Thursday, December 29, 2011

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Who Should Buy My Book

In a previous post, I wrote a little about the contents of my book on bouldering, letting readers know in advance what I was offering them. In this post, I want to explain a bit more in detail what kind of climber I see as benefiting the most from the book. When I first started climbing, there were hardly any climbers where I lived, meaning I relied upon books to guide me through the ideas and techniques of climbing. I sensed from early on that there was a gap between what I was actually doing and what the books were talking about, especially in the late 1970s when climbing meant rock climbing with ropes with all the expected emphasis on safety and proper use of gear.

However I realized I was interested mostly in the problems of movement on rock, meaning I was a boulderer long before the sport had very much "respectability" or a separate identity. Until I saw a copy of Master of Rock by Pat Ament, there was very little writing on the subject and certainly not a how-to book. Because of this, I had to learn by trial and error, feeling my way through the learning process. I had to learn especially to ignore the preconceptions and misconceptions of my peers, especially the older ones, brought up in an ethos of risk and rebellion. What I sought was a deeper understanding of what was possible on rock, in terms of movement and technique. I wanted to explore this direction free of the baggage of the past with its distracting ethical debates and squabbles.

This book is offered as a tool for anyone who wants to learn how to climb in an environment free of assumptions or expectations. I have striven to keep an unbiased attitude toward the achievements of past and present alike, only asking that the integrity of the natural world be honored as much as possible.

The book will not be able to do the following:

1. Make you stronger overnight: Throughout I emphasize instead the need for mastering technique instead of strength training.

2. Introduce you to secret climbing or training techniques that the "pros" use: The fact is that most climbing technique is elementary and foundational and the refinements of it only can be worked out in practice.

3.Make you go from V6 to V8: If you are climbing at that level, you probably already know enough to make it happen by yourself. Though I think that if you read it closely, you may find something of value there that could make the difference...

On the other hand, if you want a solid foundation that will serve you well for progressing safely and productively as a climber (not just a boulderer) who will climb for a lifetime, I think my book is  the best resource you can begin with. I wrote it with precisely that goal in mind. Because bouldering is such an amazing game, anyone who wants to try it should have the best experience possible, and I feel this book can help in that process.

Friday, November 25, 2011

My Book is Out ! (and why you should buy it)

I received my copies of Bouldering: Movement, Tactics and Problem Solving recently and have been looking it over again, this time as a finished book. It is very difficult to think at all objectively about a book after being involved in writing and editing it for so long. It's even more difficult for me to then go out and say to everyone within earshot (or on the Internet) you really should buy the book. But I think you should and here's why.

First of all, I wrote the book with only one goal in mind, to put between two covers all the information and ideas to set a climber, whether beginner or advanced, on the path to excellence. There are no personal war stories, extraneous (and soon to be dated) anecdotes about famous climbers, or other filler. Instead there is page after page of practical directions and advice, copiously illustrated by some of the best photographers in the climbing world, including Andy Mann, Andrew Burr, and Caroline Treadway. Also included are personal perspectives, featuring two lengthy pieces from Dave Graham, the master of the contemporary scene and John Gill, the creator of modern bouldering. Shorter pieces from legends such as Frederic Nicole, Marc Le Menestrel, Ben Moon as well as more current stars such as Ty Landman, Alex Johnson and Daniel Woods round out the picture of what bouldering is about.

My approach to the sport of bouldering is that of a lifelong devotee as I have been a boulderer for over thirty years, practicing it with as much enthusiasm and devotion in my late 40s as I did in my early teens. I believe my attitude towards the sport has kept me active and involved in the current scene, aware of the latest techniques and equipment. I think that the book reflects the latest developments in the sport while staying firmly rooted in the enduring values of the past, especially involving environmental ethics.

So if you are looking for a tool that can help you get started in the sport as a total beginner or advance within the sport of bouldering, I think my book is an excellent resource to invest in.

The book is available from a number of outlets including Amazon, Mountaineers Books, and local outdoor stores. You can also contact me directly via this blog or the Facebook page for the book.

The review by Carlo Traversi in Rock and Ice

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Colorado Alpine Bouldering 2011

Make sure to read my post on the Colorado alpine bouldering season in 2011 and check back shortly for more information about the book which is being released this week.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Lincoln Lake Clean Up Event (via the Access Fund)

Just got an email about this today:

Where: Lincoln Lake, Mt. Evans Wilderness Area
When:  Saturday September 17th
Hosted by:  Chris Schulte and the USFS
Details:  Meet at the Echo Lake parking area at 10am. Trash removal from one of the highest summer bouldering spots in the US. The event is centered around a tough hike down into the Lincoln Lake cleft, running around in the talus field, and gathering up scattered and sometimes hard-to-find bits of trash, from the odd piece of tape or water bottle to the occasional car wheel. Interested volunteers should be able and ready for some difficult travel through large sized talus, and serious work at an altitude of around 12,000', as well as being equipped for the possibility of very inclement weather. Knowledge of the area is important, for safety and efficiency! For more information, please contact Chris Schulte at
Every hour of time you donate to a crag helps show land managers that climbers are responsible stewards. Grab some friends and a pair of work gloves and spend a day giving back to the sport you love! We hope to  see you there.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Book Reports

All the last-minute tasks have been taken care of, or at least I hope they have. It is amazing what can fall through the cracks, even when you believe you are paying close attention. So the book is off to the printers, to be published in October, just in time for prime conditions to begin outdoors and for those new to the sport to head to the gym. I have read through the book a number of times now and hope that others find it a useful guide to thinking constructively and more deeply about moving on rock in general, not just bouldering. There are tons of good photos from some of the best in the business and contributions from genuine legends such as Fred Nicole and current stars such as Daniel Woods.

In a way I am sorry to have to let go of it as writing a book is a kind of a chronic condition that you grow used to even as it causes a fair amount of pain and anxiety. I already have two or three ideas for the next one but short term my schedule will be packed with book promotion, article-writing, presenting at the Access Fund summit in Golden in September, and organizing a show of paintings here in Boulder for October. Not to mention training as hard as I can and hoping to get lucky in the Park in the next two months.

Other authors have been busy in the area of bouldering. Jamie Emerson's alpine bouldering guide is now available in hard copy form and recently I have been dipping into a book written by Francis Sanzaro, a climber who has done a bunch of bouldering in Colorado. Sanzaro's book is a series of meditations on bouldering, through a critical/philosophical lens. I will be corresponding more with the author about this book in the near future and hope to get some perspective on the project to share with readers.

Monday, July 18, 2011

New Video from Louder Than 11

A great video for the beta on many classic Swiss problems, and a perfect companion to Carlo Traversi's article in the July issue of Rock and Ice. This full-length video is available for free download from Louder Than 11.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Jamie Emerson's Alpine Bouldering Book

Make sure to read my review of Jamie Emerson's excellent new guidebook to alpine bouldering in Colorado.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Daniel Woods Interview: World Cup Competition, European Trip and More

A portrait of Daniel Woods by one of my  favorite photographers,  Andrew Kornylak

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Daniel Woods before his departure for the World Cup circuit in Europe including stops at Eindhoven, Barcelona and Sheffield.

This interview was a follow-up to a post I wrote called The Morning After the World Cup at Vail where, in contrast to previous years, no American male climbers made it into finals. I wanted to talk with Daniel about what was going on and what some of the differences were between the European and American approaches to competition climbing. I also wanted to hear his thoughts on the future of bouldering and sport climbing and his own plans for the near future. We talked for nearly an hour on all aspects of the comp, bouldering and sport scenes and Daniel's energy and enthusiasm for climbing was on full display. It was a very informative interview though the crowd at Whole Foods didn't seem to be paying much attention. Just another day in Boulder, I suppose. Initially I wanted to focus on the issues American competitors face in competing in Europe and what needs to change in order to level the playing field a bit. But we ranged far and wide in discussing the current climbing world, the professionalization of climbing, sponsorship, and much more.

I want to thank Daniel right off for the generous offer of time and his candor on some of these questions. Especially given the pressure of heading off to Europe in only a few days, he was a true professional in meeting up and talking with me.

We were talking about the differences between European support, team staff and organization versus the American system. Tell me more about this.

I think basically the main difference that I see between European and American climbers is the training and resources that Europeans have compared to US climbers. In Europe the federation supports the climbers. They provide a coach, a physio, they have team meetings where they’ll get together a month prior to the competition and they will train their athletes to get them in their top form whereas in the US, we have a team coach but we don’t have specific dates that we all meet up as a US team and train for three weeks and part of it is that we just don’t have the support from the US federation like the other countries do. I would like to see, it would be cool to have a good three weeks before the World Cup circuit starts where we all group together in either Boulder or some town or city where there are many gyms available where we can have our head routesetters come in and set us circuit problems that we will be seeing in the world cup events. So we at least have the experience so we don’t get out there and underperform when we are trying to climb.

You mentioned meeting prior to the events for a few weeks. What about the rest of the year? Are there year-round differences?

I think Europeans have an offseason as well. So they will train very hard for the World Cups and then they will go into their off season where they will go outside climbing. But they still have taken in what they have learned in that month before the competition, they’ll take in that information and they will continue to pursue it, maybe not as heavily as before a comp, to keep themselves conditioned. I think that’s all the US needs, we just need a plan so we can all group together and learn how to climb on volumes, how to climb technically, how to mentally prepare for competitions and we can take that information on our own time and apply it. The problem is we are all running around like chickens with our heads cut off and we’re lost; we don’t really know how to prepare. Our view of a training session is going into the gym climbing for two hours, going home and eating fast food, going to sleep and repeating whereas if we had a specific program to follow, which would usually be around a six hour per day program with a couple rest days in between, and then a diet program, have physios to help recovery, we can have that for a month and for our offseason we can still apply it, just not as strictly as before.

You mentioned the different styles of climbing, including volumes and technical problems. Can you comment more on how the World Cup style differs from what we might be used to in typical US route setting, even in big gyms such as here in Boulder?

I think the main difference in World Cup climbing is that it’s not comfortable climbing where US setting tends to be comfortable climbing. You’ll take a very basic pinch and you will jump to another basic pinch or you’ll maybe do a not so extreme rose move off a jug foot, very straightforward, easy-to-read climbing whereas in the World Cup they know most men and women are very strong, they are some of the best athletes in the world. Most men typically can jump from point A to point B easily and stick the move. In World Cups they create volumes, they create crimps, and they’ll put a screw-on right next to the crimp so you will have to grab the edge as a two-finger spike and match it or you will have to do very dicey finish move where you will have to take both pointer fingers and very technically match the finishing hold and then drop off. They know that if you just dyno to the end jug, all their competitors can do that. They try to set non-comfortable climbing and they try to set it like outdoor climbing where you have to move statically between each hold and really use your heels, really use your toes. In the US, all we know how to do is jump so when we see a volume, we’re lost.

You seem to be saying the US style tends to be very point to point while the European style forces you to puzzle out a large volume or feature of some kind. You were talking about the ways in which European routesetters are able to give their national team insight into the nature of World Cup routesetting. Maybe you could enlarge on that some more?

In Europe, there are two main head routesetters that are internationally certified; Jacky Godoffe and Tonde Katiyo, and they are both from France and I know that the French team receives problems set by Jacky all year round. Tonde travels all over Europe and sets at each major gym to give people an idea of what to expect at a World Cup event. In the US our setters set commercially, they don’t set for World Cups. If you have all the European teams able to have this World Cup practice and the US team is basically lost, it doesn’t seem quite right in my opinion. It seems we need a US internationally certified setter to tour around the gyms and set World Cup style problems, someone like Chris Danielson.

Is there really a gym that has the kind of infrastructure or actual structures that can support World Cup style routesetting?

That’s another problem. Most of our gyms in the US are not similar. The angles vary too much. In The Spot, for example, you have a steep section but it’s very wavy in some points. You need gyms that are like World Cup walls. Many European gyms are laid out like that, basic plywood walls where they throw up millions of holds and they do angle changes by putting volumes on the wall. That’s why they are so talented at climbing on volumes. You can walk into The Spot and see maybe two volumes covered with holds so the volume does nothing by itself.

Are there other competitors besides yourself from the US who have similar depth of experience with the way things are done in Europe?

The two competitors I can think of at the moment are Alex Johnson and Alex Puccio. This is Alex’s Johnson’s second year and Alex Puccio’s first year on the circuit. Those are the only two female athletes I can think of that know how Europeans set. On the male side, most males haven’t gone over to Europe beside Chris Sharma back in the day and Ethan Pringle’s done a couple of World Cups here and there. The funding is a big part of this because Europeans have full support when they do the World Cups. They have accommodations, travel, transportation, all paid for by the federation. That’s a major reason that a lot of US athletes haven’t had the chance to go Europe.

Will the European style of setting remain standard?

I think it will for sure because to the eye, to the audience, it’s appealing to see a wall littered with volumes because it looks impossible. How is the climber going to arrive at the top? It also gives you a much more creative side to setting. In the US you go to every competition and they’ll try to set technical but it’s still pretty much straightforward power problems. In the US mind, technical means climbing foot first or doing a 360 in a roof or climbing a straightforward balancy slab. In Europe, they know they can make it technical by throwing four volumes on the wall, putting grip-tape on the volumes and the climber can figure out how to get to the top. I don’t think that will change. European setting will stay the same and I feel like US setting will change later on as they see how Europeans do it. They may use both styles in setting problems.

What sort of recommendations do you have for a young boulderer who wants to make a mark on the World Cup circuit?

If you’re starting out young and you’re motivated… what really helped me out was being obsessive about watching World Cup videos online. Usually before the World Cups I will watch videos over and over just to see how climbers move and how they grab onto volumes so when I go (since I can’t practice it here) I can see how climbers maneuver in that kind of terrain so I’m not lost. It’s good to enter in every competition possible to gain that experience because in your first few competitions, or your first two years of competing, you’re probably going to fail. It’s how the game works so you have to take that failure and try to fix it and gain success later down the road.

What are your plans for the future in bouldering and sport climbing?

I am going to finish out this year in Europe bouldering in Ticino, working on Story of Two Worlds, and going to Varazze to try Gioia, climbs like this, and a couple of projects I would like to complete but in spring I am going to switch over and get into roped mode. I have been obsessing over sport climbing for the past two years and definitely miss it.

Do you think there will be other boulderers switching over to roped climbing?

That’s hard to say because one of the reasons I am switching to sport climbing is because I am kind of getting bored with bouldering. I want to do something new. I want to climb 9a, 9a+, 9b. While there are some climbers who are just in live with bouldering, I would like to see more climbers get on a rope and push the standards because there is a good strength level in bouldering and all you need is endurance and some mental control to get up some of the hardest sport climbs in the world.

What do you think about Adam Ondra?

Ondra, he’s a freak, he’s the next level. You look at Ondra, he has a love for rock climbing, whether it’s bouldering, competition, big wall climbing or sport climbing. He wants to do everything. Adam Ondra is one of my biggest inspirations in climbing because I look at this and want to be able to do everything, to be versatile in what I do as well. The next step is to improve my sport climbing skills.

Where’s the future in hard bouldering and sport climbing?

I think the future in bouldering is hard to tell. It will probably be in power-resistance boulder problems, connecting two V14s or V15s to reach the next level. It’s going to be very hard to find something that is just one or two pure hard power moves to create something that is V16. Sport climbing has so much potential. We’ll see multiple V13s put together on a rope and Adam Ondra will be the guy to do that and I think some boulderers like Paul Robinson will want to try that as well.

Dave Graham was telling me about a project at Fionnay that apparently involved linking two V15s…

Dave’s been raving about that project and that’s the perfect example. That climb will probably be around 15 to 20 moves long where you will be connecting a V14 into a V15 which is pretty heinous and could be V16 easily. It’s funny because when I am looking on Internet forums and people say that problem is too long to be considered a boulder problem. Honestly the difference between bouldering and sport climbing is that in sport climbing you have bolts and you are tied in. That’s the only difference. In bouldering you are climbing ropeless. In bouldering there are two different forms. There is resistance bouldering and power bouldering. Climbing is progressing in a way that we will have to have two different sports even within bouldering, power and resistance, and both are very cool.

In Fontainebleau, the difference is recognized with a different grade…

Exactly. In Europe traverses are very popular whereas in America boulderers look at traverses and think they’re a waste of time (laughing).

What are your sport climbing goals in Europe?

So far I want to try Chris Sharma’s 9b Golpe de Estado, La Cappella, a bouldery 15 meter 9b just put up by Adam Ondra, Chaxi Raxi looks amazing. Spain is what I am psyched on but also classics like Action Direct and Realization. I mean I have been wanting to do Action Direct ever since I was 13 but never had the chance. Every climb in Europe I am psyched on!

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Morning After the World Cup in Vail

The Climbing Narc said it well" For the first time in the 4 years the TMG has hosted this World Cup no Americans stood atop the podium at the end of the comp with Alex Puccio (2nd) and Angie Payne (6th) being the only Americans to even make it to finals." While I do not believe that bouldering competitions are the only measure of climbing ability, it is striking particularly on the male side, how completely the US men were shut out of the finals.

No doubt the competitors will have their own thoughts on the subject and in particular I look forward to seeing what Carlo Traversi will have to say. But I would suggest that the time may have come for a second look at how climbers train and prepare for these events. A similar problem is also apparent in looking at the rankings for roped climbing. Not a single American male climber shows up in the top 20.

While I know this is a perennial topic for blogging and message boards, I think there is some cause for concern given the push for professionalization among climbers in recent years. Are climbers able to get the coaching, training and travel opportunities that are available to their European counterparts? And perhaps increasingly more important a question is, are they required to train at a world-class level to maintain sponsorships or team memberships?

An interesting counterpart to this question is an essay by a British climber and coach, Mark Pretty, on "The Forgotten Art of Training." In the piece which should be required reading for every serious climber, Pretty notes that in contrast to a previous generation that displayed a genuine "thoroughness of their training in whatever form it took and the dedication and energy they applied to it in the pursuit of their goal," today, "in my job as a coach, I see at many walls climbers frittering away their talent and energy in pointless training or idle posing-the ‘big fish in a small pond’ syndrome." He continues "There is a lot of talk but very little walk as most people seem to prefer to mess about on a bouldering wall and call it a training session rather than knuckle down and train."

Last year I climbed a bit with a Dutch climber who came to Colorado for the World Cup and was struck by the serious training regimen that he described for the Dutch team. Regular practices, required attendance at competitions and so on. My impression of the Austrian team and others, though only second-hand, is that the same principles apply. The American approach is much more casual and ad hoc and I wonder if the results of this attitude are now starting to show in earnest. Sure there are strong US outdoor climbers though not many on roped climbs and I have no doubt that in outdoor bouldering, US climbers can hold their own. But the results at Vail show some trends that do not look good for US climbers, especially males. What if anything will be done about it is anybody's guess.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Will Levandowski Operation Smile Climb/ World Record

Starting tonight and continuing on Thursday, Will Levandowski, a local climber, will attempt to transform a lowly stretch of Flagstaff sandstone into an arena of world-class proportions. Jenn Fields, a writer for the local paper, has a great article that explains everything.

I first encountered Will a couple of years ago when I was doing a warm-up session below Beer Barrel Rock and noticed someone climbing the same problem again and again on the formations known as the Mugs. I thought it was curious and asked what his reason for repeating the same thing literally hundreds of times. He explained that an injury in his foot from running limited his ability to either fall or negotiate a tricky descent so he found this one spot that allowed him to climb continuously for hours.

As an aficionado myself of logging vertical mileage at Flag, I can easily understand his motivations. However I freely admit that I would not want to try to log 25,000 feet on the same 10 foot problem. That takes a different mindset altogether. If you want to cheer Will on and even act as witness to his Guinness World Record attempt, you can find him starting at 5 pm tonight, a couple of tiers below Beer Barrel Rock. He will climb until 11 pm, take a break until 5 am and continue Thursday until 5 pm.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Using a Finger Board: Refining the Workout

When measured in terms of square inches, a good fingerboard is certainly the most effective strength building tool out there. A good commercial board, such as the one made by Moon Climbing, allows you to stress your arms and fingers in the most concentrated ways available outside of actual bouldering.

If you are not using a commercial board, making your own edges from wood is a good idea, including a 20 mm (3/4 inch) and a 6 or 7 mm (1/4 inch) edge and perhaps a wider but sloping edge. It's a good idea to round the outer edge of the hold and sand the wood well so it is quite smooth. These edges can be attached to a plywood board and then mounted over a door. They can also be attached directly to framing timber where convenient such as with floor joists.

When using a fingerboard, climbers can be more creative in figuring out ways to simulate the demands of climbing in a much more sport-specific fashion. Here are a few to consider.

First, make sure that you are hanging in different grip positions, not just the ones you favor. On a fingerboard, I tend to default to openhand position, the one that feels most secure, especially for one-hand hangs. However, I have found that hanging in a crimp position is actually much more effective for actual rock climbing since so many longer lockoff-type moves require that hand position. You obviously have to be careful about overdoing it but if you are favoring a certain hand position, you may be under-utilizing the fingerboard considerably. Make sure that you practice all three standard positions: crimp, semi-crimp, and open-handed.

Second, make sure that you are using a wide variety of holds including small edges, wider flat edges, slopers and pockets and that you are using the different hand positions on these where appropriate. You should get to the point where, for any hold and grip position, 5 seconds hangtime (the average time a climber uses a hold in a problem) with both hands is feasible. For a single edge, you can simulate pockets by gripping with only two or three fingers and not using the thumb. It's best to avoid crimping in a pocket configuration however. Use open-hand grip and avoid any unexpected shock-loading.

You may want to build or add pinch holds as well. Most finger boards don't include good ones but they can be bought as climbing holds and added in to a homemade set.

Third, make sure you are testing your grip strength in both extended and contracted arm positions. You may find yourself much weaker on certain holds in a fully contracted position than in a semi-extended one.

Fourth, introduce dynamic elements into your hangs. One of the more effective ones is shifting your grip from open-hand to crimp position. Starting with both hands in the open-hand position, move one hand to a crimp position and then the other. This is a much needed skill when making a lock-off move from a hold that was grabbed at full extension with an open-hand grip.

Another option is switching back and forth between hands, taking one hand off for a second or two,going back to hanging on both hands, pulling up a bit then taking off the other hand, and repeating to failure. This is a bit like campusing.

Fifth, focus periodically on developing your one-hand hanging strength. This can involve trying to hang for only a second or two and working on increasing this time to 5 seconds or higher, maybe up to 8 or 10 seconds max.

Combining one hand hangs with attempts to maintain a fully locked off position is very effective at developing resistance against sagging on holds and therefore maximizing reach. Again work through different grip positions so that you have equal or at least

Constantly try out different grips for weaknesses and you will find your ability to deal effectively with all kinds of holds and moves considerably improved.

For a sample fingerboard workout visit Moon Climbing's School Room area

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Chalk Review

Ever since John Gill introduced the use of gymnastics chalk to the sport back in the 1960s, chalk has been a part of the sport for the vast majority of climbers. In bouldering chalk is a crucial piece of equipment since poor friction can easily negate the strongest effort.

Over the past six months I have been trying out various chalks sent by manufacturers or purchased by me to see what if any differences there are between brands. In part this was prompted by some encounters with uneven batches of Metolius Super Chalk last year that had me wondering whether I was using something that was actually hindering my climbing.

I sent off emails to various manufacturers and received samples from Black Diamond, Metolius, So Ill and just recently received some product from my sponsor Moon Climbing. I also purchased some chalk under the Bison, Wild Country and Asana brands. My testing protocol is anything but systematic, involving trying the stuff out on various rock types including local sandstone, RMNP gneiss and plastic holds in various gyms.

According to information supplied by Metolius Climbing, chalk comes from mining deposits of limestone and dolomite which is then "processed into a variety of products, one of them being climbing chalk or magnesium carbonate." The chalk is purified, dried, and crumbled to a climber-friendly consistency before being packaged for distribution and sale. Metolius continues, "Depending on the manufacturer, some additives to aid in moisture absorption can be added to the chalk prior to packaging. Metolius additives are a food grade product."

When I started climbing the only choices were various forms of block chalk, most famously that marketed by Frank Endo. By the late 1990s designer chalk had emerged, most famously Metolius Super Chalk. At present there are at least the brands mentioned above as well as Petzl, and no doubt many more, including liquid chalk. There is more than an even chance of branded chalks leaving the same factory under different labels but surprisingly, differences between certain brands did emerge.

What am I looking for in a climbing chalk? Two primary qualities stand out: texture, especially a frictiony feel, and drying capacity. Texture is a subjective quality but there is a tendency in some chalks to have a smooth talc-like feel, something which I find is detrimental to a confident grip on the holds. The chalk should have just a bit of grit to it, in my view.

Then there is drying capacity. Chalk is hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs water from the atmosphere and from your fingers. This gives your fingers better adherence to the rock, but only up to a point. It may seem counter-intuitive but chalk should not entirely dry your hands out. Ask around and you may find that climbers will describe conditions that are too dry, where fingers suddenly snap off from holds in what is commonly called "dry-firing." For fingers to adhere well to rock, they have to have a little bit of give on the surface and hard glassy finger tips can be a liability. You may want to lightly dampen your tips and sand down any callouses for a better grip on cool dry days, especially if your fingers are naturally dry as mine are.

Chalk that is too dry or contains drying agents may actually be counterproductive in these conditions. More and more I find that manufacturers are opting away from drying agents and offering chalk that is 100% magnesium carbonate. The criteria I use for judging chalk quality are "hand feel," consistency, and moisture content. A good chalk in my view should have a slightly gritty feel, be reasonably chunky in consistency, and be just a bit moist. For bouldering in very dry conditions, such as are typical in Colorado, these characteristics are desirable. For bouldering in Alabama in June, a drier chalk with a drying agent may be desirable.

So which chalks were the best performers? For me, there were three standouts. Black Diamond White Gold Loose Chalk was excellent, a bit dry but with very good texture and consistency. The refillable canister is a sensible idea as well. I was also impressed by the feel of the Wild Country Pure Chalk which seemed to coat my fingers well with an initially damp layer that dried quickly to a sticky finish. Moon Climbing's Moon Dust seemed to sit between the two, with an excellent consistency and dry gritty feel, though softer than the Black Diamond brand.

Less desirable to my mind though still reliable were the Metolius block chalks and Super Chalk. These, the Asana White Dirt and So Ill's Prescription Chalk tended to have a more soft talc-like feel and did not adhere as well to my skin during problems. The least desirable of the chalks I tested was Bison Chalk which had an almost slippery feel to it, reducing friction compared to the other varieties.

My advice is to try out a number of different brands and see if they work well for you. The statement that "chalk is just chalk" is not exactly true.

I should add that I did not test the chalk ball options that are available as I have never liked them. A thoughtful and careful approach to applying loose chalk can reduce any extraneous dust issues. Some gyms require them but given the propensity for kids to throw them at each other, I am not sure that rule actually pays off.

A final thought. Chalk should be used sparingly and only to get the skin prepared for climbing. There is a point at which chalk becomes detrimental, interfering with the contact between skin and rock, so do not simply pile chalk onto holds. Never apply it to footholds. And please erase your tickmarks and scrub the holds clean after you are done with a problem and bring the rock as close as you can to a natural state.

Thanks again to the manufacturers and sales reps who assisted in providing product and information!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Another Spot Clinic this Wednesday

I am giving another clinic this Wednesday evening at the Spot from 5:30 to 6:30. The last one was booked solid and I expect a similar turnout again.

As the weather starts getting warmer, I am looking forward to returning to the alpine sites of Evans and RMNP and if you are looking to get the most out of visits up there, this might help. Call the gym at 303 379-8806 to get on the signup sheet.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

R n J Clinic Tomorrow 6:30 pm

I am presenting my bouldering clinic tomorrow at Rock'n and Jam'n at 6:30 pm. I am going to be focusing on the same themes as my last BRC clinic. Close analysis of technique, assessing tactics, self-assessment of strengths and weaknesses, and climbing awareness are the primary elements. These factors can boost excellence in both bouldering and sport climbing.

Check out the gym's website and their blog as well. R&J is one of the best gyms on the Front Range, though I doubt I could summit out on the big lead wall at this point. Too many moves...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Compression and Crimping

One of the most important ideas I have begun to understand as I have worked on some of the testpieces at RMNP and closer to home is that for problems at your limit, merely hanging on to the holds is not enough. While it seems that the ability to deadhang small crimps would suffice to do a move on the same holds, for many problems this turns out to not be the case, even on apparently straightforward moves.

Factors that affect the move include poor or low footholds, the angle of the wall, and less-than-incut holds. In order to complete the move the climber must consistently keep footholds and handholds loaded to as high a degree as possible. This means that you cannot simply use the minimum degree of strength needed to grip the handhold, but that you must engage the move with a complete application of power through the whole body. Pulling in with the chest, stomach and hamstring has the effect of gluing your body in close to the wall, gaining maximum height with the move. On less than positive crimps, such a position allows you to gain the most opposition and friction.

I have fairly decent core strength in the sense that I typically can do a front lever without much effort. However that kind of strength is very one-dimensional and inadequate to the demands of high-end bouldering. I found for instance on European Human Being, the epitome of the crimp problem, that compression and absolute body tension are mandatory to make the best use of the very small holds. Simply hanging on was never enough.

When spending a lot of time sport climbing, I learned to try to allow your body to relax on the holds as much as possible. This is a formula for failure in hard bouldering as there are few stances or positions that allow any relaxation of the core and the configuration of the holds will generally not allow a simple clinging posture, even on an incut. So to get the most out of a move, especially in a steeper wall. stay in close, keep the core tension high and loosen up only when the move clearly requires or allows it.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

What You Need for Winter Bouldering

A recent post by another avid boulderer here on the Front Range prompted a follow-up on a topic I have been meaning to write about for a while. As everyone knows summer is by far the worst season for bouldering, unless you are above 10,000 feet. For consistency in temps, the winter is one of the best seasons here in Boulder, but you have to come prepared. So what do you need to know to get the most out of winter sessions?

First, it helps to acclimate to sub-50 degree temperatures to begin with. Going straight out on a gray overcast 35 degree day kills motivation quickly. Make a habit of getting outside as often as possible on marginal days in spring and fall so you get comfortable with the routine of winter bouldering.

Use common sense when assessing conditions. For most avid boulderers, below freezing means an unproductive day ahead unless there is full-on sun. Best conditions rest between 35 and 55 degrees F in the shade. If there is a lot of wind, forget it. Windchill will sap your strength very quickly and numb your fingers immediately. A fresh fall of snow can be problematic, meaning carrying a shovel and broom, if you are serious about bouldering. The biggest problem can be seeping when snow begins to melt. Be wary of holds after a heavy freeze-thaw cycle as they are prone to snapping if any water gets behind them.

The type of problem should be considered as well. A short powerful problem on poor friction-dependent holds is a good choice as opposed to a longer one that may chill your fingers on link. Cooler air tends to be drier air meaning a stickier feel to the holds.

Winter bouldering begins with appropriate attire. Some recommend long underwear for really cold conditions which makes sense but I have rarely found this helpful as this often feels heavy. Heavier fabric trousers such as jeans are OK as long as they don't get wet and start to chill you. Wicking fabrics are generally a good idea, especially for upper body wear. I recommend a t-shirt, topped by a lightweight front-zip warm-up jacket that is wearable while bouldering. On top of this, a thick hooded sweatshirt and/or down jacket is good for staying warm between tries. Try to avoid anything you have to pull over your head to remove. For serious burns on boulder problems, you will probably get down to a t-shirt and pulling things off over you head can chill you quickly as it exposes your torso to the cold.

A thick warm hat is essential as are mittens or gloves. Footwear should reflect the approach conditions and allow your feet to stay warm and dry.

Other gear that can be handy would include handwarmers that can be stashed in pockets or a chalkbag, a headlamp or two for short winter days, and a tarp for managing snowy or muddy landings. As mentioned before, a lightweight broom is handy for clearing topouts and a shovel works well for digging out starts in late winter and early spring. Remember that a simple topout and/or descent can be difficult and even dangerous when covered in snow

It is helpful to get very warm on the approach. Overdressing is a good idea and if the approach is short, doing at least 10 minutes of aerobic exercise, fully dressed, before starting to climb. Bouldering easy problems is rarely much use. Beginning by doing some hangs and then trying moves on the project (which is the most likely reason you would climb in winter anyway) is probably best. Allowing your fingers to get numb while pulling hard and then letting them thaw back is the typical scenario.

Try to keep your hands warm between tries and stash your climbing shoes in an enclosed space such as a jacket pocket or a separate bag, maybe even with a handwarmer. Warm shoes are much easier to put on and retain sensitivity even in cold temps. Be aware that cold air can produce hard "glassy" finger tips. Bring some sandpaper or an emery board to get down to softer skin with better friction.

A generous amount of sweetened hot tea (lots of honey or brown sugar works for me) can be a real plus. I have also tried hot apple juice with success. If you bring food make sure it doesn't harden when it gets cold. Powerbars are notorious for this and can be inedible below 40 degrees. Trail mix with nuts, chocolate and dried fruit is a good calorie source in winter I have found.

One thing you should never do in winter is build a fire to stay warm. If you can't hack it without an open flame, best to stay indoors. This also applies to torching holds to dry them, a practice which can weaken holds and cause them to break. Both tactics are ultimately destructive to the environment.

The primary obstacles to having fun bouldering in winter are psychological. It may be as helpful to find a similarly obsessive partner as anything else you might do to prepare for winter. Good luck and stay warm!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Why Inside Bouldering is Good Too

In a previous post, I described why bouldering inside is very different from outside, making it clear that I preferred being outside on real rock. Of course if I actually compared, hour for hour, where I spend more time, it would be in the gym. So what are the good things about the gym?

Besides the obvious selling points of convenience and concentration of problems, there are intrinsic qualities I enjoy. One of them is social. I can climb by myself if I want or I can meet new people or hang out with those I already know. Many times outside I find myself alone or having to plan well in advance to meet up with a partner. In fact I can't count the number of times a chance gym meeting has resulted in a new opportunity for writing or some other project.

For me the chance to climb on other people's problems,especially in a style I don't prefer, is a huge part of improving as a climber. Only at a good gym with good setting, can you encounter multiple ideas of what it means to move and which can encourage you to adapt accordingly. This can be a huge benefit in trying new problems or visiting new areas outside.

In a gym, when motivation on outdoor projects is waning, an indoor project, with a tight deadline, can spark effort and drive. The knowledge that a problem will be coming down soon forces me to concentrate on getting it done as quickly as possible. This is a good attitude to take outside.

The climbing style may not be easily transferable to outdoors but more athletic, dynamic kinds of movement promote an aggressive powerful approach that can yield real benefits on the rock. The tendency for rock holds to be small and often closer together doesn't mean that you don't need to apply overall body tension and compression to make the holds work. For whatever reason, I find that gym climbing especially, forces that side of my climbing to work harder.

So although I would definitely prefer to climb outside as much as possible, I try to make as much as I can out of the gym experience, especially given the excellent range of options locally. Especially at the Spot, whose setting crew is second to none, but also at the Boulder Rock Club and CATS, is where I can maximize my limited training time and enjoy the experience at the same time.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A useful video from Malcolm Smith

In this video, the Scottish climber Malcolm Smith emphasizes the need in bouldering to train your capapcity to climb straight on and in an open position. Much of the older technique advice out there describes the need for backstepping and dropknees to do moves on steep terrain. However, as Smith rightly points out, the footholds that are required for such moves often are not available on harder problems or are in the wrong position. A very helpful video for expanding your reach and usable power.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Breakthrough Bouldering Clinic at ROCK'n & JAM'n in Thornton 1/31----CANCELLED due to weather

UPDATE: Due to really bad road conditions and no sign of improvement, I have to postpone my clinic. I will plan on rescheduling ASAP.

At the request of Amy Carden, manager at R&J, I am presenting my bouldering clinic next Monday, January 31 at 6pm. I am going to be focusing on the same themes as my last BRC clinic. Close analysis of technique, assessing tactics, self-assessment of strengths and weaknesses, and climbing awareness are the primary elements. These factors can boost excellence in both bouldering and sport climbing.

Check out the gym's website and their blog as well. R&J is one of the best gyms on the Front Range, though I doubt I could summit out on the big lead wall at this point. Too many moves...

Yesterday, I spent a little time bouldering with two elite-level climbers and used the opportunity to really closely observe the ways in which they engaged the holds and the moves. Jonathan Siegrist uses powerful crisp movements done close in to the wall while Matt Wilder tends to hang away from the wall more, finding the balance point which works the best. Looking at really good climbers enables you to think clearly about your own style and the ways in which you can adapt other people's styles to your own. Climbing gyms give the best opportunity to do this kind of comparison and are why they make a good investment beyond the actual climbing.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Inside or Outside?

Boulder CO has been in a deep freeze and I have been finishing up the book. So my climbing time outside is essentially zero. Fortunately visits to the home wall, The Spot, The Boulder Rock Club, and CATS can substitute for the real thing for a while. However sometimes I get the feeling that for many climbers, climbing inside becomes the real thing. So what is the difference between bouldering outdoors and indoors?

1. The size of the holds. Even at CATS, one of the few public gyms that has loads of crimpers, most of the smallest handholds are still not as small or complex as holds outside. At the Spot or the BRC, most of the holds are quite large with dynamic long moves and very limited feet to create difficulty. The kinds of crimps, and micro-features you have to use on harder problems outside are rarely encountered inside. Compared with outside, 99% of gym footholds are ledges by comparison. Learning to climb better outside may mean focusing on using the smallest footholds you can find inside.

2. Texture. I have been climbing on real rock and artificial holds for a very long time and if there is one thing about gym climbing I don't like, it is the texture, the "hand" so to speak, of the holds. There is such a difference between real rock, whatever type, that has been molded and affected by natural processes and plastic. While smooth hold textures can prolong a training session nicely, the roughness and complexity of real rock can be a wakeup call.

3. Landings. Gym climbing can be very dangerous, no mistake. I see people blow it at the Spot all the time. Friends have been forced into lengthy layoffs from falls at CATS. However learning the ins and outs of safe falling and landing on complex surfaces is crucial to climbing safely on boulder problems outside.

4. Movement types and setting. Gym setting is a perennial topic of discussion and I find myself forced to say, "It is what it is." I know a number of pro routesetters and they do their job well. I have done a fair amount of it myself. It is hard physical work that can be frustratingly fussy. But it can be hard to translate their work to the natural environment. The majority of problems in contemporary routesetting feature fairly large holds far apart, usually pretty sloping on the low-angle walls or fairly incut on the steeper ones. Physical power and friction seem to matter the most. Precise grip, core tension,footwork and technique rate lower.

5. Environment. I actually really like the gym environment, even if most people I am around are half my age. There is a certain energy and animation to the setting that can boost motivation. Folks used to the noise, the movement, the music etc, may find the quiet and stillness of the outdoors a little unsettling. I find it to be a source of strength and restoration of centeredness and balance, being among ancient boulders and old trees. This helps me to focus clearly on the task at hand and enjoy the process more. The permanence of the boulders and the changing scenery and conditions of the natural environment complement each other.

I will always like gym climbing. You can't have a life and not need some time climbing hard in a gym to get stronger and keep fitness high as possible. But in a perfect world, I would always climb outdoors.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Finger Power Problem

Recently I was working on my finger board downstairs in the house and discovered something interesting to me, if not very original. I can hang onto a single-pad edge with two hands and about 100 pounds added on without too much trouble. With no weight I can hold on with two hands for 45 seconds to a minute. So far so good.

Now hanging with one hand on the same edge, I can hang around 5 seconds with no weight or about 2 seconds with 5 pounds held in my free hand. Why this radical disparity? Good question and I am not sure I have heard or read any good explanation. I think it is partly biomechanical as the two arms, back and abdominal muscles working together help manage the load much better, probably through balance and opposition, than separated. But it seems to me that this finding also indicates that traditional modes of two-handed training require a huge overload for very little real payoff, especially since climbing requires that hands and arms operate independently of each other. So pull-ups, weighted or not, actually add very little to one's overall necessary one-hand strength.

So what are the implications overall? Well for me, isolating one hand for hanging on an edge certainly makes more sense than spending too much time with two-hand hangs. However even this has its limits as I will explain below, And these exercises are hard to do at all for many climbers as one-hand hangs have a very high initial strength threshold. One answer may be to use a climbing wall like a system board and work on holding one arm positions with bad feet. You can also find ways to lessen the load slightly by hanging and pulling with the free hand lower on a rope or sling. Uneven pull-ups on an edge seem like a very good idea as well.

Using a campus board can certainly make sense as well, especially as there is another factor to consider which I will call dynamic or active finger strength, in order to avoid the confusing term "contact strength." I would describe active finger strength as the strength needed to resist dynamic eccentric shockloading, the kind that is produced by grabbing a hold on the go at a distance, resisting a swing, as well as concentric loading as in pulling into the wall, resetting on the hold, and so on. This could be thought of also as finger power in that delivering force rapidly is of the essence. Typically finger strength in climbing is considered in isometric terms, i.e. a consistent load and position through the move. A simple observation of most single moves shows this is hardly the case. The initial load on the fingers is clearly much more severe compared to the later maintenance of the grip. Whatever can be done to limit the initial load (through technique, etc.) leaves more energy for successive moves. But this dynamic or active load continues throughout the use of one hold, since climbers are adding to the load by resetting their fingers, shifting their grip position, pulling their bodies in closer and of course pulling up to gain height. At every turn, body weight is shifted creating momentum and increasing force on the fingers. These increased forces rapidly induce fatigue which in turn increases force on the fingers through poor technique, clumsy grip, bad aim etc. resulting in failure on the move. The vicious cycle is experienced by all of us sooner or later.

To me this implies that relatively static strength tests like one or two-handed hangs are potentially misleading indicators of resistance against severe loads. They might provide a baseline but hardly indicate practical strength. The analogy might be that of "safe working load" with construction equipment, where the breaking strength of an item is reduced to 1/5 of the amount to indicate its "real" strength in use. So the ability to hang on with one hand for 5 or even 10 seconds is of dubious relevance compared to being able to very rapidly latch the same size hold 3 feet up and go another two feet from that with a minuscule foot. And two-handed hangs distort that strength measure even more since you almost never execute a move with two hands side by side.

The solution lies in several directions. The first is that static strength measures provide some quantifiable baseline with which to measure progress but little more and may be of surprisingly low relevance in actual practice. Second, in training for climbing you must find ways of safely shockloading fingers and arms in as sport-specific a way as you can. If possible each arm should be isolated to some extent when training finger strength. So, for example, double-dynos on a campus board are not typical in climbing and probably shouldn't be trained. In regular campusing, laddering where your arms are always going one or two (or more) rungs beyond each other should be standard. Third in actual climbing practice, finding ways to reduce the initial shockload of gripping the hold and any subsequent shifts of weight or position should be emphasized. Good foot placement is important here as with so much of climbing. Make sure that in every move, both hands are working together as much as they can to lessen the individual load, since (remember the initial finding above) two hands working together are many times stronger than one hand working alone. Obviously the more quickly moves are done, the less energy is expended hanging on, so using momentum to follow through can be very helpful.

Training arms and fingers in isolation is clearly more stressful and should be done primarily in the context of climbing, most of the time. Specific workouts that involve campusing, fingerboards, etc should be done when fresh and at least 3 to 4 days apart. Oppositional exercises and shoulder strengthening should be consistently done along with liberal stretching of forearms and even having bodywork done as needed. Most important of all is patience as the most useful and least injurious results come slowly and in small increments.