Penis Shaming (A Guest Article Written by Kim Jong-Un)

Hello dear readers.

For today’s discussion I took an issue that has been at the forefront of the media’s focus, Penis Shaming. I asked my good friend Kim Jong-Un to share some of his thoughts he shared with me during a discussion about said topic, while watching his armed guards beat each other with shovels.

-Greg

 

Penis Shaming and You

Thanks to the invention of the internet (which, after reading this article, you’ll understand why I banned it in my country) the tiniest voices are being heard – and we are FED UP!  Your country, filled with greed-hungry capitalists and more whole food parking lots than we have Real Estate, have been shoving this CRAP about bullying and fat sensitivity down the collective gullets of the sensationalist media.  All the while the REAL problem lies just below the belt – Penis Shaming.

Look, we get it.  Bullying is terrible.  There is nothing about the face of an innocent child that says “you should probably smack me with a two-by-four,” unless of course they were 3 minutes late to Pageantry practice. And though my physique, passed down from my benevolant genetics, are impeccable – I understand too that those who have a thyroid issue may not appreciate being treated differently for their size.  I don’t know why a thyroid makes you eat only the skin off the fried chicken, but I digress.

The point is, Shaming is real – and America should be Shamed for Shaming the most defenseless of all victims, the micro-phallus.  Sure, someone can’t change the color of their skin or sexual orientation, yet we can openly mock politicians and sports stars who are genital minorities?

Some of the most powerful men in history have had tiny dicks.  This may come as a shock to many of you, but mine is quite small indeed, despite my despotic good looks and otherwise impeccable genes.  As Lady Gaga would say, Baby I Was Born This Way.  I was born as an asshole with a tiny dick – but it’s the asshole on the inside causing all the problems, not the tiny dick outside.

I can’t help my penis being tiny, no more than your politicians can stop it from getting caught in things.  Cultures with the smallest penises have been slaving away for generations for natural male enhancement.  I can, however, impart with you the image of a struggling dictator, calloused in his gaze from watching his people suffer from his palace, and say we aren’t bad guys – we just have tiny dicks.

Kim Jon-Un

Tiniest penis in the world

(If this piece of satire has offended you in any way, I apologize. It isn’t  your fault – you were just born that way.)

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Going out on Your Shield

lembert dome

I can see a fold in the rock above that might be a ledge big enough to stand on.  Below my feet lay a huge swath of stone, a low-angled slab littered with little Feldspar knobs just big enough to stand on.  These small knobs were my islands as I crept from one to the next, far from the sanctuary of the last bolt and further still from a smattering of boulders at the base of the cliff where my partner stood holding a useless belay.  I was perhaps sixty feet above the bolt, itself forty feet from the rocks below and into virgin territory equidistant from either of the routes 30 feet to each side.  Even if by some miracle the bolt were high enough to help me I’d be scraped to sinew in a sea of aggressive Feldspar bumps, sharper than those that grace other routes in Yosemite where the pounding of multiple feet have dulled their bite.

The climb was called Cryin’ Time Again, and it was late summer in 2013.  It wasn’t the first time I had been caught off-route, and I was sure it wouldn’t be the last. Having to navigate oneself up a rock face should be a skill to have in the High Sierra, just as those who trod before you had to aquire before themselves making the first ascent of whatever it is you are repeating.  As most climbers repeat already-established climbs, conveniently in the front country and assessed for quality, this skill is like the knobby faces they climb on the weekends – considerably more dull.

Hoping for that ledge I realized that my interpretation of the rock was a bit rushed.  I had climbed it before, dammit.  This wasn’t supposed to be difficult.  Everything is in control, that ledge above will allow me to stop and think.  I can get myself off of this.

Half Dome

Mid-summer in 2011 the high passes were just opening from snow-melt to allow a rare glimpse for a motorist to catch the real Alpine.  Everything was still frosted with receding patches of old snow from a heavy winter of Pacific Storms as the cascades of Lee Vining Creek below billowed fat and full.  My partner Lucas and I had just come from spending a week in Yosemite Valley repeating a classic from the Golden Age of Yosemite climbing, the North-West face of Half Dome.  The heavy snowfall gave way to vibrant springs flowing out of the cracks at the bottom of Half Dome’s huge North face and we drank it full, embarking on our greatest adventure yet.

2011

A second time we were heading up Tioga Pass, yet not to haul and suffer ourselves up an imposing North Face – this time to enjoy the cooler High Country air and plod unceremoniously up quality routes near the road and burger shack.  With Half Dome now a month behind us we hastily threw together a plan to tick off some classics in the short season of mid-summer.

The climb Cryin’ Time Again went by like clockwork, itself meant as a warm-up before Lucas and I climbed the Hulk and the Third Pillar of Dana.  Each climber had his crux pitch as we swapped leads up the soaring face of Lembert Dome, coasting from a long summer of training well spent.  Uneventful yet fulfilling, the kind of climb that get done again and again.

It took only two years before spontaneous plans put me on that tall knobby granite dome.  In that time an accident I was involved at on Tahquitz Rock forced me to re-evaluate the role climbing took in my life as I watched it take the life of Lucas in a rappelling accident.  Every day is a struggle, a struggle to lose weight or to find success or to find love.  I needed the struggle of rock climbing, to have a dedication that taxed me physically and mentally and emotionally.  I liked who came out in climbing, the boy who once cowered before the wolf only to become a man and wear its hide.

Feet from the little ripple of rock above that offered respite I was grappling with a wolf, but my sword was sharp from a season of striking it against whetstones like Tahquitz Rock and The Incredible Hulk.  I found the holds I needed easily and executed.

In Rock Climbing you get to make the Big Kid decisions, putting other ones in perspective.  It’s hard to really give a shit about taxes or jury duty when it’s getting dark and your headlamp is in the car ten miles away.  A hundred different decisions come into play from a hundred different scenarios when I get into a rough spot.  The reality of Rock Climbing is that getting off-route or having to run it out far above protection are part of the game.  Granted, they aren’t often an aspect sane climbers solely seek.  Yet the reality of climbing big mountains is that they need to be respected, approached objectively with wide scanning eyes.

While hastily stashing gear in a pack that morning I took no more than a cursory glance at the topo, a newer edition to replace the one I had lost at some point, and remembered seeing an alternate start to the right of the original line of well-spaced bolts.  Fifty feet below the stance I was trembling on and soon after passing a bolt via moves I could not reverse, the thought popped into my head that perhaps I was not far enough to the right.
No matter.  I could get myself out of this.

An easy move, not unlike many I had done completely ropeless on long training runs up on Tahquitz that spring, and the fold above turned into a slightly-lower angled slab that from below gave the illusion of a ramp. My heart sank deep into my chest – this isn’t a ledge.  I can’t stop here.  I have to keep going.  Before I can decide which way would lead me out of harm I saw a bolt above and to the right just above the steeper parts of the rock, with another down and right another fifteen feet.

The climb was almost within reach, yet like the inmates on Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride I was woefully lurching.  Every-which way petered out into lichen and shrinking knobs – the only good ones lead straight up to that bolt, steeper and more brittle than those below.  If I could just get to it, I could get myself on-route and finish the pitch and go home, seemingly another world away.

Deep breaths slowed my heart as I focused on one thought at a time.  The situation could easily overwhelm my tiny brain, so I inspected the holds that may hold my life.  The small pink knobs were on clean rock, the first few above my head held well in place.  Past that a handful of baseball-sized knobs appeared, likely where the party who first climbed that right variation stopped to hand-drill the 3/8″ bolt.

I can’t recall how much time had passed on that ledge, only that as soon as I noticed my calves getting tired I knew it was time to move.  If I were to wait for a rescuer to come from above, hiking the long mile trail along the back carrying what would have to be a 400 foot rope, there was no guaruntee that my toes could hold up on the small little dimples I intermittently tap danced between.  The point of no return was far below, where hubris first questioned my decision to cast off ahead despite no bolts in sight.  My skills indeed saw a way up and out, yet the margin too slim. A handful of bad decisions had put me in a place where I had to make one really, really important one.

I remember a few weeks before when I had visited my parents and watched a UFC title fight.  The challenger hadn’t hurt the champion in 4 long rounds, and as the fifth bell sounded I wondered what the contendor might do.  No sane judge would vote a round his way, the only path to victory by knockout or submission, yet for the next five minutes he coasted along with the champ who was content to spar the time away with jabs from a distance.  No big moves from the young prospect, down on the cards, nothign that woudl resemble an attempt at ending the fight.  As I sat there watching him go through the motions, I wondered to myself what I might do.  Could I swing for the fences if defeat was anything but a home run?  Would the odds against me stack so heavy I collapse, or would I go out on my shield?

The holds are brushed off in-between breaths to keep from shaking.  As good as they were this was not territory often travelled and even the cleanest knobs had bits of lichen and grit.  I felt the first two knobs above and assessed – if the ground were at my feet instead of a hundred-plus foot header into talus this would be trivial.  I can do this.  Relax, use good technique.  If I just use the right technique I can come away, I know that.  100%.

Pull. Press. Step.  Step.  Reach. One last move as I trust a lone foot on a hold I scoured with a toothbrush and stood up.

From far away it might have looked casual, that some nut was obviously just taking a fairly dangerous variation to Cryin’ Time Again.  Immediately after I clipped the bolt I doubled over and dry-heaved hard into my lap.

Fuck.

Cryin Time Again

It took about two days before I stopped feeling empty.  A weird, shameful feeling that I had gotten away with something.  I didn’t consider the consequences too much then and still don’t, but the point was clear.  I swung my sword blindly and got the kill.

A few hours later I was sipping a Mango Margerita down in the town of Lee Vining, watching the clouds roll over the Dana Plateau.

That first time up Cryin’ Time Again in 2011 wasn’t nearly as exciting.  A few days later, after hoofing it up the Red Dihedral of The Incredible Hulk, a line of parties descending to the base of the Third Pillar of Dana deterred Lucas and I from our last objective.  We walked down the drainage, content with ourselves as we watched thunderheads build up above the heads of intrepid Alpinists hacking their own crowded ways up the Dana plateau, deciding not to race against time and squeeze a quickie in before the storm.

At the time, it didn’t bother me that we were turning back.  It bothers me less now.

Back at the Car

Back at the car, off to Mango Margerita’s and thinking about nothing.

Virtual Tour: Mount Woodson Classic Cracks

Virtual Tour: Mount Woodson

Classic Cracks

Ah, Mount Woodson.  Home to so many pea-sized boulders you’ll think  you are a giant in Yosemite.  Though the high walls hidden in the Sierra might make El Cap and Half Dome seem a more grand objective, wee little adventures can be had tromping among the oak and manzanita high in the San Diego front country.

To Get There

Take Hwy 67 East out of Poway via the I-15.  I come from North County and exit Camino Del Norte, taking it to Espola and Poway Road.  If coming from the South, you can take Poway Road from the 15, just outside of Mira Mesa.  Either way, once your off the freeway the rolling hills offer awesome views not far from The Gaslamp and Oceanside Pier.  Ah, the glorious East County…

Warm up boulders

Park along the West Side of the 67 on the Shoulder.  This highway in particular is (or was, before renovations) the 6th deadliest highway in the nation.

In addition to having to play Frogger if the left side of the pavement is packed on a weekend, arriving very early or very late in the day can lead to desperate passers-by looking on your seat for a cell phone or wallet.  I’ve been fortunate enough in dozens of visits to avoid either problem, but I make sure to leave my car devoid of valuables, taking anything I like up the hill with me.  Take care as well pulling out into traffic, as cars careening past the Golf Course on Sunday Night might as well be Patriot Missiles.

The Warm-Up

Warm Ups Close Up

The first three problems in this video are on the “Practice Boulders” – aptly named.

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The lieback flake is about 5.7*, and has a mantel move off of a good sloping bread loaf just at the top.  Get a spot if you are uncomfortable, as with any mantel it can put you off-balance and a fall may not be controlled.

There is no ‘easy’ way off, so I would suggest climbing these double cracks up-and-down first, as they are my favorite downclimb:

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Or, consider downclimbing this wide crack on the back, which has a very low crux and can be squirmed pretty easily:IMG_2348

The boulder with the other two problems has an easy walk off. The second problem is a 5.10A mantel problem – getting established up on it can be a bit tricky, and trust the friction for the press.  It isn’t too high and isn’t too difficult.  The final problem is a 5.6 flake that feels easy, though the slick texture might make the feet pop unexpectedly (while filming, I came off the first time I hopped on!)

Mantels are a great way to warm-up as they work the antagonistic ‘pressing’ muscle groups, getting the blood warm without taxing the shoulders/fingers/forearms for harder problems later in the day.  As with any exercise in climbing, a pushup is better done as part of a rock climb to learn technique simultaneously, so try to incorporate strength and conditioning on the rock for better (and more enjoyable) results!

There are a handful of other problems in this area** to try and I’ve highlighted them in “yellow” on the maps above and below – except for the “Baby Robbins Area” (there’s just too much to bother color coding!).

The “5.10B/C Face” and “5.10D Thin Crack” are CLASSIC Woodson problems – they might feel impossible at first if unfamiliar with the subtle techniques hard, thin granite problems require.  Impossible one day and a warm-up the next – that’s the magic of technical climbing.  Learn to trust rubber on small edges and keep body tension for these guys!

Further up the road, take the first Left up a steep faint trail just after the Gate to reach the Sunday Afternoon Boulder.

Sunday Afternoon Boulder 

Sunday Afternoon Boulder

The Sunday Afternoon Boulder is comprised of two large, toprope-sized blocks with a handful of problems ranging in difficulty from 5.7 to 5.12.

Sunday Afternoon Close Up

The Sunday Afternoon boulder is shown in the video, via a popular top-rope problem.  The yellow text are problems not covered in the video.

SAB

The 5.7 Flakes/5.9 Jam/Flare can be reached by hiking up around to the right to reach the SECOND pair of toprope bolts – the first are above a 5.12 tips crack.  On the opposite side of the boulder, around to the left of the ‘5.7 flakes,’ is a 5.8 wide crack.  This can be top-roped via long slings and a directional from the bolts, thought it is an awkward angle.  Beware if bouldering out any of these routes, as there is a somewhat-tricky mantel move after the climb to get on top of the formation – it is only about 5.7, but feels insecure, though easier than the climbs to get to it.

I Hear My Train A Comin‘ is a world class finger crack, made famous by its first ascentionist John Bachar who (in the 1980’s) onsight-soloed the route.  Even if the climb is above your level, walk up to it and imagine in the days before crash pads hiking the route first try.  That should give a good impression of the standards those who developed this area held themselves to. PROUD!  To the right of the boulder is an awesome 10D lieback flake that can be toproped called “Razors Edge” – a great consolation prize, and with a good spot not a bad boulder problem as well.

Heading back to the road and going uphill some more, one encounters a water tower shortly on the right – Just BEFORE the water tower is a short trail heading ~30 yards to the Blackfinger boulder (10A toprope or boulder problem, fingercrack), which isn’t covered, but worth checking out.  At the water tower, turn and look right (like in the video) and you’ll see the obvious hand crack on the Elephants Trunk.

Elephants Trunk/Butt

Elephants Trunk Boulder

This pint-sized boulder offers a lot of bang for it’s short stature.  The obvious hand crack is a fairly highball 5.10, the face to the left a fun 5.6-7 problem.  Multiple warm-ups or downclimbs can be found on the Southwest side of the boulder, and look carefully to the left of the elephants trunk for a really cool face climb.  It’s mid-5.10, dynamic, and a real blast.

IMG_2434

Robbins Crack

Robbins Crack Approach

We’ll skip straight ahead to the best 5.10 splitter in the area – Robbins Crack!  It’s about a 10 minute walk past the water tower, past the Seminar Wall/Lizards area (tall blocks on the first major switchback past the water tower), the playground (flat spot with a spray painted boulder when the road opens up and looks South towards Downtown San Diego) and underneath the mighty Uncertainty Principle (link).

Robbins Close Up

This problem shouldn’t be difficult to see from the road.  From the cracked rock you can see the problem at there is a path going around to the left to reach it – the cracks right on the road as well are good warm-ups, if you’d like to head straight to this area and skip the bottom stuff.  The giant overhanging face is Don’t Rock The Boat, more groped than any other 5.13 on the hill.  Missing hangers and epoxied holds make it seem a bit less enticing than other testpeices in the area, and modern crashpad/spotter technology might relegate it to a new-age boulder problem.  For now, it attracts the eye of the gym rat who sees steep crimps and big moves with bolts – not something too common at Woodson.

IMG_2819

The crux of bouldering Robbins is, of course, down-climbing it.  I suggest trying the problem first on a rope to make sure you are comfortable.  If you’ve got a good spotter (and, perhaps, a crash pad) it can be lead with a #1 camalot – place it while standing on the good edge about head-high and cruise the final 5.8-5.7 moves to the top.  Toprope bolts on the left make a directional useful for doing laps and are conveniantly right on top of an awesome 5.11 thin-face climb, Eric’s Face.  A common toprope problem, this isn’t to be missed!  Check out the top half of Lie Detector, which is only about 5.9 – the bottom is hard, thin, old school pin scar jams and pretty damn difficult!

This problem is named after the climbing legend Royal Robbins, who famously onsight-soloed this route for it’s first ascent in hiking boots – the locals had told him it was the best route in the area, just not that it hadn’t been done yet!

Baby Robbins

Baby Robbins Approach

Quite possibly my favorite area for a quick circuit is the Baby Robbins/Jaws area.  There is so much packed in so close, almost all short enough to be considered boulder problems, and in a cool little grove to boot.  Take the faint trail JUST BEFORE the sharp switchback that overlooks San Diego a second time – inside the bend of the road is a group of boulders making a cave-like feature hiding a popular 5.10 toprope and the V-Hard testpeice False Eppulator (or Rails Problem – the real ‘eppulator,’ named after Greg Epperson, is around the back on the West side, facing the road, up a short and fierce 5.12 dike).

Baby Robbins Close Up

Too Much Stuff!  Baby robbins is a great toprope, if you can keep the rope out of the crack (hint – run it over a shoe or a pack), and Jaws is the real gem of the area though the landing make it more of a solo than a boulder problem.  Other topropes include Girls Climb (10D) and Corn Flake (5.7) – Corn Flake can be started all the way down and right to add some mileage.

perfect slab area

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With an open mind you can find more than a dozen climbs in this short area and the Perfect slab area above.  The Perfect Slab spot has a handful of awesome rails, mantels, highballs, friction climbs and knob-presses to round out Granite Technique, all doable with a single crash pad.  The face climb in the Virtual Tour Video is the “5.9” to the left of Baby Robbins, and just to the left of the “5.9” is another cool problem starting with a hop to a heart shaped hold.  Spend time here and learn the circuit, it will be a favorite spot to hit on the way up or down the hill.

The Cave

Cave Approach

The most obvious feature when hiking past this popular area is going to be the giant, overhanging Cave (11a).  This spot has a large grouping of problems to warm up on or work out.

Cave Area

The Cave is a gnarly highball or a toprope, but an easy escape off to the right at about half-height make it a reasonable boulder problem.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dBJXD0adKw

The first problem I cover is Fisticuffs, a 5.8 fist crack/offwidth that has some face holds to mitigate the jamming needed. At this point in filming the video I was pretty beat.  Wearing socks and sweating hard in the heat I used some of those face holds instead of jamming – cheater!  Not really cheating, as it’s all climbing, but again – a great problem to try different techniques.  The “Aguille De Woodson” is a pair of featured fins that have a handful of fun warm-up face climbs.  If comign to work on this part of the hill consider jumping on these first.  To the left (East) of the Cave is an arching hand-to-fist crack called Bat Crack.  It feels insanely physical and is a problem worth bringing a few rolls of tape on.

1IMG_2813

The last problem climbed in the video is Johns Crack, not to be confused with Long’s crack (named after climbing legend John Long).  John’s crack feels easier than Robbins, but harder than baby Robbins.  A hard pull off the ground gets you established in the deeper, easier jams, so though it is tall and over a weird landing it’s not a very dangerous boulder problem.

Heading down hill you will find Alcoa and Stairway to Heaven, two test piece highballs/solos that see few ascents.

DSC00530

Up the road a tiny bit, at the sharp switchback, leave for a trail heading towards San Diego and head to the obvious giant overhanging block of Big Horn.  This boulder has toprope bolts to work out the myriad face climbs and variations, a great place to get a pump on granite.

So there it is, my first installment of Virtual Tours.  I hope you’ve enjoyed it, and more so I hope it has inspired you to explore more and have more fun.  That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

A Note About Grades*

I spent some time thinking about how best to provide information about grading these climbs – for the most part I used what Dave Kennedy called routes in his guidebook, but sometimes I took the liberty to give my own interpretation.  There is no real consensus, just personal interpretation, and I suggest climbing them and letting me know what you think – the climbing is the fun part, anyway!

A Note About Other Problems**

I know, I know.  There are a LOT of problems I missed, even right by the spots I covered.  I know, they are your very very favorite-ist climbs in the world.  This was just a sampling, and be sure that future posts will cover more areas and more classics, but feel free to let me know which you prefer – might add them into my next post!

5 Reasons Why You Suck at Crack Climbing

Matt upside down

Hang in there, this post will get you through it!

“I don’t like crack.”

I’ll avoid the pedantic analogy to Crack Cocaine except to say that, like any drug, you just don’t know if you like it ’till you try.  Of course ‘trying’ to learn crack climbing often leaves the newbie in a bruised pile of humility.  That’s where the failure part comes in – the road you are taking sucks, your car is fine.

This article aims to deflate some preconceived notions of The Way to crack climb in place of easier, more bite-sized steps for success.  Just like any approach to training, one should check the ego at the door and keep in mind the word “Objective” when it comes to adding things to the plate (or scrapping all-together).

Started at Dixon

19 Year Old Greg

I started climbing in a gym in 2001, as a sophomore in high school, at Solid Rock Climbing Gym.  Unlike those before me I had the advent of Climbing Gyms to train and learn the craft, and back when I began that was exactly what one did – gyms were little more than steep concrete walls with bolt-on resin holds arranged by high school kids to give weekend warriors a way to get pumped on a Tuesday.  Posters all over of heroes on heroic routes – Chris Sharma on Realization, Tommy Caldwell on the Salathe, Fred Nicole on Slashface – lined the locker rooms, a reminder of ‘the real thing’ and why we were there .  The gyms were uncomfortable, dirty, and run amok by birthday parties for 11 year olds, a patron that was a necessary evil to keep the bay doors open for the handful of broke climbers in the area.  Real rock climbing was the point, and most everyone who shivered in the few abandoned all winter knew that.

Before my time there wasn’t a culture of gym climbing, and not long after the appearance of high-tech facilities there arose whole scores of climbers happily enjoying entire careers on plastic rock.  Granted, as a form of exercise a climbing gym is a bit more rad than blandly hefting  weights at 24-hour fitness or thudding on a treadmill watching TLC.  The idea, however, that one must attain a certain proficiency on indoor climbs before venturing outside seems silly and a bit too progressive a thought for my taste.  In the bright light and softly padded floors of a 70,000 square foot mega-gym the realities of rock climbing can seem harsh and unfriendly, and that feeling only grows the longer an expedition to the local crag is put off.

Climbers today do have tics on their side of the scoreboard, as all the steep terrain that is easily accessed in a gym makes them freakishly strong. More and more climbers are capable of climbing the BEST routes in the area, as the old-school hippies who trained by toproping laps on finger cracks don’t have the power-endurance for the relentless jug-hauls of the Red River Gorge.  Grades once thought elite are being climbed by children, and there in lies the problem – grades.

Wrecked on whitney

Beat and Altitude Sick at 14,000 feet

My first time outdoors, my first time to Joshua Tree, my first big wall, were all horrible failures and soul-crushing realizations of what I really was as a climber.  At Dixon Lake, my first day crack climbing, I huffed and gasped my way up a 5.7 wide crack despite climbing mid-5.10 at the local gym.   Later on, a 5.8 slab told me I really didn’t know that much about rock climbing.  The idea then was to climb the fun climbs, and walking up to a crag one wouldn’t scan a guidebook and toss aside anything naturally protected because “I’m a sport climber, not a trad climber.”  You were a “Climber” and climbed rock climbs, and California is a Granite state – that means that our 500-mile long Sierra Nevada Batholith is split easily by cracks and flakes as volcanic activity echoes onto the cold rock and exfoliates itself.  By looking very, very carefully one might find rock climbs that resemble the moves typically found on gymnastic rock climbs, but to do so would be to look through a vary narrow telescope and ignore the real quality and unique formations our state has to offer.

That long stretch of Granite, those hundreds of miles of splitter cracks offering the best rock climbing in the state by popular consensus, they are a drug worth toking.  Trust me on that one.

I hope to shed some lights on the Do Nots and give an alternative approach – with the usual amount of callous humor and some ridicule for good measure.

Heart of Darkness

Rope-Harness, Ideal for belaying a buddy on a 5.11

So, why do you suck at crack climbing?

1.  You aren’t conditioned

Illusion Dweller

A chubbier version of myself losing a war of attrition on Illusion Dweller

Would it be wise to walk into a martial arts dojo, up to a stack of thick concrete cinder blocks, and smash your forehead against them with all your might?  What if a guy on Youtube did it? What if your core muscles are even stronger than his because of intense abdominal training?  After you are revived and told why there is a hematoma sticking on your forehead, I’d hope the Sensei would say that the man on the video had spent years slamming his dome into a number of increasingly dull objects.

You don’t do this, so don’t expect to climb cracks at your grade and not get hurt.

The idea of Conditioning shouldn’t be unfamiliar to anyone who spent more than a few months learning to climb in a gym. When we started our skin would quickly rot on our palms with blisters and a few short toprope laps would leave us completely gassed.  It hurt, then, to learn.  It hurt to learn how not to pendulum into the wall, how to wear snug climbing shoes, and it seemed as though getting tougher was an accepted facet of the game.  Just the same, crack climbing puts wear and tear on your body in another unique way, one that I can attest after enough practice is hardly noticable.

2.  You really aren’t that great at rock climbing

Split Finger

Huh. All that time spent in the Gym after High School didn’t get me ready for sharp Joshua Tree rock

Now, there are two problems going on with that last statement.  One, people try to climb the same grades on varying crack sizes as on top ropes in the gym.  A difficult reality, two, is that the perceived skill is actually much lower on even non-crack climbs because of the propensity of climbing gyms to inflate the ego’s of their patrons by inflating the grades on their climbs.

To put it simply, someone who climbs solely in a gym, who thinks they should climb a 5.11, should really climb a 5.9 crack – and may only climb 5.10 at best on any terrain.  Just like I was shut down just as handily on an offwidth as a climb with actual holds on it at Dixon Lake all those years ago, you can’t pick a route too easy. There is just too much to learn and mileage on real rock should trump it’s difficulty for the transition stages.  All forms of climbing should be practiced and a useful tool in a climbers quiver of techniques.  A few trips here and there can round out a skillset, much faster than re-learning how to climb all together.

3.  You dork around too much with tape gloves

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Big Bob’s Big Wedge – upside-down fist jams in an Iron Maiden, one of the few times I’ll tape up

It’s a classic sight, the 7am Campground Tape-Up at Joshua Tree.  In fear of losing skin (likely because of reason #1 and #2) hordes of weekend warriors from the nearby cities slap ounces of sticky restrictive tape at breakfast, only to be seen all over the park climbing the flared awkward face holds that appeared from a distance like jam cracks.  Buying tape, making the gloves, pulling them off carefully, discarding trash properly, are all things that get in the way of doing rock climbing – something I like to do the most of possible.

Now, before this is taken to the extreme by the Tape Religious out there, I don’t mean to say NEVER tape.  I tape on hard cracks, ones at my limit where I will lose skin going for the move or forcing myself on lead, as well as roof cracks.  However when top roping, running laps on classics, or getting mileage in on cold days, I prefer to leave the tape at home and learn to use my feet and finesse the route instead of bear down.  Sometimes, at least on toprope, that means I’m falling – but falling and learning is much better than cleanly climbing a route wrong.

4.  You don’t climb enough of them

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Running laps on a Woodson 5.6

This one should be self explanatory, but there is a short bit of information that I’d like to share.  The sad reality of Trad Climbing is that it is a double edged sword, in that it takes a TON of mileage to become proficiant yet the logistics of all the gear and preparation for each route make it damn near impossible to fill a day at Joshua Tree with anything less than a handful of crowded classics.   By climbing with less, and learning the craft to a quick and efficient level, there is ample opportunity to climb 3 times as much terrain in a calender year with the same amount of climbing days.

5.  Your ego needs to be checked

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Five 5.10 pitches down, five more to go. Whose idea was this anyway? Oh, mine. Oops….

People hate to look at their own faults.  Our ego will do anything and everything to protect itself, to compartmentalize what should and shouldn’t matter into boxes of familiarity and comfort zones.  The first breakup, the first job you lost – all those things likely gave you the tools to survive the next ones.  If they didn’t, then you’re likely learning them to this day.  The 5.14 climber who lives in San Francisco yet won’t climb The Astroman because “it’s a trad climb” is scared to fail.  The rock is oblivious to how it is protected, and I’ve long held the belief that a climber should be able to do the same moves above a crash pad as a quickdraw as a well-placed Camming device.  Refusing to run laps on easier routes in order to learn will hurt his chances of success, as some 5.14 climbers wouldn’t be caught dead spending time on a 5.8 hand crack.

Chris Sharma has done multiple trad climbs up to 5.13 and Daniel Woods can be seen on a North Face special learning to hand jam on a river rafting trip.  Try it out, and try it out with the same open mind you used getting into the sport – you just might like it.

So, how can I get better?

I don’t claim to be a master crack climber, yet in my time spent I’ve learned some tricks that allowed personal growth for my own game.  Whether it was planned or inadvertent I came into the habits I have because they WORK, objectively – I don’t care how I look or what route I’m caught on, I just want to have the most fun possible!

1.  Climb easier cracks

Climbing easy cracks, preferably of lower angle, can allow you to feel out the friction on the jams and understand how much pressure should be placed on the backs of the hands.  A jug can be gripped with all your might without discomfort, yet a flared jam will only tear skin and bruise bone.  It is important to learn how to hold on with jams just enough to stay in it but not too much to unnecessarily pinch nerves and, more importantly, not get too pumped.  In addition the movement will help condition an athlete’s skin – and bones – to deal with the rigors of hand and foot jams.

Some of the best times I’d had climbing so far have been on cruiser splitters high in the mountains, where I wasn’t thinking “Left hand-Jug, right foot-edge, right hand-undercling” but moving thoughtfullly along a line cut across stone.  Protection can be thrown in whenever and on those easy big climbs you can get the full-mountain adventure at a fraction of the cost, left skipping back to the car with energy to do it again tomorrow.

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5.7 Offwidth for Breakfast!

2.  Toprope quality cracks of different sizes 

The key word here is quality, and I have a theory on that.

Awkward crack sizes are VERY important, and being able to stuff various body parts into differing fissures with the full bag of imagination is vital to success trad climbing.  However, that kind of movement isn’t conducive for learning repeatable technique.  A quality crack shouldn’t be too grainy, should be fairly paralell to force real jamming skills, and should be fun – so you enjoy doing it and will do it again.  Even offwidths and chimneys can be rewarding when viewed as breakthroughs in technique. Getting stuck, having the climb feel impossible, only to make a small adjustment and breeze up the route is the heart of Crack Climbing.

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Gloves, a jacket and a beanie at the ready!

3.  Climb when it’s colder

Slimy, slippery jams are no fun, and neither is losing skin to them.  Sweat can act as a lubricant for crack climbing, sometimes much worse than steep routes with big holds.  While you can go though gallons of chalk and buckets of tape to stay in the crack, it’s a better idea to walk around to the other side of the formation to climb in the shade.  Crack climbing is often very physical, especially in the learning phases and in wider cracks, and the staccato, conservative movements that make progression possible favor heavy layers.  Just make sure to hike up the sleeves past the wrists, lest they get in the way of a deep hand jam.

Where can I practice this?

For those in Southern California, you are in luck.  We are in a bastion of crack climbs and have to our disposal a plethora of options across a wide swath of San Diego and Riverside counties.  With a light rack of cams and a patient partner there is ample opportunity to get your skills up to where you’d like them.

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Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree – A great place to camp and lead classic climbs

B2/B3 5.3 – Toprope or lead.  Trash Can Rock has a handful of great easy cracks to start out on.

The Bong 5.5 – Lead or TR.  One of the absolute best routes in the park for easy jamming.

Granny Goose 5.7 – Lead.  Hand cracks, offwidths, and a bit of liebacking to boot.

Sail Away 5.8 – Lead. one of the more clean splitters at the grade.  Great protection and movement, an ideal first lead for the grade as well.

The Flake 5.8 – Lead. Offwidth, hands, a chimney and face climbing.  This is the graduation ceremony to 5.8 in Joshua Tree.

Dogleg 5.9 – Lead. Yes, it’s 5.9 not 5.8. Physical, long, warm – a great option for a winter day.

Popes Crack 5.9 – Lead. If you are a 5.10 sport climber as well consider the direct finish – it’s bolted and fairly easy for the grade.

Exercist 10a – Lead or TR after leading Nuurns romp.  An excellent finger crack.

Left Banana Crack 5.10B – Lead or TR. A great steep hand crack through a weird flare.  An easy first lead at the grade because of the awesome protection.

Illusion Dweller 5.10B – Lead.  An amazing testpeice of leaning fist jams, steep hands and finger-jam layback.  Worth every star the book gives it.

Tax Man 5.10B – Lead or TR. Glorious finger and hand crack with face holds to an awkward wide crack at the top.

Spiderman 5.10B – Lead or TR. everything from fingers to offwidth.  This one is a dousy.

Meteorite Crack 5.10C – Lead or TR. A steep burly hand crack.

Clean and Jerk 5.10C – Lead or TR.  Be careful running laps on this ultra-classic, as the sandbagged route is a popular one and it sucks to walk up to a conga line on the thing (trust me).

Jumpin’ Jack Crack 11A/B – Lead or TR.  Chimney and a hand crack through a roof.  Glorious and tough.

Hobbit Hole Offwidte V0 – a damn difficult proposition for your average boulderer!

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Mount Woodson

Mount Woodson – The best place to learn harder cracks, offwidths, and climb with only a crash pad

Elsa’s crack 5.6 – Lead/Solo/TR. A toprope often gets stuck, so if you are planning to use a rope take care.

Corn Flake 5.7 – Solo/TR.  Don’t place gear behind the awesome hand/fist sized flake! Multiple crack boulder problems nearby.

Sunday Afternoon Boulder 5.7-5.9 – several topropes available, bring long slings.

Milkbar 5.8 – TR/Lead. think finger jams and layback around a roof. Sweet.

Baby Robbins Crack 5.9 –  Boulder/TR.  Often the scene of broken hearts.

Big Grunt 5.9 – Solo/TR.  An awkward start leads to spooky chimneying…

Johns Crack 5.9+ – Boulder/Lead/TR. not to be confused with Longs crack. Low crux and flat landing make it a great boulder problem.

Robbins Crack 5.10a – Lead/TR/Boulder.  A MUST do.

Blackfinger 5.10a – TR/Boulder.  I actually led this the first time I got on it.  I don’t recommend bothering to.

The Crucible 5.10C – TR/Lead. A good place to start using tape.  An ass kicker.

Jaws 5.11A – TR/Solo.  One of the best splitters at the grade in the area.

Drivin’ South 5.11D – TR/Boulder.  A killer finger crack and the first of many 5.12-ish in the area.

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Tahquitz Rock

Idyllwild – A great place for mileage on easy routes and to climb the best stone in So Cal.

The Trough 5.4 – A great first longer route.

White Maidens Walkway 5.4-5.7 – good luck staying on route, a glorious cruise up an awesome buttress.  Varied, fun.

Angels Fright 5.6 – The best 5.6, but heads up – the slab at the end spooks people out, but its 5.5.

Coffin Nail 5.8 – The best 5.8 pitch in Idyllwild.  Combine with Traitor Horn for an all-time classic.

Long Climb 5.8 – a great 5-pitch jaunt with offwidth, chimney, hand cracks, and even some face climbing.

Daves Deviation 5.9 – Technical fingers with a slick, thin crux.

Flower of High Rank 5.9 – Splitter crack through a roof.  Climb as one pitch, or else!

Whodunnit 5.9 – So Cal’s Nutcracker, this route has it all – a chimney and thin crack crux, 5.8 roof, all on clean north-facing rock.

Consolation 5.9+ – the twin-handcrack crux will sap you, almost as much as the loose awkward 5.8 moves just below it.

El Camino Real 5.10a – The crux pitch can be reached via Coffin Nail with some trickery, and toproped.   A worthy lieback.

Human Fright pitch 1 5.10a – a great warm-up for harder climbs or thing to do laps on after reaching the anchor via Angels Fright.

Y-Crack 5.10B – An awesome, steep, upside-down Y on the North Face of Tahquitz.  A warm route, great for afternoons or shoulder seasons.

Johnny Quest 5.10B – more like a boulder problem on a rope, a classic none-the-less.

Super Pooper 5.10B – An awesome, long, sustained 5.10 pitch. Consider finishing on Price of Fear for an all-time classic link.

The Vampire 5.11a – Often considered the best route in So Cal, and attainable by most mortals.

Etude 5.11a – Sometimes it’s important to learn to climb things that appear impossible and hold-less…

Insomnia 5.11C – Arguably the best single-pitch in Idyllwild.  Go see for yourself ;D

Remember – it isn’t what you can climb, but what people on Facebook think of you.

Visiting My Old Friend Stonewall

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I guess the earliest memory I have is sitting in the front yard at the old house, my fist balled up in my mouth and the other hand shoved in my diaper.  Mom was walking towards me, and nonchalantly removed my clenched fingers from my toothless gums along with the crushed snail inside.

“You don’t eat snails.”

I vividly remember watching curiously as she wiped my hand across her jeans.  Huh, we aren’t? Why are they so tasty?

For some reason my deep subconscious decided to hold on to that one.  However there are other ‘first memories’ to have – first bicycle ride, fist friend, first snow.  Most of my other ‘firsts’ are maybe more prophetic than pathetic.

I was always out doing something, whether it was scrambling through tall weeds in the back yard or riding a bike path all the way to its end.  Sewer tunnels, local parks, little nooks in model homes my dad was painting, it didn’t matter.  Exploring was the game, finding the micro in the macro and the rare experience that some place offers unique.

Summers we camped at the beach and winters we visited the mountains local to San Diego’s East County.  Growing up in the of the most temperate climates in the world hardly prepared me for later excursions to bigger ranges, but the little Laguna’s in Southern California gave me a slight idea of what mountain wilderness was to look like.  Big black oaks dropped acorns that could be easily stored in Overall pockets and the puny peaks had soft trails that plodded eventually upward.

There was one such adventure, though, and for a six year old it was pretty extreme.  Two grueling miles up a several-hundred-foot ‘peak’ which was capped by intimidating steel railings and stone-carved steps that felt oddly like ascending to the top of a roller coaster.  At the summit of Stonewall Peak were spooky winds, supposed exposure and the inevitable sunset chasing a Mother down the trail with 6 cold ducklings in tow.

Climbing has taken me places I couldn’t dream of, yet at the same time I rarely take the opportunity to take it to the places I had already been dreaming about.  Late fall afternoons in Yosemite and the Sierra, with black oaks and pine forests set among rolling yellow fields, would inspire old memories from my local back country.  I had been treating it like a friend in another county, too close to make plans for but too far away to visit on a whim.

Though the climbing on it’s western escarpment hardly had climbs worth hiking so far to get up, the amazing position up high in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and the opportunity to revisit the area with my Mom and Brother had put the idea in my head.

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I had visited the park several times since the Ceder Fire in 2003, once with a few college buddies, another on a trip to Julian for Pie and home-made(ish) maple syrup.  The hillsides no longer hid the view of the summit under a canopy of Oak trees and the floor was carpeted thick with new brush.  The skeletons of ancient Oaks stood charred while being overtaken by a creeping array of Manzanita and Azalea.  It felt a bit like the scene in Planet of the Apes where they find the buried statue of Liberty.  There were hints of what it had been but the whole picture had to be assumed, based off memories and dreams.

The trail climbs quickly through a shallow forest before switching back and up via a fire road to a split.  A few of the larger burnt trees had fallen across the trail and their limbs lay trampled into kindling.  Further on the way was dotted with tall wood fences, appearing more aesthetic than structural, and tall lilacs trimmed neatly made a bit of a path North to the saddle.

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The steep railing and carved steps were just as I’d imagined, but a bit of the sting of their exposure was lessened by trips up Sierra giants like Half Dome and The Incredible Hulk.  Still, it was harder to find such position, even in those big peaks.  The little thumb is not the highest of its neighbors but it’s predominance gives a unique, 360-degree view.  No ridges or benches hide the surroundings and views from the desert to San Jacinto Peak are shared with that of the ocean blurred into the skyline.

A local guidebook describes the area as “more than a decent climbing excursion for beginner and intermediate climbers.”  I’d wrapped the railing with my lead line and set us to the floor, right down the main face where I’d peered over as a child, and wondered if I were an intermediate climber.  Well, I guess I’ll see how today goes.

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With the time in the day there wasn’t too much climbing to be done, so I guess I’m a beginner again.  There was just too much exploring to do, too many hidden corners to peek around and into.

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Once again sunset chased us off the peak, back to the car to be greeted by treats bought from the deli earlier that day.  Maybe if we had skipped the visit to Dudleys Bakery in Santa Ysabel on the drive up more climbing could have happened, but no one felt cheated.  Sometimes it’s good to just stuff your face and go exploring.

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(Geek notes – I like Mountain Hardwear soft shells for spots like this where wind and hot alcoves are common, and light weight gear from Black Diamond for big approaches.  The Speed pack in particular held everything really well and didn’t annoy me as much as my other packs, but to each his own.  I’d also recommend a bit stickier approach shoes, if you have them, something like the 5.10’s Mom is wearing ;D Always try new stuff and see what you like!)

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My Tights Aren’t Ironic

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Yesterday I wasn’t the only Dude wearing skin-tight leggings in the Bishop Buttermilks.  As silly a sight as a grown man dressed for the winter Olympics might look in the desert, a few friends pointed out that there were a pair of other fellows sporting some form of Fluorescent, animal print Lycra tights.

However my tights were different.  They were not made of cheap Lycra, nor ordered off eBay from a Brazilian importer to be brought out on crowded gatherings as a goof.

They are my battle tights.

The internet is invaluable for the transfer of information, and as everyone and anyone with an idea shovels their sluice into the fire a crucible of experimentation allows the best practices to rise to the top.  Want to know the best way to Squat?  Type it into YouTube and watch a world champion explain it to you.  The best omelette, the fastest mouse, even the ‘best diets’ are getting digested by the Cross-fit crowd, too extreme to allow preconceptions or ego cloud judgement.  We found out that Gluten sucks, Kale rocks and while those skinny jeans might be all the rage in downtown social circles those of us with meat on our legs won’t be throwing heel hooks in them any time soon.

I own some skinny jeans (or regular fit, perhaps, as I have thunder thighs) that I quite enjoy, and even tried climbing in them – once.  I was on a family vacation in Yosemite, and during the wee hours of the warm evenings mid-summer I would escape to  boulder in the talus tucked behind the Hotel.  One particular route I was being bouted on was the Awahnee Arete, and the high-step first move shut me down.  At least, in my snug Billabong jeans I wasn’t making progress on that particular highball.  Frustrated and alone in the dark, I ditched my pants all together and hiked the route the next try, trembling on the tiny edges moving up and away from the landing zone my crash pad protected.  Perhaps the sight of a short hairy dude climbing house sized boulders in his underpants wasn’t my proudest moments, but the send was, and put a nail in the coffin of conversation about aesthetic vs athletic apparel.

It’s no secret that a climbing gym can be as much as a singles bar as a consolation prize for actual rock climbing.  Having been out of the fashion loop for some time now I appreciate being able to roll into Vital Climbing Gym on a Tuesday evening and see what styles are the rage this season.  Scarves seem especially popular in my demographic.

12 years of climbing has told me that you aren’t getting laid in a gym, especially if you are a chunky trad climber sweating in canvas pants he used earlier that day to paint his garage in, and there’s never been a misconception about why I’m indoors on plastic holds instead of watching Firefly reruns at home.

In High School a loophole in the Title IX clause that mandated an equal number of female-to-male sports allowed me to train off-season with the female Volleyball team.  Sure, I was 5’7″ on a good day and had the vertical jump of a Corgi, but dammit I really liked Volleyball and there wasn’t a balanced number of sports between the genders.   I understand from those humble days learning to dive on hard gym floors that boys and girls really aren’t that different, that if you liked something you should probably just do it.  I never jumped on the Spandex bandwagon, but I guess I was lucky to figure out that it didn’t matter if you looked stupid so long as you were having fun.

For some reason, ladies got us again and it ain’t an equal playing field.  Just like High School sports and title IX, women have a wider breadth of fashion that can be socially acceptable to wear to the gym or crag, and I’m here to show up in Spandex and show the boys how to get served.

One winter season I had it in my head that cold, cold running was the thing to do.  I’d seen some promotional material from Mountain Hardwear about this new fabric they are making into 3/4 leggings and full tights, that insulates yet wicks sweat.  I ordered a pair through Nomad Ventures and was immediately hooked, running long days in the mountains over snow and hard rocky trail without a hint of a chilly thigh.  After a few trips to Joshua Tree that season I realized that jamming legs into flared cracks and hooking heels around arete’s was increasingly more annoying, all the while I’d been increasingly grown accustomed to unfettered movement in my Battle Tights.

On a few trips, with a sole climbing partner, I brought the tights to Joshua Tree and Tahquitz.  Of course, I hiked with them in my pack to the base as to avoid weird looks on the trail, but quickly found out their benefits far outweighed the social price of allowing the world intimate knowledge of the dimensions of my bottom half.

Back to the Buttermilks.  The other gentlemen parading shit-eating grins across the Peabodies are not legging-kinsmen, and I was quick to point this out.  For many dudes who find themselves in flashy spandex on Halloween on Intersection Rock or back at camp posing for Instagram photos, they can only wear those glorious, unobtrusive sleeves of stretchy wonder IF they can be sure that people understand it is a goof – that it is something so foreign to their masculinity (which magically remains intact) that it is a joke.

Well it’s not a joke and leggings are fucking AWESOME.  If being secure in your sexuality allows you to interpret a same-sex individual hitting on you as a compliment rather than an act of aggression, the same logic can be applied to Body Image.  Ladies wear shorts, jeans (both loose-and-snug), leggings, yoga pants, ANYTHING they want – and that’s the way it should be.  Ass flatter than a pancake? Who cares, it’s rock climbing!

Boys, it’s time to stop shaming ourselves.

Embrace the tights.

DSC00773Tights, a Fanny Pack and Socks-With-Sandals.

All comfort, no shame.