Saturday, November 04, 2006

Film Festival, Ice Book Correction.

As walked into the film maker's seminar yesterday I found the way forward blocked by a crush of people along the path. You spend a lot of time at the Banff Festivals slowly moving forward through throngs of people, it's just how it is, so I slowed to a shuffle and couldn't help but over-hear a conversation about Andy Kirkpatrick's slide show the previous night. It went something like this:

Head Scarf: "I saw that young British man last night, he had some nice stories but it doesn't sound like he enjoys climbing very much."

Large Garments: "Yes, it did seem a bit unhealthy. And such a pity about the language he used, it was almost intolerable."

Head Scarf: "I really wish he wouldn't use such blue language, it took away from his nice presentation."

Andy had shown pictures from some of the worst sufferfests I'd ever seen, and all these women remembered was the language? I think Andy would be dissapointed... If you're bored check out Andy's site--I felt much better about my own obsession with climbing and flying after reading the articles on his site, I'm almost normal in comparison. Great site!

One of the best parts about writing a book that people really read is that they send you emails helpfully pointing out mistakes. Grin. Seriously, I do like getting the emails and a guy down in Colorado found a really good error in my Ice and Mixed book. Here's a quote from our email exchange:

Colorado Guy:
pp. 179-180: The caption of Figure 13a says that clipping at waist level "reduces the distance of any potential fall." This is a bit misleading. The distance, for both Figure 12a and Figure 13a is twice the distance between the last two anchors, plus rope stretch. It is true that in Figure 13a the climber falls with more rope out and therefore has more stretch, but the main reason for preferring Figure 13a is that the starting point of the fall is farther from the deck. If the deck is far away, clipping high actually provides the softer catch in case of a fall.

To which I responded:
"Ah hell, I just spent two hours working through this with paper diagrams to prove that you're wrong, but you're right, grin, good one. There are diagrams spread out all over my desk, my girlfriend Kim got into it too. The overall point of not clipping high overheard when close to the ground "stands" (as I have unfortunately personally tested), but my reasoning was very flawed. I find it very interesting that the total distance fallen when clipping will always be roughly the same, it's the starting point above the ground that so obviously matters. A much more elegant and correct way to state the situation. Counter-intuitive but true. How does the following text sound to clear this up?"


Clipping bolts or other fixed gear while still close to the ground can be dangerous; if you fall while clipping you may hit the ground. Interestingly, it's often safer to clip the first few bolts while your harness is level with the bolt rather than reaching overhead to clip the rope in. This seems counter-intuitive, but here's how it works. First, if you're clipping over-head you'll generally put more outward force on the pick as you reach up, which often causes the pick to skate out and off the placement. Second, the total fall while clipping a bolt is always roughly equal to twice the distance between the last clipped bolt and the bolt you're clipping (plus rope stretch). If you fall off while clipping a bolt above your head you're more likely to hit the ground because you're closer to it and have less vertical space to fall. If you blow a clip while clipping with your waist close to the bolt you'll still fall the same total distance, but because you started the fall higher you'll hopefully end up with your feet still above the ground. If you have a bomber hook then clipping overheard is often worthwhile, but if the climbing is tenuous wait to clip until your harness is level with the bolt."

I'll work on the above a bit, but do you think it more accurately states the reality of falling off while clipping? I have to keep the total words nearly the same for the next printing.

The point about making sketchy clips with your harness next to the bolt is still valid and the illustrations in the book are still accurate, but I got it right for the wrong reasons. If you can't figure this out take some graph paper and draw situations where the climber falls off while clipping overhead and while clipping with the bolt at waist-level, it simpifies things when the rope and placements are all to scale. Having 10 total feet of rope pulled out to clip two bolts ten feet apart will result in a 20-foot fall; clipping the same bolt with your harness knot exactly beside the biner will also result in a 20-foot fall, you'll just end up higher above the ground. Bizzare but true, I only burned about ten pieces of graph paper to figure it out, it will likely take smarter readers less graph paper. A corollary to all of this is that blowing an overhead clip while high on a route actually provides a slightly softer (same distance though) fall...

The writer also had another good point: Many climbers assume that a half rope system with one strand clipped into a piece (as it should be unless both ropes are clipped into all pieces) will result in a lower force fall than one taken on a "single" rope. I've heard this stated often as a good argument for using half ropes for ice climbing--seems logical to reduce fall forces on ice screws, so half ropes are "better." I never questioned the basic belief that a half rope provides lower force falls--you can just look at the impact force chart's on BD's website, it's obvious. Actually, it's not, the weights used to test impact forces are totally different, I just never really thought this through... I'm now not so sure what to think, more research is required.

So thanks to the writer from Boulder for pointing all of this out, it's interesting.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Banff Film Festival, Ice, Training (again).

I really enjoy being involved with the Banff Film Festival every year, it's a great collection of talented and creative people in an environment still small enough that you run into many old friends in the halls, good fun. I really like the films as well, it always fires me up to see what people have been up to--it's a creative kick in the ass, people do truly amazing things. Last night I saw Andy Kirkpatrick and Leo Houlding do their shows also, two very different presentations but both engaging. Andy managed to diss most of the climbers I know or have heard of in about an hour, almost as impressive as his ability to suffer endlessly while alpine climbing. Best line: "My sleeping bag was now like two used condoms with a single feather stuck in the middle." Maybe you had to be there.

The ice season is going off up here, continued cold temperatures have produced a half-dozen decent routes to get swinging on--even Cascade is coming in, it's now officially and irrevocably ice season here, yeah!


Yesterday I managed a short run, then today snuck in a fast gym workout. The Banff Festival is pretty full-on (also doing the film maker's seminar), but I snagged 45 minutes and got it on. With such limited time (only 30 minutes after warming up and doing my goofy stick exercises for supination and pronation) I decided to go basic and did five rounds of 10 L-Sit pullups alternated with five handstand pushups and quad exercises (I've got knee problems too but they get better with quad work), done as fast as I could with no resting allowed. It was a full-on battle, stuck in some of my shoulder exercises for the last five minutes too. I walked into the gym feeling tired and stiff, walked out happier. It's sometimes hard to find time to train, but it's almost always totally worth it. My workout wasn't anywhere near "perfect," but I'm sure it was better than not training. The elbow didn't hurt in a "bad" way; in fact, it seems to be improving a bit, the stick exercises felt better...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


This elbow is really annoying me. I want to be training full-bore for mixed season, and yet washing my face is painful, and I can't lift a frying pan by the handle with my left hand. Yesterday I did a bunch of reading and messing about and figured out that I have a problem primarily with supinating (turning my hand from palm up to palm down) my hand with the bicep flexed. Not suprisingly, this is exactly the motion used to hand-haul a rope, or to pull rope through a belay device. It's OK with the bicep relaxed, but put some load on the bicep and it's weak and painful. I spent about 30 minutes in the gym last night figuring out what hurt and what didn't, rolling mini-barbells and various long sticks around, just really isolating the exact problem. Then I started messing around to see what I could do, instead of just assuming I couldn't do anything training-wise. I came to the conclusion that I can do pullups (palms away from me) with very little to no pain. I can't do a chin-up (palms toward me) 'cause it hurts like mad when the bicep engages. Right. I'm into doing the Cross Fit workouts when I'm in a general training cycle, this qualifies as I sure as hell can't train specifically for mixed climbing. Their workout of the day, or WOD, was ten rounds of ten pullups and ten dips per round, as fast as possible.... OK, I haven't done dips in months but game on. I warmed up with 100 light-weight reps on the lat pulldown machine and 100 light tri pressdowns, got some looks from the meat heads in the gym for using no weight but fuck 'em, then went at it. Seven rounds later my triceps were nuked and I was having to start using my biceps on the pullups, so I called it good. 70 pullups, 70 dips, I was gasping like a fish and the meat heads were looking confused, see above comment. I then knocked out 100 situps, and did some careful bent-over one-armed rows isolating the rear delt and then lats, keeping the bicep out of it and holding the weight in a way that didn't hurt. To finish it off I took a really light stick and worked pronation and supination, just very, very gently; felt sorta stupid sitting on a bench and twirling a stick like a failed Ninja but I want to heal. Then I ran home in the -15 temps, perfect. Instead of saying, "I'm injured and can't train" and sitting on my ass I'm gonna train as best I can. I didn't ice my elbow when I got home as I wanted to see what happened without reducing the inflamation, answer the question of, "was this a stupid idea or OK?"

This morning my lats and pecs are fried, jello fried, but my elbow actually feels a touch better. Hmmm... So yesterday didn't seem to make things worse. I also think Yoga was messing me up, the loads on your insertion points when doing the "swing through like a dog dragging its ass" move (also called a Vinassa or something) are too high for my elbow to handle. I did a yoga session the other day and stepped through to seated and back, it's not manly but at least I can do Yoga.

Today's Cross Fit workout looks like it might be too much for elbow, but I'll have a go and just modify exercises so I can do them pain-free.

The advice on elbow issues seems to be total rest, but I don't rest well. If this "train but only without elbow pain" program works I'll be psyched. If it doesn't then I'll be more screwed up, but I've got plans for the winter that will be screwed up if I'm not fit enough to climb also, so I'm going for it.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Adventures and Comments from friends

One of the cool things about mountain sports is not just the climbing or whatever, but the people who are also into them. This was driven home to me recently by two emails I received. The first was from Raphael Slawinski, who spent the summer climbing in Pakistan with a few other friends of mine. Raph, AKA Dr. Slawinski (he actually is a PhD.) wrote a really nice trip report up on the whole experience andposted it here.

Then there's my bud JD. He's been at the climbing game for a long time, from the anorexic rice cakes era to the present, and always cared about it. We've had some epic conversations about climbing, climbers and life. He recently sent me the following. It's full of the heat that climbing generates, posted with his permission:

JD LeBlanc's Rant:

Climbing – Market, Athletes & Media
by JD LeBlanc

Sport climbing came of age in North America thanks mostly to Alan Watts and his creation of Smith Rocks in the mid-1980’s. This led to an influx of climbers realizing that sport climbing could be “it” for them. Companies were keen to sponsor climbers who excelled at the sport – with the intent that it would help them with revenue and market share. The biggest problem besides the egos and dubious feats, was the fact that the industry was still very small.

The size of the industry may have been in the six figures in the 80’s – now maybe in the sevens – and the focus was on mountains, not sport crags. We had huge competition for athletes to become sponsored, but no real market to sell to. The athletic drive became so high and the return, so low, that many simply bailed out of the sport. Instead of building on the sport, we were actually losing climbers. Losing climbers really means losing participants – decreasing the industry. Early to mid-90s - indoor gyms take off in North America. This really allows access to the general public and provides a way for them to try climbing and ultimately bring in participants. Now the athlete can forge a way to become a professional climber (PC) – simply because the market became broader and general revenue larger, an increase in the number of the general climber (GC) – maybe like the NHL in the 50’s – you get paid, but just enough to be able to climb and train. Buying a home, new vehicles, lavish living expenses … off of a sponsored climber salary – unlikely, but living the life – traveling and climbing could be attained.

The Athlete truly comes of age after 10+ years of climbers’ efforts. However, unlike other sports, to see the athlete in action on their turf, is pretty hard for the general climber (GC) – videos, dvds and the gym provide glimpses of the athlete/Pro Climber (PC). But does this really matter and help in the growth of the sport? To see an athlete in their turf is to see what can be done and why they apply so much effort to do such. Motion pictures, of some form, provide visual, but no feel. Gyms provide live action, but it is hard to see the real aspects of the athlete and climbing. Moving over stone, ice … is not the same as plastic/wood. The real nature of the medium and conditions provide the ultimate performance and showcase what can be done. The passion is seen and this provides the general climber (GC) with a picture of what they may be able to do. The fact if a pro-climber (PC) sends 5.14, is not lost, but truly irrelevant to the GC. The fact they send a project provides the base for the GC to start to realize, they can achieve. Once this happens, then they are hooked and will try to bring their own into the sport. The PC has then done the part and what their sponsors want – to increase the participation – hence revenue.

What makes a good PC and why bother? What makes a good PC is one who does the above – captivates the GC into realizing there own potential. The PC does not have to be the one sending 5.15, M14, WI7, V15, 5.14 RX or hard Alpine – they do need to be able to climb within the top of their discipline, but mostly need to captivate. This does not mean they need to spray about what they sent, how quickly, or leave out the facts of numerous years, but only the recent tries. They do need to be known – local word of mouth, media reports, blogs, websites, slide-shows, events, coaching …

I have been fortunate to be in the industry since the mid-80s and have also been on both sides, athlete and industry. Here’s the dilemma, some athletes who may not be the best climbers, but maybe the BEST PCs have issues with other top climbers (TC). The industry needs the best PC they can get – they just don’t need the best TC. Here’s why; I know a PC who is not the best TC, but damn it, he is the best for his sponsors and brings the captivation to the GC – he gets a lot of grief from the TCs. Yep, some of the TCs are still stuck in the early days and can’t get over the concept of the business. He drives many GCs to slideshows and events and is very active in climbing. Whether or not I like him all the time, is irrelevant – he provides to the sport what we need, captivation of the GC. The sport itself needs routes and goals to drive the TCs and PCs – but the industry needs the GC captivation foremost. Let’s face it Ford sells more Focuses than their $200,000 Ford GT.

So here’s the sport PC debate in North America – Chris Sharma or Dave Graham? Sharma has set standards, and created a captivation on the GC and TC like no other North American sport climber. Graham has sent almost every hard route in Europe and North America – he is truly the TC in North America, but I believe lacks the media savvy to captivate – this does not mean he can’t, just that he needs help on it. Sharma seems to have a way and it comes across as such. Hence Sharma is the PC to follow – Graham is a PC, but more on the TC end. The North American media is the best method for captivation, but in the recent years, has focused more on the TC side.

The North American climbing media has gone through the same changes that the TCs and PCs have done. Currently I believe they are not where they should be. They focus more on the TC side of things and forget about the PC side – how to captivate? V15, 8b+ onsights, 5.15 redpoints, M14 sends, Everest sieged again, or deep water soloing.

Does deep water soloing captivate? Sure it does if you are a TC and can get to Mallorca. I believe that it exemplifies all that the PC has worked to get OVER, as it is more captivating for the TC than the GC. This does not mean it’s not a feat of climbing. GCs like ropes, gear and the conception that they may be able to emulate the PC on their own route at their crag or gym. To me it answers the: “if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?” The media has answered this – if a climber climbs a really hard route on a rock in the middle of an ocean, alone with no rope – does it matter? To the GC NO – Yes for the TCs. It really provides no captivation other than a personal climbing feat of wickedly high-end proportions. Here we are again at a dilemma of TC or PC.

Climbing is not at the same level as other sports, where competitions can hold Pro-Athlete (PA) status over and above all other Top-non-comp-Athletes (TA) - meaning that the PA captivates based on competitive results. Climbing is just not there yet – we are still building a GC base and need to captivate all we can, whenever possible. Most of the PAs have TV coverage of some form, even mountain biking has its’ own show. The climbing feats need to be realized, but we firstly need to CAPTIVATE. We need to provide accessibility of the PC to the GC. Build areas where GCs can climb alongside PCs and TCs. We need to build our base first, then we can build our top-end later.

-JD LeBlanc

WG Note: I recently watched Peter Mortimer's new film, First Ascent. I think it does a good job of what JD is generally talking about.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Ice season is upon us

I've started the Rockies Ice Pages again, people are already having at it.

I also wrote a "Seasonal Rockies Climbing Guide" for those wondering when to visit the Rockies for ice or rock climbing, I've had so many requests for informaton lately that I thought I'd just write it up in one place. Your thoughts are definitely welcome, it's just my view of it all. This is the link, it's on

Training: My elbow is not happy
I haven't had any serious elbow problems in probably 20 years, I vary my climbing diet enough that my body seems to recover. But I've got a real problem going on the medial side of my elbow, brought on by too much hand-hauling bags on Yam before I got my foot-hauling systems sorted out, and too much pulling rope through my BD Guide. Nothing wrong with the Guide, just days and days of pulling the rope tight on the second and hauling trashed my elbow. I knew I should have rested, but I had to get that route done before the snow flew, I'm paying now. I can barely flip pancakes, it's a bad episode, still working out the best recovery plan. I think Yoga contributed to the problem, all those presses and seated swing-throughs with my palms flat on the floor messed me up. Ice, rest, we'll see how it heals, but I've had almost a week off and it's still very sore to the touch. I dropped a plate of food the other day when I couldn't hold onto it, shit...