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
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.
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.
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.
In 2011, I vowed to work out 5 days a week. In 2012, I vowed to work out 3 days a week. In 2013, my New Year's Resolution was to drive past the gym at least once a week.
For 2014, I'm sticking to my resolutions. Like millions of Americans, I vow to change my life every year. One of the biggest New Year's resolutions is to exercise more and lose weight. I'm far from alone. In January, the number of new members at the Touchstone gyms sky rockets as people fight off the holiday weight. Exercising more and losing weight are two of the most common New Year’s resolutions. Achieving these resolutions can be easier by remembering a few steps.
Read more: Making and Keeping New Year's Resolutions
Remy, a Studio Climbing front desk member, raised money to rappel for a good cause last month. Check out her trip report on this unique experience.
I rappelled off a building, hurray! I have so much to tell you about all of it! Where do I begin?
We – staff, members and guest climbers at the Studio in downtown San Jose – raised $500 for Shatterproof, a non-profit focused on helping families battle addiction. It’s fun to help out organizations when there’s a climbing niche involved. Actually, a different organization called Over-the-Edge handles the ropes and gear. In a nutshell, Over-the-Edge is a group of journeymen climber peeps that travel the country setting up rappel lines for fundraising events like the one I pledged for this year.
Speaking of pledging, I cannot stress enough how amazing the members and guests are at my gym. They did not hesitate to help me out with raising the funds. Like, for real a member dropped $20 in exchange for a couple of brownies at our bake sale. And another member turned her purse upside down on the counter and gave me every penny that fell out of it (like $5 total). She didn’t even take any bake goods in return! It’s astonishing that our member community could care so much about helping others. Shatterproof and Over-the-Edge want us to participate again next year. They raved and raved about how awesome we are as climbers and community members.
Now about the rappel: it was rad! I learned so much about cave rappel or BASIC ascender gear, like the Petzl STOP and CROLL. Basically, the STOP is a long, slender self-braking belay device that runs on the descending line; I grip it to descend and unclench it to stop. Leading along the descending line is the belay line with the CROLL; it basically just acts like a seatbelt, halting my descent if I jerk around or begin to descend too fast. All the while I’m hooked in to both via a full-body harness, and they made me wear a helmet and gloves because apparently it’s like safer (wink wink – wear safety gear, guys!). The rappel only took about two minutes to complete, and onlooker said I looked like I was dancing on the way down. It was more relaxing than anything, and I would have done it again if they let me. It was actually my first manual rappel outside of a gym. And stepping over the edge was super easy.
All in all, the Over-the-Edge guys said I was among the easiest to coach on the lines, and they invited me to volunteer/rappel with them at an event in San Francisco in March. Hurray!
For many climbers, scaling the granite monolith of El Capitan is a bucket list experience. For an elite few, free climbing El Capitan is the ultimate experience. However, free climbing El Capitan takes a colossal amount of work. Recently, two California climbers went to examine a steep free route on the right side of El Cap.
Read more: Climbing the Zodiac
For those obsessed with climbing outside all the time, winter rock climbing can be amazing. Cold crisp conditions and lots of solitude are easy to find in the shorter months. While long routes may be out for the season, now is a perfect time for sport climbing or bouldering. The best way to climb during the cold season is to be prepared. Below are a few tips to help you get ready for winter climbing.
Michael Pang photo- the author keeps a puffy jacket and lots of hand warmers nearby
Follow the sun- This seems like a no brainer but if it’s really cold out then it’s best to not only climb in the sun but climb where the sun has been. Rock that’s seen some sun will be more pleasant than the rock that has just gotten the rays.
Keep the right temperature- When hiking, avoid sweating. The moisture on your body will freeze when you stop hiking. While approaching the crag or boulders, strip down to the thinnest layer possible to avoid overheating. If you sweat excessively, bring a dry shirt to change into at the crag. The same goes for climbing. Hats are really good for providing warmth when getting off the belay and easy to toss off.
Wear Warm Clothes- Shorts and t-shirts are for summer. Bring your warmest puffy jacket to the crag during the winter. A hood helps cover the cold area around your face while belaying on your partner’s mega project. Gloves and a hat offer significant warmth for little space in the pack. Skimp on the warm clothes and your climbing session will shorten drastically. Some climbers wear long johns while others prefer leg warmers as they are easier to take on and off. A scarf will warm your neck and make you fashionable.
Eric Ruderman photo on a cold descent into Owen's River Gorge
Use Hand Warmers- Open a chemical hand warmer and drop it in your chalk bag as soon as you reach the crag. The warmth takes a few minutes to activate. By the time you tie in you’re fingers will reach into a toasty chalk bag. A hand warmer will help with the initial climbing and may make the difference between numb fingers and a comfortable send.
Drink warm liquids- Hot chocolate, tea, soup or even hot water will help significantly. Some climbers like to bring a Jetboil to the crag. Others bring a large thermos. Either way, the warm liquid will help keep you warm. Just remember that caffeine can hinder blood flow to your extremities so drink coffee after you lead if you want to feel your fingers.
Keep Eating- When the weather turns arctic, your body burns calories just to stay warm. Eat plenty of food- Bars, leftovers from last night, a good burrito. Bring the type of food that inspires you to consume it even in cold weather. Remember to ear often.
Wear Belay Pants- An extra pair of pants over your climbing trousers will help keep the chill down while belaying. Windproof pants work well but any kind of large pants that slip on over your harness and climbing pants will help significantly.
Climb in Blocks- On really cold days, smart climbers break up the day instead of the pitches. One climber warms up and continues climbing for half the day, never belaying just climbing. The other climber belays for a few hours and then switches into lead mode. This block style climbing helps the climber stay warm by minimizing resting between climbs.
Go to the gym¬- If it’s so cold out that you’re damaging the rock by blow torching holds or having to put tarps over boulders to keep them dry from the snow, it might be time to climb inside. Get strong for when the weather is good.
Dogpatch Boulders desk staffer Alex recently injured himself while bouldering in Oregon. He took the time to write up an article for the Touchstone Blog about the accident, along with tips for smart climbing.
When I heard, rather felt, the crack in my left ankle as it rolled sideways off the crash pad, I immediately found myself in a state of denial. My ankle was fine, just badly twisted. Heck, working full time at a climbing gym I see this with relative frequency, I can comfortably say that most of the accidents I encounter are just badly rolled ankles. The crack must’ve just been a pop, a tendon being pulled too hard, something mundane.
I felt my pride well up in my chest and I pushed to contain it as fellow gymgoers asked me if I was okay. I writhed around, holding my ankle, assuring everyone I was fine, that it was “just a bad roll.” When I’ve faced an injury like this at work, I’ve often thought that most of these injuries could have been avoided. Adjustments in pad placement, body awareness, confidence, control, and general safety when pushing your body into the unknown seem are ostensibly lacking. Yet, here I was, having disregarded all of that and in the exact same position. Instead of worrying about myself, all I could think was that I had made a silly mistake and I felt guilty for imposing any stress on the gym’s staff.
Fortunately, the staff didn’t show an ounce of resentment or stress; everyone there was more than accommodating. I hobbled my way over to their café where my girlfriend was working on an essay. I felt guilty for being selfish, for being so stupid. It was her 21st to hit the breweries that evening, but now I had completely usurped her day. I thought back to the problem I had fallen on… I remember telling myself, even the guys I was bouldering with that I was pretty burnt and ready to head out soon. I hadn’t climbed in a few days and I felt my ego push me to get in a couple more attempts, to really make sure I was spent. Well, gravity was quick to assure me that I, indeed, was done with my session.
The end of a climbing workout is typically when my technique goes out the window and I’m just trying to burn my muscles out. I had started making desperate throws without much forearm juice in reserve. Not only was my body incapable of performing the moves I was forcing it to attempt, I was also ignoring the gym’s padding situation.
Since climbing at Dogpatch Boulders, I’ve conditioned myself to become ballsier indoors. I’ve become more willing to make moves and attempt climbs I believe to be above my limit, at times in very precarious positions or at potentially dangerous heights. The floors are so good that I’ve never felt close to hurting myself. Even my worst falls have been softly cushioned by our beautiful Flashed flooring system. With this mentality, I didn’t even consider the padding situation at the oldschool gym I was climbing in was not nearly as forgiving as the one back home. Looking back, there were red flags everywhere. Old crash pads littered the floor. Underneath the roof I was climbing lay a dilapidated old mattress, and at the lip where I fell the pads were a few feet too far back to protect a fall. I didn’t once adjust a pad throughout my session.
Now, here I am. Fractured tibia. Surgery imminent. Three days post-accident, waiting for my ankle to stop hurting so I can maneuver my old, manual transmission van down from Eugene, Oregon to the Bay Area. Now, my life that is usually full of climbing, running, and hiking has been stymied. Percolating up from the depths questions arise, what does climbing means to me, what led me to this unfortunate circumstance.
Over the past few days I’ve found myself struggling to accept the truth. My ego is what brought me here. My ego is what led me to think that I was strong enough not to fall, that even if I did I would be fine, that I’m invincible. My ego is what led me to keep pushing my session, even though my body was telling me I was done. My ego is what made the climbing injuries I had witnessed back home so frustrating. My ego led me to believe I was somehow different from the people I’ve seen get injured, that I somehow couldn’t be hurt.
While most of this is just a stream-of-consciousness reflection, there’s an undercurrent message that I hope to share with anyone else in my position—those of you that love climbing in and outside the gym. As fun as climbing is, as amazing as it is to push yourself constantly to new limits, to test your mental and physical prowess, to reach beautiful flow states, there’s a cost to ignoring the practical side of what we do. Let my accident remind you that safety should not be ignored in the race to the top. Vigilantly analyze your surroundings, your climbing partners’, be mindful of your body and mind before, during, and after your climbing session. Even if it means you bag the route for another go another day, that’s okay. The problem will still be there when you get back. And even if it isn’t, there’ll be something else just as fun, exciting, and challenging waiting for you to find it.
The price we pay for being overeager and ignoring general safety precautions can be hefty. For me, my single-minded desire to climb one last problem resulted in a lot of forced downtime. I only hope that my accident can help some of you become more aware of safety as a primary concern when entering any climbing environment, be it inside or out.
Here are some easy safety tips that I think could’ve prevented my injury had I considered them:
Pad Placement – When present, check for proper pad placement. When you’re going for a hard move, you want to be confident that your landing is sufficiently padded.
Spotting - Sometimes it’s great to have a solo session, but if you’re going for a move that may result in an uncontrolled fall, look around and ask someone to give you a spot. Even if you feel pretty confident with the move, our bodies swing in unpredictable ways. Having someone ready to resquare you with the mat can be an ankle saver!
Body Awareness - Be aware that as you lose strength, you lose movement becomes uncoordinated and sloppy. They symptoms can be subtle but a fatigued climber’s movements will often appear more dynamic, impulsive, or lethargic. Being mindful of one’s body a climber can focus on problems that fit their current energy level. The more your try that really hard move in a progressively weakened state, the more vulnerable you are to injury.
Ego - Don’t let your confidence get you in trouble. It’s okay to ask for a spot. It’s okay to admit defeat and let a problem go for another day. It’s okay to be off or to feel weak. Climbing can be a lifelong pastime. For me, the key to staying motivated is to remember to enjoy every step as you walk down path of rock climbing. To heck with the grades, the difficulty, the strength or weakness, all of that stuff comes secondary to just enjoying the sensation of climbing. That’s what it’s all about.
Bay Area Bouldering 2013 from Phaedrus on Vimeo.
Here is a video of happier times! We're wishing you a speedy recovery!
This summer Ryan Moon had his eye set on a project. He submitted this report to the Touchstone Blog.
Me: Wanna go out and try Endless Bummer with me this weekend?!
Potential Sport Climbing Partner: No thanks, that thing’s way too bouldery for me.
Potential Bouldering Partner: No thanks, sport climbing sucks.
These were the conversations that were most popular when trying to try Endless Bummer out near Mickey’s Beach on the California coast. It was my first time trying a sport route for more than one visit (or more than one try) and finding a partner was almost as hard as climbing the route itself. At the time of my first attempt, I had been working at Berkeley Ironworks for 2(ish) years and had heard local cat artist and co-worker, Scott Frye, go on and on about the route. Although I normally only sit in a harness to clean boulder problems, something about Scott’s enthusiasm and the fact that it was “bouldery” got my attention.
What I remember most about my first attempt was the horrifying experience of being on top of the 'surf board'. It's a feature on the climb near the end of the route, where gale-force coastal winds, the inability of your belayer to hear your whimpering or requests to take or give slack, and the fact that you’re crouched atop a surface no larger than an ironing board with a short overhanging wall literally pushing you backwards, makes it memorable. It feels like there’s a decent chance of you losing your balance and bashing your teeth out on the edge of the rock.
Are we having fun yet?
What was most interesting about the projecting process of EB is that what was sometimes more important than having your beta sussed out, was knowing the ideal conditions. As a boulderer, I’ve mastered the art of complaining about temperatures and wind speeds. It’s part of the game. This was a different beast altogether. I've taken time to compile a list of the only beta you’ll need for this specific route:
DON'T GO IN THE SUMMER
Anyone living in the Bay Area long enough can recall wearing a down jacket to most Fourth of July BBQs because the marine layer has spoiled any chance of them sporting the tank tops they purchased at the end of May. It’s hella cold. Too cold to climb! Your best bet is trying during the Indian Summer while the sun is shining and the marine layer has subsided.
TAKE CAREFUL NOTE OF WIND SPEEDS
Anything faster than 10mph wind speeds will send your quickdraws spinning like an airplane’s propellers. There’s nothing lamer than watching a climber pump out on the third bolt of his or her project because it looked more like they were trying to catch butterflies than clipping draws.
DON'T GO WHEN IT'S TOO HOT
Lemme guess. You’ve been stymied by the wicked winds and freezing temps of the “summer” conditions, so you’ve been fooled into thinking that hotter is better. Wrong. Remember, this is a bouldery route. Anything hotter than 75 degrees is going to make your burns feel like you’re desperately clawing at an overhanging wall made of melting butter.
And the most important, non-weather related factor…
I’m pretty sure that after almost every failed session out at Endless Bummer I muttered (sometimes yelled) the phrase “I’m never sport climbing again!” Although this was obviously a lie, there were about a thousand times when I wanted to give up. Even in the countless bouts of frustration, I was always able to enjoy the projecting process.
And for a long time... I didn’t send.
Every time I didn't send, at least I had spent the day climbing a boulderery route in one of the most beautiful spots in California. On almost every visit I was able to point out seals, a multitude of different birds, dolphins, and on a very special day, a whale and an unforgettable view of the Farallon Islands. Ending every session with a beer, a sunset, a new highpoint, and subsequent ‘failure milkshakes’ (originally intended to be ‘send milkshakes’) almost makes me miss not sending.....
On a rare ‘perfect’ day out on the coast with BIW manager, Lyn Barraza, something strange happened. I warmed up by hanging the draws and doing the slab-overhang boulder problem a few times, as I usually do to begin the session. After a nice gossip-filled rest, I was ready for my first redpoint burn of the day. Just as I clipped the fifth draw a familiar feeling set it in: I’m going to fall, I’m going to fall, I’m going to fall. In a freak moment, I stuck the stab move to the slopey pinch with tension for the very first time. I can’t recall another time in rock climbing when I literally climbed the hardest section of a route or boulder problem smiling ear-to-ear, but there I was, grinning like an idiot on the way to the top of my project.
There’s something special about trying a route so many times that everyone you know and work with wants an answer to the same question:
“Well…did you send?”
I’ll never forget the overwhelming support from my friends and coworkers as I answered this question, every time bearing a guilty smile followed by 'yup'. The only thing better than projecting on the California coast around dolphins, your best friends, and a tall cold one at sunset, is the invigorating feeling of completing a project.
And ‘send milkshakes’.
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Be sure to click through Ryan's gallery of his multiple attempts on the route. Congrats Ryan!