observations on gear, adventure, and the world

Sport Climbing

Where my head is pointing.

Over the last four years I’ve had lots of hobbies. Lots of dabbling. I started a company, learned how to build websites, started recording a podcast, a couple blogs, and countless other projects. Then a year and a half ago I started climbing again, then I quit my job, and got into a PhD program and suddenly all I was doing was studying and climbing (working as well still). I realized that just wasn’t bored anymore. Also, I realized that I’d been bored for several years, and that was where all the projects were coming from.

Now math and climbing have my full attention. I’ll be posting at tenlitre.com about the math side of things, but I’ve got a bit to say over here about climbing and other adventures.

THIS has my attention, and trad is the only way it could ever be.

THIS has my attention, and trad is the only way it could ever be.

Now on to the pun in the title. Headpointing. A version of redpointing where the protection for the route (useually a rather short route) is minimal, so the leader reherses the route on toprope until she is ready to send. The saying that “good climbing is the best protection” expands to “good climbing is most of your protection.”

I think this is a great way to find safe, adventurous climbing.

I live in the Wasatch where there is a strong anti/limited bolting ethic. Maybe it’s like this everywhere but folks are always on Mountain project complaining that there are bolts too close to trad lines and that it ruins the experiance.

Now, I’m totally in support of differing ethics for differing places (I grew up in Minnesota climbing at Taylor’s Falls (no bolts), Devil’s Lake (no bolts), Palisade Head (no bolts, no chalk), the WAZ (no climbing), and Barn Bluff (bolts), and I don’t think you should put a bolt ladder next to a crack that takes gear, however in a place like Big Cottonwood Canyon where discontinuous systems of cracks mean you could place offset brass every six inches and rip them all with a fall I’m inspired not to be a purist.

I’m thinking of this because of a couple of routes “Alien”  a 5.10a first climbed by Drew Bedford, Pokey Amory, Jamie Cameron, and Conrad Anker, and “Dirty Rotten Horror” 5.10d. Both are difficult but possible to protect, and both have bolts nearby, and MP comments on both have plenty of bolt bravado.

In both cases the bolts don’t get in my way at all. On Dirty Rotton Horror, which I’ve dialed on top rope, I never even see the nearby bolts and am psyched to try the arete they protect as it’s one of the few other lines at the cliff that looks fun to climb. On Alien I clip the bolts on  lead, and if I’m of the mind I’ll start headpointing to lead up to a trad lead on the route. In the first case the bolts have no impact on the route, in the second case the bolts improve the experiance making it much safer and simpler to work the route.

Here’s the post that got me thinking about this:

New E8 at Kilnsey for Nik Jennings

Exodus (E8 6c) – the failures from nik jennings on Vimeo.

So get out there and clip what you wanna clip and bolt what’s fit to bolt.


RSS mess

I’ve not been able to keep up with the really amazing stuff that’s been coming through my RSS feeds lately. So I’m gonna dump it here and now.

First, David Lama is going to blow up alpine climbing. Big time. Here’s a taste of things to come. freeing the compressor route was just the beginning.

So they used ice tools on their ascent and Will Gadd knows a thing or two about holding and swinging them tools. Here’s a post with a very clear title: How to hold an ice tool.

Kelly Cordes, rumored to climb ice, approves of David Lama (he said so on Facebook so it must be true) and Maurice Sendak.

The best thing I’ve ever read on climbing injuries, because it quotes all the other best things I’ve read on climbing injuries. Get well soon Dave MacLeod!

Boots don’t fit? Lace’em gooder!

Five things. A Cold Thistle guest post.

Soloing is cool if you’re good at it.


Belay Jackets and Warming Up

Even though those topics sound related they aren’t really.

Dane from Cold Thistle has put together a rather exhaustive post on the belay jacket for alpine climbing.

He argues that synthetics are the way to go, and I’ll agree for the use case he’s talking about. But for a winter trip to the desert I’m going to say that down is better. Your pack is already pretty full right? And maybe you’re a bit warm on the walk to the wall, but then you want all the warmth you can get while you’re chilling between burns.

Since we’re already talking about climbing and staying warm, it makes sense to talk about climbing and getting warm.

The power company climbing blog, one of the better training resources out there has a great piece on warming up to send your project (route). This makes me curious about warm ups for bouldering. Sometimes, specifically when I’ve worked a problem to the point that I just need to come back fresh and send it, I’ve been surprised that after about three problems of increasing difficulty I’m ready to send. This may only work for me because I ride my bike about 20 minutes to get to the gym and do lots of hand and arm warm-up exercises between burns.


Literally. I am sick.

Though, let’s be honest, this is pretty sick too:

A couple new pieces of gear that I’m stoked about for the winter season just showed up (I bought them so the DOJ can relax).

The Ama Dablam from Marmot, and the ROM jacket also from Marmot.

Part of the reason I’m psyched about both of these pieces is that the Marmot site has little videos from guides who have been using these jackets, and their descriptions of what the jacket does fit what I want them to do perfectly. It’s a lot more interesting to hear/see someone use gear in the field and how it works in real application than to read about what the jacket was designed to do.

Here’s the clip for the Ama Dablam:

I haven’t put the Ama Dablam to any real tests yet, other than the around-town-in-a-snow storm test. It seems to do quite well but the DWR is definitely just R not at all waterproof so the coat really needs a hardshell if there’s going to be any precipitation anywhere near freezing.

I’ve got the Patagonia Nano Puff as a supplement, from looking at the Baffin Jacket he has on it looks like the Arc’tyrx Atom LT would be a good option for layering as well.

Now, when I’m moving I make a lot of heat… and sweat so I’ve been hunting for a very light windproof piece to use for backcountry skiing and other higher output activities.

I’ve been pretty impressed with the ROM so far. I’ve gone on a run in a snowstorm and several very chilly bike commutes and it’s performed quite well. I’m looking forward to pairing this with the Patagonia Alipine guide pants for this winter’s Backcountry adventures.

What to do and what to bring.

Between getting in some great climbing, and working on getting into grad school I’ve had a lot of gear show up at ampersand HQ that I haven’t been able to write about.

But I’ve come across some great stuff in my RSS miasma that I thought I’d share.

An entertaining and very useful post from Blake Herrington: General Dirtbaggery: Saving time, wasting time and explaining climbing on the Internet. Great common sense answers to common questions, for example:

Q: Is climbing safe?

A: No. But you can make it safer by worrying about the things that actually cause the most accidents, such as falling while unroped on exposed, “easy” terrain, rappel-rigging mistakes and communication errors.
Great! Simple and focused on what matters.
Since it’s nuking in the Wasatch right now here are some Backcountry Ski Pack lists:
From Ski Theory, What’s in My Pack and Why. Alex packs a lot of stuff, but he knows why he’s carrying it. Give it a read,
From Get Stronger Go Longer, Grand Teton Speed Project: Weight Matters. Brian brings less, but has reasons for that too. Also some ideas to consider.
Then, maybe somewhere in between (I know these aren’t apples to apples) from Camp’s Go Light Go Fast Blog: ELK MOUNTAIN GRAND TRAVERSE – TEAM CRESTED BUTTE GEAR RECOMMENDATIONS.
I like Brian’s thinking to help me not bring anything superfluous, I’ll be glad I didn’t skimp too much because of reading Alex’s post when things go sideways, and I really like to TCB post because it’s for a longer adventure but with Brian’s mentality.


Stoves, like bikes and skis and shoes tents demand a quiver.

Tea from water that was JetBoiled!

The Girl with Tea steeped with water that was JetBoiled in Maple Canyon!

Here’s the quiver for stoves:

(1) A canister “Son-of-Rocket” style stove – a canister stove that boils water with little fuel and time and weight.

(2) A light, sturdy white gas stove – for gold weather and trips to places where canisters don’t grow on trees.

(3) A car camping stove.

There’s an unending discussion on stoves, but clearly the perfect stove is dictated by what you use it for. Here are some of the more important considerations:

Cold: The isobutane mixes in fuel canisters don’t do well under 35-40 degrees, though Jetboil has some very innovative solutions you’ve got to pay for them. Melting snow takes a lot of fuel, and white gas is a lot cheaper than canisters.

Simmering:  I’m not much of a through hiker, my longest trips have been in the five day range, and I probably walk with all my kit for 5 24hr stretches per year. I read about through hikers who seem to care about simmering. That makes some sense to me for two reasons, first they probably want some variety in what they eat. Second one million mountain house meals can’t be tasty. I only care about this for car camping… mostly because the Girl cares about this.

Simple: For backpacking I carry the jetboil cup, stove, and fuel can (one small can = 2 people for 5 days @ 3 meals and one morning brew = boils 7 times per day) a long handled ti spoon and freeze dried food packages.  And a lighter, and a back up lighter. No dishes to wash.

Fuel Availability: White gas and propane are available everywhere. Canisters are not. WG and Propane are cheap, canisters are less cheap.

Something like a review: Quiver gear is a bit tricky to review, because so much of the stove’s performance depends on the use case. Stoves don’t compromise well so I recommend that you find folks who are doing what you want to be doing and find out what they are using.

I’ve got two cannister stoves that I’m quite happy with, but for different uses.

The Jet Boil Personal Cooking System: It’s light, simple, efficient. I love it for anything where I have to carry the stove. I don’t do anything but boil water in the pot so I don’t have to wash it on the trail. I simply add water to the backpacking meal in its original packaging and eat from the package, then all I need to wash is my spoon. On multi day trips I fold each empty package so that they all fit inside one another for very tidy waste management. I’ve got the most simple version of the Flash stove – no auto lighting mechanism – I’m hard on my gear so this stuff tends to break. I’ve got two aluminum cups, one with the flash insulator and one with the lighter Sol insulator.  Since I got my stove JB has made some improvements, but I’ve got no complaints about mine. The redesign involved some weight savings, a easier to use valve adjuster and a more functional lid. Again I didn’t notice these as problems on the Flash cup (the Sol lid and base were a bit too light and don’t fit (lid) and broke (base/cup)).

The Flash/Sol line isn’t great for “cooking” other than boiling, though Jet Boil makes a really amazing stove for that (Check out the Jet Boil Helios on Backcountry.com), and by not great I mean that the system is not designed for that sort of use. The stove doesn’t simmer at all. That said the Jet Boil system is perfect. It’s light, boils fast, packs well (about the size of a Nalgene for the whole system), wears well, and is easy to use. We take one stove packed in the Sol Cup with a can of fuel between the two of us on all of our backpacking adventures. I’ll often bring a back-up can, just in case valves get fouled or someone runs out. Also, if you expect temps to get much below freezing I’d suggest something that uses white gas.

For the girl and I this setup is perfect, for larger groups – 3/4 you could use the Sumo cup and only carry one stove – though I do like having a second stove for backup.

Disclaimer here is that I’m a huge Jet Boil fanboy – doesn’t hurt that one of my climbing partners worked for them (I’ll call him GeoBoil, because his parents are geologists and he worked for Jetboil – getting outside with him is like taking a geology course AND an engineering course… sorry ladies he’s married and his wife’s something of a badass) and has EVERYTHING they’ve ever made as well as an unending supply of great stories about the design process behind each product. Additionally, my experiance with the Helios is GeoBoil busting out an amazing chorizo bean and egg burito breakfast up in the Uintas.

MSR Wind Pro II Stove: My stove is a few years old so it may not be this exact model, but it looks and functions identical. I don’t have the little stand for the fuel so I just flip it over and prop it on rocks if it’s cold out. I don’t use this stove as my primary backpacking stove since it doesn’t stand up to the Jet Boil for weight, efficiency, and packability (depends somewhat on the pots you use I’ve got the MSR Blacklite set). You also need to be careful with the surface you put this on. In snow I use one of the blacklite pots as a stand, otherwise a piece of wood or cardboard keeps it in line. If you want to improve the eficiency of this stove, get a heat exchanger  for your pot – though this this puts this system farther behind the JetBoil in weight and packability.

So, this stove is better than the JetBoil in the cold – but still not as good as white gas, why do I keep it around?

Two reasons:

(1) Durability – this is the cockroach of stoves. There’s not a lot to it, but what there is is steel. You hold it in your hand and you know it’s built to last.

(2) Simmer. Yep – this won’t boil your water first but you can cook eggs with it!  To be fair with a good wind screen and heat exchanger system it does boil quite well, but I’m always amazed at how well it does at real cooking. For car camping I’ll use my JetBoil for hot water, since that’s what it does well, and hot chocolate, tea, coffee, oatmeal, grits etc are all breakfast staples, and then I’ll do bacon and eggs in the MSR blacklite pot. It’s a pretty slick arrangement, but for car camping I’m definately in the market for a Primus Firehole 100 or something in that genre.

What’s missing from my quiver:

(1) A big fat car camping stove like the Primus Firehole 100 I figure if your setting up a base camp this is the way to go – you’ll save a lot of money on fuel, though propane doesn’t like the cold too much.

(2) A fast boiling white gas stove – if I’m melting snow then canisters aren’t the best choice, also if I’m doing anything exciting internationally I want a multifuel stove so here’s what I’m after (and not just because Andrew McLean thinks its… well I can’t hear him over the roar): The MSR XGK EX Multi-Fuel Stove . If I need to be melting snow then it’s all about fuel efficiency, fuel cost, and speed but not about simmering, I think my Wind Pro will do fine for that in liquid feed mode, also the Wind Pro has a whitegas doppleganger called the Simmerlite that may be discontinued but you could find. 

A little note about use cases:

I do car camping for climbing trips and canyoneering trips, these range from really too hot in Zion national park to almost too cold in Saint George, Moab, Maple, the Uintas.. but not so cold that propane wouldn’t get me through. I do at least one but up to 7 nights of backpacking per year, most often in the desert or longer canyons, and some winter camping/hut trips. So my stove priorities reflect that, folks who spend months on a trail with lots of water may have very different preferences and needs (I’ll link to some stuff from them below)

 A little tidbit for the DOJ – Hey, I paid for this stuff with my own coin. Though I try to find sales when I can I also do my best to support local shops, REI, Backcountry, and great companies by not being too much of a jerk about getting the lowest price possible. I just find a price I can afford for a product I want and I pay it… or I don’t if I can’t find a price I can afford. But I NEVER EVER go into a shop and try to haggle about the price! SO I guess I strayed from the DOJ bit there… anyway here are some resources:

Section Hiker (for the long, long walk types):

Back Packing Gear Review List

Liquid Fuel Buyers Guide


Helios: a fair but not ecstatic review I figured I’d put this here since my opinion on all things Jet Boil is rather ecstatic.

JetBoil – Oh, Conrad Anker took one of these systems up The Meru Shark’s Fin.


Stoves page – not all comment sections are created equal. Backcountry.com’s comments and reviews are perfect in my mind. The mix marketing copy, sponsored athlete reviews (important because they have broad experience with the product line) and consumer questions and reviews. It’s all here, good bad and ugly. Some places, like the REI.com comment sections, tend to get over run by people who may be dissatisfied with a product because they don’t know how to use the product or were useing it for something it wasn’t designed for (touring skis always get bad reviews from folks who try them in resorts). On backcountry.com there’s a good conversation about products that allows you to really understand it’s strengths and weaknesses beyond the marketing copy.

How to Climb HARD: Training for the rest of us – Part 3: GO TIME!

Climbing is Key:

Climbing is a skill sport so while pushing through the moderate grades it’s essential to focus on using climbing to train. When you’re pushing in to the 13/15/15 range every little bit counts and so strength training becomes important, but for us it’s important to just get on the rock and move.

GO TIME – is for crushing so get your head ready to really push during these workouts.

From the list of “What You Need” the following can all come from simply getting on the rock:

  1. Strength
    • Power
    • Power Endurance
    • Endurance
    • Finger Strength
      • Technique
      • Milage
      • MOTIVATION – it’s why you’re up there!

Now, lets think about GO TIME! this is the time you have out on the rock or at the gym – it’s supposed to be fun, even social. So all this should do is be in your mind as you chat and play, let these steps give some structure to the party. Crags with high concentrations of varied problems/routes are VERY, VERY, good for training. It makes finding partners simple, and allows everyone to meet their own needs while still having a lot of fun together. Having someone warm up on your project is AWESOME you can learn a lot from watching someone who has a route wired! Gyms are great for training, though not always for motivation.

So here’s a suggested GO TIME! work out, with a little supplement that I use to fill in the gaps. I’m envisioning a work out at a boulder gym so the routes average 8-12 moves up to the finish hold, a good shake there, then a down climb. If you’re doing routes you can adjust the numbers down by a factor of 2 or 1.75 – or what ever feels right.

Here’s the short version:
Get Warm:
10 min aerobic warm up (walk, bike, jog)
Some arm/hand exercises mixed with some easy climbing.
Get Going:
5 hardish onsights, 5 harder repeats (past projects) Focus on perfection, mix in checking out a move or two of potential mini-projects
Get after it:
2-4 mini projects (3 tries each)
Cool Down:
I hit the finger hand and fist cracks, and if I’m feeling like I’ve got a go or two of unfinished business, I’ll head back to the mini project for a bit.
Hangboard/pullup routine: If I need to complete the burn – most often if my workouts get cut short, or if the day at the crag wasn’t quite hard enough. Details below.

Get Warm:
Pedal 10 minutes to the gym.
Arm swingy, hand massagey, funny business mixed in with 2-5 easy problems, maybe a traverse. Focus on getting your hands and arms supple and ready to work. The Moon climbing blog has some wonderful advice on how to do this right, but find out what works for you and look for ways to perfect it. I’ve got asthema and so warming up my lungs is especially essential to for me.

Get Going:
Repeats of past projects 5-10 work on really climbing these well. YOur goal is for as many previously hard moves as possible to feel easy. Memorize and perfect sequences, shake out at the top then do a nice controlled down climb. It’s ok to get a bit gassed here, but don’t go too deep. Don’t rest too much between each problem, but as the pump increases and fatigue starts to accumulate sit down and read or chat.

This is a good time in the work out to make some modifications to focus on on your weaknesses. While I was working on Black Monday – a rather steep 11a – I spent a lot of time doing very steep problems with moderate difficulty. I needed to develop the core strength, and technique specific to steep terrain. I’d do some laps trying to learn to rest and recover on steep terrain, and add traverses to easier problems.

This section really focuses on mileage and technique, but you can think of it as the second half of your warm up. Once you feel like you’re catching the sending wave and you are really ready to go it’s time to Get After It!

Get After It:
Here it’s time for an idea I’m calling mini-projecting. The Power Company blog does a great job of laying it out. Find cool routes that push you, on varied terrain. Give them 3 tries. Your goal is to send them in three tries, so focus on pushing the envelope in a measured way. Note ones you thought were “realistic-just-not-today” routes, and note: first, what can you improve to help you send, and, if you think you just need to figure out the sequence then do some visualization and come back next session. If it feels impossible, move on. If everything goes in 1-2 tries you need to look at harder stuff, if nothing goes – look easier. YOu get the picture. You’ll be getting pumped and tired in this section so rest up between bouts. Depending on time and energy do 2-4 attempts/sends. Don’t get sucked into 50-try projects until later… well sometimes it’s fun so do it if you feel it, but make that the exception rather than the rule.

Also look for problems that prepare you for your goals. Again Black Monday – I was coming off at the end of the roof so I spent time at my limit on steep problems in the gym. Now that I’m working on Big in Japan I’m focusing on more vertical problems with small holds and awkward moves.

Cool Down: I like to throw on my crack shoes and do some work in the “Crack Shack” and then if I feel it come back for one last go on something. Then pedal home.

The Supplement:

If you don’t feel like you’ve gotten in everything you need to at the gym, or crag. I’ve got a little set I like to do until I feel like it’s time to stop.

Hangboard 5X15sec hangs with 30 sec rest.
5 Pullups, 5 hanging leg raises
20 pushups with one leg raised (to get some back/core action) switch legs at 10

repeat ad nauseam. For a real workout link sets without rest between exercises, or take some rest to make it more pleasant. We’ll talk more about push-ups and core work in later sections, but here I’d like to take a moment to pay respect to the hang board.

First, be wise. You can get hurt. Use an open grip, engage your shoulders and elbows, but don’t to full pull-ups. Be a wimp… but get stronger. Quit early and come back stronger. I’m a huge advocate for the hangboard, used sparingly and gently. You’ll feel dumb if you hurt yourself on it, so don’t push this part of the work out EVER.

Two things are going on here though. The first is workload. When you’re climbing at mostly moderates,  you never create the level of work for your forearms that the handboard creates. This should underscore the caution needed, but also, if you can get one 15 second hang in per week on a bad pinch or open hand a slopey crimp, your arms will be more than ready for a lot of the harder holds you’ll be coming across. Also, there is a little bit of pain involved in pulling hard on the small-but-positive holds. If you’ve done even a little hang board work you’ll be less freaked out when you get on some just-steeper-than-vertical crimp-fest. When I got on Big in Japan and dug into the crimps I felt some real confidence from knowing that I can hang repeatedly for 15 seconds from this sort of hold… and I wasn’t surprised by the pain.

Manage your efforts:
Especially when you’re adding in the supplemental workouts you need to learn the difference between good pain and bad pain. Tendon pain is never good pain. Stop before you’re so wrecked! You should be fully recovered and psyched to come back in a day or two. We’ll talk about this more in the timing section, but quit while you’re ahead. We want our bodies to adapt to climbing regularly, so again QUIT WHILE YOU’RE AHEAD.

Again – go hard, go deep, feel the burn, and quit while you’re ahead.