I just heard from the American Alpine Club that I was selected as a winner of one of the 2009 Mountain Fellowship Grants for young climbers. It will go a long way toward paying for an upcoming trip. I'm joining my old climbing friend Nate Farr on an expedition in the Spring or Summer. Nate was among the first people I ever climbed with, and we met the day before classes began during my first year at Western Washington University in the fall of 2004. Nate's been up to some amazing ice climbing lately, butI bought my first rock climbing shoes from him back when I began. I remember Nate was leading the first time I went "sport climbing", which consisted of a 120' sandy slab, with 5 rusty bolts in it, along the ocean in Bellingham.
THANK YOU to the AAC, which means dues-paying AAC Members.
A few months ago, I climbed the Naked Edge in Eldorado Canyon State Park, with a couple friends from Trango Climbing. They were out there to help rig camera stuff, cheer on, and be awed by the other ascent of the route that morning. The other group was three local climbers, one of whom, Erik Weihenmayer, is blind. A Boulder-ite named Cedar Wright filmed the video of their climb, and you can see our team above theirs in some of the panned-back shots.
The same filmer/editor also composed this video with photos and film that Sol, Jens, and myself had taken on a new route last summer on Washington's Mt. Stuart. Having tried a little bit to make/edit these kinds of videos, I am impressed with the ones that Cedar ends up with.
And finally, in a fully non-edited format, here is my lovely wife doing battle with the Geico gecko's little brother... guess who wins.
Since we aren't climbing here yet, we've been using our climbing gear for lots of other things. This morning we had a serious jump rope competition using the climbing rope, and then things switched to tug-of-war, Blake vs the entire orphanage. I wonder how many kN of force we put on the rope?
After flights from Denver to Chicago to Tokyo to Bangkok, Allison and I rode 2 light-rails trains in Bangkok (one above ground, one below) to the city train station, where we caught a passenger train bound for Chiang Mai, in Northern Thailand's Himalayan foothills.
We'll be here until Christmas, volunteering at an orphanage where girls from the nearby rural communities can come to live, receive an education, and learn frisbee from "pharang" (westerners) like us.
The other day someone asked me about my four or five favorite pieces of gear. One of them is definitely Tyvek. Maybe it's an internet Faux-Paus to plagiarize oneself, but I haven't let societal norms stop me this far... Here are my thoughts on Tyvek as previously published online. It makes me wonder who else uses gear that is
- Not designed for climbing
As a financially-challenged (read: cheap) student and outdoor addict, I’m known to take extreme cost-saving measures in pursuit of new gear. And by working my summers at the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail, I was exposed to a full array of quirky-to-clever homemade equipment all tested during a season from Mexico to Canada. One of the most memorable items I came across was a simple frameless backpack made of Tyvek, a waterproof cloth used by carpenters and creative climbers.
I began experimenting with the material and had my personal confirmation into the cult of Tyvek adherents three summers ago in Washington State’s North Cascades. My climbing partner and I were traversing a ridge of unclimbed pinnacles, culminating in a new route on Bonanza Peak (9,511 ft.), one of the range’s largest mountains. After jettisoning the weight of sleeping bags and a tent, we spent consecutive nights shivering in our makeshift bivy of backpacks, down jackets, and a Tyvek sheet. I had the material trimmed to an ideal size (8 feet by 6 feet for two people) and it kept us fully sheltered from wind and rain while adding just 1.8 ounces per square yard to our packs.
Our route - a traverse of the unclimbed crest from Dark to Bonanza Peak.
Necessity is often credited as the mother of invention. If this is true, then invention’s stepmother, godmother, or doting grandmother is surely the almighty dollar. Created in 1955 by DuPont researcher Jim White, the invention of Tyvek was no exception, with the material soon becoming a dependable money-maker for DuPont. While outdoor-specific creations appeal to a tiny market segment, items like Tyvek immediately appeal to a broader and hence far more lucrative market. And outdoor junkies would be loath to ignore such products, despite their presence on the shelves of Home Depot rather than REI. As it turns out, this cheap, light, waterproof, and modifiable material has innumerable uses for weight-conscious travelers of all ilk.
Even if you haven’t used or even heard of Tyvek, you have almost certainly seen it. Covering the insulation and inner-walls of modern buildings, long white rolls of the cloth can be found at construction sites worldwide. Its cost in bulk from building-supply stores is negligible compared with outdoor-specific silnylon tarps, and I’ve had success on several occasions just stopping by a construction site and asking for a piece. Initially stiff (and annoyingly loud in the wind), the material softens and becomes more pliable with extended use, repeated folding, or one soap-less cycle in the washing machine.
Rather than purchasing a footprint for my two-person tent, I simply use the free sheet of Tyvek. The same piece doubles as a floor for my Black Diamond Betalight Shelter, keeping things dry and clean on sand, snow, or mud. The white color of the material also makes it ideal to spread out and sort gear, pack, or locate small items that would be lost against a darker background. And as a climber, I would rather flake out my nice new rope on a piece of free Tyvek than pay $30 or $40 for a similar nylon rope tarp.
For short trips (one or two nights), I have also experimented with using Tyvek as a modified bivy sack. By folding the sheet in half and closing the two edges with duct tape, one can quickly make a human-sized envelope. My first trip to the North Cascades' Gunsight Range ended with an August blizzard and a cold night huddling in my Tyvek cocoon, but I stayed dry as the snow piled around me. Cardiovascular and comedic benefits of this design are derived as you engage in the full body contortions needed to wriggle your sleeping-bag-clad self through the opening. The material doesn’t breathe as well as traditional bivy bags, but any inconvenience or dampness should be negligible on short outings.
Although the material’s weight, durability, and resistance to wind or water make it exceedingly versatile, it does lack a few of the extras featured on specialty tarps and shelters. Tyvek is packaged as a large roll, lacking any grommets or tie-off points. Though not often a problem, those wanting an ultralight shelter or windscreen should reinforce the corners with double-layer duct tape or Seam Grip before creating a hole in the material for tiedown points. Alternatively, you can go the route of a do-it-yourself grommet kit, but it will add an additional few ounces.
After several months with Tyvek instead of expensive alternatives, your pack should feel lighter and your wallet heavier – something all travelers can agree on. Additionally, the memories of you and your partner waiting out a storm in your human-sized envelopes will inevitably strengthen the friendship, allowing it to last as long as your coveted Tyvek.
For fans of the American Alpine Journal, or anyone who likes to read about mountaineering exploits, the 2009 edition is now already partly online, with articles and color photos at your E-fingertips. Here's the submission from a trip a I took to Alaska in July with Jason Nelson.
With some ski boots (liners) baking in my oven alongside a batch of muffins, I am wondering if my boots will smell like pumpkin or my muffins will taste like boot? Either way, I am getting excited for some skiing!
I have an idea for a multi-sport 'Rado outdoors day, involving biking, fly fishing, rock climbing, ice climbing, mountain skiing, and XC skiing, all in one day. Potentially with no car between activities. It could be doable in Clear Creek Canyon, ten miles from my house. If I do it, it will be on my trusty Alpine Touring Skis. I chose A/T skis over Telemark skis because the setup is more climber-friendly and easier to learn, but I do have a twinge of jealousy when I see a really smooth and graceful Tele skier heading down the hill. On that note, here is a HILLARIOUS video expressing some of those same sentiments. The music starting at 1:38 goes out to a certain friend. Enjoy Bro!
They both go well with Saucy Tarts.
Actually, they are both basically commodities. Homogeneous, interchangeable products with little difference between the item from one apple orchard (or rope weaver) to the next. Anyone who tells you that a certain climbing rope is "the best" or far superior (or inferior) to others is probably obligated to have that viewpoint by dint of employment for a rope company, or free ropes provided by a given company. And as ropes are both expensive and expendable, they make up a pretty significant cost for climbers.
The veteran climbers I know think a rope is a rope is a rope. Determine what length and width you want, and buy the cheapest one you can find. Has there ever been a route or peak that was climbed because the rope was a 9.4mm Bluewater, not a 9.4mm PMI? Sure Chris sent with a Sterling, and said it made a difference, but I have my doubts. One could make the same case about jackets, gloves, carabiners, etc but the difference among equally-sized ropes is far less than any other type of equipment. I've used ropes from just about all the mainstream manufacturers, and can't really notice any overall differences in handling or durability. If the labels were removed and I was belaying blindly, I have NO confidence that I would be able to tell one from the other or would consistently prefer the ropes of a single manufacturer. And just like I've never had one fuji apple that was much worse (or better) than any other, I've never used a 10.2mm climbing rope that felt, or lasted, much differently than the others. Do all these companies use the same rope-weaving machines in the first place?
Ignoring brands is not to say that different rope types don't matter. If I'm eating a snack and want to cover my apple slices in peanut butter, I'm going to choose a different type of apple than I would for making a pie. In this way, I'd choose a different length and width of rope (or different rope system) for a climb depending on its length, ice vs rock, descent, number of climbers, approach, etc. But once I settle on which length and width I'll need, I'm basically interested in price.
There are a few other small differences, but none which I think are worth paying a whole lot more for:
- Dry coatings are somewhat helpful, but don't bother paying for one if just using your rope for rock climbing during nice weather. That's probably 90% of users. Likewise, no dry coating is going to keep your rope from getting saturated in this kind of rappel.
- Light-colored ropes show up well in photos and maintain a sharper contrast to their middle mark.
- Middle marks are very useful. But if that on-sale rope doesn't have one, then use a sharpie or sew dental floss through the sheath rather than paying an extra $20.
- Bi-Pattern ropes (changing color at the halfway point) are handy if you want to tie into both ends and use a single rope with half-rope technique, however...
- Finding the middle point (color change location) on a Bi-Pattern rope piled on a belay ledge or rope tarp is a huge pain, and actually takes way longer than finding the middle point when this spot is marked on a one-pattern rope.
- If you're about to make multiple rappels on a rope with a bad middle mark, grab a band-aid, a piece of tape, or some chalk, and mark the middle. These will last through a surprising number of rappels.
- Metolius/Monster ropes sew two pieces of orange floss through the rope's middle, and one 10m from each end. You can see and feel these. Smart...
- Some folks want a low impact force in order to minimize the potential for marginal gear pulling from the rock/ice. I've never paid much attention to these, maybe just because I'm not brave enough to climb routes with high fall-factor potential on very dicey gear. If in these situations, I think using a screamer and having an attentive/dynamic belayer would help just as much as using a rope with a lower impact force.
I've had a great few days around Denver, enjoying rock and ice climbing, and starting work at an Italian restaurant only 7 blocks from home.
Last week I teamed up with Justin Selmanson who works at Trango, and we climbed "The Naked Edge" in Eldorado Canyon.
I lead 6 of the 7 pitches and had a great time watching the party below us, which included a blind climber. Yep, Eric Weihenmayer and 2 others did the Naked Edge right behind us, and moved very fast. Their climb was filmed from several locations around the park, and Cedar Wright had fixed ropes for some close-up footage. I think the video may end up with other clips here. If you scroll down that site a bit, you'll see a video Cedar edited from our route on Mt. Stuart in July. On the walk off we ran into Malcolm Daly, also of Trango, who had us pose and look scared. It was pretty natural for me.
On the weekend I made my second trip to Thunder Ridge, a hidden area of beautiful granite face climbing. I was with Canadian Gordon Mcarthur, and we had a good time on the massively-overhanging "G-Route" and the only slightly overhanging "Reptile Tears".
Reptile Tears is 100' of overhung patina edges and flakes, is rated 5.10+ and protects with one set of stoppers. Amazing route.
Yesterday, my friend Jason Killgore roped me into ice climbing at Lincoln Falls, an area near Breckenridge. We had a good time on a half-dozen easy pitches of fat ice, and a bit of mixed terrain, leaving at noon so I could start work that afternoon.
Want to visit Joshua Tree for New Years rock climbing? How about Canmore to get on some ice? Maybe you're more organized than me, and already getting a week lined up to climb in Red Rocks in the spring... Want to do it for free?
Plane tickets are surprisingly easy to get for free, allowing even the dirtbaggiest of climbers and adventurers to sneak off for a bit of fun. Here are two very simple ways to fly anywhere you want to...
Chase Banks are currently offering anyone the chance to have 25,000 frequent flyer miles on Continental Aiirlines. Here's how it works:
- Open up a Continental Frequent Flyer Account (Called OnePass) - This is free
- Go to any Chase Bank Branch and open a Chase Checking Account (free) and get a Chase Continental Debit Card to go with it. Give the employee your frequent flyer number.
- You'll be given 10,000 frequent flyer miles for opening the account, and another 15,000 when you use your debit card 5 times (you have to use it like a credit card -ie sign for your transactions, don't enter your PIN.) Even if you are buying packs of gum or 1 gallon of gasoline each time, 5 purchases gets you 15,000 more miles and you never have to use your card again.
- Use your 25,000 miles to fly round trip anywhere in the USA!
- After 2 months, Chase will charge you an annual fee of $25. If you already have your miles, or have bought your plane ticket, then close the account before this time.
Credit or debit cards will often give you 1 frequent flyer mile for every 1 dollar you spend. The Chase Debit Cards do this, and all of these cards. Many will also give you quite a few miles for signing up with the card. But how does a struggling climber going to spend the necessary 10, 15, or 20 thousand dollars to earn enough miles for a free flight? By purchasing money, of course.
The US Mint is selling $1 presidential coins, for $1 each. My favorite? Martin Van Buren.
They come in boxes of 250 coins! Shipping is also free. You can buy a box of money and take it to the bank to deposit it, instantly paying off your credit card purchase, but still earning a mile for every dollar. In the process, you'll be improving your credit score and getting a LOT of frequent flyer miles. Fly wherever you want and have fun!
David is visiting me in Denver right now. Bored, we decided to go workout at 24-Hour Fitness, using two free passes that David had.
We walk 2 blocks to the gym and go inside the nearly-empty building. Something is wrong. We aren't greeted with the relentlessly personable, over-flaired smiles so common at chain businesses. We are greeted with a scowl.
The scowl squints out from beneath a perfectly-positioned and hair-spray-saturated mop of shaggy blond locks. Hairspray demands our ID, and we show him drivers licenses from WA and MO.
"Umm... yeah, you guys aren't local, you can't use these. You MUST be local."
"We just moved here, (1/2 true!) and we walked from 2 block away (All True!). We don't have Colorado IDs yet."
"Well, you need a driver's license, you can't just show up and use these free passes without proof that you live here."
"What about some mail, sent to us at an address two blocks away? Will that work? It works to buy hunting licenses and other things mildly more official than 24-Hour-Fitness Guest Passes."
Anyone can go online and print off these free passes at any time. Like Lindsay Lohan DUIs, or GOP sex scandals these passes have become ubiquitous features of modern Americana. So why wouldn't he let us in? This aggression would not stand.
Returning to my house, we rifle through the recycle box. Bingo! A hand-written letter, stamped and postmarked to this local address. A few pen edits transform "Allison & Blake Herrington" into "D. Atashroo and Blake Herrington".
We crumple the envelope for good measure, spill a little ketchup on it for authenticity, and triumphantly return to the gym. Maybe hairspray will think we're room-mates, maybe live-in life-partners, We just hope he doesn't think we're a couple of dirtbags trying to use our free passes via any means possible.
Behind the front desk, Hairspray is now joined by another staff member. But before David can pull the letter from his pocket, hairspray plays a surprise card.
"Ummm, yeah, so, you can't actually use these passes after 9pm. I, like, tried to chase you down last time, but I couldn't catch you."
Ignoring the fact that we'd slowly walked away from our initial encounter and seen him maintaining his front-desk post, we address the first issue.
"So without looking at our IDs to learn our names, or seeing the name and address on the letter, you are telling us that we can't go inside? Read the passes, it says NOTHING about available hours. Would your manager really want you turning us away again? Is that how they want you to treat new neighbors? Your business is called 24-Hour-Fitness! Your MAIN selling point is constant availability. You want us to leave and come back at a time when EVERY gym is open, and when we'll be competing with paying customers for limited equipment?
At this point, Hairspray had finally hit a stumbling block and appeared unable to conjure a semi-coherent response. His co-worker looks up, smiles, and says "Have a good workout gentlemen." Unaccustomed to the title, I check over my shoulder to make sure she isn't referring to someone else before striding on in.
This reminded me of being in Safeway and buying 6 or 8 grocery items. The checker started to bag the items, and I told her she didn't need to do that. We'd just carry them all out in our hands and pockets. "But we will take the ten-cent re-usable bag discount". She told me that she could only give us the bag discount if we put them in our own bag. Rain coats, even with their abundance of pockets, were clearly no substitute for a cloth sack. By carrying out all our items we were preventing her from using a plastic Safeway bag, but she couldn't see the point. "What if I go out to my car and grab a backpack, come back, and put our items in there, would that work..." attempting to illustrate my point. "Yes, as long as you bring your own bag, I can give you the discount."
It was as though she wanted to reward me for taking my backpack on a Safeway tour, not for preventing the use and waste of a Safeway-produced plastic bag. I wanted to explain that the net effect would be the same, and that her company's policy was designed to save them bags, waste, and some enviro-credibility. But I knew the point was lost. Frustrated on principal and a dime poorer, I headed out the door.
Neither of these vignettes have anything to do with climbing. But to me, they are demonstrative of much about life. Use common sense, interact with a smile, and by all means, don't be a tool. If all of us avoid becoming "that guy", we'll all be happier, fitter, and ten-cents richer.
With a stomach full of Pumpkin Pancakes (Oh yeah, they're delicious) I've been looking through some photos from the last few weeks. Snow is falling this morning, but Rocktober has lived up to its name here in Colorado. I've been able to climb in Boulder Canyon, Clear Creek, Rocky Mountain National Park, the South Platte, and even Utah's Castle Valley.
In the South Platte, I climbed the famous Center Route and Wunsch's Dihedral with my friend Jason Killgore.
Long flakes on the Center Route:
We brought plenty of gear, but Jason was feeling frisky on Wunsch's.
After some local sport climbing, Kelly the Estes Park local gurul took me out to the Rock of the Ages in Rocky Mountain Park. We did some of the local classics and tried not to get blown away by the wind. It's a beautiful cragging spot.
Our buddy Forest Woodward came into town and we went out to Lumpy Ridge to climb and get some photos. All these shots are Forest's.
See more of Forest's Work
Finally it was off to the Castle Valley, to meet my Washington friend Jens Holsten and climb around on some towers. I climbed with Coloradoan Clayton Laramie, and Jens roped up with his friend John Schmid. We had a great time camping and hanging out together, and shouting back and forth from across the tower-tops.
The parking lot was full of WA plates... NW represent!
Day 1 : Fine Jade and The North Face (Right Side) of Castleton Tower
On to Castleton Tower:
The Day 2 plan was to climb the Priest Tower via Honeymoon Chimneys, and then re-climb The Rectory via Coyote Calling.
Inside the mountain...
Clayton stems wide and onsights the 5.11 crux, moving between towers.
Jens and Jon - Waving hello after tagging a nearby tower called "The Nun".
After shivering in the shady and windy chimneys of the Priest, we decided to do something warmer than Coyote Calling. Clayton and I chose one of the several "mystery" routes along the sunny West face of the Rectory. 100 meters North of the route Crack Wars, we climbed an overhanging hand and finger crack in a corner, 100' of perfection. I don't think the route is in any guidebook, but it definitely deserves traffic!
Canadian climber Scott Semple recently posted a screed to his blog, railing against the perceived faults of climbing-industry sponsorship. If his point was merely that "liars are bad", then he takes a circuitous course to arrive at this self-evident truth. But he seemed to go far beyond that.
I disagree with Mr. Semple's view for many reasons, and the first one is that he's attempting to create a case of objective absolutes, built on a foundation of subjective judgments.
- "If sponsorship isn’t backed up by a legitimate accomplishment that is significant to the sport, then being rewarded for something insignificant is sad and undeserved. And it’s immoral, because it creates a facade, and facades are lies."
- Sponsorship is only defensible when the degree of self-promotion is equal to or less than the significance of the achievement. When Good Climber does something Rad and says, “This is Rad”, that’s fine. Kudos. Too often though, Wanna Be Famous does something mediocre and says, “This is Rad! Really! I swear!”
- The sad fact about our sport is that genuine devotees are the exception, not the rule. True athletes, masters and visionaries do exist, but only some of them are sponsored. Most are not.
There are only a small handful of folks who get money from companies, in addition to gear. Of these folks, even fewer make enough to afford a car, health insurance, rent, etc. Sponsored climbers work as guides, writers, carpenters, fishermen, photographers, or window-washers, often grabbing any odd-job they can while they get excited about their next climb. But maybe all that excitement is a facade, they can't genuinely be devoted, can they?
I am fortunate enough to have received some free/cheap gear from Outdoor Research, Cilogear Backpacks, and Trango Climbing, sometimes in exchange for photos, writing, or manual labor. Everyone I have met at these companies is genuinely devoted to the sport. My crew coach in high school told me that finding what you love is easy, but doing it, that is the hard part. If getting sponsored allows people the financial freedom to do what they love, more power to them. I'm curious to hear your thoughts or comments on the topic, you can post them below.
On an unrelated note, here are some pretty pictures (courtesy of Bryan Smith)