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.

Inside Culver City

Happy First Look Friday!

Last week we gave you a look at the juicy innards of our HUGE bouldering gym currently under construction near the 101 freeway. This week we're taking a look at the soft underbelly of what will soon be our climbing gym in Culver City.


This behemoth gym will house over 10,000 sq ft of bouldering AND 10,000 sq ft of top rope and lead climbing terrain, along with a dedicated yoga and programming studio, weight room, and kids area. Soon our Southern California members and guests will finally have a chance to rope up at a Touchstone gym! We're currently working with Walltopia to design both bouldering and rope climbing terrain, and can't wait to share the finished product with you! 


Want to stay up on ALL the Southern California Touchstone Climbing news? We're starting our first EVER newsletter. Sign up here, and we promise to only send you things we think you'll love. 

Smith Rocks Climbing

Climbing year round on basalt splitters, volcanic tuff faces, and amazing columns, Smith Rock offers a variety of climbing, relatively close to the Bay Area. Located in the high desert of Central Oregon, Smith almost always has dry weather. On my way down from Squamish, I stopped by the world-class sport climbing area.


Jess Groseth takes on the steep section of The Quickening (5.12c). This route features unusually steep climbing for Smith

Smith Rocks development began in the 60s but in the early 1980s, Smith became the spot to climb. Local Alan Watts rappel bolted Watts Tots, a 5.12b on the front wall. Watts ushered in the concept of sport climbing to the United States, pushing American climbing towards European standards.

A video of Alan Watts on Rude Boys back in 1986, when climbers wore lycra without any sort of hipster irony

While Smith’s lines feature bolts, they are a far cry from today’s definition of sport climbing. They are more like 80’s face climbing, run out and bold. There are a number of amazing moderate routes though that protect well. Newer areas like the Llama Wall have more sport climbing style routes. The Lower Gorge at Smith Rock contains amazing bolted lines with much better protection. The stem boxes include the classic Pure Palm, which is 60 feet of perfect stemming in a box.

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Ryan Palo on White Wedding, a classic 5.14 in Aggro Gully.

Forty minutes north of Smith Rock rests the basalt splitters of Trout Creek. Cracks and columns define the area with stem boxes between them. The dense concentration of high quality routes and the consistent size of the cracks make the crag reminiscent of Indian Creek but far closer to California. The cracks mostly range in the 5.10 to 5.12 range. Having a solid base of crack experience helps as does a triple set of camming devices.

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A climber on JR Token, a great 5.10 handcrack on the Main Wall at Trout.

Over the past decade, I have taken half dozen trips to Smith and have always been impressed. The high quality of the volcanic tuff and the cryptic climbing of the basalt makes the area amazing. The historic climbing significance makes the area a requirement for any climber.

TCS2014 Bouldering Finale at Dogpatch Boulders

6ZnxgH9NUQl9x1jYo-RNnzS8Ed6rNYkHe1D 5NTGiJQOn Saturday, Dogpatch Boulders threw open its doors to climbers from all across the state. Some had literally criss-crossed California in order to attend each and every Touchstone Climbing competition this year. Others missed the memo and thought they were there for a normal day of climbing... Imagine their surprise and delight to find that they were about to participate in the largest bouldering comp in California!

The Touchstone Routesetters had been working since Tuesday to strip, set and perfect comp problems that filled the entire gym. "These were some of the best problems I've ever climbed!" said one Berkeley Ironworks member. 

Competitors had from 11:30am till 5pm to complete their climbs and turn in their score cards. "The pace felt nice," said Retail Manager Patti Phillips, who helped run registration. "Saturday comps are great because people have the whole day to climb."

At 6pm, score cards were turned in an participants were encouraged to move to a neighboring building for well deserved pizza and beer. As they were winding down, the route setters jumped into action to strip and then quickly set the on-sight finals problems. 

8b8MxdWgBBOxgNDXWbnZfPUdqJZoN67JNV9-GP94LFsFor on-sight finals, the top 3 climbers of the series and the top 3 climbers of the day were pitted head to head on the brand new problems. A tie breaker and wild card entry meant that both men and women had 1 additional climber. The lights were dimmed, the flood lights were focused, and the finals began!

Touchstone's own Ethan Pringle stepped up the the mic to emcee the finals. "When Justin Alarcon offered to let me emcee the comp, I was all for the idea. Once the mic was in my hand, it was a little nerve-wrecking... But once I started talking I got the hang of it and it was fun to engage the crowd a little, get them all psyched up and lend a little insight to what was going on."

"I think having been in a fair amount of finals myself gives me a different perspective than most emcees or commentators," said Pringle. "I can usually see a climber in the finals and know exactly what they're going through. I also know when to shut up and let the climbers concentrate, and what not to say to add more pressure to the them. But still, knowing what to say at the right time is difficult. I have a new found respect for those who emcee and commentate these things! It's super taxing  and your brain turns to mush after about an hour."

If you participated, find your scores HERE

See more photos from the event HERE.

We'd like to say a HUGE thank you to everyone who came out on Saturday and was a part of the fun. Competitions are Touchstone's way of thanking our members for being a part of our community. "It was completely exhausting and overwhelming and crazy... but I can't wait to do it all over again next month at Mission Cliffs!" said staffer Lauryn Claassen. Hope to see you all there! To find out more about our competition schedule, visit our comp page.

Video by Matt Grossman.

Marissa Treece takes 1st place in Sacramento

What a weekend! While San Francisco was cheering on finalists at Dogpatch Boulders, Sacramento Pipeworks's staff Marissa Treece was crushing in a different arena! She took first place in a competition at Bat Cave games at CrossFit Natomas.

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Marissa, who ran track for Notre Dame has become a valuable part of our training team. Congrats Marissa! Way to represent! To find out more about our trainers and CrossFit Program, click HERE

Summer in Squamish

Ten years ago, on my first trip to Squamish, I free soloed up a 5.11 slab route on the Apron thinking it was 5.8. I got 1/3 of the way before some helpful Canadians turned me around. Two weeks ago, I free soloed up a 5.10 on the Apron thinking it was 5.7. I was 1/3 of the way before some helpful Canadians turned me around. Again. There's a lesson to be learned from these experiences.


Ryan Moon on Black Water 5.12a at Pet Wall and Jens Holsten on Sentry Box 5.12a at Nightmare Rock

This summer I spent 5 weeks in the Canadian climbing town, repeating boulder problems and routes that I had done on my first trip to Squamish. The differences between the 22 year old James Lucas and the 32 year old version seemed small. Ten years ago, I slept in a cave behind the campground. This time I bivied in my new minivan. My first trip, I fell leading Pipeline, a 5.10d offwidth on the Squaw. This time, instead of going 30 feet onto a number six and a wood block, I climbed it like a hero. I laid it back on toprope. In the previous decade, I told bad jokes in the back of my friends truck. This time, I did a 5 minute standup show at YukYuks in Vancouver. Here's a video of the ceiling while I do my routine. I was older, fatter and a little more experienced.

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I used to sit in Tim Schaufele's truck and tell jokes. Here he attempts Division Bell 5.13d at Chekamus

I repeated a few routes in better style. I climbed Dancing in the Light, an 11b slab route on the Apron, with Alex Honnold in 2006. He rope gunned me up the route. This time, I swung leads and led the crux pitch. The scary friction climbing felt a bit easier. I toproped Flight of the Challenger on my second try, a route that had taken me 13 tries to send 10 years ago. I repeated Tea Bag Undies, which is a contender for one of the hardest V4s in Squamish. I climbed Freeway a couple of times, and did a 90 meter pitch of 5.11+.

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Kevin Daniels climbs the first 5.11 slab pitch on Dancing in the Light

One of the best parts of any Squamish summer is hanging out with the other climbers. Touchstone represented with Ryan Moon, Lauryn Claasen, Jordan Shackelford and Diane Ortega all coming to hang out in Tim Horton’s and eat way too many donuts. The posse of climbers in Squamish is always fun, and I got a chance to hang out with some good old friends and make some new ones.


I climbed Timeless a few years ago. This summer I went out there with Alex Honnold, Stacey Pearson and photographer Michael Pang to do it again. I had dinner at the brewery with Alex for his birthday. It was the third time we had a birthday dinner for him at the brewery.

The weather in Squamish stayed fairly moderate for most of my trip. There was a few days of rain. Towards the end of the month, the rain became horrendous and so I left for Smith rocks. I guess the good friction and features of the granite come at the cost of having to deal with wet weather sometimes.


Hand fanning at work in the boulders of Squamish.

Ten years ago, I downclimbed Unfinished Symphony and found Diedre. This summer I down climbed Two Scoops of Delicious and found Banana Peel and the Squamish Buttress Light. There’s a lesson to be learned from these events, how I’ve changed over the past ten years. I just don’t know what it is.


Ryan takes on his nemesis, the Crescent

First Look - Touchstone Climbing in Hollywood

Sneak peek Friday! ...That's a thing, right?

Behold the juicy innards of what will soon be the largest bouldering only gym in Southern California! Climbers at our Hollywood location will have over 11,000 sq ft of climbing at their disposal. We're excited to also offer an additional training and fitness area for programing, classes, and getting swol. 

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We're excited about the natural light the the building provides, as well and the open layout. We are currently in the design phase of the project, and our team is working with Walltopia to create some never before seen bouldering terrain at this location. Get psyched people! 

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Want to stay up on the play by play? Be an insider? Sign up for our BRAND NEW EMAIL NEWSLETTER. We promise to only send you stuff we think you'll love. 

Climbing with Cerebral Palsy

Recently, Andrew McAleavey sat down with the Touchstone blog to talk about his experience with climbing and Cerebral Palsy. The Berkeley Ironworks Kid's Camp director will be at the American Physical Therapy Association’s pediatrics conference in St. Louis to discuss how cerebral palsy affects muscle development. Read a bit about his climbing experience.

“I don’t...I don’t know if I’ll be able to climb, but…but I just wanted to look around and…”

The man at the desk has long, dirty-blond curls and a strangely compelling gravitas. He looks past my stammer-babble, regards me with a kindly intensity, and says, sure, I’m welcome to have a look — as long as I stay off the blue mats. This is my second time at Berkeley Ironworks; the first time, I drove by but was too scared to go in. With permission granted, I wander off, stumble around the gym, and decide that even if I’m never able to climb, the energy of the place is just so good that I want to be a part of it. I come back the next night for intro to climbing.

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I have Cerebral Palsy. I’m brain damaged, my leg muscles are too tight and too weak, and my walking is, in a word, funky. There’s still no real treatment for brain damage, so they treat CP orthopedically — physically rearranging the muscles and bones to compensate for the faulty signals from the brain. As a child, my left femur and right ankle were broken, re-aligned, re-set. My hamstring and Achilles tendons were lengthened. My quads were rearranged. Some of the best surgeons in the country wanted to make me better, faster, stronger. They succeeded — and then they ran out of ideas. Cerebral Palsy is a lifelong, non-degenerative condition, but it’s too often considered a pediatric problem. Children with CP often face what George W. Bush once called "the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Adults with CP don’t often get follow-up and fade into obscurity with their ability to move declining. Rock climbing is not on anyone’s list of things that people with CP “should be” able to do.

I was 34 when I walked into Berkeley Ironworks that night, about 18 months ago. I’d spent at least 20 years in physical therapy, the previous 8 years draining my savings to work with some truly innovative physical therapists and athletic trainers. I was bored, and broke, and under orders from my athletic trainer to find something in the fitness world that I really wanted to do. Only then, he implied, would I really progress. Only then would my heart truly be in it.

The first night I tried climbing, with Jerome smiling from the desk at my reappearance and Jeffrey Kosoff belaying and encouraging, I made it fifteen feet up a 5.4 before exhaustion hit. I barely had the range of motion to get my feet on some of the holds, and as there wasn’t enough power in my legs to push up very effectively, I was doing most of it with my arms. I felt pure joy. I was hooked.

It took me a month to finish a 5.4. It took months more for my range of motion to show permanent improvement. I tried harder and harder routes and spent almost every night at Ironworks. I found a partner who knew exactly when to encourage and exactly when to tell the most egregious, hilarious “cripple” jokes I’d ever heard — at my expense. Every night, the desk staff had a nugget of advice, a word of encouragement. The small kindnesses piled up. “Ok,” Dani Kottman warned me one afternoon after volunteering to belay for me in a few minutes of free time, “I’m going into coach mode!” What followed was an incisive and thorough dissection of my technique and everything that needed to be done to improve it.

As I started to take classes—anchors, trad, technique—I realized that some of the staff had biomechanical instincts rivaling those of the best physical therapists I’d worked with. During a trad clinic, Chris Ahlgren realized, without a word from me, that I’d exhausted myself just standing on the cushy flooring for an hour. The next night, for the next clinic, he dropped a thick, hard block of foam in front of me: “Here!” he said, “Stand on this tonight. It should help!” I managed my first 5.10a, then another, then another. I tried climbing outdoors at Cragmont Park in Berkeley. I’m working on a 5.10c now.

I love children, and when I found out that Ironworks was looking for a kids camp director, I applied. The interview was short; the paperwork was handed to me. With no small amount of trepidation, I decided to take the job. I’ve been chasing children around the gym almost every week since. It’s wonderful. “You’re just goofy!” one of the staff members said during summer camp this past summer, “And you’re, like, nine years old!!” Right and right. Sometimes, I worry that I’ll run out of things to teach the kids; I worry that I won’t be able to correctly demonstrate technique for an overhang, or a good backstep. Then I quiet my fears. I show them how much climbing means to me. I show them how much I love them and want them to succeed. Somehow, it works out.

By happenstance, I found a professor of physical therapy in Connecticut who was interested in “long term outcomes” of people like me. I’d been climbing about six months at that point, and as I told her tales, she slowly got interested. First, she asked me to sit on an advisory board for a grant of hers. Then she came to the conclusion that she should study me. We made plans — in March of 2014, a full-on computerized movement analysis, the same technique that had been used to plan my surgeries as a child. In June, my collaborator, Mary, came to visit me, to see and record my climbing and workout routines. Lyn Barraza, the Ironworks manager, was kind enough to give me the run of the gym as an entourage followed me around and recorded my every move. I tethered our photographer on the rappel platform, rappelled down, and climbed back up again. I did every stretch I could think of for the cameras. At this point, all of it was routine for me. I didn’t think about how unusual it might be for someone with CP to do all of the things I was doing until Mary broke into tears watching me walk across the padded floors — and then almost fell down trying to follow me.

In October, I’ll be giving a talk with my two professor-collaborators at a meeting of the American Physical Therapy Association, essentially a master class on exercise and training for climbing for people with CP. The talk begins with the basic science, explains what happens to the structure of muscles in people with CP, and goes from there. The short version: climbing has improved my strength and range of motion, prevented serious declines in function, and kept me extremely happy doing it. In the slides for the talk, I’m wearing my favorite Ironworks shirt — and there’s a huge grin on my face.

TCS2014 Bouldering Finale THIS Saturday

Here it is, ladies and gentlemen. The moment all you pebble wrestlers have been waiting for... The Grand Finale of the 2014 Touchstone Climbing Series Bouldering Division! It's been nine months in the making, and over 1000 boulderers from across the state have competed in comps at Berkeley Ironworks, The Studio Climbing, or La Boulders. Saturday will see the same fun-filled competition structure that you've come to know and love, along with a high intensity on-sight finale with the top climbers from the days competition. 

Nervous? Never fear! Here is a handy 3 step guide to your Saturday.

1. Get Psyched. 

FUN! Seriously. While some people might hear the word 'competition' and get S.A.T. nerves, tranquillo amigo! Putting on Touchstone Comps is our way of saying thank to our members for being awesome. This is a FREE event for Touchstone members. Guests pay ONLY $10. (Which is a screamin' deal) The party, er, we mean open comp, starts at noon and ends at 5pm. You can stop in any time and we'll welcome you with open arms. 

Competitors get a score card in beginner, intermediate or advanced categories, and self-score their climbs as the day goes on. Sure, you need a witness, but that's what your spotter is for! 

Once you've climbed your brains out, the REAL party starts. Everyone in attendance gets an awesome T-shirt, pizza, and beer from our friends at Triple Voodoo. (21+, duh) There will be raffle prizes, music, photos and all your favorite people. 

From 5pm-6pm we'll let the Touchstone Climbing Routesetters work their magic and they hustle to transform the gym into a thunder dome for the on-sight finale. While they are hard at work, we shall be eating and drinking.. and getting psyched!

At 6pm, On-sight finals begin! We will select the top 3 advanced climbers from the series' bouldering comps, and the top 3 climbers from that DAY, to go head-to-head in the finals. There are three finals problems and the top 6 male and female finalists will have 5 minutes for each of them. There is a cash purse of $1,000 for the 1st place man and woman. $600 for 2nd place, and $350 for third. That's no chump change!

Prizes will also be awarded to the overall winner in all categories. So the more comps you competed in, the better your chances of reaching the podium!

2. Come prepared 

Don't worry. It's not that hard. If you ignore this step and skip right to #3, we'll still be psyched to see you.... we'll just send you to the back of the line. 

To get a score card, you need a 3 letter Touchstone Comp Code. To get a Touchstone Comp Code, you need to register. You can do that here. It's going to look like this:

Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 12.34.47 PM

If you've been to ANY Touchstone Climbing Comp in the past 2 years, then you're already registered! Click 'Lookup' to find your 3 letter code. If this is your first time, don't worry. We'll be gentle. Click on 'Register' and it will be over before you know it. Now's the tricky part. You've got to remember the code, or all this was for naught. If only there was a piece of paper that you needed to bring to the comp anyways that you could write the code on, as to not forget it...... 

Thank goodness for the waiver. Print it here. Fill is out. Write that code somewhere we can find it and BAM! You're ready to go. 

3. Invite all your friends

Seriously, how bummed are your buddies gonna be when they see their feed blowing up with photos of you having the time of your life and you didn't invite them. It's an awkward and avoidable conversation to have. Let the people know! RSVP to the event on the 'book. Post a photo. Hashtag #TCS2014. Call them on the telephone. Do whatever it takes.  


Past blog entries can be found at



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