Too Big to Flail

By: Georgie Abel

It's summertime in Berkeley. I sit in the hot living room of my friend's apartment, the overhead fan creates a weak breeze. We are watching Reel Rock 7, I'm missing Bishop like crazy and getting inspired and terrified by Alex Honnold's first ascent of Too Big To Flail: a micro-crimpy, foot-work intensive highball in the Buttermilks. I start to wonder if "highball" is an appropriate term when talking about a climb that's 50 feet tall.

Well, that's never gonna be repeated. Joe tilts his beer back, finishing off the last sip.

Someone will do it, I say.

Oh yeah? Who?

Someone. I don't know who. Maybe we don't know their name yet, I reply.

A year and a half later I find myself shlepping crash pads and encouragement up to the Luminance boulder so that professional climber, Ethan Pringle, and some 19 year old Cal student named Steven Roth can try to bag the third and forth ascents of Too Big To Flail.

The afternoon before, the pair threw a rope down the thin line of the boulder's North face and took turns sussing out the moves. They shouted words of positivity to each other from the ground as they broke the climb into different sections. Their beta was vastly different for some moves and identical for others, but neither Ethan or Steven looked like they were having to try all that hard to pull the sequences. It was obvious to everyone that for them, sending Too Big would mostly be a matter of just going for it.

Neither of them are a stranger to highballs--Ethan has ticked countless airy Buttermilk classics including Evilution (Original Exit)This Side of Paraside, and The Beautiful and Damned. As for Steven, on the weekends when he doesn't have to teach Intro to Climbing Clinics at Berkeley Ironworks, he quietly climbs some of Bishop's proudest lines like Ambrosia, Rise, and Footprints.

unnamed-3 Ethan on This Side of Paradise. Photo credit: Damn Corso

1510527 10152019556407023 1953358560 nSteven on Ambrosia.

I reach into the bottom of my pack, fishing for my headlamp. The sun dropped behind Mount Tom an hour ago. Ethan lowers Steven to the ground after his last burn, he unties as he looks up at the green and yellow lichen-streaked face.

Cool, Steven says. I'm gonna do this thing tomorrow.

Nice dude, Ethan says. I can tell Ethan isn't sure at this point if he'll go for it without a rope, otherwise he would have said so.

After dinner we drive to the Thunderbird hotel. I'm wondering how it doesn't smell like feet or a barn or a dumpster considering there's four boys in here. We huddle around a laptop and watch the teaser footage from Alex Honnold's latest solo of El Sendero Luminoso in Mexico.

Holy s---, Ethan says.

Holy f---- s---, I say.

This is awesome. But he's fine, he's on a slab, Steven says. I shake my head and laugh a little.

I envision the eve of a big, committing send to go something like this: eat a salad, do yoga, mentally rehearse the moves on the climb. Ethan is pretty much doing that, minus the salad, but it's clear that the route is on his mind. He's still undecided about whether he'll go for it ropeless, wondering if he's ready, if it's worth it, if going for it means he's being reckless or impatient.

I'll have to see how it goes tomorrow. I want to do it clean on a rope a couple times before I decide, Ethan says.

But for Steven, this night is different. He's putting off doing his thermodynamics homework by showing us videos of cats with very short legs. You guys have to see this, Steven says. They're called dwarf kittens! They're soooo cute. Oh wait! Type in "munchin scurry!" It's just a whole page of dwarf kitten GIFs! Anthony and I exchange a look and laugh immediately. No seriously! You guys are gonna love this. I want one as a pet so bad!

Wes puts his palm to his forehead.

Come onnnnnn, Steven says, drumming his fingers as the page fights to load with the weak internet connection.

There are no thoughts of the climb, no reconsidering his decision to go for it tomorrow, no wondering if he'll pitch from the top, no phone calls made to acquire more crash pads. Tonight, Steven's mind is on the homework he'll have to do on the car ride back to the Bay and dwarf kitten adoption possibilities.

We wake up the next morning to mild, almost warm weather in town--uncharacteristic of February in the Eastern Sierras. Ethan and I head over to our friend's house and grab several crash pads, we have to rearrange them a few times to make them all fit in the Honda Element. After the bumpy ride up Buttermilk Road, we park at the Birthday boulders and sit in the car for a moment. I look out at Buttermilk country. It's bright and sunny just like it was in Bishop, but there is evidence everywhere of strong winds--a whooshing sound coming from the car windows, crash pads being lifted up and carried into the sage brush, some dude running after a plastic grocery bag up by Iron Man Traverse.

Sending temps, Ethan says to me. This is the first time he has even slightly suggested that he may be considering going for Too Big To Flail at some point today.

We meet up with the rest of the group and drive over to the Luminance parking lot. Four cars, about 15 crash pads, eight people to carry them. We strap pads together and hike up to the boulder, confident that we'll be seeing at least one attempt of one of Bishop's proudest lines. The wind sprays sand into my face and my crash pad catches a gust. I fight to keep my balance, to stay standing.

Ethan and Steven rope up again. This time they try the route starting from the ground on top rope, trying to link the entire climb without any falls. They both successfully do so about three times. In the background, the rest of us jabber on about mindless subjects like poop and protein powder, assuming Ethan and Steven would each spend another hour or so top roping. Little do we know that Steven is about to go for it.

We duck behind boulders so we're out of the photos that Anthony is shooting from up the hill, and as Steven takes off his harness we're all still arguing about how many times a day a healthy person should poop. The boys say three, minimum. Heather and I say once. But then he chalks up. He looks up at the line. He climbs up the small boulder to reach the start holds. As soon as his feet leave the ground, we are all quiet for the first time the entire weekend. I hear Mike swallow hard, he turns away. I can't watch this, Mike whispers. My stomach tightens as Steven balances through the opening sequence.

unnamed-4Steven pulling through the first section.

The thing I remember most was the silence. How even scratching the back of my hand felt disruptive.

The wind starts to pick up as Steven comes into the rest. He adjusts his feet, reaches behind his back and dips a hand into his chalk bag. A stream of chalk twists into the wind. He reaches far to the right for the next crimp, his left hand follows. He climbs out of the rest. The higher he climbs the stronger the wind grows. He finishes the section of three long moves in a row, the wind is now coming in steady gusts, strong and unannounced. His signature Jimmy Newtron hair is matted down to one side. His Ironworks Belay Staff hoodie puffs up like a sail. He's about thirty five feet from the ground.


unnamed-5Steven, high and battling the wind.

I wonder if the wind will blow him off the wall. I wonder if he realizes how committed he is right now. I wonder if he's scared. I wonder how he climbs something this tall, this hard, in these conditions, with seemingly no consideration of not climbing it.

Soon, he's pulling through the delicate moves close to the top of the boulder. His pace is faster than it was through the first three quarters of the climb but he looks secure and steady. A few crimps later, he gains the last hold, a huge jug on the boulder's lip. Steven stands on top of the boulder that Bishop's hardest and highest lines call home, and he has just done the third ascent of Too Big To Flail.  We all hoot and holler and clap, abruptly breaking the silence. Steven smiles, he's quiet and stays atop the boulder for just long enough to pose for a celebratory picture before heading over to the down climb.

1920299 579659285458123 373154734 nSteven on top of the Luminance boulder after sending Too Big To Flail. Photo credit: Wes Miraglio.

The boys exchange high fives with Steven, I hug the everliving daylights out of him. Eventually we quiet down from the excitement of the send, and soon it becomes apparent to everyone that it's time for Ethan to decide if he's going to go for it or not.

I sit next to Ethan, we both look at the climb. It starts to rain, steady for just a few minutes and stops. Off and on. The weather is good and then bad. The wind blows and then its calm. Every few moments, Ethan takes a deep, loud sigh. That's when you know he's really thinking hard.

How do you feel? Gonna give it another lap on TR? Or are you ready now? I ask.

I don't know. Honestly, seeing Steven do it doesn't really make super eager to climb it. This is really serious.

Yeah. Well, just go have fun. But be safe, I say. Thanks, he says. I'm gonna run up the hill to stay warm. Ethan takes off up the gravely slope. We all know the actual purpose of this run is to make his decision.

His struggle is this: he knows that he is more than physically capable to do this climb. But is now the right time? He has every excuse not to go for it today--the wind, the rain, his feet hurt, he's getting cold, he can't feel his fingers, maybe he needs more crash pads, maybe he should rehearse a few more times on top rope, maybe he should just call it good and find another project because crimping isn't what he's best at anyway.

The sky is inked with dark rain clouds as the afternoon storm rolls in. Ethan jogs back down the hill. He walks to the base of the boulder, slips on his shoes and straps his chalk bag to his waist. He climbs up the small boulder to gain the start holds, leaving his harness sitting on the ground.

He's going for it.

He exhales audibly and pulls on to the face. Slowly he shifts through the first moves, deliberate and slow. He pauses sightly after each move. After a few moments, he makes it to the rest.

unnamed-3-1Ethan, just before the rest.

Ethan stands in the rest for a long stretch of time. He takes off his hat and it slowly flutters to the ground. He presses his fingers to the back of his neck as to warm them, shifts his weight left and then right, takes several full breaths. After a few minutes he looks up at the rest of the climb. He chalks up and keeps climbing.

Traverse right to a good hold. Pause. Exhale. The insecure slopey foot move. Pause. Move to gain the better foothold. Big move, big move, big move. Exhale. Getting close to the top. 5.12 slab climbing section. Trust. Move. Breathe.
  
1618622 10153811281155573 2037629990 nEthan pulling through the middle section. Photo credit (middle photo): Wes Miraglio.

He climbs with such great attention that he notices small raindrops landing on his next hand hold.

40 feet from the layered crash pads, he reaches high and pauses with his palm just skimming the rock, mid-move. He is still for a full breath. My jaw clenches. He finishes the move, balances through the finishing section, and soon his hand is on the line's only jug.  The silence breaks again. YEAH! We yell. Ethan rocks over the lip of the boulder, screams and puts his arms into the air. The wind pushes him back forcefully, he looks alarmed as he regains his footing. He yells down to us. I almost just got blown off the top!

Ethan smiles so big that his eyes squint. He takes his time on top of the Luminance boulder, shouts some more, but eventually the strong winds persuade him to down climb.

I remember the drive out of the Buttermilks that day, how I looked out at the Whites and thought about both of the boys up there, how they each stood on top of that boulder in such different ways. Everything was varying--the mental preparation, the struggle or lack of struggle with the decision to go for it, their attitude about climbing something that committing, the way they climbed, their reaction to sending. But it was the same climb, the same day, they took almost the same number of top rope rehearsals and they both eventually sent.

It worked because both Steven and Ethan trusted their own unique processes. There was no question in either of their minds that perhaps they should be going about this whole thing more like the other one. They weren't acting like anyone else up there. And that is why they both ended up sending one of the tallest, hardest boulder problems in the world, Too Big To Flail.

unnamed-2-1Steven, before hiking to the climb, carrying four crash pads and probably dreaming of dwarf kittens. Photo credit: Ethan Pringle

*All photo credit goes to Georgie Abel unless otherwise noted.

Berkeley Ironworks Challenge

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Now the February is upon us, it's becoming easier and easier to forget your lofty New Years Resolutions. Ready to keep the momentum going?! Berkeley Ironworks has got you covered! As a reminder of the pure AWESOMENESS that is BIW, the staff is setting up a challenge to help member new and old get the most out of the gym and everything there is to do there. "We got the idea from out sister gym Diablo Rock Gym," said manager Lyn Barraza. "The DRG challenge model seemed like a great way to encourage new members to explore the gym and have a great time doing it!"

unnamed"For those of you who think you're up for it, prepare yourself to compete with fellow BIW members," said desk staffer Ryan Moon. "Taking part in this challenge will transform you into the fittest person in the WORLD (East Bay)!"

This event kicked off February 1st, which is why you may have noticed score cards around the gym. With the score card, you can check off challenges in the form of climbing, yoga, cardio, BIW specific fitness classes, along with some fun community challenges to help get to know the gym and the community better. 

Ready to get started?

Ask any of the desk staff for a BIW CHALLENGE sheet and get moving! February is almost half way over - but it's not too late to grab a challenge sheet and see how many challenges you can knock off the list.

unnamed-1Along with finding new ways to push yourself and get in shape, the challenge comes with an added bonus - a sweet T-shirt! Here's how it works. Each 'challenge' is worth a 10 points. Once you reach at least 300 points, you get at T-shirt. Aka: Major BIW street cred. 

Once you start racking up the points, you'll get closer and closer to 'Camp 2'. Once you complete enough challenges for earn 600 points, let us know and we'll mark off your milestone. 

And for those truly brave and pure of heart, 810 gets you to the summit! Be sure to get your friends to join in and complete the events together. Grab a sheet from the front desk today and let us know how you're doing on the event page.

Good luck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mission Cliffhangers

The "Mission Cliffhangers", Mission Cliffs' teen climbing team, has been enjoying a fun-filled, successful run in this year's Northern California Youth Climbing League! The Mission Cliffhangers are a fun-loving group of twenty Touchstone members between the ages of 7 and 17 who all share boundless enthusiasm for climbing--and the YCL competition series provides the perfect venue for them to have a blast and climb their best!

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The Youth Climbing League (put together by Andy Puhvel and Lisa Coleman of Yo! Basecamp) is a series of climbing competitions for kids and teens that takes place at rock gyms in and around the Bay Area--the competitions themselves are judged in two separate categories: difficulty and speed. On January 12th, Touchstone's very own Diablo Rock Gym hosted the season-opening competition, and seven excited Mission Cliffhangers traveled out to Concord to represent their home gym, climb some awesome new routes, and have a good time! Team members Nilo Batle, Audrey Duane, Elsie Karlak, Elias Lawson-Fox, Zephir Lorne, Cosmo Maddux, and Elijah Whitlam-Sandler all climbed their hearts out at this event...and they even won some prizes! In their respective age categories: Nilo placed first in both difficulty and speed, Cosmo tied in second for difficulty, Audrey placed fifth in difficulty and fourth in speed, and Elias placed fifth in difficulty! And after all the chalk dust settled, the Cliffhangers, utterly exhausted but proud of their accomplishments, made their way home.

Cosmo Nilo Elias sitting

The Mission Cliffhangers' most recent YCL competition took place on January 25th at the Rocknasium rock gym in Davis, outside Sacramento. Team members Nilo Batle, Audrey Duane, Oscar Herrera-Sobal, Elias Lawson-Fox, Lucas Lawson-Fox, Cosmo Maddux, Cate Tam, and Elijah Whitlam-Sandler all attended and made the long hour-and-a-half trek from San Francisco. The Rocknasium competition proved to be quite significantly more difficult than the previous event, with the gym's shorter walls demanding more compact, strength-based climbing from the competitors. However, the Mission Cliffhangers stuck to their guns, climbed as hard as they possibly could, and gave it their all--by the competition's end, bouldering a V0 seemed just as hard as freeing The Nose! In the end Nilo placed first in both difficulty and speed, Audrey placed second in speed, Elias placed fifth in difficulty, and Lucas placed fifth in both difficulty and speed--an all-around good showing in what was most likely the hardest YCL event in the series.

Elias2

February 8th marks the Mission Cliffhangers' next YCL competition, and this time the venue will be Vertex Climbing Center in Santa Rosa. The Cliffhangers are especially looking forward to this event, as they will be cheering for their head coach, Malcolm McMahon, in the adult climbing contest immediately following the main YCL event! After this third competition, the Mission Cliffhangers have two more stops: the penultimate competition Planet Granite in Belmont on February 23rd and the series championship Pacific Edge in Santa Cruz on March 1st.

The Northern California Youth Climbing League is an awesome competition series that affords Mission Cliffs' teen team a great opportunity to climb with their teammates, explore new rock gyms and meet other climbing teams, and just have a huge amount of fun! The Mission Cliffhangers themselves are an awesome group of kids who really put a ton of effort into their climbing and seem to have endless enthusiasm and passion for the sport--and by participating in these competitions they show their desire to push their climbing to the next level, to put their skills to the test and do their best!

 

LA.B Grand Opening is a Huge Success!

The parking lot is teeming with climbers and the doors aren't even open yet. Blinking in the morning Los Angeles sunlight, I survey the scene and wait for my coffee to kick in. Though I just drove over 400 miles to get here, there is no shortage of familiar faces. As I mingle with the crowd, I exchange greetings with climbers I know from The Studio, from Ironworks, from Bishop. Juxtaposed onto these old acquaintances are a contingent of local gym climbers, swathed in swag from Hangar 18, Rockreation and Sender One. Seasoned competition climbers stand shoulder to shoulder with weekend warriors, and eight-year-old future-crushers. Local college kids intermix with out-of-state climbers who stopped by on their way to Bishop or Joshua Tree. Youth climbing teams, dressed in matching apparel, share the space with unofficial amalgamates of road-trip buddies and training partners. The crowd, diverse as it is lively, bubbles with conversation about the competition. Suddenly, the conversations cease and everyone's attention is on the front doors. They're open, and an outfit of Touchstone staff is waiting to usher the crowd into the gym. As a single entity, this microcosm of the California climbing community starts to flow up the steps and diffuse into Touchstone's newest 12,000 square-foot playground.

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Photo Credit: Freeman McFadden

To say that it's a full house would be an understatement. To say climbers are packed into the gym like sardines would be inaccurate, because sardines don't have this much fun. Competitors fill every inch of the new Flashed flooring, and the walls are barely visible behind the swarms of eager participants. Half an hour into the competition, any semblance of a warm-up period is long gone, and the projecting mindset has taken over. Whether climbers showed up for the social aspect of the event or with the intention of taking home the prize money seems to have no bearing on how hard people are climbing. The casual folks from the parking lot who insisted they were “just here to check it out” have dropped the facade of nonchalance and are crushing their way through the ranks on their scorecards. Through some unofficial consensus, climbers have quickly discovered instant classics at every grade, and formed giant, amorphous blobs of spotters/judges/projecters at the bases of these climbs.

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Photo Credit: Jeremy Pangilinan

Comp-style routesetting has an aesthetic and quality all its own. The routesetters spared no expense of effort or creativity in crafting the boulders for the LA.B comp. Minty-fresh grips from top manufacturers fill the Walltopia terrain, offering a variety of movement to satiate even the most seasoned gym-junkies. The climbs, which feature color coordinated holds and follow the proudest lines in the gym, are not the only thing that looks good; the moves they demand are true crowd pleasers. Double-clutch dynos? We got 'em. Kneebars and double toe-hooks in a horizontal roof? There's a climb for that. A sketchy slab-fest on blank volumes, obtuse features and non-existent feet? There's a few of those. The climbs favor no one and everyone: tech masters can find slab testpieces and power junkies can treat themselves to a thuggish burl-fest on the steep terrain. One-move-wonders reside next to flowing pump-fests, giving anyone and everyone a chance to climb their style, or their anti-style.

DSC 6036 copy 2Photo Credit: Freeman McFadden

Surrounding the excitement on the floor is the party atmosphere that is to be expected at a Touchstone competition. The DJ has been going strong all day, delivering high-energy beats to keep the crowd psyched. Some of the biggest brands in climbing have set up product displays featuring their latest product offerings, forming a mini retail show in the lounge area. Food trucks are stationed outside, ready to provide hip L.A. food fare to fuel the calorie-incinerating action inside. As the clock winds down on the five hours of free-for-all climbing, jumbo-sized pizzas and kegs of beer materialize to reward climbers for their efforts. At the conclusion of the first phase of climbing, the gym seems to exhale climbers off the floor and into the parking lot for a brief reprieve before onsight finals. As the routesetters make their way onto the floor to set the final climbs, the rest of climbers find themselves drawn outside by the promise of free food, beer, and raffle prizes.


Do you love swag? Touchstone does. And apparently, so do the members. Facing a sea of climbers, I am given the weighty task of distributing seemingly bottomless boxes of free stickers, bandanas, chalk bags, hats, shirts and other goodies in a product toss of epic proportions. Cheers rise from the crowd as freebies rain down in its midst and people scramble to fill their arms with as much swag as they can hold. And this is just the warm-up; we haven't even gotten to the real raffle yet. As soon as we have exhausted the supply of freebies, more boxes are lugged out of the gym, the contents of which will be raffled off. Here lies the benefit of turning in your scorecard: if you show up and do just one climb per hour for five hours, you stand a chance of winning some sweet swag in the raffle. Scorecards are pulled and their respective owners walk away with some of the best prizes I've seen at a Touchstone comp: Prana yoga mats and chalk pots, Petzl headlamps, free shoes from Evolv and La Sportiva, gift cards to local gear shops. What's more, we even gave away two Retrospec bikes to some lucky people in the crowd! As much fun as I'm having doling out these awesome prizes, I can't deny that there's a part of me that wishes I was out in the crowd, hoping my name will be called.

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Now that people have eaten their fill of pizza, made a few trips to the keg and scored some prizes in the raffle, attention turns back to climbing. Climbers ditch the parking lot to perch atop the boulders in the gym, where they will have a 360-degree view of the onsight finals. We return to the gym to find that, in our absence, the routesetters have repopulated the walls with six new testpieces that will determine the results of finals. The men's and women's categories have each received three climbs, spread across the slab, some vertical terrain, and the monstrously overhung barrel wall. Whoever wins this thing will have to work for their money.


With hundreds of people looking on in anticipation, a professional film crew ready to document the event, and yours truly as emcee, we invite the finalists out of isolation to preview the boulders. To a collective cheer, they make their way out onto the floor and begin decrypting the climbs.

IMG 7347 copyPhoto Credit: Ally Learned

The slab seems to mix power with balance, challenging climbers of both categories to traverse a line of painfully sloping holds on pitifully inadequate feet.


IMG 7373The vert wall once again epitomizes what I love about competition routesetting: the women's climb consists solely of a series of blank volumes (color-coordinated, of course) that terminate at the top of a steep section of wall. The men's boulder is a thuggy squeeze-fest of opposing slopers placed as far apart as possible on an overhung wall.
The final climb for each category comes out the belly of the barrel, testing power and contact strength on every move.We send the climbers back to isolation to ponder their beta and agonize over the eventual result of the comp. We'll all know soon enough if their beta is good and who will take home the prize money. Finals are starting.

Take 12 insanely psyched, crazy strong boulderers, and throw them each at three hard climbs in the space of 25 minutes. The result is a flurry of forearms, a tendon-testing onslaught of people vs. plastic, where finalists pull down so hard that it makes the spectators sore the next day. That's what onsight finals are in a nutshell.
Dan Beall, who is competing with an injured finger, sets the bar high with a flash of the first problem. Rhianna Orton, who competes on the USA Climbing youth circuit, matches this feat on her first finals climb. While Beall made the first problem seem trivial, the next competitors put its difficulty in perspective: the slab traverse spits off the likes of Cody Shutt and Ben Parkin, both of whom made a strong showing earlier in the competition. The women's climb is not seeing ascents, but not for lack of attempts. It looks as though flashing the first climb will be key in securing the podium in the women's category.


As climbers start to filter over to the second problem, we get to see their power come into play: the lines of holds demand dynamic moves and copious amounts of body tension. While the women's problem looks straightforward enough, it becomes obvious that the blank volumes are not very forgiving, not allowing for a moment of relaxation as podium contenders Aubrey Lim, Sarah Griffith and Sarah Pierce gun for the top. Increasing the difficulty is the fact that the boulder has all of two designated footholds; everything else is either a hand/foot match or powerful moves off the previous handhold. The men's problem demands constant compression on poor slopers, forcing desperate deadpoints between distant holds. This climb, the grade of which hovers somewhere in the V-double-digit range, thwarts all but Julian Bautista, who qualified for finals in first place. He hucks for the final hold and controls it, putting himself in the first-place position to a roar of approval from the crowd.


The last climb for each category is objectively the hardest of finals, combining steep, physical climbing with the fact that the finalists are completely gassed from hours of competing and the associated nerves. The women's climb sequence demands powerful, body-length moves between volumes adorned with crimps, which results in crowd-pleasing foot-cuts and exhibitions of upper-body strength. Sarah Griffith climbs all the way until the end of her allotted time, attaining a high-point on the final climb. Since none of the women were able to complete the climb, each competitor’s high point will determine their ranking.


IMG 7454 copyThe standard climbing vernacular falls short in trying to define how hard the men's climb looks. “Burly” might be a good choice, but that doesn't quite say it. “Heinous” comes a little closer, but fails to convey the sheer implausibility of this boulder. Nevertheless, the strongmen of the competition throw themselves at the line of holds and convince us all that these moves are possible, after all. Michael O'Rourke, who won the Dogpatch grand-opening competition, shows his commitment when he initially catches a crimp with two fingers, then manages to close his hand around the hold before executing the next move. Julian Bautista, a seasoned competition climber, was the only one to discover a hidden kneebar early in the climb, allowing him to save some energy and make an impressive high point on the climb. As Julian and the last female finalist of the night, Kristen Ubaldi, finish their climbs and onsight finals ends, the crowd buzzes with discussion of what we all just witnessed. After the scores are carefully tabulated by the judges, and the crowd has restocked on beer, we proceed with the much anticipated project of crowning the winners of the competition. The results are as follows:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Women

1st:Sarah Griffith

2nd: Aubrey Lim

3rd: Sarah Pierce


Men

1st: Julian Bautista

2nd: Michael O'Rourke

3rd: Dan Beall


After the applause die down, the crowd disperses and the chalk starts to settle, we're left looking at an empty gym. Save for some chalk spills and a few hundred scorecards, there is remarkably little evidence of the magnitude of the event that just took place. Now that everyone is gone, we're left with a warehouse full of walls adorned with funny looking pieces of plastic. To be sure, L.A. Boulders is just another climbing gym. What sets it apart is the people. They turned this competition into a party; a day at the gym into a community reunion, a climbing gym into a climbing destination. For sure, this competition is one to remember, and LA.B is officially the coolest new gym on the block. What's even better, though, is that the climbing community has found a new base in SoCal, and the Touchstone family just got a little bigger.

To check out more photos of the Grand Opening Click here: http://on.fb.me/MypeD3

Stay tuned for the video!

Words by Zach Wright 

Images by Ally Learned, Jeremy Pangilinan and Freeman McFadden. 

Pro Clinic Series with Nick Duttle

Later this week, Pro Climbers International (PCI), an association founded to help current and future climbers, will be stopping by Dogpatch Boulders for one of their Pro Clinic Series. PCI athlete, Nick Duttle will be teaching two clinics.

Duttle, who has taught over thirty clinics across the country, will introduce the concepts, demonstrate the skills, and provide active critique as participants develop their skills on the steep climbing at Dogpatch. Duttle’s clinics focus on positive interaction, sending tactics, methods of approach, conceptulization of movement, athleticism, injury prevention, problem solving and technique.

Duttle suffers from a genetic disorder called hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia, which translates into a lack of sweating. The challenge of being unable to cool itself creates a serious challenge for climbing. Despite Duttle’s disadvantage, he hasn’t given up and redpointed numerous 5.14b/c sport routes as well as V14 boulder problems.

Duttle will be giving two clinics: Thursday February 6th will be essential technique on steep terrain for V0-V4 climbers, Friday February 7th will be advanced technique for steep terrain for V5 and above climbers.

The two separate clinics cost $45 for members and $55 for non-members. Call the gym to reserve your spot.

Climb Up at Mission Cliffs

The Touchstone Climbing gyms proudly support programs that help young people experience the benefits of rock climbing. Climb Up, a program founded last year in the San Francisco area, takes 11- 18 year old students with special needs, socioeconomic disadvantages, mental health needs, and/or learning disabilities from John O’Connell High School, Balboa High School Oake’s Children Center, City Arts and Tech High School, and other Bay Area schools to Mission Cliffs. The trips provide a concrete outlet for students that face serious obstacles in life.

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Recently, Climb Up took a number of students to Mission Cliffs to discuss problem solving and diligence in an athletic environment. The program found great success at the gym, partly due to the staff. “The leaders and volunteers were flexible, fun, and patient as they coached our students into fearlessly conquering walls at Mission Cliffs. Students felt special with extra attention and personalized challenges (and cool gear!) said Katie a Special Education Teacher.” The staff helped the climbers have a great time.

“It was so nice! It was hard, but when you try it, it is enjoyable,” said one student. “It was very challenging, but when I made it to the top I felt so good! When I first started, it seemed impossible, but once you are in the middle, you want to keep going. When you finish the climb, you really feel like you’ve done something!” The students made significant progress at Mission Cliffs.

“The students who have come climbing are all students who struggle with their academics and those that often give up on themselves or are not confident in their skills. The climbing experience provides each of them with a unique opportunity to be presented with a challenge that they are able to overcome,” said Gorman a Special Education Teacher. “They are emotionally and physically supported by their belay partner, but they are also climbing independently. This builds confidence in their abilities, which translates back to the classroom. Each student that we have brought to Mission Cliffs has had a positive experience.”

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“Mission Cliffs has been an ideal place to engage students in what climbing has to offer: physical fitness and well-being, a sense of progress and opportunity, and a supportive community,” said Climb Up founder Mark Martin. Climb Up returns to Mission Cliffs this coming week and will continue to make bi-monthly trips with six students per session.

Member of the Month - Nicole

Jason Bove, aka Doctor Bove, sat down with Nicole Moffatt for his monthly 'Member of the Month' chat. 

One of the many perks of being a Pipeworks staff member is the connection to the ever-growing Touchstone community. Due to initiation specials and resolutions January is historically our biggest month, so we get to meet lots of new folks and joyfully welcome back some of our beloved Pipeworks family. For our new members it is a refreshing change to experience such a welcoming atmosphere. For the long-term guests, it is a pleasure and a comfort to walk in and be greeted by a familiar smiling face. If you have not yet had the good fortune to meet Nicole Moffatt, it is an honor to introduce you to a wonderful friend, healer, world traveler,and art aficionado.

For more than ten years, Nicole diligently held down the 6am - 2pm front desk shift at Pipeworks. After an impromptu change of gears and a small hiatus which included a trip to India, she has come back to the Touchstone family as the company Human Resources Manager. When asked if it were more comfortable in-front or behind-the-scenes for her now, she responded, “Strangely enough, I find them to be relatively similar. I had a lot of fun working the front desk, our members are awesome! However, getting to know them and how to provide a positive experience while at the gym was an interesting challenge at times. Now being in HR, I’m getting to know a different group of people, how they communicate, and see that their needs are met.”

I asked Nicole if her travels in India changed her view of life in the US. “Yes, it brought to my attention just how happy I am to be a woman living in the US, especially California. I was co-chaperoning a group of students from the University of Alabama and we only had 2 men in our group of 14. We drew a bit of attention when we went out even dressed as modestly as we were, often followed by groups of men. It got unnerving at times. India is an intense place on every level: Great beauty next to great atrocity. You really can’t go there and not experience infinite examples of duality and polarity.” That being said, when I asked Nicole if there was one thing she could do before she died (if money were not an option), what would it be and why? She unhesitatingly replied, “Travel, Travel, Travel! You learn so much by encountering other cultures.”

Time for the nuts and bolts and getting to know more about the quiet woman that sat behind the front desk for so long…”What makes her tick, you ask?” Well, one of the many things that Nicole and I see eye to eye on is the need for art, creativity and good design. “I love Tiffany Bozic! Everything she does speaks on many levels to me. I think she’s pretty brilliant! I’ve been following Rodrigo Luff lately. I really like his compositions and his use of neon colors in his work...and Kazuki Takamatsu, what he does with black and white fascinates me. I’m also a big fan of the many unnamed street artists out there. I had a great uncle who was a painter. He lived in the Netherlands and when he’d come to visit we would always talk about art. Some of my earliest conversations were simply discussing art and how it communicated to me, and how art is everywhere. It’s one of the ways I view the world. It’s one of the ways the world speaks to me.”

Besides enjoying art and travel, Nicole devotes much of her time to the healing of herself and others through Craniosacral Practice. “I think the human body is amazing, and I was drawn to CST because I personally found it to be very helpful. I like that the goal of CST is to use the least amount of pressure to create a change, and the modality stresses listening to the body. You can learn a lot when you simply get quiet and listen.” I believe that all of us can learn lessons from that last statement, Nicole!

Although this story is drawing to a close for now, it is a small introduction to a very long tale that continues to be made daily. I wondered, since it had been over ten years getting to know Nicole thus far, where do you see yourself in the next 10 years? Nicole stated, “Wow! No idea. I have a hard enough time looking at the next year. I hope to have lived a happy life.” At this rate, we can be sure of it!
Please be sure to keep your eyes open for Nicole around the Touchstone gyms and remember to say hello if you see her.
Here’s to many more happy times and smiles shared together, thank YOU!

PWC camp climbs at DRG

"Finding climbing changed my life," says Diablo Rock Gym manager Hans Florine. "Being able to share that with kids who might not have found it on their own is one of my favorite parts of the job." DRG is able to open their doors to organizations and introduce them to climbing and the outdoors. One group that recently came to the gym is the People Who Care Children Association. The PWC is a non- profit organization that serves at risk youth ages 12-21. 

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"We provide community service opportunities, mental health services, and have a unique vocational training program," said Julie Linsday, one of the coordinators. "The youth are able to learn about green jobs and environmental issues.  We provide them with teambuilding, expressive arts and community outings, which is why we jumped at the chance to bring them rock climbing at DRG!" 

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"This gym has been there for our program since 2010. The youth benefit from the trips by developing trust within the group and are introduced to new experiences." The kids come to the gym to boulder and rope climb with staff. 

As we all know, climbing is both  physically and mentally demanding. "Most of the youth have never experienced rock climbing and it allowed for them to feel accomplished, thereby boosting their sense of self-worth, said Lindsay. "It was a very bonding experience, it strengthened their sense of competency in their bodies through exercise and allowed for a great time!" 

"We are honored to be a part of the Diablo Rock Gym culture," said Lindsay. 
 

GWPC starts Half Marathon Team

Great Western Power Company is starting off the New Year right by forming a team to run in the 2014 Oakland Half Marathon on March 23rd, 2014. GWPC will be selecting 10 lucky members and paying for their entry fees! "After seeing the huge success of the running program and training team that came out of the Berkeley Half Marathon, we couldn't resist forming our own team," said GWPC manager Jeremy Yee. "We're so psyched to be able to support our members and have some fun at the same time!"

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The Oakland Half Marathon course will take runners around the heart of the city, and will start just blocks from the gym! Ari, a GWPC and BIW staff member, noted that even though he grew up in Oakland, he's still constantly shocked at how 'friggin' big of a city it is. "I’m psyched to see a lot of it on foot!"

The Half Marathon isn't the only options for runners who want to strut their stuff around town this March. The event also includes a marathon, a 5k, a 4-person relay, and a kids run. The Oakland Running Festival was voted "best marathon" in the Pacific West Region by Competitor Magazine's online readers and social media followers from around the country!

Ari will be heading up an optional training runs for the 10 lucky runners and anyone else who'd like run as a team. The running group will begin running in late January. "I wanna keep it pretty casual," said Ari. "We’ll probably alternate between long trail runs during the week and hard track work on the weekends, often followed by [optional] beer."

When asked why he was started the running team, Ari replied, "I like running and pushing myself, and sharing that experience with others."

If you'd like to share the experience and win FREE entry to the Half Marathon, all you need to do is confess your undying love for Great Western Power Company... easy right?! Let us know how the gym has positively affected your life, whether it be physically, socially, spiritually, ext. Keep submissions 100-300 words, and submit to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by January 31st! Good luck!

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Tying the Perfect Knot at DRG

One of the best parts of climbing is the partnerships that come from it.  Diablo Rock Gym has proudly facilitated a number of life long friendships and recently, a marriage.  

Melinda Armstrong began climbing in middle school. Three years ago, when she became the middle school youth director at Saint Matthew Church in Walnut Creek, she began climbing in earnest.

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“It seems I see Melinda in here every other week with someone new,” said DRG manager Hans Florine. “She’s so good at organizing a group of youths and introducing them to the gym and climbing, hard to believe she’s not on our payroll.” As the youth director, Melinda often takes young adolescents into the gym for the first time. “It is has been great to introduce students to climbing and give us an activity to get to know one another.”

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Ethan Johnson, a Senior Manager of Strategic Planning and Sales Analysis at Kellogs Cereal Company, joined Armstrong on an after church climbing function four years ago. The pair soon became solid climbing partners. “DRG was where Ethan and I became friends and later where a lot of our date nights happened,” said Melinda. The pair traveled to Vegas, Pinnacles, Yosemite, Tahoe, and to crags across California.

On December 29th, the pair tied an even more important knot, marrying at the local Saint Matthews Church in Walnut Creek. After the wedding, Melinda and Ethan took family members to the climbing gym and climbed with them, introducing them to the activity that brought them together.

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The pair climb in the gym regularly. They stopped by three to four times a week to climb but during wedding planning they had to taper done to twice a week. Now that the ceremony is over they’re hoping to get in more often. “There is a strong sense of community there, that’s one of the things I love about it,” said Melinda.  

Climbing at the gym offers not only a great chance to get fit but the opportunity to meet the perfect partner. Just another awesome reason to go climbing!

LA.B Grand Opening Party

The LA.B, LA's largest indoor bouldering gym, opened in December. Over the past month, the gym has seen hundreds of LA climbers looking for a new gym to call home. "My favorite thing is watching climbers who have never been here before walk into the gym for the first time," said LA.B manager Remi Moehring. "Man, the look on their faces! It's like a kid who's just been told they're being driven to Disneyland instead of school." 

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The LA.B is hosting a Grand Opening Competition and Party on Saturday, January 25th, to officially christen the new gym! "Members are super excited," said Moehring. "I keep getting emails from Bay Area Touchstone members who are coming down to participate and support the new location. It's generating good deal of buzz, so we're hoping to psych up existing members and guests, as well as attract some fresh new climbers and build the community." If you're from Southern California and have never been to a Touchstone Climbing comp, here's a sneak peak of what to expect. 

11843772044 a874e57d52Leading up to the comp:
A team of our Bay Area setters, along with the new LA.B setting crew will be re-setting the ENTIRE gym for the comp. This means that throughout the week there will be partial gym closures as we put up over 80 new problems for Saturdays competition. "I’m most excited for bringing the Touchstone flavor to the LA masses," said Touchstone Head Route Setter Jeremey Ho. We always have a ton of fun at our comps and I think LA will enjoy what we have to offer. Plus setting finals problem on those kick ass walls will be super fun for the setters!"

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The day of the comp:
The WHOLE event is free to members and only $10 for guests. If you've never been to the LA.B The open competition will run from noon till 5pm and competitors of ALL levels are welcome to participate. Some people can't help but hear the word 'competition' and get a little stage fright. Never fear!

Each competitor will register on the day of the comp in the beginner (v0-v2), intermediate (v3-v5), or advanced (v6+) categories. To save time, print out a new waiver ahead of time. You'll receive a score card that lists each climb and the points available. Then it's climbing time! You'll have 5 possible attempts to complete a climb, and the fewer attempts you take the more points you get! Be sure to have your spotter or someone who sees you complete the climb sign your score card to validate your send. You can try as many climbs as you'd like. Once you're done, be sure to turn in your score card! Then enjoy the party! We'll have food, drinks, booze, vendors, and a DJ to keep you entertained until finals! Oh - and TONS of prizes! "The staff keeps on dropping hints to me about which raffle prizes they like the best in hopes that I'll rig the raffle...." said Moehring. "The favorites so far are the Retrospec bikes (we've got one men's and one women's), the Prana chalk pots, Madrock shoe bags, and Five Ten shoes. There's also a copy of Stone Mountains sign by Jim Thornburg, yoga mats, t-shirts, and tons coming in from La Sportiva."

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Finals: Aka, the big show:

After scores are tallied at 5pm, we will announce the top 6 male and female competitors. They'll go into isolation while our world class route setters reveal 3 final problems for both men and women. Each finalist will have 3 attempts to on-sight the problems and our judges will crown the winner. 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in mens and women's categories will receive a cash prize! This comp is our way of thanking the LA climbing community for their warm welcome and start the year off right! Be sure to come out on Saturday, January 25th! See you at the LA.B!

TBS7 at Mission Cliffs from Touchstone Climbing on Vimeo.
Check out this video from a previous comp to get aquatinted with the comp structure.   

Ultimate Fitness Experience

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.

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Read more: Ultimate Fitness Experience

Past blog entries can be found at  http://touchstoneclimbing.blogspot.com/

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