Member of the Month: Marissa Treece

Have YOU still found yourself wanting to get in better shape and try CrossFit, but not doing so for one reason or another? Have you waited for some kind of inspiration to find you first? Well, WAIT NO LONGER! Perhaps, our October member of the month, Marissa Treece, can inspire all of us to personally succeed even when life tends to get in the way.

From Michigan farm girl to Division 1 athlete for the University of Notre Dame, we learn something from tree forts to teletransit, and almost everything else in-between.


Member of the Month: Marissa Treece


    Bove) Can you tell us a bit about your childhood, and where you grew up?

Treece) I grew up on a farm in Northern Michigan and was always outside, doing “kid” stuff, which was probably the start to my interest in physical activity. That, and my older brother always set me up to lose when I played video games with him; so, I guess I can thank him for my interest in EVERYthing else. Growing up, my parents always kept me playing some sort of sport...starting with soccer at age 5. Outside of athletics, I grew up riding horses, building tree forts, and raising cattle and pigs for 4-H.


  1. Was there a particular life experience that you found, would set you forth on the demanding path of fitness that you pursue today?

T) I’m an incredibly competitive person, so I think athletics was just a natural path for me. Even when I was just a kid, I can remember a ridiculous drive to win a race on the playground, jump farther off the swing set, clean my room faster than my brother (yes… can see where my parents used this to their advantage as well!) When I was in 5th grade, I convinced my parents to let me play Pop-Warner football with all the boys; making a boy cry was what I considered a successful day at practice.

My path from playing sports to actually competing came during my freshman year in high school. My high school was very small and didn’t have a soccer team (which is what I was originally naively convinced I was going to go pro in), so I joined the track team. With relatively minimal training, I won the State Championships in the 1600m and 3200m. At this point, I thought I might actually have a shot at being a real athlete, if I dedicated myself to sports. The real focus on my track and field endeavours came during my junior year, when I lost my first two state championships to the same girl by less than a second combined. At this point, I decided I needed to focus on my training, if I wanted to pursue a collegiate or professional career.  This is where things really clicked for me. Again,…losing isn’t really my thing.


  1. While studying at the University of Notre Dame and competing in Cross Country running, you have accrued many noteworthy achievements and awards. Is there a favorite amongst them, and why?

T) In 2008, I competed in the Cross Country Junior Nationals and placed 4th, earning a spot to represent the United States at the World Junior Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh, Scotland. This is one of my favorite achievements because: (1) it was an experience that was unprecedented by anyone that I knew on my team; 2) it was my first opportunity to race abroad; and,(3) while I didn’t perform well at Worlds, I was able to perform when I needed to in order to qualify for a, what I would later realize, once in a lifetime experience.


  1. Despite your other pursuits, you maintain a professional career as a Director of Design at Digital Firefly Marketing. Do you find that your commitment to such intense athletic endeavors make your professional life easier or more difficult?

T) Fortunately, I have an amazing boss who understands athletic drive and dedication. He was a world champion rower and olympic hopeful in the 90s! Obviously, I would love to dedicate more of my day to moving from a CrossFit hopeful to a (semi) professional CrossFit athlete, but I consider myself fortunate for having such a flexible schedule. I do think having a professional career helps me maintain a good life-balance, and honestly, I really love what I do. It also helps me to not take my training for granted, and allows me to continuously look forward to the gym.

  1. What is an example of a workout routine you feel would challenge you most? Why?

T) In terms of a CrossFit workout… you’ll always hear people talking about “working your weakness” and the more serious I dive into it as a sport, the more weaknesses I find. I would say my biggest weaknesses are anything overhead and my gymnastic abilities. I was involved in gymnastics as a kid, but I think I’ve lost EVERY ounce of that training ;)

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  1. Many people speak of you as an instructor at Crossfit Pipeworks, and how you inspire them to be better at their sports. Do you have any motivational advice for them?

T) Honestly, I’m humbled to hear people are inspired by my involvement at Crossfit Pipeworks. I LOVE helping people, especially women, reach their potential. I think much confidence can be cultivated from a consistent positive workout routine. When people see gains in their fitness, or perform at a level that surpasses their own expectations, that confidence affects not only their workouts, but so many other areas of their lives.

To actually answer the question: I’ve done just about every fitness routine there is...from running, cycling, yoga, (a bit of zumba) CrossFit etc. My advice is to find something that works for you and matches up with your fitness goals. If you think running sucks, DON’T BE A RUNNER! Once you’ve found what you like, it is significantly easier to dedicate yourself.


The second thing is, find a reason to do it. This is different for everyone, for instance, I CrossFit because I want to do well at competitions. Some people do it because they’ve developed a good group of friends who also do it. The good thing about our Box is that we have a very energetic group of coaches and members, so if you immerse yourself in our culture, it’s hard to stay away.

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  1. Although you have only done Crossfit for a nominal amount of time, you recently placed first in the Bat Cave games at Crossfit Natomas. From the sound of it, you crushed lots of other tough competitors. Can you tell us more about this proud win?

T) I had an amazing time at the Bat Cave Games and had a HUGE group of CFPW supporters who came to watch. It was the first time I had competed in the sport, and the first time since college that I had done any sort of competition at all.


I think it was a great way to get back into “the game”; my competitiveness just sort of takes over when I compete. I think there is a level of pain ignorance that occurs and I can just shut that part of my brain off when I compete. But the competition was great! It was a great opportunity to represent Pipeworks and our coaching/programming abilities, and I look forward to MANY more comps in the future--namely, the CF Roseville Women’s Gauntlett on Nov. 1, with my teammate Abbie Crews.

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  1. As our facility at Sacramento Pipeworks grows in the next couple of months, what can we expect to see happen to the Crossfit space? Will there be any differences in the program once the box gets larger?


T) Well, I’d expect to see a huge space and expect some growing pains. I think it will take a few months to settle in, but a lot of positive growth in the long run. I doubt we’ll see a direct change in the programming, but we will have some additional space to use some of equipment we aren’t optimized for right now. What I hope to see is more inspiration! With one of the largest facilities in the area, I hope people continue to explore the possibilities CrossFit Pipeworks can provide for them. 1

  1. When you are not busy with your professional life and athletic career, how do you utilize your free time? Do you have any other hobbies that you enjoy?

T) I dabble in a bunch of things. I had mentioned “life-balance” earlier, and over the years, I’ve found it to be essential in my life, so I try to make sure I stay involved in other activities.

First of all, I have a dog who LOVES to fetch and swim, so we kinda like to spend a lot of time at the river in the summer. Collan and I have recently re-discovered mountain biking, which serves as the perfect amount of adrenaline and “active recovery.” I’ve been known to slackline a bit, although I’m still pretty bad at it. I really enjoy cooking (and eating), and lately have been really into this traveling thing.


  1. If you could possess one superpower that is not considered to be of natural means, what would it be, and how would you use it?

T) Teletransit...for three reasons.

  1. Cars are eliminated. Zero Carbon Emissions (plus I have serious motion sickness issues).

  2. I’m forgetful. Like when I forget my keys at the gym and have already ridden my bike ALL THE WAY HOME. I never have to double check for anything.

  3. When you get home at 8:30 and you’re starving but don't want to cook. And the good Taqueria is on the other side of town. Problem solved.


TCS2014 Finale

After 9 months, 9 gyms, and over 5,000 competitors, the Touchstone Rope Series 2014 competition ended with a bang last Friday at Mission Cliffs. Over 400 men and women came to compete in beginner, intermediate, or advanced categories at our origional gym in the heart of San Francisco. Climbers had 5 hours to climb their hardest, with the top men and women competing in on-sight finals at 6pm. 

Head Routesetter Jeremey Ho, who leaned back in his chair and thoughtfully stroked his fu manchu beard when we asked him for comment said, "It went about as smoothly as it possibly could! Through our recent USAC experiences, we've learned a lot about the organizational aspects of running on-sight finals."

Check out the on-sight finals in this awesome video by member Matt Grossman. 

Between 5pm and 6pm emcee extraordinaire Zach Wright kept the crowd entertained as the route setters worked to unveil comp routes for men and women. Huge thanks to Blue Water Ropes, prAna, evolv, Stone Age Climbing, Alite, Boreal, and many more for donating prizes to raffle out to anyone who competed. It definitely paid big time to climb in the event!

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"Mission Cliffs was the perfect venue for the ropes finale," said manager Donna Hawkins. "I can't remember how we used to do it before our Walltopia expansion!" The expansion of the gym, which added over 9,000 sq ft of climbing to Mission Cliffs, allowed competitors to spread out and decreased waiting time between comp routes. Huge thanks to staff, routesetters, management, and our many members and guests to came out to make this finale one for the books. We're so happy to be able to host such a popular comp series, and we wouldn't be able to do it without you! 

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To check your scores from the comp - click here.

To check out the full gallery of photos by Jeff Rueppel - click here


Women Racing up El Capitan

Shortly after the sun crested Half Dome this morning (October 28th), two of the Valley’s fastest women began the Yosemite Grand Prix- The Nose of El Capitan. Libby Sauter and Mayan Smith-Gobat hit the stop watch at 7:18 am and charged up the big wall.

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Tom Evans photo of Mayan Smith-Gobat leading while Libby follows under the Great Roof of the Nose.


Libby Sauter pulling on cams through a section of 5.10 wide climbing to Dolt Tower

The pair climbed the 3,000 foot route in two blocks with Sauter leading the first half to Boot Flake and Smith-Gobat taking the reins to the summit. Though they planned to take a “practice” run, the women climbed quickly. A loud cheer broke the meadow when Sauter snagged the tree, joining Smith-Gobat at the summit in a mere 5 hours 2 minutes- a new women's speed record.


Smith-Gobat stops to hydrate during the 5 hour ascent

This past season, women have dominated El Capitan speed climbing. Earlier in the year, Sauter and her partner Quinn Brett climbed El Capitan twice in a day via the Nose and Lurking Fear. They are the first female pair to climb two El Cap routes in a day and one of very few teams who have climbed El Cap more than once in a day.

El Cap

On Sauter and Smith-Gobat's speed ascent, they moved quite well. They had a major setback when they lost an aider and Sauter had to follow with one aider. It's quite clear that the women's speed record could drop well below 5 hours.


Climbing so quickly requires a solid climbing ability. The women climbed 5.11 with enormous death loops of rope out and set the standard for bold climbing on El Capitan. Congratulations to the team.

Chalk Talk: Route Setting with Jeremy Ho

Every wonder what establishing new routes on over 100,000 square feet of climbing terrain would be like? Head routesetter, Jeremy Ho spoke with the Chalk Talk podcast recently to discuss managing one of the world's biggest teams of route setters, bringing comps to the Touchstone climbing gyms, the theory of setting, expansion plans for Touchstone and dealing with the physical problems of route setting. Ho has been setting for the Touchstone gyms for over 5 years and is a level 3 USA Climbing certified setter who has set for a number of national competitions. Check out this great podcast about setting for the Touchstone gyms

10 Things you might not know about #TCS2014

The Touchstone Climbing Series Rope Finale is this Saturday at Mission Cliffs! Read on to find out 10 fun facts about our comp series! 

10. The logo was created by our Graphic Designer. 

Heather Campbell, who is the bees knees, created the baller logo and t-shirt design that can be seen on the backs of climbers all over the state, nay the WORLD!! We've given out over 2,000 comp t-shirts this year... one for every competitor. 

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9. We're trying to make the comp a zero waste event. 

All cups will be recycled. All pizza crusts, paper plates and napkins will be composted. Nothing needs to go to the landfill! We'll have signage up around the gym if you don't know what goes where. 

8. Yes, you need a paper waiver in hand.

Even if you're a member. Even if you've signed an electronic waiver. Everyone gets a new waiver on comp day. You can print one HERE. We'll also have them avaible on the day of the event.. but if you come prepared we'll let you skip the line.

7. Your 3-letter comp code is yours forever. 

Like a finger print. Or an embarrassing Facebook photo from High School. If you've competed in a Touchstone Climbing Competition in the last two years, you have the same 3-letter comp code. If you've forgotten it, or if this is your first competition, find it here:

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6. 3 overall advanced finalist and 3 finalists the day of the comp will compete in on-sight finals. 

You've climbed your heart out, now sit back, sip a beer, and watch the big guns compete for cash prizes! 

5. Beer will be provided by Strike Brewing.

Our buddies over at Strike will be pouring their tasty brews starting at 4:20pm. For the 21 and under crowd, don't worry. We'll have beverages for you to imbibe as well. 

4. There will be prizes. 

Big ups to BlueWater Ropes, prAna, SoiLL, Maxim Ropes, Five Ten, Evolv, Alite and many more or donating comp prizes. If you climb in the comp and turn in a score card, it becomes your raffle ticket. Stick around till 5pm, and you'll be in the running to score some sa-WEET shwag. 

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3. The Access Fund and The American Alpine Club will be there. 

As much as we love pulling on plastic, we REALLY love ensuring that our wilderness areas remain as awesome as they can for as long as they can. Stop by their tables to say hello, sign up for a membership, and learn more about how to get involved.

2. It takes 29 routesetters to get the gym ready for the comp.  

8 setters on the first day. 13 setters on the second day. And 8 guys on the third day. Our full time routesetting team is the largest in the country, so even during comp week when they are literally resetting an entire gym, satellite crews are maintaining the schedule at other locations. It's a crazy job but somebody's gotta do it. 

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1. The comp is FREE to members and only $10 for guests. 

Comps are always free for members because we L-bomb you, for reals. And it's only $10 for guests, which is the cheapest day pass in existence, because we bet you're pretty great too. You can RSVP via the 'book, tell your friends on twitter, or call them on the telephone to invite them. See you Saturday! 


Redpointing Clinic with Derek Powell

The best way to push your climbing to your absolute limits is to redpoint, to practice a route and then climb it without falling. The tactics involved in redpointing are numerous and deciphering them all can be quite difficult. Luckily there's help.


On November 13th, Berkeley Ironworks will be offering a free clinic for members of all ability levels who want to improve their redpointing skills and strategies. “The class will cover a range of topics including the psychology of performance, route selection, mental strategies, practical redpoint techniques, and general approaches to training,” said instructor Derek Powell.


Class will be structured as a lecture with ongoing Q and A, and demonstrations of practical skills. Climbers will learn how to analyze their own climbing strengths and weaknesses, create strategies to improve redpoint abilities and achieve new personal bests.


Powell, a climber of over 20 years, has climbed all over the world. From a half dozen ascents of El Capitan to bouldering in Europe to 5.14 first ascents in California, Powell’s solid resume of climbing makes him a perfect instructor for the class. The 44 year old Berkeley firefighter and paramedic splits his time working, spending time with his wife and son, and climbing at an elite level.


Powell will be discussing mental tactics, different types of training, route selection and practical tcatics for harder redpointing. Using his experience on Steep Climb Named Desire, a 5.14a at Star Wall in Tahoe, Ubermensch, a 5.14 at Pinnacles National Monument, and Death Sentence, a 5.14b at Jailhouse, Powell will elaborate on being honest about what you can climb, finding good partners, listening to your body, how to improve without injury, and how to identify and solve problems in your climbing. This clinic is a great opportunity for all climbers. Stop by BIW and check it out!

This clinic is at 7pm. If you'd like to get on list, register here:

Remembering the Topo in Yosemite

Adventure comes in hundreds of ways in Yosemite. Most of the time, the fun starts when something essential is forgotten. Leaving the head lamp, the water, or the topo can all lead to more adventure than planned. This fall taught me the importance of bringing and following the directions on a route.

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Stoner's Highway climbs the left, sunny side of Middle Cathedral.

Stoner’s Highway follows discontinuous features on the immaculate rock of Middle Cathedral. Though the route sits only a few hundred feet from the splitter cracks of Central Pillar of Frenzy, the two routes could not differ more. Where Central Pillar involves well protected jamming, Stoner’s Highway follows technical slab climbing between highly spaced bolts and sparse gear. I snapped a picture of the topo with my iPhone and quested up the slab. I followed a few bolts, saw a feature, climbed back to some bolts and built an anchor forty meters from the ground. When I pulled my phone out to check the topo, I saw a dead battery. That’s when the adventure began.

Bronson and I knew that the route wasn’t harder than 5.10 plus so I quested, looking for any signs of life. I spotted an old piton and followed a dirty corner and bad rock. At the end of the corner, a new bolt marked the route 40 feet to my left. I slung a piece of rock and gently lowered down and then reclimbed the route to the correct path. After a few more harrowing pitches, we rappelled after four pitches.

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I read the topo for The Lurch and though it showed a crack system up higher, it said to traverse onto the face. I followed the topo and soon realized why they avoided the cracks. The corner was formed by a pair of instable stacked blocks. I'm glad I read the topo and didn't blindly follow the corner.

A few days later, British climbing ace, Dan Mcmanus and I hiked towards Widow’s Tears. A pair of local climbers established The Lurch ,a 5.12c/d seven pitch route, earlier this spring. I took a picture of the topo and locked my screen to save battery. We managed to make our way up the route with few problems. I fell on the first 5.12 pitch and did some tactful skirting around loose rock on the fourth pitch. On the crux pitch, we took the name of the route to be literal and did a wild Lurch move across the wall. Dan began descending but instead of following the anchors for the previous pitch, he attempted to link the rappels. He had to build an anchor in the middle of the wall. I rappelled the traversing last pitch, prussiked back to the anchor, pulled the directional and descended again. I pulled the rope and picked up Dan. We continued our descent with less problems.

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Doing the crux sequence on the Lurch, which involves a wild move to the arete.

A few days later, Dan and I woke in the dark and hiked to Liberty Cap to climb Mahtah, a new 14 pitch 5.12+ route. We treaded carefully across the ledge to the start. A climber had died falling off the ledge the previous spring. We started the route at sunrise and dispatched the difficult right facing corners. This time, I took a picture of the topo with my phone and we followed it exactly. We found the grades to be a bit generous, which was nice since we’d hiked so far. The route took us all day to climb and the hike down took awhile as well but of my Valley adventures, though it was the biggest day, it was the least epic.

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The Crack of God pitch on Mahtah is a 130 foot dead horizontal traverse which links the corners of Mahtah with the Harding route.


Dan Mcmanus following one of the 5.12 corner pitches on Mahtah.

One of the big lessons I learned this fall in Yosemite was to follow the topo. It makes route’s significantly easier, far less dangerous, and allows you to have bigger adventures.

Touchstone Partners with Big Brothers Big Sisters

LB Julian Pike-Smith BB Gere GervisWe've got exciting news for our members involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters! 

Touchstone Climbing and Big Brothers Big Sisters Bay Area are happy to announce a partnership that will make it easier for volunteers to bring kids climbing. Active Littles are now FREE on their Big Brother or Sisters Touchstone Climbing membership. This means that if you are a Big Brother or Sister, you can bring your little climbing as often as you'd like, and still have your guest passes left over for friends or family.

Until recently, Big Brothers and Big sisters could use one of their two free monthly guest passes to bring their Littles climbing. "But we wanted to do more!" said Membership Services Director Monica Arranda who helped to launch the program. >

If you are part of BBBS, bring your Little to the gym along with your active membership cards, and we'll sign them up as a free member on your account. The next time the two of you come climbing, check-in will be fast and simple.

Rob, a Touchstone Climbing member, is also a mentor with BBBS. To share one of his own passions with his 'little,' Patrick, he started taking him climbing. "He has loved climbing, and started asking me every week if we can go." 

"I'm so excited for this opportunity to bring him more often!" said Rob. "And so is Patrick." 

LB Derrick Nelson BB Bill Oconnor 3On Sunday, October 12th, Dogpatch Boulders hosted a Meet Up to kick off the new program. 9 Big Brothers and 9 Little Brothers came to the gym and had a great time. 

"Bringing kids to the climbing gym is such a phenomenal bonding experience," said Dogpatch Boulders manager Justin Alarcon. "People tend to break out of their shells when they are moving, challenging themselves, and toping out boulders together!"

Founded in California in 1958, BBBS Bay Area serves Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara Counties. Since 1958 they have carefully matched over 11,000 children with a mentor and provided ongoing support and guidance to ensure optimum outcomes. They currently serve about 1,000 children each year and have set a goal bumping that number up to 2,000 children yearly by 2018. Children between the ages of 6 and 16 and they are eligible to stay in the program until graduation at 18.

"Male mentors are currently needed in Fresno, the East Bay, South Bay and the Peninsula,' said Match Support Specialist Hannah Rudsten. There is a pressing need for healthy male role models to be matched with enrolled boys in these areas. According to their website, 700 at-risk children are currently on the waiting list, and 82% are boys.

LB Derrick Nelson BB Bill Oconnor 2If there's one thing that a climbing gym has plenty of, it's eligible bros! If you're interesting in becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister, find out more about volunteering!

The benefits of mentorship are undeniable. Surveys of mentors and parents/guardians whose Little had been matched 12 months or more reported the following results:

  • 100% improved GPA’s if they were struggling in school
  • 96% improved their ability to avoid using physical violence
  • 92% improved self-confidence
  • 85% improved peer relationships
  • 81% improved attitudes towards school
  • 74% improved their outlook for the future
  • 72% increased their trust in adults to help with problems

We're happy to find more ways to involve underserved youth in our neighborhoods in climbing and a healthy lifestyle. Big thanks to BBBS for working with us to give volunteers an easy way to bring their kids to the gym to share the joys of climbing! 









By Hans Florine

10495863 751097324938796 4582372467713915728 oThis weekend I headed out at 5:45 am Sunday morning from the stables parking lot with the goal of climbing The South Face of Mt Watkins with friends Will and Naomi. Between 'reading' descriptions from The Super Topo guide and Yosemite Bigwalls guide by Erik and Roger, we figured that we would be at the base of the route around 8:30 am. 

I put 'reading' in quotes above because I only skimmed the directions in regards to the approach, and peaked at the maps. After all it’s MT WATKINS right? – How could you walk up Tenaya canyon and miss it? – Well we did miss it, until we made 4 hours of mistakes in wrong turns and misguided steep scrambling. 

Six hours and 2 minutes after leaving the stables parking lot we arrived at the base of the route! We decided against climbing out of the ditch given how late we arrived at the base. (Translation: “topping out on Watkins, El Cap, or Leaning Tower, is just crawling out of The Ditch, so really do have to “enjoy the journey.”) So, we had a great adventure, exploring various slopes and tiny trails in Tenaya canyon, found a cool water hole, our legs are super fit -or will be when we recover, and we now have a gallon of water stashed at the base of The South Face Route!

I just got through presenting stories to The AAC International Climbing Meet Friday evening. I was telling them how we have these incredible wild walls here in Yosemite AND they are so accessible and close to your car door. –Funny sort of “foot in mouth” adventure for Sunday.- I don’t call 6 hours close to the car door.

Points to remember: 
-bring people with you that like to adventure. We had an adventure, the outcome was unknown. We got to explore around a beautiful canyon, in a beautiful place. Our group was joking and laughing and having a good time.
-Read CAREFULLY a couple sentences from past travelers, guidebooks, intermet forums, etc. and save yourself 2 hours, or 4 or maybe days.
-Love the journey.

I had a great time sharing stories with the AAC group on Friday evening and super time instructing some of them at the base of El Cap on Saturday morning. I learned a few things “teaching” these experienced climbers. How lucky am I?- Getting to teach a class at the base of El Cap? Big Thanks to Carol Kotchek and the American Alpine Club for inviting me to participate!


Saturday afternoon I got to go up five pitches on The East Buttress of Middle Cathedral with Diane Payes. Again, we didn’t top out or even get out of The Ditch. That was better then OK for us, we got to climb on awesome granite terrain, with a beautiful alpine glow light on El Cap across the valley, and earn our meal with The AAC group later that evening.

I hope you got to summit something this weekend, or crawl out of a ditch, or just embark on something where you didn’t know the outcome before starting.



Training with the Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit

Recently, Alice Ng trained with the Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit. She wrote a bit about it for the Touchstone Blog.

Thump thump thump thump thump thump...

The Blackhawk was just over the tree line, a mere 75 feet above us. The wind generated from its propellers forced me to the ground and blew my colleague’s 35lb pack down the hill. Our team, one of several from the Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit (BAMRU), was being extracted from our assignment by hoist at the conclusion of our search mission. Hanging by a single line, I took a moment to examine the terrain we had just searched. Steep and overgrown, our “trail” quickly disappeared into the landscape. Above us, the military officer signaled us to enter into the helicopter.


The following week our unit was deployed to the Trinity Alps. Joined by other SAR units from other counties, we searched the ridgelines and gullies along steep alpine terrain. If necessary, we would rappel and ascend ropes for better vantage points. Both assignments required searchers to spend the night out in the backcountry. We carried our shelters, food and climbing gear with us and prepared for every contingency from weather restraints, to terrain considerations to possible injuries. While roped technical skills are not needed for all BAMRU missions, being able to move quickly and efficiently across varied terrain is, and a skilled searcher would need to practice this regularly.

Training at Berkeley Ironworks helps keep me in shape and ready for deployment. Its yoga classes keep my body flexible and nimble while the weight room helps to me to build up my core strength. Being a climber has greatly impacted my ability to move confidently around exposed terrain and handling situations that require me to use rope protection. Training on the wall gives me the strength, endurance and comfort on exposed walls that is necessary on many SAR operations. These competencies allow me to contribute to BAMRU and its overall mission to help lost or stranded people in the wilderness.

The Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit (BAMRU) is an entirely volunteer-based non- profit IRS recognized 501(c)3 charitable organization serving the community that requires commitment and flexibility. BAMRU is accredited and nationally recognized by the Mountain Rescue Association, and our members have to be at the top of their game. Being a member means deploying for search and rescue assignments at a moment’s notice and participating in rigorous trainings throughout the year. It is demanding work but can also be incredibly rewarding. To provide such a service to our community makes a remarkable difference in people’s lives.

Many thanks to Berkeley Ironworks for being a long-time supporter of BAMRU! For more information about the Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit, visit or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Donations can be made at the BAMRU website and are greatly appreciated.

Yosemite Climbing History

World renowned for its immense glacial polished granite, Yosemite is the mecca for rock climbers. For nearly two centuries, from the days of scrambling peaks in the Sierra to the cutting edge free climbing on El Capitan, the cliffs of Yosemite National Park have set the standards for climbing.


Warren Harding topping out on the first ascent of the Nose of El Capitan.

The earliest climbers in Yosemite summated the granite formations in the most rudimentary ways possible. In 1869, naturalist John Muir climbed the technical Cathedral peak in the northern Sierra ropeless. Six years later, George Anderson employed eyebolts, drilled hand and foot holds and fixed rope to summate Half Dome. Through the history of Yosemite, there would remain a stark contrast between the minimalist style and the heavy-handed siege tactics.

For over fifty years, climbers in Yosemite climbed the formations at great personal risk. It wasn’t until the 1930s, when Robert Underhill, after a season in the Alps, brought the use of pitons and rappelling to Yosemite. Over the next decade, California climbers develop rope techniques for catching and holding falls. They also imported pitons from Europe. The climbers hammered the metal into the rock and used it as a means to ascend, aid climbing, The advancements in rope and gear contributed significantly to climbers summating the Cathedral Spires and other formations during the decade.

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Royal Robbins and Tom Frost hanging in hammocks on the first ascent of the North America Wall. Frost photo.

In the mid 1940s, a San Mateo black smith, John Salathe revolutionized the piton game when he joined the climbers at the Sierra Club lodge in northern Yosemite. Salathe used his experience as a blacksmith to create hard steel pitons from the axels of an old Ford Model A. The pitons worked significantly better in the hard granite of Yosemite than the European soft iron models. Salathe began climbing extensively in Yosemite, making the first attempt on the Lost Arrow Spire, climbing the Southwest face of Half Dome and making the first ascent of the Steck-Salathe on the Sentinel over the course of five days.

The 1950s saw one of climbing’s greatest rivalry. The two greatest prizes of Yosemite, the faces of Half Dome and El Capitan, remained unclimbed. In 1957, Harding raced his Corvette to Yosemite Valley to climb the Northwest face of Half Dome only to find Royal Robbins on the route already. With the help of Jerry Gallwaas, Robbins completed the five day first ascent of the Regular Northwest Face, Yosemite’s first grade VI climb. With Half Dome climbed, Harding took to the last prize of Yosemite. Over 47 days spread out in a year and a half period, Harding fixed a long series of ropes up the Nose of El Capitan. In November of 1958, Harding, George Whitemore and Wayne Merry made a record 12-day push for the summit. The highly publicized ascent cemented the wine drinking Harding as a hero and forced Robbins to the cliffs.

The 1960’s saw Robbins making a quick second ascent of Harding’s Nose route on El Capitan followed by an ascent of the Salathe Wall on the Southwest face of El Capitan with two other Valley climbers. Robbins, Chuck Pratt and Tom Frost climbed the Salathe Wall with only 13 bolts and sparse use of fixed ropes, making a 6-day summit push from 600 feet up the wall. Robbins ascent proved that El Capitan could be climbed without siege tactics.

Harding and Robbins continued to attempt to out climb each other. The steep West Face of the Leaning Tower and the remote South Face of Mount Watkins fell to Harding. Robbins answered with the first solo of a big wall route, climbing the West Face of Leaning tower in a storm. Along with Tom Frost and Yvon Chouinard, Robbins climbed the North America Wall on the Southeast face of El Capitan, completing the most difficult climb to date.

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Billy Westbay, John Long and Jim Bridwell standing in front of El Capitan after the first one day ascent of the Nose.

During Robbins and Harding’s fight for Yosemite big wall supremacy, other Yosemite climbers raised free climbing standards and shortened ascent times. The Steck-Salathe, the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome and other Yosemite walls fell to single day ascents. Using only nuts and not the rock damaging pitons, Robbins and his wife, Liz climbed The Nutcracker on Manure Pile Buttress. Their clean ascent of the 800-foot route established a new ethic for climbing. Free and clean became the standard.

The 1970’s saw an increase in the number of climbers and a greater focus on free climbing. Advanced climbing gear allowed climbers to link delicate features on the sides of El Capitan. Jim Bridwell established a number of futuristic routes, including the Aquarian Wall, Pacific Ocean Wall and Zenyatta Mondatta. Beyond the advances in aid climbing, the 70’s saw a jump in the free-climbing standards. Sticky rubber shoes helped climbers stand on smaller edges. Bridwell lead the Stonemasters, a group of Yosemite climbers, into the new world of free climbing. The Yosemite Decimal system went from 5.0 to 5.9 but during the 70’s, Bridwell expanded the rating system to an open ended scale, introducing 5.10 and including the sub A, B, C and D grades. Bridwell furthered the standards of Yosemite by climbing The Nose with John Long and Billy Westbay in a single day. John Long, John Bachar and Ron Kauk, three of the most influential Stonemasters, free climbed the East Face of Washington Column completing the first ascent of the sustained Astroman. In the middle of Camp 4, the Stonemasters left their mark, drawing a lightning bolt below Midnight Lightning, a boulder problem established by Kauk and Bachar and recognized as one of the hardest climbs in the world at the time.

The 1980’s saw greater advancements in free climbing. Todd Skinner and Paul Piana managed a team free ascent of the Salathe Wall, ushering the concept that El Capitan was a place for free climbing. John Bachar, Bill Price and Ray Jardine all established 5.13 routes and Canadian Peter Croft climbed Astroman without a rope. Camming devices made protecting difficult cracks easier and faster, which greatly raised free climbing standards. More notably was the punch thrown in Camp 4. Ron Kauk visited Europe in the 80’s and returned to Yosemite with a top down ethos. John Bachar feared that the adventure of climbing would be lost with the European tactics of rehearsal and inspection. A fight ensued between the friends when Bachar chopped the protection bolts on Kauk’s Punchline route. When the dust settled, Bachar’s ground up ethic was left behind to pushing climbing harder.

In the early 90s, climbers began drag racing up El Capitan with Peter Croft and Dave Schultz climbing the Nose in under 5 hours. More impressively, Lynn Hill made the first true free climb of El Capitan, with an ascent of the Nose. She returned a few years later to free climb the route in a single day. Hill made the first true free ascent of El Capitan.  Later in the decade two Austrian brothers, Alex and Thomas Huber stormed through Yosemite, adding to El Capitan free climbing.  After freeing the Salathe Wall, they established El Nino, Freerider and Golden Gate.


Lynn Hill on the Nose

The early 2000s saw the Huber Baum continue their El Capitan free exploits. They freed El Corazon and the Zodiac, which they then blitzed in one hour fifty-one minutes. Other climbers raced up El Capitan as well with the Nose speed recording dropping from 4 hours to just over 2. Tommy Caldwell brought American talents to El Capitan, repeating many of the Huber’s free routes and establishing other free routes including Lurking Fear, West Buttress, Dihedral Wall, Magic Mushroom and the Muir. He climbed a number of El Capitan routes in a day. In 2005, Caldwell free climbed the Nose and Freerider in a single day. Caldwell turned to the steep section of the Dawn Wall, which he has been working on free climbing for the past decade. When he completes the route, it will be the hardest long free climb in the world. In mid 2000s Alex Honnold began climbing in Yosemite as well, free soloing Astroman, the difficult Phoenix and making the first free solo ascent of the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome. His steel-trap mind allowed him to set numerous speed records on El Capitan and do an enormous free climbing linkup with Tommy Caldwell of El Capitan, Half Dome and Mount Watkins in a single day. 

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Thomas Huber climbing on El Capitan

The past few years have seen other climbers freeing new routes on Middle Cathedral, Mount Watkins and the smaller formations in the Valley. The ability of the average climber has increased dramatic with single day ascents of El Capitan happening regularly. El Capitan becomes more accessible and easier to free climb every year and climbers like Caldwell continue to raise the standards. The future of Yosemite remains unpredictable but very promising.


Yosemite legend, Tommy Caldwell working his project, attempting to freeclimb the Dawn Wall.

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