Crossfit Doesn’t Suck.


It was a typical Tuesday night at the climbing gym in August, and by that I mean the small space was cramped with large men sporting fast metabolisms. The higher up the wall one climbed there was a distinctive change in climate as a thick musk began to coat pores. Dropping off from the top felt a bit more like coming up for air, but for locals stuck in Southern California there just wasn’t a lot of options on days like today.

Sitting on the bench to let my head stop spinning from the heat, I overheard a converstation at the counter about tendon injuries. The two guys were taking turns slathering their joints in tape, mumbling about “hot fingers” and warm weather being the major cause of an A2 pulley tear.

Just as I was hearing the goods on how he greased off a bad mono I heard a loud ‘thud’ followed by a horrible scream from off in the bouldering cave. A friend had blown a heel-hook over her head and landed weirdly on the edge of a pad, crushing her talus bone in the process.

Needless to say the rest of the workout was shot as the handful of us that didn’t start to puke helped her to the hospital. We drove right past a Crossfit gym that opened very close by, at about the same time as well. As we slowly ambled over painful speed bumps speed metal blared out of the opened bay doors and energetic accountants were screaming through dead lifts and Olympic lifts with spines so bent and out of position they looked like Escher’s interpretation of Fitness.

Sure, Crossfit seems to be filled with eager bunnies bright eyed and ready to learn, and true that these impressionable and fired up individuals tend to hurt themselves rushing through a very regimented sport such as power lifting. These situations are not unique to Crossfit and if anything show a fatal flaw in humanity – newbies getting themselves into trouble.

Sound familiar? As climbers, our house might be made of glass.

What is Crossfit?

Crossfitters will proudly tell you that their specialty is not specializing. In reality, it is a somewhat-structured set of exercises designed to keep your body guessing and simulate real world situations – what we in the bid’ness call Circuit Training.

Now, that’s a very simple way to describe a complex idea that’s far more scientific than my pay grade allows me to dive into. The benefits of circuit training, on almost any reasonable level, is something that every athlete should consider regardless of their sport.

Why add Circuit Training?

Even high-end technical rock climbing requires more than gnarly finger strength and polished technique. There are often ‘fitness requirements,’ athletic mantels and dynamic movement that are difficult to replicate outside of a single move on a single route. How can a climber prepare for body-contortion movement and powerful presses bunched up in a weird posture?

Strong in Every Position

Understanding posture is understanding health!

Check out my 3-part weight loss story Here

Check out my 3-part weight loss story Here, and part 2 and part 3 as well.

The number one reason why a climber might consider a program like Crossfit is to create strength in a variety of positions. Shoulder-y presses, dynamic underclings, one-legged squats on small nubs peppered on a slab, it isn’t difficult for a climber to wish they could increase strength. The best training possible would be to find rock that simulates all of these positions and movements – but for most of us stuck on a granite Batholith or sandstone basin we are limited to our potential for unique movement on rock.

I first heard the phrase “Strong in Every Position” while listening to an interview with Crossfit Coach Kelly Starrett. After a few years of on-again, off-again pain in my shoulder due to misaligned muscle groups and insufficient antagonistic muscle work, I started incorporating his ideas of proper positions and a stable shoulder into my training, but also my long hikes and lifestyle at home. The biggest change in my understanding of physiology came because of an idea 2,000 years old blasting through my iPhone headset while on a jog. Good information is better late than never.

Why Does Everyone Hate Crossfit?

Nothing is more fun than bagging on a fad. I’m a big fan of it, so much so that I’m often a parody of myself, getting choked out in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes by 10-year vets thinking I know what I’m doing and laughing all the way. The best way to live is to be happy and if there is humor to be found in something, I highly recommend acknowledging it.

The Problem – Crossfit is a Fad

in 2001 when I started climbing it was the official boom of the sport. Chris Sharma had just finished Realization, the best climbers on the planet were young American kids and gyms were sprouting up like herniated discs in Industrial Park gyms. Before this jump there was a very distinguishable path to climbing, an apprenticeship followed by many hours of experience on real rock before a transition to becoming a mentor oneself. Now, a quick Google search and a few how-to videos on youtube and anyone can be competent enough to mail themselves, and that’s the problem.

Fads Breed Nincumpoops

Nincumpoops aren’t there for you. In heart they may be, or at least until the check clears, but learning to avoid nincompoops is a great life skill. I would wager a Las Vegas local would be more keen to spot a shoddy climbing or Crossfit gym long before an impressionable kid from Iowa. The get-rich-quick mentality is happy to jump onto whatever fad or industry is booming, and whether Crossfit or Climbing or MMA there can be some real difficulty separating the bad from the good.

There is some talk about getting Rhabdo, however we again have to understand the conversation of how and why this is happening. Like a climber heading out into an alpine peak with a minimal kit of gear in their pack and only a few thousand hours of training to see them through, those who push the possibilities of human performance flirt with bodily harm. If you would like to work out so hard that you literally die, that’s on you, however I don’t have the capabilities to work that hard. I’ll quit and grab a beer long before that, regardless of a trainer screaming at me. Knowing your body and when to say “no,” again, is always YOUR responsibility.

A proper gym will teach the right form and will take time to develop a complete understanding of the physiological demands of the body. An improper gym will cause life-long damage to major components of your body that you probably will miss.

Is Crossfit Right For Me?

This is the easiest question to answer. Do you want to do it? If so, then yes!

There are a lot of large, burly men out there that would benefit from a membership to Curves and 2 Zumba classes a week. The silliness of those activities is irrelevant – they will get an overweight biker in his 60’s hiking again. Crossfit is nothing like these two estrogen-infused alternatives, but the truth still applies – if it can help, consider it.

Just like I wouldn’t climb on gear sold by Bill and Ted’s Excellent Equipment I would do some research on which gym you end up picking. The gyms looking to take your money might lure you with lower prices or multi-level-marketing type schemes relying on gullible friends joining in. Gyms focused on training athletes will have qualified instructors and can be easily looked up under Crossfit Affiliates.

Basic Crossfit Style Exercises to Add

Skip all the way to the end for Cliff Notes? Great, me too! If there were three basic exercises commonly performed and perfected by Crossfit individuals as well as many athletes the world over. All can be done with a single kettlebell, a great fitness tool that can be left in the trunk of a car and brought along to Camp 4 in Yosemite or Indian Creek to offset rainy days and oppositional muscle group training.

The Deadlift

Deadlifts are great for adding strength and power in the upper arms and back muscles as well as reinforcing proper spinal alignment under heavy load. Take several weeks moving up from about 20/30% bodyweight (~40lb for me at 160lb) to 100% bodyweight. I like to take the bar or a PVC pipe and film my technique to see if my back is in the proper position. Athletes looking for lean and useful muscle might consider using a large kettle bell or pair of kettlebells instead at much lower weight.

The Squat

More so than the other two exercises the Squat should be performed with caution and a bit of humility. It’s an incredible exercise for leg power and creating good hormones for muscle growth and recovery. Like with deadlifts, a few weeks to a few months of practice should be performed, ideally with a trainer or professional, before attempting anything near body weight. Barbell back squats are the classic “squats” people do, however for lighter and leaner athletes I recommend racking a single (or pair) of kettlebells.

The Military Press

Climbers especially have issues with misaligned muscle groups – incredible pull strength, but wimpy push strength. The good news is that there isn’t a lot of weight required to offset the hundreds of natural pull-ups our sport requires, week-in and week-out. 20lb presses at 4×20 reps should be enough for even the fittest climber, and those beginning the exercise can benefit with very low weights found commonly around a campfire or home, such as a milk jug or small rock. Don’t drop them on yer head.


Further reading:

Steve Maxwell

Robb Wolf

Low Hanging Fruit


I  have this great race car. The thing is a blast to drive, handles well, but dammit I’d like some more performance out of her (she is getting a bit old, after all).
I have the best engine money can buy. It’s all imported Titanium from a top secret lab in Sweden. I spend about ten hours a day perfecting the electronics so the pistons fire to within ten thousands nanoseconds of efficiency and it’s so smooth and polished I may one day eat off of it.


The tires? Top of the line. Carbon-infused rubber mined from the largest asteroid in the Keiper belt. Anti-gravity hyplons with dual-adjust laser beams.


Exhaust system? It’s a portal through space and time where fumes are interdimensionally transported to a place of love and understanding. Super efficient.


I think I’m ready to hit the track. Everything seems tuned.
I just need to buy a steering wheel. I’ve been using a screwdriver jammed into the steering column.



I’ve been rock climbing long enough for people around me to assume I know what I’m doing. Often questions come my way, and whether it’s training or tactics the same ideas apply to success: Find a path to success and take it.

Recently a friend asked about a supposedly scary and run-out portion of a climb. The upper slab is devoid not only of holds, but of difficulty, and is slightly steeper than a hill perched on top of a giant steep hung of rock. This part really scared my friend, who thought the paucity of protection meant that danger is imminent. These moves, however, are so far below his maximum ability, and I reminded the poor fellow that he was climbing an improbably steep face of cracks and scary sections to lead to this walk-off last pitch.


“I’m not a slab climber.”


Well, today you are. I’m not an ice climber until I’m climbing ice.

You are only as strong as your weakest skill that you need to use. If a walk-off pitch, rated 5 number grades below your on-sigh limit, has a type of skill required that you don’t possess and there is a likelihood that the entire climb is in jeapordy because this barrier… congratulations. You now have free advice, a path of what you need to work on.


Just like a sports car without wheels a climber without a well-rounded skill set is not an efficient machine. I’m sure this friend works every week on his strength and technique, yet that training is actually keeping him from SUCCEEDING ON CLIMBS.


At the end of the day, training and preparation should be about successfully getting to the top of climbs, NOT to be strong enough to do them.


The goal shouldn’t be to have incredible gifts and weaknesses. A black belt in Tae Kwon Do is no good in a wrestling match and a V8 boulderer is no good in a hand crack.

Puttin' in work.

Puttin’ in work.

Find what you suck at and work at that. Odds are, you don’t want to – that’s why you suck at it now.

I’m Jealous.


Big Sandy Ledge on Half Dome, 2011.

Big Sandy Ledge on Half Dome, 2011.


An iphone on vibrate  hidden somewhere in my sleeping bag wakes me up to a game of hide and seek. I’m currently stuffed in a tiny tent behind a gas station tucked between my Chevy Cavalier and a burnt shrub covered in broken glass. I’m hoping the alert is a text message from a climbing partner that is driving up to the Eastern Sierra to meet me for a few days of climbing letting me know he is showing up early, but as my eyes adjust to blinding early light coming through the tents vinyl window I saw it was only a facebook comment.

The  night before I’d put up a photo of a beautiful summit I’d climbed that morning. The first comment it received the next morning?

“I’m jealous.”

Jealous? I picked at the amalgamation of snot and eyeboogers that caked my beard and pillow. I knew I couldn’t get to a shower for a few days but at least I could sneak into the gas station restroom and clean up like a proper trucker before grabbing a burrito and waiting for my partner.


I know the friend well enough to know that they are probably feet from a hot shower and full kitchen, laying in bed with a fiancée about to take a vehicle to work that costs more than I’ve made since Instagram became a thing. They have a job that pays well and a life that was meticulously built and planned amongst wise decisions.

True, yesterday was bad ass, enough to make an entire summer vacation for your average Joe. Let’s be honest and recognize though that there were no magic beans nor Technicolor dreamcoat that plunked me on that summit. I didn’t wake up at a trail head, climb a few peaks, then plug myself back into the matrix for a 9-5 grind for security and love.

This friend is a good person and has wonderful things going for them. Every time in their life when they were presented with a major crossroad, they took the turn that led them to where they are. Whether by design or default, choices like “I accept, I propose, I do” littered their life while I seemingly ran from anything more committing than a season.

There was no plan to be me, like the many others in my shoes I see kicking around gas stations in the Eastern Sierra and the High Deserts in winter. No college prep courses, no counseling, no interviews with others who chased their dream. By just saying NO to enough things you don’t want to do you’ll arrive doing what you love.


But what do you love? Would you trade your car, your relationships, your career? When I’m stuck leading a runout pitch, or humping a heavy pack over a high pass, or puking after hill sprints hoping I’m fit enough for those big mountains, I don’t think very many people are jealous of me then.

For some reason I can think of little I’d like to do with my life than experience these great things. Sure, maybe being jealous is a proper response, though some summits can be bought with a well paid guiding service. I wouldn’t be jealous of that, but jealous of the drive to stand on them, because that you can’t buy.



Be jealous! 75lbs ready to be loaded up to Half Dome.

Be jealous! 75lbs ready to be loaded up to Half Dome.


I Never Went to Legoland

I was the only seven year old I knew with a magazine subscription.

I had two, actually. The first the baseball Beckett guide, a monthly price index of their fluctuating ‘worth.’ I hated baseball and couldn’t sit through more than a few innings, but the idea of currency and accruing real wealth drove me to ride a single speed bicycle three miles downhill every time I scrounged up four dollars for a blister pack of cards. The other was the Lego Magazine, a marketing publication put out to the few dedicated enough to mail in a card – and pay for the stamp.

Baseball was my job, but Lego was my passion. To this day I find myself getting stuck at family gathering in the kids room frustratingly switching out blocks on their spaceships so the colors have some fucking symmetry.

My precious little ego held contempt for others for playing with G.I. Joe’s. Not one of my five siblings would partake, either, even my older sister with whom I did everything with. It just didn’t click with kids that wanted to be kids with their hairy muscular Action Figures. My room looked like the Large Hadron Collider, why were kids wasting their time with miniature plastic village people? It made no sense, but the simple world of interlocking bricks resonated with the black-and-white boring brain homeschooling left me.

Lego was a different story, even offering a magazine subscription. Some issues had photos of Legoland, in the company’s home country of the Netherlands, always crammed with ecstatic Japanese tourists. All I knew about the Netherlands was that A) they were really far away B) it was not called the Neverlands and C) for some reason they are called “Dutch” and not “Neverlanders.”

All sorts of news and propaganda was pumped into what was essentially a marketing tool to sell overpriced molded plastic. Smart kids could convince their parents it was educational, however I had to wait amidst long holiday breaks where I’d snag a few at Christmas or my birthday, cruelly in the same month. I have a vivid memory of sitting in a tree in my front yard and reading that there was to be a Legoland opening in California. What were the odds, I thought, that I wouldn’t have to speak Dutch to see the closest Legoland!

The English translated leaflet never mentioned the building of Legoland again, and in the days before the internet their rough grammar they jumbled onto paper was my sole portal to anything Lego related.

Each time that issue would come up I’d open right to the center where the handful of glossy pages were stapled into a booklet. Smack dab in the middle was the Nobel Prize of Lego: The Fan Submissions.

I was a skilled notary at 7, having already mastered The Envelope, and as soon as the disposable camera I took to Indian Camp came back developed I saw right there in the front of the pile my creation – a real photograph of my castle. Lighting was a concept to come later in life, as the flash drowned it out to a sepia blur, but the facts were there; a drawbridge, a catapult, a guard-dragon. Sure the colors drowned out, but the hue made it obvious I had matched tones and all the soldiers head were facing forwards. Another envelope, another few drafts before my mom edited the final cut, and voila! I was waiting for a chance to see in that centerfold the art I’d hastily scrambled together the night before my Indian-themed summer camp.

A new month, a new daily routine of waiting for the mailman. We didn’t have windows on that side of the house, just a garage, so I’d sit on the porch and wait. Before iPads. Before Gameboy. Before Goosebumps books. Just me and bugs I was bored of catching over and over again. The issue would inevitably show up one day, when I least expected it and was releasing a caterpillar I named Fred. Luckily gambling isn’t a problem because I always seemed shocked when I didn’t get all 7’s and appear in the user submissions. It didn’t make sense, look at all the bullshit they threw in there. This kid isn’t matching anything, this is ridiculous. This other guy is like 30, shouldn’t he be hanging out with girls instead? Don’t get me started with the toddler nonsense, either. Each time they’d highlight some Salvador Dali nightmare of eyeballs and wheels that hurt my ego like a sledgehammer.

I kept my castle upstairs on a bookshelf, high above my little brothers reach, just in case they wanted to see it again. Eventually middle school came, and Lego wasn’t something to talk about unless you feel like you wanted to be hated by everyone for no real reason. Instead my dorky friends and I would huddle and talk about our plans to make a Mars rover with the new electronic shit Lego sold at Faberge Egg prices and put on a front in public that we thought skateboarding was cool.

Lego became Erecter sets, Erecter sets became my first car. My family moved out East, to foothills with new neighbors who liked to jump cheap bicycles too. I started to toss out the magazines about the time girls started showing up at my house, and instructed my parents to do the same for my dignity. Sometimes, an issue would show up indoors or near a bathroom and I’d end up with some time to kill and flip through, catching up with an old affair. One morning in high school I saw they had opened that new Legoland, the one in Carlsbad. I could even drive there if I wanted to with my new driver’s license.
I flipped a few more pages to the stapled center. No user submitted. A few more pages and I was at the end where they list the prices. At least one thing didn’t change.

I still haven’t been to Legoland. This winter I turned 29. My older sister is flying in to town with her husband and two kids to visit, and the kids will probably play with my old Lego’s. I might build something, too.

Maybe they’ll start taking submissions again.

My Favorite Climbing Videos

Todays post will be a bit different.  The internet is clogged with ‘blog’ sites that share other people’s work, getting views off the backs of hard working people creating their own content.  I prefer to add content rather than be a content aggregator, but I’m breaking my own rule here to share some really amazing climbing short films that I’ve been re-watching over and over.

Climbing is DEEPLY personal, and though it is easy to share experiences it is difficult to have the same experience.  Everyone interprets the challenges and excitement on their own terms with their own filter,but elements of a day out can resonate with anyone whose tied in to top rope in a gym at some level.

To make things simple I’ll add a video for each style, as we like to put ourselves in ‘boxes’ in society.  I will add that whether the move is above a pad, a bolt or a cam it is a move – if you enjoy climbing movement, it is worth appreciating and exploring what other styles have to offer.  We all have our preferences but we are all climbers too.

Bouldering – Story of Two Worlds Low with Dai Koyamada

This is a bit longer clip (almost 18 minutes) but has the full gamut of emotion – puzzling, deflating, engaging and even a bit emotional.  Hard to imagine all this from a ~15 foot tall boulder, but in the zen garden even a bonsai tree holds a story of generations.  His discipline, the fact that he’s been leading the front of modern bouldering for 10 years, his stoic demeanor and harsh eyes… it’s a mesmorizing film if you are a junkie for climbing flicks.

Sport Climbing – La Reina Mora with Alizée Dufraisse

Sport climbing is about overcoming failure and discipline seeing you through a project.  Seeing such a powerful, dedicated climber throw herself over and over at a climb at the very top end of physical possibility is inspiring and we can all resonate with the ‘complete-ness’ of having clipped the chains on top.  All that work, all that effort and heart break, for a short moment on top when the work is done and the next project takes it’s place.  The elation is short-lived, the search for the next moment of ennui that much more difficult… yet it is still there and very real.

Trad Climbing – West Face of the Leaning Tower with Katie Brown and Lynn Hill

This is a classic back-and-forth between new school and old school.  Katie’s youthful energy and talent are in stark contrast to the measured and methodical approach by Lynne.  Lynne Hill, likely the best American climber to have ever touched rock, is seen as calm and collected, measuring her immense experience and considerable skill with the realities of the challenge ahead.  Katie seems very badly to want the climb, like Alizée and Dai searching for that summit. Lynne has had her summits, and there will be many more.  Hers is a lifetime of commitment, not a fleeting blip in a short life.  I strive to live like Lynne and climb like Katie.

So there you have it.  Hopefully this is a good break for a lame Monday.  I hope to see you all out there!

My Weight Loss Story Part 3: Posture

posture 2

“In all forms of strategy, it is necessary to maintain the combat stance in everyday life and to make your everyday stance your combat stance.  You must research this well.”

-Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings, 1645

“It is a fundamental fallacy to think that our human bodies work like the structures that humans have built.”

-Leslie Kaminoff, Yoga Anatomy, 2007

Sometimes in life you come across something, some knowledge or inside information, that seems so simple yet the world fails to pick up on the frequency of it.  You’ll run around town, holding the idea up high and yell “Look at THIS!” to deaf ears, because just as you’ve had to open your mind to the idea to accept it so do others.

This is the feeling I got when I made major changes to my “posture,” and by that I mean my understanding of my own bodies bio mechanical systems.  Suffering years of a ‘tweaky shoulder’ or hip pain after a run had put me on a fevered pace to find some solution to ending the nagging discomfort.  I’ve thrown money at the problem in terms of chiropractors and massage therapy, I’ve worked hard to move through old tissue doing hours upon hours of yoga and stretching, yet in the end it wasn’t fixing a problem so much as not creating one that would flip a switch.

A proper, stable position. Glorious.

A proper, stable position. Glorious.

The fact of the matter is our bodies have evolved into their current form long before we invented the chair or padded running shoes.  We have laws for how we should work, what we should eat, how we should sleep.  Instead of breaking those laws and paying the fee it’s better to understand them and stay in the lines.

By far, the biggest change in my understanding of the human body in my life has been grasping posture and optimum position.  Just like a Leopard evolved to be able to hunt huge game until they day it dies, we aren’t meant to have hip issues or tweak our shoulders.  There are rules that our body works by, ways that are efficient and inefficient.  Someone who did gymnastics as a child has rules hard-wired into their brain – for the rest of us, we round our backs when we pick shit up off the floor and stand like the vultures from Disney’s Robin Hood.

The Yogi’s discovered these truths two thousand years ago.  Crossfit enthusiasts, often as objective as any when it comes to filtering out the best practices, have made a science out of understanding the optimum position for strenuous lifting and movements.  Just as Miyamoto Musashi warns to keep the belly strong where the sword is drawn, keeping a straight spine and engaged core/glutes is a position that develops more power and protects the nervous system.

Taking a Proper Stance, Brandon makes a case for Miss Manners' "Gentleman of the Year"

Taking a Proper Stance, Brandon makes a case for Miss Manners’ “Gentleman of the Year”

As it turns out, the hundreds of dollars I sank into massage therapy and Chiropractics was not wasted.  Every session the well-recommend professionals reinforced my posture, warned of sitting and urged me to drink more water.  Those three things are their biggest struggle, those little pointers that we think are small-talk before the spine-twisting and knot-beating.  It turns out, if I had listened to them the first times I likely wouldn’t have needed a return trip to alleviate a nagging twinge.

Just as I was learning about my Metabolism and Cardio-vascular system I was beginning to grasp my bone structure and nervous system.  After spending hundreds of hours of my life sitting a computer I am more aware of the alignment of my spine, making sure to take breaks and engage my trunk while driving.  Starting the process can be difficult, as your body may have to unwind a bit before standing properly will feel “normal” – but the change will happen and “Normal” will be healthy again.

There are a million different places to look to improve your posture and understanding of optimum position.  I’ll save you the headache and provide a handful of useful tools that I found best helped me  in my evolving self-education of my body.

-Stand with your feet pointing forward, head up and shoulder blades pushed together.  Pointing your feet out like a pigeon locks the hips, curves the spine and the head drops.  Every inch from center your head is, is an average of 10lbs of weight on your neck.  Back hurt from stress? I’ll bet.  Try standing in Tadasana, and know that is the way we are MEANT to stand.  It will take time for your body to adapt to fix all the bad habits, but they WILL fix.  When I first started training hard in rock climbing I had massive discomfort in between my scapula.  By using my body more properly, keeping my shoulders back instead of rolled during every day activities and training, the problem was completely eliminated.

-While driving it’s important to keep the seat forward so that you can sit up straight to support the natural curvature of the spine (some use a lumbar roll).  If I feel fatigue in my back or shoulders, I’ll press my shoulder blades together and press gently against the steering wheel with my palms, elbows in, almost in a “push-up” position.  Doing a few sets of 30 seconds of this will keep my body feeling good and aligned for long enough to take a break and walk around.  If you are in a swiveling chair, turn your whole body instead of just at the waist.

-Don’t sit!  At least avoid sitting, and when it isn’t avoidable make sure to sit with good posture and take breaks.  This is a huge problem in our country resulting in massive amounts of discomfort, pain pill addictions, stress and more.  Slouching can put an extra 10-15 times the normal pressure, so make sure if you are sitting that the feet are flat on the floor and you look like a dork.

-Kelly Starrett knows what’s up.  Check out some of his information including this video.


high plains

“I meant to tell mankind about a new state about which I could tell them little or nothing, to teach them to tread a long and lonely path which might or might not lead thither, to bid them to dare encounter all possible perils of nature unknown, to abandon all their settled manners of living and cut themselves off from their past and their environment, and to attempt a quixotic adventure with no resources beyond their native strength and sagacity.  I had done it myself and found not only that the pearl of great price was worth far more than I possessed, but that the very perils and privations of the quest were themselves my dearest memories.  I was certain of this at least: that nothing in the world except this was worth doing.”

-Aleister Crowley

Credit: Jerry Chen Photography

Credit: Jerry Chen Photography

A boulder stands nobly on a hillside strewn with hundreds of his brethren, immovable sentinels posing closely together yet each in their own solitude.  There is no interpretation, no attachment of emotion or understanding of grace.  Shattered and broken piles of decomposing granite lie next to perfectly hewn swaths of stone, both parts of a whole yet individual specimens with personality and style.

The biggest of these oversee their realm with opulent dominance like kings puffing their chests in full battle-armor.  Indeed the quirks of geology that birth such giants come only from immaculately grown crystals seeded millions of years ago in a dense batholith.  The iron-like cuirass of hardened Patina edges offer a line of weakness up the patriarch, daring any to ply their mettle and wage a battle with the giant high above the hill.

“You not only get psyched up but almost become hypnotized or mesmerized to the point where your mind goes blank, and you climb by well-cultivated instincts.  You do it.”

-John Gill


John Gill on The Thimble – from Pat Ament’s Master of Rock

In 1961 there was no sport climbing, no harnesses, no climbing shoes.  The Golden Age of climbing in Yosemite had produced die-hard bad asses like Royal Robbins, Warren Harding and Chuck Pratt.  Outside of California, in a midwest Air Force Base doing pull-ups on nuts and bolts sticking out of the walls, was perhaps the greatest American climber ever to touch rock hiding away from the center stage of Yosemite Valley.  Decades before hang boards and even the Bachar Ladder Gill took functional training to new levels, regarding small boulders not as “practice climbs” as his peers did but as moving meditation.  The collegiate gymnast, capable of one-armed levers and climbing a 20-foot rope in 3.4 seconds, applied his mathematically-inclined mind to complete many of his ‘problems’ including his most famous of all – The Thimble in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Free soloing a 5.12 over a nasty guard-rail (since removed) when 5.11 had barely been established is ground breaking enough for Gill to retain his legacy as one of the greatest climbers of all time.  That he would later complete other ‘problems’ rated up to modern V9 only adds to the mystique of his character, the soft-spoken math teacher standing over 6 feet and built like a Marvel Superhero.

The experience of climbing is timeless, the mechanics rooted in our own evolutionary growth as fingers grasp small rock holds and branches on the way atop high lofts to see danger and weather approaching.  Yet beyond that, there are those for whom the climb and the vistas are more than tools for scouting danger or prey.  Like arrowheads found on top of the highest Sierra peaks our own history dictates that mountains without any merit aside from their uniquely difficult summits draw adventurous few to solve a problem in their head.  Can I get to that place?  Is it meant for me?

Heavenly Path

Heavenly Path

Gill often describes his experiences as a type of meditation, or kinesthetic awareness.  Rehearsing the movement, climbing up and down higher and higher into a fever pitch, the Thimble was completed in what was likely perfect performance art.  When the conscious mind sets the series of movements the unconscious executes.  The flow and rhythm are just as much as the process as the motions they occur between, blending confidence and spirit as spirit wills body.  Doubt isn’t indulged in at the base of these climbs, and meditation can put one in the midst of the battle.

The king lay before, a sword in hand.  A swift blow to his weakest point, where the armor is split and invites the blade, and the skirmish is won.  Parry his blows, swing the blade and kill the king, stand on his shoulders and shout in triumph.  For a warrior there is no one battle, not a singular foe to leave driven or wall to overcome.

“Today is victory over yourself of yesterday; tomorrow is your victory over lesser men.”

-Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings


Miyamoto Mushashi

If you want to know what that feeling is like, find the boulder fields.  Find the hill sides speckled with lumps of tall monoliths calling your name.  Walk up to their knobby surfaces, battle-worn and brushed smooth from a hundred others flaying their skin on it’s carapace.  From under his belly there is no glory and the rounded lip obscures a summit.  What might that summit be like?  Can I get to that place?  Is it meant for me?

(For further reading on John Gill check out Master of Rock by Pat Ament