Climbing Rocks!

Advice you shouldn't follow

Category: Uncategorized

Mountain Climbing

Alpine bouldering is a serious endeavor, I knew that from watching films like this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLnM389Wo9Y. I woke up trembling with fear and excitement for the seriousness of the day that lied ahead. This fear only brewed more while waiting in a 45 minute car line to get into RMNP; I sulked knowing a big day was ahead.

Boarding the shuttle bus, I had to make my first tough decision. I knew that I could not bring both my crash pad and my oxygen tank, so after some debate I brought the former. Unfortunately, this also meant I had to abandon my sherpa to take care of the tank. It was now truly just us against the elements.

Leaving the bus we started the arduous trek to Emerelad lake. We have all heard that these alpine bouldering approaches are not to be taken lightly, but I was not prepared for what was ahead. Only 2 minutes into the hike we had a terrifying encounter. What I first thought was a bear was just an overweight tourist. She jumped at me out of nowhere, blocking the trail, and screamed wide eyed “WHAT IS THAT THING ON YOUR BACK FOR? WHAT IS IT??” I screamed back “ITS A FLIP-n-FUCK, a FLIP-n-FUCK” and somehow managed to get out alive.

24 strenuous minutes later we arrived at the boulders. I must say, the approach really lived up to its reputation. For me, the most serious moment was when the front of my left flip flop got slightly wet, causing much grief for the last 7 minutes of hiking. My voice also took a huge beating having to field the “what is that thing on your back” question 17 times, or about once every 90 seconds of the hike.

I thought the worst was behind us, but folks, this is Alpine Mountain climbing so naturally, I was wrong. After doing 4 climbing moves on semi sharp crimps a storm rolled in, soaking everything. Sitting under that drippy boulder, without only a light down for comfort I really had to face the demons of these rugged mountains. I soon developed a formidable chill that made me slightly uncomfortable and even a bit damp. Being almost 100,000 inches away from nearest civilization, things were looking pretty damn grim for us.

The day I did not send Joe Blau

Every climb starts on the ground.  

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I chalk, wipe my hands on my pants, chalk, and wipe pants again.  Blow the chalk off my hands, compulsively, nervously.  Like I care too much, like way way too much.  Thats what everyone says.  I care too much.  Too much in my head, too invested in the climb.  But screw them.  I just want to push it.

I start climbing. With the anxiety that I will blow the first crux, a v9 boulder on sharp overhanging limestone.  The first move is a huge dyno.  Then 2 razor blade crimps, and a deadpoint into a sharp pocket that cuts my skin.  Soon, I am in free solo territory, clipping the 3rd bolt at my ankle and facing a sure ground fall if my feet slip.  A few sharp crimps lead to a huge jug.

Here I rest and try to get everything back.  Above is 100 feet of climbing.  45 feet of non stop, 14b crux ending in an all out dyno, and then 50 more feet of sustained 13d to the anchors.

I have been working on this route for 6 weeks.  According to the Pringle Multiplier, I should be ready to send.  

The Pringle multiplier is simple.  It took Ethan Pringle 2 tries to do Paper Mullat, a glorious 14a tufa on the right side of Oliana.  It took me 8 tries.  8 = 2 to the 3rd power.  It took Ethan Pringle 5 tries to do Joe Blau.  This means I am sure to do it in 5^3 = 125 tries.  I like these odds.

I wipe my shoes a few times, chalk my hands, chalk them again, and proceed.  The 14b crux section goes flawlessly.   I skip 2 draws in a row, avoiding the huge fall I have taken many times on the road to this ascent.  The moves feel very, very hard but muscle memory carries me through.  Soon I am on the exit dyno.  Shitty undercling, horrible pinch, move feet up, close eyes.

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Jump.

Don’t fail

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Somehow I stick it.

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Here you can rest.  The jug is good, but only for one hand.  Switching is taxing.  Unfortunatley, I feel like I have exerted 95% of my energy on the crux below.  I try to relax, try to breathe, try to vigorously get some energy back, but feel like a boxer who got punched very hard in the head, like I almost got knocked out.

A sad feeling comes.  Like this is my one chance to finish this thing, the one thing I really cared about for over a month of my life, but like I have no chance of actually doing it because I am fucked, too exhausted to go on.  I try to curb that feeling, take a deep breath, and finish business,

I do the next 5 moves and face the redpoing crux of the 14a, Gran Blau, to which I am doing the direct start.  I shake on the underclings and go for it

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 Suprisingly, this crux feels easy.  I skip another draw and run it out 25 feet.  Sadly, these exit moves once more drive me to total exhaustion and I clip the 3rd to last draw once more feeling completely worked.

Here, I rest on two positive pockets for as long as I can.  I get some energy back and climb one more bolt, another crux

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Here you get a decent rest and stare at the rest of the climb, about 25 more feet to the anchors, about 12d on its own.  Only 12d.  A 12d finish to a hard 14c.  

I shake, and shake and shake but have a deep, dark feeling like I am going to fail.

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 The next few moves are a reachy sidepull crux where I often fall.  Eventually, I try to clear my head and keep going.  At this point, I have been climbing for about a half hour.

The next crux feels easy.

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 I get to the last bolt.  Its only 10 more moves to the top.  I am 10 moves from the top of a 160 foot climb.  Its just a simple v4 technical boulder problem on wierd pockets and crimps.  Easier than the top of Proper Soul.  I shake for a second. The right arm maxes out.  I switch to the left.  It maxes out too.  I go for it anyways.  I do the first move, then the second.  The arms stop working.  I fall.  

That was the day I did not send Joe Blau.  The route that Ramonet did 2nd try, the route that dominated my thoughts for nearly 2 months.  Rock climbing is a funny thing.

 

 

 

 

 

Mixing java, ruby and javascript in a modern web app

After getting sick of only programming Java for 4 years in college and at my first 2 jobs, I came began to feel like Java was nothing more than a tool to transform XML files into stack traces. Given the variety of cool developer jobs in the bay, I made the easy choice to switch things up. So, I spent a few weeks learning Ruby On Rails and surfing craigslist for a new, java free gig. I was fortunate to quickly snag a job at a small, young and ridiculous in a good way web development shop that was way, way, way too cool for Java. Mission accomplished. Unfortunatley, when the requirment came to build a web app that did complicated things on a users local filesystem from a browser, a java plug in seemed like the best way. Since everyone was way, way, way too cool for Java the project was mine, and on my first day in my super cool, San Fransisco, ruby on rails development job, I installed Eclipse Java edition and started writing public void init main(String[]args) Fail.

We set out to build a web page that is able to download firmware update files to a camera plugged into the user’s computer. This way, a user could update software on their product through a web app and hence without installing stuff to their operating system..

Such a task cannot be accomplished without a plugin. After briefly considering Flash and Silverlight and then realizing that neither us, our friends or our friend’s friends actually new anything about those technologies, we settled on a Java Applet. Assuming the user has Java installed in their system and enabled in their browser, such an applet can access the user’s file system and make changes to it. Specifically, we used the applet to scan the user’s file system, detect the presence of an external device plugged in via USB, and download firmware update files to this device.

Java applets are a 15 year old outdated technology. This causes difficulties. First and foremost, applets have a pretty ugly user interface. To avoid having the user interact with a 2 decade old Java Swing based UI and stay constant with our client’s brand, I chose to hide the applet and call it’s functionality with Javascript. This way, the user can see a well styled HTML page but still benefit from Java’s powerful abilities.

Embedding an applet in a web page is super easy. Place the jar in the public directory of your project and include it in your HTML with

<applet name=”dummyApplet” archive=”yourCode.jar” code=”DummyApplet.class” codebase=”/” height=”0″ width=”0″></applet>

By setting the height and width of the applet to 0, it is invisible to the user. I also found that codebase had to be set to “/” or the applet was not found. To interact with the Java program, you can call it’s methods directly. In the example above, you would call

document.dummyApplet.appletMethod(),

where dummyApplet is the name of the applet in the HTML.

The cool thing about using an applet is that Java is a general, all purpose language that can do just about anything on the user’s filesystem. Unfortunately, most browsers prevent plugins from doing stuff outside of the browser sandbox. Because we had to download update files to specific places in the user’s drives, we needed more permissions than this. Therefore, we signed the applet, meaning we gave the Java routine a signature with the client’s brand that the user had to accept. Once the user accepted the signature, the applet operated like a native operating system program, with full privileges to do whatever it needed on the user’s computer.

To sign my applet I used an oracle utility called JarSigner. For me, this was a bit difficult because I had to use an existing private and public key pairing provided to me by the client. Therefore, I had to integrate these keys in my personal keystore, which proved to be a royal pain in the ass; I learned much, much more than I wanted to know about PEM and DEB key formats. However, if you are generating your own keys, things should be much more straight forward.

Obviously, using an applet is very powerful. By compiling a bit of Java code and serving it to the user, we were able to basically create an application that did stuff an installed program might do, but through a web page and without having the user install anything. Our specific goal was to install binary files to a camera plugged into the user’s computer. Once the user allowed the Java routine access into their file system, it was able to scan their drives, find the plugged in USB device, and download the right files into the right place. These Java actions were initiated by javascript so to the user, it looked like they were simply clicking on slick, well designed buttons. As an added bonus, Java is multithreaded while Javascript is not. As a consequence, I used Java’s multi threading capabilities to run complicated, time consuming routines on the user’s machine without locking up the UI. For example, to download a large file to the user’s machine, I kicked off a new java thread and then used a Javascit timer function to check on the progress of this thread as it executed. In this way, I was able to do pretty complicated, boring, backend stuff on the user’s computer while sumultaneously provididing the user with a pretty, brand consistent, styled progress bar that showed the progress of these actions. (As an aside, I found that I had to start my threads using the AccessController.doPrivilegedAction method, or they did not have appropriate permissions, even though the applet was signed. If you are reading this, and this helps you, good luck and I am sorry.)

This is Tara on Cannibals, 12d at Donner Summit, California. Its not really a great photo, and it has nothing to do with this post. However, its here and you already looked at it, so suck it.

Of course, there is a downside. Java is a plug in, and many users do not have it installed. Furthermore, the ability for a web developer to build these types of thing using java makes it a huge security risk. While I was developing a useful updating tool, someone else could have easily designed something similar that installed malicious binaries to the user’s file system for unholy, bad causes.

Since web apps like this can be exploited to infect a user’s filesystem, many modern browsers and operating systems attempt to block them. We ran into several issues where browsers automatically blocked execution of Java applets. While this is probably good in general, since it stops the propagation of viruses, it was bad for our cause, since it caused the web app to fail in a variety of ways. In general, Java failed in an incredibly colorful variety of ways on each operating system and browser. Dealing with behaviour like this is very difficult when designing a user interface. When the browser starts locking up and throwing ninja warning bars its very hard to detect why its happening and recreate it consistantly. As a consequence, its supremely difficult instruct the user how to fix their java. Sadly, while Java runs flawlessly in microwaves, cellphones, and credit cards, it often simply can’t handle a macbook air. In short, it might be best to open your fridge, snag some leftovers, throw them in the microwave and let Java heat up your lunch while building your firmware update tool with more fit, predictable technologies.

To account for such failures, we basically had no other choice but to make an alternative flow through the update process that allowed the user to download the files without an applet and still update their camera manually. This manual process was much more cumbersome. Without Java, the user had to download the update files in a compressed zip, unzip them, and then drag them over to their final destination. So, while with Java it was a one click process, without Java, it was a multistep hassle that required semi advanced computer knowledge. However, I feel required to note that unzipping these files still seemed much easier than trying to install Java on an operating system and enabling it in a browser. Java tended to play hard-to-get like a tipsy sorority girl, sometimes cooperating but often acting out in unpredictable and confusing ways.

In the end, when the applet worked, it was slick. However, the applet failed, A LOT, for many users, so its not really a comprehensive solution. Furthermore, with modern browsers moving towards HTML5 and away from plugins, such web apps are going to not work more and more in the future. As a blatant example, the latest version of Chrome does not run the latest verison of Java, so we basically had to not support the most advanced browser in the world.

Perhaps the most cumbersome part of the app was deciding whether or not Java might work for a user. There are many methods of doing this, some including Java and some not. I would compare trying to solve this problem to falling off a cliff and being not sure whether you are too injured to walk. You can certainly look at your legs, look for bruises, check for sensation, and make predictions based on that. However, the only sure way to know whether your legs work or not is to get up and try to take a step. Similarly, in the end, we found that the only 100% percent reliable way of knowing whether Java works for a user is trying to execute some Java commands and seeing if they fail. So, we loaded a small test applet with only one method that returned true. Then, we tried to interact with it. If the method returned true, we allowed the user to proceed using Java. Unfortunately, the applet never really returned false, the javascript just errored trying to communicate with it. However, I took the hint and assumed java was fucked in this case.

In the end, it was a damn cool project. We really go to stretch the limits of what a web page should and should not do, and made a slick product. It did things magically and provided an awesome user experience. However, in many cases, Java simply failed. Clearly, its not a comprehensive solution. If I had to do it again, I would probably look into writing a native executable that could be downloaded to the user’s file system and then installed the files in the right place. Sure, this would technically no longer be a web app. However, it would certainly be more error proof and reliable than a browser plug in.

On the climbing front, I havent climbed for a week both to unwind after El Cap and put in a cool 65 hour work week of releasing a web app. It was especially cool to send as a full time employed weekend warrior. A 4 day climb with a rest day was not an option. On our climb we met several people that took 3 or 4 days to climb it with a “it will take however long it will take, and thats all good” attitude. We had no such margins. If the push took too long and I called my work on Monday morning saying “hey listen, I am really close on freeing the Freerider, but I have to bivy at round table ledge so I can send tomorrow morning” they would say “we don’t know what “freerider”, “bivy”, “send”, or “round table” means, but we do know what “monday morning” means and if you aren’t here by 10am, you are fucked.

Maybe its time to quit climbing while ahead and pick up something more profitable and useful, like beach volleyball or competitive cup stacking. However, I do have some unfinishe business with an incredible mixed route “Father’s Day” at Donner Summit last weekend. This climb is spectacular, an overhanging, 40 foot 13a gear protected hand crack to a v9 boulder crux with huge moves on underclings and side pulls, for a 14a mixed route that’s one of the best single pitch lines in California.

After spending the last month hiking to the top of El Cap 3 times, rapelling the whole cliff twice, and finally climbing it, it felt amazing to go cragging.

There is something to be said for taking off your shoes under a climb and returning to them 25 minutes, not 2 days, later. However, it just seems so damn foolish to climb anywhere besides Yosemite, where the undisputably most badass cliffs in the world are practically in our back yard. Yosemite is hard, scary, and brutal, but the thought ignoring it and climbing elsewhere might be even worse.

A free freerider

The alarm went off at 3:30 am on Saturday.

The previous weekend, I had stashed a haul bag with 2 gallons of water, a bunch of food, and sleeping gear for 2 in the Alcove, a bivy 18 pitches up the route. The plan was simple. Climb to the bivy on the first day, sleep, and climb to the top the second day. This way, we could climb the route over 2 days without having to do any hauling.

The gumbies were out in full force. What big wall gumbies lack in skill, they defintly make up for in large cams and pure determination.

At the base of Freerider, a four day aid party had already began toiling on the first pitch. After convincing them to let us simul past, mike got within 20 feet of the leader, who promptly popped a piece and almost killed mike by falling on his head. Thankfully, they weren’t murderers today.

The first 10 pitches of Freerider are called the “Freeblast” and are technically a route in their own. These pitches are rated 5.11 at hardest and have some of the most heinous moves on the route, with blank featureless slabs that require ridiculous shenanigans. We managed to both send in 3.5 hours, with Mike taking one fall, probably caused by a loss of balance due to a swing of his chalkbag or something.

My first epic of the day happened on pitch 13, a 70 foot long 5.12 traverse. This was the one part of the route I had never tried before. On the last move of the traverse, I tried several times to do a long span to the jug, but couldn’t. I climbed back and forth, commited, and fell. The thought of failure was devastating, especially considering this was only the first day. What would it be like to sit in the alcove all night knowing I had already blew my send?

I swung back to the belay, untied, and let Mike lead the pitch. He sent, and it was my turn to try again. I knew I only had one more try. Failing on a pitch several times on a big wall is bad news. The cliff is already 3000 feet tall, and resources are scarce. If you start having to climb sections of the route 2 or 3 times, you are on a sure path to failure.

I got to the last move again and found myself with my left foot way out left, my hands crossed, my right foot on a terrible smear. I am not quite sure what happened in the next half second, but I was slipping, I was falling for a second, and then I was holding on to the jug. Just your typical ninja-kick-crosss-smear-sideways-dyno. Valley 101. Miracurously, the send was still going.

We quickly simuled to the monster

and were forced to bake in the hot sun 100 feet under our stash, our food and our water as a few of Europe’s finest big wall Amatuers with Freerider dreams tried their luck at the monster. Apparently, trying your luck is a lengthy time affair.

We celebrated a successful day with bland tuna, pasta, and a limited supply of water in the alcove. The alcove is a pretty plush bivy 18 pitches up the route. It a pretty big ledge enclosed on 3 sides by walls and almost (but not really) comfy enough to be unroped on.

Chilling in the alcove it was clear that we had our work cut out for the next day. What remained was 1200 feet of the steepest, hardest climbing on the route. To make matters worse, the Freerider was especially a shitshow this weekend. There were 4 parties above us, all going for 3-5 day climbs. They moved slow, dragged heavy loads, and were generally in the way. On a free ascent, being stuck behind a party like this can be disastorous. To put things into perspective, at this time of the year, the Freerider gets morning light at 6:30 am, and the crux corners at the top are in full sun by 11:30am. This meant we had only a window of 5 hours to climb all the top cruxes of Freerider. Losing an hour waiting for someone to finish a pitch is unacceptable.

To ensure success, we set our alarms for 4am, hoping to pass everyone before they were awake.

After a night of suprisingly good sleep, the alarm went off and it was time to finish buisness. Some people start their Sunday with brunch. I started mine 2 hours before sunrise, in a dark hole half way up the biggest granite monolith in America, pooping into a plastic bag while wearing tape gloves. I wouln’t have it any other way.

The first lead block was mine, 200 feet of awkward, 5,11 laybacking and chimneys.

I set off on with a rocky start. We left our only big cam, a #6, in the alcove which meant runouts of 20 to 30 feet were unavoidable on this lead. I soon found myself pumping out, completely in the dark, above a cam somewhere in the dark depths below. There was nothing to do but to go up, and up I went with Mike sumlclimbing below. Luckily, I managed not to fall and at 6:30 am exactly, we turned our headlamps off under the bolder problem, a short, bolted 13a that is the definitive crux of Freerider.

This pitch is basically 7 or 8 balancey moves to reach a big sloper, of which you must do a huge sideways dyno to reach the jug. I went for it first, passed the face moves noting the sharp pain in my fingertips, but could not execute on the dyno, too tired from all the climbing below. Mike went next, and also fell.

Once again, doubt set in. We could not waste time here, or else be doomed to hit the crux corners in the sun. I tied in again and went. The face moves were sent again, and I matched the sloper, this time feeling fresh. I focused, I wound up, and I put every fucking ounce of energy, determination and will in my body to lunge my body sideways. I stuck it, letting out a scream Adam ondra would be proud of. Mike stuck it also. GAME ON!

We cruised the next 2 5.10 pitches to the base of the crux corners. This was the moment of truth. The corners are 5.11+ and 5.12b if you are weaksauce and break them into 2 pitches. At this point, you are really up there, 2800 feet or so off the deck. The exposure is crazy, but you don’t notice. I volunteered to lead these cruxes, in return for Mike promising to lead the final offwidth at the top.

I set of strong on the first corner, a flaring hand to finger crack which was partially wet. Mike followed without falls. I rested for a minute and racked for the second, harder corner. This pitch has many, many fixed, manky nuts stuck inside it. Many chose to back these nuts up with their own pieces given the difficulty and high position of this pitch. I knew I had no energy to do so, and set off with basically only quickdraws on my harness. I laybacked, tried hard, and just barely, barley pulled it off. Mike cruised with ease. The next pitch, a 5.12 traverse felt easy and suddenly, we were 3 pitches from the top of Freerider, both still sending with all the cruxes below us.

Here, we encountered the last party above us, 2 hardworking chaps from Finland. “How many days have you been on the wall?” I asked. “Four…or 5… fuck, I don’t know” one replied.

We waited for one of them to finish a pitch and then climbed past them to the base of the final crux of freerider, a steep 5.10 offwidth.

The Fins seemed a bit intimidated by this final offwidth, and it did not help that Mike sailed off on his first attempt, taking a 20 foot fall, his water bottle ripping off his harness during and plunging for many, many, many seconds to the ground 3/4 of a mile below. Fortunatley, Mike got it together and sent the pitch. I followed clean and all that remained was the last 5.10 pitch of the Salathe. Soon, we were on top, exhausted and still trying to wrap our heads around the fact that we just somehow accomplished the ultimate, a free ascent of El Capitan.

Id like to thank Tara and Walker for helping me work the pitches and rappel the haul bag into the bivy, Mike for leading both the offwidths, and Maxim Ropes for giving us a fresh, new chord to execute our dream climb with. I think ill go sport climbing now….

Friends don’t let friends toprope

Spring.

It starts so innocently. Your at the crag, and someone just got off the climb you want to get on. They offer, with a dangerous, yet innocent sparkle in their eye. “Do you want to run a lap on TR? The rope is all set up and stuff.”

You bite your lip, mulling over the offer. Why not, you ask yourself? I’m not too close to sending, what harm could another toprope burn do? You’ll just TR one more time, and then you’ll lead send fore sure. Just a taste, how bad can it be?

Summer.

Having tasted the sweet, sweet nectar of toprope pleasure safety, you don’t really want to get on the sharp end. The sharp end, with its dangers, its discomforts, its real plausibility of failure, maybe even pain and injury. Who wants that? You want, no you need, to be in that fuzzy bubble of the rope above your head. You’re sending your project on toprope every time, but still haven’t led it. You can stop anytime, yes, but just not yet, not now.

Fall.

Its big wall climbing season, but you haven’t led a climb in months. You want to send your wall project, but you just want to do it safely, on TR. You find yourself up late at night, red eyed and breaking a cold sweat, browsing bulk rope suppliers on the web. You are concocting a mad scheme to hang a fixed line spanning 1300 feet of wall. Your palms are rope burned and biceps are flaring from hauling out 120 pounds of rope on every attempt, yet fingers frail and nimble from lack of actual climbing.

Winter.

You kicked your girlfriend out of the house to make more room for your ropes. Your friends are worried sick about you. They hold an intervention. It’s a somber event. In the corner a large, blocky object. Your friends have kicked in 20 bucks each to get it. Its a crashpad. You stroke it, amazed at its simplicity. They make you give up ropes forever. You robotically say yes. You spend the rest of your life bouldering.

It could happen to anyone, and I’ve seen it happen to the best. So friends, next time you think about an innocent TR run, consider the dark road that may lie ahead. Just say “fuck that” and lead that shit. Remember, friends don’t let friends toprope.

Putting in work

These past few weeks have been all about dropping loads and taking names.


The goal is simple, a free Freerider.

Sending this route seems like getting your PHD in rock climbing. There are no shortcuts, you just have to put in the time.

The cruxes vary in style extremely and demand one to be honed in absoultley every style of climbing. The boulder problem demands crimp strength and explosive power to stick a v7 or 8 double handed dyno 1800 feet off the deck, something straight out of bishop. The enduro corner requires techy kneebar skills and enduro fitness on an overhang, remenicent of Rifle or the New. The monster and Scotty Burke are all about mastery of offwidth technique, par for the course on most Valley climbs. The freeblast requires tenious slab and face skills, straight out of Smith. Of course, the greatest challenge is attaining a level of fitness to do all of the above for 30 pitches.

The beauty of working on something like this, is that its just a route, a project. Projecting something like this is not much different than projecting a sport route. It takes more effort and maybe more dedication than hiking to the Aggro Gulley, but at the end of the day, its still just rock climbing. You put in time to gain muscle memory, remember a sequence, and piece by piece, everything comes together. To that effect, the past few weeks have been spent at the top of el cap, rapelling in and climbing the top cruxes.

The plan is to drop a haul bag into a bivy half way up the route next weekend,

and then go for a no holds barred, 2 day push with a light rack and liter water bottles swinging from our harnesses. I sure hope the valley gets a bit less greasy soon!

Have a good one!

Needles

The needles are steep, jagged rock formations. They are 1000 feet tall at some points, and stick out precariously from an otherwise relativley flat rewood forests. The light grainte is covered in striking neon yellow and green lichen.

Mike and Sara on the Don Juan Wall.

The granite is very solid and is much less slick than Yosemite. A lot of rock is covered in patina and solid granite edges, very remenicient of Bishop. Some stretches of climbs are like 100 foot long versions of Green Wall Center, but of course, sans finger grease of every Bay Area foamback.

This weekend, we got to sample some Needles classics. To get introduced to the style of the area, we did an awesome 5 pitch 5.11 called “The Don Juan Wall” Here is Tara on a middle pitch.

Notice how she is completely backwards from the rock. This is one of the things I love about trad climbing. It requires crazy, f*cked up solutions to problems, and is often much more creative than yanking on the smallest crimp you can. As long as you accept that you may have to try your very hardest on 5.10, you will get to do some awesome stuff on route.

The highlight of the trip was the “Romantic Warrior.” On Sunday, Mike, Sara, Tara and I went up the route in a super fun 7 hour climb.

Romantic warrior takes the obvious dihedral in the back, right formation, and then tops out all three needles in the back

On the crux pitch, I navigated the thin, technical stem crux, held on for the pumpy mid section, clipped a pin, and ran it out to the anchors. Feeling pumped, I grabbed the highest hold in the crack and reached for the obvious jug ledge, ready to mantle and clip the chains. Turns out what looked like a ledge from below was actually a redpoint crux, a henious HorsePens 40 style mantle on big granite slopers.

I glanced down, and the my last piece, that old pin, was a good 10 feet below my feet, and below that, 400 feet of air. I instantly lost focus. A few deep breaths and shakes, I commited to the crux. Palming an akward gaston, I began to mantle, my high foot shaking in a siezure like motion. With the last of my effort, I lunged over the lip, only to come up short. I let out a scream, tumbled backwards, and screamed twice more flying down the wall. 30 feet lower, I dangled, sad because I blew the redpoint but overall feeling quite alive. These multipitch whippers are as important as they remind you that it is OK to go for it.

We finished the trip by climbing the classic “Ankles Away.” This super thin, technical seam can be climbed in a single, 70 meter pitch. I managed to onsight the route with only a handful of small cams and 4 wires on the rack. Exciting to say the least. Here is Mike, also onsighting.

My big theory about climbing is that your awesomeness as a rock climber relates directly with how little you look like a climber on the hike out. If you are a super badass and freesolo everything, you are up a wall in 3 hours and briskly jogging out, not looking like a climber at all. If you are walking out with a triple set of hexes, haggered and sunburned to hell, well…. you probably aren’t as good. Here is Tara rocking an ideal post climb look.

Stay classy my friends,
Greg

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We climb rocks!

Here is Tara on a Tuolumne slab.

The view wasn’t too bad.

Tying my rope into a some gumbie trad coil.

On the road, our camping strategy is simple. We drive until the google map is green, indicating national forest land. We have woken up in some pretty neat places.

The Hulk is a gorgeous 1000 foot chunk of granite tucked away at 11,000 feet elevation high in the Sierras. The notoriously rough approach, spanning 5 miles and gaining 3,000 feet has caused many to dub this cliff the “Incredible Hike.” This approach sucks so much that most chose to approach climbs the day before and camp at the base of the cliff.

We arrived at the Hulk trailhead around noon on our rest day. The trail begins at the mega classy Mono Village, a fishing resort and RV park where Country music rules and Coors light flows like water. It was time to make a decision. Do we load our bags with 3 days of supplies and start the trek to the cliff, or do we climb the Hulk in a day and drink beer by the lake?

The choice was easy enough to make and we spent the rest of the day enjoying IPA.

We set our alarms for 3:30am and crashed somewhere in the woods. At 5am, the incredible hike began.

The approach winded through meadows, up scree fields, past endless boulders and over streams. 3 hours later we arrived at the base of the cliff. The hike felt long, but not so bad only carrying a light rack and rope.

On the 2nd pitch of the hulk, I almost ate shit big. Stemmed out, looking at a 70 foot sideways fall directly on an anchor, I noted how much I hated trad climbing. I plugged a small cam into a chossy, flared crack and stalled. At one point, I actually started downclimbing back towards Tara, but soon realized that I could not reverse the moves that got me there in the first place. I did the only thing there was to do… smeared my feet up on choss, and climbed a very unsettling 10 feet to a better placement. Soon, I topped the pitch, feeling happy to be alive.

The next pitch was the crux, a beautiful 5.12+ stemming corner. Here is Tara following.

Some more 5.12 pitches followed

On the hike out, we got pretty tired.

After a few days in San Fransisco, we headed north to Bend, Oregon. While smith rock was much too hot for climbing, the drinking and swimming temps were perfect.

To escape the heat, we drove further north to lush, green Washington.

Now we are kicking it in Little Si, projecting some sport climbs and enjoying the cool weather.


Peace out,
Greg

Sport climbing, Half Dome, El Cap

Its been a good bit since I posted here, for that I apologize.

I have been busy with projects both rock climbing and non rock climbing related.

The spray is as follows: since I last wrote I have been able to clean up some routes that I was working on. At Smith, I managed to repoint the mega henious 14a called “Badman.” This thing was dang hard for me. Its about a 20 move power endurance beast revolving around 2 henious undercling moves. After this is a good rest and a 13a redpoint crux near the last bolt that keeps it exciting to the finish.

My other big spring project was the Regular Northwest Face of Halfdome. This rig is 23 pitches, about 80% 5.9 and 20% 5.12. After the recon mission mentioned in the last post, I went up for another run with Walker. Things went pretty well and we managed to top out in about 8 hours with me only taking 1 fall on the middle, crux 12c face pitch.

After this I met up with my sponsored sugarmama for a weekend of cragging at a cool northeast california crag called Trinity Aretes. My cell phone took some water damage

and could only be communicated to via voice command, so I spent the drive screaming “PLAYYY JAYZ” and getting “CALLING EX GIRLFRIEND” Turns out Siri is kind of dumb. Tara and I met up on I5; I drove 3 hours north from San Fransisco and she drove 5 hours south from Bend, a classic long distance relationship meet in the middle manuever.. We ditched my car in a grocery store parking lot and took her van to Trinity. There I managed to snag a quick send of the classic TUFA 13b called Tiff, and work out the moves on the amazing Mean Streak, 14a.

As we were about to leave, I gave Mean Streak one more try. I felt confident going into the crux,but as I climbed into the powerful gaston opening sequence, my shoulder positioned in a very unnatural way and I heard some popping. I let go immediatly and lowered, thinking I probably f*cked my shoulder pretty bad.

As we drove Tara’s van out of bumf*ck northern california it proceeded to start smoking. We discovered it was out of engine coolant, and upon pouring some in saw it immediatly spill out on the pavement underneath her car. At this exact point I also discovered I didn’t know where my wallet was.

Life has a decent way of challenging us sometimes. There we were, in Weaverville Ca,

with no working car, me sans wallet or cell phone to call Triple A, and me with a potentially seriously hurt shoulder. All this t minus 14 hours till we both had to go to work hundreds of miles away.

I took the last of my cash and bought an ice cream sandwich. We then hitched a ride to the town where my car was with some very rural folks who spent the drive discussing a fuel additive that makes cars last longer as well as the merits of the most recent NASCAR race. Ironically, it turned out these guys were actually on the way to rescue another one of their family members also stuck on the road. As a consequence, instead of taking us to my car, they stopped a few miles shy and spend a good part of the hour trying to fix a jeep stuck on the road. This was an interesting experience, and we got to witness a slice of America in its finest form, in all its cigarette smoking, socks and sandals glory.

Eventually we got to my car, and drove it back over the pass to Tara’s. I snagged a rope, towed her car to a mechanic recommended by our ride, and then left Tara in a hotel. Then I headed for San Fransisco, giving up on Siri and listening to smooth country on the radio all the way home.

Afrer visiting a doctor that didn’t ask too many questions and declared my shoulder to be fine, I trained hard at the gym and headed up half dome only 5 days later. I knew things were questionalbe as pulling on the shoulder caused quiet a bit of pain even on the 1st of the 23 pitches of the route.

We simul climbed the first few pitches, sent the two bottom cruxes and soon found ourselves at pitch 10 or so, the technical crux of half dome. This is a 12c traverse pitch on greasy edges with poor feet.

I set off to lead the pitch, placed a few small cams and climbed into the crux. Grabbing the tiny granite crimps as hard as I could I found myself crossed up with my hands backwards in the sequence. My forearms pumped and I quickly got the sad realization I was going to fall. In a last move of desperation, I campus matched and lunged for a side pull. Miraculously, probably mostly due to the extreme rope drag of the pitch, I was still on redpoint. I finished the pitch, excited but also anxious; my death grip effort took a lot of my strength, and I was feeling pretty f*cking spent.

Walker followed, and feeling quiet exhausted and asked to lead the next simul block. Simulciminbig is different from regular climbing because its is absolutely necessary to put the more solid person on the bottom. Generally, simulclimbing is a ridiculous and high stakes game to play on a big wall. In theory, it sounds great. 500 foot spans of wall can be covered in minutes instead of hours. The reality is a bit more grim. The bottom person absolutely cannot fall. A fall by the bottom climber means violently dragging the top climber down the wall to the last piece of protection, causing them to abruptly stop and probably get seriously injured. The top climber is safer to take a fall, however, since most sumul climb blocks last hundreds of feet and the leader only has a limited amount of protection, they are probably running it out at least 20 to 30 feet between pieces and looking at a giant fall anyways Basically, the great irony of simulclimbing is that its a great safety belay technique that revolves around the fact that neither climber is allowed to fall. How this is different from free soloing I don’t know.

Regardless, we simuled the next 7 or so pitches to the big sandy. From here its 3 crux pitches, all about 12a to the top. We rested for a few minutes but got instantly cold. During our whole climb, clouds were hauling ass across the skyline and the forecast called for 30 mph winds. I was only wearing slacks and a t-shirt, so no time to rest. However, these conditions made for great sending temps. I went for the first Zig Zag, probably the technical crux of the route, pitch 18 or so, and sent while while Walker dutifully and coragiously shivered on the ledge. Walker followed and sent also. Then I climbed an easier pitch to the third Zig Zag, a pumpy, tough to protect undercling traverse. I sent this pitch also, running it out and basically only clipping fixed pieces.

Trying to send this high on a big wall is silly. The emotions of wanting to not fail completely overtake the danger and exposure of the situation. You are completely focused on sending the next pitch, not even noticing the 5000 feet of air below you to the valley floor. You run it out big and only focus on the moves. Really, its no different than going for your sport project and not thinking about the bolts. The only difference is that if you fail, you have to wake up at 3am AGAIN and do that ridiculous f*cking 2 hour hike to get to the base. There is more at stake so you try harder. Luckily, trad climbing is mostly 5.9.

I sent this pitch and soon we were at the base of the last challenge, the 12a slab at the very top. I went up slowly, clipping the bolts and trying not to sneeze. I gained the jug and screamed with joy, so f*cking happy to not climb Halfdome again. Soon we were on top basking in sunlight, superstars to the mostly foreign tourists on top. I sent and Walker only fell a few times, he will surely get it soon.

Half Dome Done.

That night we sat on my tailgate, drinking beer and even inhaling a little green. I joked with Walker that our obsession with halfdome was stupid. The climb is pretty chossy and the heinous 3000ft elevation gain approach is probably the hardest approach in the valley. Why not just get on el cap, a cliff approached in 10 minutes in flip flops?

“Its too f*cking hot” Walker replied.

“Dude…. lets just climb it at night. Think about it? Start saturday night, top out sunday morning, good temps all the way”

We laughed, made plans to sport climb next weekend and went to sleep.

Sure enough, exactly one week later I found myself at the base of god damn El Cap with Walker at exactly 12:30 am, almost midnight. Turns out my joke was not so much a joke.

Our plan was simple. We would start at 1am on sunday morning. Walker would lead the first 18 pitches by headlamp (besides the 100 foot runout hollow flake, 5.9x no gear), and then I would lead the next dozen or so to the top. The only deadline was work at 9am next monday morning. Simple enough.

Walker did a fine job of leading all the way to the alcove.

I jumared through the night behind him, glorious half intoxicated visions of me gloriously free climbing the second half of el cap running through my head. As soon as I took the lead I sadly realized that things were more difficult than I thought. The general lack of sleep and fatigue from ascending 1800 feet of rope through the night made me pretty spent even on the first pitch. I promptly almost slipped off the first pitch, a 5.10 or 5.11 layback, remarkably astounded that El Cap, even at 7 am in the morning in 55 degree temps is still really, really, really greasy.

I kept it together till the first crux, the boulder problem, but ghetto rope drag and general fatigue made me pull through this 13a dyno crux. From here I spent a pretty significant amount of effort leading a 5.10 pitch called “The Sewer,” a 5.10 dihedral thats always wet. This was the first time I have simultaniously smeared both feet on wet holds, handjammed in a wet crack and placed a piece in a mossy, wet fissure. I somehow sent the pitch gaining a cool ledge called “The block”, coming out with my pants soaked but thankfully not wearing a shirt. Here, I traded my water bucket of a chalkbag with Walker and sent the next pitch, an incredible 5.11 face climb. This brought us to the crux of Freerider, the pumpy enduro corner.

The Freerider enduro corner


I freed the first half, a 5.11 bit, but pumped out in the slopey kneebar sequence above.

When you top the enduro corner you have a hard choice to make: are you a superhero or a little bitch. The superhero would head straight up, through the el cap rough and out the super splitter 5.13b tight hands salathe headwall

The mortals traverse left for the freerider variation, which goes at 12a. Naturally we sallied out and set sail for left via the 5.12 traverse, which I almost freeclimbed but instead sideways fell on a fixed nut after a foot broke.

We found ourselves on a ledge close to the end of el cap.

From here the topo was pretty ambiguous on anchor placement and general direction. I climbed an exhausting and awkward crack to an anchor, blown around by the wind and generally hating life. Walker followed and we were under the last crux, the scotty burke offwidth.

I am sure this will sound cocky and ridiculous, but I found it somewhat ironic that as a 5.14 climber, I was sweating and scared about the 5.10 pitch that layed above. Like, seriously doubting whether I could make it up this piece of rock rated 5.10. Kind of silly when compared to the way you would approach a 5.10 at a sport crag. I said some final words and got into the offwidth, at this point so tired that my arms would not really hold on to the rock.

Being this tired on a big wall is a pretty scary feeling. Imagine being so worked that you grab a draw on your project but your hands are too exhausted to open the gate and put the rope through; your hands simply don’t work. Combine this with the fact that you are 3000 feet off the deck with no way down, and its kind of a predicament.

I groveled and prayed myself through the final offwidths and chimneys and topped out on a ledge where Freerider and the Salathe join. Soon Walker joined me and we were basking in glorious sunlight, 1 pitch from the top of El Capitan.

I aided what I could out of the last 5.10 pitch (think really big jugs) and we gained the top.

It was a damn happy occasion as El Cap was something Walker and I tried to climb twice before, via the Nose, and failed. It was pretty damn cool to finally climb the big stone, and only in 14 hours. We exchanged smiles, ate food that Walker somehow salvaged from the woods and stumbled back down to the car. I drove my truck back to San Fransisco, 30 something hours awake, hoping to catch some sleep before work.

Since then I have been mostly working on my sport climbing. However, I have requested some days off of work and am planning a 4 day climb up Freerider. I am hoping to rapel down the route beforehand and stash sleeping gear and food both at the block and in the alcove. Then, Tara and I will go to the alcove on the first day, take a rest day, climb to the block on the third and finally top out on the forth, rappelling the route the next day and cleaning our shit up. This would be a cool joyride without getting too exhausted or hauling. I hope its not too hot and we can make it happen!

Thanks for reading!

A free attempt on The Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome

This weekend Mike and I decided do a free attempt on the Regular Northwest Face of Halfdome, 25 pitches, 12b.

Gearing up

Half Dome is Yosemite’s second most sought after formation, behind El Cap. Both cliffs are giant, but while El Cap sits playfully close to the road and can be approached in flip flops, the base of Half Dome is perched 3000 feet off the Valley Floor and is most easily approached by a brutal hike affectionately dubbed “the death slabs.” To put things into perspective, one must gain an El Cap worth of elevation just to get to the start of the climbing. In fact, many have called approaching crux of the whole experience.

The death slabs

We drove to a bivy outside of the park on Friday night and woke up at a brisk 3:45am. The plan was to hike to the base, stash sleeping bags, dinner and a few beers, climb the route and pass out at the base. We romped up the death slabs in a casual 2.5 hours, filled up water at a glorious mountain spring located conveniently at the start of the route and began climbing at 8 am sharp.

I can most confidently say that we fucked our logistics up. We chose to go for a day ascent without hauling. This meant the follower had to carry a backpack full of water, food, and other random, useless shit we decided to bring on the wall.

Mike took the first lead block, and I started following behind him carrying the ridiculous backpack. If you are curious to find out what this feels like, do your next gym session with a backpack on. Its awkward, its heavy and it sucks. I managed to hang on for the first few pitches but blew my redpoint somewhere on the 4th pitch, a 5.11 offwidth that was simply too awkward and hard with this training weight.

After the 5th pitch, we switched roles. We casually simuled a few more pitches to a fork in the climb. The right variation is a bolted 12c face traverse that is very direct but technically difficult. The left variant is a 4 pitch circle around this face climb that is less direct but technically easy. We opted for the longer, easier variation, described in the topo as “5.10 loose, 5.9 dirty,” and my favorite “5.8 bad.”

I can most confidently say that the next several pitches of the climb are by far, without doubt, the worst stretch of rock I have ever climbed in my life. The climbing ascended endless loose blocks with very little protection. I kept climbing higher and higher, feeling like a sneeze could tear down this whole section of terrain.

Eventually we finished this chosspile terrain and made it to the more solid, right face of the dome.

Mike takes a bite out of the topo before starting up the chimneys

From here, the route ascends 500 feet of chimneys. Mike took over the lead and I was back to dealing with that goddamn backpack. I hung the pack off my harness and started crawling up the chimneys, with the pack dragging like an anchor below me. If you are curious to see what this feels like, try running into a headwind with a parachute tied to your back. Nevertheless, we made it to the notorious Big Sandy ledge (pitch 18) by 3:30pm. From here, its only 6 pitches to the top.

Mike approaching the big sandy, pitch 18.

The next 3 pitches of the climb are called the Zig Zags. I am a full believer that the name of the climb says a lot about its nature. Sometimes, you hear the name of a pitch and you feel “man.. that sounds like something I want to climb.” For example,”the shield”, “the enduro corner,” or “God’s own stone” or “pocket pussy.” When I think of the name “the Zig Zags,” I do no get this reaction. The zig zags are exactly what they sound like, a series of awkward, criss crossing cracks that happen to be the crux of Half Dome.

The first pitch off the ledge is acutally the hardest of the route, 12b. I took the lead and put forth an OK effort, but eventually fell. Mike started following backpack on, sun full blast, and also fell, ending his proud onsight effort 19 pitches up.

The next Zig Zag is chill, 5.10. The last Zig Zag is 12a. By this point I realized I was too worked to lead anything and let Mike take back over.

Mike starting up the last zig zag.

He almost sent, but whipped after 2 of his pieces straight up fell out only moments after he placed them. I sent on TR. Woot!

After you top the zig zags it’s the iconic “Thank God Ledge.” I took over leading and tried to walk across. After I made it about half way, I realized that I was at risk of belly flopping off and going for a nose dive whipper and crawled the rest like the weaksauce punter I am.

Walking the “Thank God Ledge”

The final hard pitch is a 5.12 bolted face climb. This is basically a slab with no holds. It is still absolutely nasuating this was free soloed. There is not a single incut hold on the pitch, only slopey, insecure grooves. Mike onsighted the pitch and I was too worked to really climb it.

We topped out near sunset completing the 2000 foot climb in about 11 hours.

High country sunset from the top of Half Dome.

While on top we agreed that due to the moderate nature of the climbing and the large quantity of fixed gear in the wall, a rack of single, not double, camelots would have been more appropriate. We vowed to return with no backpack, half the gear, and shoot for about an 8 hour send.
Thanks for reading,

Me

Ps. If you actually read all this fluff, you deserve to know about the one actually remarkable thing that happened that day, being passed by Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold on the last leg of their El Cap, Watkins, Half Dome linkup. Here is some photos. These guys are BEAST!

Note the victory slack

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