Climbing the Zodiac

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.

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Read more: Climbing the Zodiac

Cold Weather Climbing

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.

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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.

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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.

Accident Report


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DB Hocevar-Smith_Alex_DeskStaffDogpatch 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.

photo (1)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!  

First Light: A Climber's Epic

The short cold days of winter are here. For many climbers that means indoor training sessions. For an elite few, it means extraordinary epics.

This winter, Colorado alpine climber Jesse Huey and his team of elite alpine climbers will journey to the roof of the world. "It's visionary. It's truly on the edge of what we could call climbing," said Huey. "You can train for the Karakoram, for Alaska, but nothing can prepare you for this. "

Check out their classic journey into a dangerous world.

Manager's Favorite: The West Face of the Leaning Tower

The Leaning Tower rises ominously next to Yosemite's Bridalveil Falls. Described by Royal Robbins as "The steepest wall in North America," the West Face of the Leaning Tower was the site of an impressive 1961 ascent by Warren Harding and one of the first big wall solos by Royal Robbins a few years later.

For many Yosemite climbers, the enormous West Face provides a perfect place to climb overhanging, immaculate rock. "This super steep route has a little bit of everything," said Pipeworks Manager Vaughn Medford who has climbed the route three times. "An airy approach ledge, bolt ladders, moderate aid and some free climbing, along with one of the nicest bivy ledges around - the Ahwahnee ledge is perfectly situated just short of half way up."

DSC07349 Bridalveil and Leaning Tower

Read more: Manager's Favorite: The West Face of the Leaning Tower

Pipeworks Member Profile: Larry Knapp

“You can have 15 minutes with the doctor, but only YOU know what is prescribed for your life.”

Pipeworks Member of the Month: Larry Knapp

By Jason Bove

It is always a pleasure to write a story about someone who found a passion for the outdoors, and actively pursues it year round. I have a chance this month to feature Sacramento Pipeworks member and friend, Larry Knapp. Among many other titles throughout life (Father, CPA, Climber, IPA Connoisseur, etc…) he holds the prestigious honor of being MEMBER NUMBER ONE! Let’s start with the burning question…”Can you tell us a little about how you became member #1, and how does it feel to hold such a noteworthy title?

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Read more: Pipeworks Member Profile: Larry Knapp

BIW Crew at Berkeley Half Marathon

On November 24th, a crew of Touchstone members and staff ran the Berkeley Half Marathon. The race followed a beautiful and scenic course through Berkeley and helped to raise funds fro Berkeley Public Schools Fund, Berkeley Food and Housing Project, and Berkeley Partner for Parks. Touchstone manager, Lyn Verinsky wrote a bit about the race for the Touchstone blog.

When I first heard that the city of Berkeley was going to host their first-ever half marathon, I thought, how cool would it be to get a team of runners from Berkeley Ironworks to run the race? So BIW created a team and since we are such an eclectic place, I decided that spots on the team would be based not on running ability, speed or anything related to performance, but rather by folks inspiring us by overcoming challenges or making us laugh with their funny stories or just telling us about why they love BIW a whole heck of a lot. Here are snippets from the essays written by three of the member-runners who made the team:

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Most of the team assembled pre-race.  Evangeline Black, Danielle Parfitt, Robin Puro, Zach Stauffer, Lyn Barraza, Amy Stauffer, Jessica Reddit, Sam Schwartz, Pat Hastings, Peter Marietta, Chris Ahlgren, Ponon Shyu, Phil Yip, Ari Oppenheimer.

Read more: BIW Crew at Berkeley Half Marathon

Ending the Bummer


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…

STAY PSYCHED
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.

So what?

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.....

Almost.

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’.

Those too.

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 Be sure to click through Ryan's gallery of his multiple attempts on the route. Congrats Ryan! 

Manager's Favorite: The Nose

When the Touchstone blog asked DRG manager Hans Florine what his favorite route was, the question was rhetorical. Hans Florine is Mister Nose. With nearly 100 ascents of the route up the longest section of El Capitan, Florine set the speed record on the formation with a blisteringly fast 2 hours 23 minutes 46 seconds. He's also climbed the route in 4 days 12 hours 23 minutes 23 seconds. With 97 ascents, one rappel descent of the the entire route, and nearly a dozen bails at various heights, Florine knows the route well.

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Florine first attempted the route in 1988 with his partner Mike Lopez. After 12 hours climbing the first 4 pitches, they bailed. A year later, Florine and Lopez climbed the route in 44 hours. His latest ascent on October 30th with Brit Climber Hans Florine was done in under 13 hours without jumars.

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Paul Hara Photo

Why do you like it so much>

Easy access, loads of terrain, good view, nice looking, quality rock, people to chat with along the way, fair ledges to rest at if you are into that, varied terrain-aid crack, face, dihedral, etc.

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Paul Hara Photo

What's the best part of climbing the nose?

It's a quality of rock

Have you met many people? Bootied much gear? Had any epics?

Yes, 100s along the way, I've climbed it with over 100 different people. At least 20 cams, nuts, and over 40 biners. Yes, topped out in sleet with a cotton dress shirt, nearly shivered to death on the last pitch. Aided in a rescue of Korean party that fell onto camp five and broke multiple bones.(I was actually going up the Triple Direct a the time). I descended in a threatening storm off Dolt with an ALS patient. I took a whip myself on a NIAD ascent, on the pitch up to Glowering spot. I nearly knocked myself out from impact. There was a big scar on my face at the time. I managed to top out in a day, but gave over leading. There's loads of other mini epics I'm carefully not remembering.

 

Pro Climber Auction for the Access Fund



AccessFundChances are, without knowing it, you've climbed in an area that Access Fund has protected and kept accessible for climbers. With regionally significant successes as the Jailhouse Rock Conservation Easement of 2010, Access Fund has been hard at work keeping the gates open to our favorite crags. This is no easy task, and as with most organizations of this nature, raising money can be a daunting task. That's why Berkeley Ironworks is calling November 'Access Fund Month' with a goal of raising $10,000.

We know, it sounds tough.

If you've been to BIW recently, you may have noticed some tables near the front desk. They represent three ways you can donate to our Access Fund Month' AND get a little sumptin'-sumptin' in return. Here's what they've got going on:

HOLDS TABLE:
The Touchstone Climbing routesetters are parting with old grips, and our loss is your gain! You won't find a better or cheaper way to get SWEET holds for your home climbing wall. 

RAFFLE TABLE:
Did we catch your eye with the amazing goodies on this table? Donate a mere $5/ticket to get a chance to win, win, WIN!

photo (17)SILENT AUCTION (last, but not least):
Have you seen these faces? Of course you have. They want to climb with YOU! They really, really do. For a small/medium/big bid, you can experience the rare opportunity to climb with a literal 'rock star' and have him/her share their almighty technical advice. Athletes include Alex Honnold, Beth Rodden, Joe Kinder, and Ethan Pringle!
Get it while you can! Remember, this all goes towards an organization that keeps the future of climbing alive! Bidding ends December 1st! 

 

 

LAB Construction Update

Excitement in Southern California is building as the grand opening Touchstone’s newest gym, the LA.B approaches. The Los Angeles gym features 13,000 square feet of climbing terrain and is modeled after Dogpatch Boulders in San Francisco. 

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The gym will offer two designated areas for fitness. The cardio area will house treadmills and exercise equipment while the weight area will contain freeweights, a campus board, hangboard, and other training equipment. “While we won't be offering studio classes at the time of the grand opening, we are looking into the possibility of adding a space for group fitness in the future,” said Remi Moehring, LA.B manager.

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Located in the Arts District of downtown LA, LA.B resides next to a host of small businesses and great food. “Urth Cafe, Umami Burger, Angel City Brewing Co., Little Tokyo, and Egg Slut food truck are all local favorites within three blocks of the gym. It's a unique, up-and-coming neighborhood, and we're excited to be a part of its growth,” said Moehring. Beyond the location, the LA.B will be a great place for the climbing community to gather.

“People are insanely psyched about the presence of a new, large, state-of-the-art bouldering gym, and are chomping at the bit to get on the walls,” said Moehring. Touchstone's Head Route setter, Jeremy Ho, agreed. “There’s a really strong community and they haven’t had a central place to band together.” Ho expressed his amazement at how excited everyone was for the new gym.

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Perhaps a large part of the excitement stems from the amazing terrain. The gym includes bouldering top outs with the walls being as high as 18 feet. Stone Age holds produced over 7,000 holds. So Ill, Tecniks, EGrips, Pusher and other companies have supplied another 1200 holds. Starting in December, ten route setters from the bay area Touchstone gyms will fly to Los Angeles to help the five current LA.B setters establish hundreds of new problems. With the walls done and Flashed climbing finishing the flooring this week, the LA.B will soon be the biggest bouldering gym in Southern California.

“We keep getting emails with subject lines like, "SO EXCITED! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WHEN WILL YOU BE OPEN?" said Moehring. “So based on that, we can safely conclude that people are looking forward to it, and so are we.”
 

A Climber in a Strange Land




575268 501297123295220_1389701026_nAmanda, a native Californian and former Berkeley Ironworks desk staffer, recently moved to London to pursue a graduate degree at the London School of Economics. She submitted this report to the Touchstone Blog to share a bit about what the transition has been like for her. 

Something very alarming happened to me today.
I’ve tried to shake it, tried to get my mind off of it. I’ve buried myself in my reading. I took a bath. Nothing has helped.
At this point I’m at a loss for what to do, and the last thing I can think to do is to write. So here we are.
Someone told me today,
and I quote,
that
“I don’t believe you’re a rock climber.”
That’s right.
Or wait.
Maybe her first words were, “you don’t look like a rock climber.”
I cannot remember which was said first as my mind was a whirling mess of outrage, confusion, and sadness – this feeling is reminiscent of the time my dad killed a spider and he told me she was just sleeping. I knew down to my core that it wasn’t true and the only words I could come up with at the time were “you killed Charlotte” before I ran to my room. I was six years old. I do not like that feeling now any more than I did then.
At some point she elaborates, telling me that I didn’t look “Tomboyish” enough.
HAH.
My course mate, who had unsuspectingly walked into the uniform wearing, agro-offensive and hyperactive room in my brain, was going to suffer the consequences. You picked the wrong door, friend.
562253 423427027748897_50447296_nMy first response in a triage of actions that I am consciously and systematically planning is to whip my phone out and bring up my top 100 favorite climbing pictures of 2013. Immediately this makes me think that I might have been better off joining the Army (or at least more successful).
Now let’s stop here for a moment. This seems socially inappropriate, to say the least. There are very few instances in which I would personally be excited to see the top 100 pictures of anyone’s anything, let alone a single year highlighted edition. And god forbid she press the issue further – don’t think I don’t have year by year, location by location chronologies organized by climate, alphabet, and most appropriate type of climbing shoe. (Now these are my top 500 pictures from places where my La Sportiva Solutions were most suitable…).
Yikes.
The reasonable part of my brain, speaking in a very small voice, is attempting to subconsciously tell this friend to smile and placate me. This is going to ensure the fastest and most desirable outcome for her and unless someone came up behind me with a horse tranquilizer, I am not going to stop on my own accord anytime soon.
12046 469851633106436_566723967_nAs I’m typing in the password to my phone very deliberately, my hands moving like they are made solely to navigate the iPhone quickly and effectively, I am saying all sorts of things to the effect of -
I love camping.
I love climbing.
It’s who I am.
This is what matters to me.
It’s not just about climbing, you see, it’s what climbing brings to my life, how it pushes me. It’s about the dew on my tent in the morning and the sound of the zipper as it lets in the first wave of crisp air for the day. It takes you by surprise at first but once you’ve crawled out and started the stove for coffee, it feels like you were born to be here.
It’s about the projects and the failed attempts and the successes and the friendship and camaraderie and the simple things.
It’s really about the simple things.
It’s about the beauty.
It’s about my soul.
....Kind of a heavy monologue for a friendly conversation while waiting for the next available teller in the bank.
All of a sudden I am rudely interrupted by one of the ladies sitting behind the glass wall in front of us.
“NEXT!” she (rudely) says. 
This friend gives me the kind of look that says “well, what can you do?” and steps forward.
Now I am alone with my thoughts and with my iPhone in hand with “Bishop 2013” armed and ready on the screen.
I feel alone and sad and I can’t quite figure out why.
It’s on my journey on the tube back to my flat when I have calmed down enough to start to attempt to understand my gross… we’ll call it overcompensation, to be nice.
In reality I know that I am not defined by climbing. I like to do a lot of other things too. In fact I spent much of my time for the past two years defending those other parts of me that did not involve climbing, for fear that I would be perceived as just a climber. (Nobody is just a climber, for the record. Nobody is just anything. This is part of a larger internalized identity struggle with which I’m sure some of you can relate).
So why did I feel the need to not only justify that climbing was incredibly important to me but to perhaps overstate its role in my life? It’s not who I am, like I so assuredly informed this friend who probably could not have cared less.
After some thought and a lot of vanilla rooibos tea, I’ve come to the conclusion that climbing is not who I am but it does represent a large part of what I value. It’s true – the feeling I have waking up to the White Mountains as my backdrop, the crunch of sand and rock beneath my feet on the approach to the Buttermilks, toping out on a three pitch climb at Lover’s Leap and looking over the forested mountains of Lake Tahoe – and everything else that comes with the sport and the relationship with the outdoors, means a great deal to me.
It has, in fact, shaped a lot of who I am.
But I have taken on a different identity here in London. This has been out of both necessity and convenience. I was prepared for that internally, but I was not prepared for how it would make me feel when I was no longer perceived as being something with which I identify so strongly.
I wanted to burst out laughing when this friend told me I don’t look “Tomboyish” enough.
You’re kidding me.
1175326 500673223357610_246045106_nDon’t you understand that I’m more comfortable with sweat on my face than with makeup? Don’t you know that I feel nothing short of an impostor in high heels? I’m pretty sure for the entirety of the two years that I worked at Berkeley Ironworks none of my friends believed I owned anything other than Patagonia outdoor apparel (don’t judge me, we got a discount).
Of course all of this is ridiculous.
We are who we are. This can change with time and with context. Just because I’m not a climber now does not mean I’m not a climber in general or that I won’t be a climber again.
So, I’m lowering my weapon and looking forward to some quality time lapping routes at Berkeley Ironworks this winter when I come home to visit. I’ve got my tent booties ready and waiting for a cold trip to Bishop. I’ll be wearing a down jacket and long underwear and I’ll have a headlamp instead of a calculator.
And no one will think that is strange.
Sometimes we fill certain roles for a while, and in the end those roles provide us with just another way to know ourselves.
I will say, however, that some of the strongest and most talented women climbers I know could fool you into thinking they were modern day Mary Poppins on the cover of Cosmopolitan if they felt like it. Preconceptions never feel good – and that’s something that I have to remember, too.
So a final word to the wise? Don’t push us. We will send your project in a dress.

 

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

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