Tuesday, October 28, 2014


Rocktober is here! Bouldering season here in New Mexico is most definitely underway... not that we ever stopped mind you. But Fall and Winter are my favourite times out here in the desert - temps that you can actually try hard in, invigorating, brisk mornings that demand coffee, and a kind of quiet - a pause in the cycle of nature - that seems to slow down the hectic rhythms of modern life.

I managed to get the Santa Fe crew - finally released from their unhealthy summertime sport and gym climbing habits - out to Ortega. I had three objectives in mind, actually four 4 star FAs on three boulders. After getting lost quite spectacularly, we finally got to the B4 boulder in about 30-40 mins from the car. The weather was typically New Mexican - highly changeable, almost alpine - but B4, with its south/west aspect heated up pretty quick. We lapped the established 4 star line Foxy Boxing (V3) to warm up, and finished stabilizing the landing for the highball face. Attempts on the very reachy 4 star project to the right quickly evaporated into futility as we started to feel the sun beat down. Time to move on. Those 4 star FAs on B4 will have to wait.

Centerfold boulder

The Centerfold boulder has sat untouched for no good reason whatsoever. Located next to the Homo boulder, it has a beautiful, slightly overhanging scooped north face dotted with immaculate edges and slopers and capped with a small roof. In the center lies a perfect, ergonomic sloper pinch that looks and feels like it was certainly designed with us climbing monkeys in mind, instead of just being randomly spat out by the mindless mechanics of geologic forces. It's almost enough to make me quit science.. intelligent design FTW. And the bible does say "seek and you shall find". Damn, right about that.

Centerfold holds - exquisite!

Even more gratifyingly, not only did Centerfold look stunning, it climbed incredibly well too. The stand was established by Kendo at V5/6, essentially a series of pinches with a big move in the middle followed by multiple balancey, tensioney small moves that turn out to be the crux. HarSimran raised the bar by adding a sit start, with 5 traversey moves off a toe hook that takes you into the stand V7/8. Ok, we had our first 4 star FA of the day!

HarSimran on the big pinch-to-pinch move on Centerfold

Toehooks for a traversey sit start

So, the final spot of the day involved a bit of a hike into the uncharted realms of the east face of the mountain. I had found this roof - dubbed Happy Hardcore - a while back with Eric Brayden, and it looked spectacular, and hard. The crew wanted steep so steep is what I delivered.

Happy Hardcore roof

Disappointingly, the roof failed to deliver. The angle, height and rock quality were all there, but sadly all the edges were parallel to each other, giving desperate barn door movement, which when coupled with the big start block underneath for feet, just made it feel silly. Perhaps the best line was to the right, on large ledgey features unfortunately the landing sucked and it wasn't exactly the king project line we salivated for.

C'est la vie! The king boulder still waits to be discovered out at Ortega. Given the vast vast amount of quartzite out there that we havent yet seen, Im confident of finding it.

As a footnote, last weekend me and Jamie were out at Posos, and I was cleaning a new line that looked like it would become the hardest line on the blocky roof boulder. There was a small plate that seemed hollow, and I tried to pull it off for the sake of safety... only to watch to my horror as the entire face started moving, not just the plate! With worrying ease I pulled off a 150 lb piece of quartzite the size of my crash pad. Luckily it left a very clean face that improved the problem no end. Another reminder to be careful out there.

Enjoy the season everyone! (and be safe...)


After. Eeek

Luckily there are no Miuras poking out under the edge of this...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Ortega West Ridge

Just thought I'd put a quick update on Ortega following a fun and fairly successful day out on Saturday led by Peck, Gary and Josh. We had two out-of-state climbers visiting from AZ - Jay Bone and Jack Lester - who were psyched to join the development spree on the "God stone".

Gotta rush so I'll just throw up these two photos, but a good day was had by all and the West ridge now is starting to have its own circuit (and trails!) emerge.

Jack on his new compression problem, Eliminator V10 ***. Photo credit Jay Bone

William casually sending an awesome but as yet unnamed new highball below the Elysium patio. Photo credit Gary Parker. EDIT: "Cerberus V3/4"

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Posos highballs

Another day up at Posos, this time doing some scrubbing. Cleaned up an awesome highball block that turned out to climb very well. Did about 6 lines, another 4 or 5 to get back to do.

Drew on the best line - an as yet unnamed V4 - on the highball block

Friday, August 22, 2014

Ape Index

In a  change from the usual programming, an idle friday thought post on the ubiquitous measure for natural climbing aptitude - the Ape Index. In case you aren't aware of this measurement, it is the ratio of your height to your arm length, and for climbing purposes, the larger the ratio, the more like an ape you can classify yourself. Which has clear implications in climbing of course. In fact, it is hard to think of ways in which it could be negative. And when sharing beta on reachy problems, really you should be talking to people of similar wingspan, not height.

The V Man - probably wouldn't be pulling down V hard with a classically neutral Ape Index

Not just in rock climbing, swimmers and boxers claim a competitive advantage too. But I am a scientist - I demand data!

Michael Phelps (swimmer) + 3"
Sonny Liston (boxer) + 11.5"
Manute Bol (very very tall basketball player) + 23"
Iker Casillas (goalkeeper) +4"
Daniel Woods +4"

More climbers ape indices here.

Alright... we need a lot more data than that. Luckily for a lazy writer like me, the wikipedia article on Ape Index highlights a few studies with mixed conclusions. One study says its statistically relevant, another says otherwise. But many people would point to studies on climbers in general being lacking in scientific merit and having too many complex variables to draw meaningful results about any inquiry.

So going back to the original point, are there any times when a negative ape index could be a positive? Well, short arms are more flexible, more easily to bend. It is hard to find an elite climber with a negative or neutral ape index, but it is worth noting that Nalle Hukkataival and Adam Ondra have relatively short arms (+1/2" and +1" respectively).

Negatives of a positive ape index? Well there are certainly mainly negatives of being tall - problems with a strict starting point can become scrunchy, compression can be hard, legs can just get in the way. But those are mostly problems with legs, not arms. There can be situations where it is mechanically disadvantageous, e.g. on bench press, as it forces the lifter through a wider range of motion, and will put greater stress on tendons in situations like this, which could occur climbing. Anecdotes relate tendon problems to abnormally long limbs, but I haven't got time to go data mining (beyond 10 seconds on Google) to find if there is any science that supports that or not.

Deviations from the "ideal" are markers for disease however, e.g. Marfan syndrome (a genetic disorder that creates long limbs to height ratio). Human leg length, sitting height and their proportions, or the sitting height ratio, among others are associated with epidemiological risk for overweight, coronary heart disease, diabetes, liver dysfunction and certain cancers (Ref).

So what is ideal? Well that depends a great deal according to ethnic and racial type, not to mention nutrition whilst growing up (those who grew up under rationing in Western Europe in the post-war period were measurably shorter than their offspring). I could not find any accurate data as to what the average persons arm span / height is, and whether the Vitruvian Man ideal of a neutral ape index is actually realized by the average healthy adult male. However, I did find this paper on a Serbian population which found a positive ape index for men of 2.82±4.89 cm that was statistically significant whilst for female subjects they found a negative index of -2.15±4.68 cm that was statistically insignificant (ref). They found that men had a larger ape index (statistically significant).

And what about evolution? We came from apes, which clearly have huge ape indices (actually, I am blanking on data for arm spans for mammals too). We lost some of this as we became Homo Erectus and evolved for different climates - a person who has genes that were designed for a cold climate will tend to have shorter bulkier limbs which will allow for greater heat retention.

Well I hope you enjoyed this little thought adventure with me, even if we didn't actually discover any meaningful answers hopefully I raised a few interesting questions. Do you think your ape index is a help or a hindrance?

Finally, let us not forget - as we get into our old age and start shrinking, our ape index is likely to marginally increase. So best save some of those super reachy projects for our golden years....

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Another day in the NM 'alpine'

Spent a brief but fun day up at Ortega - New Mexico's new 'alpine' bouldering playground. I have been a little absent from the development spree that has been happening up there all summer at the hands of the Los Alamos and Socorro crews. Summers not my favourite time to try hard outside, I prefer to train and focus on the king of the seasons - Fall! I picked up a copy of The Rock Climbers Training Manual, which is the new go-to guide specifically for sending hard shit outside. Its incredibly dense and detailed and unlike other books focuses on transferring the hard-won indoor training gains to outdoors projects. I have a tick list for NM and hueco up on my fridge right now, and getting fired up for sending them when the temps drop.

Anyway, Ortega! Peck and the crew showed me a new area, just a tier below the ridge that Ive walked near but never seen - yet another amazing zone with huge potential for highballs. We put up a **** V2 Giant Steps - see photo below - that was just unbelievably perfect (no cleaning, no loose rock, just a perfect line sitting there - would be a classic in bishop, yosemite, hueco, anywhere).. but the arete to the left of here (cant see it in photo) is the real line.... Also repeated Peck's Thugalicious, a V5 compression arete that climbs in the classic Ortega style.

I do keep asking myself how much interest there will ever be in Ortega. Every time I go up there, Im like.. this drive kinda sucks... then the approach kinda sucks... no trails... no one will ever do this. Then we get there and we're running around like kids in a candy store, finding an almost neverending stream of amazing rock and amazing problems all piled on top of each other... then it seems like this is an incredibly special area, that actually has a distinctive style that stays with you. A mix of burly sloper compression, technical footwork, reachy moves between sublime blankness, bomber micro crimps and glorious, miraculous jug hauls.

At the end of the day, nobody really cares if Ortega becomes a "destination". We're having so much fun up there!

Crazy "mushroom roof" highball project

Thugalicious boulder - *** V5 prow

Me on Giant Steps (**** V2). Photo credit: Josh Smith