Routesetting 101

31 07 2008

Life is running a pace that I can barely match. Keeping up with work and climbing seems to be all I can manage. Without a goal or stopping point in sight the days pass very quickly.

With Lizzy out of school June and July became our traveling months. Extended weekend trips make for crazy 3-4 day work weeks. With a big project just finishing up I have been putting in extra hours these last two weeks. After returning from Boston and our friends wedding Life has been pretty non stop.

The first weekend back I attended a USA Climbing Routesetting Clinic hosted by Chris Danielson at the soon to be open Hanger 18 in Riverside, CA. If I had not reserved a spot in advance I would have most likely been programming all weekend. Saturday and Sunday we still had 9-5 days with lectures, routesetting and fore running.

This class was tons of fun since I got to know Chris Danielson and Louie Anderson a bit better. As well we had a great crew of 20 routesetters from around the area. People were friendly and had a variety of styles to show off. The climbing ability ranged from 5.10 to 5.13 and had between zero and ten years of experience setting. I was fun to see different people psyched on setting routes versus setting boulder problems, crimps versus slopers and all other types of holds.

Climbing holds have really changed in the last 20 years and you see new hold companies popping up all the time. Since Zach owns both Hanger 18 and Climb-It Holds we had more than enough plastic to play with. Beyond just the standard Climb-It sets we had holds from Atomik, So-Ill and E-Grips with a few sets from some other companies. To add aesthetics to indoor climbing many newer gyms are setting routes by color. I had only previously seen this in Australia and so far had not really been a fan. It can be more limiting and requires a gym to have a much larger number of holds. (According to Chris and Louie you need about four times as many holds when setting routes by color.) The one advantage is that your climbs are much more attractive and when you stick with the same style of hold, granite, font, or coastal you achieve a distinct style.

On Saturday after a few hours of instruction everyone chose a color of holds and went about setting a route. The rules were simple, set a route at the assigned grade, make the route functional, fair and fun, and do NOT climb the route before it is finished. As well we were given a few tricky techniques and were supposed to push ourselves. Arranging the holds on the ground and pre-visualizing the whole route, Simul-setting two routes at the same time, using directional holds were all optional ways to help us become better setters. We were to use ladders as much as possible and keep on our street shoes and stay off the ropes. Setting from a ladder is more efficient and is less tiring.

I have always tried the routes while I set them. This allows me to perfect the movement and make things flow, my favorite style. Not being able to climb on the holds forced me to think more about the movement and the footwork. I really had to plan on where the holds should be and how climbers of various levels would pull on them.

After setting our routes we would forerun them and tweak them. Climbing on the routes for the first time was great and it was cool to see that a fun climb could be set just with your imagination. I had to tweak my route and add foot holds but overall I was able to get the movement I had wanted. My boulder problem required a bit more tweaking than my route and was almost a grade to easy.

Taking these skill I went into my local gym, Vertical Hold, this past Wednesday and set a new problem. A nice traverse that focused on pulling on a few small holds. I got bolts for all the holds that I picked and set the entire route without climbing it. I had a few of my friends forerun it and then I tweaked it a bit to hone in the grade and the movement. Only the first half of the problem needed adjustment and I was able to efficiently climb the route. Setting with my street shoes on and tagging the route as I went saved a lot of energy. It also helped to have all of the bolts ready so I did not have to dig through the bolts bin for each hold.

While I still need a lot more experience before I would be qualified to become a head setter I think I am starting to gain more experience. I look forward to a possible Level II setting course next year and hopefully can set for some of the ABS 10 comps in the area this coming season.



…and Eating Locally

29 07 2008

Following on my previous post about reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma and thinking about my eating habits, I decided to try my hand at “local” eating. I knew that buying stuff at Whole Foods was kind of a no-no, but Farmer’s Markets don’t happen very often around here and I figured I could still try to purchase stuff with local eating in mind.

So first, I needed a game plan. I found an interesting recipe on epicurious for pasta sauce made with fresh tomatoes and some olives. To make this recipe, I needed some produce: an onion, tomatoes, and some basil. I shopped carefully: all the ingredients were organic and from California. I also wanted to get some fruit for the week. I love bananas, but I discovered that these come from pretty far away: not really local. So I got some local pluots instead.

The pasta sauce turned out great and made a ton of food, which is always good. The main problem is that buying all this local stuff is not as cheap as heading to Vons and shopping by sales, which is what Luke does. It’s tricky to balance budget with being environmentally responsible, but I think it’s worthwhile to make an effort to eat local, seasonal produce because it encourages variety in my diet (like, how often would I eat pluots otherwise?) as well as in the recipes I make. Sure, now is a great time to enjoy summer tomatoes, but come fall I’m excited to try different recipes with autumn squashes and yams.

So here’s to pluots and yummy tomato sauce and fresh blueberries when I visit home in 2 weeks!



29 07 2008

There was just a magnitude 5.8 earthquake (edit: news reports are now calling it a 5.4) 29 miles southwest of (the center of) Los Angeles, near Chino Hills. Apparently there was also a magnitude 3.8 aftershock a couple minutes afterwards (among many other aftershocks).

Check out USGS info about the quake here.

I had one picture frame fall over and could feel the apartment building swaying here in Pasadena. It sounded like some larger things may have fallen over in the apartment above me (I’m on the 2nd floor).

True to my elementary school training, I dropped and covered under my desk and waited for the shaking to stop.

The last earthquake I’ve experienced was the 2001 Nisqually quake up in Washington, which was an order of magnitude stronger (a 6.8).

Did anyone else feel it?


A Local Climbing Weekend

28 07 2008

After traveling for 4 straight weekends (Charleston, Needles twice, New England) and Luke’s busy weekend of routesetting (I’ll let him blog about that), we were up for a little break from travel this weekend.

I baked a carrot cake and headed down to San Diego on Wednesday so we could have an extra-long “weekend”, even though Luke still had to work on Thursday. So I hung out at Luke’s house on Thursday and we headed to Vertical Hold for an evening climbing session, which was somewhat marred by my left shoulder being really incredibly sore from a silly bouldering fall at the ARC on Tuesday (playing around and falling/landing on my shoulder sans crashpad… oops).

We had a nice, relaxing Friday – Luke made french toast for late breakfast and we headed to Verizon to get him a new phone (Chocolate 3, pretty sweet!), only to be told that his mom had to call them to get him a password or something. So we got some smoothies for “lunch” and headed home for a bike ride (I brought my road bike down with me). We went along some hilly roads and then along a bike route along the 15 in a big loop. It was a bit hard on the legs (not really many hills in Pasadena) but I know it was good for me.

We got up early on Saturday to meet Stein and Chase in Escondido to head up to Riverside Quarry for some sport climbing. Everyone warmed up on Original Sin, an 11b with drilled pockets. (Brief aside on these drilled pockets: in case you don’t know, the quarry is kind of a special place when it comes to ethics – there wouldn’t be rock here at all without people messing around with it and most routes have to be thoroughly cleaned or glued before they’re climbable, so although I wouldn’t ordinarily endorse manufacturing holds, I think it can be a reasonable thing here.) I toproped it clean first try, so I decided to go for the lead after a rest. Meanwhile, the boys all climbed Violator, a many-starred 11c just to the right of Original Sin. Then they started projecting Seduction, a cool-looking (I can only say how it looked, since I didn’t try it) 12d/13a in the same area.

Chase on the beginning of Seduction (5.12d)

Although I was nervous about leading Original Sin (I always am nervous when about to do something that’s not easy), the lead went great. I had the sequence down from my toprope ascent, the pockets were awesome, and I made all the long reaches just fine. This was great for me because I’m looking to start pushing my limits more when sport climbing (I just made a route pyramid, but more on that in another post).

Stein carrying the dog over scary rocks.

I’m sure Luke would love to tell you about Seduction. All I was able to take from the discussion of it was that it had some long-ish moves off very small holds, but also some cool sections. At the end of the climbing session, Stein managed to redpoint it, which was cool to watch.

Luke and I finished the day back in San Diego with dinner at an Indian restaurant, which had excellent vegetable samosas and mango mousse, but disappointing meat in the main dishes. Then we went to see the X-Files movie, which was good, but maybe not quite as exciting as I was hoping for.

On Sunday, we planned to meet up with Lukasz and Eli for some crack bouldering/toproping at Mt. Woodson at around noon. They had never been to Woodson before, so we planned to give them a little tour of the classics. So we went to Robbins Crack (5.10a), Baby Robbins (5.9), Jaws (5.11-), Girls’ Climb (5.10d), California Nights (“5.11b”), Blackfinger (5.10a), and Hear My Train a’Comin (5.12-). We mostly toproped everything since we only brought one crashpad (on purpose). It was fun to try a new route (Girls’ Climb) and a couple older ones (Jaws, California Nights, Train). I was able to use a sequence of fingerstacks (at least 3 in a row) on Jaws that felt totally solid, which was pretty cool. California Nights felt hard and the rock was especially abrasive. Although it’s a classic, it’s definitely not one I’m interested in projecting. Train, as always, was hard, but Luke was able to boulder up the jug (i.e. do the crux) and I was making my highpoint without too much trouble. It was a great day, although next time I think we’ll try to go try some new climbs instead of doing the same circuit over and over again.

Lukasz soloing Baby Robbins (5.9)

Me toproping Jaws (5.11-)… fingerstacks!

So overall, a great weekend with a nice mix of climbing and relaxing. Next weekend will probably be another low-key one before we take a long weekend trip to Charleston so I can send my project (!!!) and we can try out a bunch of other areas.



Thinking About Food

24 07 2008

Summer is my time to read as much as humanly possible to make up for the school year. I like to read a wide variety of subjects and my mom, who is a librarian at my sister’s school, helps a lot by sending me a lot of books.

I just finished reading Michael Pollan’s fascinating book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. In the book, Pollan explores the “food chain” behind several meals, including the industrial food chain that leads from corn fields through a variety of factories to create a McDonald’s Happy Meal and a “hunter-gatherer” food chain where he details his experiences learning to hunt and forage his own meal. The parts I found most interesting were his sections on the “industrial organic” and “local” food chains. He confronts the paradox of the “industrial organic” system – that although food can be grown without pesticides or fertilizers, the practices necessary to make organic farming economical on a nationwide level take the “heart” out of the original goal of organic farming. An unavoidable conclusion the reader reaches, especially after reading Pollan’s account of his visit to Virginia’s Polyface Farm, is that the key to our eating woes may lie in small, local farms rather than the ready-cut bag of veggies flown in from an industrial factory across the country.

It would be impossible (and very long) for me to write about everything I learned from this book here on the blog – if you’re interested, you should pick up the book yourself and read it. However, more than anything else, Pollan made me think pretty hard about my own buying and eating habits and what I can (or should) do about them. I’d like to think that doing a better job feeding myself will maybe help me feel and climb better, but who knows…

I suppose I’m a little better off than your average American – my mom brought up my sister and I eating healthy food – lots of fresh veggies, tofu, whole-grain bread, and no junk food. When we did get a “junk food phase” when she let us eat donuts, chips, sugar cereal, soda, white bread, and other things we’d felt “deprived” of, the novelty wore off pretty quickly, leaving me a pretty healthy (I think?) 20-yr old who doesn’t really like candy, chips, coffee, or fast food and has an under-control soda habit (which means about 1 soda per week).

And yet I’m clearly not doing as well for myself as I could. Although I try to cook with whole ingredients, I do often surrender to the draw of Trader Joe’s and their frozen items – vegetable samosas, garlic flatbread, full pasta meal in a bag. And I can’t really consider that I’m doing well for the environment (or myself) when I buy these things (even though I put them in a reusable shopping bag) because the manufacturing and transportation of these products has taken a lot of goodness out of the food and put a lot of badness into the air. I’ve fallen into the trap of the convenience of the supermarket – having pretty much every variety of produce and meat product available year-round, in addition to a wide variety of processed, pre-prepared food items. With all this stuff available, it’s tough to eat responsibly all the time. Even my beloved LaraBars probably represent a lot of petroleum to make, package, and transport.

I think it’s tough to balance the desire to eat responsibly (and well) and economically. Sometimes it’s just not feasible to concoct an entire meal from a few basic ingredients – I live a busy life and reducing stress can often be more important to my overall well-being than cooking a real meal. But, that said, I want to try to eat more locally or responsibly, so we’ll see how it goes – wish me luck!



Being a Better Belayer

18 07 2008

So for many this may be old news, but a recent story has made me concerned about people misusing auto-locking belay devices like the Petzl GriGri or the Edelrid Eddy. A couple months ago, Splitter Choss and the Climbing Narc fostered some discussion about the “proper” way to use a GriGri. If you’ve not seen this video, created by Petzl, and you belay with a GriGri, I suggest you watch it:

The video shows 2 ways of lead belaying with the GriGri without taking your break hand off the rope. It also shows a 3rd method, which I think the majority of people I observe at sport crags generally use, where the break hand is taken off the rope to let out slack when the leader needs to make a clip. I think this was the way I was taught to lead belay with a GriGri and I have passed plenty of lead belay tests without being reprimanded, so my impression is that this is a generally accepted method of using the device.

The problem is that it isn’t really an acceptable way to use the device. It fosters bad habits – I’ve seen plenty of belayers not returning their break hand to the rope, even when not letting out slack. It encourages the idea that it’s ok not to hold on to the break rope, which is a bad habit to pick up if you also belay with a traditional (non-auto-locking) belay device or in the unlikely (but still possible) situation that the leader falls and the auto-locking belay device does not engage.

The reason I bring this up is that I recently heard of a bad climbing accident that occurred due to similar misuse of an Edelrid Eddy, which is an auto-locking belay device similar to the GriGri (it must be “pinched” so that the cam will not engage and slack can be let out). A climber was leading a sport route in Maple Canyon when he took a fall. The belayer did not have his break hand on the rope at the time. The Eddy did not catch on the relatively new 9.2mm rope and the belayer did not manually arrest the fall. The climber therefore took a 50-foot fall to the ground and suffered serious injuries, although luckily a full recovery is expected.

The moral of the story is clear: although auto-locking belay devices are great and make the life of a belayer much easier, they cannot be trusted absolutely to catch any fall. They do not grant the belayer the freedom to let go of the break rope.

When I encountered the discussion on the Climbing Narc’s post, I was initially unsure that I even could change my method of belaying (I used to use the “bad” method, #3). I have quite small hands and I like to wear belay gloves, so I was unsure that the rope could still feed easily through my break hand while I was simultaneously pinching the belay device. However, Luke and I have both adopted method #2, which in fact works quite well, even with small hands and belay gloves. It requires a little more rope management so the rope will feed easily, but I think the increased safety is well worth this extra effort. I would never want to drop a leader because I was being a lazy belayer. I also think it’s important, since I use a Reverso (just got the new one!!!) just as often as a GriGri, to foster good belay habits (i.e. not taking the break hand off the rope) rather than bad ones.

So to make a long story short, I wrote this post and brought up the video again because I think the biggest problem with auto-locking belay devices like the GriGri or the Eddy is a lack of knowledge. People just don’t know that these devices are not a substitute for belay skills and safety. So now you know. Please think about the friends that you’re belaying and make sure you’re being a safe belayer.



Bringing a Little More Green to the World

16 07 2008

As you’ve already read, we were just out in New England for Adam and Kearah’s wedding. Their wedding favors were pretty much the awesomest idea ever that I may just have to steal when my day comes around. Instead of silly, useless little gifts like “love spoons” (which Rebecca got as a favor at another wedding), they gave tree seedlings.

In case you didn’t know, I LOVE TREES. I think they’re pretty much the best thing ever. Apparently not everyone there loves trees quite as much as me, so a lot of the favors were left unclaimed. After already collecting my tree and Luke’s tree, I decided to grab another two because I’d hate for these trees to go to waste (i.e. not get planted). I’m pretty sure I ended up with 3 western red cedars, my favorite tree ever and native to the wonderful Pacific Northwest. The 4th one is some sort of pine and it may have to grow a little larger before I can figure out what it is.

The main issue at hand: I live in SoCal. It gets to be over 100 degrees for several days in a row. It never rains. I don’t think my Pacific Northwest cedars would appreciate this weather. So they’re going to be indoor trees for now. I got each of them an 8-inch pot, filled it with soil, and arranged them in front of the window on my desk. Hopefully this should be good for them – moderate temperature inside my room, regular watering, and indirect sunlight.

And just so that my trees don’t feel too out of place growing up in SoCal, I gave them names reminiscent of where I would find their wild relatives: 3 of my favorite PNW climbing towns for the cedars – Squamish, Index, and Mazama; and my new Washington home town for the fir, Poulsbo.

So hopefully I can keep my babies alive and plant them some day (when we live somewhere more appropriate).

Go hug a tree,