Touchstone Blog Archive
Monday, January 31, 2011
  Ironworks Desk Staffer Firing Off Tablelands Problems
The volcanic tablelands of Bishop California are a huge area of steep, juggy climbing. Off the radar from the normal Happy and Sads area are a dozen other locations that require a little bit of exploring to find. Becky Trafecanty made a recent video of gun toting hardman and Ironworks desk staffer, Justin Alarcon, firing off a couple more obscure classic tablelands problems.

The weather is great in Bishop right now. A recent storm dropped the temperatures. There's no snow and there's no crowds. Come out to Bishop!

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Friday, January 28, 2011
  Castle Rock Bouldering: How to Mantle
In the hills just south of San Jose are a cluster of sandstone boulders. When the winter days are cold, the friction on these rounded Font like blobs becomes amazing. For those looking to do some weekend bouldering near the bay area, Castle Rock is a great option.

One of the most important skills required at Castle Rock is the mantle, or pressing out the top of a boulder. The rounded rocks don't have big jugs at the top, instead they have precarious mantles. Check out this instructional video on how to mantle.

How to Use the Mantle Technique in Rock Climbing: Intermediate Rock Climbing Tip - Courtesy of

A frequent member of the Berkeley Ironworks crew, Michele Lombardo Goodhew climbs at Castle Rock State Park-. Here's a video of her crushing The Lost Keys Traverse(V6). Check out the smooth moves she executes through the crux and through the hard mantle finish.

A single hueco followed by a series of bad slopers below the Magoo Boulders was a long term John "Yabo" Yabolonski problem until a few years ago when Santa Cruz local, Chris Sharma dispatched the first ascent of "Ecoterrorist" (V10/11). Here's some footage of Scott Chandler hiking the problem. Watch the way he tops out the difficult problem.

Ecoterrorist [v10] from scott chandler on Vimeo.

Below Indian Rock are a number of less developed and very good boulders. There's good information about them on a Supertopo Thread. There's some awesome new mantle problems down the hill. Get out there and check them out.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011
  Thick Rope Climbing
In fifth grade, the gym teacher lined up the kids in my class to take turns climbing a thick rope hung down from the middle of the ceiling. The exercise encouraged forearm, abdominal, and bicep strength. I wasn't much good at it. When I joined Touchstone, I found a great asset to strengthen these weaknesses in my body through the thick rope at the climbing gym.

The standard way to climb a rope is to use your legs, arms, and core to move upward. At the bottom of the rope is a knot, which helps people mount the rope by placing their feet on either side of it. Using your arms to keep your body steady, move your feet up the rope, cinch your feet tightly around the rope and move your hands up. Your body should be able to stay upright if you use the friction between the rope and your feet well. Repeat the process of clamping your legs and moving your hands until you reach a comfortable height. A belay is necessary for going more than a few feet off the ground.

Power climbing is the same idea as working on a campus board. The feet are positioned straight in front of you in an L shape while climbing the rope. This style further works the abdominal muscles and requires a fair bit of strength to perform. Simply grab the rope and climb it hand over hand.

If you can't perform the standard climb but want to work up to it, simply hang on the rope in a locked off or bent elbow position for as long as possible. Keep practicing until you're strong enough to do this easily. It also helps to visualize yourself climbing. When I was in fifth grade, I imagined myself as Batman when I climbed the rope. I have gotten much stronger at rope climbing since but every time I grab the rope I hear, "Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na,, na, na, na, na, Batman!"

Berkeley Ironworks has a rope in the middle of the gym- check it out!

Read more: Climbing Rope Exercise

This video demonstrates the offensive amount of strength involved in rope climbing. The climber hit the world record for power climbing the rope.

Crazy Sick World Record Check Out the One Arms! from Rock & Ice on Vimeo.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011
  SpiderDan Takes on SF Courts
Local climber Dan "SpiderDan" Goodwin climbed the Millennium Tower in San Francisco on September 6th, 2010. Goodwin, 54, made an ascent of the 58 story residential building with suction cups, beginning his climb around 2:15 and reaching the summit around 5:30 pm. During his ascent, residents opened their windows and offered him water. At the top, he was taken into police custody and cited for trespassing and public nuisance before being released.

On January 25th, Goodwin faced a San Francisco court for his actions. Goodwin testified that he climbed the 301 Mission St. high rise before a large Labor Day crowd to draw attention to what he sees as a national lack of preparedness to fight skyscraper fires.

He also said that he wanted to make the point that if he, a cancer survivor, can beat the deadly disease and scale tall buildings, other survivors can do daunting things, too.

Superior Court Judge Teri Jackson was not so receptive, asking the jurors to determine only if Goodwin trespassed, created a public nuisance and evade arresting police. was his stunt a nuisance to the public, and did he try to evade arresting officers.

The SFGate will be reporting on the event. Closing arguments will be made on the 24th and the jury will decide Goodwin's fate soon.

Goodwin has given slideshows at the local gyms promoting his book Skyscraper Man -Defender of Tall Buildings..

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Friday, January 21, 2011
  NPS Releases New Bolt Policy Proposal
The Access Fund released news about the National Park Services Bolt and Fixed Anchor Policy proposal. Below is a draft of the Access Fund's press release as well as NPS's climbing specific proposal. Check out the changes, and stay tuned to the Access Fund to voice your opinion on NPS's changes.

Access Fund Press Release:

After years of anticipation and direct advocacy by the Access Fund, the National Park Service has released an updated draft of its wilderness management policies in order to provide accountability, consistency, and continuity in its wilderness stewardship program. The update covers a wide range of topics including the long-waited-for provisions specific to climbing fixed anchors. Iconic climbing areas in the U.S.—including as Yosemite, Zion, Black Canyon, and Rocky Mountain national parks—would be governed by this new policy.

The proposed policy acknowledges that climbing is a legitimate and appropriate use of wilderness and that each park with significant wilderness climbing activities must prepare a climbing management plan. However, the policy calls for climbing to be restricted or prohibited if unacceptable impacts to wilderness resources or character occur.

This proposed policy recognizes that the occasional placement of a fixed anchor for belay, rappel, or protection purposes does not necessarily impair wilderness, but it requires prior authorization for the placement of new fixed anchors (replacements or removals may also require park approval). The requirements and process for authorization are to be laid out in each park’s climbing management plan.

The practical outcome of this proposed policy is that climbers would need a permit or some other authorization prior to the hand-placement of new bolts in any national park wilderness area. Most parks currently require no such prior-approval. The public will have 60 days to comment on this proposed policy revision. The Access Fund is currently analyzing the policy and working on an advocacy strategy. Stay tuned to Access Fund E-news for our position statement and an action alert for climber comments

NPS's policy proposal

7.2 Climbing

For the purpose of this Order, climbing is defined to include rock climbing, snow and ice climbing,mountaineering, canyoneering and caving, where climbing equipment, such as ropes and fixed or removable anchors, is generally used to support an ascent or descent. Climbing is in many cases a legitimate and appropriate use of wilderness. However, any climbing use or related activity must be restricted or prohibited when its occurrence, continuation or expansion would result in unacceptable impacts or impairment to wilderness resources or character, or interfere significantly with the experience
of other park visitors. The criteria under which a superintendent will make closure or restriction determination are listed in 36 CFR 1.5.

If significant climbing activities occur in wilderness, a climbing management plan must be prepared or be included as part of the park's wilderness stewardship plan or another activity level plan. Plans will be developed with the aid of public involvement and collaboration and will include public review and comment.

The occasional placement of a fixed anchor for belay, rappel or protecti on purposes does not necessarily impair the future enjoyment of wilderness or violate the Wilderness Act. However, climbing practices with the least adverse impact on wilderness resources and character will always be the preferred choice. "Clean climbing" techniques should be the norm in wilderness. This involves the use of temporary equipment and anchors that can be placed and removed without altering the environment (e.g. slings, cams, nuts, chocks, and stoppers). The use of motorized equipment (e.g. power drills) is prohibited (36 CFR 2.12). Practices such as gluing or chipping holds, and damaging or removing vegetation on or at the base of climbing routes are prohibited (36 CFR 2.1).

Climbers are encouraged to adopt Leave No Trace principals and practices, to include packing out human waste when on or in the vicinity of climbing routes.

Proposals for the placement of fixed anchors or fixed equipment for the purpose of facilitating future rescue operations should be evaluated through minimum requirements analysis.

Fixed anchors or fixed equipment may be appropriate, but should be rare in wilderness.

o Authorization will be required for the placement of new fixed anchors or fixed equipment.

o Authorization may be required for the replacement of existing fixed anchors or fixed

o Authorization may be required for the removal of existing fixed anchors or fixed equipment.

The requirements for authorization, and the process to be followed, will be effected through an approved climbing management plan.

Management strategies to control, and in some cases reduce, proliferation of fixed anchors in wilderness must be developed and articulated in a park climbing management plan.

The establishment of bolt-intensive face climbs, such as “sport climbs,” is considered incompatible with wilderness preservation and management due to the concentration of human activity which they support, and the types and level of impacts associated with the development of such routes.

Wilderness climbing education and impact monitoring will be important components in climbing management programs.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011
  Tips For Redpointing at TRS 5: Pipeworks 1/21/11
The Touchstone Rope Series comps is entering its fifth year and the first of the series will be this Friday, January 21 at Sacramento Pipeworks. The rope comp will have beer, pizza, and a ton of fun! It's a great time to meet other climbers, enjoy a competitive setting, and check out a lot of new top rope and lead routes.

Ethan Pringle, an accomplished rope climber who just redpointed Spicy Dumpling 5.14d and one of the hardest routes in China, provided some insight into the best way to perform at a rope climbing comp.

One of the most important things is staying relaxed under pressure. "Don't let the pressure of the crowds and the onlookers get to you. Treat it like any normal day in the gym," said Pringle. Being calm will lower your heart rate and help you perform at a higher level.

Pringle continued with some excellent technique advice, "Breathe and take your time. Don't rush moves and sequences. Deeeeeep breaths. Again, stay relaxed. BUT, at the same time..."

"Don't hang out in any one spot and shake out for too long. I see people (especially people who only boulder) shake out for like a full five minutes at a rest a third of the way up the wall... WRONG. Of course if you get to some good holds and you are pumped you can take a sec to compose yourself, shake each hand a few times, slow your breathing, and set off. A good rule of thumb for me is not to shake for half as long as it took me to get to that spot on the wall. I usually try not to shake out more than three or four times with each hand unless it's a really casual stance. I try to treat routes in the gym like long boulders problems because usually they don't have good rests on them, especially when the setters put some thought into them."

Pringle will be heading to Spain soon to try his redpointing skills on some of the world's hardest sport climbs. For those of you who want a great chance to try out your redpointing skills- check out the Touchstone Rope Series- this Friday at Pipeworks. The next rope comp will be at Great Western Power Company on February 18!

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Sunday, January 16, 2011
  Interview with Mission Cliffs Climber Karl Aguilar
Karl Aguilar, a 37 year old hardware store manager in San Francisco, has been climbing for 13 years at Mission Cliffs. Aguilar has traveled across the world climbing, sport climbing in Austria, making an ascent of El Capitan’s Zodiac, and clipping bolts on the sandstone of the south east with his wife, Audrey Bodisco. Aguilar took some time off his busy days at the Papenhausen Hardware to talk with the Touchstone blog about how to be a better rock climber and about his trips.

How has Mission Cliffs changed?

When I joined, there we so few active members that it was rare to see people that you didn't see regularly. Now, I am often shocked when I look around a very full gym and realize that I don't recognize most of the people there. Back then, most people climbed routes and bouldered to improve their route climbing. Now, it seems like most members primarily boulder. Mission Cliffs used to be a place to climb and possibly lift a weight or two, but it is slowly growing into a full service gym.

Karl stepping high in Austria

What's the best way to get better at climbing?

Don't get injured. But seriously, DON'T GET INJURED. You progress much faster when you are not nursing an injury. But, if you do get hurt, be smart about it. Take some time off, your body is probably begging for some rest. Take that time to do the things that you put off. Try to enjoy it. Then, do your rehab and take the time to work back up to full strength (it takes less time than you think). You have a lifetime of climbing to do, so treat your body right.

Karl high on El Cap's Zodiac

Now that you are injury free, you can use the following tips to get better quicker:
• Climb with someone better than you (not stronger, but with better technique).
• Watch how other people climb the climbs/problems you are having trouble with.
• Work on climbs that work your weaknesses (basically ones that make you say, "I hate climbs with...").
• Rest.
• Lastly, remember to enjoy the process. Even when the numbers are not going up, you are building a base for your next big breakthrough.

What's your favorite place to climb? Why?

Europe. The limestone, the food, and the distance between the two.

Karl pulling down on the sandstone of the Red River Gorge's Mother Lode

But, over here it is The Red River Gorge, because it is as good as everyone says! Wait... scratch that... it has really really terrible rock and they have copperhead snakes and everyone who climbed there smells really bad, so no one should ever go there.

What else are you passionate about?

My wife.

Karl and Audrey at the Red River Gorge

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Friday, January 14, 2011
  Mission Cliffs Featured in SF Gate
The San Francisco Chronicle featured Mission Cliffs in a feature in the Health & Fitness Section of their paper. Chris Holt wrote Bustling Mission Cliffs Attracts Sociable Climbers. Check out the article online at the SF Gate Website or read below:

Like many rock climbers, Christine Ambrose, a project manager at the San Francisco-based Save the Redwoods Foundation, learned the "ropes" later in life. First drawn to climbing through canopy research - the process of collecting scientific data in treetops - Ambrose, 43, was formally introduced to the sport when a friend took her climbing in June. It was then, she said, "a passion was born." On a recent weekday night she was hanging out at Mission Cliffs Climbing & Fitness on 19th and Harrison streets, enjoying the social aspect of the sport. "I've met so many nice people climbing," she said.

Mission Cliffs is one of six climbing gyms in the Bay Area (see box), and one of three managed by Touchstone Climbing. The first of its kind in San Francisco, it opened in 1995 but didn't gain a following until around 2000 when the sport surged in popularity. Today, there are an estimated 10 million climbers in the United States, with a sizable percentage in the Bay Area.

Despite superior climbing features and fitness facilities at some other gyms, Mission Cliffs remains one of the most popular, with a cult following. That's due only in part to its convenient location in the heart of the Mission. After trying out other gyms, Ambrose settled on Mission Cliffs because of its "down-to-earth quality." Other members regularly cite the open, welcoming vibe and the "friendly, quirky" staff as reasons for their patronage.

Rows of bicycles hang over the railing at the entrance of Mission Cliffs' converted
warehouse. The front desk stereo blasts everything from the Clash to Bob Marley, and inside the gym the conversation is almost deafening. While working out in a conventional gym is a mostly solitary activity in a hushed setting, climbing is collaborative and social. "MC is always bustling. During peak hours you can't even hear the music over the conversation, falling climbers and the nearly constant call for climbing partners," said Nick Lane-Smith, 30, a local technology entrepreneur and a climber of six years.

Venturing up the 50-foot walls at Mission Cliffs requires a partner. Most people bring one, but the gym encourages members to meet others. Announcements over the loudspeakers regularly call for "top-roping" for unpaired climbers. In top-roping, a rope is anchored to the top of the wall through a pulley system, and attached to the climber and "belay partner" on the ground. The belay partner provides weight at the other end of the rope, acting as a brake that keeps climbers from hitting the ground in the event they fall.

In "lead climbing," an advanced technique that allows the climber to "lead" the rope up the wall, there is no top anchor. Climbers, attached to belay partners on the ground, clip into carabiners (heavy metal loops) placed in the wall. Falling while lead climbing can create a spectacle. Not only are the drops longer, but also the belay partners providing the opposing weight are often lifted off the ground by the force of the drop. Climbers become part of the audience, standing around and cheering on others as they reach for a particularly challenging handhold.

On the second floor of Mission Cliffs is the 2,000-square-foot bouldering cave, where people sit around and tell stories, trade advice and problem-solve. Bouldering is done on small walls and doesn't require ropes or partners. Climbers jump on and off the walls, sometimes focusing on singular climbing moves for hours. "There's more of a social scene up here," said a climbing-chalk-covered Michal Kubicki, an attorney who lives in the Lower Haight.

The popularity of the sport isn't surprising, considering the hiking trails, well-formed rocks, and parks like Joshua Tree, Indian Rock, Castle Rock and Desolation Wilderness within driving distance of the Bay Area. Climbers can practice indoors year-round and plan outdoor trips based on weather and optimal climbing conditions.

While many people train to summit landmarks in the great outdoors, others enjoy indoor climbing as its own sport. It strengthens the core, leg and arm muscles, while improving flexibility. It's also a complement to yoga, because of its emphasis on focus, flexibility and balance. Whether bouldering or top-roping, there's problem solving involved. Rarely is a climb as straightforward as moving up a ladder. Knowing how to shift your weight, where to place your feet, how to reach the next hold is an intensely challenging and cerebral exercise.

The walls at Mission Cliffs may be filled with a fair share of the local 20-40 age group, but Adam Barczak, a staffer at Mission Cliffs, says membership encompasses a wide age range - from toddlers to retirees. Franco Faraganu, 61, an instructor, has been climbing for more than 30 years. There are kids' birthday parties and regular juvenile climbers as well. One member often brings his 4-year-old niece to climb the walls.
Gym a comfortable fit

Some Bay Area climbers might take one look at the crowded rock faces, small bouldering area and outdated, tiny weight-lifting area of Mission Cliffs and think, "What's the big deal?" The gym's one fitness area is shared by spinning, yoga, and abs and core classes while other gyms have multiple rooms dedicated to different activities. But for devotees, the gym is as comfortable as a favorite pair of old climbing shoes.

Mission Cliffs is seeking approval to double in size, but the process has been slow. According to Donna Dunlap, the gym's manager, the expansion was approved after initial plans were submitted in April to the Department of Building Inspection. A hearing in front of the City Planning Department was held in June, but the final go-ahead has yet to be granted.

Plans for the new Mission Cliffs call for an additional 1,000 square feet of bouldering terrain, updated fitness facilities, and an undisclosed number of new top and lead climbing routes (paths up the wall). When completed, it will be one of the biggest climbing gyms in the country. But once it's all spiffed up, will Mission Cliffs lose its identity and the loyalty of members who appreciate its well-worn charm?
Six places to get belayed in the Bay Area


Fitness classes: yoga, spinning, cardio boxing, abs and core

Bouldering: 2,000 square feet

Top roping: 125 routes

Lead: 50 routes

Exercise equipment and weights

Membership: $67 per month

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Thursday, January 13, 2011
  January Artist of The Month at BIW: Eric Ahnmark "Wonder of Rock"
An exhibit of fourteen photos depicting landscape photography across the United States, "Wonder of Rock: Images of the West" will be displayed on the walls of Berkeley Ironworks for the month of January. The exhibit is Eric Ahnmark's second showing at the gym.

Born and raised in the Midwest, Ahnmark became obsessed with the western United States taking many spring and summer trips to the desert southwest. Ahnmark spent two years working for the National Park Service in Tuscon, where his passion for the desert mixed with a new found desire to photograph. Ahnmark worked to capture the silhouettes of Saguaro cacti, the colors of the rock, and the beauty of the Grand Canyon State.

Stop by Berkeley Ironworks to see Ahnmark's wonderful pictures.
To see more of his work, check out Ahnmark's website.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011
  Fixed Gear at Crags
Rock climbing is difficult and sometimes climbers leave gear in situ at the crags. Quickdraws can often be seen hanging on difficult routes. Taking the quickdraws off the routes is considered stealing and not good behavior. Recently, a climber was caught taking draws off a route at Smith Rock. The climbers who owned the draws approached him and got the draws back through a non-violent and calm interaction. Check out the calm and sensible actions that the climbers took when dealing with confrontation.

Picnic Lunch Wall Draw Thief from Ian Caldwell on Vimeo.

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Sunday, January 9, 2011
  Local Climber Receives the Berbie Leadership Award
On January 5, 2011 The Access Fund recognized the 2010 winners of the Sharp End Awards. El Cerrito climber Tom Addison, a 48 year old environmental lobbyist, was awarded the Bebie Leadership award for his outstanding efforts in protecting Jailhouse Rock in Sonora.

The Bebie Leadership Award honors America's activists who help preserve climbing access and the environment. Since the early 1990s, Addison worked with multiple owners, the county, and the climbing community to ensure permanent access and a permanent easement to the crag. Addison is currently working to help build a new parking lot, trail, and start a fund to ensure permanent access to Jailhouse. Please support Tom and the Unlock Jailhouse Fund.

Tom Addison, the Warden, at Jailhouse Rock.

There will be a number of upcoming fundraisers as well as online auction to support the crag. Touchstone is a big supporter of the Unlock Jailhouse foundation.

Congratulations to Tom for his continued support of great issues in the climbing community.

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011
  Join Touchstone This Month- No Initation Fee!
January is a perfect month to head into the gym. The holiday season is over but the California winter is still around- that means rain outside. Avoid the bad weather, shed those holiday pounds, get in shape, and start a great new activity. Climb at the Touchstone gyms!

This month members will be able to attend the Touchstone Rope Series for free! The first one on January 21st at Sacramento Pipeworks will be an awesome opportunity to meet a ton of other climbers, check out new climbs, and have a blast.

Not only will new members be able to attend the TRS, but this month Touchstone is offering a 0 initiation fee! That means it's an even better time to join the gym. With five different locations in the bay area and a new gym opening soon in Fresno, Touchstone is one of the largest climbing gym facilities in North America. Come to Touchstone for great climbing, lots of Yoga, Crossfit and other classes, and the awesome climbing comp series!

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Sunday, January 2, 2011
  Ironworks Staff Bros Head to Boulders
Ryan Moon and Justin Alarcon, two of the classic characters working at the Berkeley Ironworks front desk, headed out to the boulders of Sonora for a "bro-date"- hipster lingo for when two "bros" hang out. They made a video of their day of climbing, chronicling the boulder problems they checked out, and the impressive driving send. Check out the video.

Man Date from Princess on Vimeo.

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