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Category Archives: Climbing Community

Be a Climber: Quitting (and re-creating) Your Day Job

The juxtaposition of my life does not go unnoticed by my closest friends and family. On one hand I love order, control, routine. Type A personality stuff. On the other hand, the well-defined and fully explored bores me to death and I crave adventure, the unknown, something new and ever-changing where the outcome is uncertain.

While those seem to be at great odds with each other, they come together in perfect harmony for me in the form of calculated risk. It’s the best of both worlds really. Let me give you a few examples. Before children, I free soloed and did X-rated routes up to 5.12. I can’t actually think of a single case when the route wasn’t an onsight. It had adventure, the terrain was unknown (to me) and the route was new (again, to me). But anyone who has done much of that kind of climbing also knows if it’s too adventurous, too unknown, and the outcome is too uncertain, well then, you can’t do it for very long and live to tell about it. Free soloing for me was equally about control and order. I was intimately familiar with the rock type and the climbing area. I felt, tested, and retested every hold before committing. I never climbed up something I couldn’t climb down. In fact I’ve backed off 5.7s as many times as I’ve backed off 5.11s. Yes there was risk. Yes I could have fallen. But those odds were slim. They were calculated risks.

Here’s another example. I received my Master’s degree in Special Education and found a knack for working with students with emotional disabilities in impoverished neighborhoods (the “ghetto” to you layman folk). Real-deal gangbangers with rap sheets and weapons charges that were known for violence. Most had given up on them so in turn, these types of students were quick to dismiss others (often violently). Calculated risk. I had the educational training – the strategies to diffuse the situation. I also have the personality to relate to them on their level, gain their trust, and push them toward a more positive direction. But it’s not without challenges and sometimes real dangers. I’ve had students get extremely angry – try to punch me, throw chairs at me, and worse. But I had the tools and mindset to get out of those situations (mostly) unscathed. The flip side is that teaching in a public school offers security and routine on some levels, yet every day was different. What worked with a kid yesterday won’t work with that same kid tomorrow. You must always adapt, constantly learn and improve. It kept me on my toes and was a good balance for me for a long time.

Fast forward and here I am, smack-dab in the middle of my thirties. I crave a change – a massive life shake up. Perhaps just ahead of the curve on a mid-life crisis. My mom always said I was advanced for my age. Anyway, teaching has given me so much and I hope that in return I have given something back to the kids I’ve worked with over the last 12 years. But it is too routine now, too “safe”, too familiar. My adult obligation of financial security I owe my family pulls me in one direction while the desire to take a risk and choose a new career path pulls me in another. I could not find balance between the two.

But I’m not a risk taker. While what I wrote above would seem to contradict that to some – what I mean is I’m not an “unknown outcome” kind of risk taker. Imagine this scenario for a minute: You flip a coin. Heads I win a dollar, tails you win a dollar. I do not see it as a 50/50 chance of winning a dollar. I see it as me losing a dollar. The odds are too unfavorable – there is too much risk. I would never agree to flip the coin. The risk must be low. I’ve built too much of a life to gamble any of it. Yet to some degree, there needs to be a little risk to entice me. Where is the balance? It’s different for each of us and it’s taken me a long time to finally find it.

I’ve been a rock climber for more years of my life than not. I’ve worked in gear shops, climbing gyms, for gear manufacturers, and even own a climbing publishing company called Fixed Pin. I have no formal education in “climbing business” but I know it better than anything else, perhaps better than I even know teaching. Climbing is my religion. I’m not a zealot but it is how I decompress, how I commune with nature, and how I rebalance myself. When I’m out of whack, my wife tells me to go climbing and I come home happier, more patient, and a better life partner and father overall. Some drink, some pray. I climb. Climbing is all I want to be around. I want to talk about it, write about it, and well, just do it. Enter Gravity One Climbing + Fitness.

I had always thought starting a climbing gym would be incredible but it seemed a bit too unrealistic for me. They cost millions of dollars to start up after all. But I have found that, perhaps through happenstance, I have been building up to this moment my entire adult life. I have the right experience (work and personal), the right connections, the right motivation, and the right amount of risk tolerance to venture off into the unknown – quit my government job as a public-school teacher that I virtually could never be fired or downsized from and start my own business where I am my own boss. All decisions directly affect me, good and bad. I could win big or I could lose it all. But it’s calculated. And isn’t that what being a climber means? Taking calculated risks. Isn’t that the lesson we all experience every time we go out to the crags? We leave the safety of the ground, where yes, we could fall back down to it. But we have ropes and protection and a trusted belayer to catch us. Things could go wrong – a piece could pull, a clip could be botched, a belayer could give too much slack. But rarely do we experience any of those things. We fall but only a little bit. We take comfort in both the risk itself as well as knowing that those risks have been greatly mitigated. Our partner has us. Our rope and gear will catch us. We push ourselves sometimes to places that are uncomfortable but we revel in that feeling once back on the ground, sometimes hours, days, or even weeks later. We retell those events over beers and around campfires trying to recapture that feeling. To me, that’s what it means to be a climber. Leave yourself exposed just enough to feel uncomfortable but not be in danger. I just feel so fortunate that I’ve finally learned how to carry that over into my professional life and to be able to experience a feeling of balance of calculated risk outside of climbing itself.

Sending Spree: Drew Ruana takes on The New

 

Wow. I can truly say that the New River Gorge was one of the most beautiful areas I’ve ever been to. I feel so blessed to have opportunities to visit special places like these. My dad had learned to climb at the New; he had always talked about it to me, telling me I needed to go there sometime with him. Until I actually went, it was hard to visualize just how stunning the area is- not just the climbing. The wildlife, the scenery, everything about this area is just beautiful. Day one back home, and I already can’t wait to go back.

 

Before I got here, I didn’t really have specific goals. I wanted to play around on some hard stuff, but when I got off the plane on the first day and got to the wall, all I wanted to do was climb. Climb climb climb. I decided that I would have a much more rewarding and fulfilling trip if I did more mileage- so I did that. I think I averaged around 9 pitches a day? Something like that. Most of them new routes, and in new areas. I managed to send 20 new 5.13 routes, and 4 5.14s in my 6 days of climbing there.

A couple of the routes I tried stood out to me. I know I’ll remember them for the rest of my life. One of them was Puppy Chow, 5.12c- I don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun climbing on a route as I did on that. If you’re in the area, get on the route. I don’t care how hard you do or don’t climb- it is 100,000,000% recommended. Also in that area is Mango Tango. This route is the most strikingly beautiful arete I’ve ever seen. It looks and climbs like pure artwork. Although a bit cryptic, figuring out the beta and sending was one of the most memorable climbs of my life.

The thing is that trips like these aren’t just about the climbing. They are made great by the people you’re with. Piper, Miriam, Quinn, and Laura were one of the best crews I’ve ever climbed with.

I met a bunch of my dad’s old climbing buddies, which was cool to see who he grew up with. The local vibes there are awesome – shoutout to pies and pints, the pizza and atmosphere is rad there.

Special thanks to Michael Williams for being the sickest guide/guru around. Can’t wait for another trip like this!

Here’s my ticklist for this trip:
5.14b
Still Life 2nd go
Journeyman 3rd go

5.14a
Mango Tango 2nd go
Sword of Damocles 4th go

5.13d
Natural Progression 2nd go

5.13c
The Project OS
In the Flat Field 2nd go
Satanic Verses 2nd go

5.13b/c
B.C. 2nd go

5.13b
The Racist 2nd go
The Pod FL
Crossing the Line OS
SR-71 OS
Against the Grain OS
White Lighting OS
Fuel Injector OS

5.13a
Quinsana plus FL
Apollo Reed OS
El Chapo FL
B-52 OS
Massacre OS
Skull Fuck Direct Finish OS
Mighty Dog FL
Next Time OS

Photos by Trevor Blanning

Clinics, Comps, and Top 10 Finishes at Ouray Ice Fest

Each January, we circle the Ouray Ice Festival on our calendars. It’s a yearly favorite that affords us the opportunity to climb ice, connect with the climbing community, and talk about our favorite subject: climbing gear. This year was no different and we were more excited than usual due to our upgrades to the Raptor Ice Tool.

MG_OIF15_Clinic_Edit

Trango athlete Marcus Garcia led a day-long seminar at Ouray Ice Park introducing participants to the fundamentals of ice climbing. Here, he demonstrates the finer points of one tool technique in the South Park area.

MG_OIF15_Comp_Edit_2

After the clinics and some climbing of our own, we gathered to watch the competitors in the elite mixed comp. It did not disappoint! Here, Marcus works his way through the lower section of the route toward the difficult upper section complete with crack system.

MG_OIF15_Comp_Edit

On Saturday, Marcus climbed his way to a top 10 finish in the speed comp. Ouray never disappoints and this year was as impressive as ever. Congratulations to Marcus for a strong showing and thanks to everyone who dropped by our booth, demo’d a pair of Raptors, or joined Marcus for the intro seminar!

Kelly Cordes: Head-Bashing 101

Kelly's Bloody Face

Kelly Cordes after his fall.

We all love Kelly Cordes. After all, he’s one of the few climbers out there who can keep up with me in the coveted “Tough To Kill” category. He’s also about as badass as you can get in the highly competitive “Alpine Badass” category. We all got a wake-up call when he and Josh Wharton dropped their rack on the third pitch of a 7,400′ route they were attempting on Great Trango Tower and decided to keep going! Brief story here, and a great write up you can download from the American Alpine Journal, here.

In the meantime, Kelly was climbing a sport route a few days ago, fell, flipped over and whacked his head a good one. Check out the pics below (NSFW). I heard about it when he emailed me with the attached photos and asked if I could hook him up with one of our helmets. I couldn’t resist, so Kelly now sports a shiny new Skull Cap.

Here’s his email:

————————————————————-

hey mal, how are ya? hope all’s great there.

leave it to me to make the safest climbing possible — overhanging
sport climbing — as dangerous as possible. was at wizard’s gate
yesterday, feeling good, just onsighted a super steep 12a without
getting pumped (that stuff normally pumps me out), and then jumped on
a 13a — knowing we’d tag-team it, flail up it, work on it. anyway, at
the steepest part i pitched off, and my body was fairly horizontal but
i think my foot stayed on the hold just a little longer, thus
launching me into a back flip, and somehow along the way the rope spun
me and i swung back into the wall head-first. smashed my head and
face, blood dripping into space, gnarly. fortunately my neck is fine
and i didn’t fracture my skull. really, i felt fine. lowered, put a
sweatshirt on my head, and walked out, freaking people out on the
trail, and thought about just going to the bar — fuck it. went to the
ER first, good thing — 13 staples in my head and 14 stitches in my
face and mouth. just what i need — i just got uglier.

has me reconsidering wearing a helmet even on good rock on steep sport
climbs. granted, it’s super random and rare for this to happen, but a
super light helmet might be worth my wearing. it probably wouldn’t
have saved my face, but…

anyway, blake says he loves the Skull Cap, and it looks as light and
low-profile as they come. wondering if i might be able to score a pro
deal on one? probably color blue — anything but black, i guess (too
hot). seems i have a lot of gray/silver things already, too. but
whatever. if it might work out, color would be the least of my
worries. lemme know if ya get a chance.

—————————————

Kelly, post up some pics when you get them and, uh, climb safe.

Mal

This is what 13 head-staples look like.

On the way to the bar... via the ER

CB BLAK: A Mnemonic to Save Your Ass

About 20 years ago my partner and I were inspecting the route “Sequential” in the Kloof Alcove in Eldo. I rapped off first and, just when I had gone into free-hanging mode about 5′ below the edge of the roof, one end of the rappel ropes ran through my brake hand.There I was hanging free in space, 40′ off the deck with most of the rope on the ground but only 5″ of tail of one of the strands in my hand. Holy SH*T! My partner, who unlike me, still had his sh*t together, grabbed both ropes up at the anchor and squeezed like hell to keep them from sliding around and I was able to quickly rapped down on the single line.
So here’s what I do now, EVERY TIME I go on the rope, either to climb or to rappel. I repeat a mnemonic (like SEReNE but actually useful. See my post here.) I made up: CB BLAK. I say it every time. It’s my mantra and I repeat it to myself before I climb up, lower off, rappel or anytime I make any transition move. CB BLAK. Every time.
Stands for Check Buckles, Belay, Landing, Anchors, Knots
Buckles
Duh. Make sure they are buckled correctly and that your harness is snug.
Belay
Confirm that I’m on belay. I do this, not just when I’m about to lead or TR a pitch, but also when I’m about to take and lower at the top of a sport or gym route. Eye contact with your belayer is good.
Landing
Good one for starting a rappel. Can you see BOTH ENDS of the rope ON THE GROUND? If not, tie knots.
Anchors
Check all that are appropriate. Keeps me attentive at the top of a sport route and makes me check one last time before I start to rap. If you’re starting to lead a route high up on a multi-pitch route, is the belay secure for an upward pull? Based on what I see at the crags, I’d say usually not.
Knots
Check all of them all the time.
Climb safe,
Mal

The Best Sleeping Rig for Pickup Trucks

Hidden in the back of my 2003 Toyota Tacoma is super-simple, super cheap and comfy sleeping rig. It goes in and out in less than a minute, and I can get two bikes and 3 full-height ActionPackers and a cooler inside. I can hang out and cook inside if the weather blows and can hide all my gear underneath the full-width bed. Read on…

Sleeping deck in "half" mode

Sleeping deck in “half” mode

Check out the split deck configuration. You can see how it’s made in this photo. A ¾” plywood (don’t try to use ½” ply. It sags.) bed is supported by two sections of 2”X4” that are diagonally braced. The other part of the bed simply rests on top of the shell lip. The bed is held in place by 2 cam straps that pull the wood diagonally down and into the corners of the truck bed. Suck up the front one really tight, then the back one just snug enough to hold it down. I built up small ledges on the middle side of the posts on which to rest the other half of the bed. This is how I set it up if the weather is crappy. I have a low beach chair which I can slide in and then I cook and read from inside.

Full bed mode. Sleeps 2

Full bed mode. Sleeps 2

Here you can see the double bed rig set up. The second half of the bed is simply a flat ¾” plywood board cut the same size as the main deck. When it’s stored on top of the main deck, as in the previous picture, there is room for a lawnmower or two bikes. Just slide it over and you have a double bed. On this bed I stapled some scrap carpet so it’s more comfortable. In some previous beds I glued a foam layer between the carpet and boards thinking that I wouldn’t need a ThermaRest. Nope… Still needed that. I’ve talked to a lot of people who set their bed level at the top of the wheel wells, thinking that they wanted the extra headroom. BS I say. That completely cripples your under-bed storage space and—what do you need headroom for? I’m only on the bed when I’m sleeping and I usually sleep lying down.

Built-in bottle opener with cap catcher.

Built-in bottle opener with cap catcher.

Here’s a nice detail: notice the bottle opener on the center post. The old chalkbag is to catch the bottle caps. To fool the cops in Utah I bought one that says Coke rather than Budweiser. The blacked ribbed tailgate cover sucked. It was so slippery that even when flat, things would slide off of it. Sooooo.

tailgate cutting board

I took off that slippery black plastic tailgate cover and screwed on a plywood one. It’s a cutting board, knife holder and cupholder. The cutout perfectly fits a JetBoil for no-spill tailgate coffee.

side loaders

Here’s another good trick. The picture on the left shows a Yakima Side Loaders I’ve bolted through the shell. I put them on to support a safari rack I use when the Yakima cross bars aren’t enough. On the right, you can see that, inside, I hung bolt hangers from which I can hang water bladders, trash bags, clotheslines or whatever else I feel like.

General Hints:

  • If you’re buying… get a shell that is raised up above the top of the cab. It’s not so much about the headroom inside, it’s about the height of the door. It’s much easier to get in and out as well as fitting in road bikes easily, etc.
  • Again, if you’re buying be sure to get a shell with a liner. You can see it in the bolt-hanger picture. Not only does it prevent the shell from getting loaded up with condensation while you’re sleeping inside, it’s a perfect mate to hook-side Velcro. You can stick stuff all over the place, including…
  • Get a battery powered LED light bar. Glue hook-side Velcro to the back and then you can stick it anywhere inside the shell. Glue a couple of pieces of soft side Velcro to the back window (You can see Velcro circles in my half-shell picture) and you have a perfect kitchen light.
  • The side window on the front right side of the shell folds up. This is HUGE when loading the back. Be sure to get this feature if it’s an option. It’s usually called a contractor’s window.
  • You NEED a boat hook to grab stuff that’s way up underneath and pull it out. Some people have rigged long sliding drawers to make access easy but I think that’s overkill. I use my cheater clip stick and screw on a painter’s hook that costs 79 cents at McGukin’s. A broomstick works great if you’re a trad climber.
  • It’s not a bad idea to augment the cheeseball twisty latches and lock that came on your shell with a gate hasp and padlock.

Parawing

I travel with a MSR (formerly Moss) Parawing. This is an amazing piece of nylon which will keep rain and sun off, even when it’s blowing 50 mph. It’s by far the best piece of nylon I own. If I set it up carefully, I can back the truck underneath and have a beautiful and welcoming “porch” under which to hang out and drink afternoon margaritas. It’s insanely expensive and worth every penny. Get the 19’ version and buy 4, 24” pieces of rebar to use as stakes. Be sure to get the rebar “caps” or you’ll chew up your shins when you get up to pee in the night. I replaced all the guy lines with at least 30’ feet each of that cool reflective tent cord. I think they call it “Nightline”. Don’t forget to bring a BIG hammer for the rebar. I carry a 3lb sledge just for this purpose.

So if you’re out in the desert or camping at a crag somewhere stop on by for a first hand look. More than likely I’ll have a cool beer or a margarita available.

See you soon,

Mal

got stump?

I continue to be amazed at the support that the ice climbing community shows for the Ouray Ice Park. Sure, it’s a unique resource that draws ice climbers from world-over, but I think there’s more going on than that. Maybe it’s a community that knows they have created something cool, or maybe it’s just a warm place for ice climbers to gather. Whatever, last Sunday night in the Main Street Theater I, once again, was staggered by the generosity that ice climbers can show when they see a direct benefit.

The got stump? auction raised right around $8,000 this year bringing the total raised by a dirty t-shirt to over $44,000. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!

Read the got stump? chronicles here.

Big Bros Auctioned off to benefit Giulia “Jumar” Luebben

Craig Luebben is near and dear to all of us and his loss dealt to a body blow to the entire climbing and guiding community. Craig, who invented the Big Bros while he was an engineering student at CSU, has been receiving a nice royalty stream from our Big Bros sales since we licensed the design from him in 2001. After he passed we diverted those royalties into a 529 college fund for his beloved daughter, Giulia. In addition, the artist Jeremy Collins has drawn a caricature of Giulia head and face which will be engraved on every Big Bro.

At the AMGA Guide’s meeting last week in Moab, I auctioned off the very first set of the Giulia-engraved Big Bros to the guides and, impressively, astonishingly, the set of five went for $4,000! Perhaps more amazing was that there were three guides who were enthusiastically bidding for them after the bid price was over $2,500. The entire amount, not just the royalties from them, will go to “seed” her college fund.

Craig, you brought great joy, enthusiasm and safety into our lives and we are all better off because of that. Thank you for all you have done.

Giulia, AKA "Jumar" will be on all Big Bros.

Giulia, AKA "Jumar" will be on all Big Bros.

maldaly

Auctioning off the first set of Giulia-engraved Big Bros.

Auctioning off the first set of Giulia-engraved Big Bros.

The vision for the Trango athlete team is to find climbers who embody our brand’s values and support them in their climbing endeavors. We focus on the character of the climber, their passion for the sport, and their desire to contribute to the community.

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