Yosemite’s Newest Climbing Stewards

By | Ethics, Trip Journal | No Comments

Greetings from the village formerly known as Curry in the majestic Yosemite Valley (not to be confused with the Majestic Yosemite Hotel©, which in turn is often confused with the Yosemite Valley Lodge©). The signs now say Half Dome Village, though I’ve yet to meet a park resident who calls it anything but Curry. Why am I here? I’m tempted to answer in glib, flippant, twisted Cartesian logic–because I think I’m here–but the informative answer is that we are Yosemite’s newest Climbing Stewards, volunteers working as para-rangers under the tutelage and supervision of the unsung granite ninja, Eric Bissell. We’re 3 weeks into a 15-week stint in the Park. Bridge shifts are our main responsibility. Every day from 12:30-4:30pm, we set up telescopes and informational boards at the El Capitan Bridge, and invite tourists to “Ask a Climber.” Truth is, I enjoy these shifts. We stand in the shade and talk about our favorite activity, punctuated by dips in the Merced river. Sometimes, climbing celebrities show up, or climbers who’ve just returned from a big wall. The other day I watched someone lead the Great Roof through a telescope. We naturally get the same several questions several times a day – How long does it take? Do you need a permit? Is this the one that free climber did in 4 hours? How do I get back to my car? – and trying to describe where on the wall the telescope is actually pointed can get tiresome, but these are the only…

Read More

Be Careful with Your Bullshit in the New Year

By | Ethics, Musings | One Comment

I confess that, despite it being a significant part of my job, I strongly dislike social media. I don’t think it’s all bad, of course, but I do believe social media companies profit handsomely by exploiting the fallout of humanity’s less desirable tendencies. High on that list is the tendency of people to create and engage with hyperbolic, irresponsible, and unimaginative bullshit. Don’t get me wrong. Bullshit can be awesome. Many of my strongest friendships were forged in the flames of rapid-fire bullshit that happened to be clever. Most movie plots are utter bullshit, and great fun as well. Bullshit pairs well with bourbon. And it is still the preferred method of dealing with awkward interactions at forced gatherings such as weddings and holiday parties.  I’m protesting the type of hyperbolic, irresponsible bullshit that leads otherwise caring people to throw up their hands during election seasons. This is weaponized bullshit, bullshit with an agenda, bullshit dragged kicking and screaming into the public discourse, bullshit dragged from the bar, dressed as substance, and shoved on stage in a serious role. The type of bullshit that springs from a dull imagination and robs us of words like “literally,” because a large number of unimaginative assholes couldn’t figure out any sexy ways to exaggerate their stories. Or “epic.” If you had to fix a flat tire on the way back from Bishop last weekend, you did not “have an epic.” The Donner Party epic’d. You dealt with a minor inconvenience. Similarly, can we please not…

Read More

Getting to the Climb: How to Keep it Sustainable

By | Climbing, Conscious Climber Project, Ethics, Trip Journal | No Comments

There’s so much rock in our neighborhood in Northern New Mexico that it can be hard for us to focus our attention on the areas that have already been developed. Often Spenser and I choose to run around exploring a new area, rather than going back and “working on” an established zone. Even though we might want to just run around and hunt for new boulders, we do realize that more people will come. Maybe 5, maybe 10…maybe more. And those people are going to want to get around this beautiful boulder field. As we found out from Ty Tyler’s visit,  it’s illegal to construct unapproved trails on National Forest Service land, but if we can prevent climbers from getting lost and bushwacking, we can limit the impacts and erosion that trigger access threats. So, what do we do? When we visit an area, we establish use patterns, which will eventually become the “social trails” that future visitors will end up following naturally. In Nosos (AKA La Madera), we decided to use cairns (stacks of rocks) to flag these routes or paths and keep other climbers on the “right” ones. We also blocked entries to old paths that we want to prevent people from using, and made preferred routes easier to navigate. These paths are indicated in the newly released New Mexico Bouldering Guidebook, but marking the paths clearly is especially important for climbers without a book. We tried to make sure that the “correct” path was also the path of least resistance, so that people would instinctively tend to…

Read More

A Visit From The Access Fund’s Ty Tyler

By | Conscious Climber Project, Ethics, Trip Journal | 5 Comments

Ty Tyler. Now there’s a name. Technically, it’s a nickname, but whatever you want to call him, Ty is the National Stewardship Director for the Access Fund. It’s his job to ensure long-term sustainability and stewardship of our climbing areas throughout the US. He travels more than we do. Ty worked a trip to La Madera into his schedule, and schooled us a bit about how to think about developing. Potential The first big question to answer is, “what’s the potential for this place to really blow up? How many people are going to be coming here?” We identified a few key attributes to look at that can help answer this question. Access- Is it close to the road? Is the road a good one? How long is the hike in? Number of climbs, particularly moderates- Is there enough to keep people interested? Will the concentration of climbs attract a broad spectrum of climbers? Is it only high end climbing? Camping- This one’s pretty self-evident. Climbers are often campers. Is it easy? Quality of climbing- Also self-evident. Distance- Is it close to large populations of climbers? Of course, there is no set formula to apply, but looking at examples of existing areas is always a nice model. Chaos Canyon, for example, is a million-mile hike into the stratosphere. But, it has good rock and tons of climbing, and it’s closer to the Front Range population centers than any other summer climbing destination, not to mention the scenery. Joe’s Valley isn’t…

Read More

Blowtorches and Boulders Don’t Mix

By | Ethics | 39 Comments

A little while ago there was a bit of controversy about a video featuring Carlo Traversi bouldering in Vastervik, Sweden. In one scene, he uses a blowtorch to dry the rock. Naturally, the message boards lit up with criticism, and, to his credit, Carlo apologized. Blowtorching is thankfully not too common of a practice, but it still happens and needs to stop. With bouldering in particular, there is little barrier to entry for new climbers to start climbing outside. Without mentors or instruction, some people will see boulderfields as an extension of the gym, where landings are flat, music is necessary, spinners can be tightened, and a janitorial service cleans up every night. This isn’t the case, and it’s more important than ever to teach the new wave of climbers outdoor ethics. I made the photo comparison below to show the effects of blowtorching. Deception is an absolute classic. Look at those gorgeous seams, those runnels, how they intersect. It’s just high enough to be spicy, and the movement is awesome. And it used to be really pretty…now it looks like its mascara is running. My guess is that you’re looking at what is essentially charred organic matter. Similar black gunk can be found on Celestial Mechanics, and other climbs at LRC that tend to seep. Please don’t use a blowtorch to dry the rock. It doesn’t matter what kind of rock. Even if it isn’t obvious, the heat will alter the rock. We’d be fooling ourselves if we thought climbing was a totally…

Read More