Better Know a Setter: Ken Tran

DSC 0213-2 copyThey'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 on of our Studio Climbing routesetters, Ken Tran.

How long have you been route setting?

Seven months.

How did you get into route setting?

I was looking for the exact opposite of being a lawyer. Nailed it. (Bolted it).

What is your favorite gym to set at and why?

The Studio. The members are awesome.

What are you route setting pet peeves?

When people grab the foot chips that I only put on there to be nice to shorties.

What is in your route setting bag right now?

A drill and some socks.

What inspires your routes?

Climbing and occasionally Bjork and doom metal.

What is your favorite memory setting with the Touchstone Crew?

When Eric Sanchez made it rain $20 bills on me from a ladder. Or when we played dodgeball with exercise balls at LA Boulders. 

Where is your favorite place to climb outside?

Hueco Tanks.

What is your advice for aspiring setters?

Email Jeremy.

How many burritos do you eat every week?

At most five or six.

How many cups of coffee?

My rule of thumb is one cup for every ten holds I put up.


Climbing Team Tryouts at The Studio

unnamed-5The Studio Climbing, our gym in San Jose, is starting their first Teen Climbing Team! Climbing is a great activity for kids or all ages and ability levels, and we're so happy to see a team forming! 

Tabitha Enanoria, who has been working at The Studio Climbing for over a year, will be coaching the team. "It's something I've been thinking about for a while now," said Tabitha. "Now that we've got more youth climbers around the gym - the time has come! I'm really excited to make the Climbing Team a really positive experience for everyone."

The Studio will hold two informal try outs for the team for kids to come and get a feel for what to expect. It's more like an Open House to check out the team. "All participants will be evaluated on three different aspects of climbing. Climbing ability, willingness to learn, and displaying the ability be apart of a friendly team environment. In order to be considered for the team you must attend at least one or both tryout days for the full two-hour session. We understand everyone starts at different levels with contrasting abilities; which is why all levels are welcome. 

If you have a child that is interested in checking out the program, come on down! This is a FREE event and a great way to learn more about youth climbing at The Studio. 

What: The Studio Climbing Team Tryouts

When: Tuesday, August 5th 6:00pm-8:00pm.

          Thursday, August 7th  6:00pm-8:00pm.

Where: 396 S 1st St, San Jose, CA 95113

Who: Boys and Girls Ages 7-19 years old

RSVP: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

If you have further questions, please call the front desk at 408.998.4000


Step and Repeat Photo Booth at TCS2014

The Step and Repeat, provided by American Signs, made it's first Touchstone Climbing Series debut last weekend in San Jose. The back drop, which free standing and folds down to the size of a large tent, was a huge hit at the comp. "It's been a fun thing to add to our already robust bag o' tricks," said staff member Lauryn Claassen. "Photo booths are a great way for people to remember how much fun they had with their friends at our comps, and now we have this perfect backdrop that is so easy to get from gym to gym!" 


Competitors at The Studio Climbing also got to ham it up with Automatic Supermodel Photoshoot to get just the right shot. Each group got five prompts from the Photo Booth to pose in different ways. So, when you stepped in front of the backdrop, you were given ideas of how behave. Not like most people needed prompting... 


The Step and Repeat was also used at the SCS Regionals Competition as a background for the youth finalists. "It looks great!" said one parent. "It's a nice touch." Big thanks for to Mark Allen for providing the sign for Touchstone Climbing. American Signs also manufactured the awesome sign the graces the entrance of LA Boulders in Los Angeles. 




Be sure to come to the TCS comp at Diablo Rock Gym - and have your blue steel pose ready for the photo booth! To see more photos from the comp - click here!

Get ready for TCS2014 at The Studio

The great thing about having nine gym siblings, (and we're expecting!) is that there is ALWAYS something going on. This week it's The Studio Climbing's turn to host a party, and we can't wait! The Touchstone Climbing Series, or #TSC2014 if you speak hashtag, will continue with a bouldering competition. "It's going to be RAD," said Eric Sanchez, the foreman route setter at The Studio. "We're going to set routes that fill the whole gym with awesome problems." TCS2014 will bring Touchstone Climbers from all over the Bay Area to San Jose. And who can say no to beer from Strike Brewing, pizza from Pizza my Heart, and oodles of prizes?!

"A can't wait to host TCS at our gym," said Gym Manager Diane Ortega. "These things are my favorite day of the month - can't wait to see what surprises this comp brings!"

10373754 661058627281919 2141590353561387220 n

Here is how you can be prepared for the bouldering comp tomorrow:

#1. Print our a paper waiver

It's a Touchstone Comp! Which means you need an signed paper waiver in hand. Do members need them? Yes. Do guests need them? Yes. Does it matter that you've filled one out before.. no! You can print one out right here, or show us you r best John Hancock at the gym when you arrive. Print our a waiver

#2. Have your comp code in hand

If you have already competed in a Touchstone Climbing Comp in the last 2 years, you already have a 3 letter code. Hopefully it wasn't the same as your ebay password.... To issue you a score card at the gym so you can get yo' climb on, we need that code! If you think you have one... just check. Remember the code and have it ready when you come to the gym. Bonus points will be awarded for people who have their code written atop their waiver!

If this is your first comp - HOLY COW! Get psyched. All you need to do is register to get your code. It takes about.... 2 minutes. Maybe 3 if you didn't pay attention in typing class. Click here to get your code. It should bring you to a screen like this one:

Screen Shot 2014-05-22 at 12.49.11 PM

#3. Get psyched! 

Seriously. San Jose has one of the best bouldering communities around, and with an entire gym at our disposal, this comp is going to be a blast. Remember to document to fun. Share the magic of the comp, and remember to tag your photos with #TCS2014 and #touchstoneclimbing so we can share in the fun. We'll pick our favorite and you shall earn a special prize! 


Find out more about the comp on the 'book

How to Climb 5.12 Clinic

Home of Partner Parties and On-sight Nights, The Studio Climbing staff can’t help but invent and host one-of-kind events and clinics tailored for its loyal climbers. The latest is a “How to Climb a 5.12” series brought to you by the legendary Charles “Swoll Chuck” Chang of Great Western Power Company. The first (and only so far) 5.12 clinic at the Studio is a series of three specialized classes geared to address and improve the skill level of avid climbers aiming to pass the 5.11-5.12 threshold more efficiently and with more control. Going into the first session, all of the students had everything they needed to climb harder, including capability, desire, focus and intent and strength. So what was preventing them from climbing 5.12s? That’s what this class was created to answer.

st 512clinic 01

Charles said the clinic wasn’t about training for power or endurance because these climbers were capable doing that on their own. Rather, he focused on helping the students recognize their climbing inefficiencies by feel and finding ways to make it better. “Toward the end of the class, students were able to not just better recognize where they were inefficient after they have climbing something (to the top), but knew before making a move so they can find different ways,” says Charles. He also went over beta for sending a route that weren’t exclusive to climbing, such as breathing techniques used for deep water diving to improve lung capacity and keeping a low heart rate.

st 512clinic 07

“Breathing was cool!” says Logan Cummings. “We went over remembering to breathe during hard sections and the importance of breathing to aid recovery during rests.” Logan also mentioned he learned to stay mindful about his climbing, like when to slow down, be aggressive or dyno past a crux. “The hard thing for me was to slow down and back off if I was climbing sloppily.”

For student Eric Andersen, concentrating on perfecting each move was the most challenging part; he worked on focusing on individual moves rather than just making it to the top. “I never paid much attention to the tension being created when climbing between my arms and legs, but Charles was able to explain this concept very clearly and taught me how to use it to my advantage,” says Eric. “I'm not just grabbing holds and climbing blind anymore, but studying the route, making precise, purposeful moves.”

st 512clinic 10

Charles had the team of climbers practicing holding still poses on the walls and making solid, thoughtful moves on bouldering problems before roping up on 5.12s.
“I had little problem with the start, a tricky compression move when we bouldered it,” says Logan. “But as soon as I roped up I was flat unable to make it. Charles worked with me on the rest of the route, which I got good practice on, and got super pumped. Later he had me try the start again off rope, still pumped, and I was able to do it again without difficulty. This was a good demonstration of the power of your environment, set, setting, etc. to affect your performance. I'm working on that.”

st 512clinic 14

Student Racquel Esqueda said everything she thought she knew about climbing was readdressed in the clinic. She said she grew frustrated at times, catching herself slipping into old habits and the urge to just make it to the top rather than embrace Charles’ static-versus-dynamic climbing methods. “What I learned is that there is no magic class that will instantly transform me into a better climber, but Charles offers a unique style of climbing that has been eye-opening for me.  If I am able to forget everything I know and focus on developing the skills offered, I can see myself getting over the ceilings that I set for myself.  Before I felt that I should be improving, but I was spinning my wheels climbing the same way on the same grades, but now I see how I am climbing and why I am stuck at the same grade and why The Studio Climbing is a great place to practice these new techniques.”

This clinic is offered at The Studio Climbing in San Jose and Great Western Power Company in Oakland. Stay tuned for the next clinic date. 

Sunday Funday Big Kid Climbing Comp

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!

Insta SundayFunday


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! 


Member of the Month: Racquel

Member of the Month

Racquel from The Studio Climbing

She first got “dragged” into bouldering at the old San Jose Touchstone Climbing gym back in 2006. After that, she quickly adapted the climber’s life, connecting with other Touchstone climbers and cranking boulders and routes outdoors. She claims to have just “begun to tap into the world of trad climbing,” but no doubt – she’s a strong and graceful climber indoors and outdoors. She’s even getting new grades in Charles “Swoll Chuck” Chang’s 5.12 class this month. Regardless, Racquel loves the challenge and pay-off of the hard work of climbing, a world of potential that pushes her to strive.

She climbs with goals in mind these days: technique, endurance and strength. “I try to hone in on the techniques I want to practice or build on rather than just climbing as hard as I can indoors. Right now I am building up my endurance by lapping walls at easy grades in order to get more time on the wall. Building up my core and grip strength slowly and sustainably is going to allow me to climb with skill and endurance on the outdoor stuff.  Why climb? Because I want to get out and do fun and challenging stuff outside. There is nothing more rewarding than the feeling of reaching the top of a wall you have spent all day climbing just in time to watch the sunset.”

For Racquel, there’s always a reason to climb. She started climbing for fun, but it became a way to overcome fear of heights and motivate herself past personal limitations. Beyond being just a reason to get outdoors, it “has become a refining tool to get on more big wall stuff.”

“I like to live life day by day and I try to give each moment my full attention.  When I am on the wall that brings it all together.  There is no where else my mind can go to but the next hold.  If there was one thing I could wish on everyone it would not be to be happy all the time, but rather to just be honest about how you are, where you are, and how you feel.  That is all there is to show and all anyone can expect of you.”

Fun Facts:
Climbing shoes: Anasazi VCS Golden Tan size 8 -  of the stinky variety
All-time Favorite Route at the Studio: A pink 5.11 comp route © June 2012
Favorite time to climb:  Mornings for training and evenings for socializing... any day I can make it to the gym.
Favorite Climbing food:  Coconut Strips and chocolate
Favorite climbing music: Ratatat
Secret identity: Rocky Raccoon
Hidden Features:  A secret tattoo
Side projects:  Conquer Serengeti, V5 in the Happy Boulders of Bishop, CA this year!

Thanks for bringing your positive attitude to the gym and the boulders! You are part of what makes The Studio Climbing such a great place to climb! 


Shatterproof Rappelling

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!

Late Night Climbing

For San Jose residents, Late Night Climbing offers a perfect chance to have a fun and healthy evening. Hundreds of South Bay climbers have skipped the clubs and bars for the excitement of The Studio Climbing. The Stuido has held a few Late Night Climbing sessions on May 17th, March 29th and February 15th.  The next one is coming up on July 26th.

Late night-5


“Its a good time for people to sucker their friends into coming to the gym and even if they don't love it or climb that much it doesn't really matter to them because it was $5 bucks and they are in a rad environment where everyone is nice, sober and having a good time,” said The Studio manager Diane Ortega.

Read more: Late Night Climbing

Throwing Grades in the Trash

zachpadRecently 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.

photoI'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, 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. 

SCS Climbing Comp at The Studio

This weekend, Saturday, March 23, 2013, The studio is hosting a USAC Northern California division Sport Climbing Series comp. This comp provides a great opportunity for young climbers in the South Bay to begin climbing competitions.

USA Climbing is the national governing body for competition climbing in the United States and is responsible for sanctioning the American Bouldering Series (ABS), the Sport Climbing Series (SCS) and the Collegiate Climbing Series (CCS).

The Studioo

The Studio comp marks the second of the six regional comps. The Regional Championships will be held in May at City Beach in Fremont. Divisionals will take place in June at Vertical World in Seattle and Nationals happen in early July at Stone Summit in Atlanta.

Registration 9am-10am

Comp 10am-2pm

$30 for USAC members ($35 for non-members)

Youth-B and above will need to get a Touchstone Lead Certification. You can get this done at any Touchstone Gym prior to the comp. You can do it at The Studio before the comp, but there might be a line. f you plan to Lead, please bring your own rope.

Past blog entries can be found at



Latest News

Latest Routes

  • BI 10 Routes 5.10b - 5.13a
  • MM 2 Routes, 5.9-5.11a 1 Route added 1/29 5.11b
  • MM 2 Routes,5.10a-5.10c 1 Route added 1/29 5.10d

Touchstone's Instagram

Tag your instagram photos with: #touchstoneclimbing