Touchstone Blog Archive
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
  Ladies On El Capitan
This season has seen a number of female climbers crushing El Capitan, stepping into the areana of big wall free and aid climbing.

Kate Rutherford and Madeline Sorkin just made the first female team free ascent of El Capitan, climbing The Freerider (5.12d) over the course of five days last week. They swapped leads up the entire route placing traditional protection and cruising the diffuclt cracks

Berkeley local, Melissa Michelitsch is currently topping out a week long ascent of The Muir (5.9 c2) Wall on the left side of El Capitan. This route follows a series of long corners to the right of The Heart feature and to the left of the Nose.

Also, Emily Stifler, Lorna Illingworth, and Madeline made an all female ascent of Lurking Fear, a route on the far left side of El Capitan. The route follows a long slab section before turning into a series of splitter cracks and then a difficult traverse. The route has seen some redpoint free ascents, including an ascent by Beth Rodden, but is primarily an aid climb that climbs clean at 5.9 C2.

Ladies of Lurking Fear from Emily Stifler on Vimeo.

For those that want further instruction about wall climbing, Steve Schneider gives big wall clinics in the spring at the Touchstone Gyms. There's also a Bay Area Women's climbing group started on Facebook to help women climb with other women. Additionally, Berkeley Ironworks staff often have Women's Climbing Clinics. Grab one of the Touchstone Newsletters at the Front Desks of every gym to find more about tese awesome ongoing events.

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Friday, June 25, 2010
  Touch 'Em All: Touchstone Runners Make 125 Relay Run
A few weeks ago, a large crew of Touchstone members joined forces to run to every single Touchstone Gym. Vaughn Medford, the manager at Sacramento Pipeworks, wrote about their 125 mile quest to Touch 'Em All.

Sunday June 6th, 3am: If a driver of one of the few cars cutting east through the darkness on highway 80 that morning happened to look off to her right, at exactly the right spot, on a lonely stretch of frontage road just outside of Vacaville, she saw a bizarre sight. A group of nine people in running shirts and shoes stood in a circle, wearing headlamps and conical birthday hats blowing noisemakers, throwing an impromptu surprise birthday party.

Several months earlier it had started the way most unlikely endeavors do; as a joke. A group of friends were sitting around drinking wine, talking about the event they had recently completed, a 200-mile, 12-person relay foot race from Calistoga to Santa Cruz. Scott Clark, the most organized person in the group said, “We could coordinate a run like that and add our own twist!” Ideas were being tossed around, when Sacramento Pipeworks manager Vaughn Medford said, “We could do a run that would tag all the Touchstone gyms. Starting in San Francisco at Mission Cliffs, we could run to Oakland’s Great Western Power Company, Berkeley Ironworks, Concord’s Diablo Rock Gym and then end in Sacramento at Pipeworks”. We laughed at the absurdity. I have a name already said Will Harris, “We’ll call it Touch ‘Em All!” This garnered the biggest snicker. The next day, several hours of pouring over Google Maps produced a rough sketch of the possible route. After driving sections of the route and thinking about it for several weeks, we were convinced that it could be done. On the third scouting trip, we drove the entire 125-mile length with a GPS unit and finally had an official map. Though the spring had been mild, summer means hostile temperatures in the Central Valley. If we were going to run, it had to be soon. Within a couple weeks, we had assembled a ten-person team, with seven out of ten being veterans of the prior Calistoga to Santa Cruz relay run.

Driving to the start at Touchstone’s flagship gym in San Francisco, Mission Cliffs, the runners in the big 15-seat van were charged with excitement. Promptly at 2pm, on Saturday June 5th our first runner set off up Harrison Street, headed for Sacramento, 125 miles away. Using BART to cross the bay (this being the only section that couldn’t be covered on foot), an hour later the runner showed[MM1] up at Touchstone’s Oakland gym, Great Western Power Company. From there, Diane Ortega took over for the short 3-mile jaunt to Berkeley Ironworks. “Having the van "stalk" me the whole way down San Pablo Blvd. was one of the highlights of this run” said Diane. For the rest of the relay, the van was generally following the runner, lagging behind, then passing with the riders cheering or harassing and then cruising ahead to wait for the runner to pass again until the handoff. Three gyms down, two to go. It took 7 different runners and a lot of hard climbing up the Berkeley Hills to reach the next gym, Diablo Rock Gym in Concord.

Night fell as we tagged DRG at about 9pm. Four gyms down, one to go. All night long, without stopping, the runners passed the baton, through rural and urban landscapes, crossing the Benicia bridge, braving industrial districts, following a frontage road flanking highway 680, passing over highway 80 and cutting east through Fairfield. On the highway between Sacramento and Fairfield, we threw the surprise birthday party for Touchstone CEO Mark Melvin, who turned 50 that day.
As we skirted Vacaville and turned northward, Robin Frank, who had vowed to fight to the death for the sunrise leg, got to see the sun peak up over the Sierras. “Seeing places that I have seen before, but not at less than 70 mph was cool.” Said Robin. Just before the town of Winters we turned east into the sun, for the final leg of our journey. This portion began outside Davis, and was given to Kent Gillis, a disabled athlete who rode his hand crank bike on the final stretch into Sacramento. Just outside Raley Field (home of AAA baseballs Rivercats) everyone abandoned the van for a group crossing of the iconic Tower Bridge into downtown Sacramento and a symbolic two and a half mile team trot to the final gym, Sacramento Pipeworks.

A beautiful BBQ spread awaited us, 20 hours after starting in San Francisco, 125 long miles away. We had managed to arrive one hour ahead of schedule. When asked for his reflections, event organizer Will Harris said “Great mix of silly fun, solitary effort, collaboration, contemplation, and teamwork. Lack of sleep is the biggest hurdle.” Pipeworks desk staff Diane Ortega felt that ”Overall I had an awesome time and would do it again and again. The memories are worth the pain. Thanks to everyone who put so much work into this thing. I was glad to be along for the ride!”

Be sure to watch for another Touch ‘Em All run sometime in the future. There is talk of opening up the TEA to teams of runners from other gyms, as a competition, in addition to possibly making the contest a fundraiser for disabled athletes. Thanks to Touchstone Climbing And Fitness for complete support and finance of this very unconventional event!

Photos of the run can be found at The Photo Gallery

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Thursday, June 24, 2010
  Touchstone Wins Best of the Bay
Recently, the San Francisco Gate had a reader decided contest about the "Best in the Bay" -the best restaurants, museums, and most importantly climbing gyms. This year, thanks to the votes of many local climbers, Touchstone Climbing gyms won the Best of the Bay Climbing Gym.

With 4 gyms in the Bay Area, Touchstone is the standard for Rock Climbing gyms in the Bay Area. Mission Cliffs in San Francisco & Berkeley Ironworks each provide 20,000 sq ft of climbing. Great Western Power Co. in Oakland is our newest gym with truly unique wall built around an old smokestack. Diablo Rock Gym in Concord not only provides amazing climbing but starting in 2010 it also has a pool. All of our gyms not only have amazing rock climbing but also a full range of fitness programs, cardio machines and lots of weight equipment.

Lots of voters chimed in with their thoughts on how great Touchstone is.

Allison K wrote, "I love this rock climbing gym. Not only do they have great climbing & routes, but also lots of weight and cardio equip to train on and really nice, helpful staff. Lately, I've been taking some lead classes with one of the staff named Todd. He has been great. He encourages you and gives great tips. I've learned a lot - from safer belay techniques to better footwork. And best of all, I've gone from 10c leading to 11b after just a few short classes. Go see Todd."

"Touchstone gyms have the best climbing experience around. Full time setting crew makes sure that the routes are always fresh," said Rod Grossman.

Thanks to all the people who got out and voted for Touchstone as The Best of the Bay!

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010
  Solo Link-up Of Half Dome and El Capitan
Alex Honnold experiences serious road rage. "I can't wait until this turns into a real highway. I'm over this two-lane business," he said during an interview with the Touchstone Blog. "I followed some slow poke all the way out of Yosemite."

Alex Honnold is not used to moving slowly. Yesterday, Honnold was speeding, climbing first the Regular Northwest Face of Half Dome in 2 hours and 9 minutes and then the Nose of El Capitan in 5 hours 59 minutes.

Honnold is more used to the fast movement of cruising up giant granite walls than the stop and go of commuter traffic. "I'm losing it, I can't take it anymore. I reached a certain threshold and just can't deal with it anymore." The road to LA, where he was heading to visit his lady friend, was filled with traffic. The routes in Yosemite were far more open. He completed the Nose of El Capitan faster than he was able to drive from Yosemite to LA. Honnold slept at the base of Half Dome, climbed the route, hiked to the Nose, and then topped out El Capitan 11 hours after he started climbing.

Honnold racked up at the bridge of El Capitan. This was his first solo ascent of El Capitan. The night before he had read Hans Florine's Speed Climbing book and was excited to try some of the tricks he had learned.

Honnold bested Touchstone climber's Hans Florine previous solo speed record of the Nose and Half Dome. Florine has an extensive collection of records for all Yosemite Valley speed climbs at his website, Speed

Honnold climbed much of the routes ropeless. Here he is pictured above the Great Roof on the Nose on Pancake Flake's 11c section, a few thousand feet above the valley floor.

There's a forum thread on Supertopo about his climb as well as more images from the El Cap reporter, Tom "Ansel" Evans.

"Dude, I used a brush that I got from Pipeworks the other day. Make sure you put that in the blog. It's boars hair. Also say that I'm incredibly handsome and good looking," Honnold stated in his interview. That's when traffic cleared and Honnold was able to start speeding again. "I'm so excited! I almost up to 65! I got to go!"

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010
  Peregrine Seasonal Closures
Jesse McGahey, the head Yosemite National Park Climbing ranger, recently made an announcement about peregrine falcon nesting closures. The birds nest seasonally and some cliffs in the park, including areas on El Capitan and in Hetch Hetchy, are closed to climbing. A few birds have left their nests and closures have been lifted until further noted.

Jesse posted his announcement on Below is a brief summary of important closures. The Rostrum usually opens in the fall season, after the birds have left.

Since April 8, 2010, the southwest face of El Capitan from South Seas/Pacific Ocean Wall to Native Son have been and will remain closed. The Rostrum area, the Rhombus Wall, and Fifi Buttress will remain closed until further noted.

Effective June 18, 2010, the Hetch Hetchy area will have closures including the North Face and West Face of Kolana Rock. The Wapama Rock closure will be lifted.

All closures on Glacier Point will be lifted as well as all closures on the South Face of Half Dome.

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Monday, June 21, 2010
  Teen Team Overnight at Berkeley Ironworks
Last month, Berkeley Ironwork's Teen Team held its Spring Overnight event. All the members of the team, including the coaches, took over the gym for a giant slumber/climbing party!

Kim Groebner, Allegra Guairno, Jose Gutierez, Corey Thornhill, and teen coach- Jamie Boudreau, started the evening with Family Climb, where the teens invited their parents and siblings to participate in a family top-roping session.

Twice a year, the teen team has an overnight, where over a dozen kids, supervised by the coaches, take over the gym. "There's a lot of climbing, pizza eating, and spazzing out," said coach Kim Groebner. The kids stayed up til 3:30 in the morning

After the family climb time, there was a giant pizza party.

Jose Gutierez recounted the evening. "At 10pm, Ironworks closed to the general public, leaving the entire facility at our disposal. We conducted a series of team-building exercises and lead-climbing lessons." Activites included- Twister, Lead CLimbing, and Bouldering.

Jose continued, saying, "We watched movies on the big-screen and, of course, we did a lot of MID-NIGHT BOULDERING! In fact, it was 3:30 in the morning and some of us were still climbing! Needless to say, a great time was had by all and we look forward to hosting yet another overnight event in the fall!"

The teen team is a non-competitive group of teenagers from 12-18, who meet twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30-6:30. The team acts as a great opportunity for kids to meet other climbers their age, work on their technique, and have fun with 18 other kids.

Great Western Power Company is also starting a teen team, which will be led by Ryan Moon. Check in at the front desk of either gym to sign up and start having fun.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010
  America's Got Talent: Ascendance
America's Got Talent, a talent show on prime time televison where a number of contestants compete for a one million dollar prize, will be showing local dance troupe and Berkeley Ironworks climbers Isabel von Rittberg and Ryan "Skippy" Gaunt. The show, which will be aired on NBC Wednesday night at 9/8 central time, features the two performing part of their Ascendance routine.

Check out the trailer for the show at America's Got Talent and catch the local stars on tv this Wednesday night.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010
  Vandalism At Snowshed
Sometime last week, one of the bigger boulders on top of Donner Summit's Snowshed Wall was vandalized. The word "Bro" was spray painted in large neon letters. The graffiti was visible from over a mile away on the boulder. The spray-paint marred one of the classic highball boulder problems in the area.

John Vallejo, AL Liu, and a few other concerned Bay area individuals, took it upon themselves to remove the graffiti and attempt to restore the boulder to its natural state. The team used graffiti remover, water, and stiff non-wire brushes to remove the paint without damaging the rock.

Vallejo writes in his blog, Progression, that he left materials if anyone else wants to help in the removal. "Brushes and a couple buckets used during the first pass at removing some of the spray paint are underneath the huge boulder just north of the D boulder - left there for others who want to help out with the clean-up."

For those that want to help expedite the spray pain removal, contact the Forest Service (Truckee Ranger District). Be sure to request that the Forest Service care to not damage the rock during the clean up.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010
  Yosemite Access: Voice Your Opinion on the Merced River Plan
Access to National Parks, specifically climbing access to Yosemite, has been a delicate subject for years. One of the biggest concerns within the past year was the Merced River Plan.

In January, the Access Fund petitioned for help to protect climbing in accordance with Yosemite National Park's latest Merced River Plan (MRP), which looked like it could limit access to a number of climbing areas- anything within 1/4 mile of either side of the Merced. According to the Access Fund, the plan will also affect locations, "just outside the river corridor, which brings into play all climbing in Yosemite Valley including El Capitan and even Half Dome."

The Access Fund continued their report stating, "The park recently announced in its “Outstanding Remarkable Value” report that it recognizes the recreational significance of Yosemite Valley, and specifically acknowledges climbing as an active pursuit that draws people from around the world. This is important because climbing as an activity is now more likely to be “protected and enhanced” rather than restricted."

The Park will hold public workshops and roundtables on their draft “Outstanding Remarkable Value” report, which will include discussions with Yosemite planners and user capacity experts.

On June 28, from 5-8 pm at the San Ramon City Council Chamber,
2228 Camino Ramon, San Ramon, CA, there will be a meeting to discuss the plan. Touchstone Members, Bay area climbers, and any Yosemite user are encouraged to attend the meeting and make their voice heard. Help keep access to Yosemite open!

For more information, email

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Monday, June 14, 2010
  Zero Gravity Team Dominates Division 1 Championshops
This past weekend, June 12th and 13th, the USA Climbing Division 1 Championships were held in Portland, Oregon at Club Sport. Touchstone's Zero Gravity Climbing Team was once again a dominant force with a number of the team receiving bids for the National Championships on July 8-11 in Atlanta Georgia.

A number of the team climbed well:
Eric Sanchez (Division 1 Champion Sport and Speed)
Joshua Levin (Division 1 Champion Sport)
Nicholas Bradley (Division 1 Champion Sport, 3rd Speed)
Gabii Strandberg (Division 1 Champion Speed)

Cicada Jenerik (2nd Speed, 4th Sport)
Jacquelyn Wu (3rd Speed, 5th Sport)
Dylan Meyerhoffer (6th Sport)
Charlie Andrews-Jubelt (3rd Sport, 3rd Speed)
Will Roderick (5th Speed, 8th Sport)
Rick Gentry (6th Speed)

Also competing at the Division 1 Championship were Cameron Read, Alexa, Nazarian, Andrew Dixon, Mel Roderick, Sam Stewart, Kat Gentry and Ryan Riggins.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010
  Lover's Leap Gets Cleaned
Nearly 40 people show up for Adopt-A Crag at Lovers Leap on June 5th, sponsored by CRAGS (Climbing Resource Advocates for Greater Sacramento). CRAGS secretary, Renee Ross wrote a great account of the day:

On a sunny Saturday morning, several carloads of climbers drove up from Sacramento to Lovers Leap. A great crowd of more enthusiastic climbers met us there, as many had chosen to spend the night at the campground to get in some more climbing. The park rangers arrived exactly on time and were full of ideas and supplies! We split into groups and began preparing the campsites and some approach areas for the upcoming season.

While we moved from site to site, someone commented how it felt like we were providing room service to the campers. It did feel like that! The campers left their belongings at the sites while they went out to climb or hike, and we came through during the day in a flurry of housekeeping activities, leaving the sites sparkling clean for their returns.

All the picnic tables were scraped of old paint and repainted (mostly by our youngest helpers, who ended up wearing a lot of paint themselves). Apologies to the parents (who were wonderful at supervising and exceptionally patient with the extra paint!). :-) We also had teams of volunteers raking and sweeping all the trails through the campground as well as within the sites. It was incredible how much fresher the sites looked after their careful work!

Fire pits were emptied, and loads of new firewood (from fallen trees) was chopped and stacked. I wish I could have seen the looks on campers’ faces who returned to find a stack of new nice wood waiting in their sites. Our wood choppers did a lot of hard labor and made huge progress in just a few hours.

Another group headed up near the main wall to rebuild a retaining wall. One of those volunteers remarked that he’d been wanting to fix it for ages. With a good team of motivated people, the job was quickly accomplished.

Around 1 PM, the sites looked ready, wood was chopped, steps were built, and everyone was hungry! Our injured leader Brian (CRAGS Chairman Brian Poulsen), eager to participate where he could, manned the grill despite crutches, and everyone enjoyed lunch together while sharing what they had been working on. Several groups hiked off after this to squeeze in a few climbs before sunset.

The Leap is one of the most spectacular climbing areas in northern California, and CRAGS was excited to partner with local park services in this adopt-a-crag event in order to show our support and bring people together in the climbing community. Special thanks to all the new faces that came! We are excited to meet you and look forward to seeing you at more events.

Thanks to all the members of Touchstone and all the climbers who helped clean up one of the coolest traditional crags around.

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010
  Run Spenser Run: A Haiti Fund Raiser
On January 12, 2010, Haiti suffered a 7.0 earthquake, destroying a large amount of the already impoverished country. $26,000 dollars is a lot of money. It means everything from another year at school, an extra vehicle, or a new hot tub. For the victims of the earthquake in Haiti, it means 5,200 containers for clean drinking water, and 52 tents for a family of five. That's a significant amount of help.

Spenser Tang-Smith trains and climbs at the Touchstone gyms. As a member of the gyms, he's gotten pysched on attaining different goals every year.

Spenser began his birthday challenges a few years ago when he turned 24. His first challenge involved devising a challenge or set of challenges that related to the number of years he's been alive. The formal
birthday challenge site lays out the basic ideas. For Spenser's 24th birthday he meditated silently for 24 minutes, performeed 24 acts of kindness, picked up 24 pounds of trash, cycled 24 miles with 2400 feet of elevation gain, climbed 240 different boulder problems... This year, Spenser took it to the obvious next level. For his 26th birthday he decided to run the 26.2 San Francisco Marathon and raise $26,000 for the Haiti Relief program. Spenser's fund raising began with a goal of $5,000 dollars. He quickly surpassed his goal and is working towards a larger goal.

Spenser has been training hard for the marathon, completing the Bay to Breakers race in San Francisco. He's been running regularly, keeping a solid training log.

Even as the United States experiences its own little disaster in Haiti, people can help out with the situation in Haiti by pledging to Spenser's marathon fund. The best way to pledge is to use the donate button on the side of his blog, or you can simply click on the donate to Haiti Relief and Rebuilding link. You can also email him at (

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Monday, June 7, 2010
  DRG Yoga Instructor Featured in Contra Costa Times
Recently, Sarah Pascual, a Yoga instructor at Diablo Rock Gym, was featured in an article in the Contra Costa Times. Pascual teaches "Yoga in the Park", which kicked off on May 23. The Sunday Morning event will last until Aug 29 with local yoga instructors like Pascual teaching the classes.

Pascual taught at the former World Yoga studio in Walnut Creek and now works at Diablo Rock Gym in Concord and YogaWorks in Walnut Creek. Pascual worked a 40 hour a week job before deciding to focus on being a massage therapist and teaching yoga full time. Pascual works in conjunction with LuLulemon while teaching the classes.

The classes are from 9:30-11 a.m. every Sunday through Aug. 29 at the Civic Park, Civic Drive and Broadway, Walnut Creek. Form more information contact

Also, head over to Diablo rock Gym and check out one of Pascual's awesome Yoga classes.

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Sunday, June 6, 2010
  Power Climbing Training
"You can train long or you can train hard, but not both — which is probably why so many of us train power so wrongly," Steve Bechtel wrote in a Climbing Magazine Tech Tip about Training for Power.

Many climbers hit plateaus in their climbing. They're unable to do harder climbs not because of a lack of technique but because of a lack of power. Lyn Verinsky, one of the strongest female boulderers in the Bay Area with not only exceptional technique but enough power to crush classic double-digit boulder problems in Yosemite Valley, will be teaching the power training clinic.

Little Blue Anastasia [v8] from Paul B on Vimeo.

Beginning June 21st, Great Western Power Company will be having a Power Training Clinic from 6:30-8 am on Monday mornings. The class costs $60 for 3 weeks and $100 for 10 weeks. There is a limit of six people- classes are small and highly focused. Get up early, get pysched, and get strong!

For those that want to read more check out this article on interval training, also see Berkeley Ironworks Manager's Training 4 Climbing and his thoughts on the Tudor Bumpa 9 week training cycle.

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Thursday, June 3, 2010
  Facebook Pages
All of the Touchstone Climbing Gyms have Facebook pages. If you want to stay up on important events like Julee Lee giving free massages on Saturdays from 3-6PM at Great Western Power Company, meet new people at Mission Cliffs, get a great deal on the $25 initiation at Berkeley Ironworks, learn about how Sacramento Pipeworks is fast becoming one of the number 1 gyms in Sacramento, or learn about new classes at Diablo Rock Gym.

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010
  Help Mission Cliffs Expansion
Mission Cliffs will be making a two-tier expanded bouldering area. The Touchstone gym will be gaining the lease for the building next door allowing for some major changes in the gym. There will be more cardio equipment, weights, and a dedicated cycling room.

To make the expansion, Touchstone needs approval from the SF planning commission. Part of their decision will be made based on input from the community. You can add your input by picking up a postcard at Mission Cliffs and sending in your input about the gyms.

We are on the June 24th agenda of the planning committee. Please voice your support by signing a postcard at the front desk and you can also send an email to
Unsure what to say? Here is a start:

Dear Planning Commissioners,

I whole heartedly express my support for the expansion plans of Mission Cliffs. I believe the improved facilities will further benefit its user base and the community at large.


Please feel free to add additional comments that you have about Mission Cliffs and the expansion.

Plus, if you’re active with one of the many community groups we support, a letter to the Planning Commission would support our cause. And of course we’d certainly appreciate anyone showing up on the 24th.

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