Sunday, March 09, 2014

Setting Life


So once again, it's been over a month since my last post. It would be easy to assume that I don't have enough going on worth writing about, but in reality I've just been so busy setting, coaching, and training for my personal goals, that it's been easy to lose track of updating this thing. I'll be focusing on the first of these three items as the subject of this post, routesetting life.

If you ask me, it's pretty awesome that professional route setting has actually become a reality. I don't think that many of us who are making our livings in this line of work would have expected it even as recently as ten years ago. Between working as Head Routesetter at Boulderdash Indoor Climbing, in Thousand Oaks, pre-opening setting at The Stronghold in downtown LA (more about that in a bit), as well as some competition setting and preparation, needless to say I've been staying occupied.

One recent event that was generating buzz in the route setting community, and one that I was really looking forward to, was the Kingdom Games, which took place last Saturday at Louie Anderson's The Factory bouldering gym in Orange, CA. The Kingdom Games were one part route setting competition (the first of its kind in the U.S.), one part brand launch for my friends Mike and Mike's new company Kingdom Climbing Holds, and one part social gathering for the SoCal climbing community (and who doesn't love those?!). The general concept was that 24 different gyms from the Southwest were invited to send one of their best routesetters to represent them in the competition, and we each had to set three problems of varying difficult with randomly (well kinda) selected hold sets and unknown, pre-assigned wall angles. Thankfully, Kingdom's holds are fun and inspiring, and the terrain at The Factory doesn't disappoint.

Other setters eye the goods before hold selection.

Boulder setting in progress.
After about three hours of setting, the judges' climbing period began, during which selected climbers got to climb on the problems and score them in several areas, including aesthetics, flow/fun factor, and creativity. The Expert Judges Louie Anderson and Mike Helt (a level 5 USAC setter) scored the technical and functionality categories. After the judged climbing session, the gym was opened to the public for a fun free-for-all climbing session, including a couple kegs of free beer, courtesy of The Factory. These kind of community-building climbing events are one of my favorite things, and I was very happy to be in attendance.

IF I were to share one point of constructive criticism about the Kingdom Games, it would only be the slight lack of organization during the judged climbing period. It was somewhat unfortunate to see some climbs ignored because they were on less appealing angles (everyone loves the roofs) or because they were too difficult by the time the climbers got to them. With a little added structure to this portion of the competition, the Kingdom Games (which hope to take the concept on the road) will prove an even more awesome event in the future.

A glimpse of the judged climbing session during the Kingdom Games.
Beyond the Kingdom Games and my routine several days per week at Boulderdash, I have also been participating in the pre-opening route setting at The Stronghold, Los Angeles' newest gym, located in Lincoln Heights at the Brewery Arts Complex. It's been super fun getting the place ready to open to the public. And guess what ... THEY JUST DID! If you're a climber in LA, you should get in there and check the place out next time you're looking for a new indoor climbing venue.

Our blank canvas on the first day of boulder setting.

Kyle McCoy and I were forerunning in a cloud of construction dust one day, but at least these respirators kept us from sandbagging the grades too badly.

The Stronghold's lead arch is a pretty daunting feature. Here you can see my blue 5.11- skirting the right side of the arch.


Another of my routes, 5.12b, give or take, can be seen here on the left.
Of course, no sooner does The Stronghold open, but Boulderdash has announced a second location, to be located in Chatsworth, fairly close to the famed outdoor gym, Stoney Point. With Rockreation getting a facelift, Sender One announcing an expansion to the LAX area,  Touchstone's LA.B opening recently, and their announcement to begin work on a sport climbing facility in Pasadena, it looks to be an exciting few years for LA's plastic pulling community.

To me what this ultimately means is introducing the sport of climbing to as many people as possible. After all, it can be an incredibly enriching and rewarding pursuit for participants of all levels, and most of today's great talents got their starts in climbing gyms.

Speaking of competition climbing stars (okay, that was a leep, but I'd like to wrap this post up), I've been spending a fair bit of time lately planning a local SCS (Sport Climbing Season) comp at Boulderdash, to be held April 12th. It's a USA Climbing youth comp, with three routes per age category in an isolation/onsight format. I'm psyched to have a lot of awesome companies on board as sponsors for this event, both of our raffle/prize pool, as well as several hold companies that have sponsored routes for the competition (namely: Habit, Urban Plastix, Enix, Capital, and Kingdom). Not only is it a USA Climbing sanctioned youth comp, but at 6 pm, after the youth competition is finished, we'll be hosting an open/recreational redpoint format competition throughout the entire gym. Participation will be open to the general climbing public. Check out the poster below. If you're a youth competitor, register now, because this is going to be a great event!
Also, if you're a Boulderdash member and you feel like lending a hand, there will be a volunteer sign-up sheet at the front desk this week!

Check out Boulderdash routesetter and former team crusher Mike McGee cruising my red .13b on the Spring Sending Spree poster. All credit (photo and graphic design) to Drake Martin.
Oh Yeah, did I mention that Capital Climbing Holds is one of the sponsors for the Spring Sending Spree? I'm also very happy to announce that Capital Climbing Holds has asked to sponsor me as a routesetter (sending me some apparel and sponsoring comps that I set for). I'm super psyched to be involved with Capital and can't wait to share what I end up setting with their holds for this comp.

Well that can do it for now. Hopefully you found this plastic-centric post at least somewhat informative. I'll try to make the next update about an interesting send, as I look forward to putting all the hard training I've been doing lately to good use.

Have fun, and climb safe, indoors or out!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Overdue Red Rocks Post

So here I am again, typing a long overdue update. On December 25th, I drove from LA to Las Vegas, where I arrived just in time to do Christmas dinner with my family and some of my mother's friends. The food was good, but my mind kept wandering to the sandstone boulders just west of town. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, or "Red Rocks" as climbers tend to refer to it, is host to thousands of routes and hundreds of boulder problems. I was born in Las Vegas and lived there until high school, so when I started climbing at the age of twelve, my first outdoor climbing experiences were on those amazing red overhanging cliffs and boulders.
 
Liberty Herring sending "Slice 'n' Dice" (v9)
The next day I warmed up at the Kraft Boulders, where I met up with friends Liberty Herring, Paul Robinson, Alex Kahn, and her mom (who totally crushed a highball V2). After Liberty made quick work of the deceptive and crimpy V9 "Slice 'n' Dice" and I sent the hidden gem "The Mole" (v7) to the right, both on the back of the iconic Plumber's Crack boulder, Paul talked me into going to First Creek Canyon to check out an old project that he had looked at very briefly a few seasons before.  He had just snagged the third ascent of the Red Rock's new V15 "The Nest," so he was psyched to once again try to establish a new first ascent. The project looked incredibly difficult, yet somehow possible, and Paul's fire was stoked. I was psyched to see that the left arete appeared doable, and agreed to come back with Paul in a couple of days to spend more time on these lines.

Paul under the projects
Friday, we headed into Black Velvet Canyon, home to a high concentration of stunning and difficult boulders. Wet Dream, Abbadon, and Atlas Shrugged are all just a stone's throw away from each other. At first, the entire crew of boulderers there that day were having some serious difficulty with "Wet Dream" (v12) and "Wet Dream Right" (v11). I fell off the slopers at the top of the boulder from the right variation in October, on our stop through Vegas after Colorado, so I was hoping to finish it off on this trip. However, I couldn't break through the bottom at first, and only managed one good link before the group decided as a whole to move up to "Abbadon" (v12) I opted to leave this steep and powerful testpiece for another day, but a couple of ascents were had, including an impressive flash by Paul.
Hanna, running a lap up "Natasha's Highball" (v2)

 Although I had thought that I was done climbing for the day, several boulderers lingered in the canyon as the sun dipped low and my motivation returned. I vowed to "make it count" if I made people wait around for me until dark, so I was SO PSYCHED to finally stick the right hand pinch above the lip slopers, and stand up into that left hand undercling, making my way up the much easier slab to the summit, just as it was becoming too dark to keep going. We hiked out with headlamps, and I got my first taste of success of the trip.


Shot from October of the opening sequence of "Wet Dream Right" (I actually didn't end up using this beta). 
Liberty Herring photo.
The following day, I was joined by my good friend Anthony Tarascio, and we went to First Creek to meet up with Paul and the crew that had assembled to work on the projects. Anthony and I got there first and set to work brusing the arete. It looked doable, but cryptic. Once everyone arrived, people started making quick work of the arete. Only one freak rockover move seemed to be the crux. Max Z took it down quickly and Paul got the second ascent right after. The fact that both of them seemed somewhat befuddled at first by the slab, well off the deck and overhead of the spotters, did not set my mind at ease, and I bailed from the point of no return once. The others turned to the hard projects to the right, and I had a short break to wrap my head around exactly what beta I would be using at 20 feet off the deck. The other guys took a quick break, we shuffled pads, and I snagged the third ascent of what eventually became dubbed the “Shark Tube” (v9). The project didn't go down that day, but it was beginning to look possible.

Paul on his then project.
The 29th was spent in Gateway Canyon, behind Kraft Mountain, trying "Book of Nightmares" somewhat relentlessly. I found the difficult compression climbing to feel pretty damn hard, but it's a beautiful and inspiring bloc, so I remained psyched to work on it with Anthony.

The 30th was an active rest day. Anthony, Hans, and I hiked above Paul's project and found several other amazing-looking lines, including the one pictured with me below.

Red Rock continues to deliver. Who's gonna do this one?
Paul made some serious break throughs on the project, and our friends Devlin and Trevor joined us to work on "Shark Tube."
Trevor Sekk entering the "Shark Tube."
Tiger stripes in First Creek
Paul engaging the sick drop knee on the then proj. later to become "Trieste" (v14).
We picked up Alexandra from the airport that evening, and hatched plans to go to Kraft before returning to First Creek on the 31st.

Alexandra working "The Mole" (v7)
After a quick session on the Plumber's Crack boulder's sharp crimps, we carried pads back out to First Creek so that Paul could snag the first ascent of "Trieste" (v14).

Paul chilling on top of "Triest" (v14) after his FA.
Of course, as the tradition was started last year, we had a New Year's party at the house, intending to rest well the next day.
Of course, Red Rock is too good to actual rest, even after a long night of partying, so after a long slow morning, we found ourselves back at Kraft. Alexandra tried the classic, cryptic, crimpy traverse "Orange Top Blue Sky" (v8), and Anthony and I found our way back to  Gateway Canyon with the crew. Together, we set to work on "Book of Nightmares," which required another consecutive day of projecting for us to start to feel like we were getting close.

Beautiful features in Gateway Canyon

Devlin Gandy topping out "Americana Exotica" (v10), Gateway Canyon.



Anthony and I under "Book of Nightmares." Why the thumbs up if nobody sent? We obviously were enjoying the process.
Trevor Sekk getting off the deck on "Memento Vitae" (v6)
The plan had been for a while to go to Juniper Canyon on the 3rd, to attempt yet another Ethan Pringle classic "Stand and Deliver." The long hike was made easier by a brief stop at a striking, tiger-striped boulder called "25 Cents." The rock is perfect, and the crux is a cool punch to the lip off of a crimp.

Devlin Gandy sending "25 Cents" (v5)
After this gem, we moved on quickly, but things got hairy when we took a wrong turn and ended up in the wash far too early, forcing us to mantle several large and polished boulders along the way.  We eventually made it ... and it was worth it! "Stand and Deliver" has got to be one of the most beautiful sandstone blocks I've seen, and the line is both independent and striking. Unfortunately, neither Devlin, Trevor, or I sent, but we vowed to return. (Anthony had climbed the line a few years ago.)


Setting up for the pogo on "Stand and Deliver" (V11). Trevor Sekk photo

Coming SO close to sticking the toss.
Our original plan was to leave on the fourth, but not having to be back in LA before Monday, we decided to stick around until the fifth. So on Saturday we started at Kraft with the intention of checking out the cool roof problems "Avian Flu" and "Tryptophan." Unfortunately, just as we arrived, Alexandra started to feel horribly sick. We discussed it for a bit and both decided we needed to ger her some medicine asap, and hightailed it out of the boulders. Well, several hours later, armed with medicine and a book, Alexandra insisted that I head back out to Kraft to try to "send something."
I luckily ran into my friends Craig, Kenny, and Andrea way up a hill in Gateway Canyon, under the physical, Hueco-like roof climb "Seek and Destroy" (v10). Kenny had just sent and Andrea and Craig were both coming close, so I got psyched and decided to throw the shoes on and see if I could redeem myself for last year's several failed redpoint burns.  Imagine my excitement when I sent it third try!

On the last day, we went back to the "Avian Flu" roof. Alexandra was feeling well enough to climb, and she nearly sent the burly problem, coming agonizingly close several times.



Alexandra nearly sending "Avian Flu" (v5).
After the abbreviated session, we packed up the pads, hiked out, and hit the road back to LA.
Since the return, we've set for two weeks, moved apartments, and I even got deathly ill for a few days, hence the delayed and overly wordy update.

I'm pretty psyched about plans to climb at Black Mt. this weeked. Have fun and climb safe, wherever you are.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

On the Road and Back ... Thanksgiving in Bishop and three days in Flagstaff.

As I have done many years in the past, I spent this Thanksgiving up in Bishop, climbing on boulders and camping with some of my favorite people.
Alexandra, Kristiana, Culin, and I left LA on Wednesday before Thanksgiving and unfortunately got in so late that we had hardly an hour to climb before darkness.

Thanksgiving Day saw us running around The Buttermilks at full speed. After a quick warmup around the Birthday Boulders, we headed over to the Cave Boulder for Alexandra and Culin to try the "Cave Problem" (v6).

Alexandra working the "Cave Problem" (v6)
Next we zipped over to the Drifter Boulder, for Culin to try "High Plains Drifter," a classic V7 that he nearly sent last December. After a few attempts, Culin was grabbing the topout jugs and running up the glory slab.


Culin topping out after his send of "High Plains Drifter" (v7),

 Anthony and I tried "Plain High Drifter" a few times, and we both came agonizingly close to sticking the crux move, a lurpy deadpoint from a left hand micro-crimp to a bad right hand crimp

Anthony Tarascio attempting "Plain High Drifter" (v12). That left hand crimp is horrendous.
Lastly, I started a tradition of attempting "Center Direct" in the afternoon/evening of every day. I punted off the last move of this one several times last year, so I had hoped to send it quickly this trip. Unfortunately, the crux undercling deadpoint to the slopey crimp proved just as difficult as last season. I did finally stick it from the ground on Saturday, but slipped out of the finishing jug and fell. Talk about punting!

Devlin Gandy attempting to repeat "Center Direct."
 Friday was somewhat more of the same. We cruised around The Buttermilks and finished the day at the Grandma Peabody, after a few very close attempts on "Plain High" by Anthony and me.


 At the end of the day, having rallied a sea of foam, the young Mirko Caballero pulled off an incredible ascent of "Evilution Direct," one of the most inspiring sends I've witnessed in a while! Thankfully, Mirko just cruised through the headwall and walked the upper slab with ease.

Mirko Caballero sending "Evilution Direct" (v11) on Friday.

Mirko Caballero topping out "Evilution Direct."

 Satuday was so eventful that I didn't end up taking a single picture. Joking aside, after Culin tried "Soul Slinger" for a bit and a quick session on "Plain High," our crew went behind the Drifter to try the problems on the Lower Smoking Boulder. I didn't score any flashes, but sent the "Croft Problem" (v8) and the unnamed, though unique and cool v7, both second try. Of course, punting off of "Center Direct" at the end of the day was in obligatory, as described above.

Sunday was a short one, and not too eventful. Culin came very close to "Soul Slinger" and I somehow flashed "One Mule Wonder" (v10/9?) in my approach shoes. Not that that was a good omen of things to come. I failed to stick the deadpoint on "Center Direct" even once, and we packed the car up early and hit the road for LA.

Culin Li working "Soul Slinger" (v9).
Culin coming oh so close on "Soul Slinger" (v9).
Morgan Roth waves from atop the Green Wall Boulder
Alexandra and I weren't back in LA for very long before before we headed to Flagstaff this past Wednesday to set for Beta Bouldering gym's "Swole Bowl" competition.
Luckily, some friends who live in Flag took us out to an incredible area with limitless potential. Maybe one day we'll be able to give more explicit directions, because there is a lifetime of perfect rock there.


Thomas demonstrates that there are FAs for days.
Matt climbing on the Debt Ceiling.
Friday was a routesetting day of epic proportions. With every wall in Beta Bouldering stripped, we went to town and set 60 boulder problems between the redpoint round and the finals.
I was really psyched on the angles, hold selection, and volume placement, and set five of what I would say are some of the coolest problems I've ever set.

Setting madness in preparation for the "Swole Bowl."
Climb-It tufas inspired a very cool V8/9 that incorporated two knee-bars.

Unfortunately, we couldn't stick around to watch the competition on Saturday, because I had to be in San Diego to coach at ABS Youth Regional Championships. We left Flagstaff late and drove 8 hours through the night and stayed with a friend not far from the gym in SD.
As expected, Regionals was a great event! The setting seemed well spread, and the problems looked both challenging and fun. Team Anonymous represented with Culin taking 3rd place in Male A and Natalie taking 2nd in Female A, after a super-final with Sara Pearce.

Now that we're back in LA, it's back to the routesetting grind until a New Year's trip to Las Vegas and Red Rocks. Stay tuned ...  and climb safe!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Things I Like: Evolv Bolts and Cruzers

If you're reading this blog, you can probably see the Evolv logo on the right side of the page. It's not a secret that I'm an Evolv National Team athlete, and have been since 2003. Since Evolv have been awesome enough to provide me with the best climbing and approach shoes for ten years now, I decided to finally get around to reviewing two of my personal favorites, the best approach/route setting shoes on the market, the Evolv Bolts and Cruzers.

The Evolv Bolts in orange.
The Bolt is Evolv's classic approach shoe/boot, reminiscent of the first Mountain Masters, but slightly more stlyized and with a better toebox. The nubuck leather uppers are impressively resilient, holding up to many rough granite scramble/chimney squeeze approaches at a remote area we've been developing this year at Black Mountain. They're also an awesome shoe for route setting. The rubber toe rand and leather upper are both holding up to hours upon hours of jumar abuse, something I was very happy about after blowing through my first generation Cruzers were my aid ladder rubs. (An issue that has been addressed and I'll mention again in a moment.)
I also love the stiffness of the toebox for edging, and the large surface-area toe platform for smearing. The Bolt is built on a trail running shoe last, so it's my choice for long days, serious hikes, or burly scrambling.

Hard to believe these have seen several months of hard use.


New Evolv Cruzers are more durable than ever.
The Cruzer is Evolv's minimally styled casual shoe. They're not really approach shoes, but they are comfortable to wear all day, or all night, and they climb like a dream. They're actually the perfect stealth boulder or buildering problem assassins, disguised as a casual street shoe, or "ninja slippers," as I've taken to calling them.

Cruzers that have been used to set routes almost daily for two months, still looking fresh.

I mentioned when talking about the Bolts that I was happy to find a more durable shoe because I had blown out my old Cruzers. This is true, and it's a known problem the shoe had, blowing out prematurely at the side stitch joining the two pieces of canvas. As a professional route setter, I jumar a lot, and the aid ladder would rub on that stitch and blow the shoes out in a few weeks.  Evolv seems to have made a great shoe even better with the new one-piece Cruzers they sent me at the end of September, because these things still look brand new. I also love wearing these guys for route setting because they're perfect for testing moves in without having to change shoes entirely.

My new and improved Cruzers are still looking brand new after a couple of months of daily routesetting, coaching, and general wear.
Basically, if you're looking for a new pair of sticky rubber kicks, you really ought to try one of these awesome styles of Evolvs. If you need an approach shoe that can go from the mountains to the streets, I highly recommend the Bolts, but if you don't need that heavy hiking shoe and beefy arch/ankle support, the Cruzer is where it's at!

Thanks again to Evolv for hooking me up with the best gear for what I love to do!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Birthday Challenge 2013

Well, another year has passed, and with my birthday landing on November 10th, it was time for my second annual Birthday Challenge. Last year, I climbed 27 problems in Joshua Tree that I had never climbed before, so naturally I had to continue that tradition this year. I decided a while back that I wanted to go to The Underground, a remote sector atop Queen Mountain, a far hike over rugged terrain, but rumored to have the best rock in Joshua Tree. I had never been to The Underground, so it seemed like a perfect area to attempt to send 28 new problems.
After over an hour, we reached the top of Queen Mt. and climbed a few problems on The Watchtower boulder, officially beginning the challenge.

#1, "Left VNothing" (V0)
#2, "All Along the Watchtower" (V2)

From there we hiked a further 30 to 40 minutes and made it to The Underground proper, where I really set to work. (All photos, Alexandra Fox)

#3, "Kranium R" (V3)
#4, "Kranium L" (V3)

#5, "Misfire" (v6)
#6, "Intruder" (V5)


#7, "V1 Center" (V1)


Putting on the shoes in front of the exit of "The Heart."

#8, "The Heart" (V4?)
Looking up through the hueco on "The Heart."
 
#9, "4:20 at The Underground" (V4)

#10, "Body and Soul" (V5)

Tell me this rock doesn't look just like Hueco.
For my eleventh problem, after a decent warm up, I decided to try "Dark Matter" (v9), one of the few 5-star boulders in Miramontes' guide. I got lucky with a third-try send, managing somehow not to punt off of the topout.

#11, "Dark Matter" (V9)
Sticking the crux with the SDK and sending by the skin of my teeth on the third go. Kevin with the spot.

We didn't get many pictures after that, but here is the rest of the list:

#12. "Sketch" (V4)
#13. "When Pigs Fly" (V0)
#14. "Fight Club" (V5)
#15. "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" (V3)
#16. "Nicole Face" (V4)
#17. ""Saucer Full of Secrets" (V1)
#18. "Warm Up Problem" (V2)
#19. "Feature Problem" (V3)

Epic View


#20. "V1 Left" (V1)
#21. "V1 Reverse" (V1)
#22. "V1 Traverse" (V2)
#23. "Kranium C" (V3)
#24. "Unnamed V0" (V0)
#25. "Another Stupid Traverse" (V1)
#26. "Brain Teaser" (V0)
#27. "Breezy" (5.7)
#28. "The Swallows Tail" (V0)
 
I finished the challenge with"The Swallows Tail" for number 28, a V0 jug traverse on the same arch feature as "The Heart," It made for a beautiful view as the sun dipped on the horizon, but we still had close to a two-hour hike out to make in the dark.


Finishing the challenge on top of "The Swallows Tail" (V0).
Needless to say, the hike out was a challenge! Searching for kairns by headlamp, moving slowly from one rock-pile to the next, was definitely type-2 fun, but it made for a truly full-value day.

Of course I owe a huge thanks to everyone who came out and supported. That hike/scramble approach is no cake walk, and I really appreciate your support, pads, and spots. Big thanks to Kevin, who helped us get to The Underground in the first place, as well as for providing beta and psych on "Dark Matter!" Props on your send of it too! Huge thank you as well to Jeremy Meza, who helped us get out of there in the darkness! I also particularly owe a huge thank you to Alexandra, who acted as official record keeper and made sure I finished all 28 problems before the sun went down.

We have lots of day trips and longer trips to Bishop and Red Rocks planned for the coming months, so hopefully I'll be able to share more soon.

Cheers, and climb safe!