Reel Rock Tour 9 – An honest review of ‘Valley Uprising’.

I have talked extensively about the great “Stone Masters” from Yosemite’s past on here before; often not favourably. However, when Josh Lowell and Peter Mortimer invited me to the Reel Rock 9: Valley Uprising premier in Boulder, CO, of course I said yes. I, like most climbers, look forward to crisp fall temperatures, and sending conditions, almost as much as I do the screening of the annual Reel Rock Tour. We are climbers, outcasts, dirtbags, and general dredges of society. Most of us will watch the same clip of Adam Ondra climbing Illusionist 5 or 6 times before knowing which film won ‘Best in show’ at Cannes.

The Reel Rock Tour is our film festival. This is what we look forward to each year. Oh I hear you, “what about the Banff Mountain Film Festival, Wes?” Are you kidding me? The Banff Mountain Film Festival has more to do with getting naked, beating a caribou drum, and giving thanks to our earth mother, than climbing. Sure, each year there’s a small cross section of Will Gadd ‘best of’ clips and whatever corporate beasts Jimmy Chin is serving will hobble together a slideshow or poster signing with Chin himself walking around signing you up for National Geographic subscriptions.  We get it NatGeo, you’re cool now.

national_geographic_cover_may_2011_ds

 

But dammit, this is the Reel Rock Tour! This is where the cutting edge of climbing meets 1080p! Past Reel Rock Tours have given us films like, Progression, The Swiss Machine, On Sight, The Sharp End, and King Lines. These are giants: films that have inspired us, got us off the couch, and showed us the kind of climbing we as weekend warriors have only dreamed of. Just look at this trailer for Reel Rock 2010:

Bad ass or what? Now… this gets me back to Valley Uprising. I suspect, that after 8 forays into adrenaline pumping movie mastery, the team behind the Reel Rock Tour thought they could pull the wool over our eyes and release a SINGLE film for this years tour, and somehow we wouldn’t notice. Valley Uprising is a passion piece – an art film made by film-makers who think we need more Shindlers List when all we really want is Cliffhanger. Sure, Yosemite has a rich history of climbing, cool stories, blah blah blah… We’ve all heard about the aid climbing, the drugs, freeing of the nose, speed records, naked solos, the plane crash filled with weed… These stories are tired, and I’m tired of hearing them. Google ‘John Long + Climbing + Yosemite’ and you’ll get the same old sound bites talking about the glory days. I can’t even read an anchor book without John Long mentioning to me how bad ass the stone masters were before the invention of the equallette. Railroad iron slung with webbing as protection? You don’t say…. that’s news to me!

Even though we’ve all heard the stories before, I could forgive a little rehashing of old classics, if not for the blatant use of film footage literally poached from dozens of movies we’ve seen a hundred times. They say that Valley Uprising is 10 years in the making… and I believe it, because apart from a few new interviews, and some old Yosemite photographs that have been made 3D through some fancy CG wizardry, all this movie has done is spliced together footage from old Reel Rock films, stock footage from the National Park service, and an overlay of some sick beats. This is what we’ve been waiting for all year? All decade?!

To be honest…. this movie could’ve been made by the same guys who make ‘fan-made’ trailers on YouTube. Or by whoever made this trailer, it is fucking brilliant:

That all being said…. Who am I kidding? You’re all still going to see this movie. I’m going to see it a few more times myself. Why? Because fuck the Banff Mountain Film Festival, that’s why!

Wesley

 

Do ‘First Ascentionists’ have any rights?

Look at this photo carefully….stonemastersSee anything special? Is there anything ‘mythical’ about it? Did the men in this photo have super natural powers that allowed them to effortlessly float up sketchy routes with only a handful of home-made gear, or worse, a rack filled with failed inventions like this:

lowe camYup… Think of those next time you’re Elvis leg kicks in as you try to place that bomber X4 on some 5.5 at the Gunks. The truth is, climbers in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s weren’t the fearless bad asses that our generation is lead to believe. They just didn’t know any better, and ignorance doesn’t make you a hero.

We’ve all seen that silver haired, cantankerous, ‘vintage’ climber at the base of some classic 5.fun route at the crag spewing outrageous comments that somehow the new-school climbers have ruined the honourable pursuit of rock climbing. Like we have no respect for what climbing used to be.

What climbing used to be?? This is what climbing used to be:old climbersClimbers from ‘back-in-the-day’ would pound in pitons, yard on gear, pull on branches, and at the end of the day, name and grade their ascent. Today, many of these routes exist as ‘classics’ with 1 or 2 bolts, (1/4 inchers), rusted out to shit, a few corroded pitons, and holds that have either broken off, or become polished from over-use. So logically, someone should upgrade the route to the 21st century, right? Remove the crap gear, retro bolt it with stainless steel, and put up a fun, safe route, right?

This is where people go nuts… Ask this question on Mountain Project, and you’ll get the typical response..

“If you can’t climb the route as the FA did, either get stronger, or find another route to do and leave the 5.6 R/X routes for the big boys!”

This is climbing’s most egregious obstacle. We think we owe it to the first ascentionists somehow, as if they deserve respect for their gorilla tactics on the rock. Routes with runouts should be protected safely. Routes with pitons should see them removed, and replaced by bolts. 5.6 routes should exist for 5.6 climbers, not 5.13 climbers who work up enough courage to get on an R/X route that’s well below their free solo level, and then spray about it to their other 5.13 climber buddys.

Unless the FA owns the cliff where he/she put up their first ascent, they should have no say in what style someone can or cannot climb a route. The great thing about a bolt is, you can choose to not clip it. If you want to climb a route in the style of an FA, find out what shoes they were wearing, if they used chalk or not. Were they drunk? Did they used a hemp or nylon rope? Try to match the conditions exactly. If it was raining, wait for a rainy day. If they clipped only 1 bolt, 60 feet off the deck, feel free to skip the first 8 bolts that I put in, and relive the glory days. Sit around the camp fire at night, and bask in your awesomeness. I however, warmed up on the route, clipped all 16 bolts, and lowered off the Fixe Draco sport anchors, because it’s my goddamn right to do so.

 

Wes.

 

 

 

 

 

How to tell your Mom you rock climb.

If you’re like me, you’ve more often than not had to explain to “non-climbers” what rock climbing really is. People frequently have an image in their minds, and it roughly looks like this:

scrambling

 

We call this, “scrambling.”

Scrambling does not rock climbing make. Trying to explain the idea of climbing a vertical rock wall under your own power, using the rope only as a way to not die should you fall is rocket science to your average office worker. Though we have fantastic resources for the layperson out there (think Vertical Limit, Cliffhanger), most folks in the real world have no concept of what we do. A family member once asked me about why I go out to a local ‘crag’ almost every weekend, asking “how many times can you climb the same mountain, don’t you get bored?” I mentioned that there were over 200 routes at that “mountain”, and I haven’t even done half yet. I said: some are too easy so I skip them. Some are too hard, so I’m trying to get strong enough to do them. Some are low quality, zero star routes that aren’t worth doing. Some are “R” rated and I’m working up the courage and beta to get through them. And some, are yet to be discovered.

This is the look I got:

For the love of God, don’t ever, under any circumstances, try to explain what bouldering is. Hell, even I don’t understand it…. Find a rock, sometimes less than 10 feet tall… try to get to the top. No, not the easy way up: find the most difficult way up. No, don’t start trying to climb standing up, get as low as possible with your ass hovering inches off the ground. Good. Now fall 50 times, shred your skin, bleed, curse.. and if the temperature and humidity are just right, you’ll get to the top. Down? Take the easy way down..

So what is rock climbing… How do you explain what working a route is? How do you explain how the human body can stay glued to a rock wall with only a toe and a few fingertips crimped on edges the width of a book cover? How do you explain to your Mom how gnarly your fall was on that 5.11 splitter because you ripped half your pro, flipped upside down, and cracked your helmet, only to try again 30 minutes later?

You don’t.

Don’t tell your Mom anything! In fact, don’t try to explain climbing to anyone who doesn’t climb. There are only two possibilities: Either they’ll think you scramble around on 3rd class terrain with Vibram FiveFingers on your feet. Or worse, they’ll think you’re planning to one day climb Mt. Everest. There is no middle ground, and in both those scenerios, you’re a giant pussy.

The next time you’re at a family dinner, and everyone starts asking about your “rock climbing” hobby, just whip out a few photos like this and say, “it really helps me become ‘one’ with nature”:

 

Scrambling2

How to project a route.

There’s one question that many of my clients keep asking me: How did you climb that route so well? The answer is simple… I’ve climbed it about a hundred times! When we watch videos of Adam Ondra onsighting some ridiculous grade, like 5.14d, we’re not getting the whole story. It makes great video seeing a professional climber float up the wall, but the reality is, it may have taken Adam 20 times to finally learn the moves before he flashed the route. Sometimes this is done on top rope, on rappel, or even studying photographs of the route. This is called “projecting.”

Just last week, I was out at the cliff on one of my “projects.”

DSC_1092As you can see, I am top roping the route. This is because lead climbing can be dangerous. Taking an unexpected fall can result in flipping upside down, or worse, getting the rope twisted around an ankle and snapping it. This is why most climbers will rehearse a route before taking to the sharp end, to minimize the risk of a fall. I have been working on this route for over a month. The first time I tried it, I was able to stick clip my way up to the anchors, and have left my rope on it ever since. This is so that when I get to the crag, my rope will always be on the route to save time. My first few times on the route, I would ascend the rope, working the moves out in my head. I made tick marks to help me remember and visually see where the small, yet crucial holds are. Each time I’m on the route, I try to perfect my movements, try different beta, move around my tick marks, and make mental notes. Practice makes perfect, and climbing is no exception.

I have probably top roped this route 40 times, and have got it down to only 2 falls. I know the areas I need to work on now, so it makes projecting so much easier. This is how I will send the route!

So what kind of climber are you? Do you try a route once, and if you fall, move on to another? Or do you invest the time to project, and one day go for the send? I challenge all of you to head to your local crags, and find a route that is out of your league. Next, throw a top rope on it, and just work out the moves. Take photos, make tick marks, and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! It’s not glamorous, but this is climbing folks! If you want to get better, you have to put in the time.

Wesley

 

Can we trust “sponsored” rock climbers?

How do we know if Adam Ondra has actually climbed 5.15c?

Did Ueli Steck really solo Annapurna’s West face?

Is Daniel Woods’ sit-start of The Ice Knife really V15?

We as climbers like to believe there is something sacred about our sport. Short of a few European boulder cups, we generally don’t have throngs of screaming spectators, or massive arenas in which we climb. By and large, we pursue our sport in seclusion, surrounded by majestic vistas, towering rock formations, and a handful of close friends. We celebrate small victories, and even large failures. Clipping the chains on your long term project can taste just as sweet as retreating off your summit push due to bad weather, as long as you surround yourself with good people. But there’s a dark cloud looming over us, and it has nothing to do with the weather.

We all read the magazines, watch the movies, and ogle over the photos and articles of the latest and greatest routes put up and sent by our favorite climbers. We get inspired, and find the mental toughness to stick it out for another work week so that we can get out for two days on the weekend and shred out on the rocks with greater ferocity than the week before. This has always been the role of the sponsored climber: Get the rest of us off our asses.

This was all well and good when being “sponsored” meant that you get a schwag -bag full of climbing gear from Black Diamond every 3 months filled with shoes, chalk, and maybe a rope. Today, however, climbers such as Alex Honnold, Sasha DiGiulian, Ueli Steck, and Adam Ondra, get more than just a new pair of rubber shoes. These, and dozens of other “pro” climbers, are making millions of dollars in sponsorship deals. Alex Honnold is backed by companies such as Goal Zero. One look at his Facebook wall, and it’s clear he has become a corporate shill:

alexh

That’s not all… Do you ever wonder what the best climber vehicle is? Sprinter van? Westfalia? Wrong! It’s an Audi! That’s right, here’s Ueli Steck showing us dirtbags what to save our coffee house tips on:

Then there’s Red Bull. What real climber even drinks this stuff? These climbers would have you believe that the only way to become the best, is to get a massive caffeine high every time you tie in to a rope:

redbull

The list goes on and on. When we’re talking about big money, there is only one constant. There will always be cheating when the incentive of money is on the table.

  • Lance Armstrong doped.
  • Jose Canseco doped.
  • Ben Johnson doped.
  • Barry Bonds doped.

Why? Because the better they performed, the more money would be thrown their way by sponsors. The only difference between the above list, and professional climbers, is that at least other professional athletes have to undergo drug testing.

Now, I’m not saying that all or even any pro climbers take steroids… but are we just supposed to take their word for it? I can’t climb V15 yet, and not many people outside of the inner sanctum of top level boulderers can, so how do we know Daniel Woods’ latest V15 send isn’t actually a V14, or V13, or even completely fabricated? Instagram photos can be Photoshopped. Maybe a lot of these routes and boulder problems that sponsored climbers claim to have sent don’t even exist. Who actually goes out to verify these things?

When there’s big money on the line, athletes are known to bend the rules, or even outright break them. We shouldn’t think that climbers are immune to this. If Ueli Steck can claim to solo Annapurna without any evidence – – surely Bob from the climbing gym can claim the same. In fact, just last week I chugged back a can of Red Bull, cranked up my tunes on my Goal Zero speaker, and sent North Americas very first 5.15d. I named it, Prove me wrong, bitch!

I’ll take my Audi now, please.

Wes.

 

Crag Cooking – Say NO to Clif Bars!

It was around 1 p.m. and the hordes of shirtless gym rats were at the crag rummaging through their alpine packs, dumping out first-aid kits and shiny new quick draws, desperately searching for that last Clif Bar. Watching them devour what honestly looks like a hunk of really nicely packed cow shit makes me want to barf. Sure, there’s a sick-as-hell climber on the packaging, and yes, flavours like Peanut Toffee Buzz sound incredible, but don’t get sucked into the hype.

These dense turds do have their place, however. Ueli Steck has said that he took half a Clif Bar up Annapurna (without the packaging to save weight), and even I took a few up the gruelling, intense technical climb up Mount Marcy this winter. It was the right amount of fuel I needed to keep me alive in that alpine environment.

The crag is not the Himalayas. It takes 5 minutes to hike to the cliff, and we’re climbing single pitch routes in the sun all day. So why the hell would you suffer and eat nothing but Clif Bars, Gatorade, and Goo? Because of the climber on the packaging?

When I’m out for the day and climbing single pitch routes at an easy access crag, I can honestly tell you that half the weight in my crag pack, is dedicated solely to food, and instruments/tools to cooking that food.

6a00d83452c19069e200e5519a630a8834-800wiThis is my camp kitchen. I literally bring it with me every single time I go climbing. Right around 1 o’clock, I stop what I’m doing, find a flat area to set up my picnic blanket, and begin cooking. I bring olive oil, spices, broth, a spatula, a frying pan, a pot, a cutting board, and oh yes, a cheese knife. I will bring flour and water, and pan bake my own crag bread. I cook everything on the BioLite wood burning stove (comes in handy charging my iPod/speakers too!). Just yesterday, I spent an hour making a fabulous meal at the base of a classic route, and everybody just stood there staring at me. They were clearly super jealous. Having a hot meal can make the difference between sending and not sending. Next time you chow down on that Mr. Hankey shaped protein bar and head up on your proj, ask yourself, “am I failing because I’m weak, or am I just friggin’ hungry??”

Do yourself a favour, put together a crag kitchen kit, and practice making a few hot meals at home before venturing outside. Perfect your recipes, and you’ll be the envy of every other climber at the crag. You’ll be # 1, while everyone else is stuck eating # 2’s.

Let me know how you guys do!

To get you started, here’s a fantastic crag recipe for “Vegetable Polenta Cakes”:

med polenta cake

5 C water

1 C cornmeal

2 tbsp sweet peas

2 tbsp corn

2 tbsp red pepper (diced)

2 tbsp parmesan

salt

white pepper

nutmeg

olive oil

 

Direction:

1. Bring water to a boil, season with salt. Whisk in cornmeal, corn, peas & red pepper. Continue stirring until no longer grainy. Add parmesan, white pepper and nutmeg to taste.

2. Once polenta has thickened (approx. 30 min) Pour mixture into a saran lined baking dish. Add a second layer of saran wrap on top & smooth down directly onto polenta. Chill for 2 hrs.

3. When ready to make polenta cakes, lift polenta out of the dish, remove saran wrap & place polenta on cutting board. According to desired shape-use either round cookie cutter or cut polenta into large squares.

4. Place saute pan over med heat & add 1 tbsp olive oil. When oil is hot, add cakes & cook until golden brown on both sides (turning as little as possible).

 

 

An Adult Conversation About the Future of the Red River Gorge

I have just come back from a 2 week trip to the Red.

Let me first start off by saying, I was there alone, and was unable to find a steady partner.

It seemed like whenever I found someone to climb with, the next day they were nowhere to be found. Miguel’s looked like a refugee camp for people who don’t shower, and I suspect the people I had climbed with had fallen into the crevasse formed by greasy pizza boxes, forever trapped and touching the void. Regardless, I was still able to find a group here and there, and on days when I was solo, I would scope out potential routes, or traverse the base of popular crags. Some of these traverses ended up being quite challenging boulder problems.

The first week, I went to the areas that were recommended to me. This includes, The Chocolate Factory, The Motherlode, Bruise Brothers, Drive-By, and The Zoo. The latter pretty much sums up these crags. Some routes literally had line ups. I half expected to see Mocha Lattes being handed out to those first in line, otherwise, why were they waiting? I don’t know about you, but to me, rock climbing is supposed to be a way to get away from it all. I was baffled that in an area with almost limitless rock, people would queue up for what I can only imagine are sand-bagged and polished routes. Routes like, Breakfast Burrito were spitting people off like they were flavourless wads of gum. Take one look at this route, and you can tell it’s mid 5.11, and yet receives a grade of 5.10c. This is the story of the Red.

And then, I took a chance.

I drove northwards. I left the muddy hordes of Miguel’s behind, and trekked into unfamiliar territory. Crags in the Northern Gorge, Lower Gorge, and Middle Gorge were my ‘New World’. I spent hours exploring, scouting lines, finding rock formations jutting into the sky. These areas are known to house mostly traditional climbs, meaning no fixed protection was allowed. From the descriptions, I was expecting golden horseshoes of stone, split every 10 or 15 feet by perfect gleaming cracks. What I discovered, was horrifying.

Sure, areas like Dip Wall, Indian Creek Crag, and Long Wall had beautiful crack climbs. But what I also found was hundreds, if not, thousands of blank faces, just begging for sport routes to pock mark their faces. I was shocked! There is a whole untapped market for first ascents, in what I call, the New Red River Gorge, or ‘New’ for short. Why are these walls left to the elements? Why is there not outrage over the lack of development? Why do people settle for line ups in the south, when the New could double, or triple the amount of routes available to climb? What does the Red River Gorge Climbers Coalition even do? Is this an entity controlled by corporate interests (oil companies) to keep people out of the New Red River Gorge?

I say enough is enough. For those of you still sipping to kool-aid, and happy with the status quo, feel free to stay in your pizza box prisons forever. For the rest of us, let this be a call to arms! Grab your drills, bring you chainsaws, and lets blast Big Willie Style from our boom boxes and get jiggy with bolting some routes!

Who’s with me?!?

 

Wes.