Tuesday, April 24, 2012

White Water Kayaking?!

The past couple weeks I really haven't been climbing much.

I know that may sound kind of stupid to write on a climbing blog, but hey-- I'm just being honest. It's funny because with the end of the semester coming up and with me doing a lot more whitewater kayaking than climbing, I've started to think about the natural swing of the climbing world a lot more. I used to believe that I had to climb all the time to stay in shape, and I also thought that if I took time off I would really come to regret it.

While I don't think either of those things to be completely untrue now, I'm also starting to see the physical and emotional benefits of taking time to enjoy other pursuits. For most of my outdoor life, I've been pretty much in love with climbing. So much so, that I've really kind of neglected all of the opportunities available to me from working with UTC Outdoors. I've never gone Stand Up Paddle Boarding/ Mountain Biking/ and a few other things.

The only real pursuit I've taken to recently is white water kayaking. I like it because the culture is a lot like climbing, but at the same time completely contradictory. In climbing, we're all trying to reach out personal goal of getting to the top of the rock. It's essentially all in our power and under our control (I'm mainly talking about single pitch since that's what I'm experienced with). But in kayaking, the river makes the rules and we just do our best to abide by them.

The goal is to run the river clean, to not flip, and to have fun. It's a bit more social in the sense that everyone is working the same "project." But it's also less social in the sense that when you go through a rapid, you do it alone. If your friends are cheering for you (which they're probably not) you can't hear them over the sound of the water. It's kind of isolating, and super intimidating at first.

I don't find kayaking as physically demanding, but I'm also not paddling really hard rivers yet. Honestly, I'm really not sure I ever will. Climbing has always been the endeavor where I push my physical limits. Bouldering and sport climbing provide really great venues for safely being able to see what you're made of. Kayaking, however is a bit different. Pushing your limits on a river is a much greater commitment because you're putting a lot more on the line. Instead of risking leaving a 'biner at the fifth bolt, I'm risking losing my boat/gear or worse-- getting myself hurt.

I wouldn't say that I'm advocating that people 'switch' to kayaking because I think that climbing will always be my main gal, but I also don't think it hurts (in this sense) to have a side sport or two. I know a lot of climbers like to slack line, but I'm a piss poor slackliner so kayaking will have to do.

What other outdoor pursuits do you love? 

Monday, April 2, 2012


Yesterday I went out climbing with a few buds (Elliott, Kyle, Al, and others) at the Concave in the Little River Canyon, AL. I've really wanted to push my physical limits on roped climbing for a long time, but I've always had a hard time getting over the head game of difficult lead climbing.

Most people start climbing by pushing their limits in gyms or outdoors with friends who want to crush hard things. However, I got into climbing by first being a ropes course instructor and then climbing with friends who were all about just getting out and having fun and honestly I'm glad I did. I really dislike the stigma attached to climbers who get too into climbing hard and forget that we're supposed to be having fun. That said, after I'd successfully climbed some hard boulders, I realized I needed to get past the 5.12 barrier.

I'm by no means a super strong climber, but last season I was able to tick off my first v10 which was an incredible feeling. Then this season I got my first v9 (I skipped it before). So I recently started to think about how dumb it was that I'd never sent anything over 5.11d.

To be fair, most of my outdoor sport trips are usually centered around me teaching friends or clients about route climbing and never really depend on me climbing anything harder than 5.10 (I've only touched three 5.12s). As a result, I'd developed a fear of falling that really limited me from pushing my limits at all. Yesterday I finally broke through.

The concave is a giant overhanging roof (completely my style) which showcases some of the coolest hard roof climbs I've ever seen. There isn't a single climb in the actual concave under 5.13a!!

I was incredibly intimidated by the grades, but decided to hop on silverback (5.12d/5.13a) anyways. On my first go I hung on every draw just trying to figure out the moves, and also trying to conquer my fear of hard overhung climbs. I got the crux move (and all the others) on my first go.

So then after an hour of waiting for my forearms to remember that they weren't made of jello, I hopped on the route and sent!!

Just before climbing, Al gave me the advice to try and climb in rhythm and focus on my breathing. May sound simplistic, but that was exactly what I needed to hear. Instead of thinking about lead falls I thought about the movement and the way I was breathing. I even managed a rest halfway up (I've never been able to really rest on routes before!). I honestly can't explain how psyched I am about route climbing now. I've always wanted to try it and now I have the motivation. It also feels pretty good to skip 5.12.

Here's a video of Al climbing some sweet routes at the Concave (silverback is the first one he's on)

Not trying to brag, just incredibly happy.

What about you? What kind of head game issues do you have!?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Rocktown (is awesome)!

After living in Chattanooga for going on 3 years, it's kind of ridiculous that I'm just now realizing my fondness for rocktown. I've always been a Little Rock City (Stone Fort) Junkie, because... well let's face it, I'll never run out of problems to climb there. But with the popularity of Saturdays at LRC starting to resemble that of six flags over Georgia, my friends and I have started to look other places for boulders. Apart from the places I don't have permission to mention, I'm starting to think that rocktown has some of the best (relatively) local climbing that chatty has to offer. With LRC, HP40, and rocktown all within a couple hours drive, it's no wonder climbers in this city refuse to rope up!

On Saturday, Elliott and I went out there to spend a day working stuff we'd never given time to. First we hopped on a surprisingly not crowded Orb. Then we projected the hell out of it and didn't find ourselves moving on until about 2 or 3 hours of effort. I have to say that's one of my favorite rock climbs of all time. The quality is so good, the holds are so friendly, and the style is just so unique. The Orb is one of those unique problems that I think I could climb on all day and not get tired of. We eventually headed to the back to work Inspired by an Idiot and Helicopter, which were both super fun climbs as well.

But the highlight of the trip had to have been the burgers and chocolate milk we ate at Jed's on our return journey. Strange drugs, politically incorrect bumper stickers, and crack pipes aside, that place sure does have great burgers. What are you psyched on right now?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Public Service Announcement: Be Careful at Stone Fort (Little Rock City)!

Hey guys, so I don't necessary like posting stuff like this, but I also know how important it is. According to the Stone Fort facebook page, some climbers have been breaking rules at the boulder field. That's a really really really bad thing. Here's part of the status in question which was posted on December 29th of last year (a few weeks ago):

Attention Climbers... We need to address a few things before they get out of hand. Night climbing is NOT allowed. Camping is NOT allowed. All climbers must leave bouldering field upon nightfall. Bringing alcoholic beverages is NOT allowed. Glass containers are NOT allowed. No pets aloowed. Please follow the rules so everyone can enjoy Stone Fort Bouldering. Rules are posted onsite & the S.E.Climbers website.

While I understand how tempting it can be to want to climb at Stone Fort after dark or climb boulders which are closed off (aka on the course), it's super imperative that we all follow all the rules so that Stone Fort stays open for years to come. The SEC has worked really hard to ensure that we have access to one of the best boulder fields in the south year round, and it would really suck to see that ruined by some climbers who couldn't wait until the next morning to start work on their project.

As climbers, we kind of thrive on the notion of being misunderstood. Climbing is our thing and we like that most people don't fully understand/fit in to our culture. Well it's one thing to be a fun loving dirtbagger who lives out of his/her van traveling across the country, but a completely different thing to be a disrespectful climber who ignores local regulations for the sake of climbing a rock (think about it).

I've never been to Hound Ears because it's only open 1 day a year. Imagine if Stone Fort followed the same pattern.

Stone Fort is not a climbing gym. You shouldn't take your boom boxes, bring your cooler, or camp out over night. I'm urging all of us to please pay close attention to the local protocols and please don't let Chattanooga rock climbers become a group synonymous with rule breaking and negligence.

I'm stepping off my high horse and asking you (the community) what you think. What should we do about this issue?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Great Girlfriend Debate

Sorry it's been a while since my last article. Since I last wrote I've become a WFR, visited the entire southeast over Christmas break from school, not touched a single rock, and (most importantly) started dating a girl.

Now I know what you're thinking and you're probably right. Girlfriends have a way of distracting climbers from their most sincere passion of getting on top of big rocks and make them want to be productive members of society. It's for that very obsession that I've witnessed more than a few females (or males on rarer occasions) who've been dragged to the crag by their significant other in an attempt to justify and share their climbing experience.

Which brings us to this...


Climber girlfriends (or boyfriends) offer a wide range of benefits to the rock warrior in all of us. They're a built in belayer/encourager/partner in crime/spotter/cook/psych factory yeller/etc. But what if our significant others.... wait for it....

don't....like.....climbing?! (gasp!)

Well that's what I'm accustomed to seeing and honestly, I think it sucks. Running a free climbing gym for a university, I constantly experience newcomers trying out bouldering and route climbing with varying levels of success and follow up. After doing it for three years, I've started to notice some trends in the people who come back and those who never grace our walls again. Believe it or not, girlfriends who are persuaded into climbing by their boyfriends rarely ever make a return trip to the climbing area. And in really bad cases, they become embittered towards climbing and their boyfriend ruining not only the experience but also the relationship.

I was out at Leta one day when I saw a guy leading trad with his girlfriend (could have been wife) as a belayer. He was trying his luck at a 5.8/9 (i think) crack climb. It was not going well at all. First of all, he outweighed her by a good fifty pounds. He was probably 6'3" with a broad build and she was probably 5'7" and rather skinny. While she appeared to have some experience with belaying, she was by no means an expert and by no means excited to be there.

Dude took fall after fall on a single piece of gear he'd placed about fifteen feet off the ground. How he got that piece there I'll never know since I didn't see him get past it again. I think he may have been embarrassed by his newbiness since I was belaying my crusher friend on a 5.12 a few yards away. I feel rather comfortable calling him a newb because all his trad gear was real shiny. Each time he fell, he yelled at his girlfriend about her belaying technique as if she were to blame for his punting all over the route. He then proceeded to come off the route and help her anchor to a tree (she was complaining that belaying him was hurting her). He told her she was doing it wrong. I wanted to tell him that it probably had something to do with where she was standing and the fact that he was way bigger than her, but I also didn't want to be an ass.

Moral of the story is this: Making someone climb who doesn't want to is only going to make you have less fun and damage your relationship. 

I know that sounds kind of high-horsey and I must admit that I've taken my girlfriend to the climbing gym a few times*. But I think what's important is that we climbers remember that climbing is just PART of who we are. If your significant other WANTS to try climbing, then you have the great opportunity of sharing that part of your life with them, but if they don't want to then please don't make the rest of us look like idiots by forcing someone into our hobby.

Beth Rodden: Just one example of a badass climber chick!

*She loves it. Can't wait to take her outdoors for the first time.

So What Do You Think?!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Newbie Beta: 1st Climbing Shoes

Working at a climbing gym, I get asked about climbing shoes at least 13.5 times a day. So in order to answer everyone's questions to the best of my ability (and provide a chance for some other pros to comment) I decided to blog about it. So, you're getting into rock climbing and you want to know which climbing shoes to buy huh? Well then here you go.

The first thing I will say is that literally everyone buys their first pair of climbing shoes too big. When you first try a pair on, they're going to feel awkward and constrictive and well that's a feeling you're just going to get used to. But I also wouldn't suggest worrying too much about making them smaller than your little sister's barbie shoes just yet because you need to learn what you like before you get all crazy aggressive.

Things to consider when looking at climbing shoes:

  • The type of climbing you're most into
    • If trad climbing is your thing, you definitely don't want to go out and get some steep bouldering shoes because they're just going to hurt and camming your foot is going to be the most painful experience of your life.
    • Most companies have a general usage shoe which is good for a wide range of climbing styles (see below). I would stick with those to start. 
  • Which brand you like
    • I'm going to go ahead and suggest you stick to the big 3 of climbing shoes: 5.10, La Sportiva, and Evolv. Outside of those I would go with Scarpa or Madrock. Almost everyone I know who climbs in a shoe made by the big either 5.10 or La Sportiva are exceedingly happy with their purchase. That's not to say the others aren't good, but those two are the most consistent by far. Any brand beyond what I've mentioned here probably isn't worth your money (at least in the US). I've seen too many pairs of off-brand climbing shoes fall apart in a few weeks to suggest anything other than the brands I've named here.
  • Fit
    • It's really important that you try on your climbing shoes before you buy them. Most companies make shoes which fit certain foot styles. Your job is to piss off the pro shop guy by trying on as many pairs as you possibly can until you find one that's painful to stand in (they will stretch) but doesn't kill your feet.You really want to have your toes curled at the top of the shoe, but not so much that they're impossible to stand in.
    • A really great way to try a bunch of shoes in different sizes is to go to a shoe demo. They have them at climbing competitions at gyms a lot of times. They'll actually let you climb in the shoes and try them out before purchasing which is a huge win.
  • What's on sale
    • It's no secret that climbing shoes are expensive, so find a deal. I would highly recommend buying a used pair (in good condition) for your first pair of shoes. They're usually much cheaper and that way you're not too attached to a first pair which probably won't be your favorite shoe after a few months. My first pair of climbing shoes was an old pair of La Sportiva trad climbing shoes given to me by my best friend's dad. They didn't at all fit the climbing style I wanted to do, but they allowed me to climb for a bit before getting the shoes I really wanted.

All that said, here are a few great all purpose shoes as well as my all time favorites. Hope this helps in your decision making process.

5.10 Mocasym- This is the best smearing shoe on the market in my opinion. These slippers are highly sensitive with great feel for use on sloping feet and edges alike. They're best when used for general use climbing which makes them a great first pair as long as you size them right. The mocs will stretch on you so be sure to size them tight.

Click here for REI where they're currently on sale for $74.93

La Sportiva Katana (Velcro)- These were actually my first pair of new climbing shoes. They're great for edging and general use, although they're also specific in the way they fit your foot so make sure to try them on. Sportiva offers a wide variety of great climbing shoes and the best thing to do would be to try these on as well as the lace up version and potentially the Miuras, Nagos, Mythos, and Tarantula models. Just go with whatever fits best.

Click here for BackCountry.com where they're sold for $134.90

 *Note The  Evolv Defy is currently $39 closeout on their site. Not a bad deal for a beginner shoe.* 

Those are my favorites, what are yours? Any advice to new climbers/ any shoes to be wary of? 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Buildering is your strange cousin

Buildering: The act of climbing buildings when there either aren't any rocks around or you've already sent everything.

My somewhat unfortunate confession is that I actually got into climbing via buildering. At the time I may have told you that I was free running or doing some parkour, but I don't think you can call it that unless you can do a flip. Much to my disappointment, I can't. Back when I went to Lee University, my friend JP and I would run around downtown Chattanoga outfitted in mostly black apparel with some sort of running shoes like total badasses (not). Then we'd find the coolest looking building (meaning the easiest to climb) and climb to the top of them!

                                                                 (Parkour at its finest)

Parking garages, *aquariums, old auto repair shops, no one was safe. Getting onto the roof was our greatest goal and we accomplished it quite frequently. But of course that was all before I knew what it was like to climb on real rocks (or even plastic ones for that matter). So I guess why I'm writing this post is that I'm curious as to what Buildering really means to the climbing community, if anything. I've read on some climbing blogs that buildering is a late night drunken escapade for when you left the bar and are still feeling strong. I've heard other people say that only rocks are for climbing.

To me, buildering is like the idiot cousin of rock climbing. He's there at all the family reunions, even though you usually don't acknowledge him. He may be good for a laugh every now and again, but you definitely don't want to spend the whole day with him. His mom probably hates your mom for stealing her casserole recipe in '92.

You basically steer clear of this guy because he's not as fun as all your other friends and you're really not sure you have much in common until...

Everyone at the family reunion has passed out. Your adventurous and wily grandpa (trad climbing) is asleep because he's getting up early to go hike. Your wild younger brother (bouldering) is sitting in the kitchen watching videos and updating his blog while filing his fingers and chugging pbr. Your fun aunt (sport climbing) is laughing at him from the living room while watching braveheart. Your little sister (deep water soloing) is talking to boys because she never climbs. And for some strange reason, your crazy cousin is standing by the door with that crazy look in his eye and you just can't say no to an adventure.

That's kind of how buildering came into existence, or at least that's my theory. What do you think, got any crazy stories of climbing some buildings?! 

*We once climbed all the way up the back staircase of the aquarium to the butterfly room by climbing a water pipe to get over the gate which blocked the stairs. Then we heard security open the door and we ran like James Litz trying to escape a Sportscenter interview.

                                       This kind of buildering is actually pretty sweet