Women's Empowerment at Pipeworks

The Touchstone Gyms have had amazing opportunities to transform people's lives through fitness. "Sacramento Pipeworks has been working with Women's Empowerment since 2004," said Pipeworks manager Vaughn Medford. "They are headquartered only a couple blocks away from the gym, so it is not unusual to see a group of women 10-15 power walking over to the gym on Fridays. They use the gym to work out in the weight area and do cardio. The members have become accustomed to seeing the group, and we're all supportive of such an important cause."

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Manager's Favorite: Buttermilk Stem with Diane Ortega

Every climber has a Project; a route or boulder problem that exposes your weaknesses and shuts you down. For Diane Ortega, the manager of The Studio in San Jose, that project is the Buttermilk Stem in Bishop, California. The problem is graced with slopey holds, requires tons of flexibility, and has sharp rock that bites back. It's a classic, and to some the Buttermilk Stem is a fun outing. But to most, it is a series of frustrating moves.

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When Orgeta is asked about her the project, she affectionately refers to the Buttermilk Stem as her nemesis. The problem has thwarted her since she first tried the problem in October of 2009 while on a trip with Ryan Moon and Jake Nelson.

Located in the middle of the Buttermilks, the stem features hard palming up a wide groove to a pinch and a few large huecos. The area is gorgeous but the rock can shred your palms. "I think the Buttermilks are the most beautiful area of Bishop, but I hate climbing there. It hurts my feelings. But I keep coming back for more!"

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Other climbers have had a similar experience. It took Touchstone Blogger and big wall free climber James Lucas years to eventually send the vexing problem. "I think they forgot to add a 1 to before the 0," Lucas said of the modest V0/V10 grade. "After a few years of work and serious Kodak courage, I finally sent."



"I have tried this problem every time I have been to Bishop for 4 years," said Ortega, who plans on heading back to Bishop for Thanksgiving and New Years. "Its become a big joke to most of my friends. I even had a session where everyone who go to the top (even random strangers who happened to be there) yelled out my name at the top."

Ortega's climbing at The Studio will doubtlessly pay off. Best of luck to her as she tackles the nearly impossible problem! 

Belaying Techniques

Nothing in climbing is more important than belaying. Belayer's hold their partner's life. While many people are cavalier about belaying, it's an essential to pay attention and belay properly. They are significant differences in belaying a sport route, a long traditional climb, or an aid climb. The single most important tenet of belaying is to never let go with the brake hand.

Belaying well involves more than just holding the rope for your partner. Using an ATC or GriGri requires a significant amount of attention to the activity of the climber. It's important to pull in and feed out rope at the correct times. In this instructional video, Adam Barczack demonstrates the proper way to belay.

Even with an autolocking device like a GriGri, it is essential to hold on to the rope. Keep your brake hand close to your body to avoid letting go of the rope. Make sure to establish a set of commands before leaving the ground. The climber's knot should be tied perfectly and the belay device needs to be locked and properly loaded. Also, keep your eyes on the climber at all times.  

The Touchstone Gyms offer solid instruction on how to belay. Ask the front desk staff for more information.

Taping for Success

The Salathe Headwall on El Capitan, the North Six Shorter in Indian Creek, and Dog Leg in Joshua Tree are all beautiful routes. These obvious cracks are some of the most enticing lines in climbing.  

Crack climbing is beautiful but it also hurts. Anyone who has stuffed their hand into a parallel splitter has probably gobied their hand a few times. The small abrasions on the back of your hands or fingers stem from the sharpness of the rock and systematic wear from jamming.

Kuehl ThrashedHands

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TIps For More Efficient Climbing

The short days of fall are here and many climbers are still chomping at the bit to climb big Yosemite routes  Whether maximizing the number of pitches at the crag or moving quickly over a long trad route, the key to fast climbing is efficency. Diablo Rock Gym manager and author of Climb On! Skills For More Efficient Climbing, Hans Florine offered great advice about how to move faster.

Paul Hara photo

Communicate clearly with your partner before and during the climb. This will save more time and make you more efficient, then any other tip. Ie: say: yes and no, not Yeah and Nay. Follow commands with your partners name if there are other climber near by to avoid confusing situations. Know before you leave the belay what the plan is for following the next pitch, hauling sequence etc..

Lynn Hill Traverse

Place Gear Well When free climbing or mostly free climbing, place gear at your chest or below. It makes clipping in much faster and less effort.  Make sure to minimize rope drag.  The second to extend a piece will save minutes pulling up extra rope to fight the drag.

Paul Hara Photo

 Be Organized The time taken to organize rope at each station is almost always shorter then the time taken to feed an un-organized rope.  Organize the rack big to small or reverse, or in the order you will need the pieces on the upcoming pitch. Don't bring gear on lead that you cannot use.

Florine's last bit of advice is to "Chuck safety to the wind...just kidding."  Being safe on a route will help you climb more confidently

Tim Guffin Photography at Mission Cliffs

If you've been to Mission Cliffs recently and admired the photographs adorning the walls, you'll be happy to know that they are the handy work of our very own member Tim Guffin! His work is also on the cover of Rock&Ive magazine! We caught up with Tim to find out a bit more about his background.

20130908-IMG 0766-EditI am a self-taught photographer who has a passion for traveling to wild places and exploring nature with a backpack on my shoulders and a camera in my hands. I started climbing 7 years ago at Mission Cliffs in San Francisco. I didn't even know something like that could exist in a city...I was totally blown-away and hooked right away. I improved little-by-little over the years, met some fantastic people, learned how to use my legs (drop-knees!), got my lead-card and started taking climbing trips. I could never have imagined that in my first year of photographing climbing semi-seriously (more than just butt shots of my friends) would I be published on the cover of my favorite climbing mag!

My photography background is a bit of a twisty road. While studying Ecology at University I spent a semester doing biological field-research in Costa Rica, and that's where I began to explore the craft of documentary/nature filmmaking. This led to work as a camera assistant on dozens of Hollywood films over the past 15 years. But I've always admired the still photographers, and I've continued to hone my photographic skills with frequent road trips near home as well as during climbing trips to Asia, Central and South America.

Tim has lived in and explored the cities of New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Santa Barbara, San Francisco, and is now happy to call Squaw Valley home. He enjoys its closeness to the Bay Area, access to incredible mountains, alpine lakes, skiing, rock climbing and the other countless breathtaking locations Northern California has to offer.

Be sure to check out his work the next time you're at Mission Cliffs Climbing Gym in San Francisco to gain a little inspiration for your next trip! Awesome work Tim!

Getting Through the Slot: Pro Tips

Touchstone Blogger James Lucas shares the ins and outs of his recent project in Yosemite. 

My body slide down 3 inches.  I pushed it back up 3 inches.  Then I slid again.  I ate too many pies that summer and the infamous squeezing of the Harding Slot on Yosemite's Astroman made it difficult to make upward progress.  

Astroman 2

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Mortar Rock History and Clean-Up

 On October 20 and 21th from 10 am until 4 pm, a group of local climbers will be organizing a raffle, free food and a chance to clean up the famous Indian Rock area. The climbing there is well known to Bay area boulderers.  It's been well documented as the place where Berkeley climbers developed the dynamic belay.  Just above Indian Rock is the infamous Mortar Rock.  

“It’s like Cresciano but better,” said Bay area climber Ethan Pringle. Pringle’s tongue in cheek comment of the local climbing area represents the common view of Mortar Rock. There’s a solid history of climbers who are unable to resist the park’s charm.

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Set in a residential area in the Berkeley hills, Mortar Rock hosts the largest concentration of difficult climbing per square foot in California. Approximately 100 feet long and 25 feet tall at its apex, the median boulder problem on the sharp rhyolite falls in the solid double V digit range. “As a boulderer in the bay area, it's a pretty awesome place to work on advancing your skills. Some seriously stout problems, and a shit ton of climbable days throughout the year,” said Mortar rock first ascentionist Randy Puro. Perhaps the most interesting bit about Mortar is the history of the bouldering there.


A small posse of climbers started the action at Mortar Rock. Scott Frye, Nat Smale, Harrison Dekker, John Sherman, Chris Vandiver and others, tired of the regular circuit down at Indian Rock walked up the hill to Mortar Rock. “We suffered through years and years of eliminates,” said Frye. “Like the kids got tired of street tricks and found swimming pools to skate board in, we found more physical more dynamic climbing after we’d put in our years working footwork and crimp strength.”

The initial development of Mortar Rock included just a few problems on the rock itself. The crew stole a bench from a nearby park and placed it beneath the right side of the wall creating the appropriately named Bench Wall. When the city moved the bench, the climbers moved it back. “The bench was an immediate hit. We even jokingly used to refer to giving each other "psychic spots" because we were too comfortable on the bench to get up and give a proper spot,” said Harrison Dekker. On a small boulder next to Mortar, Dekker and Vandiver competed for the first ascent of the Pipeline Traverse. A few days after working the problem with Vandiver, Dekker found a matchbook cover folded inside out and placed on the starting holds. The words “Done –CV” and the date marked the completion of the coveted ascent. A few weeks later, Dekker sent a TR problem above the Pit at Indian Rock before Chris was able to do it. He scrawled “Done” in 12-inch chalk letters on the wall. These types of competitive tactics were common in the early days. The boulderers were young and prone to hassling each other. At one point Steve Moyle chalked a couple of desperate holds, thinking the line was impossible. He lied to Nat Smale, telling him the boulder problem had gone. A few weeks later Nat climbed the problem and Nat’s Lieback was born.

The boulderers continued to try to keep up Nat Smale when he made the first ascent of Nat’s Traverse, which in 1976 was one of the most physically difficult climbs in the United States. John Sherman added the top rope problem The Impossible Wall and the group continued with a series of difficult eliminate problems. The locals focused heavily on repeating Nat’s Traverse and when they had that problem dialed, they climbed it backwards, they climbed it while drinking a beer, and they climbed it placing a cookie on each hold and stopping to eat the cookie.

Just to the right of the Ramp, the finish to Nat’s Traverse, sits Jungle Fever. Frye named the boulder problem after the root he grabbed at the top when he completed the problem in 1977. Vines covered the entire wall from Jungle Fever to the Bench Wall. “The vines were weird thick things and over the Impossible Wall they arched away from the wall then curved back in towards the base,” said Harrison Dekker. You could get inside them and see that there were holds and problems to be done.”

The thick vines remained for many years until Greg Loh arrived at Mortar. Loh worked his way through the established problems, climbing Nat’s Traverse, the Pipeline, and making a rare boulder ascent of The Impossible Wall, which had a large tree underneath it at the time and a dangerous landing. “One rainy afternoon I got a wild hair and decided to pull a few of the vines down. Once I started to see the wall, I began to pull more down. All told, I spent about 2 weeks digging, cutting, and removing any trace of vegetation on the wall,” said Loh. In the summer of 1996, Loh completed New Wave, the first problem on this uncovered section of the wall. “New Wave to me was literally that,” said Scott Frye, “A new wave.”

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The removal of the vines brought about a whole new area. “This opened up new possibilities for “fresh” lines, a pretty rare opportunity at an urban bouldering area that has been climbed on for several decades,” said Tom Richardson. Richardson added Egypt Air, a highball finish to the Impossible Wall and the difficult Don’t Worry Be Snappy. Loh continued his development with The Kraken, Mission Impossible, and Beached Whale. Further deforestation, this time the removal of the tree beneath the Impossible Wall by the city of Berkeley, resulted in another flurry of new problems including Loh’s lower start to Impossible Wall dubbed the Chinese Connection and the ascent of the obvious and extremely difficult Impossible Wall Traverse, a line that has seen only two ascents by Chris Sharma and by local Mortar rocker Brian Hedrick. Randy Puro added a few additional lines in most recent years, “I myself have added a handful of sit starts to the existing lines. Simply additional challenges, more of the same really, a toolset for developing a descent blend of finger strength, technique, and power (and skin) which can go a fair distance in helping someone move forward in the sport.” To a large extent the plums of the newly cleaned Mortar had been picked.

“I hear you’re developing a new wall in Berkeley,” a Bay Area climber said to Scott Frye. There was some truth to the rumors. In the past few years, Frye has utilized the French Fry, the Putting Green, the Milk Shake, and the Lettuce Leaf to create hundreds of different combinations of eliminate boulder problems on the ten foot wide section of Mortar called the Garbage Can Wall. “There had been a garbage can and we removed it,” said Frye, “We called an ultra eliminate session garbage canning. It became about the lowest sit start. That’s how we grew up at Indian rock. If we did it with our left hand than we’d do it with our right.”

While the limits of variations and eliminate boulder problems are endless, there remains a few proud test pieces including a link of Nat’s Traverse to the Impossible Wall Traverse, estimated at a solid 9a+. Randy Puro stated the best part of the Mortar Rock experience, “Most anyone who gets the genuine bouldering bug can find a real growth experience there as a climber, and still to this day, you'd have to be something pretty special to climb the place out, even after years of trying.”

 Come out to the clean-up. Please be sure to register online at the Indian Rock Clean-up event page. We want to make sure to have enough food and tools for everyone who is volunteering.

Yosemite Open

The National Park Service made a recent announcement that Yosemite National park is now open.  This is great news for California climbers.  The weather in Yosemite is perfect right now.  Below is NPS's press release.

Yosemite National Park reopens to park visitors tonight, October 16, 2013. Visitors can access public areas and roads immediately while facilities and other public services are brought back on-line. Yosemite National Park has been closed since October 1, 2013 due to the government shutdown.

Half Dome 5

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24 HHH with Jeff Hansen

Recently, Touchstone route setter Jeff Hansen headed to Arkansas for the infamous 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell.  He wrote a bit about his trip for the Touchstone blog.

The last weekend of September, I traveled to the sandstone cliffs of Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas to participate in 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell. For those who haven’t heard of 24HHH, teams of 2 attempt to climb as many routes as possible in a 24 hour period.

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Up all night at the North Forty crag (Photo Credit: Lydia Ruth Freeman)

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Ebbetts Pass Century

In late September, long time BIW member Deborah Georges completed the Ebbet's Pass Century. The 100 mile bike ride takes some of the best roads in the Sierra Nevada. Georges wrote about her bike ride for the Touchstone blog.


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



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