Friday, December 29, 2006

Charlie too. What the hell are we doing?

Charlie Fowler and Chris Boskoff went missing about a month ago in China. Their friends helped organize a massive search effort, which eventually found Charlie's body a few days ago. Chris is likely in the same area. The duo were two of the most motivated climbers around, and losing two more good people is again really sad. I've known Charlie for so long that I've forgotten where and when I met him, he's just always been around in the climbing world. A couple of years ago we worked a film job in the desert together, and snuck off to go climbing on a down day. The rock was pretty bad but we sure had fun, including downclimbing a reasonably hard corner because we couldn't find a solid anchor and didn't want to leave evidence of our passage on the cliff. On that same film job I pulled onto the top of a wild tower after a "safety scout," while Charlie had been helicoptered onto the top to do some rigging for a film crew. The last time I'd been up there the top of the tower had hosted a really ugly cluster of manky bolts, horrendously weathered drilled angles and some weird old bits all tied together with yards of ugly webbing. I pulled over the top to find two very, very solid but well-camouflaged anchors, and all the mess perfectly cleaned up, a much more elegant solution but perhaps controversial due to the tower's location (we were there legally). Charlie looked at me, looked at the anchors, and said in his unmistakable Charlie voice, "Well, those sure do look nice. Wonder how old they are?" The desert wind hadn't blown the dust away yet, I about fell off the top laughing as Charlie just slyly grinned. We sat up there in the sky for a while grooving on the amazing place and life before the film circus started again, it was nice. I'm sad that Charlie's gone, but he died with his boots on after a pretty damn solid life by anyone's standards. I'll grieve for him, but also laugh a bit more thinking about Charlie being Charlie. I'm looking forward to getting into the desert dust again, I know it has some Charlie mixed in it.

Some of Charlie's friends are sharing stories here.

I've been depressed over the loss of Hari Berger for the last week, it just rips me up to imagine Kirsten and Zoe without Hari. Now this, and following the loss of Todd this fall, Sue and Karen in the spring, and some other people I knew less well but who were also once vital parts of the adventure world. 2005 was also a hard year on my friends, stacking 2006 on top of it is near-incomprehensible. I'm not sure how to sort this all out, it's going to take some time to make emotional and intellectual sense of such horrific carnage. It's like someone repeatedly blasted the well-woven fabric of our community with a shotgun. Hari, Karen, Sue, and Charlie were all likely at the Ouray Ice Festival a few years ago, now they are all gone. Here's to hoping 2007 is a better year, play safe enough.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Berger Family Fund Raisers, Happy Solstice

I'm heading over to the Kandersteg Ice Festival in Switzerland next week, always a fun event. Black Diamond Europe is giving all the proceeds from the slide shows to the Berger family, amazing generosity, thanks! If you're in Europe I hope to see you at the shows, should be fun!

There are a lot of people working to raise small and large bits of money on both sides of the Atlantic, somehow this is in keeping with the true spirit of celebrating life, friends and family at this time of year. I like Christmas too--almost every culture has some sort of winter solstice celebration. The cool thing is that from here on out every day is a bit longer, yeah!



Training: Ran like a SOB in the dark last night, best run of the year so far. I've been really into night running lately, cruising through the woods by headlamp, great time to think and just let the night trail roll by. I've always liked running at night, it feels more free somehow, plus the hills seem shorter when you can't see the top of 'em... Chili Dog also seems to like it, chases the headlamp beam along the trail in front of me. Then of course too much eggnog at night, grin. Elbow slowly improving, rest seems to do more than anything else, plus drinking copius amounts of water all day and hydrations beers at night.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Help Kirsten and Zoe Berger

Albert Leichtfried is a good friend of the Berger family, and is helping to fund raise for them. There is information up on his site about how to help if you can.

There is also some talk of a fund-raiser at Ouray, I'll post details as they develop.

Here is the direct information from Albert in case that link isn't working:

According to the words of Kirsten I would like to inform you, that the dougther of Hari Berger and Kirsten Buchmann was born this night at 0.31 AM and is well and healthy. The name Zoe was given after the wish of her father Hari.
To improve the critical financial situation of Kirsten and Zoe two fund raiser are set now, from friends of hari and from the guide association. See the accounts below.
Please help them to improve at least one of their worries!
Thank you!

Spendenkonto / fund raiser "Berger Harald - Spendenkonto"
Bank: Hypo Salzburg
BLZ/bank-nr.: 55000
Konto.Nr./account: 114 0000 1016
IBAN: AT68 5500 0114 0000 1016

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Hari Berger Lost

Harald Berger, three-time ice climbing world champion and father-to-be, died while ice bouldering yesterday in Austria. His partner, Kirsten, had the couple's baby last night. She must now be super-human, but I trust she will because she is.

This whole situation is crushing. The wheel of living and dying turns with such savage cruelty sometimes. Hari was a good man--a good climber, a moral human and, as he often demonstrated while staying at our house, a good cook. I'm sure he would have been a fantastic father to his new daughter. None of us get to choose when or how we die, but this is a rough one.

Peace and love to Kirsten, and Hari's many friends around the world.


PS--These photos show the sheer scale of the situation.

Web translation of the German story:

ce climbing world champion exhausted by ice with a collapse of the ice chapel with Hintersee (flat gau) died on Wednesday the threefold ice climbing world champion Harald Berger. With the enormous avalanche cone a eisscholle broke off, which buried him. Photo: Ferdinand Farthofer torso under 150 tons ice bury the 34-jaehrige ice climbing professional, who originated from Linz and lived in Salzburg, climbed into approximately three meters height of an overhang. Against 14.15 o'clock might have released a Pickelschlag a nuclear chain reaction in the ice - the enormous over-hanging eisscholle broke off. Berger was buried by approximately 150 tons, estimates the task forces. Like enormous the "Hinterseer glacier" and/or. "Eiskappelle" in the Salzburger flat gau is, shows the size comparison to an aid of the task forces. The dead one could be saved only after some hours - specialists of fire-brigade, mountain rescue and alpine police divided the 30 times 25 meters large and two and a half meter thickened ice block with Schremmgeraeten. With a lifting cushion the fragments were then raised, in order to save the 34-Jaehrigen. Berger leaves high pregnant woman Mrs. Berger leaves a high pregnant woman woman. With it three further Kletterer were with the ice chapel for training. These witnesses of the misfortune were not hurt. Fragments at the accident scene according to data of the eye-witnesses only one blow with the eisbeil is sufficient, in order to produce in the unstable ice tongue a long transversal crack, before the ice masses fell on Harald Berger. Heavy accident before 30 years already before approximately 30 years occurred in the ice chapel a particularly tragic accident: A German vacationer placed herself under the gewoelbe, so that their man could make a photo. After the Knipsen of lightning the ice chapel broke down and buried the woman under itself. She could be saved likewise only dead. Avalanche cone a popular goal the ice chapel below the Wieserhoerndls in the Osterhorngruppe is a popular moves and ice-climbing-obtains: The numerous avalanches, which go off into the valley boiler on 850 meters sea-height, melt often the whole year long not completely. As is the case for a glacier columns and caves in the old snow, which can collapse at any time, form.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Skinny Slings and Beacon Batteries

Slings keep getting thinner and thinner, to the point where they wouldn't work even for the most optimistic G-String in Vegas. Kolin over at BD just did some more research on joining these slings to others, interesting results. Thanks to Chris Willie for the link. Kolin's pages are always good reading.

There's also been some talk of late about avalanche beacons and batteries, just had the following forwarded to me from Steve Christie at Backcountry Access via Garth Lemke, thanks:

"“Batteries: Three AAA/LR03 alkaline batteries. Do not use rechargeable,
lithium, Oxyride or any other non-alkaline battery.”

The Powerpix batteries increase the voltage of the unit. This in turn
increases the background noise level in the beacon. You will see this issue
with all avalanche beacons, not just the Tracker.

If you would like to post my response on the internet chat rooms that you
frequent I would appreciate it. I am getting this email quite often, it
seems to be circulating out there in internet land."


Fun Links

In my experience, injuries=monitor time. Here are some of the better, or at least more engaging, sites I've stumbled across:

Zefrank. Smart, funny, random, WTF on all the ducks? Thanks Jim.

Chernobyl: Still going on. Stay tuned for 24,000 more years or so. Forget nuclear power, it's just not worth it. It's like most mining--the total costs don't add up to being worth more cell phones, gold bits or new cars. These are all things I own so I am guilty...

Is Iraq following the El Salvador plan? Thanks to Stoltz. Bit conspiracy theory, but maybe not.

Detroit Blog: What the future looks like?

Happy Surfing!

Training: Not going so great. I've been doing PT on the elbow regularly, plus massage, plus not working out, and it's just not getting a lot better. I can climb on it OK on easy ice so that's something, but enough whinging. I've been injured so little in my career that I've got nothing to complain about, this too will pass. I'm going kite boarding now, at least that's super fun and doesn't seem to hammer the elbow too much. Yoga, running, situps, do what I can and hope it improves sometime. I have a big trip to Sweden in January that I'm doing if I have to climb one-handed.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Climbing and quotes

The Arc'teryx Canmore ice festival is in full swing, good fun. Taught a clinic yesterday and climbed, elbow slightly better. Climbing sure is fun, best reason I know for doing it. I really like teaching clinics also, the people always fire me up. They are also great for my climbing as well, I honestly didn't truly learn to ice climb until I taught others how to ice climb. I got "busted" by my clinic people for bad techique a few times yesterday, pretty cool to see people catch on to moving well so fast. Other sports have well-defined teaching curriculums, climbing is just starting to reach that point. Of course, techniques change and improve (Bode Miller on skis is a good example of this, he breaks a lot of the old "rules"), but understanding enough about the movement to teach it is a good start.

My old high-school friend Michelle sent me the following quotes, thought I'd share 'em because they're good.:

Hello everyone!

Since next Thursday is my birthday, I thought I'd put together and share some quotes I picked up off the Internet that are interesting (at least to me) to keep in mind. Some are funny, some insight, and others.....well they just leave your mouth hanging wide open!
Enjoy the short read! Some of these are too true!


To alcohol! The cause of and solution to all of life's problems! Homer Simpson

In politics stupidity is not a handicap. Napoleon

A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it is written on.
Samuel Goldwyn

Haven't we already given money to rich people? Why are we going to do it again?
--George w. Bush, Washington, DC, 11/26/2002: To economic advisers discussing a second round of tax cuts, as quoted by former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil.

Life is hard. After all, it kills you.

Katharine Hepburn , 05/12/1907 - 06/29/2003,US-actress

There are laws to protect the freedom of the press's speech, but none that are worth anything to protect the people from the press.
Mark Twain 11/30/1835 - 04/21/1910, US author

When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.
Mark Twain

Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.
Mark Twain

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.
Mark Twain

You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do.

Henry Ford 07/30/1863 - 04/07/1947, Founder of the Ford Motor Company

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.
Albert Einstein 03/14/1879 - 04/18/1955, Nobel Prize Laureate (Physics)

I believe that Ronald Reagan can make this country what it once was - an Arctic region covered with ice.
Steve Martin 08/14/1945 - - US actor, writer and producer

If you want to make God laugh, tell him your future plans.
Woody Allen 12/01/1935 - - US writer, actor and director

If A is a success in life, than A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x; y is play; and z is keeping your mouth shut.
Observer, Jan. 15, 1950, Albert Einstein

Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.
Henry Ford

I'm completely in favor of the separation of Church and State. My idea is that these two institutions screw us up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death.
George Carlin US Comedian

If lawyers are disbarred and clergymen defrocked, doesn't it follow that electricians can be delighted, musicians denoted?
- George Carlin

Some national parks have long waiting lists for camping reservations. When you have to wait a year to sleep next to a tree, something is wrong.
- George Carlin

"I am" is reportedly the shortest sentence in the English language. Could it be that "I do" is the longest sentence?
- George Carlin

Honesty may be the best policy, but it's important to remember that apparently, by elimination, dishonesty is the second-best policy.
- George Carlin

The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made.

Groucho Marx (1890-1977)

I was a prisoner too, but for bad reasons.

--George w. Bush, Monterrey, Mexico, 01/13/2004 to Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, on being told that all but one of the Argentine delegates to a summit meeting were imprisoned during the military dictatorship.

Let me put it to you bluntly. In a changing world, we want more people to have control over your own life.

--George w. Bush, Annandale, VA, 08/09/2004

Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.
Henry Ford

Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock.
Ben Hecht (1893 - 1964)

America is a mistake, a giant mistake.
Sigmund Freud, 05/06/1856 - 11/23/1939, Austrian neurologist & the founder of psychoanalysis

A bank is a place that will lend you money if you can prove that you don't need it.
Bob Hope, 05/29/1903 - 07/27/2003, Engl. actor and comedian

Words ought to be a little wild for they are the assaults of thought on the unthinking.
John Maynard Keynes, 06/05/1883 - 04/21/1946, English economist

A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.
Winston Churchill, 11/30/1874 - 01/24/1965, British politician and Nobel Prize Laureate

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.
Henry David Thoreau, 07/12/1817 - 05/06/1862, US author and philosopher

A day without laughter is a day wasted.
Charlie Chaplin, 04/16/1889 - 12/25/1977, English actor

A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.
from his book "Mostly Harmless"
Douglas Adams, 03/11/1952 - 05/11/2001, English humorist & science fiction novelist

Without music, life would be a mistake.
Friedrich Nietzsche,10/15/1844 - 08/25/1900, philosopher and lyricist

The golden rule is that there are no golden rules.
in the Appendix to Man and Superman: "Maxims for Revolutionists"
George Bernard Shaw, 07/26/1856 - 11/02/1950, Erse dramatist, author and Nobel Prize Laureate

None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 08/28/1749 - 03/22/1832, German poet

To err is human, but to really foul things up requires a computer.
Paul Ehrlich

Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint on it you can.
Danny Kaye, 01/18/1913 - 03/03/1987, US actor and Oscar-Prize-Laureate

The great question - which I have not been able to answer - is, "What does a woman want?"
Sigmund Freud, 05/06/1856 - 11/23/1939, Austrian neurologist & the founder of psychoanalysis

I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish Church, by the Roman Church, by the Greek Church, by the Turkish Church, by the Protestant Church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.
The Age of Reason
Thomas Paine, 01/29/1737 - 06/08/1809, "Founding Father" of the US

I generally avoid temptation unless I can't resist it.
Mae West, 08/17/1893 - 11/22/1980, US-actress, playwright, screenwriter, and sex symbol
Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler. Albert Einstein

Monday, December 04, 2006

More Rope Stuff

A few people have suggested I start a second career as a "professional questioner of commonly held climbing beliefs." That sounds almost fun, but the reality is that I'm mainly just sharing info from other people. I'm no physics major, just really curious about climbing gear, always have been. I do the same sort of work for BD and Arc'teryx on their gear, it's fun for some reason. Maybe I'm really a geek.

Anyhow, I've been corresponding and thinking more about ropes after Jim Ewing's data on half ropes tested with single-rope fall loads. The good news is that all the half ropes held one fall, but Jim is sure none would pass a full single-rope test of five falls minimum. This makes sense, companies would be marketing these ropes as singles if they did.

Here's a really good link full of rope and other climbing gear test data, I especially liked the info on what various environmental contaminants (sand, water, freezing) etc. did to rope strength. Always wondered about that. Andrew McLaren seems to be doing or supervising some good work on climbing gear, thanks to him for that.


The elbow rehab continues, and a few of the exercises I've found seem to be slowly helping--I can now hold a frying pan one-handed! OK, so not so rad but a pretty good improvement for me. Went skate-skiing for the first time last week, sure is fun! Other than that just rehab, running, no climbing but hopefully soon. I've given up Yoga classes for now, the swinging through to seated and "tweaky" strain on my elbow just isn't good. I'm continuing to do my own stretching and yoga at home, but if I go to a yoga class I tend to try too hard and then the elbow is really sore the next day. Yup, yoga kicked my ass.


Thursday, November 30, 2006

Single and Half-Rope Impact Forces: Data!

Jim Ewing is a bud of mine and the head rope guru over at Sterling. We've been emailing back and forth about single-rope impact forces vs. half-rope impact forces (as well as the discussion on this blog) for the last few months. Single ropes are tested with a nasty (1.77 fall factor) fall with an 80kg weight, half-ropes are tested with a nasty fall with 55kg. This weight difference has always struck me as odd--I weigh the same (about 85K all dressed up for winter climbing) whether I'm climbing on a single or half ropes, so why is there a different test? Half-rope technique is to generally clip the strands individually, so the impact will normally be on one strand... Furthermore, many people assume that because the "published" numbers for half rope tests show lower impact forces then using a half-rope will result in lower impact forces on a piece of protection (never mind the test weight is different...). Fortunately, Mr. Ewing has access to a drop-test tower and the knowledge to use it. He completed the following tests over the last 24 hours (he also reportedly did some training in the in-house Sterling cave...), here's the data from Jim on "certified" half ropes tested as single ropes:


Here's the total picture.

Rope A. 80kg-7.35kN, 55kg-5.39kN, published with 55kg-4.85kN

Rope B. 80kg-8.15kN, 55kg-6.23kN, published with 55kg-6.3kN

Rope C. 80kg-8.23kN, 55kg-6.25kN, published with 55kg-6.5kN

Rope D. 80kg-9.22kN, 55kg-5.88kN, published with 55kg-6.1kN

These drops were conducted without the regulation conditioning but complied with all other requirements and procedures. Relative humidity was 42%, temperature was 20ÂșC for 48 hours.
Jim also noted that his four test ropes were all new and from different manufacturers, so his data should offer a pretty good spectrum of what's out there for half ropes tested as single ropes. This is the first solid data I've ever seen on half ropes tested as singles, thanks Jim!

Now the fun part: comparing single rope impact forces to half rope impact forces when tested as "single" ropes. Jim's tests show half rope impact forces with an 80kg weight testing from 7.35kN to 9.22kN. Here are some numbers (taken directly from the BD and Sterling's web sites):

BD "Joker" 9.1mm: 8.2kn
BD "Booster III" 9.7mm: 7.3Kn
Bd "Apollo II" 11mm: 7.7kN
Sterling "Nitro" 9.8mm: 9.0kN
Sterling "Pro"10.1mm: 8.6kN
Sterling "Mega" 11.2mm: 8.7kN

This range is from 7.7kN to 9.0kN; not a lot of difference from the Half rope range of 7.35kN to 9.22kN...

I draw five main conclusions from Jim's data:

1. Half ropes likely do not offer significantly lower impact forces than single ropes in high fall-factor falls where one strand is clipped as is common.
2. Rope diameter alone is NOT a good indicator of impact force (some of the "fat" 11mm ropes offer lower impact force than the "skinny" single or half ropes).
3. The "published" impact numbers may not mean much (there's a wide range between the published and actual in Jim's data).
4. Terrain is more important for rope selection than impact force. If I'm heading up on a route with sketchy gear I may just use my standard single rope, simpler. A single rope with low-impact force may actually be better. But, for routes where the gear is all over the place then half ropes are likely better for less drag (and possibly less chance of both ropes getting cut...).
5. I've got a lot more questions than answers about rope stretch (elongation) with different fall loads--these fall tests are with a very harsh (1.77) fall factor. What happens with low fall-factor loads in terms of elongation and impact forces?

Thanks very much to Jim for working on this. I think this data is the kind we need more of in the climbing world--it challenges our assumptions about equipment in a good way. I don't think there are many "absolutes" in climbing; the systems we use are surprisingly complex and sometimes very non-intuitive. The best we can do is to try and understand our gear as best we can, and then use what's appropriate for the situation at hand. Even then we're likely to get it "wrong" at least some of the time, so having a good margin for error is perhaps the most important part of the climbing process. In climbing we're always trying to balance multiple different factors; speed vs. safety, speed to get to safety, going light to go fast, bringing enough gear to stay alive if the fast idea doesn't work, not taking so much gear that progress stops in a dangerous place, backing up gear in case we fall vs. placing so much gear that we will fall, etc. Perhaps those of us involved in the "climbing education" business are placing too much emphasis on the "right way" and not enough on "think it through."


PS--There's also a discussion on this going on at

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Politics (not directly climbing or flying related...)

It's no secret to regular readers of this blog (and thanks to those who have sent in comments on elbows, ropes and falling!) that I really don't like George Bush and his crew of Neocon nutters. I've always felt they were taking the US down some sort of rabbit hole into an alternate reality where it was OK to treat people like, well, not people. Where it was OK to invade a country (Iraq) not because that country had done something to the US but because, well, because. Where deficits didn't matter, corporate abuses didn't matter, workers didn't matter and the constitution was just a suggestion. I have frequently noted the Bush administration's invocation of "national security" to justify blatantly un-American actions such as Guantanamo Bay, the suspension of Habeas Corpus, torture and all the things we generally associate with third-world dictatorships but are now somehow OK for the US to sanction. In short, I've felt that Bush is the closest thing to a World War II fascist (Hitler, Mussolini) the United States has ever seen. I don't make that comparison lightly, or for shock effect. As soon as a country starts stripping individual freedom to preserve it something has gone seriously wrong.

This article in Slate does a much better job of explaining the Bush/fascism historical parallels than I can. End of political rant, gotta get one off every month or so...

Training: It's been cold enough to discourage much outdoor training here of late, but I've been hiking, running the dog (getting a dog has done more for my aerobic capacity over the last five years than anything else in life) and doing some yogacizing. Thanks for all the elbow suggestions from various people, I'm doing pretty much all of 'em, let's hope some healing results soon!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

More on falling distances...

This discussion on falling distances with respect to clipping position is down there somewhere in the comments column, thought I'd post it as a new entry. I'm getting some email on this as well, it's been fun discussing it all, I hope the following helps people figure it out. Just for the record, it's generally safer to clip at waist level than over-head.

Anon wrote:

I've read your info regarding clipping and, while I didn't pull out the graph paper, I did use a string demo and am not seeing your logic.

Here's my scenario:
- assume a vertical face
bolt3 (30ft above ground - not clipped)
YOU (28ft above ground)
bolt2 (20ft above ground - clipped)
bolt1 (10ft above ground - clipped)

If you overhead mis-clip 2ft from bolt3 (ie. 8ft above bolt2) then you'll have 8+2+2=12ft of slack rope and a 24ft fall from 28ft above ground. (You better hope you got less than 4ft rope stretch!!). If you mis-clip at your harness then you have 10ft of slack rope and a 20ft fall from 30ft above ground.

Seems to be safer to clip from the harness at bolt height. What am I missing!?

Will Gadd said...

Hi Anon, you're definitely right that clipping at waist-level is often safer than clipping overhead. That's the main point of all of this, so you're not missing anything in my mind in terms of where it's generally safer to clip. But your math is wrong in your scenario for total fall distance. I've written a few explanations below that I hope will help you understand...

In your scenario you don't fall twice the distance of the amount of rope you have above the last piece. That's the error I made as well when I wrote my book. Seems obvious that you would and that's how we are often taught to think of lead falls, but it doesn't quite work that way when part of the rope is "above" you. We actually end up the same distance below a piece as the amount of rope we had above the piece when we fell...

It's funny, I too refused to believe the graph paper for some time until I really counted the squares and thought it through. In your example you correctly have 12 total feet of rope in the system above the last piece at 20 feet. So you'll definitely end up with 12 total feet of rope below the 20 foot piece after the fall, right? What's 20 minus 12? 8. If your harness starts the fall at 28 feet and ends at 8 feet how far did you just fall? 20 feet... It's fun to run this scenario using a "long armed" climber who can clip 6 feet over his/her harness; Now there's 16 (10 to the missed clip, six from the missed clip to the harness) feet of rope above the last piece and the climber will end up 16 feet below the last piece--four feet off the ground. But the fall is still 20 feet, the "extra" six feet of rope going from the climber's harness to his attemped clip hand doesn't increase the fall.

So in your scenario, you actually fall 20 feet and end up 12 feet below the last piece--the two feet of rope going from your harness to the clipping point doesn't "double" or add to the fall distance. Count your squares on the graph paper, or with the string--the fall distance is exactly 20 feet (ignoring rope stretch, belayer feed, etc.) The KEY difference in the clip at waist and clip overhead scenarios is that the starting point for the fall is higher off the ground when clipping at waist level (safer). Belayers also tend to feed more slack than absolutely necessary, and climbers generally also pull more slack, which adds at least a few more feet of slack in the system when clipping overhead...

Just for fun and 'cause I'm a nerd, think of a climber who has a bomber piece at 100 feet above the ground. He climbs up another 20 feet, rattles in a sketchy piece, and starts climbing down to get back to his bomber piece. Unfortunately, just as he gets his harness level with the bomber piece he falls, the top piece blows, and he goes for a ride. How far is he going to fall? 20 feet? 40 feet? 80 feet? He has 40 feet of rope above the last piece now, our "classic logic" would tell us he's going to go 80 feet... Nope, he's going to end up 40 feet below the "bomber" piece because he had 40 feet of rope above it. Total fall 40 feet... This is just an exaggerated version of the clipping overhead scenario.

I've had a half-dozen discussions on this now. I expect a non-climbing math student would figure this out very fast, but as climbers we have a very strong, almost religious belief that fall distance equals twice the rope above the last piece. In the last two weeks I've had three major beliefs I hold about climbing seriously revised: fall distance, half-rope impact forces, and the use of Cordelettes...

Friday, November 24, 2006

More Gear Commentary

Anchors: Cordelette, Sliding X, or? A brief history of anchor building (with lots left out...)

When I started seriously climbing in the early 80s most of us weren't thinking all that deeply about equalizing multiple pieces at belay anchors. A couple of slings of roughly the same length on each piece, good to go. Then we realized this wasn't optimal, and started using the "sliding X," basically a sling clipped in the middle to equalize two pieces at a belay or on-route (the X keeps the biner from sliding off the sling if one piece blows). Then some "smart" people figured out that if one pice blew with a "sliding X" that it would theoretically shock-load the remaining piece. Cordelettes, basically a long piece of 7mm cord, became all the rage 'cause you could clip multiple pieces together quite quickly, and with what was thought to be good equalization. The preferred material for cordelettes was first 7mm nylon, then 5mm Spectra, then Dyneema, then someone figured out that these types of fibers don't stretch much which is hard on the anchors in a factor two fall, so it was back to 7mm nylon cord...

Some recent research suggests that cordelettes actually don't do a very good job at equalizing multiple pieces. In fact, they do a lousy job, and for a reason that in retrospect seems, ah, pretty obvious: If the legs of the cordelette are at all different lengths then they will stretch differently. So if there are two pieces in an anchor, "A" and "B," with the amount of cord going to "A" twice that of "B" then B will take almost all the force when loaded: less cord to B, less stretch, more load, especially as the cord or anchor point comes close to failing. The cord to A will come into play a tiny bit, but because there is so much more cord going to A the load on A will be relatively minimal... This seems very obvious when thinking it through, but I just took the whole cordelette concept for granted 'cause that's what the "experts" said to use on belays. Less stretchy webbing isn't any better, as it's the relative amount of stretch that matters--if webbing only stretches two percent at load then the short leg will just stetch at 2 percent of it's length vs. 2 percent of the long leg, same non-equalized loading situation. A cordellete will work great when all the legs are exactly the same length and the load comes from exactly the "planned" direction. My belays generally don't work like that when climbing (some top-rope or rescue anchors do).

Now there's also some new research that suggests the shock-loading problems with the "sliding X" aren't a big problem; in fact, the main problem with the sliding X system is that there can be a lot of friction at the "X," which reduces the effectiveness of the equalization system. Using a big anodized biner basically solves this. I really have to laugh about this whole subject, I can remember the epic arguments about the sliding X vs. the Cordelette; we were all arguing about the "wrong" factors. The problem with the sliding X wasn't the shock loading, and the problem with the Cordellete wasn't the 7mm cord... I actually thought the stretch in the cord would help equalize the various pieces, when in fact it does the opposite. This is why I'm a climber and not working on the space shuttle.

The solution to all of this is something called a "Duo glide." This a rat's nest of a knotted cordelette strung together in such a complicated manner that I am really likely to do it wrong in any but the most optimal of conditions. I played with it on my hallway coat rack and could get it right most of the time, but slowly. I don't like it. Trango makes something called the Alpine Equalizer, which seems promising, but when I alpine climb I want gear that does multiple functions and is easy to deal with. It also requires an overhand knot to work to it's full potential, and anyone who has tried to untie an overhand in webbing after it's been loaded, especially in winter, well, good luck...

I'm going back to a sliding X with a big biner, backed up with a sling of about the right length to a third piece. If the belay is so shitty that I feel perfect equalization is in order then I might go for the duo-glide option, but realize I'm basically being an idiot for trusting my life and that of my partner to a dubious belay.

There are several epic discussion on in the internet about this, about the best is here.

I thought Donald Rumsefield was an idiot for talking about "unknown unknowns" and such. He's still an idiot for other reasons, but in climbing there are a lot of "unknown unknowns." Anchors should have solid gear tied together in such a way that even if everything in the anchor blows but one piece the system will still hold....

Training: Went climbing yesterday, the elbow is not happy today. I am thinking of cutting the arm off. Bit extreme, might try more physio first.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Ice, Elbow, Aerobics

The ice season is in full swing here--it's been a bit of an odd November so far, very warm days (+8 Canadian here today, that's about +50 US) alternating with good periods of colder weather. Most of the higher north-facing routes are "in," some of the lower north-facing routes are "in," and the rest is pretty random. It seems like air masses have been very localized; what's true in K-Country isn't for the Parkway, and even along the Parkway there is a lot of variety. The conditions pages are in good form.

Training (elbow and aerobics):

The elbow continues to annoy, I haven't done much climbing in a while, it's getting pretty aggravating. Some ice (well, not climbing, in plastic bags...), light gym workouts that don't annoy the elbow, doing my best. My situps are going damn well, I'm in top form for dips and pushups too, but unfortunately these don't apply to climbing all that well... I've been doing a lot of dog training too, beat the old "Chili Dog" record up to the first talus slope on Lady Mac from my house today, round trip 58 minutes (previous best time a little over an hour round-trip, done while training for the X Alps). I'd like to go alpine climbing as there are some new routes worth trying, but pulling ropes through a belay device is one of the things that hurts my elbow most. I'm thinking of going back to a hip-belay, but that might freak some of my partners out, grin. I do trust hip belays if done right, the first lead fall I ever caught was a near factor-two straight onto me and a hip belay. I don't know who was more stunned that it worked, the leader or me, but it did... I've been doing a fair amount of Yoga as well, although I've been avoiding Ashtanga classes as I can't do the "swing through" move to seated or back, too much strain on the elbow. Did a "Hot Yoga" class yesterday while in Calgary, bunch of nutters in a room with the heat cranked up to hallucination hot, pretty fun. Very different from the normal Ashtanga flow stuff I do, seemed good to switch it up. Initiatlly I was OK with taking a break from climbing, but now I'm seriously missing it, the feeling of ice flowing by the tools and good times out with good people is just a big part of my life. Whine whine, I'll eventually heal 'cause I'm gonna lose it if I don't get out climbing pretty quick.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Whyte Museum Show

I've been working on a new slideshow for the Whyte Museum, "20 years of icicles." Originally I had planned to mainly do the relatively recent history, but then I started thinking about the eras before I was climbing in the Rockies. I called a few friends from that era, and suddenly I had some amazing shots of the "early years" of waterfall ice in the Rockies, absolutely great stuff. So the title now should really be, "Almost 40 years of Icicles" in the Rockies, I'm really fired up to share some great photos from back in the day from various pioneers of waterfall ice climbing. The energy and excitement of those photos from the early 70s to mid-eighties is just too good not to share. When I look at these photos I just have to smile, these guys were somewhere between flat-out crazy and very gifted climbers, likely a lot of both. Thanks to everyone who has graciously shared their photos and stories with me (who knew that warm milk laced with sugar was the ultimate anti-hyopthermia conconction? Thanks Tim Auger), it's gonna be a fun show.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Norwegian Ice Climbing Info, Alberta Ice

I've spent the last couple of Februarys in Norway, home of big ice and crazy potential. I really like the Norwegian vibe and the endless opportunities for big ice. My friend Andreas Spak has just produced a new Norway web page, it's a bit rough yet but has some good info, check it out.

I also have some trip reports up on my old Gadfly blog pages, here. Spak's other site also has some good info.

After a week of crazy warm weather (wet slides, falling ice climbs, etc) the ice is back on here in Alberta. Be careful on the ice, we lost a fellow climber and nearly two due to a slide a week ago. Another climber reportedly had to be rescued after the climb he was on in the Ghost fell down, leaving him precariously balanced on a small rock ledge he managed to somehow catch himself on. His partners went for help, but it was four hours before he was plucked from his stance, likely not so fun. Temperatures are back to "normal" now so collapsing climbs should be less of a problem, but there's a lot more snow up high than the bare valleys would suggest.


Friday, November 10, 2006

More on clipping

The posts on clipping and falling distances have generated a lot of email. Some graph paper will help in working the various clipping situations; we're all conditioned to think of the fall distance as twice the amount of rope above the last piece, but when clipping overhead the fall distance isn't twice the amount of rope above the last piece... Ulimately a fall while clipping is roughly equal to twice the distance between the two pieces, regardless of where the climber falls off while clipping. Diagrams drawn to scale will help sort this out. My friend Bill B sent the following in, good points also--it's not just starting point of the fall that matters, but also how belayers deal with over-head clips:

"I would consider a couple other factors here; 1. the climber will most always pull thru more rope than he/she needs, 2. the belayer will most always chuck out more slack than the climber will take (this is quickly adjusted for, but after the clip is made). Fall at the wrong moment before making the clip and the fall will certainly be longer than if you clipped at the waist. " -Bill B.

Understanding the physics allows us to make better decisions about difficult clips. I've seen a few accidents recently that just didn't have to happen, and a couple of other very close calls, I don't think enough climbers have thought this through carefully.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Aweberg wins Banff Festival Award

Finally back at home after the film festival and participating in the film maker's seminar. The festival went really well, good fun, and the latest film we made, Aweberg, won a special jury award. The award reads, "This short film represents in a microcosm the spectacular, the audacious, and the pure play that is at the essence of mountain sports." Thanks very much to the Banff Festival Jury for that, and thanks to everyone who worked on the film as well, it was a pleasure. I just accepted the award--any award for a film is definitely for everyone on the trip, a film doesn't happen without a lot of people working really hard. Thanks. (A few people wrote asking if they could buy Aweberg--you can buy a pre-commercial DVD here).

The day we showed the film at Banff drew over 500 people, the biggest day-time show of the festival.

I saw a lot of great films at the festival and laid the kindling for several new film projects. The creative buzz is great.

I also took part in the film maker's seminar, an excellent four-day seminar with Richard Else and Keith Partridge, two of the UK's best film makers. They had some great insights on how to make better films, and the collection of seminar attendees was also very qualified. I learned a lot both from the Brits and the other people in the seminar, very worth the time although I'm now behind as usual on the mass of email etc...



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...

Friday, October 27, 2006

Black Diamond Gear Loop Testing and thoughts.

Kolin, head of quality assurance over at Black Diamond, just did some more belay loop testing in response to Todd's accident, check this link for more info. One of the reasons I really like working with BD is that many of the people there are truly obsessive climbers, with access to stacks of high-tech lab equipment. As a climber and professional "tester," Kolin was obviously directly interested in belay loop failure and so immediately did a stack of tests on belay loops with various "issues." Right on Kolin, thanks. What Kolin's tests showed is that even extensively damaged NEW belay loops are still very strong. As I read through both his belay loop tests and then his previous tests and reports (lots on that page) I noticed that Kolin kept repeating some varation of this quote from his tests: "Regardless—swap out old crappy gear—the heartache avoided could be your own..." Most of his reports were written before Todd's accident.

I recently wrote on this blog about teaching clinics a couple of weeks ago in Maryland where several people were belaying by clipping through their leg loops and swami belt instead of the belay loop. This accident has made me think about that, but I'm still far more worried about a biner breaking through cross-loading or through the carabiner flipping over and having the gate pressed open than I am about belay loops breaking while belaying. Carabiners can break when cross-loaded, or when loaded with the gate opened, I've had it happen several times now and watched the lab tests, it does happen. I've only ever heard of one belay loop ever breaking, I'll go with the belay loop as it reduces the odds of biner failure dramatically.

For rappelling the decision is a little more murky. The forces involved on the average rap are generally pretty low (although they can be surprisingly high when rapping on double ropes, remember that's two strands to share the force, resulting in less rope stretch and therefore higher loads on the carabiner if "bounced"). Most carabiners should be more than adequate to handle this sort of load even if cross-loaded or if the gate gets pressed open, so those arguments are slightly less compelling. Overall I'm still inclined to use the belay loop to rap. For starters, it's simpler, cleaner and easier to see what's going on with the device and belay loop connection. Human error happens, a belay loop is just simpler to see those errors. I also don't like having the ropes sliding through the carabiner so close to my tie-in points. It's pretty easy to have the harness bunch up in such a way that the rope runs on the nylon tie-in point during the rap. Nylon running on nylon is really dangerous as most of us know, it melts and cuts very quickly. One rap with a rubbing rope on the harness isn't likely to cut a tie-in point, but it sure could make it a bit weaker, and I'm not confident in knowing how many raps like this would equal failure. A belay loop keeps the device well away from the tie-in points and prevents "bunched up" rubbing on them, the tie-in points need to be absolutely strong for harsh falls.

I also don't like reducing the distance between the "hot" part of the carabiner and my tie-in points. With a belay loop the distance or "heat sink" is the full size of the carabiner, but may only be a few cm of the carabiner if the carabiner is through the tie-in points. Likely not a big deal but, over years of use, ?

The final thing I don't like about using the tie-in points instead of the belay loop for raps is related to the closeness of the belay device--it's a lot easier to get clothes, gear etc. stuck into the device. While this is not normally fatal, I do remember getting my shirt stuck into my belay device years ago. At the time I felt fortunate to be carrying a knife; in retrospect, any blade near a rope I'm hanging on is a really stupid idea... I've also seen people rapping with the device on a long sling, this isn't good as it's easier to get hair stuck into the device, I've seen that happen a few times too. A belay loop seems about right.

One thing I am considering using more often is a backup prussic knot of some kind. I've always thought these added more complexity than they were worth--I've seen all sorts of cluster fucks on rap with people using backups. Some were pretty funny, some were potentially life-threatening (dark, -20, the prussic freezes to the rope after weighting it and the climber is left hanging there on an ice climb trying to sort it all out). I've seen far more potentially "bad" situations than I have situations where the person was potentially "saved." I do put knots in the ends of my ropes on "mystery raps" in the dark. In my mind knots in the end of the rope on any "suspect" rap are way better than a prussic, most people's reaction to falling is to grab the prussic knot, which then just slides uselessly down the rope. I've seen a few accidents where people rapped off the ends of their ropes, a prussic knot wouldn't have done anything as the rope goes through the device so fast that the person would have to be thinking not to "squeeze" the knot as the ropes went through the device and toward the knot, I just don't see that happening. Prussic knots may be useful for those raps where the ends of the ropes are hanging in space, but in that situation the prussic knot is only useful if you know the ends of the ropes are hanging in space and stop early, before the ends of the ropes. If you know that then why would you take it to the ends of the rope anyhow? And if you're rapping into suspect terrain/rope combinations then you ought to have knots in the ends of the ropes anyhow... As for falling rocks etc. the equation comes down to how many problems I've seen with backups vs. how many times I've been smacked stupid on rap by a rock. Lots, and never are the answers. Wait, I just talked myself out of a backup prussic knot, and yet Todd's accident has still got me thinking it might be a good idea...

One of the things Todd was good at was getting people to think, that's reportedly why his corporate presentations were so good (I've only ever seen his climbing talks, which were awesome). So thinking about all of our systems is a good thing, I just wish it didn't take a guy like Todd dying to get me thinking about it this stuff for hours.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Check Your Gear

There's an good article up here on how Todd lived and died--reportedly he died because his belay loop failed. Apparently the belay loop was very well-worn, to the point where it just broke. I'll wait and see if there's not some other piece of evidence in this accident equation, but right now that's what's being reported. I find this almost unbearably sad because this means Todd's accident was very avoidable. We all make mistakes, but a failed gear loop is the proverbial lightning bolt from the sky, something that just doesn't happen. Todd had more than enough money to buy himself a new harness or 50, he was likely climbing on worn gear simply because he knew belay loops are massively over-built. Some might ask why a climber of his stature and experience wouldn't just get boxes of free harnsesses delivered to his door, but one of his decisions later in life was to avoid pro deals or sponsorship of any kind. He simply wanted to climb, and made more than enough money doing his public speaking gigs to not need free gear. If he paid for all his gear then he wasn't beholden to anyone or anything when he went climbing, it was his game and his alone. Some climbers have attacked Todd over the years for shameless self-promotion in order to further his climbing career; his sponsor-free style of climbing in his latter years shows exactly where his mind truly was--on going climbing. I just wish he had spent the $ on a new harness. Hell, he owned a climbing store loaded with new harnesses, he could have shop-lifted himself one.

Some climbers will likely start rapping and belaying off carabiners stuck through both their leg and waist-belt tie-in points based on this accident. I think it very likely that this is more dangerous than using the belay loop due to the potential to cross-load the carabiner. I've broken three carabiners over the years while climbing, always due to cross-loading or having the gate inadvertently open due to a weird load. The belay loop is a far safer option as it virtually elminates cross-loading or gate torque. I've sewed and tested belay loops, it's about impossible to break one--even a very poorly sewed belay loop tests out as very, very strong. In fact, despite seeing some woeful belay loops in the field this is the first time I've ever heard of one ever breaking. But if it's just totally worn-out, as Todd's may have been then it can obviously break.

Another friend of mine recently broke a very thin Dyneema sling while cleaning new routes. He was on a top-rope with the sling equalizing one piece and the rope clipped into another. The Dyneema sling was girth-hitched into another sling extension, and basically cut itself. Fortunately my friend's rope was anchored into another anchor which held, or he would likely have been somewhere between severely injured or dead. I've never liked those super-skinny Dyneema slings, the small weight savings just didn't seem worth it to me, I like gear with a margin of error. Some friends at at a n equipment manufacturer did some tests on these slings also, the results just weren't encouraging, I'll leave it at that.

There have been several recent fatal accidents in paragliding and hang gliding due to people using beat-up or inappropriate old gear as well. This year I got rid of my old helmet (went with a ski helmet, seems like a better option than most of the PG helmets), replaced my primary reserve and and my tandem reserve, updated my first aid kit and just generally got my gear in order. These sports are dangerous enough without using worn-out gear.

I'm off to the garage to throw out some old slings, check my belay loops/harness bits and just generally give my gear a good once-over. Everything is likely just fine, but...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A dark day

I just heard that Todd Skinner, one of the true masters of rock climbing died yesterday in Yosemite.

The Supertopo forum has many anecdotes from people who enjoyed Todd as a friend over the years.

I first met Todd in about 1983 or so, when I was a student in Colorado. Todd was in town to do a slideshow at the local shop, and somehow ended up on the floor of our student house. This was a bit like having Michael Jordan sleeping on my floor, but Todd was appreciative and entertained us a bit. He was a legend of the '80s scene, and I kept bumping into him over the years in Hueco or someplace random. I corresponded with him about climbing new routes in various places, he was always forthcoming with information and excitement. Todd was one of the first "professional" climbers, meaning that's all he wanted to do and did, and as I struggled to make that lifestyle work I always respected Todd as much for his dedication to climbing as his actual climbing. Todd truly used his sponsorship money solely to go climbing, that purity of purpose has always been my model.

During one rather bleak spell in my own path through life Todd talked to me for several hours about sponsorship, speaking, climbing and life. The quote I best remember is, "Well, it's nice to get free gear, but you can't put quickdraws in the gas tank." A few days ago a friend and I were hiking down from Yam while talking about photography and how to make a living from it when some manufacturers are chiseling for a "photos for gear" deal, and I shared Todd's quote with hopefully a bit of the same humor and insight that Todd had shared it with me all those years ago. I didn't know at the time he had likely just fallen to his death, it's just one of those quotes that makes sense as so many of Todd's did.

Todd had his vocal detractors in the climbing scene, but I never heard Todd bad-mouth another climber, route or accomplishment, and there were times when he certainly would have been justified in doing so. He counted most people as his friends even if they weren't, not out of naivete but out of straight-up hope for the individual and life. That was another lesson--never let the bastards get ya down, life's pretty damn cool. At times his "cowboy" act annoyed me, but in the end I came to see it as every bit as subversive and carefully ethical as my own punk sensibility of the era, and certainly more genuine. We're all actors, Todd just had more fun with it than most.

Ah hell Todd, thanks for being you. Peace to Amy and Todd's massive extended family around the world.

And to everyone who climbs, be careful, we're all one wrong clip from a parachute-free BASE jump. I know this because Todd was smart, careful, strong and solid in a way few will ever be on the cliff.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Yambushi Slides on Arc'teryx site

Cory Richards and I put together some slides and notes that Arc'teryx has put up on their site, looks nice!

I've been getting emails asking if the ice is forming, and the short answer is YES... I expect people are already out scraping away, nothing big in yet but it's starting for sure. After so much rock climbing it's strange to think it's going to be ice and mixed until at least March.

Training: a down cycle

After every big goal accomplished I generally lose all motivation and take a week off to recharge my batteries, so not much training or climbing The weather has been really poor here in the Canadian Rockies of late, plus I'm running some tendonitis in my left elbow from hauling on the route and a minor finguer injury, rest is required. I've been sitting in the office chair getting paper work done, editing video and just generally getting caught up on everything I didn't do while trying to finish off Yamabushi. Hey, the ofice isn't so bad sometimes... I have been doing a lot of Yoga and running some, the elbow is slowly improving, I hope to get out and climb tomorrow.


Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Yamabushi Info

Here's the route description and notes, thanks for the kind words in the comments, working this route all fall with Cory was a great time!

Yamabushi, Mt. Yamnuksa, 300M, 5.13a
Start right of “Balrog, follow the line up through the big roofs.

In about 1999 Raphael Slawinski and I started work on a new line on the last major buttress of Yamnuska without a route on it. The reason there weren’t any routes on this area of the wall is obvious: the rock is really steep, generally overhanging, with a maze of large roofs to negotiate. It’s also relatively crack-free, meaning a climb would require extensive bolting. Our progress was slow for the first five years; the climbing/cleaning on lead was hard and took a lot of time—about two days for each pitch. The process of hanging off hooks or lousy gear to drill was also mentally taxing, so we would generally get about a half pitch done every year. The route is also much harder than any other multi-pitch route I’ve done--we only felt fit enough to try it each Fall, then it would snow, oh well, next year, repeat for years.

We did eventually give in to the “dark side” and try to rap-bolt the route to speed our progress up, but were foiled by the very steep rock after only about 60M—it was too difficult to find the climbing line on rap, and we were hanging too far out from the wall anyhow. Plus, although there has been rap-bolting on Yam, it just didn’t feel right. But in 2006 I had an exceptionally good rock-climbing summer (meaning the paragliding sucked so I climbed a lot more), and felt fit enough to give the climb a serious effort, plus I had an under-employed partner, Cory Richards. Raphael was game but unfortunately employed and not feeling rock-fit after a trip to Pakistan. Alpinism is really bad for rock climbing fitness.

It took 11 more trips up on the wall, but in the end we finished off what I consider the best rock route I’ve ever done in the Canadian Rockies. We put a lot of work into cleaning loose rock and equipping the route—I wanted to build something that other people would want to climb, rather than just get the route done as fast as possible. While there are some excellent routes on Yam with good rock, there are also many routes that emphasize difficult run-out climbing on loose rock. I wanted to create something physical and enjoyable that would attract climbers to the great climbing the cliff offers.

The climbing is sustained (five of the eight pitches are 5.12 or harder, and even the 5.11 pitches are involved), and the sometimes friable rock adds to the excitement. Eight pitches at the sport crag is no big deal, eight hard pitches on Yam took a lot more out of me, there’s something about Yamineering that adds extra value. Each pitch also has a lot of climbing on it, usually two or three good cruxes to play with. It took two attempts before climbing the route free from bottom to top in a day, even knowing the route as well as I did. We likely could have done it sooner had we accepted a multi-day free ascent as is common, but there’s just something about climbing from the bottom to the top in a day. Some gear is helpful for reducing the runouts, but not absolutely necessary. It seemed sort of silly to make people bring a rack for a half-dozen possible gear placements in over 300M of climbing. I hope it becomes popular, it’s a very fine long day of climbing in a spectacular environment. All belays are bolted and at “hands free” stances.

P1: 5.10, 60M Climb the shield right of Balrog, easy scrambling across the ledge (skip the anchor, that’s for rapping), up and left to a semi-hanging stance just right of the Balrog crack. Long slings reduce rope drag.
P2, 5.13a (?), 25M. Right up the shallow dihedral to the big roofs, get motivated and climb ‘em! (note that two ropes are required to rap from the top of this pitch, a single 70M rope will be hanging in space). Prussics can be handy for the second if he or she falls off into space and is left dangling there, but a tight rope will keep things in check.
P3, 11d, 50M. Up and generally left on perfect grey rock for about 20M, then back right a bit and up to “lunch ledge,” the only ledge on the climb. A bit run reaching the ledge but not so hard, a cam might be nice. This pitch always seems hard. There are extendo slings on the anchor to keep the rope knot from catching on rap.
P4, 12b, 35M Fun climbing on excellent rock to a semi-hanging stance under a roof. This is the last stance where rapping is straight-forward. With a single 70M rope the ends will just reach Lunch Ledge, fun rappel.
P5, 12b (could be harder?), 30M. Three different fun cruxes. This pitch was very scary to clean on lead, some of the bolts may seem a bit close, but they were used to avoid dying while sending down huge blocks on lead. Excellent rock, and good luck on the last move to the anchor…
P6, 12b/c, 30M. Strenuous and gymnastic climbing up overhanging dihedrals to a baffling crux move before the belay. Down-clipping would be required to rap from here, even with two 70M ropes the ends hang too far out from the wall to reach back in. Down-clipping works OK.
P7, 12b/c (?), 35M. Just when you thought it was over…Very technical with small holds, devious. This pitch is harder than 5.11 but I’m not sure what it really is, I look forward to hearing someone else’s opinion…
P8, 11c, 50M. Surprisingly hard, the first seven pitches take a toll. There is a two-bolt belay at the top of the steep rock, definitely stop here and bring the second up rather than topping out immediately, the last few meters of walking up to the top offer some of the finest rubble found on Yam. There is a bolt just below the top under a cairn to safeguard the last bit.

A note on the grades: I’ve spent so much time working on this route I have no idea if the above grading is accurate or not, everything started to feel sort of the same by the time I managed to link it all together. The Big Ass Roof (pitch 2) recently lost a pebble stuck in a small slot, which may make it a bit easier.

Some history:

1999: Will Gadd and Raphael Slawinski bolt the first pitch and start work on the second and third pitches.
2000-05: Gadd and Slawinski work for four more days from the ground-up, and experiment with rap-bolting, which is not very successful due to the angle of the wall. Gadd also works on the route with Kevin Wilson for a cold day.
2006, September-October: Gadd and Richards spend 11 days cleaning and bolting. Kevin Dyck also puts a day in, as does Sarah Hueniken. Gadd finally does a complete no falls bottom-to-top ascent on October 12, leading every pitch with Josh Briggs jumaring.

“Yama” is Japanese for Mountain, “Bushi” for monk. The Yamabushi in Japan are warrior/monks who train with extreme asceticism; they run a marathon a day for 60 days straight, eating only small amounts of rice. Plus the name has “Yam” at the start, which is what locals call the cliff. Yam has a long and proud climbing history for Canadian climbers, it’s the crucible in which many Canadian climbers were forged over the last 50+ years.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Yamabushi: Done.

After at least 16 days of work spread over 6 years we finally finished our line right of Balrog on Yam. A big thanks to Raphael Slawinski, who I started the line with, and Cory Richards, who I worked all fall to finish it with (we were up there something like 10 days this fall). Josh Briggs came out for the final day and made it happen also, thanks. It's been the best fall of rock climbing I've ever had, so many amazing blue sky, yellow trees and grey limestone days where, as someone quipped, "It was a tragic day to have a real job!" Kevin Dyck, Kevin Wilson and Sarah Hueniken also put time in on it over the years, thanks. I'll write some more up and post some photos/topo when I they're sorted, but I'm just really happy to have finally climbed it bottom to top without falling, it's been a great project with good friends, so many ups and downs adding up to something special for all of us who put time in to finding the line. Yam rocks! I can't stop smiling. We're heading back up early in the morning to get some gear back, just before the weather really locks down for the season.

"Yamabushi" is the name by group decision, Yama means mountain in Japanese, the Yambushi are mountain monks I've always admired, Google them and check it out, plus the word starts with my favorite cliff in the Rockies, Yam.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Yam, Garrett College

I'm in the Pitssburgh airport on the way back from doing a seminar and show at Garrett College, just over the border in Maryland. Garrett is an interesting school with a strong outdoor program, one of the few schools to offer various paddling and climbing certification programs. Part of my job yesterday was to go out to a new climbing/bouldering area with some of the students, I didn't think it would be all that great but it turned into a classic sunny fall day with stellar fall color in the forest canopy. The rock we went to is part of the ASI complex, which includes a kayaking course literally on top of a mountain. More on that some other time, but it's an amazing bit of technology. Anyhow, our rocks turned out to be excellent, with a wide variety of new boulder problems just waiting to be done. The students and I got pumped silly and shredded our skin, perfect. Days like that are a big reason I like traveling and doing slide shows, it was a great experience. I'll never look at the east-coast woods the same way again, there's a lot of rocks hidden out there!

We went up on Yam on last Sunday, but it was miserably cold, just above freezing and not generally sunny. A cold wind didn't help, but we managed to work pitches 7 and 8, pitch 7 is definitely hard, solid 5.12, excellent climbing with a very sustained section. I couldn't come close to redpointing with numb feet and hands, but it's all there. I just hope we get a sunny day to try the continuous ascent, and that we're fit enough to do it. Four pitches of mid-5.12 in a row is difficult for me, especially after a 5.13 pitch and another 5.11+ pitch. Pitch 7 is the redpoint crux for sure... The ground was frozen hard as we walked up, we're going to need some decent weather in mid-October to get this rig done.

Thanks to the Pittsburgh airport for the free internet, one of the few airports I travel through that offers that. I really rely on the net for business communication, it irks me to pay the $10 for the hour of net I use while waiting for flights, sometimes twice in the same day. So right on Pittsburgh airport.

Ok, my late flight is boarding now, back home tonight, hopefully up on Yam early in the morning!


Thursday, October 05, 2006

Yam Almost (day 13)

Yesterday Cory I and went up on Yam with the goal of sending the Yam project we've been working all September (day seven this season, 13 into the project). It was an absolutely perfect Fall day, a sensory feast. The first six pitches went down first try, including the sixth, which I'd been unable to climb in the past. We were super-stoked at the top of pitch 6, especially 'cause the last hard move on pitch six is low-percentage. Six pitches down, two more "easy" pitches to go--or so we thought... In retrospect it was a bit like when Bush hung the "Mission Accomplished" banner for Iraq, it wasn't really over now was it? I'm going to write about pitch 7 because I can't stop thinking about it.

Pitch 7 started off with some 5.10 climbing up a less than vertical headwall of very sharp "Yam Velcro," meaning that the surface of the limestone looks like a dry bowl of Captain Crunch cereal, only each crunch spike is skin-cutting sharp. The spikes tend to break off occasionally, but the rock is in general excellent grey limestone. The pitch is generally well-protected with bolts (as is most of the route, some bigger runs but you're unlikely to die on this route). No problem, paste hands, feet up, let the spikes hurt so good. Then the pitch steepened up to vertical to gently overhanging, with blobs of the grey Velcro mixed with more friable yellow limestone. Those of you who climb on Rockies limestone will know the mix. I was tired but still felt reasonably strong, and kept thinking that in one or two moves I'd get a good hold and then it would be jugs to to the belay. The slow slide into being pumped silly started when a foothold broke and I had to give all my power to hang on. Suddenly I was on the edge of falling after climbing maybe 10M of a 35M pitch. No! Up and just out of reach I could see a bigger than usual Crunch nubbin, but so far away and it would probably break anyhow... The clock was on, no time to rest, I hiked my feet up on lousy footholds that were crunching like mad and thought, "This won't work," but I had to try, fuck it, go down fighting man! I hit the Cruncher but oh so barely good enough to hold or maybe not, no, yes, wobbling, barely barely on. For the next 20 minutes I was able to oh so barely bust out a move, recover just enough to make another one, repeat. I have never, never, tried so hard on a pitch for so long in my life--so many times almost falling off, then not, just a swinging quickdraw's force from falling off. Normally when I'm that pumped I fall off, but this was pitch 7 on the redpoint effort of the biggest rock route I've ever put up, I refused to fall and so somehow didn't. Footholds broke slightly, my skin started to bleed, but I was making it work. Finally I got to an awkward rest where I could alternate hands, but my feet were on crunchy nubbins so I was only able to get the feeling back in my hands, my forearms were bloated like balloons and weren't going down in pressure. I could see the belay so close, and then the "rest" started to turn into work. Go! A paralyzed friend of mine once explained that he could use his hands better with "extensis," which means bending his wrists back so the tendons were stretched and his finger stayed curled better. I think this is part of the reason our elbows go up and out when we're pumped stupid, we're using extensis to stay on. My elbows went up into the super pollo as I scrabbled upward, Crunch nubbins flying off until there was nothing left to give and I was in the air and hanging on the rope, a jug in plain sight about a foot higher. 20M of all-out desperate climbing came down to a foot... At first I was too tired to do more than hang there, then the pain came in the skin and the world returned with a rush. I had given absolutely everything I had for the last 35 minutes--skin, energy, will, and I had come up short by a single move...

I lowered down thinking I'd just find the good sequence, pull the rope the rope and redpoint next go, but I couldn't do any of the moves I'd just done, there was nothing left in my mind or body, and each time I touched the rock I had to consciously not let go from the skin pain. The splitter Fall day was cooling fast as the sun set, and I suddenly realized we had to get to the top of Yam somehow (rapping after the fifth pitch would be very complicated, the ends of 70M ropes hang totally free a long way from the wall). What if the next "easy" pitch was like this too? Quickdraws became my friends, and fortunately the last pitch wasn't too bad, relatively easy 5.11. We had done an ascent of the route from bottom to top, but not free, and not free is not done in my mind.

If I had been able to hang on for one more move and make the belay I'd call that pitch the best "onsight" climbing of my life (I'd rapped the pitch, but didn't know the moves at all, so not a technically pure onsight effort). I tried harder and succeeded more than I ever have on a single pitch, but still came up short. I alternated between feeling heart-broken over failing so close, and yet calm with the fact that I'd done my absolute best.

Today I wonder how hard that pitch is--could be relatively easy, on top of Yam I felt like I do at the end of one of those cragging days where you've climbed more hard routes than normal and then climbed some laps on a hard route and then tried to do the "warm up" to cool down and can't... It doesn't really matter, I met my match high on Yam. I really want to do a continuous free ascent as that always feels best, but I know it's common to claim an ascent redpointing each pitch in sequence. We could go back up, rap down and redpoint the last two pitches like others have done on big wall "free" routes, but that seems somehow weak to me, the goal is always to climb from the bottom to the top. I don't think I have the fitness to climb six pitches, four of which are solid 5.12 with one likely 5.13, and then figure that pitch out, so perhaps the thing to do is to rap down, figure it out, then head back up for a one-day free ascent? I'm sure there are climbers who could onsight the whole climb, and I hope that happens as it would be cool, but I want to do my best and finish this rig in a style I feel good about. But it's early October here in the Rockies, we only have so many days for success before the days are too cold, and the rare warm days too short for a route of this size and difficulty (for me). This morning I can barely walk with the foot pain, and my hands are oozing plasma road rash so it's going to take some time to hang onto anything but smooth plastic keyboards or maybe gym holds. Climbing sure is interesting!

I just got an email from Cory: "My hands are fucked...I can't even be clever about
saying it...they are just plain fucked!"

Yamineering sure is fun.