Red Rocks Delivers

HoldemBlake on the first pitch of Texas Hold’em, Black Velvet Wall

Just returned from a long weekend of climbing at Red Rocks.  As my climbing partner Blake says, “Red Rocks always delivers”, and this time was no exception.  We’ve done many of the 5 star routes at Red Rocks so we’re starting to climb off the beaten path a bit.

Here’s our tick list:

Thursday
We flew to Vegas early, grabbed lunch at our favorite cafe, and headed to the cliffs for a little afternoon cragging…

solarPsyched x 3.  Me, Blake, and Andy at the top of Solar Flare.

Friday
We hooked up with our friend Andy and hiked into Oak Creek Canyon.  This was my first time to climb as a party of 3 where the leader brings both followers up at the same time using a Petzl Reverso.  I’m normally not a fan of 3-man rope teams but this system worked really well and was only about 20% slower than climbing as a party of 2.  You have to bring two ropes anyway for many routes at Red Rocks (for rappels), so why not use them for a third climber?

  • Solar Flare (5.10, 5p) – An OK route – wouldn’t do it again.
  • Beulah’s Book (5.9, 3p) – We did the first two pitches.  The second pitch is one of the best of its grade at Red Rocks!
  • Red Zinger  (5.10+, 2p) – Pure “Indian Creek style” crack climbing – it felt hard and sustained!  We only did the first pitch because we were getting tired and the overhanging thin hands second pitch looked a little intimidating.

photo 2 (2)The stellar second pitch of Beulah’s Book

photo 1 (1)Leading Red Zinger

Saturday
Each time we visit Red Rocks we like to spend at least one day in Black Velvet Canyon.  The canyon’s namesake wall is the crown jewel of the area.  At over 2000 feet tall, Black Velvet Wall has perhaps the highest concentration of high quality (and mostly moderate) multipitch trad routes in the world.  Andy had recommended a route called Texas Hold’Em, which checks in at 5.11c over 9 pitches.  However, the first 6 pitches can be climbed at a more manageable (but still challenging) 5.10d rating.  Black Velvet Wall is huge and intimidating, and this route had a pretty serious feel to it.  Every pitch – even the ones with easier ratings – has something to keep your attention.  No gimmes!

The crux pitch was long and sustained, beginning with an overhanging 10d fist crack followed by 150 feet of  sustained 5.10 face and thin crack.  I was psyched to get the onsight – and also exhausted both mentally and physically.  After rapping down we realized that we were the only people in Black Velvet Canyon – very unusual for a Saturday in April.  We enjoyed the quiet hour-long hike back to the car (and also the mountain of sushi we ate later).

photo 3 (1)Looking back at Black Velvet Wall on the hike out.  Beautiful and quiet.

Sunday
With a flight to catch in the afternoon, we needed an objective with a relatively short approach and a quick descent.  We have had our eye on the “new Red Rocks classic” route La Cierta Edad (5.10d, 5p) for a while so we decided to give it a go.  It was fantastic – the pitches were varied (runout face, thin crack, wide crack, chimney, etc.) and each was challenging in its own way.  The 5.9+ chimney on the second pitch gave me fits (chimneys are my weakness – Blake cruised it) but the 10d offwidth felt surprisingly easy.  Our favorite pitch was the 3rd, with a sustained 10a off-fist crack and lots of stemming.  We moved quickly and were back at the car before 1pm.

photo 5 (1)La Cierta Edad, P3

photo 4 (1)Hanging belay selfie on La Cierta Edad

Another great trip – Red Rocks always delivers.  Time to heal up and plan the next one…

 

The Weather Window

RR3

Sending Potato Chips, Kraft Boulders

For most of the country this has been a harsh winter.  Even in Texas we’ve had unusually cold temperatures and lots of ice.  When skies are grey I (somewhat obsessively) monitor the weather at my favorite climbing destinations, looking opportunities to escape to warmer temps.   Last weekend I saw a window of good weather at Red Rocks, so I gave Blake a ring and we decided to go for it.  Through the miracle of frequent flyer miles we were able to book flights and hotels at the last minute at zero cost.  And it paid off – we climbed in t-shirts and shorts while Fort Worth suffered through yet another ice storm.

Here’s our tick list:

Saturday
We flew in Saturday morning and went directly to Brass Wall to do some short warmup climbs:

Sunday
We’ve done most of the classic moderate routes at Red Rocks so we were looking for something a bit off the  beaten path.  We decided to try Orange Clonus, a 5-6 pitch 5.10d on Straight Shooter wall.  It ended up being more than we bargained for!  Both the first pitch and the crux 5th pitch felt quite a bit harder than 5.10d (and lots of people on Mountain Project agree).  After a few attempts at the crux thin hands corner (which for me was off-fingers with slick feet) I got frustrated and we bailed near the top of the route.  The descent was pretty involved due to the wandering nature of the route.  We ended up rapping a pitch, down-climbing two easy pitches, then rapping into a gully.  If you climb enough it’s inevitable that you’ll have “adventures” like that so you just roll with it.  To regain our confidence we climbed the classic finger crack Straight Shooter before hiking out of Pine Creek Canyon.

RR1

Blake styling Panty Raid, a steep, crimpy 5.10 line on Panty Wall

Monday
We had a flight to catch in the afternoon, so we went to Calico Basin and climbed Classic Crack of Calico, a wonderful 3 pitch 5.9+ on Kraft Mountain.  I can’t say enough good things about this route.  The third pitch may be the best 5.8/5.9 pitch I’ve done at Red Rocks.  After summiting and hiking down, I did a quick lap on the classic V2 Potato Chips at the Kraft Boulders just so I could say I did a boulder problem on this trip.

When we got back to the car, we had messages from American Airlines – our flights to Dallas later that afternoon had been cancelled due to icy conditions.  It seemed crazy since we were getting sunburned in Vegas.  Needless to say, we were NOT upset.  We went back to town to grab lunch and then headed to Panty Wall in the Calico Hills to bang out a few more routes:

With the forecast calling for continued sun and warm temps we were sort of hoping for another cancelled flight on Tuesday.  But all good things must come to an end…

Chilly Hueco

Bundled up on the Hueco mega-classic Nobody Here Gets Out Alive

Blake and I made a quick weekend trip to Hueco Tanks right after Christmas.  Located in the Texas desert, Hueco is one of the best winter climbing destinations in the U.S.  However, it’s still a dice roll – I’ve climbed in a t-shirt in January and I’ve also climbed with temps in the teens.  This trip was on the chilly side, with morning temps in the 30′s and afternoon highs in the high 40′s or low 50′s.  35 degrees in the shade on cold rock can be pretty tough – especially if the wind is blowing.  However, we managed to get plenty of climbing done.  Here’s our tick list:

Friday:

  • Uriah’s Heap (5.8, 2p)
  • Hueco Syndrome (5.10, 2p)
  • Malice in Bucketland (5.9)
  • All the Nasties (5.10)
  • Window Pain (5.10)

Saturday:

  • Head Fox (5.9+)
  • Fox Trot (5.10+)
  • Indecent Exposure (5.9+, 2p)
  • Alice in Banana Land (5.10-)

Sunday:

The weather was overcast, colder, and windy so we decided to skip roped climbing and boulder/explore on North Mountain.  I did a couple of laps on Nobody Here Gets Out Alive, which is considered one of the best V2 problems in the world.  I also worked Lobster Claw, a V5 problem that has eluded me for a while.  I came very close to sending but was tired from the previous two days.

All in all, a fun trip but I’m looking forward to spring weather!

Open Source Bouldering

UPDATE:  Someone on Reddit informed me that the idea I describe below has already been done in the UK and it’s called the Moonboard.  It’s almost identical to the system I envisioned.  Seems like a great idea but apparently it hasn’t proven to be very popular – probably because the number of climbers that are motivated enough to build something like this (and have the space to do it) is relatively small.  However, this is sort of a network effect idea – the more people that have it, the more appealing it becomes…

I’m been thinking about an interesting idea for rock climbing (specifically home and gym bouldering).  The idea was inspired by two things:

1) IFSC speed climbing walls, which use a standardized route pattern, holds, and wall angle so that climbers around the world can practice and compete on exactly the same route.

2) Crossfit, which uses standardized workouts called Workouts of the Day (“WODs”).  This allows people around the world to share the same workout experience, motivate (or compete with) each other (in person and online), and track their performance.  This has been a big part of Crossfit’s incredible success.

What if the ideas of standardization and sharing were applied to bouldering?  Imagine hundreds or even thousands of climbers across the world with the same simple, low cost bouldering wall at home or in their local gym.  Using the simple system described below they could set up identical boulder problems and connect with people across the country (and world) that are working the same problems.  It wouldn’t take long for the community to amass a large collection of “open source” boulder problems that could be shared, discussed, and rated by users for difficulty and quality.

Here’s how it could work:

1) The system could be based on a simple, inexpensive “woody” bouldering wall, similar to the walls many of us have in our garages and basements.  The wall size and overhang would be standardized – perhaps three 4 x 8 foot panels stacked to form an 8 x 12 foot wall.  With a 1 foot kicker panel and an overhang of about 35% this wall would fit in a room with an 8 foot ceiling.

fig1

Figure 1.  Side view of a basic wall design. Standardized, simple, and affordable.

2) Panels would be manufactured to ensure precise bolt hole locations  and, more importantly, they would have “alignment holes” around each threaded bolt hole to make sure holds are oriented properly (more on hold orientation below).  Rows and columns of bolt holes would be labeled so that the coordinates of each location could be easily referenced (e.g. “J16″ as shown in Figure 2 below).

fig2

Figure 2.  The wall panels would have a pre-drilled grid of bolt holes,
with column and row labels so that boulder problem “blueprints”
could reference hold locations.

3) One of the big challenges with this idea is hold orientation.  Any climber knows that turning a hold a few degrees one way or the other can dramatically change the difficulty.  This problem is easily solved with a peg & hole alignment system.  Holds would be molded with short alignment pegs on the back that fit into small holes around each bolt hole in order to precisely and securely orient holds in fixed positions.  This feature would be crucial to make sure that boulder problems could be accurately replicated on any Open Source wall.

fig4

Figure 3.  Each bolt hole would be surrounded by alignment holes
that enable precise orientation of holds that are molded with
matching pegs on the back.  The design shown here would support
four orientations of a hold (0, 90, 180, & 270 degrees).

4) Boulder problem “blueprints” would be a simple list of each hold to be used (holds designed for this system could each have a name), its location on the wall (column and row), and its orientation.  With this system, problems could be set from blueprints in a matter of minutes with zero routesetting skill – a big plus for people who would rather climb than set problems.  Lots of boulder problem blueprints would be available online so that climbers could choose problems by difficulty, style, quality rating, and other factors (and of course submit new problems).  The website would allow users to post beta and comments and upload photos and videos, much like Mountain Project (in fact, the community could use Mountain Project pretty much as is).  It would be easy to connect with climbers of similar ability and climbing style.  You can imagine that talented routesetters would develop a following and perhaps pro climbers would contribute.  Wouldn’t it be fun to try a problem designed by Chris Sharma from the comfort of your garage?

5) With a relatively small set of holds (maybe 50?) a wide range of problems would be possible.  Ideally, the standards for this system would be shared by all climbing hold manufacturers and they could sell hold sets designed for specific problems (sell holds by making them part of a great boulder problem!).

I like this idea for a few reasons:

  • It would make training more social and fun.
  • It would allow climbers to quickly set high quality routes on their home wall.
  • It would allow climbers to track their ticks online and compare with others.
  • Problems could be documented forever and favorites could be revisited (re-set) from time to time.
  • It would allow for benchmarking of ratings by many climbers, similar to what happens on sites like Mountain Project.

Does this idea have legs?

Going Bandit at Red Rocks

triassicThe top of P2 of Triassic Sands – one of my all time favorites.

Last month my friend Stan and I went to Red Rocks for a long weekend of climbing.  Due to the government shutdown the park was technically closed but the rangers were allowing climbers to hike in as long as they didn’t use park roads.  That meant longer hikes to some areas but wasn’t a big limitation.  Stan is new to climbing (he’s a cyclist) and this was his first real outdoor trip so we mostly stayed on easy stuff.  Here’s our tick list:

Friday:  Oak Creek Canyon
I’ve climbed at Red Rocks at least a dozen times but had never visited the Solar Slab area in Oak Creek Canyon.  Our objective was the classic moderate Johnny Vegas on Lower Solar Slab and maybe something on Upper Solar Slab if we moved quickly.  Unfortunately, several other parties had the same idea – including some guys from an AMGA course that was underway.  So we didn’t get started on Johnny Vegas until almost noon.

  • Johnny Vegas (5.7, 3p)
  • Arch Enemy (5.9, first pitch only)

Saturday: Black Velvet Canyon

  • Schaeffer’s Delight (5.7, 3p)
  • Triassic Sands (5.10b, pitches 1 & 2 only)
  • The Misunderstanding (5.9, fist pitch only)
  • Miss Conception (5.10a, 2p)

Sunday: Lots of hiking + Calico Basin
Our plan was to do the moderate mega-classic Olive Oil.  We hiked in from the highway (not the normal approach) and after an hour and a half of looking for the route I realized we were in the wrong canyon (Juniper Canyon).  Dumb mistake.  By that point we weren’t too motivated to hike further in (since we had parked on the highway) and do a long-ish route so we hiked back out, grabbed lunch, and went to Calico Basin.

  • Over the Hill to Grandmother’s House (5.9+, 1p)
  • Baseboy Direct (5.11a, 1p, sport)
  • Caustic (5.11b, 1p, sport)

Monday: Calico Basin
We had to catch a flight in the afternoon, so we headed back to Calico Basin and did a few routes at Gnat Man Crag.

  • Bottoms Up (5.7, 1p)
  • P-coat Sleeve (5.10a, 1p)
  • Knock the Bottom Out Of It (5.10a, 1p)

Big Data Democratized

How I mashed-up Google and NOAA’s massive computing infrastructure to answer a Big Data question in 3 hours with no tech skills.  (It cost me $1.39.)

top25

Democratization of Big Data
2.5 exabytes – the equivalent of one trillion digital photos – is captured each day by computer systems across the globe.  This number is growing exponentially with proliferation of mobile devices, cameras, and other information sensors at the edge of the network.  This presents both an enormous challenge and a game-changing opportunity.  The challenge is how to deal with data at a scale that is almost inconceivable.  The opportunity is this:  If we can tame the data, it will usher in the next generation of technological breakthroughs.   It’s already happened in fields as far-flung as genomics, banking, and national security and it’s still early days.

Big Data refers to datasets so large that they exceed the capabilities of traditional database systems.  By today’s standards that means a few dozen terabytes.  Datasets this large require big tech infrastructure – massively parallel software running on hundreds, thousands, or in some cases millions of servers.  Well-funded, tech savvy companies are investing heavily in this technology, but what about startups and other small businesses that can’t afford the computing infrastructure required to deal with their own ever-expanding data assets?  Small businesses – or even individuals – might want to use big data to out-fox larger competitors or simply make better informed decisions.

It’s no secret that cloud computing has removed barriers to access and driven the cost of computing power down dramatically.  But just how far?  With this question in mind, I set out to conduct a small experiment to determine how quickly an individual with limited tech skills could spin up a big (or at least big-ish) data infrastructure and use it to solve a simple but data-intensive problem.

The Experiment

Which US cities have the most days of perfect weather?

It’s a question I ask myself each September, after enduring five months of relentless heat and humidity in Texas.  As an outdoor enthusiast, weather plays a major role in my psyche.  Too often I feel like I’m limited to just a few short, precious windows of great weather.  Maybe it’s time to relocate – but where?

There’s no shortage of weather information on the web, but most of it is based on averages – and averages often don’t tell the whole story.  I was more interested in a new metric:  Perfect Weather Days.  Put simply, how many days each year is the weather ideal for outdoor activities?  The definition of a Perfect Weather Day is, of course, highly subjective.  My personal definition of Perfect Weather had four simple criteria:

  1. No precipitation (it doesn’t necessarily have to be sunny as long as there’s no rain or snow)

  2. A low temperature no lower than 50 degrees (as they say in Texas, I’m “warm blooded”)

  3. A high temperature of at least 65 degrees (after all, it’s not a perfect day if you can’t wear a t-shirt and shorts)

  4. High temperature no higher than 82 degrees

I considered other criteria such as humidity and wind speed but in the end decided to keep it simple.  If there’s no rain and good temps then I’m not going to complain.

My first task was to find a source of daily weather data for US cities.  It turns out that NOAA makes its enormous database of global weather data available for free.  Using an online tool on the NOAA site I submitted a request for a dataset containing the following daily measures for thousands of weather stations across the US for the 8 year period between 2005 and 2012 (I learned on the NOAA site that the quality of data prior to 2005 is lower):

  • station ID

  • latitude / longitude

  • date

  • precipitation

  • low temperature

  • high temperature

It took about a day for NOAA to deliver the dataset, which totaled 46.9 million records.   Granted, this may not technically qualify as big data.  However,  it turns out that I could have just as easily completed the project with a dataset 10 or even 100 times larger.

The Technology
Just a few years ago the idea of spinning up IT infrastructure to answer one trivial question would be preposterous.  But with a few minutes of digging, I discovered BigQuery, a new product from Google that seemed to be purpose-built for my little experiment.  In Google’s words:

Querying massive datasets can be time consuming and expensive without the right hardware and infrastructure. Google BigQuery solves this problem by enabling super-fast, SQL-like queries against append-only tables, using the processing power of Google’s infrastructure. Simply move your data into BigQuery and let us handle the hard work.

Score!  In less than an hour I was able to upload my NOAA dataset to Google and start using a web-based SQL query tool to play with the data.  Keep in mind that I have almost no programming skills – I remembered a bit of SQL from college and spent a few minutes reading the BigQuery documentation.  With a little trial and error I came up with a query to rank order weather stations by the annual percentage of Perfect Days.  I was blown away by how fast and easy BigQuery is.  My queries usually took just 3 or 4 seconds to run and I could move large datasets around just as quickly. I didn’t have to think about database schema, indexing, or optimization at all.  It all just worked.

Here’s the query I used (it’s not nearly as complex as it looks).

SELECT
weatherdata.stations_US_clean.station as station,
weatherdata.stations_US_clean.state as USstate,
weatherdata.stations_US_clean.name as stationname,
weatherdata.stations_US_clean.latitude as lat,
weatherdata.stations_US_clean.longitude as lon,
count(weatherdata.2005_2012.date)/1460 as percentperfectdays,
count(weatherdata.2005_2012.date)/4 as perfectdays,
count(weatherdata.2005_2012.date) as totalperfectdays
FROM [weatherdata.2005_2012]
JOIN [weatherdata.stations_US_clean] ON weatherdata.stations_US_clean.station = weatherdata.2005_2012.station
WHERE weatherdata.2005_2012.prcp=0
AND (weatherdata.2005_2012.tmin*.18 + 32) >= 50
AND (weatherdata.2005_2012.tmax*.18 + 32) >= 65
AND (weatherdata.2005_2012.tmax*.18 + 32) <= 82
group by station, stationname, USstate, lat, lon
order by percentperfectdays DESC

The Results
With BigQuery I was able to crunch 47 million records down to a summary of Perfect Weather Days for 7,102 weather stations across the country.  This dataset was small enough to move into Excel for more analysis.  It’s worth noting that the weather data is for weather stations, which don’t necessarily correlate to cities (many weather stations are located on mountain tops, in national or state parks, or other remote areas).  So I had to manually map top-ranking weather stations to cities using latitude/longitude coordinates and Google Maps.

As I sifted through the results I noticed a couple of things.  First, it was clear that California dominated the top of the list.  No surprise there – California weather is legendary.  Second, I noticed that many cities that ranked high in number of Perfect Days are cities that I know to have extreme weather.  In other words, they may have a large number of Perfect Days each year, but they also have a lot of bad weather, making it impractical (or at least uncomfortable) to be outside.  For example, my home town, Fort Worth, might have 40-50 Perfect Days a year (not too bad) but we also get months on end of daily highs near 100 degrees.  Conversely, other cities might have mild summers but brutally cold winters.  So I concluded that I needed to also consider the number of Bad Weather Days for each city.   I defined a Bad Weather Day as a day that meets any of these criteria:

  1. Half an inch or more of rain

  2. Low temperature above 85 degrees

  3. Low temperature below 15 degrees

  4. High temperature above 95 degrees

  5. High temperature below 32 degrees

(Again, this is highly subjective.  If you’re into snow skiing, a day with clear skies and a high temp below 32 might be perfect.)

I then combined Perfect Days and Bad Weather Days into a score using this simple formula:

Weather Score = Perfect Days – ½ * Bad Days

My logic was simple (and yet again, subjective):  It takes two Bad Weather Days to erase the joy of a Perfect Day.  Now I could rank order each weather station based on my Weather Score.  Back to the results…

At the top of the list is Kula on the Hawaiian island of Maui, a true paradise where 74% of all days are Perfect.  While Hawaii claims the top spot, California dominates the top of the list with San Diego and LA running neck and neck for the highest scores in the continental U.S.  Those cities average over 200 Perfect Days each year with less than 10 Bad Weather Days.  In contrast, Fort Worth gets 47 Perfect Days but 86 Bad Days (about 2 Bad Days for every Perfect Day!).

Here’s a list of the top 25 cities by Weather Score:

top25

And on a map…

map

Every city in the top 25 is coastal.  I probably should have included humidity or heat index in my definition of perfect days since I know first hand that 80 degrees in Key West can be far more uncomfortable than 85 in Phoenix or Boulder.

I also ranked the 50 largest US cities by weather score.  It’s interesting how sharply the number of Perfect Days drops off outside of California.

top50

The bottom of the list was dominated by Alaska.  No surprise given that my definition of a Perfect Day involves fairly warm temps and no precipitation.  In dead last is Deadhorse, Alaska with only 2 Perfect Days and 235 Bad Weather Days each year (I’m guessing that the town’s name was inspired by its brutal winters).  In the continental U.S., the lowest score goes to Lajitas, TX in Big Bend country, with just 5 Perfect Days and 154 Bad Days.  (Interestingly, just 30 miles away in Big Bend National Park is the Chisos Basin which ranks near the top of the list.)

For those of us that prefer mountain air, I took a quick look at locations above 4,000 feet of elevation.  Many of these locations (which were mostly in California) didn’t correspond to cities, so there was a lot of noise in the data.  For example, the highest ranking location above 4,000 feet is the aforementioned Chisos Basin in Big Bend National Park with 83 perfect days and 16 bad.  Yosemite Valley (my favorite place on Earth) also ranked high.  The highest ranking cities at altitude include:  Carson City (NV), Alamogordo (NM), Cortez (NM), Sierra Vista (AZ), Silver City (NM), and Provo (UT).  I was surprised that one of my favorite mountain towns, Boulder, CO, didn’t rank very high with only 14 perfect and 48 bad days.  It’s clear that mountain towns get penalized by my definitions of Perfect and Bad, which favor warmer temperatures.

The Bill
When all was said and done, this experiment confirms the obvious  - for great weather California wins by a landslide.  But it also provides a quantitative measure to compare other cities.  My home town of Fort Worth scored a 4 compared to a 203 in LA.  Ouch.

But the most interesting part of this project was the project itself.  With about 3 total hours of late night work I was able to sift through an impressive amount of data to answer my question.  And because BigQuery runs on top of Google’s massively parallel infrastructure, I could have completed the project in about the same amount of time if my dataset had been billions of records instead of tens of millions of records.

What about the cost?  Here’s my statement from Google totaling $1.39.

bill

That’s $0.19 for storage, $1.13 for BigQuery compute cycles, and $0.07 in tax.

Clearly democratization of Big Data is happening, and that means small businesses and even individuals like me can take advantage of massive computing power for almost no cost and with minimal technical skills.  Imagine millions of businesses and individuals with the power to hack huge amounts of data covering just about every field of human interest.  It’s like the Internet all over again – the Internet of data.

Climbing Gyms in Prague – A Visitor’s Guide

Smichoff Climbing Center

Smichoff – Prague’s largest climbing center

I just returned from a weeklong business trip to Prague.  I had quite a bit of downtime so I checked out three climbing gyms.  There’s not a lot of information online (or in English) about the gyms in Prague, so I thought I’d post it here for other visitors.  Climbing at local gyms turned out to be a great way to escape the tourist areas and experience the local (climbing) culture.

Prague has at least half a dozen climbing gyms (or walls that are part of a fitness gym) but most of them are small or only offer bouldering.  I visited the two largest roped climbing gyms and the best bouldering gym (according to a few locals).  The primary difference between gyms in the US and gyms in Prague is that there are basically no toprope setups .  In other words, if you climb a route you lead it.  In contrast, the majority of US gyms are set up for toprope climbing (although leading is fine too).  Also, most of the gyms have small cafes with beer on tap!

Here’s a quick summary of the gyms I visited:

Gym #1:  Ruzyne ( www.stena-ruzyne.com )

This is the oldest indoor gym in Prague.  It’s a 20 minute drive from Old Town Prague, but it’s a good gym.  There are two large wall – one indoor and one outdoor.  Unfortunately I didn’t have a partner so I spent my session in the bouldering cave, which is small and doesn’t have many marked problems.

photo 1

The indoor wall at the Ruzyne Climbing Center

photo 2

The awesome outdoor wall at Ruzyne

Be warned that this gym is hard to find.  My taxi driver had to call the front desk twice and even then I had to get out and walk around a building to find it.

Contact Info:

Climbing Center Ruzyně
Drnovská 19
160 00 Praha 6 – Ruzyně
+420 775238814
stena@stena-ruzyne.com

 

Gym #2:  Boulder Bar ( www.boulder.cz )

This is my kind of bar!  This bouldering gym was recommended to my by local climbers I met at Ruzyne.  It’s an easy and pleasant 1.5 mile walk from Old Town Prague.  It’s a small gym but the bouldering is really good.

photo 4

The entrance to Boulder Bar

photo 3

Boulder Bar is small but has high quality bouldering

 Contact Info:

Boulder Bar
U Exhibition 11/230
Praha 7 – Holešovice
+420 220 514 540
bar@boulder.cz

 

Gym #3:  Smichoff ( www.lezeckcentrum.cz )

I saved the best for last.  This is the largest gym in Prague and it’s truly world class. It’s located in an old Skoda factory about 3 miles from Old Town Prague.  It’s a little tricky to find but you can basically follow Google Maps directions to get to the vicinity then head toward the tall smoke stack.  There are small signs along the way.  You could walk there from Old Town but it’s easier to take a taxi.  There are a ton of routes and lots of different features to climb (including cracks).  There is not a bouldering area, so you’ll need a partner.  Or, you can do what I did and hire a gym employee to belay you for 400 Czech koruna (about $20) per hour (call ahead to arrange an instructor or belayer).  I wish we had a gym of this quality in DFW!  See the top of this post for a picture of Smichoff’s walls.

photo 5

Smichoff Climbing Center is hard to find.  Look for small signs and head toward the smoke stack.  The entrance is on the left in front of the motorcycle.

 Contact Info:

Climbing Center Smichoff
Cross 6
15000 Prague 5 – Smíchov
+420 604 240 887
info@lezeckecentrum.cz

Kevin’s Chia Power Porridge

photo (17)

I frequently exercise first thing in the morning so I need a breakfast that will provide energy but also digest quickly.  I recently ran across a great recipe for chia porridge in an eBook from Kristen and I’ve modified it a bit.

The main ingredient is chia seed (ch..ch…ch…chia pet), a dietary staple of the legendary Tarahumara (a.k.a. “running people”) that live in Mexico’s Copper Canyons.  If you read the popular book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall you’ve heard to the Tarahumara.  They are probably the greatest long distance runners on the planet, running 50 miles or more for pleasure, often carrying nothing more than a bag of chia seed.

I won’t go into all the reasons that chia seed is a a nutritional powerhouse, but suffice it to say that they are packed with easily digested and absorbed nutrients.  Try it for yourself…

  • Put 2 tablespoons of chia seed into a bowl.  You can buy bags of chia seed at most natural food stores.
  • Add 1/2 cup (4 oz.) of almond milk (ideally homemade – more on that soon).
  • Let the chia seed soak for 15 minutes or longer, mixing occasionally.  The seeds will soak up the almond milk and become gel-like.
  • Add 1 tablespoon of ground flax seed (ideally freshly ground using a coffee grinder) and 1 tablespoon of flax oil.
  • Add a thinly sliced banana (if you don’t like bananas you can also use a handful of blueberries).
  • Mix everything together with a spoon, crushing the banana into the mixture.
  • Enjoy!

This is a vegan dish, but that’s not why I like it.  I like it because it’s tasty and you can eat it right before working out and you won’t feel bloated.  I also notice a nice energy boost.  I ate it yesterday before a two hour ride and felt great the whole time.  However, if I was doing a bigger workout I’d probably eat something with more protein (e.g. eggs) before and/or bring food along.

Humbled Times Three

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The intimidating but moderate second pitch of Five Pack

Rock climbing is one of those sports that tends keeps your ego in check.  You’re always one mishap or bad decision away from being in a sticky situation (or worse).  This is particularly true of multi-pitch trad climbing, where you have to deal with gear placements (or lack thereof), route-finding, weather, exposure, rope management, variable rock quality, fatigue, hydration/nutrition, and of course the climbing itself.  It’s a challenging endeavor, which is one of the reasons I love it!  With that in mind…

Blake and I had big plans for last weekend’s trip to Red Rocks.  My personal goal was to onsight Levitation 29, a route considered by many to be the best route at one of the world’s best climbing destinations. Lynn Hill calls it her favorite route of all time.  L29 consists of 7 pitches of mostly 5.10 and 5.11 climbing guarded by a grueling 2 hour approach hike.  It’s a big objective for a 42 year old weekend warrior that lives 3 hours from the nearest crag, but I had been training hard and climbing strong (albeit mostly in a gym).  Also, on a recent business trip to Vegas I onsighted Running Man, a route similar in difficulty and style to the crux pitch of L29.  So I figured I’d see how things went and if I felt strong maybe I’d give it a shot.  The best laid plans of mice and men…

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One of many training sessions in the man cave.

THURSDAY
We flew to Vegas on Thursday morning and drove straight to Red Rocks, selecting Y2K and The Next Century as our “warmup” routes.  I had climbed both routes before and the crux pitch of The Next Century felt just as spicy the second time.  After 12 hours of flying, driving, hiking, and climbing we grabbed dinner and headed to the hotel.

FRIDAY
For our first full day we decided to climb  Sweet Thin, one of several mega-classic routes on the remote Brownstone Wall.  The approach to Brownstone involves about 2 hours of steep hiking through boulders, talus, and slabs.  It was worth the effort – the 5th pitch of Sweet Thin is one fo the finest I’ve done at Red Rocks.

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P7 of Sweet Thin – sweet indeed!

 We finished the climb, scrambled to the summit of Juniper Peak (2200′ above the parking lot) and began the descent.  Maybe it was the heat or the fact that I hadn’t done much hiking or trad climbing in months, but we were thrashed by the time we made it back to the car.

At that point it dawned on me that I had already burned too many matches on this trip and Levitation 29 probably wasn’t in the cards. Humbled part one.

SATURDAY
Adventure Punks was put up in 1983 but was all but forgotten until recently.  Now it’s considered one of the best routes at Red Rocks.  It’s been on my tick list for a while, although I had read that it has an unprotected (i.e. dangerous) start.  Sometimes these things get over-exaggerated online so we hiked up Pine Creek Canyon to check it out for ourselves.  Unfortunately the runout was worse, not better, than advertised – definitely X-rated.  The first protection (which is marginal) is about 20-25 feet above a sloping ledge (which probably wouldn’t stop a fall) and is guarded by greasy-looking 5.10 face climbing (or an equally dicey 5.9 traverse).  If you were to fall, a medivac would be your best case.  Even though it’s highly unlikely that I’d fall, it’s just not worth the risk with a family back home.  Too bad because the route looks absolutely amazing.  Humbled part two.

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The 5.10X start of Adventure Punks
That flake looks even further away in person!
(picture from Mountain Project, this isn’t me)

As a consolation, we hiked back down the canyon to climb The Walker Spur, yet another classic among classics.  I can’t emphasize enough how good that route is – even though it’s only 2 pitches it’s as fine a 5.10 as you’ll find anywhere.

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P1 of The Walker Spur – Yosemite-style climbing at Red Rocks

To cap off the day we hiked around the corner to Dark Shadows Wall and climbed Parental Guidance.  This route has a scary start and at 5.10 c/d it’s near my trad lead limit.  Considering how tired I was from the day’s events, I was very psyched to get the onsight.  Even though we only climbed 3 pitches, with all the hiking it felt like a long day and three straight 7-8 hour days of hiking and climbing were beginning to take their toll.

SUNDAY
The heat and our sore bodies pretty much ruled out the long routes we had planned for this trip (maybe we’re getting soft) so we picked a lesser-climbed route on shady Magic Mountain called Five Pack.  When you do a route that doesn’t get climbed a lot you never know what you’re in for and this route felt like a handful.  There was lots of loose rock (I pulled a dinner plate sized rock off on P2 that almost hit Blake) and the climbing, while moderate, felt serious.  The “5.9″ third pitch felt sketchy and after misinterpreting the route description I was forced to set up a horrible hanging belay 20-30 feet off route.  By the time Blake made it to me I was pretty spooked.   I rarely bail from routes (I’ve now done it exactly twice) but when I spied a makeshift rappel anchor 15 feet below us it made the decision too easy.  Looking back, I wish I had taken a little time to collect myself, moved our belay to the right location, and fired the last pitch.  Humbled part three.

We rapped down and traversed Magic Mountain to a nice little single pitch crack climb called Small Purchase.  It was a nice finish to the day and the trip.

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Nearing the top of Small Purchase

As an added bonus, we discovered a great raw food restaurant called Go Raw Cafe.  I’m not a vegan or raw-foodist, but I try (with limited success) to eat a high-raw, high-vegetable diet.

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Portabella wrap at Go Raw Cafe – Raw, vegan, and delicious!

Overall it was a great trip, even if we did have to reset our expectations.  As Blake says, “Red Rocks always delivers.”  And that’s what keeps me coming back.

Going Solo – A Solo Toprope Setup

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I travel to Las Vegas fairly frequently for business and when I’m there I usually try to get out for a few hours of climbing with my friend, Larry.  But Larry isn’t always available, so I’ve become increasingly intrigued by the idea of solo climbing on a top rope.  So I did some research to determine the base (and safest) way to do it.  After reading a bunch of articles online (including one from Steph Davis, one from Matt Samet, and one from Petzl) I decided that the best setup was to to use two different ascenders (or progress capture devices).

I chose the Petzl Microcender and the Petzl Micro Traxion.  I use the Microcender as the primary device because it doesn’t have teeth that could potentially damage the rope sheath (which would be highly unlikely due to the small forces involved in a top rope fall).

Here’s how the basic setup works:

  1. Find a suitable route that has an accessible anchor point at the top, follows a fairly straight line, and doesn’t have sharp edges that could damage the rope when it is weighted (when rappelling or climbing).  If you’re climbing alone, it’s also a good idea to choose a route that isn’t too remote and/or will enable you to get help by phone or yelling if something unusual were to happen.
  2. Create a bomber anchor and fix the rope to it (I use a figure eight knot).  If the route is shorter than half a rope length, attach the rope at its midpoint and hang both strands down the route (see #7 below).  If the route is longer than half a rope length, attach the rope at its end and hang the entire rope down the route.
  3. Rappel the route using your favorite rappel device (I use a GRIGRI 2 for single rope rappels).
  4. Set up your progress capture devices as shown above and below.  Shoulder slings and a short length of webbing or cord are used to keep the primary device up and away from the secondary device.  This cord is not load bearing so it doesn’t need to be beefy.
  5. It helps to weight the bottom of your rope with a water bottle, pack or something else to make sure that the rope runs smoothly through your devices.
  6. Double-check your setup by weighting it and then climb!
  7. OPTIONAL:  If you have two strands of rope hanging down from your anchor (see #2 above) then you can tie loops (e.g. overhand on a bight) at 10-15 foot intervals on the second strand and clip into these loops as you climb.  This provides redundancy for the rope in case it is severed.  In my opinion this is not necessary in most cases.  I would do this if I felt that the chosen route had high potential to damage my rope if I fell.

Here’s another view of my setup:

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And here’s an image from Petzl showing a similar setup (my setup is a slightly simplified version of this):

petzl setup

I tried this setup for the first time yesterday on a route called Chicken Eruptus at Willow Spring.  I anchored my rope to a large tree, rapped the route, and climbed it 3 times.  It was almost 200 feet from the base to my anchor so I was able to climb about 600 feet in 20-30 minutes.  The self-belay setup worked very smoothly and I felt just as safe as I’d feel on a toprope with a partner belaying me.

The only improvement I’ll make to this setup is to use carabiners on the progress capture devices that are designed to prevent cross-loading such as the Black Diamond Gridlock or DMM Belay Master 2.  These carabiners will keep everything nicely aligned and tidy.

This setup combined with common sense provides a safe way to climb outside without a partner.  With all the business travel I do, this will open up some new possibilities…