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.

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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.

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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:








1st:Sarah Griffith

2nd: Aubrey Lim

3rd: Sarah Pierce


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:

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.


“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.”


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.


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." 


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

In Defense of Joshua Tree

Trip Report: In defense of Joshua Tree
By: Georgie Abel

I hold a tangle of quick draws at my side and use my other hand to shade my eyes as I look up at the rock. I squint, scanning the line for anything that catches the sun, that shines, that's metallic.

Hey dude will you check the guidebook for how many bolts this climb has? I can see two but there's gotta be more. This thing's like a hundred feet.

He flips through the guidebook and eventually stops. His brow furrows as he brings the page closer to his face and laughs a little, letting out a single "ha".

You're right. There are more. His scabbed finger points to the route description. Three bolts George. 90 feet.

I look down at my harness, a few stray quick draws still hang from my gear loops after cleaning the previous climb. I set the bundle of gear on a small rock, and my stomach telescopes as I remove all but five quick draws from my harness. Suddenly I crave the heaviness on my hips of a full, noisy rack. 

Hopefully there's a bolted anchor up there. Otherwise you're carrying two too many draws--so much extra weight! He laughs again, this time louder.

I appreciate his joke but also become aware that it's threaded with a serious warning: this climb is run out. Like, really run out. 
I got it. It's a 10c. I convince myself that I'm doing a good job of appearing fearless.

Alright. Have fun. I got you. He squeezes the carabiner with his hand and its gate doesn't open. Locked and loaded, he says.

This climb marked the first step on my ongoing quest of understanding why everyone hates climbing in Joshua Tree.
I know very few people who actually love the climbing in Josh, and they tend to either be 1. old men or 2. a little weird. Usually they are both of those things. Rarely are they 25 year old females, and rarely are they professional climbers, but two of the people who I know that are Josh-lovers fall into those categories. I'm talking of course about me and my boyfriend. He is the professional climber:

jt5d03549Ethan on Iconic Strength, Wonderland North, Joshua Tree. Photo credit: Robert Miramontes

 MG_6220Ethan on the second ascent of Iron Resolution, Real Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree. Photo credit: Damon Corso.

And this is me: 
1450159 10153525631545573_1617608747_nMe on the approach to Crest Jewel Direct, North Dome, Yosemite Valley. Photo credit: Ethan Pringle

So, according to my above proclamation, since neither Ethan or myself are number 1's (old men), that must mean that we are number 2's (weird). Maybe so. But all of this really well-researched science and math doesn't answer my question or help me fully understand why Joshua Tree is, arguably, one of the most hated climbing destinations in the world. 
Maybe hate is a strong word, but it does say this on one of the first pages of the guidebook: some climbers hate Josh. And I believe it. Even before I had been to Joshua Tree myself, I heard horror stories of crazy accidents, top rope panic attacks, and grown men crying on 5.9. These were the kinds of things I was told whenever I asked someone if they wanted to go down there with me. Or, they would rattle off a long list of excuses: the boulders are too high and the routes are too short, the climbing is too spread out and we'll probably get lost, the cracks aren't splitter and the sport climbing is too run out, it's always windy and driving down I-5 sucks. Oh, and everything is sandbagged. 
This is usually the point in the conversation when I say, yeah, you're totally right, so when do you wanna leave?

1525480 10101249878884821_332017652_nThat one time I had to aid the first 20 feet of a 5.11a on The Lost Pencil, Geology Tour Road, Joshua Tree. Photo credit: Ethan Pringle

What's even more surprising to me than Joshua Tree's bad reputation is the lack of climbers who have actually been there. Even well-rounded and well-traveled climbers don't seem to make it out to Josh these days. I don't know why.
It took some convincing (babe, my Dad has a house in Rancho Mirage with a hot tub) and a little guilt-tripping (I'm sick of sitting on the valley floor while you climb El Cap) to get Ethan to agree to a Joshua Tree trip. I've never roped up down there, he said. Only bouldered. But I do love it, it's probably my favorite place for bouldering
Cool. Good answer. 

581791 10153617351110573_139529594_nEthan on Slashface, Geology Tour Road, Joshua Tree.

As we drove down I-5 I told Ethan the story of the 90 foot line with 3 bolts that I climbed a few springs back. What I remember the most from that climb was an overwhelming awareness of not having the option to fall. That was a feeling I hadn't experienced before. Even on multi-pitch trad climbs, highball boulder problems, or somewhat run out sport routes, falling is never ideal, and you might even get hurt, but it's still a reasonable last resort. But on many of the climbs in Joshua Tree, falling is out of the question entirely because of extreme run outs, tall boulders, or very bad terrain/landings.

Uh.. we got you bro?

Picture 191Ethan on So High, Real Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree. Photo credit: Damon Corso 

So if falling is not an option, this causes a few other things to occur. First off, if you want to project something (ground up), the option to fall needs to be available. Onsighting is simply what has to happen on most routes in Josh, and this pisses people off. Onsight climbing is just not of this time. These days, climbers like to try things over and over again in a way that is relatively safe (see: Iron Man Traverse). Most of us like to climb routes that are at or even way past our physical limits, and often in Joshua Tree that would not be considered projecting, it would be a death wish. And then there is, of course, the massive amount of fear that comes along with mandatory onsighting. 
Ah, the joys of well-protected sport climbing:

376640 10151131810611421_1109874951_nMe on July Jiihad, Ten Sleep, Wyoming. Photo credit: Joe Bakos

And then, there are the grades. You're a responsible adult so you conservatively decide to get on a 5.10 because hey, you one hung that 5.12 in the gym last week. But then all of the sudden you find yourself trying really hard. And you're about half way up that 90 foot climb and you've clipped one draw. Now you're scared. The next section is completely blank. The next bolt is just a glimmer in the distance. So you quietly but most definitely proceed to freak the hell out. 
But on second thought, maybe it isn't the grades. I honestly don't feel that Joshua Tree is sandbagged. It's the climbing. It's like nowhere else. Spending hours in the gym won't help you. I don't think you can train anywhere but Joshua Tree if you want to climb well in Joshua Tree. Unless you're Ethan, then you can onsight things like Equinox without ever having roped up there before. But I'm not talking about him. I'm talking about us, the common folk.

photoEthan on Equinox, Geology Tour Road, Joshua Tree.

The climbing mimics the desert landscape upon which it is set. It's exposing and airy. There is nothing straightforward or easily fathomable about it. You'll look up at a move and deem it impossible, but then once you try, once you just start to move, the sequence starts to unlock. You must be creative. Even what appears to be a straight-forward crack can be broken, varied, and inconsistent in size. 
This causes some pretty obscure body position and movement. 
430237 10150657732358934_1570290299_nMe, the day I learned how to smear with my cheek on Stem Gem, Hidden Valley Campground, Joshua Tree. Photo credit: Chris Daulton

Wave _undone_Ethan on an unknown problem, The Underground, Joshua Tree. Photo Credit: Damon Corso

The shapes that your body must take to move on these rocks blatantly resemble the iconic Joshua trees that give the national park its name. This creates movement that is much different from that of the more favored climbing destinations. It isn't flashy like the overhanging jug hauls at the Red, it's not glorious like the water-polished big walls of Yosemite, and it's definitely not sexy like the straight-in jamming of Indian Creek splitters.
All of this tends to make people a little angry. 
But this is exactly the kind of climbing that we need to be doing. The overhanging glory jugs, the lowball traverses, the straightforward splitters--these things are all good, and they should be climbed, but I don't think we learn half as much from them. The kind of climbing that actually teaches us lessons of value, about our ego and how to be honest/kind/all that other good stuff, is the climbing that's bold, thought-provoking, and humbling. 

Can't be too cocky when you fall off a v1:
426131 10100373781945111_1961930863_nMe on an unknown climb, Hidden Valley Campground, Joshua Tree. Photo Credit: Chris Daulton

I'm a yoga teacher and a bay area native so I'm a sucker for this kind of stuff.
My fingertips won't stop sweating. I slowly reach behind my back to dip my hand in my chalk bag, praying the movement won't cause my smeared feet to blow. One draw clipped, 20 feet below. After ten minutes of attempted crimping, I finally accept that I do not have any hand holds. My breath is rapid and choppy. Just climb, I say out loud. This is my only option, so I start to move. One foot and then the other. Pushing with my hands instead of pulling. Trusting my feet and breathing like a yoga teacher would. After a few shaky moves, I start flowing and the climbing feels like its 5.10c grade. I am no longer under the control of thoughts about the rope, bolts, or lack of quick draws on my harness. I just climb. I climb to the top. 
'Free' is a good word to describe the way climbing in that desert makes me feel.

1533774 10101247357677341_1791066133_nMe hiking back from The Lost Pencil, Geology Tour Road, Joshua Tree. Photo credit: Ethan Pringle

So, if I may leave you with my humble opinion: go climbing in Joshua Tree. Get scared. Flail on 5.9. Wish you were in Indian Creek. Make sure that cute girl knows you send 5.12 in Red Rocks. Get lost. Round up ten crash pads to try a v3. Get super annoyed by the wind. Hike for an hour to do one climb. Hike back to the car because the first gear is 20 feet up. Don't project. Don't fall. Don't have any idea how to do Stem Gem. 
This is the kind of climbing that our community needs: the kind that humbles us, that makes us brave, that makes us less of an asshole when we get back home.
See ya in the desert!


Manager's Favorite: Kalymnos Sending

Dogpatch Boulders manager Justin Alarcon took a trip to Kalymnos, Greece last year. He submitted this trip report to the Touchstone blog.

Almost all of my favorite climbing experiences have played out on climbs that I would be hard pressed to objectively call favorites. The rock quality might be akin to kitty litter or the line may lack the inspiring aesthetic characteristics even a non-climber recognize. Some of my favorite climbing experiences happened on routes where one false move could have resulted in my death. It's hard to recommend such routes, but however much those qualities diminish the likelihood of a climb becoming a classic they often make for memorable climbing, which is why I seek them out from time to time.


Just your standard lower out in a Kalymnos grotto.

Read more: Manager's Favorite: Kalymnos Sending

Dynamic Belaying: How To Give A Soft Catch

At 172 pounds, I often outweigh many of my sport climbing partners. The weight difference makes hard catches, falls where the leader swings violently into the wall, more likely. While losing weight is one of my many New Year’s resolutions, I can also give softer catches by following the proper technique.

A hard catch results from the lack of proper rope out. The climber falls and then swings back towards the wall. When the leader swings their ankles, hands, hips, or if they invert, the back of their heads may hit the wall. While broken ankles are the most common injury, a hard catch can result in death if the leader hits their head. Giving a soft catch is as important as tying your knot correctly. One of the best ways to give a soft catch is to provide a dynamic belay.

10-400-SC-mountnr 003_belay_1930s


Dynamic belaying refers to a method of belaying where you slightly lengthen the fall to soften the impact on the rope. This method prevents the leader from swinging back into the wall. When the belayer moves as the climber hits the end of the rope, the leader will gently lower.

The dynamic belay was invented at Indian Rock in Berkeley by Dick Leonard and the Cragmont climbing club. The climbers would jump off the overhanging rock and give each other slack to allow for softer falls. The climbers then used hemp ropes and padded themselves to prevent rope burn. Modern gear helps make things easier.

Having a new rope helps immensely. Old ropes tend have significantly more stiffness and act like static lines while a new rope will stretch and absorb more of the fall. Auto-locking belay device can also cause harder catches.


 DSC6154-Edit (1)


Notice in this picture that the climber has just the right amount of rope out and is standing below the first bolt but can still see Ethan Pringle climb.

Make sure to stand close to the first bolt clipped. When the climber reaches the third bolt and is safe from decking, then step back to watch the climber from a distance where they are more visible.

The best way to give a soft catch is to wait until the rope comes taut onto the last clipped quick draw and then jump. Watch the lead climber and be poised at all times. Make sure to hold onto the end of the rope so it stays in your hand. Jumping will make the fall as gentle as possible.

If the belayer is significantly lighter than the climber, than it is useful to anchor the belayer to the ground. The anchor line should have a small amount of slack in it to allow the belayer to be pulled off the ground but kept from being pulled into the first bolt.

In this video, the belayer comes off the ground and softens the leader's fall.

There are a few exceptions to giving soft catches: if there is a risk of decking, they are on a slab, or they are working a project and want to stay close to the bolt.

Practicing in the gym with your partner will help immensely. The dynamic belay is less than intuitive but very helpful. Also, Touchstone offers belay classes. Make sure you use proper technique and climb safely.

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