Wednesday, October 28, 2009

HardCore in the City!

Above, the clouds threaten. He wears a down jacket and a toque and sits in a beaten lawn-chair.

"Got worked on my proj," says The Beard, crossing his legs as if painfully, rubbing his beard, then glancing at the sky. "Weather looks like shit, too."

His partner nods absently and shifts on his feet.

"Gonna try it again."


A slightly older couple comes over and says hello to The Beard, sitting in a lawn chair in front of his van, whose open door shows us Rubbermaids bubbling over with gear, a rope-rug, and a collection of empty beer cans. A stove sits on the ground, and soup bubbles. There is some talk and then The Partner says "Come on."

"I gotta gear up," says The Beard


The Beard rummages through his van. It looks as if he is ready for Indian Creek. Clusters of shiny cams are lowered onto the floor as the Beard throws shoes, harnesses, a rope on the ground. Finally he grabs a harness and two pairs of shoes. He shoves the stove under the van. "Ok," he says, and the two of them approach...the entrance to the climbing gym.

On his first route of the day, The Beard grips an arete-ish series of moves, cussing the top-rope that lies near one of the holds. "Watch me here," he tells The Partner, who is staring at the Cute Underage Blonde across the way.

"Mmm" says the partner, swinging his eyes away from the C.U.B. for half a second.

"I need to focus and breathe here before I commit to the next move," says The Beard, his legs chug-chugging. A few more seconds of power breathing--"hOOOF-HOOF-- PFFFFF"-- and he comes off.

"This," says The Beard, "is really hard for ___.c. Hey, can you tell me what's written on the starting-holds tape?"

The Beard safely swinging, The Partner eyes the C.U.B. and ignores The Beard.


"HEY!" barks The Beard, massaging his arms.

"Uhh, ___.c" says The Partner.

"No, I need the name of the route-setter!"

The Partner peers at the starting holds. "Uhh, A.D.? No, wait, uhh, E.F." No, hang on. Which route are you doing, the red one?"

"No, this is WAY harder than the red one."

"Uhh, ____.b and A.D."

"___.b, huh? Well, that guy ALWAYS sandbags his routes. This redpoint is really hard."


"But I think I can get it."


The C.U.B. and her partner, the Cute Underage Brunette (CUBr) have now moved over to beside The Beard and The Partner. The CUBr starts up the (much easier than ____.b) route beside The Beard, who begins Pranic breathing, and launches back into the crux. He makes it and then finds himself in a bit of a pretzel, all bass-ackwards in the next crux, hoof-HOOF no-longer-Pranic breathing, as the CUBr passes him without even a nod of her head.

Unfortunately, The Beard is not like Will Stanhope, who can confidently climb ass-backwards into 12+ cruxes and send them. The Beard comes off again and this time takes a fairly epic fall. The two feet of slack that The Partner has out send him for what must be a bowel-loosening ride, for he curses at The Partner, who is chatting with the C.U.B., answering her question of "so, have you ever climbed outdoors?"

The Beard is done. He is lowered off and sits in the middle of the gym floor, wincing as he peels his slippers off with oddly stiff fingers. He begins a stretching routine while The Partner continues his discussion with the C.U.B. and the CUBr.

"Yo," says The Beard, "psyched for ____________?"

"..." says The Partner.

The Beard finishes his epic gym sess by clipping all of his gear together and spending the next two hours standing in the middle of the gym, everything draped over his shoulder, chatting up the girls who are working the floor, with detours to whoever has been on his __.c "proj," handing out free beta for all of the moves on the route including those he hasn't done yet. He has a simple set of criteria to determine who he talks to: you must be younger than him, female, or you have to try a minimum of ____.c

My partner and I grin at each other and I get on The Beard's "proj." I have had my ass kicked by this thing (and so has she) but we sent the thing a few weeks ago. As I am tying in, The Beard shifts around from his gym-girl-chatting position and eyes us. I get up his "proj" and then my partner flashes it too. The Beard can't resist.

"Uh, I noticed you went for the ______ hold with your left. I was trying it with my right. Did you find that worked well? And I was thinking, the one after, a cross-through would be the way to do it. How do you feel about the grade?"

We grin at each other.

"Not an easy onsight," I tell him.

"Yeah," he says, "this one is tough. I gotta work it some more."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

10 WaysTo Make Your Climbing Gym Suck

Does YOUR climbing gym suck? No? Then read on!

Climbing-gym owners and managers regularly trade information about successful business strategies. There are online discussion groups, trade shows, web pages, yadda yadda. But what does NOT get much discussion is how to make your climbing gym SUCK.

So, in the spirit of public service, for which this blog is becoming hugely famous, "blowed up," as they say, we offer the following tips to owners, managers and belay staff-- those belittled, hard-pressed, often shell-shocked frontline workers-- on how to make your gym suck.

All of the ideas in this post come from Lower Mainland gyms. There are various Cliffhanger locations, the Edge in North Vancouver, Vertical Reality in Surrey, The Hangout in Richmond, etc. But we have also seen a few of these practices elsewhere, lest the B.C. gym owners get too big for their Prana britches.

10) When you upgrade and expand your gym make the new gym have only marginally more actual climbing space than the old one. But raise the rates.

9) If bouldering is what people really want to do, and you are moving to a new space, make the new bouldering space smaller, with sketchier landings that involve swinging onto a wooden railing, and less space to rest. Small spaces also allow you to jam so many problems together that dumm people, like me, have trouble telling the problems apart.

8) Advertise your new space as "a green building" before you move into it. Then, save money by not actually making it green. Make sure that it has paper-towel dispensers in the bathroom that only work when powered by electricity. Use electric fans instead of thinking out natural-air circulation systems to cool it. Use powerful electirc illumination instead of natural light during the day. Also important-- make the new location a good long way from public transit, which encourages people to drive.

7) The smallest space in the gym should be the bouldering cave. The largest should be the area in front of the reception desk.

6) Make the lead climbing areas only available for leading when there is nobody in the gym.

5) For the top-rope routes, make the top-rope anchor a one-point "V", so the climber will have to do the final move into the wedge of the rope. Avoid having a two-point anchor with one draw on the wall and another a foot or two away.

4) Change routes not more than every four months, whether they have all been climbed a thousand times or not. And ensure that tape which falls off problems or routes is not replaced.

3) If you are belay staff, make sure that, while working, your Facebook status remains updated, your Farmville crops monitored, and your tweets frequent. Please also ensure that you stay on top of your text messages, and remain on the floor to talk with your client friends. Your friends will appreciate your efforts and focus.

2) Musical special events are an excellent way to make your clientelle uncomfortable. Try an All Taylor Swift Evening. For this, all you need are six songs rotating through the MP3 player of your employee's choice. Or perhaps pick a local heavy-rock FM station and play it loudly enough that the climbers must use sign language to communicate with their belayers. This will make your clients in muscle shirts and backwards baseball hats-- and they are legion-- love you.

1) Massively mis-grade routes and problems, preferably by sandbagging. This allows the setters to feel the way nine-year olds do when watching special-needs children poop their pants, and it's good practice for more serious later spray sessions: "Yeah, I don't really know if that's 10a or 11c-- it's been a long time since I've climbed those grades."

Friday, October 16, 2009

3.5 More days (2): The Patient Ass

Ian and I pulled into the Apron Lot giving thanks for the last dry Monday, and promptly ran into one Julian and his lovely partner Reschelle.

"Hey," said Julian, "are you guys the Gumbies On Crack?" to which we obviously responded with "hells yea" and some embarassed fidgeting, and Ian high-tailing it to the shitter. Julian appeared grateful that this blog has managed to distract him from his cubicular dreariness, and I was tickled pink. We all know that we aren't actually trying to climb the route-- we are trying to (a) meet women (Napoleon), (b) perfect epic hungover aid leads (Driller) and (c) learn to blog (me). But today we would find out that Ian also has a goal...

"So," said Julian, "are you guys and Napoleon ACTUALLY FRIENDS?" and we started giggling like 13 year olds looking at Jonas Brothers baby pictures, and we said "OF COURSE! We just like to shit-talk" and at this point Julian said-- and I am not making this up-- "yeah, I've seen that guy in the Bluffs, he climbs fucking hard." Right on, Napoleon!

So we got to the route and today Ian was gonna try to send P1-- the new improved crack version. He missed the onsight, falling off where Napoleon and I had, in the V-slot-- but what followed was one of the finest moments I have seen in climbing.

Ian fired the V second try, worked his way up to the small roof, and then launched into the layback. It was wet. It was muddy. One of his pieces had a lobe up against a root. You do bizarre armbars. Nothing feels secure. You place gear blind. Think "Apron Strings" but colder, wetter, dirtier. Ian skated, cussed, err-hemmed and grunted, and sent! I fell seconding the damn thing-- it was because I was wearing a crowbar instead of my Kaukulators, obviously-- and we decided that 5.11 a or b was it. We also decided that, like a murderer or adulterer in the middle ages, or a hipster girl after too many PBRs and some unprotected, sweaty, fixie-bike sex, our first pitch would need a Plan B in case of water on the pitch, or in case climbers smarter (and weaker) than Ian (and I) try it. So we will fix our original bolted line and you can all decide for yourself how you want it; hard like Ian or soft, like me.

Ian led the traverse and confirmed, 5.9 is about right.

Turns out that Napoleon, Paul Cordy and John Effa had done a great job on P2, 3 and 4. I fell-- AFTER the crux-- on P3, which will go at 11b or 11c. Here's Ian following:

And here he is busting a gut. The man's posing skills exceed even mine!

Props to you boys! And then it was time to mess with the dihedral. Well...let's just say, this thing will take every nubbin-pinching, crystal-stemming, high-stepping, sequence-remembering trick in your internal matrix of moves to send. I managed the first two bolts; Ian the 3rd, 4th and 5th, and then darkness came.

Well we rapped off our project pitch rap station, and then the rope got stuck. here's us finally having retrieved stuff, ready to go home. Thsi is what your hands and figertips will look like, if you are as lucky as we are!

So Ian's goal was obviously to climb, and he did it. I'll leave it to Napoleon, Dylan and the hit-counter I can't figure out to let you all know how the rest of us are doing, heh heh.

So...back to calculus class...a half-day of work on P1...and it will be ready to go...Lord, Thy patient Ass awaits Thy command...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

3.5 More Days (1): They Also Serve...

In calculus, about which I know nothing, they talk about how a curve can slowly flatten out-- how the rate of change changes-- infintitely, never quite reaching flatness. Such is our route. Now as Ian and I drove up on Saturday, we were naturally not able to talk about calculus as a metaphor for our route, for two reasons. (a) Ian is a University dropout, and I am not very bright, and (b) Napoleon wasn't there, so obviously it was time to shit-talk him.

Speaking of Napoleon, I was somewhat shocked to NOT find him working on the route. Shocking, I know, but the man's work ethic, like a fine bottle of wine, or the smell in my climbing shoes, is ripening and maturing. Where was he? Well, the V.O.C., who are famous for doing things like putting ten parties on simultaneously ten topropes at Burgers and Fries, was running its Long Walk. Now, this is not, as you and I might suspect, an epic Napoleon-led trek bewteen the two Starbucks in Squamish. No, rather it is a kind of smorgasbord intro to various outdoor activities for new members. Gumbies. Except these gumbies are not like me (in one resapect): they do dumb shit because they don't know any better, while I do dumb shit after ten years of climbing because I'm, well, dumb. Not only was Napoleon selflessly volunteering his time to the noble cause of decreasing the net amount of gumbiehood in the Universe, he had also told me he was in fact going to work on the route-- with Two Unknown Guys-- on Sunday. This all SHOULD have prevented us from shit-talking him, the shit-talk rsising to an almost sexual crescendo when we rounded the corner past Murrin and saw The Chief, but no...we gossiped the way, well, the way Ian and Napoloen gossip about ME when they climb together. Quite the threesome.

Anyway, after a brief hello-in-passing to the gumbie-taxiing Napoleon, we headed up. Our objective was to finish the bolt ladder, add bolts to P8, scrub the dihedral and handcrack, and maybe try to climb the dihedral.

Well now I thought that jugging 200 meters would warm me up, but no. I was wearing my gym capris. The Pradaguccia Climbing Pants I got from M.E.C. (a) chafed my crotch and (b) a beige colour that as soon as I got them out into the light made me look like a middle manager for an insurance company. Now, I can stand my ball hairs getting a rub, but I would clearly not be able to pose properly if I looked like my S.U.V. and my 2.5 children were waiting for me outside the mall, so back to the capris it was. And what was worse, I forgot to attach my gym pass to my harness, so I looked like a mutant mix between an aid climber and a gym gumbie. This was clearly going to be a very bad day for photography, and also a bad dwy for crotchal warmth. The fine cold wind massaged my privates and the fine random edges of rock and gear massaged my calves.

Well, I launched up the white rope and busted out the drill. After six more bolts, the ladder was finished. At I believe 22 bolts, it is now the longest bolt ladder in Squamish. Take THAT, Peeeter Croft, Sonnie Troooter, Will Stanhooope and all you other trad hardmen! HA! If for no other reason, my readers should climb the route because, well, where ELSE-- other than the Forgotten Wall at Chek, or Red Tail in Skaha-- are you going to see that many bolts in one place?

After the bolt ladder, I launched up into P8-- this is a 20m pitch which has a 5.10+ bolted right-hand version (to which I added 3 bolts) and a 5.11- gear lefthand path. The bolts are there because

#1-- the first gear placement up off the belay station (at the top of the 12b/c Wet Liek Your Wife pitch/botl ladder) is BELOW the level of the station,and a fall would fire you off into tough times getting back on.

#2: You are supposed to climb this pitch by using the trees. But the trees will eventually get destroyed, so the second bolt will giver us backup. There was in fact a nice crack and flake right beside my second bolt, and I had aided up it ont he first ascent, but when I pounded it with the crowbar, it gave that widow-making, Napoleon-scaring, Perry Beckham-killing hollow THUUUNK, so that was that-- bolt.

#3: is up over the lip, and makes it so that you can avoid looking as retarded as me the first time I led that pitch: I fell, screaming like a corporate-bonding-party top-roper in a gym (though a few feet further, and much louder, in my case).

Now while all this was happening, young Ian was regaling me with Hellen Keller jokes while he scrubbed the dihedral. E.g.:

Q: Hey, did you hear that Hellen Keller got a new dress?
A: Neither did she!


Q: Why did Hellen Keller's dog commit suicide?
A: You would too if your name was MMMNNNAAUUUGHHH.

So after the bolts were drilled, I hauled the fixed ropes down to where Ian was, and we started on the handcrack. You gotta hand it to young Bennet, the fucker can scrub. First, he inherited his Dad's considerable balls (his Dad, FYI, is one of the guys who put up The Grim Reaper, which is basically a 25 years ahead-of-its-time "whaddya got?" glove throw-down to people who think bolts make climbing stress-free, and to people from Canmore). Second-- and more importantly-- he interited his Dad's Stubais.

Now think: artificial protection. Unleashed tools. The end of straight-shafts and the arival of bent shafts. Bareback ascents. You would think this was some kind of new sexual practice that The Filth has engineered in his ongoing beery quest to mix heavy anal sex, me, and climbing, but no, it's mixed climbing. And the Stubai Straight Shaft is to mixed climbing what the fixie bike is to to titanium-framed, Ultegra-equipped, Racelite-clad fancy-assed road bikes: a back to the future trip. At least for us.

It turns out that with a used and unfashionable ice tool, you can do all kinds of crazy stuff, like threaten to penetrate your partner's skull, or ward off robbers, or rip cedar trees bodily from their crackish root system, which is what Ian did, while I hung below him, filkling the cracks in my helmet with the dirt from the crack in front of him. At one point, hanging away from the wall, eyes gummed with dirt, ears clogged, I felt like Hellen Keller, with Ian my Annie Sullivan.

Anyway, after endless cleaning and a feww final trundles, we retreated...and then it was Napoleon's turn.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Day 22: Nearer, my Send, to Thee

Today, like it usually is for Bill and Ted, was excellent!

Young Napoleon-- fresh from an encounter with a cougar that he and Ian and John E. ran into in the Bluffs, the kind that wants to sink her claws into these scrumptious young viragos-- was somehow energised, and was merely seven minutes late this morning. Seven minutes late in Napoleon time is basically early-- EXCELLENT!

Napoleon decided he would send P1 and, after getting three feet off the ground, began to thrash in the V-groove. So I was asked to "spot" him by which he meant "hold up your hands and grab my ass," which I did. For Napoleon, EXCELLENT!

Napoleon aided his way up to the top of P1, citing dirt as a send-preventative factor, and I followed, laden with drill, bolts and pack. We climbed P2-- which will need a mild scrub-- and decided it would be 5.10-. This is my first free ascent ever-- EXCELLENT! Here's what it looks like:

The travserse is clean and done; here's Napoleon on it.

I then hganded the gear over and fired into P3. Well let's just say that my crack-skills, fingers, courage, and determination (and probably other things) are weak, so I moved and hung my way through the crux into the hand section. This will go at 5.11- or so and is an EXCELLENT pitch-- straight in fingers and hand for 30 meters. Napoleon followed:

I led P4 which is probably 10c or d and then brought Napoleon, who wasn't feeling too hot, up. I was pretty happy that he was along despite feeling somewhat out of it-- EXCELLENT work, Napoleon. Here Napoleon is, topping out at the place where the Leaning Pillar of Death used to be.

I then jugged up to start the Longest Bolt Ladder in Squamish and drilled until the battery died while Napoleon sat at the base of the dihedral and shivered and we trash-talked each other. Well actually Napoleon trash-talked my girlfriend ("beware, my Lord, of jealousy...") and my Mom (who was climbing 5.10 trad 20 years before Napoleon was even a ripple in the nut-sack..."beware, my Lord..."), and I trash-talked him. The bolts are about a sling's length apart, so it will be fast and easy to use the ladder. The "wet like your wife" pitch seeped and hung there silently while Napoleon dreamed of warm, sunny belays surrounded by nubile women in tight shorts and tank tops, and the drill chattered and whirred.

We retreated at 5 and drove to get some coffee. We figure three man-days now: we must scrub P1 and the bottom of P2, give the handcrack and dihedral another once-over, finish the ladder, add a bolt to P8, and get the ropes off. We have good weather through Saturday, so I am hoping Nap[oleon, Ian and I can get it done next weekend. If I never see a drill, a crowbar or a wire-brush ever again, it will be too soon. Here I am finishing a climbing route, and I will have to re-learn how to climb!