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.