Climbing Rocks!

Advice you shouldn't follow

Airing out wet blankets, a defense of deep water soloing

Last August, we shared the incredible Summersville Lake with a group of pro athletes.  To me this place is special, both sentimentally because I have been climbing here since being a young boy, but also objectively because I have traveled around enough to know that its truly world class.  Its the best deep water soloing crag in the country and probably one of the best in the world.

For one gorgeous, somehow not too hot and not too humid summer day, this group of athletes were given a chance to go deep water soloing in a place where its normally illegal to do so, a once in a lifetime opportunity.  Even better, the event was a way to begin a conversation to open deep water solo access to the general public. Even better still, the event was a fundraiser to help with flood relief for the local communities.

Everyone loved it and unicorns on Waverunners lived happily ever after.  Right?

Not quiet.  Sadly, I recently read a draft of a magazine article about the event which implied it as a redneck, booze fueled spectacle which put athletes in danger.   Another article from a competitor implies that fun was had at the expense of the athletes.  Both articles also mention the consumption of alcohol by the athletes, with one going as far as to say that the organizers of the event encouraged alcohol consumption by the athletes to fuel the chaos.

I would like to debunk some common misconceptions about this event and deep water soloing in general.


Deep water soloing is dangerous.

Yes, it is; so is sport climbing, bouldering, taking your cat for a walk and even eating too many marshmallows.  The question is, where does deep water solo climbing rank in terms of danger in comparison to other climbing disciplines?

drawing-1All climbing activities pose risk, with some likely to cause an injury and others possibly causing death.  I think its easiest to get injured bouldering because of the constant ground falls but it would be hard to die bouldering.  Sport climbing is the opposite.

Where does deep water soloing fit in?  I think its a lot harder to die deep water soloing than trad or sport climbing because you can never deck.  Sure, its possible that you will backflop, break your back and drown, but thats a freak accident, much like your belayer dropping you while sport climbing.

What is much more likely is an injury like a collapsed lung, a broken rib or a sprained wrist.  Compared to trad climbing, deep water soloing seems straight up safer; its a backflop into the water vs a ground fall due to gear ripping out.

_dsc9381The problem with deep water soloing is that it feels scary, so people assume its dangerous.  But something scary isn’t necessarily dangerous, in fact, a healthy amount of fear makes us safe.  Some of the most intense fear I have felt rock climbing has been rapelling of the top of El Capitan.  I would tie my rope to a tree that could hold an elephant, back it up to a second tree, check the knot 10 times, and then still almost pass out from fear while going over the edge.  On the other hand, going sport climbing I have so little fear that I often skip clips and don’t double check my knots.

The athletes were forced to do unsafe things

Would it be safe for me to enter an ice climbing competition?  Would it be safe for Paul Robinson to enter a trad climbing competition? No, because both of these activities require specialized knowledge that Paul and I do not possess.  Is it safe for Tommy Caldwell to enter a trad climbing competition?  Yes.  Is it safe for Chris Sharma to enter a deep water soloing competition? Also a yes…

To make deep water soloing safe you have to have a certain level of experience falling into the water, knowing when to back off, and techniques for correcting yourself while mid fall, just like to make trad climbing safe you need to know how to place cams and nuts.

The fact that some athletes felt in danger doesn’t make the event or discipline dangerous, it makes the athletes not prepared.  If you have never deep water soloed, or perhaps have only done it a few times on an artificial wall, you probably should not enter a deep water solo competition, just like I should not enter an ice climbing event because I would probably just stab myself in the eye with a crampon.

In other words, if Chris Sharma had competed, would he have complained about the event’s danger? Probably not…


The athletes had access to alcohol

I think this doesn’t really need much discussion.  Professional climbers should not drink while they are on the job just like other professionals don’t drink in the office.  If you wanted to sneak a drink, thats fine I guess, but please don’t publicize that because it makes everyone look bad.  If you felt like you had to drink because deep water soloing is too scary otherwise, you have no business being in the event.  You aren’t 10 years old and should be able to refrain from doing something even if others are doing it around you.

The climbs at the Psicoroc were 70 feet tall

The only route in the event that pushed the envelope in terms of height was the last one, Woofer Arete, at about 55 feet tall, with the crux at 50 feet.  The rest of the climbs were 40 feet tall, meaning that falls from the middle of the climb were only 20 feet.

So where do we go from here?

Deep water soloing competition is clearly an amazing type of event that audiences love; a packed house at the Salt Lake City Psicocomp event pretty much proves that point.

But its not just about the crowd.  Deep water soloing is also an incredibly fun, addicting way to climb.  Its my favorite climbing discipline and one I can practice safely and enjoyably.

Having just spent a few weeks in Mallorca, I met a lot of people who love deep water soloing as much as I do.

You might not be one of those people.

If you aren’t, please don’t enter a deep water soloing competition.  And if you do, don’t be such a wet blanket afterwards.

El Corazon trip report


A trickle of water hits me in the face.  Its spraying out of a backpack full of gallons of water swinging from my waste.  Attached to it is a portaledge.  We are all attached to a tree on top of El Cap.  My heart skips a beat.


Our collective weight too much for the poor grigri, I slowly slide down the rope with the break completely engaged.  More water sprays me in the face.   I’ve sprung a leak.


Eventually the precious cargo is delivered to a small ledge 2600 feet off the ground.  Ravens circle the stash as I jumar away to solid ground.


When the alarm clock rings two days later.  The “what ifs” of  before dissolve; its now time for “what is”.

Soon, Mike is climbing the splitter cracks of the first 5.10 on the Freeblast.  The cliff radiates heat from the intense sun of the day before; a forecast of low 90s has us sweating through our t-shirts even in the coldest time of the day.


El Corazon follows the rightmost red line

Mike leads the first 6 pitches and I follow almost shaking with anxiety.  Shaking is not a good state of mind on the Freeblast, where having a cool, steady Slab-Ass is your most important Asset.

I take over leading and we simulclimb most of the next 8 pitches.  The more I lead, the better I feel and soon we arrive at the Beak Flake, 13a, our main objective for the day.  We have about 2 hours of shade left to send.

The Beak Flake is an incredible, soft 13a pitch that would be an instant classic, filled to the brim with gumbies and tickmarks if it was closer to the ground.  Up here its a chossy obscurity, spread wide open for our enjoyment.

A cool breeze starts blowing.  Having tried this pitch in a practice climb a few days earlier, I tie in for the lead.  20 minutes later, I send with no falls.  Mike follows easily.  5 hours after departing the ground our first day is over.

Our Very Successful climbing day turns into a Very Unsuccesfull afternoon of hiding from the scorching sun.

In an effort to flatten the ledge I try to move a big rock and manage to put two large lacerations into my fingers.  Later, while exiting a shame hole, my headlamp is knocked off my harness.

The night comes and we make our camp.  I sleep in the shame cave and Mike makes a camp lower.  At night, water begins to seep off the wall, dripping onto our faces.  I pop a hole in my thermarest.  No sleep happens.

3:30AM again.  Two nights of no sleep and I feel like I am wobbling worse than Boulderite when Whole Foods screws up their organic chai kava latte.  In the darkness Mike prepares breakfast while I sit headlampless.  We collapse camp and begin day 2.

The meat of the day is 3 scary 5.12 traverse pitches, 12a, 12d, and 12c.


Mike follows a spectacularly positioned 12c traverse pitch.

In a heroic effort Mike leads the first 5.12 pitch spending 45 minutes in a no fall zone.  I get the 12d pitch which has fresh new pins, but is capped by a scary sideways boulder problem.

Pouring sweat I apply chalk up to my forearms and after multiple large whippers the pitch is sent and we are soon at the base of a large left facing corner system.

Here the climbing changes from scary face climbing to physical cracks and chimneys.


Mike in the Kierkeegard Chimney, 12b


Mike in the Nietzsche Chimney, 10a.

The day drags on for 14 hours and eventually we make it to the afformentioned portaledge, food and water stash at Tower of the People, a tiny, greasy slanted ledge only 7 pitches from the top.

On the ledge we are almost delirious from the hard work of the day.  A huge bag of salami helps us regain reality.  We settle in for our first night on the ledge.


I close my eyes and in a blink its 5am and day 3 begins.  The 6 hours of sleep are amazing but I can feel deep fatigue in my core and biceps.  I try to limber up best I can.


Limbering up for the Roof Traverse on El Corazon while Mike looks on.

The goal of the day is two 5.13 pitches, the Coffee Corner, 13a, and The Roof Traverse, 13b.  Its the hottest day yet, mid 90s, and chalk is impossible to keep on our hands.

Mike takes the first lead and smoothly sends the Coffee Corner for a warmup.


Mike in the crazy backwards stem sequence of the Coffee Corner.

I try to follow but fall off.  Doubt percolates.  We time 20 minutes on the iPhone.  Neither of us speaks.  My brain goes on a long, introverted exploration during which I come to a realization that I am absolutely not OK with failure.  Success is the only option, and I will never forgive myself for anything less.

I toprope the pitch clean.

Next up is the Roof Traverse, the hardest pitch on the route.  Mike gracefully floats the crux

IMG_0161 but his body sags out in the pumpy exit.

9  CDSC_1354

Mike flies off the pumpy exit of the 13b roof traverse.

He has a poor landing (judges give him a 6.8/10 with a 2 point deduction), and smashes a huge hole in his palm.

I nearly fall in the same spot but manage to hang on.  Exiting the roof I am uncontrollably screaming with success.  Down lower, friends on the Freerider cheer us on as well.

Mike has another try and sends as well.  A huge weight is lifted off my chest.  Its so crazy to realize that this crazy, longshot of a dream, to free climb a difficult El Cap route during a 2 week vacation is actually going to be a reality.

We spend the afternoon drinking whiskey and hiding behind the portaledge.


Near the evening, a line drops from the sky and Tara comes bringing fresh psyche and watermelon.  Its great to see a familar face but we feel like zombiesenhanced-buzz-1371-1366652774-10

We settle in for our last night on the wall.  The heat is heinous to the point that mosquitos are flying off the top of El Cap and attacking us on the ledge.  Ants invade my sleeping bag, occasionally biting me throughout the night

Just like that, its 3:30AM.  I am filled with a giddy energy.  The prospects of removing the daisy chain from my harness and letting it fly away into the void forever is a delicious thought.


Up first is the Golden Desert, 13a.  This pitch would be the most classic 12a at the Cookie Cliff, filled with fixed nuts and greasy bay area hipsters, but up here its a 13a smiling at us with a friendly, provocative grin.  We both send first try.

The A5 traverse, 13a. is the last difficulty left.  Tara hangs at its finish anchor, only 50 feet away.  Two weeks ago, I tried the pitch but couldn’t even get close to sending it.  Mike ties in and sends quickly.

The psyche in my head is almost enough to explode me.   I don’t think I will ever forget the feeling of climbing this pitch; in one word I can only describe it as “weightlessness”.


Tara Kerzhner’s photo of one of the final pitches on the route.

Overgripping and campusing, I send without any difficulty.  I can’t contain my screaming at the anchor, unleashing the emotion of 4 days of hard work, and 4 months of preparation.

Suddenly, the wall is done.

If anyone is interested, I am auctioning off my trad rack on ebay.



Trip report: Soy un Homber Nuevo in Naranjo de Bulnes.

During our last trip to Spain, our friends Ben and Katie raved about a 1500 foot cliff called Naranjo De Bulnes in the north of the country.

While packing our bags last minute for a 3 month trip to the north of Spain, I stuffed a single rack of widgets into the luggage, swearing to myself that I would not ship these back and forth across the Atlantic in vein.  After settling into our new Spanish lifestyle, it was time to pull the trigger and go for the climb before the weather got too cold.

There was basically no English information on the specifics of approaches, parking, etc.  So, thanks to some good info from Katie, many hours of internet snooping and lots of google translate, we managed to find and climb the peak, and bring you this detailed report on summiting this penis shaped tower.


We left Bilbao friday afternoon and sped along the Bay of Biscay towards Picos De Europa National park.  The plan was to hike up to the hostal in the evening, and climb the following day.

We parked ( 43.231942, -4.780243 latitude + longitude) hiked through a small village (43.227013, -4.792800 latitude + longitude ) and then up through the clouds  witnessing an incredible airplane-esqe view.


Headlamps on, we pushed further towards the hostel, being passed by Spaniard after Spaniard (these guys hike fast!).   This was alarming because when I called the hostel, they said there was little vacancy and recommended that I book a spot online immediately. The website refused to accept an international credit card, and having  brought no outdoor sleeping gear to Europe, I was sadly imagining every passing Spaniard taking the last bed.

Luckily, this was not the case, and after a brisk 2 hour walk we got a spot and sat down for a beer.  The refugio blew our minds a little bit; a fully functional restaurant and hostel (very remincient of Miguel’s) in the middle of a mountain range.   After having slept in caves, tallus fields, and under trees before big wall missions this was a welcome change.

The night was spent hearing  about 30 other smelly alpinists snore and fart in a communal room.  We awoke before sunrise, ordered a coffee, and stumbled into the freezing darkness for our push.

Our objective was the 1500 foot Soy Un Hombre Nuevo (I am a new man)

The crux of the route is actually the first few moves of the first pitch, a henious boulder problem leaving the ground.  Fingers freezing, headlamp akwardly reflecting off the rock, and my gear and water swaying back and forth, I pulled onto the rock in total darkness and managed to scream my way through the pitch, but not without gaining a terrible flash pump.  Tara followed, but had to pull through the first few moves.

From here, it was an amazing journey up (mostly) perfect pocketed gray rock.






Tara, totally in her element, took more leads then ever, displaying an impressive level of comfort on the techy climbing, often 30 feet above the last bolt.  “Me gusta las placas” (I like the slabs) – Tara


Towards the top, the bolts stopped almost entirely.  This was bad news since our trad rack consisted of 4 small cams and 4 nuts.  This was mostly fine, except for the 13 pitch, which was also completley rotten. Stemmed inside a corner made of limestone gravel 60 feet above a strange cam in a pocket is a great time for reflecting on the important things in life, which I assure you we did.  Luckily, we summited with me onsighting the route and Tara sending everything except for pulling through the first pitch.


While I am pretty good about gathering logistics on how to summit, I usually let the descent beta reveal itself on the fly.  On the summit of this particular mountain, we were informed by some new spanish friends that our single 80 meter Maxim Airliner rope was not nearly sufficient to make the rappels back to the ground.  Luckily these guys were hospitable chaps and offered to let us rappel below them and untie our single line from the anchors as they went.  The phrase of the day here was “la proxima vez, una casca” which roughly translates to “Next time (I should wear) a helmet.”

We made it back to the hostel, bought our friends a thank-you beer (and a few for the descent) and drank our way down the trail back to the car, checking into the first available hotel. After a feast of sardines and flat bread, it was time for some quality sleep.


The next morning, we awoke sore but ready for more.  We bought guidebook to the many, many crags of western Spain



and went and checked out some Tufas.  The amount of rock in this region was disgusting, it was like Catalynia, but with 3 times more rock.  Damn you Spain, quit hoarding all of the rocks!

Endogo race search

Ariana trip report

“Its no sport climbing up there.” I mulled over Nick’s statement from the night before, took a few breaths of thin air, snagged a quickdraw off my harness, and clipped the 5th fixed piece of gear in the 80 foot 12a crux of Airana, on the Diamond.
photo 2

It was a cool climb. We awoke at 3:30 in Nick’s driveway in Estes, drank a good portion of cold brew coffee and were hiking 45 minutes later.

photo 3

We witnessed the sunrise on trail and arrived at Chasm lake 2 hours later. Casually racking up we were psyched to see only a few parties on the wall, and one party having a tough time with the glacier at the base. Having never climbed one before, this was an unsettling sight.
photo 1

45 minutes later we crushed the glacier in a few minutes, rock daggers in hand, excited to use our arms for the first time of the day. I tied in, gave Tara our only helmet and set off simulclimbing the North chimneys. I was shortly almost murdered by the party above, who knocked off a huge amount of choss onto my exposed head. I guess glacier climbing and choss climbing are correlated skills…

“Don’t have summit fever: Enjoy the experience, but be willing to turn around at any time.”

photo 4

So says the official park documentation. 7 hours after stepping off the glacier we were pushing third class terrain to the summit. The weather finally turned sour and a thick hail was coming in. Our bare heads were feeling achy after slamming into the “glass ceiling”, but sick with summit fever we pushed on anyways and stood on top.

The decent down took forever. If anyone reads this, the only takeaway I actually want people to have is, if you plan on doing the diamond and topping out, do not leave your packs at the lake. I learned this one the hard way, going for a high alpine jog to retrieve them at the end of the day.

Happy climbing!

Mountain Climbing

Alpine bouldering is a serious endeavor, I knew that from watching films like this one: 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.  


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.



Don’t fail


Somehow I stick it.


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



 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


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.


 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.


 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


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


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?


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.


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.


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.