100 Days of Milo: Day 15 — Bouldering and Rock Climbing

Though time constraints have keep me out of the climbing gym for the last two years, I still follow the sport of climbing closely (in fact, one of the most popular articles on this website is about climber Alex Honnold). With my son now just a hair over two years old, and very interested in climbing all over the apartment, it might be time to return to the gym. Albeit as a spotter more than a climber.

Check out my page of climbing resources here.

Friday Inspiration: The Dawn Wall

Yesterday Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgenson did what was considered impossible – they free climbed Yosemite’s Dawn Wall. Unlike most achievements in climbing, this one is actually getting some serious mainstream press attention, including numerous articles in the New York Times.

It should.

What Caldwell and Jorgenson did isn’t just an incredible physical feat, its an inspiration to, as Jorgenson said yesterday, “find our own dawn wall”… and send it.

Surprisingly for such a huge event, there doesn’t seem to be any footage around yet of Caldwell and Jorgenson summiting. Instead, here’s a great video with Caldwell about his obsession with the project:

Friday Inspiration – New York Kid on the Road

I’ll admit it, I’ve got some hometown pride associated with the success of Ashima Shiraishi.  She’s a New York kid, she climbs regularly at my gym, and she rules.  In fact, just this week I saw Ashima crushing it at Brooklyn Boulders.  She’s gotten so much taller in the last year, and her climbing continues to impress.  I wonder, how much more can so do? How much better will she get? Its going to be very interesting to see how this generation of kid climbing phenoms develops.

Some Quick Thoughts On Never Being A Very Good Climber

I’ve resigned myself to never being very good at rock climbing.  I’m too old, too fat, and have too little time to devote to the sport to ever climb at a high level.  But that’s ok, I still love it.

With my schedule, I’m lucky if I can get to the climbing gym once a week (and I almost never climb outside).  When I do get to the gym, I can climb the v2s with ease, and occasionally struggle up a V3 if its power route.  Technique and finger strength are still my weaknesses.  I’m relatively strong and can power my way through an overhang problem, but if it is a crimpy thing with no feet?  I’m fucked.  Finger strength and technique come from time on the wall, and that is something I just cannot commit to.  Too many interests; not enough time.

Still, I do what I can.  My general routine at the gym is to stretch out my sore shoulder,s warm up on some V0s and V1s, work on V2s and V3s until my grip strength starts going, then blow out what little strength I have left on the training wall doing dead hangs, ring pushups and the like.  Away from the climbing gym, I do what I can.  I’m trying to drop weight.  I work the pull up bar in my building’s gym three times a week, and I am desperately attempting to become more flexible.

Its an uphill battle, and one I am bound to lose.  Still, I enjoy the fight.  And I enjoy my time at the gym, hanging with old friends, talking about life, watching kids flash V10s while I struggle on the V3s.  I’m never going to be Chris Sharma, but that’s alright.  I’m fine being a not very good middle age climber.  As long as I’m better at it than I was last year, that’s good enough for me.

Friday Inspiration – The Lessons of Play

Last weekend I went climbing with my young niece.  She took to it immediately.  With little fear, a lot determination, and weighing next to nothing, she did wonderfully.  There were times at the beginning when she got nervous – when five feet off the ground she asked me to lower her down.  But as the morning wore on, she got higher and higher, and more and more confident.  She kept at it, she got better and  I think I had more fun watching her scamper up the holds than I do when I am climbing myself.

My niece and I at the climbing gym.

My niece and I at the climbing gym.

Being in the gym with a child brought home that climbing is, at base, pure play.  Like all play, it can teach us things about ourselves without our even knowing it.   Sure we adults focus on ratings, hand strength, and how long we can hold a dead hang on the finger board.  But all of that is just an extension of the play.  We work the finger board, or watch what we eat, to make the act of climbing more fun.  To solve harder problems, to increase stamina, all so we can play more.

By working at the play, we learn things about ourselves.  My niece may not have realized it, but she was learning that to get good, you need to put in the time.  That because you failed on the previous attempt does not mean you will fail again.  That while the wall is high, you make it to the top one hold at a time.

Her first send!

Her first send!

These are the lessons that play and sport teach us.  Are they corny?  Perhaps.  But I often need to be reminded of them and the lessons go down easy when they are learned messing around in a climbing gym.

Speaking of working at play, here’s a video of some kids killing it at a bouldering competition.

Alex Honnold, Free Soloing, and the Viewer’s Guilt

There is a profile of the fascinating climbing pro Alex Honnold up on the Esquire website.  I read it with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’m impressed by Honnold’s climbing prowess, and fascinated by his recent record breaking assents, but on the other hand I worry that by following Honnold’s career, I am risking his life.

Honnold, for those who don’t follow the sport, is one of the most famous rock climbers in the world. He is perhaps best known for his speed assents of classic routes in Yosemite, and for free soloing, the extremely dangerous practice of climbing very high walls without safety equipment.  Honnold has been featured in countless rock climbing articles and blog posts, and has even had some cross over into the mainstream with including this piece in esquire and a piece on 60 minutes.

From everything I’ve read about the guy, and the interviews I’ve seen, Honnold comes off as a modest, thoughtful individual.  Perhaps he is too modest for a man of such clear talent; but that is hardly a flaw.  In this interview, he goes to great lengths to down play how often he free solos, claiming it is a rare activity for him.  But still, how closely Honnold’s fame is tied to this extremely dangerous activity troubles me.

As the Esquire article notes, many of the world’s most famous free soloists are dead.  If Honnold keeps climbing routes like Half Dome without safety equipment, it is quite likely he will die on the wall as well.  We all know this, don’t we?  I imagine Honnold knows this as well.  Yet he continues in this risky behavior. Sponsors continue to pay him. I continue to watch.

I’m of two minds regarding Honnold’s free soloing.  He’s a grown man; if he wishes to risk his life that is his prerogative.  However, Honnold, and free soloing do not exist in a vacuum. His actions affect others who climb in Yosemite, those who rescue climbers, and his friends and family.  If Honnold were to fall many people would face awful consequences.

Free soloing is just another example of a question I intend to return to over and over on this blog – where does personal freedom intersect with our duty to society?  It reminds me of a comment I’ve heard attributed to Malcolm Gladwell.  When he was asked about the ethics of football, he apparently said “I don’t think you can stop adults from playing the game, the question is should you be watching?”  That’s something I often wonder about.  Because not only does Honnold owe his fellow man a duty to act responsibly, but we owe him a duty to not encourage his dangerous behavior.  Honnold was not featured on sixty minutes because he is an incredibly good climber (which he is). He was on it because he was doing things that could lead to his death.  I watched that video with fascination and a certain admiration, but I didn’t feel good about it.

I imagine Honnold would say he does not free solo for the (limited) fame and money it has brought him. That might be true. But we cannot ignore that he is paid to do these things.  And I and everyone else who follows his career, should remember that by championing Honnold’s most dangerous exploits, we are putting his life in danger.

Friday Inspiration – Limits?

There must be some limit to what we can do.  Surely our ability to run fast or climb hard has some outer edge beyond which the laws of physics will not allow us to go.  Whatever that is, we haven’t reached it yet.

This week, Adam Ondra set a new standard in sport climbing by sending the route “Change” in the Hanshelleren Cave in Norway.  It is now tentatively rated as the world’s first 5.15c.  No video of the send (at least not yet) but here is Ondra working the problem last year:


You’ve got to love Ondra’s screams.

Want more evidence of the seemingly endless ability of human’s to push the boundaries?  Here’s Patrick Makau setting marathon world record with a time of 2:03:38 at the 2011 Berlin Marathon.


Now, I’ll never climb a 5.15; never mind a 5.15c.  And I’ll never run a sub 2:30, never mind a sub 2:10, but these incredible feats do remind me that I can do more.

Friday Inspiration – Back to the Climbing Gym

Between work, the High Holidays, and other sundry tasks, I haven’t made it to Brooklyn Boulders in almost two weeks.  Not good.  I’m going to fix that this weekend with a session on Sunday.  I can’t wait.  Here’s a video of a bunch of great climbers working inside, including two New Yorkers – Ashima Shirashi (who is a member of my gym and at eleven years old is better than I will ever be) and Sasha DiGiulian (who recently started at Columbia University).