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.

 

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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.

 

Movie Review!: The Eiger Sanction

If there’s one thing we as climbers lack, it’s Hollywood films about rock climbing. Sure, we have the classics, Vertical Limit, Cliffhanger, and even Mission: Impossible 2, but other than that, I thought we were out of luck. That is, until someone recommended to me, The Eiger Sanction.

Yes, this movie came out in 1975, and yes, it is AMAZING!

The plot?

A classical art professor and collector (and former badass climber), who doubles as a professional assassin, is coerced out of retirement to avenge the murder of an old friend (on the Eiger North Face).

If that doesn’t have you running for the DVD bargain bin at Walmart, I don’t know what will. First off, I was confused at the title. I didn’t even know until some googling after I watched the movie that the “Eiger” is actually a real mountain! Eiger

I would love to go there someday and climb it! Who wants to plan an expedition next year??

Anyway, the movie begins with someone getting killed by an assassin. At least I think so.. the fighting is really awful, and if I’m to believe these are highly trained killers, then I’m a 5.14 climber (not yet, but soon). After that, we meet Clint Eastwood, the epitome of cool-as-shit professor. When a cute, young, blonde student shows up at his office asking if there’s “anything she can do” to maintain her B average, I was hoping Clint would do the right thing and say something like, “close the door and lets find out.” Instead, he tells her to study her little ass off… and sends her on her way. What a gentleman… Although he does slap her on her ass as he says it.

 

The next scene we meet another assassin, who looks like one of my dad’s bowling buddies, mind you, and he tells Eastwood that his old boss “Dragon” needs him for another hit. They get into a bit of a scuffle after Eastwood says “Don’t call me buddy, pal, or sweetheart!”, and Eastwood throws the guy out of his office.

But alas, Hemlock (Clint Eastwood) shows up at the secret assassin killing organization, run by the albino, blind, cold blooded lizard man named ‘Dragon’. He tells Hemlock that another agent was murdered, and the killer is a climber, so now Hemlock has to head to the Eiger to find him, and take him out. Obviously…

Hemlock takes the job, or “sanction”, and flies down to Utah to begin his training for the Eiger. This is where the movie goes from cheesy 70’s blacksploitation theatre, to legitimate Reel Rock Tour worthy badassery.

clint eastwood climbingI dont know how they filmed this… But I’ve got a $2000 DSLR camera, and a hell of a lot more climbing experience than Clint Eastwood, and yet when I try to film climbing, it never looks like this.

Hemlock trains for about half the movie with his old mentor, and a native american climber girl who doesn’t talk, but makes Hemlock run on 4th class terrain with jeans and a denim shirt on, after which she sheds her top and reveals her breasts to him, either for motivation, or because… well, it’s Clint freakin’ Eastwood.

After some more fights, more ass grabbing, and more offensive 70’s characters (Hemlocks old arch nemisis is so gay, he named his dog, “faggot”), Hemlock and his old mentor climb an unclimbed tower, and marvel at how well Hemlock is climbing.

the eiger sanction beerThe best part of the movie is when Hemlocks buddy says, “How about a beer?”. Then Eastwood replies, “If you brought beer up here, you’re even crazier than I thought!” To which buddy replies, “I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid. I didn’t carry it, you did. It’s in your pack!”.

That line alone… is worth watching this film.

Anyway…. after that, they go to the Eiger. A bunch of stuff happens, he tries to find the killer, people die… but it’s mostly mountaineering, and nobody likes to watch mountaineering.

5/5 Stars! * * * * *

What do you guys think?

Wes

 

 

Climbing gear is a rip-off!!

I watch a lot of these shows on television where people ‘pitch’ businesses and products to wealthy investors. Aside from inspiring me to pursue my guiding business, these programs have taught me that most products cost 46 cents to make, and yet are sold to you and I for $50. Never is this more true than for the outdoor gear industry. There’s a reason we call Patagonia clothing, Patagucci. The “real world” has no clue that the ugly brown fleece sweater I’m wearing, probably costs more than the faded Guess jeans, polka-dot Gap shirt, and those SoftMoc moccasins combined that the girl sitting at Starbucks is wearing. But why?

patagonia

  • Newsflash: Every sweater that you own for climbing is made out of plastic. That’s right… You are paying cashmere prices for the same material as that disposable fork you’re eating your kale salad with. And how much plastic is used to make one sweater? About the size of a small apple! Stretched out into plastic thread, and woven by machine (or child in sweatshop) into that fancy sweater. Total cost of plastic? 79 cents. Total cost to you? $249.99. Stop the madness..
  • Cam I help you? Spring Loaded Camming Devices, Friends, Camalots… These are the ultimate “bling” in climbing. Nothing proves how badass you are more than having a shiny new rack of cams dangling off your harness, other than some well loved hexes. Lets do some math here… A # 6 Black Diamond Camalot costs $110 at your average gear shop and weighs 1 lb, 4 ounces. Scrap aluminum prices are about $ 0.74/lb. That means the camalot has 92 cents worth of metal in it. That’s a mark-up of….  over 10,000 %! But I hear you… you’re paying that mark-up for the engineering, integrity, and safety of the the product and design… These things are bomber!

106320088_medium_bf0da2

 

  • This ain’t your daddies hemp rope: Climbing Ropes are ridiculous… At least with most other climbing gear, if you take care of it, it can last a lifetime. Rope on the other hand, barely lasts a season. Why? Bingo! It’s made of plastic! Climbing gear companies are huge corporations that pretend to be grass roots, save the whales, organic hippie farmers. They are out for one thing: Profit. I’m sure that these companies would be able to produce a stronger, longer lasting rope made from something other than nylon, but why would they? Most ropes can only take 6 or 7 falls before the company recommends replacing it. And at over $200, they can be sure you’ll be bled dry at the start of every season. Even someone like me who doesn’t fall often, has to worry about the rope deteriorating into dust after a season’s worth of UV damage.

Damaged rope

  • Shoes: I for one, don’t believe in climbing shoes. If you think wearing Solutions makes the difference between sending, and not sending, get in the gym and train, because you’re not strong enough yet. However, I know most of you wear some form of climbing shoe. Have you ever looked at a climbing shoe? I mean, really looked at it? It’s nothing more than a few strips of leather, stitched together, and dipped in rubber. Slap on some velcro and paint, and boom, you’ve just made a climbing shoe that sells for $179. Now you’re talking AirJordan prices, and worst of all, climbing shoes only last a couple months before the rubber wears off, and then you’re left with the worlds most uncomfortable house slipper. Climbing shoes should cost about 30 bucks, and be coated in a rubber that doesn’t wear out.

climbshoe

It’s all about greed folks. These companies preach the dirt bag lifestyle, though I wouldn’t be surprised if all the employees are out there sipping on macchiato’s in their Audi’s, listening to Nickleback, while we pick up the bill.

Let’s change the world.

Wes.

 

How to make a successful climbing movie.

I love climbing movies. Nothing inspires me more to get inside and climb than watching Adam Ondra shred on the next greatest 5.16. Of course, we don’t all have the dozens of film makers, grips, directors, and personal assistants following us around like Adam does. Often, we just use our cell phones, or the greatest gift to rock climbers: the GoPro.

But just having a GoPro doesn’t make you a film maker (although it helps). There’s an art to making a successful climbing video, and something that I feel I’ve become pretty good at. Over the last few years, I have probably watched more climbing videos than anyone. I know what works and what doesn’t.

Step # 1: Music.
I know you probably listen to obscure Indie folk bands with soft vocals, and soothing ukelele and bongo rhythms, but rock climbing is an extreme sport, and if you want to hold the viewers attention, you need extreme music. Dub step works best, but anything hardcore should do. The less extreme your video content is, the more you should amp up the music. Like this:

Step # 2: Humour.
We all take climbing very seriously, but you can’t be so intense all the time. Sometimes, we like to goof around and have some fun. So put that in your climbing movie. Recently I found this video, where a climber takes a pretty standard, run of the mill fall. Normally, this is no big deal, but overlay the right song with the footage, and you’ve turned an ordinary moment, into an extraordinary one!

Step # 3: Timeline.
Don’t just start your film in the middle of a climb. You need to tell a story. Rock climbing on it’s own can look pretty boring. Most viewers want to know how the day started. They want to see you wake up, get out of bed, and make a coffee. They want to see dramatic close-ups of water boiling, and french presses pressing. How about a time-lapse of you packing your gear? Add the right soundtrack, and you’re half way there! Stick that GoPro outside the car window, and show us the drive to the crag. Objects in mirror are closer than they appear?

Step # 4: No more butt shots!
There’s nothing worse than filming a static shot of a climber from below. It’s boring, and nobody can tell what’s going on. Don’t be lazy! Strap that GoPro on your bucket, and show us what it’s like to be a climber! This video, seamlessly blends footage from a GoPro helmet cam, with a static overview shot. The dialogue, the story, and the footage are gripping, and you really get a sense of what’s going on. This video would receive an A+, if only we we’re shown video of how they got there, what they had for breakfast, and of course, a sunset shot while having a beer at the summit.

Film on! Wes.

Climbing with a life coach: The only way to the top!

I sometimes find it difficult to uncover the motivation I need to get out there and climb. There are days when I just feel lazy. I dream of staying on the couch, eating a bag of chips, and watching Battlestar Galactica all day. For most climbers, it can be an arduous and gruelling internal battle to get up and move every day. It’s demanding, being a climber, and being a climbing guide is even more so.

Though I do not have any clients as of yet, I still need to commit several hours a day to working on my business. I need to plan adventures for clients I will (hopefully) have in the future. I need to design business cards, waivers, fliers… It can become exhausting! Rock climbing is my life, my business, and my hobby. Without someone there to guide me along, I would easily spiral out of control, and lose my way. I know many of you feel the same way. This is why it is in your benefit to assign someone as your “Climbing Life Coach”. Somebody who can push you, while keeping you grounded. Somebody you can spill your guts to. Feeling frustrated with that 5.10+ you just can’t seem to send? Your coach can mentor you through it, step by step, and you’ll get up that route, I promise.

We all need someone to inspire us. It is nearly impossible to progress as a climber on your own. This is also true for your career. I’m lucky. Climbing IS my career. I want to introduce you to Kevin, my Climbing Life Coach:

If that doesn’t inspire you, maybe climbing isn’t for you. Think about it. Why are you not achieving your goals? Do you not want it bad enough? Are you not strong enough? The answer is, maybe. The only way you are ever going to know the answer is if you have someone like Kevin to guide you. And when you have that special person, and you start to grow as a climber, give me a call.

Maybe you can be my first client. Let’s stumble through this adventure together.

Good luck, and keep climbing that mountain,

Wes.