Touchstone Blog Archive
Friday, September 28, 2007
  Yoga Workshop at Mission Cliffs
Deepen your introduction to Pranayama, yogic breathing this Sunday, September 30th from 5-6pm.

Out of breath? Feeling like you really need to relax? Many of us run around during the day taking shallow breaths. Let the ancient techniques of yogic breathing (pranayama) inform your daily breath. Increase the oxygen in the body & relax the mind. Often focus on the breath naturally leads to concentration & meditation. Experience the life energy (prana) that keeps you alive in a whole new way. No experience with breathing necessary... ;)

This is a free member event. $10 for non-members. This class will be available on a first-come/firs-serve basis.

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  Change of Direction
Sacramento Pipeworks member Harlan Reymont first started climbing at Utah's Little Cottonwood Canyon around 1976 while still in high school. After a time, by his own admission he "fell in with the wrong crowd", started drinking and smoking cigarettes, ultimately giving up on climbing. He didn't pursue a healthier lifestyle until 5 years ago while assisting his father after open heart surgery. Witnessing the effect an unhealthy lifestyle had on his father prompted Harlan to realize he had to give up smoking or eventually face the same consequences.

Quitting cigarettes took a few tries, but after he finally shook the habit a friend told him about Pipeworks. One day 4 years ago he walked into the gym, ended up joining the same day - and has been coming regularly ever since. Initially he only came to Pipeworks for the climbing, but after a trip up Mt. Whitney someone challenged him to run a marathon. Harlan was ready for the test, so he bought a 'how to train for a marathon' book, ran for 4 months and recently finished The San Francisco Marathon in under 5 hours. Harlan is pictured above at the end of that race with his wife of 19 years, Kris.

After a week long break from running he is already training for Sacramento's California International Marathon held in December. At the CIM he will be running to raise funds for Organs Are Us, an organization promoting awareness for organ donors, and this time he wants to finish the 26.2 miles in less than 4 hours. For donation information you can contact Harlan at We congratulate Harlan for his marathon success, but more importantly for showing the rest of us that it is possible to make huge changes in life via fitness!

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Thursday, September 27, 2007
  Chicken Wings

Are flared elbows effective despite being weird-looking?

Raise one pumped claw if this has ever happened to you:

As you get more and more tired on a route you’re just barely managing to hold on. You manage to squeeze out one move, and then another, and desperately pull off another. As you get more trashed, your elbows start creeping up and out behind you until they’re sticking almost straight up and back, like the joints on a chicken wing.

(Mmmm, hot sauce…how that lactic acid burns!)

As the relatively weak muscles of your forearms get taxed, your body is using bigger muscles in your back and shoulders to try to help. That is, as your fingers start opening up, your body levers your failing fingers back down on the holds by moving your elbows up and out at the other end of the ‘lever’ – your forearms.

There’s nothing technically wrong with doing ‘chicken wings.’ But you probably don’t want to get in the habit of it. Even if you could force yourself to bring your elbows back down, your trashed fingers would just drop you.

It’s a good thing that you’re throwing yourself into finishing the route with so much gusto – way to stick with it! But once those elbows start to flare, it’ll be over in seconds. In general, the better strategy is to climb more efficiently overall. Use some strategy, and exploit every kind of rest on the route you can so you can finish with some control and style instead looking like you’re trying to take flight.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007
  Know Your GriGri, Tonight

Free GriGri Clinic at Concord September 26, 2007 6:00 pm

Some mistakenly call it an "auto-belay" device and have suffered the consequences. Don't be the victim of an accident. Come to this FREE clinic at Touchstone Concord and bring your climbing partner to learn the proper method for using a GriGri. This first-of-its-kind clinic will be taught by Petzl rep Dylan Andrews and will take place on September 26th.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007
  Realization: Ethan Climbs Hard
Ethan at the 2005 Nationals

Ethan Pringle, who grew up climbing at Mission Cliffs, has gone on to become one of the world’s hottest climbers. Ethan who grew up only a couple blocks from Mission Cliffs, started climbing in his early teens at the gym.

On Sept. 5th, Ethan became only the 5th person to ascend Realization, a route in Ceuse, France established by Chris Sharma. The route was considered at least a 5.15a – perhaps harder, although when Ethan finished the route, he put it at 14d.

"That's our boy", head routesetter Craig McClenahan stated after hearing of Ethan's send. Craig went on in jest to say "A 15a in France is a 14c in California."

The wall it is on overhangs at an absurd angle and the route stretches for over 100 feet. Redpointing the route requires technical sequences, raw power, and extraordinary crimp strength.

Pringle probably spent less time working out the moves on Realization than the four people who redpointed it before him.

For more info, see:

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Friday, September 21, 2007
  Yosemite Facelift
4th Annual Yosemite Facelift
Sept. 26th - 30th

For five days in this fall, the Yosemite Climbing Association will once again sponsor a Yosemite-wide cleanup to benefit the park and help restore high use areas after the busy summer season. The goal is an intensive cleaning of all areas in the park before the winter rains set in. This will include roadways, the river corridor, trails, parking areas, campgrounds, climbing areas, and lodging areas.

Meet the YCA in front of the Visitor Center between 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM from September 26th to September 30th, to pick up trash bags and litter sticks. Bring your trash back for weighing and sorting by 5:00 p.m. Signing in and weighing your collection at the end of the day helps us track our progress, reach the most area and create revenue for the Park.

Show up early for assignments, or if you already have a route for the day, sign up, grab a trash bag, and spend some time cleaning the area you are enjoying. If you can’t be there at 8:00 AM, show up when you can, every little bit will help. Each participant receives a raffle ticket for every day they participate. Hundreds of prizes will be raffled off at a special reception for all participants on September 30.

Last year, 1,157 participants donated 9,256 hours, collect 25,000 pounds of trash, valued at $166,970 by the NPS. Thanks to this effort, the NPS presented Ken Yager with the Yosemite Award. Help us make the YCA Yosemite Facelift an even greater success this year.

For more info, contact Ken Yager.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007
  Climbing Shoes - pt 2
Trying to break into 5.11s? 5.12s?
You might need new shoes.

Part 2 of 2: Getting sensitive

Here’s the run down on shoes.

First, the single most important part of the shoe is that couple of square inches of rubber under and on the edge of your big toes. You need a nice clean, crisp 90 degree edge of rubber there that you can press and roll right into the little edges, nubbins, and creases of tiny footholds. Once that part of your shoe gets worn and rounded off — stop reading right now and go get them, hold them up to the light, and look closely at that edge right under the outside edge of your big toes — the best you can do with them is kind of smear them crudely over the whole area of the tiny features on small footholds.

Smearing will work, and smearing is an important part of good climbing. And sometimes the additional contact with the wall or surrounding rock can make the difference between slipping and not. But trying to smear bluntly over the whole area when the hold is a tiny crease or edge is inefficient, and it won’t give you the most purchase.

And whether you realize it or not, when your foot is a little less secure on that tiny edge, the rest of your body knows it and tries to compensate. The only way to compensate for slipping feets because of rounded worn out, clubby shoes is to bear down harder on the tiny handholds that your fingers are dealing with.

Now after you squeeze, crimp, or clutch a bunch of holds just a little bit harder, then that means that your forearms,which are always the weak link in this whole process, are going to flame out that much earlier.

That is, you’re going to pump out and fall off long before you finish the route. And it happened because the rubber on your shoes is worn out. But since the rubber wore off slowly over the course of weeks or months, and since you can’t really detect every bit of compensation your body is doing for the foot insecurity, you never even realized that it was the shoes that were starting to suck and not really you.

So it’s time to put away those solid beginner shoes.

What you need to look for as your technique improves, as you get stronger, as your feet get stronger, and as you get into the harder grades, are shoes that fit your foot like a glove.

Different manufacturers use different lasts to shape their shoes. One of the companies will have a last that produces a shoe that fits your foot really well. Go shopping, try lots of them on, and see how as many different pairs fit on your feet as you can.

Most likely, if you're trying harder grades you are also getting ready for a pair of thinner, softer, more sensitive shoes. As your toes get stronger and your technique gets better (you don’t drag your toes up the wall any more, do you?) one of the sportier, pointier, toe down models of shoes is going to be more appropriate for you.

With the pointy toes and sharp edges, and snugger molded fit, you’ll be able to press the shoe right down into the feature and wring every bit of purchase out of it with your feet, and that will take some of the load off your burning forearms. And that will put you at the anchors on those hard routes thinking, “wow, I never realized how important my shoes and my footwork were.”

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007
  Climbing Shoes - pt 1
Trying to break into 5.11s? 5.12s?
You might need new shoes.

Part 1 of 2: Moving up

If you’re like most climbers, when you first got into the sport, the price of a pair of climbing shoes was more important that performance. You were just learning how to tie a knot, so you didn’t have a concept of performance. So you bought a solid pair of entry level shoes. Then you pawed, scraped, and dragged them up routes until as you got more and more hooked on climbing.

So now you’re doing 5.10s in the gym with some regularity. Maybe you are even managing to do the occasional 5.11. It’s time to revisit the shoe issue. It’s time to start thinking more carefully about the ways your feet can make the difference between doing hard routes and not. When your rise through the grades starts to slow down, one of the things that is happening is that you’re managing to exploit the upper body strength you’ve got for all it’s worth. And your fingers have gotten stronger and more used to the stresses. But muscle power just won’t get you very far in climbing, contrary to what it seems.

What becomes important if you want to keep getting better is learning how to efficiently use every bit of your muscle power and stamina with strategy and technique to get you throw routes with more hard moves, more challenging sequences, and fewer rests.

One of the pieces in that puzzle is being sure that you have the right shoes, they are well suited to your foot and the type of climbing you are doing, and you are squeezing every bit of potential out of them.

There’s nothing wrong with those clunky old shoes you started with—I know you love them. And I know that you and the shoes have lots of fond memories. But now you need some precision surgical instruments, and if you learn to use them right, it will buy you a couple of letter grades at least, and maybe a whole number grade. We’ll save a discussion of foot and toe technique for a future column.

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Monday, September 17, 2007
  Feel Like You Lost Your Drive?
Learn to Balance & Support your Nature
at Mission Cliffs

Free Ayurvedic Lifestyle Counseling Sessions by Eleni Gekas Wednesday, September 19, 6-8PM

Are you stressed? Tired? Feel like you lost your drive? Learn how to bring more balance into your life by changing your diet and routines. Come to a free Ayurvedic Lifestyle Counseling session. Ayurveda, the ancient Indian holistic healing science, will give you the tools to assess your body constitution, or Prakriti, and learn what simple changes you can make to sustain your natural state of being in balance. Eleni received her Ayurvedic Lifestyle Counselor Diploma from the Mount Madonna Institute. Sign up at the front desk. First come, first serve. For more information, please contact Eleni at


Thursday, September 13, 2007
  Power Company gets a Viewing
Now the final coat of stucco is up on the walls of the Great Western Power Company, the hole drilling and t-nutting begins. Come by Wednesday, September 19th to check out the construction and get a forecast of the great climbing to come. If you're lucky, we might even have a top-rope climb or two ready for testing. Patti Phillips, Touchstone's retail manager, did a spectacular job coloring the walls, and now, before holds go up, is the best time to view them. The gym will be open for visiting from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM with beverages and light refreshments to be served. Bring your shoes and harness - just in case!

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007
  Power Company gets a Webpage

We are getting ever so close to the opening of the newest Touchstone indoor rock climbing gym in Oakland. We are now drilling t-nuts (around 20,000 of them) and will soon be setting routes on the new walls.

We also have brought the new pages online for the Great Western Power Co. You can get all the info you will need on the new gym here. And remember, you can see the latest pictures of the construction in our online gallery.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007
  Muscles like a Bathtub
Climbing better requires knowing what your muscles are capable of and what they need. It’s too easy to climb yourself into a situation on a route where the moves are too hard and you’re stressed and over gripping.

The key is learning how to maneuver your climbing around your limits. Think of your fitness level, or your capacity to climb, as a bathtub that’s got water pouring in and an open drain emptying it out.Your fitness level is sort of like the depth and size of your tub, the rate at which you can pour water in, and the rate at which it can drain. If the rate at which the tub fills is faster than the rate it drains, then it overflows and you have a disaster. If you stress the muscles at a rate faster than they can recover, they shut down.

Muscles have stored glycogen that they burn to contract. Then the byproducts of that energy exchange must be metabolized. Wastes need to be shuttled out of the muscle tissues, and fresh oxygenated blood with more energy needs to be brought in. If you do too many hard moves in a row, the load you’re putting on the muscles quickly overwhelms the system’s ability to keep up. Lactic acid saturates the muscle fibers and they quickly reach failure. Now there’s water flooding all over the bathroom floor and threatening the drown the downstairs neighbor.

What can you do? Strategize your movement. Take advantage of any and all rest situations. Snatch a quick shake for either arm before the hard sequence if you can. Move through the hard part fast and get to the bigger holds. Then take the time for the system to catch up. Don’t hold your breath (if you put the stopper in the tub, a flood is inevitable).

Breathe, relax, and don’t over grip. Develop a sensitivity for how hard your muscles are working at any given time by paying attention to them. When you’re training, figure out where your failure point is. Find the point at which you’ve pushed so hard you can’t adequately recover.

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Monday, September 10, 2007
Ever wonder what other climbers think about the gyms? Follow this link to find out what other people are saying on Yelp about Touchstone Concord and add some comments of your own.

Here's one highlight:

"For a beginner, this is the place to go to if you want to learn from a knowledgeable staff and a patient one as well. The vibe is a plus and the equipment to stretch out are great. Besides the coffee they offer at the front is definitely needed. The people that worked there when I visited were what I call military safe, our instructor taught us as a group and then made sure we each knew how to tie our own ropes and how to belay properly. At other locations, they will show you how and make sure you know how to, but here they will stay with you for your first few runs up. Safety and fun here are a priority." -Robert B.

You can also find 97 reviews of Mission Cliffs, 33 reviews of Ironworks and even 7 reviews of Touchstone San Jose. Yelp is also a great way to find a good restaurant around the gym to try after your workout.

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Thursday, September 6, 2007
  Get Out of Your Rut
It’s easy to get into a training rut. You find something that yields good results, and you want to stick with it. But after a while, the old motivation doesn’t seem to be there anymore.

That’s when it’s time for a drastic change. If you’ve been climbing, switch to bouldering. If you have been doing hard routes, take some easy ones. Or challenge yourself with an even harder one.

Or you can stick with your old workout routine and introduce a few variations. Try to climb up and down five times without stepping off the wall. Set a goal of 20 routes. Try doing a route as fast as you safely can. Or take it as slow as you can. Trying combining parts of your workout that you haven’t before. Boulder for 30 minutes then lift weights, and so on. Keeping it interesting can solve the motivation problem. And having the right people with the right atmosphere helps too. The right music in your iPod can motivate you so much that you might hurt yourself. Try climbing to Ministry’s “New World Order” and you’ll see.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2007
  Power Company gets a Logo
We are excited to unveil the new logo for the Great Western Power Company. As we get closer to the opening, we will continue to announce more details for our newest gym, located in downtown Oakland. For now, you can check out pictures of the construction in our online photo gallery.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2007
Aug. 20 - 24, 2007 several Touchstone members (Bruce Berg, Dan Brekke, Jaime Grant, Marty Kaplan, and Elmar Stefke) participated in the 16th Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) randonneuring bike event. Much like the Olympics this grand spectacle is held every four years and predates the Tour de France. Cyclists must successfully complete a timed series of rides called brevets, covering distances of 200K, 300K, 400K, and 600K in order to qualify for PBP, which covers a distance of 1200K (actual distance 1227K or 763mi) and over 30,000' of climbing in less than 80, 84, or 90 hours (participants chose their starting time/time limit).

This year's PBP turned out to be tougher than usual. Daily rain and wind combined to make things miserable for many of the 5300 riders from around the globe and the number of abandons exceeded that of previous years, including many 'anciens,' previous PBP finishers. The event was truly unique and spectacular, heading over rollers through green fields and quaint villages out to Brest on the Atlantic and back much the same way. Trying to stretch fifty French words into a conversation that would pass time for hours, staving off boredom and exhaustion in the dark and rain. Sitting in pacelines with a handful of foreign riders who hadn't slept much for several days. Was that "to your left" in Danish? Finally the French along the road, who proved to be unparalleled cycling enthusiasts, constantly clapping, cheering, and urging the riders forward, even in the pouring rain and early morning hours. 'Bon Courage, Bon Route, Bon Chance!'

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