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…

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A Jumbo Passion Project

By | Bolt Clipping, Climbing, Film, Food for thought | 3 Comments

The climber, facing away from the wall, gingerly peers over his toes to watch his sky-blue T-shirt flutter to the ground. He takes a deep breath, then turns in place on the 4-inch ledge on which he’s been standing. Now facing the wall, he unclips from the anchor and begins a precarious rightward traverse. 15 delicate feet later, he clips the rope into a quickdraw more in line with the rest of the bolts. He draws another deep breath, and pulls into the start of a 110-foot long roof. So begins my absolute favorite segment of climbing footage. It doesn’t evoke the adrenalized, finger-tingling, animalistic urge to grab something overhead and freakin’ pull down like most videos of hard climbers climbing hard. It’s more like a good surf film, in which a fragile human is calm and poised amidst the violence and chaos of forces we can’t comprehend. It’s simultaneously serene and exciting, and I can’t look away. He’s nearly horizontal, but his face is completely relaxed. He doesn’t seem to be climbing so much as gliding between ripples in gravity’s field, now relaxing and taking a breath as the next hold makes its way to his hand. He is a virtuoso and the rock is his sheet music. We don’t listen to the notes, we feel the movement swell. The camera follows the climber, uninterrupted, for about 30 minutes. I’ve watched it countless times, and on every occasion I feel transported by the rapture of a perfected performance. It features a…

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The CIA, Affirmative Action, and a #&@% Video Shop

By | Adventure, Film, Musings | No Comments

Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, there was a video shop in Isla Vista, CA that catered to the students at UC Santa Barbara. It was called @*&# Video Shop and Climbing Boutique, was owned and managed by Steve Edwards, and served as the de facto epicenter of a nascent Santa Barbara climbing community. It was a time before the ubiquity of cameras, which presents a challenge: Steve’s video shop is a central element in the story, but we have almost no footage or photos from the interior. It will be difficult, even with several people’s descriptions, to get the special quirkiness of the place across. In our interviews, several people have mentioned the ads that Steve put in the Daily Nexus, UCSB’s student newspaper. I popped over to the Nexus archives yesterday to look for these ads, of which I found a couple, and I had a somewhat mind-bending experience, leafing through yellowed, ancient copies of a paper that I used to read daily. I found that, in some ways, nothing’s changed. In some ways, the world is a very different place. Mostly, I found that flipping through 8 months of newspaper headlines in 2 hours is a very disorienting experience. This was all before the internet delivered everything. It’s pretty wild to think about the ways in which the classic video shops of the 80s and 90s are obsolete. VHS tapes, the “adult” section behind the curtains, underemployed young people discussing cinema. Instead, we now have streaming…

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Do We Even Climb, Bro?

By | Adventure, Climbing, Trip Journal | No Comments

I could’ve sworn this was going to be a climbing blog… Way back when, it was all we wanted to do. Now it feels like, when we write, it’s about bullshit, injuries, or not climbing in world-class destinations. We still live on the road (mostly) and we still climb, it’s just different now. I’d say we’re transitioning into a more mature relationship with climbing. For one, the injury thing is a big thing. I don’t mind a fun run up an easy route, but I have trouble staying motivated if I’m not feeling continuous improvements in strength or technique. To paraphrase Wolfgang Gullich, the trouble with getting strong is that it’s easy. Getting strong and staying healthy is, as they say in Spain, the dura dura. What this means is, our shoulders are niggling, so I’m taking it back to the basics and doing a round of the Workout From Hell. Vikki’s doing PT, and she wrote a great series of blog posts for Touchstone’s blog detailing her shoulder-journey, soon to be published. We feel much better, although it sucks to think that we’ll always be “injured.” For two, the month of March was total madness. Las Vegas > Bay > Eugene > Portland > Bay > Santa Barbara > Las Vegas > Salt Lake City > Ketchum, ID > Bay > Santa Barbara. All by car (thanks, mom, for letting us borrow the Prius, saving tons of monies! Incidentally, I can’t wait to drive the F-250 right up to the Keystone…

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A Dispatch From I-15N

By | Adventure, Birthday Challenges, Film, Trip Journal | No Comments

It’s spring, but it feels like summer. I’m in the passenger seat, Vikki’s keeping the white lines on either side of us, Salt Lake City is in the distance and getting closer while Las Vegas recedes in the rearview. I’m thinking about how complex and multifaceted people are, and how simple we are as well. We’re so befuddling that we don’t even really understand ourselves. But on the whole, we are a predictable species with buttons that, when pushed, create pretty standard reactions. When pricked, we bleed. One person who was simply befuddling, was Steve Edwards. The dude’s been on the mind lately. That’s because we’re putting miles on my mom’s Prius, chasing down the last few interviews for the project. At some point, we’re going to have to condense some 40 hours of interviews, plus a mélange of archives and recently produced footage from a couple of Big Days in the Wasatch. When we finish condensing, we should have a portrait of a man who would navigate the line between light and dark like a möbius strip, who traveled through life like it was a bike park. To Steve, pain was something to take pleasure in, failure was to be celebrated, and obstacles like conflict and contradiction were nothing more than enjoyable, technical terrain, more opportunities for fun. Steve simply saw the good in everyone and found enjoyment and humor in any situation. Seems easy, but it ain’t. If it were, we wouldn’t need so many interview subjects. Wicked. And I…

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The Proudest Peaks

By | Adventure, Photo, Trip Journal | 4 Comments

We just got back from Patagonia, where we spent a week trekking around with my rather badass family. The trip actually centered around my dad’s 70th birthday, and it’s fair to say that the hiking docket would be impressive for most people, especially someone who learned how to walk back in the late 1940s. I mean, he’s no Jack Lalanne, although, I suppose he would probably stand a decent chance at doing some part of Jack’s 70th birthday feat. My father’s an obsessed masters swimmer as well. It’s weird that, aside from a few highly scenic, unnamed moderate boulder problems, The RV Project’s first visit to Patagonia didn’t involve any climbing (or climbing photography) to speak of. Also, I’m sure most readers of this blog will relate when I say I chuckled a bit when my mom, during the planning phase, asked if I had ever heard of El Chaltén… “no mum, is that in Spain?” Anyway, I probably don’t have to tell you that the vistas around Torres del Paine and the Fitzroy Massif are incredible. Yosemite has big granite, but it’s also in California. That’s not a knock on California per se (although we could discuss at length the Disneyification of national parks until the walls fall down), except to say that there’s something even more special about a place it takes 36 hours to get to. The final tallies of the trip included roughly 50 miles of hiking, gaining a solid 12,000 feet of elevation. The legendary Patagonian…

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I Don’t Write Enough for Myself And I Bet You Don’t Either

By | Adventure, Film, Musings, Trip Journal | No Comments

One of the RV Project’s favorite people, Flannery Shay-Nemirow, had a blog called Recounted Experience, and she used the following quote from Jean-Paul Sartre as a tagline: “For an occurrence to become an adventure, it is necessary and sufficient for one to recount it.” I liked that quote, although I didn’t think about it much. It just sounded good. The quote reminds me of the famous declaration, attributed to Socrates, that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” This is another series of words that sounds like a truism, though, again, I don’t think I ever knew exactly why it struck a chord. The following quote from an article in The New Philosopher addresses the extreme position Socrates is taking: In a world of abiding uncertainty and complexity one can recognize a certain attraction in not examining too much, for too long in life. Thus the allure of those who offer to provide clear answers, simple directions, precise instructions (whatever) so that you may set aside examination and merely comply, or unthinkingly follow custom and practice – perhaps living a conventionally moral life rather than an examined ethical life. One can easily imagine how pleasant an unexamined life might be. And it is for this reason that I think Socrates makes his claim so uncompromising. Flannery doesn’t update her blog anymore, sadly, but the aforementioned quote often pops into my mind when I feel the need to process some happenings, and recount them properly. Recounting 4 years ago, I put painful abrasions in my armpits by…

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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…

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Joe’s Valley Bouldering Festival 2016 Recap

By | Bouldering, Climbing, Stuff We're Psyched On, Trip Journal | No Comments

WOW, we got so lucky with weather! Throughout the Fest, I was like a broken record. Memories of last year’s frigid fest were all too vivid. As a festival organizer, there are two hypotheticals that you are terrified of: no one shows up, or the weather is too bad to do any of the events you spent the last year coordinating. And, even though Fall is prime Joe’s Valley season, the desert is still unpredictable. Just the week before the Fest this year, there was a huge rain storm that caused moderate flooding. I imagined what kind of festival that would be… Well, I guess that’s not too far from last year’s fest… HA! Yea, the decision to move the fest to October was an easy one. The weather this year did not disappoint. It was sunny and dry during the day, and crisp and clear at night. Perfect outdoor festival temps. The first festival was so late in the year because the idea didn’t emerge until a few weeks beforehand. We didn’t want to stall the support and momentum we had locally, so we went forward with the festival despite having very little time to plan. It was a test run, and this year looked much more traditionally festival-like, but with a Emery County twist. 😉 Local Flavor So what’s the point of the Joe’s Valley Bouldering Festival? We want to introduce climbers to the towns that surround their beloved Joe’s Valley, and the people that make up Emery County. At the moment, the vast majority of climbers don’t go beyond the Food Ranch…

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Reel Rock 11 Review, Plus a Conversation with Sender’s Nick Rosen

By | Climbing | No Comments

It’s been a looong time since Top Rope Tough Guys premiered at Reel Rock, back in 2010. A lot of folks said climbing cinema would never get better than that. I certainly didn’t think it could, but I try to keep an open mind, and it was in that spirit that I joined my brother and some friends for the Seattle stop of the Reel Rock 11 Film Tour. Okay, to fully disclose, Reel Rock gave me a few free passes and asked if I might write a review. As a bonus, I got a hold of Nick Rosen on the phone and asked some questions about the films I’d just seen. Nick, for those unaware, is a partner and filmmaker at Sender Films. We have worked and played together in the past, and we make it a point to stop by Sender’s office whenever we’re in Boulder to catch up, and to raid their stash of Clif bars. I chatted with him on the phone about how this year’s films came to be. I took notes but didn’t record the conversation, so the following is mostly paraphrased. ===================== RVP: How did you guys select the 5 films in this year’s program? Nick Rosen: Every year, we sit down and powwow early on about storylines and film ideas. And the REEL ROCK lineup evolves throughout the year. Above all, we want to create a program that’s going to entertain and get people psyched. That’s a really high bar! It can’t…

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I Lost 8 Pounds in Two Days While Eating Whatever I Wanted. Ask Me How!

By | Birthday Challenges, Musings | 2 Comments

I stood on top of Devil’s Castle, overlooking the Alta ski resort and what felt like the rest of the world. The moon was full and the sky was clear, so bright that my headlamp stayed in the pack. Two faint campfires burned below. I’d been dreading this. It was past midnight and I was alone, slowly picking my way along the crumbly, rotten limestone ridge that makes up the “horseshoe” at the head of Little Cottonwood Canyon. I was worried about all manner of unknown misery that nightfall would bring. The truth of the matter is that any misery was my own doing. I knew I wanted to do the WURL as my birthday challenge, and had spent much of the summer preparing for the eventual attempt. I had four potential partners, but one by one they dropped out, because they (respectively): thought it was gonna be too hard; thought it was gonna be too dangerous; were tapering for another big run; didn’t have time to adequately train. I’d heard of some other folks giving it a shot over the weekend, but I had grown tired of all this equivocating and impetuously declared (on Tuesday) that I’d give the WURL a go during the full moon (Wednesday). Snacks and a plan were hastily assembled. I didn’t really have enough time to get anxious. The WURL Report- Wednesday Afternoon Vikki dropped me off at the Ferguson Canyon trailhead, and I began hiking at 11:37am. The climb up Ferguson isn’t too…

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Just an Update, Really

By | Film, Musings | No Comments

Does anyone else have trouble deciding how to spend the minutes in an hour, the hours in a day, the days in a life? Yeah, I know the topic of privilege is a hot one these days, and I know that we are privileged to be able to say that there’s too much to do in too little time (I’m guessing you’re like us, dear reader). In short, I’m complaining about something that shouldn’t be a complaint, although it has been quite difficult to make the choice to sit down and write something. We’ve been in Salt Lake City for over a month now, undertaking the biggest project in RVProj history. We’re here to start the “Steve Edwards Project,” a documentary about the man’s remarkable life as told through interviews with friends and family, photos, various outdated video formats (I’d never even seen an 8mm reel before), and the prolific writings and videos from the Dude himself.  Also, that’s a working title, and will certainly change. Suggestions are welcome. Much has been written by and about Steve before and after his untimely passing, and I suggest reading the following articles that I’ve linked Steve-style, that is, with a block of hyperlinked text: The day I heard the news of Steve Edwards’s passing I thought about having a couple of martinis and a full size bag of pork rinds, or running twenty miles, or climbing 20 routes in honor of his memory. But then I realized Steve would probably do all of these things…

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Our Way to Salt Lake

By | Musings, Road Trip Beta, Trip Journal | 2 Comments

It is 6:30 in the morning and too hot to sleep anymore. We start driving towards the middle of Nevada in search of food and coffee, when we suddenly realize it is the 4th of July. Everything that might be open in middle-of-nowhere Nevada is sure to be closed. And the most nutrient-dense part of our dinner last night was potato chips (possibly because we chose to climb a multi-pitch in Toulumne late in the day, so all the eateries were closed by the time we finished). A couple hours later, our stomachs grumbling audibly, we pull into Tonopah – the only place that can be called a town for hundreds of miles. Tonopah was a bustling mining town…in the early 1900s. As we drive through, shuttered blind after closed door welcome us. Then, there was the Mizpah Hotel. It looks open, and they must have a restaurant. Right? We park the truck across the street and walk over. “Did you guys miss the Starbucks?” laughs a middle-aged lady as she leads two small dogs up the stairs of the Mizpah. “We’re just looking for some food and coffee,” I laugh nervously. My usual reaction when I don’t know how to react. “Well, you’ve come to the right place. We ate here this morning,” she opens the door and tells us where to find the Pittman Cafe. Hot coffee and a hot (and very American) breakfast followed. The Mizpah Hotel was originally opened in 1907, then after the mining boom left Tonopah, it slowly died. In 2011, it was re-opened by Fred…

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Another Birthday, Another Challenge

By | Birthday Challenges, Stuff We're Psyched On, Trip Journal | 7 Comments

On July 15th, the earth will be in roughly the same place with respect to the sun as it was when I was born almost 32 years ago. I’m not sure why it felt necessary to say “I’m turning 32” in such a roundabout fashion. It’s not a good habit; the world is complex enough as it is without obfuscating writing about banal topics. It’s time for another Birthday Challenge. My introductory paragraph shows a glimpse of the inner turmoil of a mind clouded with complex thoughts. This morass of often incompatible ideas is not easy to wade through, and a desire for clarity is why I chose this challenge, and why I chose such a bloody simple one compared to the logistical and exhaustive clusterfuck I undertook when I turned 30. I’m going to attempt the WURL, and I hope to complete it in less than 32 hours. The WURL stands for “Wasatch Ultimate Ridge Linkup,” and in my own words, is a ridiculously cool but very long objective just outside of Salt Lake City, UT. It’s about 36 miles, and more or less follows a ridge all the way around Little Cottonwood Canyon, gaining about 18,000 feet as it passes through a couple of dozen peaks, many of them above 11,000 feet. As far as I can tell, the fastest time is Jared Campbell with an absurdly quick run of 16:44. Our friend Stacey, with partners Matt and Alexis, managed it in 26:25. Stacey, you may recall, kept…

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10 Lessons from 10 Days on the Road with the Rock Project

By | Climbing, Conscious Climber Project | No Comments

We’re working on some big things this year and I would like to get on the phone with you guys and see if we could partner up for some content projects. We got this email in January from Tyler Willcutt. Tyler and I hung out a year ago at Laurel Falls in TN. At the time, he was a humble route developer and 5.14 climber, passionate about rebolting but who had never been outside of the US, or even to California. Suddenly, he was working for Black Diamond, tasked with planning the ROCK Project 2016 tour. He wanted us along to document two weekends of clinics and stewardship, with a week of roadtripping in between. He didn’t have to work hard to sell us on the trip…not only would we be embedded with a bunch of badass athletes, but we’d be working on spreading the good word about the ROCK Project movement, an initiative with goals we share. Very cool. And so it was that the members of The RV Project met up with Daila Ojeda, Joe Kinder, Chris Schulte, Kate Rutherford, Hazel Findlay, Sam Elias, Colette McInerney, and the aforementioned Tyler in Las Vegas, drove minivans to Bishop, and then on to Sender One and Malibu Creek State Park in the LA area. The intro to this post ought to serve as a full disclosure about our relationship with Black Diamond Equipment, Inc. (you may know them as The Company Formerly Known As Chouinard, or as NASDAQ: BDE). They paid us…

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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…

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Just Chasing Our Tails

By | Musings | One Comment

Have you ever watched a dog chase its own tail? I’m guessing you have. Have you ever thought about what that means about us? Dig this… We were sitting around one night a few weeks ago, me and Vikki and some buddies and my brother Eliot, having adult beverages and shooting the poop. We got to talking about my brother’s dog Walnut, and how he’s kinda dumb sometimes. Among other things, he chases his tail. What can’t be denied, though, is Walnut’s athleticism and agility. They did a test, and it turns out the mutt’s got a lot of fast in his past. I took a sip of whisky and made the point to my companions that a dog at the crag might chase his tail, and we might laugh and feel intellectually superior to the dizzy canine. Then we might cram our feet into little shoes and try to get up a piece of geology the hardest way possible, while that same dog might walk up the backside and greet us on top. That dog might think itself the one of superior intelligence. I took another sip of whisky and stood up. I was about to be on a roll. I could feel it. “You guys, think about it,” I said. “We climb rocks not for the glory of that rock, but because it’s an arbitrary goal that forces us to better ourselves mentally and physically in a way that’s engaging and fun.” As often happens when I get…

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Ethan Pringle and La Reina Mora – The Full Story

By | Bolt Clipping, Film, Trip Journal | 3 Comments

“I’m so over it.” I told James Lucas at our small dinning room table in our dimly lit communal area on the night before my last day in Cataluña.  “Like, no part of me wants to go try it. I just want to go climbing and have fun tomorrow for a change.” I could feel my pulse in my hands, almost imperceptibly. My fingers throbbed with blood trying to repair the tissue around the gobies I’d repeatedly torn open in the pockets at the red-point crux of my project. The blood circulated harder still from the inflammatory Spanish foods I’d consumed that day (the peppered sausage, the salty bocadillo) and from the inflammatory thoughts and emotions that had plagued my being. I was midway through the nightly process of applying Neosporin and Band-Aids to the wounds. Wax paper scraps from the bandages, and an assortment of other random items lay scattered across the table. For the last month I’d been doing battle with La Reina Mora (meaning “The Moor Queen”), a stunning 40-meter long 5.14+ test-piece in the famous El Pati sector of the Spanish mega-crag Siurana. It had become glaringly obvious to me and everyone watching that what was holding me back was no sort of physical limitation – it was in my head. Ten days earlier I had a breakthrough attempt on which I stuck the red-point crux from the ground, but pumped off above the last bolt of the route, one moderately difficult move away from success. My…

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My Own Little Odyssey

By | Bouldering, Climbing, Conscious Climber Project | No Comments

Either skip to the bottom or click here for the video. Cover image courtesy of Owen Summerscales. On top of Nosos sits the Manhattan Project boulder, home to a few moderate classics, one project likely in the V13-14 range, and a one-move wonder. It was this single move that Eric Bissell and I spent most of an afternoon trying, back in spring 2014. It was a more innocent time: ISIS had yet to dominate our nightmares, you hadn’t heard of Donald-Trump-the-politician, and this one move had yet to be completed. Natural Perfection I was ecstatic to find something like this. Even Eric Bissell, a Yosemite levitator who doesn’t much care for dynos, lost sleep on account of this boulder problem. Yosemite maestro Keenan Takahashi trained specifically for this move, and in Spring of 2015 drove his Honda Odyssey all the way from California to Nosos in a straight shot, and after a handful of attempts was able to set it free. While everyone had been attempting to grab the slot right-handed, Keenan launched with his left and caught the jug. He waltzed up the V0 glory moves to the summit of the boulder and named the problem The Odyssey, after the minivan. This move embodies everything I love about the Ortega quartzite. Two parallel seams run about 4 feet apart, slanting upward to the right ever so slightly. The bottom seam is hardly even a fissure, except for one 8” wide portion where the bottom lip protrudes, creating a 1/2…

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