Philosophical Musings on Rock Climbing

9 11 2009

Prompted by a recent post by Jamie Emerson on Grades.  I thought it would be good to dig up a few older thoughtful posts on climbing mixed with some classic climbing quotes.

“The best climber in the world is the one who’s having the most fun.”

– Alex Lowe

Grades, Grade, Grades.

“As we unloaded packs at the parking lot, two young ladies approached us to ask if we were THE Yosemite climbers… They asked if it were true that Yosemite climbers chafe their hands on the granite to enable them to friction up vertical walls. We assured them that the preposterous myth was true.”

-Chuck Pratt – 1965

What is Trad?

‘I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.’

– Bene Gesserit “Litany Against Fear” from Dune by Frank Herbert

Hesitation and Commitment.

“Some of the world’s greatest feats were accomplished by people not smart enough to know they were impossible.”

– Doug Lawson

Training, Progress, Belief




Montana de Oro: Trail Running 101

25 02 2009

Am I a runner? Could I ever be a runner?  What makes you a runner?

I took part in high school cross country and stayed fit playing ultimate frisbee in college but never thought to run just for the sake of running. Running fast or running far takes a lot of effort and putting in that time would detract from my climbing.  In college many of my friends were runners and I often ran because  I saw the health benefits of staying light. During a very focused study abroad in Australia I would often go for 8k to 15K runs around the city before class. These six months in 2005 were most likely my highpoint as far as frequency and duration. In my final years at college I ran at most four times a month and stopped completely after I graduated in 2007.


In September of 2008 I decided that I needed to step up my fitness and start running again. I had stayed fit by climbing and biking to work but knew that I would benefit from more frequent cardiovascular exercise. At first it was just a casual 5k,  my favorite distance,  every week or so. Then, with some gained fitness,  I started doing slower longer runs with some of my co-workers.  I had not run more than five or six miles since Australia and it was a new challenge as we went for eight to ten mile runs. The more I ran the more I wanted to put my effort towards accomplishing a goal. Many of my friends have run a marathon, some more than once, so why couldn’t I?


I started upping my mileage in the thought of doing a half-marathon, a good first step towards doing a marathon in 2010. After doing a couple of ten mile runs I was confident that I could go the distance, 13.1 miles.  My friend Julie, from Bucknell, helped me find a race organized by Pacific Coast Trail Runs that would meet my distance requirement with the added benefit of beautiful scenery. While in my mind running is usually just a means to an end, I was excited to travel to a new part of the California coast and for a chance to push myself. In the month or so before the race I slowly upped my weekly mileage and enjoyed cruising the trails and streets around where I live in San Diego.  The week before the race I rested, tapering to allow my body to recover, and worked out what I would eat and drink during the race.


Logistically I ran my 25k on two GU’s, a Clif Shot, and ~20 oz of water. I had practiced carrying a water bottle and my support crew, Julie, Josh and Lizzy, gave my bottle at the half way point in the race. Julie and Lizzy had already finished the 8k and were waiting with Josh for my resupply. I was able to meet up with them because the 25k was separated into two loops, Valencia and Hazard Peaks with an aid station in the middle at the Start/Finish point. A short version of the first loop, called Valencia Bluffs, was used by those in the 8k, which bypassed the steep run to the Valencia peak. The second loop  was of equal elevation gain ~1600 feet but over a much more moderate grade. The running was scenic and I had a good time despite running out of energy in the last couple of miles. I am sure if i had done base work over 10 miles I would have had more energy. By the end of the race I drank all of my water and wished that I had stopped for a bit more food.


Elevation Profile Courtesy of PC Trail Runs

I had a blast and am interested in running some races in the future of similar distances 18k – 30k. If I run a race with a similar elevation profile (3200 feet over 25k) I will have to do more hill training. Not only was I slow running up the hills but my core was unable to sustain as fast of a pace down the hill as I would have liked. I had to hold back on the extended downhills due to unexpected fatigued.  We will see if I have the time and energy in the future to devote to training for another long race. Hopefully I can keep up with my weekly running routine and start upping my mileage again.



Photos thanks to Julie and Josh!

We Survived!

16 02 2009

Julie, Josh, Luke, and I all survived the Montana de Oro trail race on Sunday!

Julie and I both ran the 8k, which had about 800 feet of elevation gain (that means big hills, not little ones…). Julie was awesome and won the 8k and I finished 21st out of 70, which I guess is not bad considering I’ve only been able to run again for about 2 weeks and didn’t train on any hills. Zero.

Luke ran the 25k and finished 7th out of 77 runners, so really awesome for (1) his first trail race (not counting XC in high school) and (2) his first race for this long of a distance. Luke not only went to the top of Valencia Peak (with the 12k runners), but also to the top of Hazard Peak (course for 25k and 50k) for about 3200-ft of total elevation gain.

And Josh was our awesome support crew. He got me my jacket after my race and gave Luke his waterbottle at his halfway point.

We had been really worried about getting poured on by this next storm (which is currently dumping rain outside my window in Pasadena), but ended up with a nice, though windy day and not a drop of rain. The full results are available here and divided by age/gender group here. You can also check out the course map and the elevation profiles of the different distances.

The whole race had a really fun and laid-back atmosphere. Although there were obviously some very good and competitive runners, there were also plenty of people out there just to enjoy the trails and scenery (including a 4-yr old girl who ran the 8k and a 10-yr boy old who passed me on the hill and was running the 12k – I was not that awesome when I was 4… or 10…). This was really nice because I tend to get really nervous and stressed out when it comes to competitions, especially when I don’t feel well prepared. I definitely suffered on the hills (but I think the vast majority of other people did too) and was grinning the whole time I was sprinting down the long downhill, leaping down 3-ft steps, jumping over rocks, passing people who are not so comfortable on rough trails, and feeling happy that I am still 20 years old (at least for another month) and have knees and ankles that still function (except when I play ultimate frisbee). And it made me want to run more so I can suck less. But maybe not today, since it’s raining.

Luke will probably have something to write about his experience, too.

Happy President’s Day


Getting Back in Business!

4 02 2009

It’s been over a month since my injury and I am finally start to feel like I am getting better. My chest still feels tight, but I can breath deeply and run and climb, which makes me so happy. I’ve been really focusing on the training that I could do the past week or two and it really seems to be making a difference. I worked out in the weight room on campus – biceps, triceps, shoulders, and abs for climbing along with working on my calves in (long term) preparation for Sunshine Dihedral and my hamstrings to help prevent my knees from hurting in anticipation of doing more running.

Despite not climbing very much or very hard, I had a pretty successful weekend in Bishop with Luke, Julie, and Josh. Although the Buttermilks are not really my favorite (or most successful) climbing area in Bishop, I had a good time on Friday trying Pope’s Prow (V6) which I definitely hope to spend more time working on, along with the Buttermilk Stem (V1), which I just couldn’t figure out. I think the key is more yoga and stronger shoulders…


Working the initial moves of Pope’s Prow (V6)


Julie makes the most progress on Buttermilk Stem (V1)

On Saturday we went to the Sad Boulders in the afternoon, which was pretty sweet. I headed up to the Sad Parrot Boulder and climbed a couple of fun, tricky problems. I figured out some sweet Lizzy-appropriate beta for Sad Parrot (V3) involving perching on my foot with it next to my hand and reaching into a small pocket/slot. I lacked the strength to make the next move, but it was very cool getting as far as I did and I want to go back next time I’m in Bishop.


Preparing to reach the tiny pocket slot on Sad Parrot (V3)

On Sunday Luke and I headed to the Happy Boulders and visited a bunch of new areas up on the West Rim (avoiding the crowds!). I tried a lot of fun problems and ended up flashing two V2’s – a balancey slab problem and a pocketed traverse. I also climbed a thin, awesome Unnamed V3 in the Hall of Mirrors. It took me several tries, but it was sweet to figure it out – I discovered some key hidden holds, trusted my feet, and innovated a different move at the top instead of giving up when my anticipated sequence didn’t work. I don’t really keep too much track of the boulder problems I do, but I think this might have been my first V3… I also started working on Mr. Witty (V6) which is a very cool thin, balance-y, and tall problem that I really want to do some day. I still need to gain some strength to get through the bottom section, though.


Working the thin moves on the way to my send of Unnamed V3 (photo thanks to Julie and Josh)

Anyways, Luke will have a full rundown of the weekend soon. For now, I am psyched to be gaining back some strength and going full steam ahead as far as motivation is concerned. One last picture for your enjoyment:


HEHE butt shot! (Luke working on Sabres of Paradise, a V7 traverse)


Bolt Clipping at the Owens River Gorge.

9 10 2008

With the fall season in mind Lizzy and I took the weekend for a bit of a climbing tune-up. This weekend the goal was to climb a lot but do nothing too hard, use no trad gear and simply focus on endurance. Lizzy often solves climbs with her balance and technique and I try to pull hard and use my power. We both lack serious endurance and get easily pumped on longer climbs.

After a brief scouting mission a few weeks back I was anxious to get back to Owens with a partner. There were routes everywhere and they all looked good. We drove up Friday morning arriving in Bishop a bit after 11am. A bunch of shopping and setting up our tent at Horton Creek Campground put us at the parking lot around 1pm. Decending into the gorge we were greeted with interesting geological features and Lizzy explained to me the different cooling patterns and types of rock.

Leaving the the trusty Rav4 in the parking lot. 

We chose Gotham City, located in the upper gorge, for our first place to climb. This was home to a bunch of long 5 star routes from easy 5.10 through harder 5.11. We warmed up on a long 5 star 10a with lots of bolts it was supposedly 37.5 meters in length. We had brought my new Stearling Ion this weekend and were happy to have the 70 meters of rope. We were surprised that the new rope lacked a middle mark but I safely lowered off proving that the route was shorter than 35 meters. The next climb, Dr. Evil, on the right was much more fun required crack climbing skills. Evidently Owens is a bit notorious for bolted cracks and this was no exception. The climbing was fun and we didn’t mind clipping the bolts.

Lizzy on the “technical” decent into the gorge!

Based on suggestions from a few locals that showed up we did the five star Grindrite 11b and Flex your Head 11c. I was able to onsight Grindrite but fell on my onsight attempt of Flex Your Head. I was able to do it 2nd go after Lizzy made an impressive top rope flash. These climbs were technical and diverse and were far different from the climbs we would experience on the rest of the trip. I finished up the day by linking the 2 pitches of Super Fly into a monster 45 meter 19 bolt monstrosity. I was doing well using long slings to limit rope drag until I made it to the 2nd crux. The quickdraw I used greatly exacerbated the ever increasing drag, next time I will use a long sling. Unfortuneately things got worse as I got into the upper crack; the holds were covered in bird poop and everything smelled awful. I kept going, fought hard for my onsight and eventually made it to the top. This route has be praised as the best 5.10 in the gorge and I was not impressed. While the position was excellent the quality of the rock combined with all the poo really turned me off. Since it was getting dark I rappeled and then lowered to clean the route, another mistake. It would be much better to do the climb in 2 pitches so that your second can clean the crux pitch one roof.  

Day two we hit up the central gorge via the gully approach which is pretty steep but short and thus quite manageable. We started the day on Orange Peel 10c which was a forgettable climb only significant since it was one of the first climbs established in the gorge. Next at the Social Platform, the name of the crag, was a sweet 10d. A tricky sequence off the ground led to a series of ledges and the first crux. The bolts were a bit spaced on this climb but placed to perfectly protect the hard moves. A balancy section over a bulge led to some small holds and a nice head wall. After climbing up to a roof you reached over and clipped a high bolt. Pulling over this roof was supposed to be the crux but Lizzy and I both found it to be easier than the technical section below. The last headwall had cool pockets in the horizontal breaks and was a pleasure to climb.

Lunch in hand, Lizzy catches up on some sleep.

We were tired from a sleepless night and Lizzy took a little nap after we ate lunch. A storm had blown through Bishop and dusted the mountains in snow. Our campsite only got a small amount of precipitation but we were buffeted with wind throughout the night. Our 3 season REI tent held up fine in the wind but the fabric flapped loudly with each gust. We moved around the corner to Express Way. This five star 11b was dead vertical on slippery rock with small crimps. After a technical section down low you had to keep the pump at bay to get past the bulge protecting the anchors. I reached the anchors first try with burning forearms and Lizzy TRed the line with a few falls. A curious fact that I learned after returning to San Diego was that John Bachar had down climbed this route after soloing a nearby 12b. Clearly my endurance needs to improve a lot since I was fully pumped when I reached the anchor.

Next on the list was a stop at the Faulty Towers, an area I had checked out on my previous visit. While the technical Crybaby ,12c, called my name I needed to work more on endurance and racked up for LalaLand 11c. This steep jug haul was 35 meters long and had 12 bolts, exactly what I needed to work on. Many weeks prior I had pumped off the onsight of the first Pitch of the Imaginator, 11c,  when my endurance failed me. I was hoping to improve by onsighting this climb. An easy crack led off the ground protected by 2 bolts in 30 feet. If you are worried about falling it would be beneficial to have some finger size gear. A long easy slab got me warmed up for the business but at the second hard section I faltered. Instead of committing to a small hold I tried to figure out a better sequence. I spent way too many minutes trying to work something out and the pump got the better of me. I conserved energy and fell my way to the top. The last section was committing and technical and would have been hard to onsight. After a rest I fired the route second go bringing some longer draws to eliminate some rope drag on this monster pitch.

Lizzy took over the sharp end and we moved to the Great Wall of China. This sprawling wall is home to jugs and easy routes. They have a few four and five star 30 meter 5.9’s and easy 5.10’s. I wanted Lizzy to get some mileage on lead so she ran up one of the 5.9’s onsighting it easily despite the greasy holds and now hot sun. It had be perfect in the shade all day thus far and you just had to wear a jacket when belaying. The heat had us taking our shirts off and wishing the sun would go down. We moved to the shade and I climbed a supposedly five star 10b at the Solarium. The description mentioned pockets and I thought of the sweet 10d we had done in the morning. After a low bolt there was a 30 foot runout on 4th class ledges, if you fell before clipping the second bolt you would hit the ground for sure.

The first section of real climbing was interesting and as the holds disappeared you had to make your way around the arête. The sun was directily in my eyes so I rested on a jug and waited for it to dip below the horizon. A few minutes later, with a bit less glare, I pulled around the arête to be confronted by a bolt and an anchor a few feet higher. I stupidly clipped the bolt and continued up the arête. This bolt was for another route and gave me horrible rope drag for the last crux section. I was tired and the last part was super exposed. I was mentally fried and I had to fight hard to make it through the last slab moves to the anchor. Lizzy followed the climb clean and after I lowered her  I rapped off. We did one more 5.9 on the great wall of china and headed out.

One of the great things about climbing in and around Bishop is that the town is very accessible. For hotel types there are all scales of accommodations and all necessities can be found within a short drive of the climbing. Thus we made the short drive into town and had pizza and a stromboli at the Upper Crust. Between slices of pizza we sorted out our last day and chose the Pub wall. Lots of quality routes and a short hike from the gulley decent. Eating out allowed us to get to bed early and catch up on some much needed sleep.

Lizzy and I at the end of the day! Fresh snow can been seen on the moutains in the background.

The next morning, shortly after parking, a car drove up with music blasting, a slight glimpse at the drive made me think … Bachar? I had never met the man but knew he was tall and rolled in Acopa shoes. While we couldn’t see this stranger’s face,  his Acopa shoes and matching shirt were good clues. Anxious to get climbing we hiked down the gulley and were the first ones at the Pub Wall. We were happy to have the routes to our selves since we had seen quite the crowd the previous day. Our first climb, Abitoffun, was a long 5.9 with 13 bolts. At just over 30 meters it was a blast and a great warm up. After we had both lead it we moved on to the neighboring Abitofrot 10a which, according to the guide book and a fellow who just showed up, was excellent. With only 6 bolts in a similar 20+ meters this was definitely run out. As we had previously found the bolts were in all the right places and you just had to beable to climb confidently on easy terrain with a bolt well below your feet. I offered Lizzy a TR, which she took, and the day was off to a good start. Unfortunely after finishing the route Lizzy informed me that she had managed to tweak her arm and needed to take a bit of a break.

While we were doing these two warm-ups the place had become crowded so we moved around the corner. One of the nice things about Owens is that almost all of the anchors have lower-off’s. Two or three large hooks adorn the top of the route to provide a quick return trip to the ground. The frustrating thing about this is that some people think its ok to Top Rope directly off these anchors. This is in excusable since with a sling and two biners or a pair of quick draws you can easily set up a good anchor.

After our break we did a nice 10c which had distinct cruxes and insecure moves it made me pay attention and felt hard for the grade. After doing this Lizzy wanted a longer break so I hopped on a pair of 11b’s Hammered and Hungover. Hungover started on crimpy vertical rock and continued up to a big ledge and then a roof. The crux was supposed to be pulling this roof but I found the thin moves a couple of bolts higher to be quite tricky. The redpoint crux is holding on at the end with your ever growing pump. I managed the onsight and felt a bit better after strugging to onsight the prior 10c. We broke for lunch and after a nice meal in the sun I got on Hammered. A tricky slab start yielded access to the large ledge that runs across the pub wall. As soon as you step off the ledge the wall kickes back through a series of roofs. The idea is to climb fast and efficiently since the steep jugs quickly sap your energy. The moves were long and it was a good mental challenge to constantly be committing to these moves. In no time I was at the top to finish off my 4th onsight of a five star 11b.

Sometime during or after my climb of Hammered the tall fellow with the Acopa shirt turned up at the Pub Wall. It turned out to be Bachar and he was there to shoot some photos. After having a camera man lead a near by 5.7 John had to wait for a few other climbers to finish on Abitoffun. To Lizzy and my surprise the couple did a few more top rope laps before turing the route over to Mr. Bachar. On our hike out lizzy and I speculated that they must not of known who this guy was since we both would have been too intimidated to keep TRing a 5.9 in front of a legend. John causally soloed Abitofrot and then traversed over and finished on Abitoffun. It was cool to see him in such control and casually talking to the photog about lighting and position. It will be interesting to see if the photos turn up in an Acopa ad in the future.

Lizzy and I finished our day on Hardly Wallbanger a steep crack that had originaly been climbed onsight on gear but had since been bolted. Since this was one of the most popular 10c’s in the gorge it was a bit polished and heavly chalked. It was very fun and I managed to arrive at the anchors only slightly pumped. This was a great last climb for our trip and Lizzy even hopped on it to bid farewell to the gorge. I would certainly like to come back and try some of the harder routes in the future. Our experience showed us how varied the rock can be which encourages us to explore a bit more of the gorge. Over the course of the weekend I climbed over 550 meters of routes, which is over 1600 feet,  up to 11c. I managed to onsight four 11b’s all that had five stars. Lizzy climbed over 400 meters of routes and had an impressive TR flash of an 11c. Hopefully this will give us a good base level to improve on in the following weeks.



The Awesomeness of Yoga

18 06 2008

There are a lot of difficulties associated with being a Caltech student. The main one is an utter lack of free time during the academic year because there is just so much work to do. However, Caltech student-dom is not without its perks. For example, we get free membership to the gym and can go to as many of the aerobics and yoga classes as we want. Now that I’m free from the burden of having to constantly be doing homework, I finally have time to start going to yoga classes again, so I started this afternoon. At the REI used gear sale this past weekend, I nabbed a nice (originally $50), practically unused yoga mat for about $16 and was excited to start using it right away. REI also tells me that my new yoga mat is made from environmentally friendly rubber – how sweet! Take a look:I could feel the decrease in flexibility and strength since the last time I’d taken a yoga class (its been way too long), but stretching and relaxing felt amazing and my yoga mat has a cool, colorful pattern on it that’s nice for staring at while breathing from downward dog.

I’m hoping that getting back into yoga will help me with the rest of my climbing training. I have found in the past that strengthening and stretching all your muscles, even those not directly related to climbing, can help one move more confidently and fluidly, which I think is an important thing to balance out all that power gained from bouldering in the climbing gym.



April Madness – A Brief Recap

5 05 2008

The past month has flown by and I barely know what happened. It seems that just the other day was tax day. Our last post reflects this lost time as the weeks and weekends have passed so quickly.

So far the spring has been a bit strange out here in California. A week of perfect weather has been followed by a scorching weekend, causing us to retreat to the shade and higher altitudes. Two weeks back it was over 100 in LA County and a few fires have flared up.

April featured a trip to Bishop with some east coast friends that flew out to enjoy our spring weather. The temps in Bishop were perfect but on the second day of the trip the Buttermilks and Pollen Grains were getting 40 + MPH gusts. Not only did this bring a chill but it was hard to climb and scary to do anything tall since you could be blown off. We accidently did a bit of pad surfing as the crash pads went airborne even with people sitting on top of them.

The weekend after returning from Bishop we went to Black Mountain to avoid the heat and to continue with our bouldering bug. While the temps were nice and the setting was pristine I was not a fan of the problems. My skin was still tender from Bishop and most of the problems were lacking in either hand holds or foot holds. I enjoyed taking photos of my friends climbing and trying to learn how to deal with harsh light. My favorite problem was the Green Meanie slab which I had to start from atop my crash pad and a two foot pile of snow.

At the Boulder Basin camp ground area we were able to find a hand full of fun problems to finish off the day. These were more concentrated and easier to find since we did not have to fight through thick brush and trees. Due to the longer drive and spread out nature of majority of the problems I think that Tramway a better area. Tram now has an excellent guidebook, that Black Mountain lacks, and will stay cooler longer into the summer.

While I was psyched to get into a bouldering mindset for a little while but I am happy that we were able to go sport climbing this weekend. A short trip to Malibu Creek helped me put my fitness into perspective. Climbing routes in the gym has helped keep me in shape and my endurance was adequate for the short routes. Since I haven’t lead anything hard outside in months I had to push to keep climbing while redpointing Urban Struggle. I kept it together and was happy to lead my first 5.12 since October.

I hope that this will be a good start to my sport climbing season and I am excited to go to Clark Mountain and Mt Charleston this summer! After a taste of limestone near Vegas in February I am excited to try some harder and steeper routes.

All photos are from Black Mountain.