my hand at creating the routes, rather than just consuming them.
What is your favorite gym to set at and why?
LA Boulders. They have the best hold selection and the best walls of any gym I've set at.
What are you route setting pet peeves?
That moment where the bolt is too short, and then the T-nut is stripped, and I left my drill on the ground, and my tape won't tear quite right, and my tape angles are off, and none of my moves are forced, and I missed my grade, and my route is a turd.
What is in your route setting bag right now?
Several beers, a pint of gelato, an episode of Breaking Bad, a puppy and 8 hours of sleep.
What inspires your routes?
Mega-slappin' beats, Gregor Pierce's winning smile, caffeine, the weekend.
What is your favorite memory setting with the Touchstone Crew?
My first time setting Pipeworks. It was my 5th day on the job and I ended up having to set the steepest line out of the arch. I had never set on a steep wall in my life. Basically I struggled harder getting through that arch than on any climb or day of work in my life. I distinctly remember getting stuck in an aid bolt in the roof, and I'm there and struggling and trying to like, lift my bag with one arm and get myself out of the bolt with my other arm, and I'm just spinning in the roof and I'm like “Literally I'm gonna puke in this roof, 40 ft. off the ground and then pass out.” But I didn't. I made it through, eventually. Then I went home and drank beer and ate gelato and passed out at like 8 PM.
Where is your favorite place to climb outside?
The bouldering areas near Truckee are pretty dope, and of course Bishop is rad in the winter. But I'm also psyched to hit up Mortar and session with some friends and then hit the skatepark or something. They're all fun for their own reasons.
How many burritos do you eat every week?
No burritos. I rock the Berkeley Bowl specialty sandos. The turkey club panini is on point, I basically live off of those.
How many cups of coffee?
2 espressos minimum to get out the door in the morning, then however much I need to be like, a functional human being for the rest of the day. And hella kombucha, cause I like to stay cultured.
What is your advice for aspiring setters?
Routesetting gets easier once it stops being so damn hard. Also, don't take yourself too seriously. Seriously.