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E E R F E M E K A T ! E M O H




A 5.14 climber and world-cup competitor finds the secret to her success on plastic and rock. MICHAELA KIERSCH


Five Americans who could make it to Tokyo in 2020. ANDREW BISHARAT


Recovery therapies that work and some that don’t.




A visual tour de force of our magnificent world of competition climbing.


How a wooden board advanced the sport.



A Memphis gym where you can climb for free as long as you give back.



What to expect when you climb on real rock for the first time.



Indoor climbing has its roots in the historic bloc garden outside Paris.


Stuff you want for the inside game.


A moment’s inattention can cause disaster. JOHN LONG


How to train when you just have 60 minutes. NEIL GRESHAM

48 5.9 TO 5.10

Practical advice for adding a number to your climbing.

KEVIN TAKASHI SMITH COVER: Jain Kim, (KOR) at the World Cup Briançon 2016, France. She finished in fourth. Kim has won the overall lead-climbing World Cup three times. Photo: Jan Novak THIS PAGE: Bleausard Guillaume Glairon Mondet on the finals route, Tout à Blocs 2017, L’Argentière La-Bessée, France. He finished in fourth place. Photo: Jan Novak


How one of the worst places to live and be a climber produces some of our best climbers. JEFF JACKSON


Climbing plastic, an artist’s perspective. BOONE SPEED


The secret sauce behind Team Japan.




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WARNING! The activities described in GYM CLIMBER carry a significant risk of personal injury or death. DO NOT participate in these activities unless you are an expert, have sought or obtained qualified professional instruction or guidance, are knowledgeable about the risks involved, and are willing to assume personal responsibility for all risks associated with these activities. Big Stone Publishing Ltd. MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESSED OR IMPLIED, OF ANY KIND REGARDING THE CONTENTS OF THIS MAGAZINE, AND EXPRESSLY DISCLAIMS ANY WARRANTY REGARDING THE ACCURACY OR RELIABILITY OF INFORMATION CONTAINED HEREIN. Big Stone Publishing Ltd. further disclaims any responsibility for injuries or death incurred by any person engaging in these activities. Use the information contained in this magazine at your own risk, and do not depend on the information contained in this magazine for personal safety or for determining whether to attempt any climb, route or activity described herein.

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Making an ascent of Haroun and the Sea of Stories (V11), Buttermilk boulders, Bishop, California.



I GREW UP SCR AMBLING as high as I could on the neighborhood trees and st ick ing my f ingers into t he cracks between bricks on the side of my childhood home. I had a natural inclination to climb. It practically started in my crib, and my parents were desperate to find an outlet for me. When I was around 7 years old, my mom and dad took me to a climbing gym in the suburbs of Chicago. Climb On was a relatively standard climbing gym, with walls around 30 feet tall, black rubber flooring, and a great pizza place next door for after-session slices! My first impression of climbing couldn’t have been more perfect. I had never tried rock climbing before I went to Climb On. The teenage staff on duty got me fully equipped with rental shoes and a harness and they showed my parents how to clip and unclip the autobelay. I went to the top of the beginner

wall on my first try. I then climbed it 20 more times for good measure. It was love at first sight. My dad drove me to the gym on school nights and let me stay late if I was close to sending one of my projects. One evening I watched the owner carry in his young son, asleep in his arms, after soccer practice, and I scrambled up to the lofted bouldering wall with his daughter, where we would whisper and giggle and sometimes make it to the top. I found instant camaraderie in climbing.

LESS THAN A YEAR after I started, that gym hosted a youth climbing competition. My very first comp was bouldering, and I was in the Youth D category for kids 11 years old and under. I was 8. I placed second of two, and was surprisingly indifferent. I didn’t really care that I hadn’t won. I was just excited to figure out when the next competition was so that I could try again. I did promise myself that someday I would stand on top of the podium. I had no idea the journey I had started. From that first year onward, I joined one of the best teams in the country, coached by Dave Hudson. Though he turned 29 every year, Dave was in his late 30s when I joined the team and he had already been climbing and coaching for several decades. Dave has kind

eyes, a huge heart, and would never let you know it except for rare sentimental moments. He is the best example of tough love, and I’ve had only a few other personal relationships as meaningful as this one. Dave is still my coach today and one of my most trusted allies. Dave has also coached professional cl i mb er s K a sia P iet r a s, M ich ael O’Rourke and Isabelle Faus, and two of them have sent V14. I was training with them at a gym in the city, closer to where I lived. That’s where I spent most of my time from ages 9 to 18. Hidden Peak was a unique climbing gym in many ways. It was filled with ancient climbing holds, dust, and lots of kids. The walls were no taller than 18 feet, which became exciting when we all learned how to lead climb. There weren’t any yoga classes, fitness equipment, showers, speed walls, or any of the fancy perks of modern climbing gyms. It was a tiny basement box where maximum capacity was 50 people. Yet we thrived. Having such a close-knit community was the key to our success. Dave was able to customize almost every aspect of WWW.GYMCLIMBERMAG.COM


our climbing practices. He tailored his training to every kid by mapping out specific time intervals, weight training, and he set individual climbing problems for varying strengths and heights. Dave also used to write code names for each of us on the printed workouts and we had to figure out who was who. Some of mine included “Gremlin,” “Squirrel,” and one of my least favorites was on a day he named us after cars. I was “Dodge Neon.” He helped us grow up, and we trusted him. My best friend was Isabelle, who at the time was fierce beyond belief, and she still is. Isabelle grew up with more independence than most people have until college. She was years ahead of me in that regard, and frequently passed 14


her knowledge on to me. Isabelle rode her bike all around town before there were even bike lanes. I remember her taking public transportation all across the cit y and exploring by herself, learning about the world she lived in and the realities of it. No one ever knew where she could be or what she was doing. She was equally impressive inside the climbing gym, particularly her bouldering. Isabelle started out like most kids, swinging around in her cut-off shorts and l it tle Velcro cl i mbi ng shoes. However, Isabelle d id ever y t h ing with purpose and even at a young age climbing wasn’t an exception. Her dedication was inspiring to me, and I followed in her footsteps. We trained

after practice had ended and on days where there wasn’t practice scheduled from our pre-teen years to much later, when she moved to Chattanooga.

T H E A D U LT S i n t h e c l i m b i n g c om mu n it y i nclude d u s i n t hei r sessions and helped us where they c ould, but mos t i mp or t a nt, t hey introduced us to climbing outside. We started making short trips on weekends to the Red River Gorge, in Kentucky, a sport climbers’ mecca. My first trip to the Red was in the middle of July. I was about 10 years old and I complained about the approach to the Motherlode. My mosquito-biteridden legs were tired from the short


Clockwise from top left: First female ascent of Golden Ticket (5.14c), Red River Gorge, Kentucky, in 2016. Saigon Direct (V9), Buttermilk boulders, Bishop, California, in 2016. At the Sport and Speed Nationals in 2018 at the Mesa Rim Climbing Gym in Reno, Nevada, where she placed second behind the winner Claire Buhrfeind. With Nina Williams outside Bishop. At the 2006 Youth National Qualifiers in Portland, Oregon where she’s “pretty sure she placed 26th.”

Tips for young female climbers 1. Be your own champion. Negative self talk will only hold you back. You need to believe in yourself and love yourself first and foremost.

3. Climb for yourself, not because you’re good at it or your parents want you to. You need to love what you’re doing to be happy and successful.

2. Be patient and kind to your changing body. Your body is new to you as you grow and it takes time to learn how to identify and embrace your strengths, and to improve your weaknesses.

4. Don’t listen to people who tell you that you’re too small or too big, too weak or too strong, too young or too old. You are just enough and your success belongs to no one and nothing else but you.



Winning the 2017 Psicobloc deep-water-soloing competition in Park City, Utah.

felt like climbing outside was giving me an escape from the pressures of school and competitions. I had the freedom to choose which routes I wanted to try and how hard they were, which gave me the opportunity to measure my progress at my own pace and create challenges within my comfort zone. Of course, I am a very competitive and ambitious person, so I rarely chose to climb only easier things. When I was 16, I set the goal of sending my first 5.14a outside. I spent parts of that summer working out my beta on Omaha Beach, which climbs through the heart of the Madness Cave. I wanted my first 5.14 to be solid and Omaha is one of the classics of the grade. I figured that if I was strong enough to do the moves in 95-degree

heat and Southern humidity, then I might have a shot when November came. School started and I turned back into a weekend warrior, slowly making progress on the project. After almost two months, I was really close to sending and could one-hang it almost every time. One weekend, my best friend in school was having a birthday party on Saturday. She really wanted me to be there. I sat in my room trying to decide what to do. Should I be a normal teenager and go to the party? Surely it would be OK to skip one weekend … but then again, what would I remember more, another high school party or my first 5.14a? I went to the Red. After seven hours of driving and some poor tent sleep, I went up to the


steep section. The humidity was nearly unbearable, and I’m still not sure if it was the thick air or the immense cave that took my breath away when I looked up. Roughly 100 feet of absolutely perfect overhanging sandstone loomed above. I had already decided that I wanted to try every route. The first trip was a short teaser, only about a day and a half because we needed to be back in Chicago on Monday to teach summer camp at the gym. We squeezed in some classic climbs, including the famed Chainsaw Massacre and Ale 8 One, both 5.12s. The car ride home was easier because we couldn’t drive, so we just sat in the back seat with bellies full of pizza from Miguel’s and chatted until we were too exhausted from the weekend to keep our eyes open. Isabelle went on to try more outdoor bouldering in New York, Colorado, and Tennessee. She moved to Chattanooga when we were still teenagers. I stayed in Chicago, still in high school, and continued going to the R RG ever y weekend. My schedule quickly transformed into training for competitions during the week and projecting outside on the weekends. The juxtaposition of rural Kentucky and the inner city was thrilling to me. I loved everything about being outside. On Wednesdays I would close the door to my room and open up my rope bag. The smell of Southern sand and dirt and air would fill my lungs and I had a small escape from the big city. I

crag on Saturday morning. I felt amazing warming up, and gave the project a burn. I passed my high point. Excitement swelled in me, but unfortunately also in my forearms, and I was too pumped to grasp the last hold—a jug—before the anchors. I took a huge whipper and let out my first wimpy wobbler. I didn’t try again that day. On Sunday, I returned with more determination, and sent the route. I became addicted to limit projecting and have since projected and sent practically every 5.14 in the Red.

Now, I feel that I have a very balanced routine between climbing gyms and rock. I view climbing gyms as a tool to train for my outdoor objectives. My t y pical week is mostly spent inside, where I try to focus on my weaknesses and improve my general level of fitness. Honestly, I feel that being a weekend warrior is the ideal

ON WEDNESDAYS I WOULD CLOSE THE DOOR TO MY ROOM AND OPEN MY ROPE BAG TO SMELL THE DIRT AND I HAD A SMALL ESCAPE FROM THE BIG CITY. schedule for sending hard outside. I rest twice a week, usually Monday and Friday, which fall before and after my days at the crag. The other weekdays are focused on trying to get stronger. I typically spend two days training my weaknesses, which can be more general, such as “power” or “finger strength,” but they can also be specific to the climb or type of climbing you are trying to send. When I was projecting Omaha Beach, I focused mainly on longer circuits and only climbed on the steepest walls in the gym to simulate the angle of

the climb. The third day is a swing day. I switch between sessioning for fun and training to maintain my strengths. This schedule helps me stay psyched throughout a season and strong enough to hopefully send my projects! W het her I a m i n side or out, exerting high levels of energy into my climbing eventually exhausts me. The most important part of my balance is remembering to take breaks and to climb for fun when I need to. When I am forcing myself through a session, I’m less likely to have a productive day and more likely to burn out or get injured. I listen to my mind and body, and have learned to embrace both the peaks and valleys in my performance. Ultimately, this is what gives my climbing career the longevity and success that I’ve had. Michaela Kiersch is a professional climb er and for mer US Nat ional Champion in both bouldering and lead.



McKinney, TX

Brooke Raboutou, 17

Boulder, CO

Brooke Raboutou has been climbing since she could walk, which is unsurprising since both her parents, Didier Raboutou and Robyn Erbesfield-Raboutou, are not only former world-class climbers and champions, but the founders of ABC Kids Climbing, the only climbing gym in the world specifically for youth climbers, in Boulder, Colorado. Brooke is “very excited” by the prospect of the Olympics. “It’s a great opportunity for more people to know about the sport and hopefully get to try it out and enjoy it like I do.” Brooke might just have more comp experience than any other peer her age. She started competing at a high level at age 7, and at 11 was the youngest person to climb 5.14b. Comp results include first place in lead in the IFSC Youth World Championships in Moscow in August, ninth at the 2017 bouldering World Cup at Vail, and first for All Around at both the 2016 Youth World Championships and the 2017 Pan American Championships.

As the 11-time U.S. National Boulder i ng cha mpion, a nd t he f irst A mer ican woman to win two bouldering World C up s, A l e x P u c c i o i s t h e mo s t d om i n a n t A mer ic a n competition boulderer ever. She’s also one of the strongest and most prolific boulderers outdoors, with numerous first female ascents including of Jade (V14) and The Wheel of Chaos (V14) in RMNP; Slashface (V13/14) in Hueco; and Black Lung (V13), Joe’s Valley. Puccio has overcome several serious injuries over the years, which makes her 11-year streak in bouldering Nationals all the more impressive. In 2016, she herniated a disc in her back during the Vail World Cup, but still finished in sixth place, despite shooting pain and weakness in her arms. “In finals, the first climb, the first move, the first boulder … I felt my whole arm go numb,” Puccio said in an interview at the time. “My hand wouldn’t close.” Eight days later she went into spinal surgery to fuse two vertebrae. Six months later, in 2017, she won her 10th straight Bouldering Nationals title. Born in 1989, Puccio will be 31 in 2020, likely one of the older contenders. She doesn’t have a huge history of placing high in lead or speed comps, but given her legendary power and tenacious ability to recover, she is always one to watch.

Nathaniel Coleman, 21

Salt Lake City, UT Nathaniel Coleman says his biggest strength is his mind, but it probably doesn’t hurt that he’s also really strong. How strong? Strong enough to have flashed every single finals problem in the USA Bouldering Nationals for the past three years in a row, a hat trick that makes him the reigning American bouldering champ. Coleman has long hair that he pulls back into a loose bun during competitions, and chiseled facial features that make him look like Owen Wilson’s younger brother. He climbs with the type of control that makes everything look easy. He has a number of mantras, including: “Follow the flow of the psych,” “Climb better, not stronger,” and, simply, “Climb like Adam Ondra.” Coleman has been crushing plastic since he was 9 years old, though he’s no slouch on real rock either. Outside he has sent V14 and 5.14b. To prepare for the Olympics, Coleman wants to work on his route-reading ability. “That means more practice on World Cup-style problems so that type of movement becomes intuitive and familiar.”


[part 1]


TOKYO 2020

Alex Puccio, 29,

Our Picks to Make the Olympic Team



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TOKYO 2020 When Kyra Condie was 12 years old she started standing with her hip cocked to one side, which her mother perfunctorily interpreted as the preface to “a little teenage attitude.” In fact, she was diagnosed with scoliosis and subsequently underwent back surgery to fuse 10 vertebrae, from her lower back up to her neck, to correct her curved spine. Kyra at that point had been climbing for two years, and she was already in love with the sport and with competition. Major back surgery was scary stuff, carrying the potential for life-altering complications. Fortunately, the surgery was successful, but the question remained: Would she be able to return to climbing? Her doctor never wavered in his faith in her. “Send me a picture when you’re on the podium,” he said. Kyra thought, Oh, he believes in me. “That was the moment I thought it was totally possible.” In ensuing years Condie would win Youth Nationals (sport and bouldering) a total of five times. She also kept her own word to the surgeon, mailing a photo of herself atop a podium with a note of thanks. Condie has continued to rage in the competition and gym scene. Her best comp results are fifth place in the Vail Bouldering World Cup in 2018, sixth place in the Tai’an Bouldering World Cup 2018, and third place Overall Combined in the Arco 2015 Youth World Championships. Outdoors, Condie has climbed two V12s. Enthusiastic about the news that climbing has become an Olympic event, she regards a background in speed climbing as one of her biggest assets heading into 2020. “Most of the World Cup climbers didn’t start speed climbing until this year,” she says, “but because I’ve competed in it for years, my starting point is a bit ahead.” 20


Sean Bailey, 22, Seattle, WA Call it home-field advantage, or home away from home. Sean Bailey was staying with his “grandpa,” whom he has long visited to hike and ski in Vail, Colorado, during the Bouldering World Cup there in June. His father came, too. “It definitely helped to be around family,” Bailey, age 22, says from Austria, where he is training and competing. Something worked that weekend, anyway, because Bailey, a product of Vertical World in the Seattle region, came out blazing. Showing the mercurial nature of comp finishes, he had entered the 20-person semifinals field in 16th, but finished semis in third and took the silver in finals. Bailey has made three other finals—placing sixth, fifth and eighth—in lead World Cups in 2017, and at an event in 2016 he pulled an impressive fourth. In bouldering in 2017, he clocked 11th in Vail, the highest-placing American male. As of 2018, when bouldering ended and lead comps began, he was 10th at each of the Briançon, Chamonix and Arco lead World Cups. His dual expertise suits the Olympic format, which favors balanced climbers, and he has recently begun practicing speed. On home shores, Bailey has won the 2016 and 2018 USA Climbing Sport and Speed Open National Championships, and he was second behind Coleman at the USA Climbing Bouldering Open National Championship in February. Bailey can climb rock, too, when he gets to it. In 2016, smack in the middle of a comp season doing seven overseas events, and in one exceedingly productive week, he pulled an ascent (the 14th overall), of Chris Sharma’s Biographie/Realization (5.15a).  —Alison Osius


Kyra Condie, 22, St. Paul, MN


As athletes, we are constantly looking for new tricks or therapies to help us perform better. Unfortunately, researchers are divided on even the most common therapies.


You are an athlete. Treat yourself like one.

We’ve all heard it: “Climbing is a dangerous sport.” Of course we should always exercise caution and adhere to the best safety practices, but we can be injured even when we do everything right. Your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves are all at risk for chronic breakdown and injury from overuse. Injuries and pain can limit your enjoyment of our great sport and even shorten your athletic or recreational career. Bottom line, climbing is an athletic activity and you need to treat yourself like an athlete. One of the keys for remaining injury free is to boost your recovery between gym sessions. While the standbys are icing, rest and foam rollers for enhanced recovery, the reality is that most of us need more than that. Question is, which other therapies are worth the time, money and energy? 22


/ for sustained performance

MASSAGE THERAPY is the go-to for many athletes for recovery, stress reduction and enhanced performance. Does massage actually work? Research is contradictory. A massage can reduce blood pressure and stress while increasing the perception of recovery. It can also temporarily increase flexibility. Yet a 2008 report in the North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy concluded that massage has generally failed to show positive effects on sports performance and physiological parameters related to muscle soreness. Massage has also not been proven to play a significant role in rehabilitation of sports injuries. So ... it feels good, but maybe not worth the money if recovery is the objective. CHIROPRACTIC THERAPY is supposed to restore normal neology and biomechanics of the spinal and extremity joints. On the surface, it’s easy to see how athletes could benefit from adjustments: peak performance can only be achieved with optimal mobility and nerve function. Opponents of

the practice point out that such adjustments could cause abnormal spinal mechanics and muscle activation, thereby disrupting the intricate chain of coordinated movements necessary for most sports, especially climbing. Numerous studies postulate the benefits of chiropractic care for sports performance, but research is insufficient to convincingly support the claims. Most studies fail to demonstrate statistical differences between athletes who have undergone chiropractic treatment and those who have not. The studies that do demonstrate positive effects from adjustments are small, and the authors can only conclude that a possible association exists. A 2010 review of chiropractic treatment and the enhancement of sport performance in The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association concluded that it would be more accurate for chiropractors to say that their techniques “may” indirectly affect performance. Chiropractic thearpy feels good, but might not be the best for optimal recovery.



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CRYOTHERAPY is the latest trend in sports recovery. The treatment places you in a specialized chamber for two to four minutes at temperatures below -148 degrees. Another form of cryotherapy uses a cold wand to target problem areas. Cryotherapy is thought to improve mental and physical health, although many of the possible benefits remain unproven. Preliminary studies suggest cryotherapy can reduce pain and inflammation, promote tissue repair, increase metabolism, improve mental states, treat migraines, and even prevent an array of chronic diseases. A 2017 report in the International Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that cryotherapy reduced muscle pain 80 percent of the time. Cryotherapy was also found to decrease whole-body inflammation and lower systemic markers for muscle-cell damage. Further research is needed to find the optimal duration and frequency of cryotherapy, but this is a therapy to keep an eye on. CUPPING is thousands of years old, used throughout Asia to treat pain and other ailments. Traditionally for this treatment, a glass cup is heated to create suction and placed on the skin. More commonly, the cups are attached to a pump to create the suction. The cups are said to lift connective tissue, loosen adhesions, increase blood flow, and drain fluids and toxins. The 2018 Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine reviewed the results of cupping on 500 patients and concluded that no recommendation could be made for or against the technique. Still, it’s hard to ignore a therapeutic technique that has such deep historic roots.




/ for injury rehabilitation performance

DRY NEEDLING involves using a thin filiform needle to penetrate the skin and access soft tissues. It was first proposed in the 1940s based on Western medical practices, and differs from acupuncture in style and philosophy. Dry needling is rooted in modern neuromuscular science and pain patterns. Most studies reviewing dry needling as therapeutic technique surmise that it is effective for reducing pain and may improve balance and strength. The 2010 edition of Acupuncture in Medicine: Journal of the British Medical Acupuncture Society concluded that dry needling may help maintain rotator-cuff mobility and reduce the potential for injury, a salient point for climbers given our propensity for shoulder injuries. EXTRACORPOREAL SHOCKWAVE THERAPY is a relatively new technology that delivers shockwaves into soft tissues via a cylindrical handheld machine. The shock waves may cause microtrauma in deep tissue and stimulate cellular repair of connective tissue. The treatment also may stimulate the production of new blood vessels, increase nutrient delivery and promote dissolution of calcium deposits formed by chronic injury. The therapy hyperstimulates the nerves that send pain signals to the brain, diminishing nerve activity and reducing pain. Over longer periods of continued treatment, shockwave therapy may activate a “reset” button to diminish pain perception and treat chronic tendinopathies. A 2014 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggested that it is an underutilized therapy for shoulder conditions, which are historically difficult to treat. LOW-LEVEL LASER THERAPY is the application of light at red or near infrared wavelengths to targeted tissues. The technique may reduce pain and inflammation as well as augment tissue repair and regeneration of damaged tissues. Light therapy has been used to treat numerous ailments, including arthritis, tendinopathies, and nerve-related conditions such as carpal tunnel. Lasers in Medical Science, a 2018 study by Fabio Lanferdini, found that

laser therapy could improve VO2 kinetics and increase time to exhaustion. This may be of particular interest to lead or multipitch climbers. Proponents recommended three to four sessions per week to increase cellular activity and optimize physiological conditions. Given that a high frequency of treatment is needed, this therapy may be best reserved for specific injuries rather than chronic fatigue or pain. ACUPUNCTURE is thousands of years old, originating within Chinese medicine and becoming popular worldwide. Acupuncture is used to treat a wide array of conditions and diseases as well as psychological states. The technique can supposedly aid in pain perception and enhance physical performance, strength, aerobic conditioning, and flexibility. A study in 2017 in the Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine demonstrated that acupuncture may even be used to reduce anxiety prior to competition. Anxiety reduction would be of particular use for athletes that are struggling to keep a cool head prior to an important competition. E-STEM OR “ELECTRICAL STIMULATION” is the application of low-level electrical frequencies to targeted muscle groups. This technique stimulates muscle contractions of low intensity and short duration, which is similar to what the athlete would do during active-recovery exercise. However, most studies do not present convincing evidence for E-Stem’s effectiveness. A 2014 report in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance compared electrical stimulation to active and passive recovery interventions. The report concluded that electrical stimulation was less effective than active recovery and comparable to passive recovery. Instead of throwing money at the situation, it might be better to spend 10 extra minutes at the end of a training session doing a cool down. DELANEY MILLER is t he 2014 Spor ts Climbing Series National Champion. Miller placed second at the 2018 Psicobloc in Park City, Utah, and has a degree in Health and Exercise Science.



FIRST-EVER REPORT ON INDOOR CLIMBING Over the last decade, indoor climbing has emerged as a more accessible and popular form of fitness, bringing with it a new breed of facilities. It may seem like climbing gyms are popping up in every city, many offering amenities you might not associate with climbing such as DJ parties, food courts, coffee, yoga, pilates, ninja warrior obstacles. It’s a different world from the one where folks were epoxying rocks onto plywood! At the Climbing Wall Association office in Boulder, Colorado, we field questions such as: “How big is the industry?” “How many climbing gyms

are in the U.S. and Canada?” “I’m thinking about opening a gym, but where should I put it?” “What are the latest trends and best practices?” “What do successful gyms have in common?” These questions are surprisingly difficult to answer. Until now, there hasn’t been reliable data to help us understand this emerging industry. T hat’s why i n 2017 we su r veyed climbing businesses, asking them about their operations, finance and membership. 123 commercial climbing fac il it ies i n t he US a nd C a n ad a participated. The result is the 2018 Indoor Climbing Industry Report.

BIGGER IS BETTER There’s a new breed of climbing gym that is bigger, offers more amenities, provides more varied programming, and serves a greater breadth of members. And despite the increased investments owners have made to create and run their facilities, the new gyms are creating healthier businesses with increased revenue. Why is bigger better? The trend shows that successful organizations are opening multiple locations, and each location grows in size, amenities, program offerings, and members. Our data shows that North American climbing gyms can be divided into two categories: those that earn less than $800k in annual revenue, and those that earn more. As you can see in the graph there are trends that seem to align with financial success. Notice that the organizations falling into the higher revenue category outperform the lower-earning organizations in every measure. This indicates more of a focus on programming, which in turn opens their facilities up to a larger population.


Average Facility Size


THE RISK OF GYM CLIMBING One question that begged an answer was “How risky is indoor climbing?” And is the industry doing its part to educate new climbers, promote personal responsibility, and manage the risks involved in the sport? We asked our survey participants to record their rates of “incidents” and “accidents” to get a picture of what’s really going on in climbing gyms. “Incidents” are defined as close calls that did not result in injury, while “accidents” resulted in an injury to a patron or staff member. What we found is that the rate of accidents among patrons in climbing gyms is .007 per 1,000 visitor hours. Compared to an activity like CrossFit (2.3 injuries per 1,000 athlete training hours*), this is an exceedingly low rate of injury. Nearly seven in 10 facilities reported accidents among patrons in 2017, but the average number of accidents was only 2.2 for the year. This compares to 45 percent of facilities that reported staff accidents, with a mean of 3.0 for the year. Those numbers overall show that patrons and staff of indoor climbing facilities experience ver y few injuries per year. This information is an indicator that what climbing gym operators are doing to educate and train their customers and staff is working, and that the industry should continue those efforts. 91 percent of facilities have written curricula for climbing classes, 81 percent have written criteria for climber assessments, and the majority offer technical training classes, such as top-rope and lead belay training. These programs are clearly paying off in creating a responsible climbing community.

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2,999 people/sq. mile











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The future is bright! The business of indoor climbing is strong. Owners are providing effective training resources and investing in outstanding spaces for their members. Congratulate yourself on being a part of something awesome.

Average Population Density Income Per Sq. Ft. Average Memberhip Monthly Check-ins




Auto Belays



Youth Team



Climbing Training



Adaptive Programming



Fitness Classes



Speed Walls



26 GC N U M B E R


Laura Allured is the CWA Marketing & Communications Manager. Originally from the Chicagoland area, she got her start climbing in 2012 at Vertical Endeavors and has been hooked ever since.






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Kyra Condie demonstrates technique, and brute strength, at a Moonboard comp in NYC.

How a simple wooden board elevated world standards In the late 1980s I was frustrated by the lack of training facilities, and so I followed the example of my friend and training partner Andy Pollitt and built a training board in the basement of my terraced house in Sheffield, England. My cellar was no more than 10 feet square and 8 feet high, and my training board consisted of a short-angled wall leading up onto the cellar ceiling, which was boarded out. Both boards were covered in homemade wooden holds built from rough cuts of wood. Resin holds barely existed at the time. We spent most of our time on the roof of the cellar swinging around footless on the pieces of wood. In 1989, after a long winter of training, I emerged from my cellar and set about trying to free climb the start to Andy’s route The Whore of Babylon at Raven Tor. The day after my 23rd birthday, on June 14th, I finally managed to link the six hard moves together, creating a direct line: Hubble. I graded Hubble 8c+ but many have suggested it could be 9a, which would make it the first 9a in the world. My basic training board in the cellar of my house was one of the main factors in the success and opened 28


my eyes to the effectiveness of simple wooden training boards. In 1993, a large room became available to rent in a disused Victorian school room owned by Sheffield City Council. A small group of friends and I jumped at the opportunity to build a bigger, more ambitious training facility. This facility, known as “the School Room,” became the main training hub for many U.K. climbers, including Jerry Moffatt and Malcolm Smith. It was shamelessly elitist, and unless you could climb a minimum of V6 there was little point in becoming a member. The School Room initially contained three simple wooden training boards, a campus board, and a set of weights. Some of the hardest boulder problems in the U.K. were climbed on the infamous 50-degree School Room board, and the holds were permanently fixed, which provided perfect benchmark problems. I believe this was one of the first training boards with intentionally fixed holds. In 2006, the Sheffield Council closed the original School Room, and we put all the boards in storage in the hope of finding a new training space. In 2014,




Ben Moon in Sheffield, England, 2017. Boone Speed photo

CLIMBING & TRAINING GEAR MoonBoard Kits, Hold Sets & LED Lights Mens, Womens & Youth Clothing Finger Boards & Campus Rungs Bouldering Pads Pack, Bags & Chalkbags

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Above: Ben Moon and the three iterations of the Moonboard. Middle: Moon on the original 50-degree School Room board, in the mid 1990s.

Above: Moon works a problem on the School Room’s original 30 -degree board.


Emergence of the School Room

After my experiences of training in my cellar, then on the School Room boards and then with such success outside, I was convinced that this type of flat-panel training board was the most effective strength-training tool out there. The style of climbing is very basic, and the focus is on strength as opposed to technique. There are no tricks to climbing the problems. They rely mainly on pure strength. Often the problems involve big dynamic moves between small holds where your feet need to cut loose. The key is having the strength to control the swing and get in position for the next move. Although there is a risk of injury from the high load this places on your fingers, there is potential for incremental strength gains. The problems are normally no more than seven serious moves, but for st rengt h training you can work on just two or three moves at a time, which is what I would define as “limit bouldering.” This style of board is also great for sub-maximal interval training, i.e., strength endurance. Not only are fixed-hold boards a very effective training tool for outdoor climbing, they are well suited to interval training, where volume and intensity are critical. It’s easy to set basic training problems at a specific intensity with no technical crux section.

The Birth of the MoonBoard

Around 2004 I had the idea of building a standardized training board that could be replicated the world over and allow users to train on the same problems we used in the School Room. I called it the MoonBoard. Eight feet wide, 12 feet high and initially built at a fixed angle of 40 degrees, the MoonBoard first had sets of holds that were geometric shapes that mimicked the pieces of wood we had trained on in our basements and later in the School Room. These were called the Originals, and like the School Room boards required a minimum ability of around V6. Each hold had a unique number and compass indicator, allowing all users to place the holds in the same grid position and orientation. MoonBoard users around the world could then set their own problems, upload them to our website, and share the problems with other users. As well as being an effective strength-training tool, the MoonBoard connected climbers and created a training community. Users set their own problems and shared




them with others as well as tested themselves on existing MoonBoard problems. Unlike commercial gyms where the problems change, the MoonBoard problems were there forever, allowing users to have long-term training projects and benchmarks. By 2016, we were ready to launch a new MoonBoard website, app and LED system. The app allowed users to add and search for problems, log ascents and grades,


after my business, Moon Climbing, had outgrown its small warehouse, I rebuilt the School Room and included in the design the old 50-degree School Room board, which even after 25 years is still going strong!

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Lacking training facilities in his hometown of Sheffield, England, Ben Moon built a wooden training board in a basement where he trained all winter. Moon emerged from there in 1989 to establish Hubble, seen here, at Raven Tor. Hubble was rated 8c+, but may have been underrated, making it a contender for the world’s first 9a/5.14d. Moon attributed his success on the route to his training regimen, leading to the development of the MoonBoard.

Ben Moon, born in England, was a leading climber of his generation, helping to push the standards of difficulty in bouldering and sport climbing. He established the world’s first 8c+, Hubble, which according to many should be 9a.


and rate and comment on problems. It also connected to the LED system allowing users to light up problems. This was the perfect time to make a clean break from the existing hold setups and get all MoonBoard users climbing on the same setup. Within weeks the number of MoonBoard problems on the 2016 setup had surpassed the total number of problems across all the five old setups. Within a year there were over 12,000 problems on the 2016 set up. Technology has played a big part in the evolution of the MoonBoard over the past few years. We are constantly developing the MoonBoard app and building in new features and are currently working on an assessment tool that will allow users to assess their strength and strength endurance and highlight any weak points. Who knows, maybe one day a MoonBoard problem will feature in a World Cup competition, and then MoonBoard users would be able to try the same problem! I still climb regularly on the MoonBoard, setting new problems, checking users’ problems, and selecting problems for the “Benchmark” list. The board remains a big part of my training … but above all it’s great fun.




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A big beautiful world of real rock awaits you outside, including the 4,000 routes and 60 crags of Australia’s Blue Mountains. Here Roman Hofmann has a late afternoon burn on Double Adapter (31) at Gateway, a sport crag high above the Megalong Valley.

A new world of adventure awaits you outside. Here’s how to get started.

I had gym experience, but had only been climbing on plastic for a year. I didn’t know the first thing about an anchor, and just wanted to have a good time. My first route was tense. I didn’t feel secure because the bolts were farther apart than I was used to, and I wasn’t confident in my technique. Thankfully, toward the top, the pressure I had put on myself to succeed on my first rock route started to dissipate. I realized I wasn’t going to fall and was close to the two-bolt anchor at the top. Before leaving the ground, I had been told that all I needed to 34


do was clip the two draws in at the top, clip myself in and clean. “Cleaning” was a term I was unfamiliar with, but after some long “talks” between me, at the top of the cliff, and my friends, down at the base, I managed to get my gear, learned what not to do, and continued to have a great rest of the day. Like a lot of people, I didn’t know what to expect when I was transitioning outdoors, nor who could teach me or where I could go to learn. Now, years later, my passion is sharing my experiences with others looking to get outdoors and I am lucky to call teaching outdoor climbing education my career.


I distinctly remember the first time I climbed outside, at Cemetery Wall, in Safe Harbor, south central Pennsylvania. I was stoked. Cemetery Wall is a frictionless, black chunk of rock that bakes in the summer sun. It also happens to be a slab. That means small holds and insecure climbing.

Find a Mentor, Not a Chuffer

One of the best, and easiest, ways to begin climbing outdoors is through a mentor, someone who is willing to share and teach their knowledge of the sport. I didn’t have a chance to learn from a mentor, however, since then I’ve had the pleasure to learn from some great teachers, whom I now call friends. Those relationships mean everything to me and my growth in climbing increases exponentially whenever I build a relationship like this. So try it! Every gym will have loads of climbers with outdoor experience. Connecting with an outdoor veteran can be extraordinary, but don’t ask just anyone for help. Just because someone has climbed outdoors does not mean they are safe, or have solid experience. Be selective. If someone is a chuffer in the gym, they are likely outside as well. If you should venture to real rock, have an inquisitive side and ask why your mentor is doing things a certain way. Observe how they set up the anchor, what knots they tie, and so on. Start off on a toprope—rock is not plastic, or even close— or go bouldering to get a feel for natural rock. Before you get on a rope, read about anchor building and peruse Mountain Project or the guidebooks at your local climbing shop for an appropriate place to go for your first time. If you’re not sure where to start, your gym or gear shop can help point you in the right direction. Be honest with your experience when you ask about places to start, and ask about specifics for gear and style of climbing. If you don’t have a mentor, take a class from a climbing gym or a guide service that offers rock courses for beginners. Only sign up with a reputable service. The American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) has high standards and is a solid reference for your search. In our programming, Earth Treks has classes that develop skills at all levels, building on skills from the previous classes. This makes it easy for you to learn at every stage in your outdoor-climbing career, and helps you grow into a competent and safe climber.

SKILL PROGRESSION 1. Start with an outdoormovement class that focuses

on foundational movement skills and offers a lot of on-therock climbing time. The best feedback at first is experiential. You’ll get fast feedback on your climbing technique and come away with a lot of skills to practice the next time you go outside or climb in the gym.

2. Take an anchor-building

class for the specific type of climbing you aim to start with. Toproping and sport lead climbing are the best places to start.

3. Take technical-skills

classes that focus on techniques that interest you. These types of classes may hold a lifetime of information, so no rush.

The Essentials

Now that you’ve made it outside, you are ready to make more decisions. Are you content with toproping? Do you want to 1. You will want anchoring material that can connect all compolead on bolts or gear? nents of an anchor. This could be webbing or cord, depending on Either way, it’s time to take an anchorthe length, durability and strength you need in your anchor system building class specific to your genre of (covered in the AMGA book). There will always be compromises and climbing. Learn the intricacies of anchor there are different types of anchor configurations. Ask questions at building by going out to the crag and your shop and gym and do your homework. practicing at the base. Also, read about the essentials of anchors. I recommend Rock Climbing: The AMGA Single Pitch 2. You will need a climbing rope. I recommend a standard 60-meter Manual as a comprehen sive tex t on length, single-rated dynamic rope. This is the most versatile length history, materials and techniques used for and rating for most styles of climbing. The diameter of rope is up to one-pitch climbing. The book details with you to determine. Thicker ropes are more durable. Thinner ropes clarity the essentials for outdoor climbing, are lighter. Remember what we said about compromise! regardless of the style you are doing. Now it’s time for the really fun part, 3. For toproping you will need locking carabiners. Buy four to buying gear. Depending on where you climb, get started. your gear needs will vary, so keep this in mind as you shop. Here are some guidelines. 4. Get a good helmet, belay device, and a few quickdraws in case you need to redirect the rope. Now you can climb safely and push your physical limits. WWW.GYMCLIMBERMAG.COM


Let’s say you’re interested in lead climbing. Does the process remain the same? Should you start top-roping or just dive into lead climbing? I can’t answer this for you, but remember, if you start pushing growth in parts of your climbing, you ought to feel prepared in the others. It should be obvious, but if you want to lead outside, it’s a good idea to start in the gym. Lead climbing is inherently more dangerous than toproping, and leading requires an acute ability to analyze and forecast risk in changing env iron ments. Outside, holds can break or you can slip on grit or lichen. The rock can be hot or cold, making it more d iff icult to hold on. There’s also usually no one who maintains the bolts and anchors, so you have to be able to check them at a glance. Are they safe? Sport climbing outside involves cl ippi ng qu ickd raws to bolts. Us ually t he bolts a re spaced farther apart than you will find in gyms. Sometimes the bolts have “permadraws” similar to those in gyms fixed to them, but often you’ll clip your own quickdraws to bolts to protect the lead, and once you have topped out, you must know how to retrieve those draws. You also need to know how to get off a sport route if you don’t make it to the anchor. Take a foundations course that teaches and reviews how to perform this vital skill. Most gyms offer a class or a members’ clinic on this technique, and many services offer a sport-lead basics course. Find a class that suits your needs and have fun. If your gym doesn’t offer the class, they probably know who does. Hopefully during this time you’re climbing and continuing to build muscle, stamina and technique. At the leadclimbing stage, both indoor and out, people start to experience a mental block that limits performance and can be hard to overcome. Continuing to climb and getting comfortable on the wall will help overcome this obstacle. The goal for your 36


outdoor climbing might shift as you aim to manage fear by controlling your emotions (the mental game), as opposed to simply climbing a harder grade. Leading is cerebral, so be technically prepared, physically fit and lower your grade expectations so you can focus on things other than pushing your


limit. As you gain experience you will push your physical limits again, but don’t worry, for now you’re just focusing on other important skills such as how to inspect bolts, lead confidently 10 feet above a bolt and rappel or lower from the top of a climb. Now, let’s talk gear for sport climbing. For this, build off your toproping “rack” by purchasing quickdraws. Twelve quickdraws will be adequate to start leading outdoors on sport climbs, however you may need more or fewer quickdraws depending on the climbing area and length of the routes. Check t he guidebook or Mou nta i n P r oje c t. Always bring a few extra quickdraws, just to be safe.


Sport Climbing

Margo Hayes enjoys the fabulous stone of Meconi (8a), Margalef, Spain. Hayes excels on rock and inside: she was the first woman to climb a confirmed 5.15a on rock and won Lead and Bouldering at the World Youth Championships in 2016.

“Trad” climbing usually means you follow a crack, placing removable protection such as cams and nuts. Caroline Minvielle spies her next placement on Crack Rider (6c), outside Annot, France.

TRAD-CLIMBING GEAR I chose the gear on my list because it has allowed me to climb in some great places. • A set of nuts racked on one non-locking carabiner. • A set of cams with doubles in the midrange sizes. • 10 60cm single-length alpine draws. • Two 120cm double-length alpine draws. • One 120cm double-length sling and one prussik cord in a 13.5-inch loop racked on one non-locking carabiner. This is my rappel kit and part of my rescue kit. • Two 18-foot anchor cordelettes racked with two non-locking carabiners. • Three additional locking carabiners

Trad Climbing



To bring it all back, the transition to climbing outdoors can be a tricky, risky deal. Don’t take that deal … learn, play and grow, in that order. As you transition outside, consider yourself an ambassador for the sport. Treat the areas you visit like the pristine environments they are or can be. Take a Leave No Trace class and learn about ways you can positively impact the outdoors. Philanthropy is the new sexy. Jeff Mascaro is the Director of Outdoor Programming at Earth Treks Climbing Centers and has been working in the field for 10 years. He is a passionate climber, educator and athlete striving to better himself and others through climbing and all that it entails.


You might be asking, Am I interested in traditional climbing, aka “trad climbing”? In trad climbing, there may only be a few or no bolts and don’t count on arriving at a bolted anchor, so you have to place “protection”— stoppers, cams, etc.—while you climb to protect yourself, and when you arrive at the end of a pitch or climb you may need to construct an anchor. Because trad climbing relies on removable protection that you place, it can be more dangerous than sport climbing. There is no substitute for professional instruction. If you think you can learn from a book and just do it, don’t. Prepare for this next step through professional education and practice. Never rush this learning phase. I’ve been climbing for nearly 10 years, and I still learn new and useful skills ever y time I go out! If you are leading 5.11 in the gym, star t placing gear outside on 5.6 or 5.7. Remember, it’s not about the grades right now, it’s about learning new skills.

Go Green with EDELRID “As Climbers, we walk on receding glaciers, swim in rivers that grow smaller each year, and climb on rock faces that are falling apart. The companies we choose to work with and the products we use are a vital part of the equation.” -Tommy Caldwell, EDELRID Athlete

Built To Last

Ropes That Matter

EDELRID's BUILT TO LAST INITIATIVE is geared towards manufacturing high quality, sustainable products that last and reduce the overall strain on resources and the environment. The Bulletproof family, the next generation of aluminum carabiners, are a first of their kind. These hybrid, lightweight, aluminum / steel carabiners are constructed with a stainless steel plate at the major wear point, which will decrease aluminum oxide buildup, reduce the risk of sharp edges, and reduce the overall strain on resources and the environment. The entire JUL family uses a traditional tube-style belay method, but has the added safety of assisted braking. Stainless steel construction makes the JUL family strong and more durable than traditional aluminum devices.

EDELRID ropes represent a giant step forward in sustainable rope manufacturing. Through partnership with Bluesign®, as well as their own environmental management standards, EDELRID, compared to traditional rope manufacturing techniques, uses; 89% less water, emits 62% less CO2, uses 63% less energy, and 63% less chemicals when dyeing sheath yarns.

Boa Eco 9.8mm The unique and colorful design of the Boa Eco is due to the sheath being made of 100% unused yarns, leftover from production, that otherwise would have went to the landfill. In addition to being a sustainable option, the Boa Eco is an allaround workhorse with outstanding price to performance ratio.

Jul2 MSRP: $34.95

MegaJul MSRP: $39.95


Boa Eco 9.8mm MSRP: $159.95 (60m)


Boa Gym 9.8mm

Harnesses That Matter As the world's only manufacturer of Bluesign® Approved harnesses, EDELRID is excited to introduce 3 new harnesses in 2019 that represent their continued commitment towards sustainable manufacturing. The Jay III and Jayne III sport all metal buckles and super durable wear protectors on the tie-in points, both of which make for one of the most durable harnesses on the market. Beyond being a sustainable option for a climbing harnesses, the Jay III and Jayne III are also one of the best fitting harnesses on the market because the waist belt can slide through the padding, allowing perfect centering of the gear loops and tie-in points. We call this technology Center-fit. The Finn III is our Bluesign, Center-fit option for the tiny crushers who don't need a full body harness.

The perfect 40m gym rope for any climber. The first rope purposefully designed for lead climbing in gyms, with a polyester sheath that makes the Boa Gym more durable than any rope in its class. Boa Gym 9.8mm MSRP: $134.95 (40m)

OHM MSRP: $129.95 The Problem: Risk of injuries and accidents caused by lead ground falls and mid-air collisions.

Jay III MSRP: $59.95

Jayne III MSRP: $59.95

Finn III MSRP: $49.95

The Solution: The Ohm, assisted-braking resistor. HOW IT WORKS The OHM increases rope friction during a fall, so that a lighter belayer can hold a heavier climber without difficulty. Less hand braking force to stop fall Lowering climber is easier to control Attached at first bolt Significantly reduces risk of ground fall and mid-air collisions. • Rope handling is not affected • • • •



01 METOLIUS > UPSHOT BELAY GLASSES $59.95 | Save your neck from


tweaks and strains when you belay with the magic of prism belay glasses.

02 LA SPORTIVA > MAVERNICK $120 | Mavernickâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s no-edge technology

delivers peak performance right out of the box. The Mavernick is built for gym climbing, but is adept on rock as well.

3 4

03 TENSION > FLASH HANGBOARD $65 | Portable and perfect to take to the crag to warm up, when traveling or just plain need a workout and are on the go. The hangboard has jugs, edges, crimps and slopers.

04 STERLING > SLIM GYM $100.96/30m | Made for the gym, this 10.1mm


dynamic rope will withstand all of your hangdogging needs, and it comes in 20, 30, 100 and 300 meter lengths.


05 CAMP USA > FLASH $79 | More padded than a webbing harness but almost as light, the Flash offers just enough cushion to avoid compromising performance. A perfect harness for pushing your limits on plastic.

06 SCARPA > MAESTRO MID ECO $190 | A comfortable and supportive mid-top shoe for taking your climbing outside on real rock. A versatile performer for cracks and face and everything in between.


07 EDELRID > HMS BULLETPROOF $29.95 | A biner built for belaying: the wire bar at the bottom prevents cross-loading, while the steel inset where the rope runs over the carabiner guarantees longevity.


08 FRICTION LABS > GORILLA GRIP $15 | Gorilla Grip is the go-to chalk for top climbers like Margo Hayes and Daniel Woods.

09 5.10 > GAMBIT VCS W $120 | A relaxed heel and supportive midsole deliver comfort and performance in one shoe designed for women. 40




10 ADIDAS > MULTIPANT $99 | As indestructible and comfortable as pants get. The Multipant excels inside and out.

11 BOREAL > DIABOLO $130 | This shoe strikes a balance between aggressiveness and comfort. Good for bouldering sessions on the steep stuff as you start pushing your grade. Available in both high- and low-volume models.

12 TENAYA > OASI LV $165 | For the steep stuff and high-performance


climbing, this low-volume shoe will help you clip the chains.

12 13

13 BLUEWATER > DYNAGYM $331/100m | This 10.6mm dynamic gym rope has an extra-thick sheath to withstand the rigors of indoor climbing.

14 MAXIM > CHALKLINE $210/10.8mm, 60m dry | Built with a special sheath weave thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s 33% thicker to reduce flat spots from wear, the Chalkline is available in three diameters, 9.7, 10.2 and 10.8mm.


15 PUSHER > POWER JUNKIE $90 | Shaped by Boone Speed, the Power Junkie powers you up without destroying your skin. And it looks beautiful, too.

16 LOWA > ROCKET $150 | An aggressive downturned


shoe for bouldering and steep sport climbing indoors and outside on real rock.


17 OUTDOOR RESEARCH > FOSSIL ROCK $39 | Save the wear and belay your partner with

17 18

confidence in these leather palm, reinforced fingerless gloves.

18 CLIMBTECH > ANEJO BLACK & BLUE QUICKDRAW $9 | Perfect for your sport project, and at an excellent price point. Say no more.





The distractions in a gym are many. Avoiding accidents means remaining focused at all times. Even when the climbing seems routine, it isn’t.

Complacency is avoidable but in a gym it’s a leading cause of accidents In 1989, at a small crag in France, the Styx Wall at Buoux, Lynn Hill forgot to finish tying her knot connecting the climbing rope to her harness. At the top of a 70-foot warm-up, she started to lower off. The unsecured rope end pulled through and Lynn went airborne, windmilling her arms to stay upright. She crashed through branches of a tree and piled into the ground between two boulders. When Lynn first told me about the accident, perhaps a year after it happened, I wondered how the many time world sport-climbing champion, the visionary who had first free climbed the Nose, and my long-time partner on and off the cliffside, had made such a rookie mistake. Twenty-five years later, however, at a climbing gym three miles from my house, I also failed to 42


finish the tie-in knot to my harness. The last thing I remember after reaching the chains at the top of the route is landing feet first on the ground, crumpling in a heap and rolling up to see my tibia jutting out a hole in my shin. Fifty days and five operations later, I got discharged from UCLA Medical Center and spent most of the next year on crutches. In the long months following my accident I felt puzzled and humiliated that Lynn, arguably the world’s finest free climber in the early 1990s, and I, who’d climbed steadily for 40 years around the world, and had written a dozen books on technical climbing, had both fallen asleep on the job. I felt especially guilty having decked in the “safe” environment of a climbing gym. A little research showed that while ser iou s g y m ac c ident s a r e r a r e (occurring less frequently than falls while hill walking, for instance), they do happen, the majority of which are basic pilot error. The question is: how did we, with decades of experience between us, simply fall asleep? The answer became clear when I read an article



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about industrial safety protocols, with the tagline being potential hazards, and discuss solutions as a matter of “complacency is safety’s worst enemy.” course. You’ll see some version of this ritual in most every The relevance of industrial safety issues to gym adventure sport. The champion studies their opponent. climbing was brought home by the oftWe can’t appraise the difficulties unless we repeated point that no matter the particular see them, and we can’t see them unless we’re task—from building cars, to painting a paying attention. SAFETY CHECKLIST submarine—accident prevention is always a A safety checklist, part of every sport matter of vigilance. The key regarding gym and technical activity, is not a one-time 1. Remove all watches, rings, climbing is to understand what is vigilance, drill. We repeat it over and over, reminding bracelets, necklaces, etc. how vigilance is practiced, when it goes ourselves of what to avoid, and checking missing, and why. The following Safety our own systems at regular intervals. That’s 2. Before climbing (lead or Checklist review might have saved me from the reason cars have gauges, which inform top-rope), double check your an open fracture, and the great Lynn Hill, a us about current conditions. We know those tie-in knot to ensure it is broken ankle and dislocated elbow. conditions will change over time, introducing properly tied. Vigilance is a matter of maintaining a new set of potential hazards. foc used at tent ion on a task. W hen Double-checking our systems, glanc3. Double check harnesses. our attention goes lax, often through ing at our “gauges” before and after every Are buckles adjusted and distractions, knowledge and experience burn, shouyld be part of our standard pracstraps doubled back (if count for nothing. Accidents in North tice. Anything less is driving with your required)? American Climbing (published annually eyes closed. by the American Alpine Club) shows how Oversight means not only checking our 4. Double check the belay many expert climbers are injured on “easy” own systems, but that of our partners, device. Is the carabiner ground. Climbing is a contest with gravity, recognizing hazards and mitigating them. properly clipped to the belay and gravity never sleeps. When we do, no In virtually every gym, a revolving cast of loop? Is the rope properly matter the terrain, bad things can happen. staff members is circulating, keeping an eye threaded through the belay Vigilance often goes missing at the end out for trouble (again, oversight). But gyms device? Is the rope properly of a session, when we’re tired, hungry get crowded, especially at peak hours, so our looped to the carabiner? Is and thirsty, or when our focus shifts principal oversight comes from our partners, the carabiner gate locked? from climbing, say, to socializing with and we return the favor in kind. those around us. Whatever the reasons, Most injuries happen through bungling 5. Use standard belay comwhen our guard goes down, complacency basic procedures we’ve done a thousand mands (“On belay?” etc.) (a false sense of security) steals in. Be times—like tying into the lead rope. We clear: complacency is the principal cause suffered an avoidable accident because we 6. Remain vigilant until the of indoor-climbing accidents. Easy routes got complacent. As Lynn’s and my accidents climber is safely back on the require t he same v igilance as hard bear out, accidents are not just rookie ground and says, “Off belay.” routes in terms of following basic safety mistakes. The best of us get complacent. procedures. I fell off a warm-up route. Fighting complacency is a team effort. Any gym employee will tell you that most Without constant vigilance, gravity has the accidents happen on routes far below a advantage. given climber’s limit. S t a n d a r d s a fe t y pr o c e d u r e s va r y slightly, gym to gym, depending on the chosen belay devices and other factors. Every gym runs mandatory belay and leading tests, conducted by trained staff, Vigilance when t he par t iculars are made clear and you r The desired state of mind is relaxed vigilance, but proficiency is tested and reviewed. Safety regulations what does that mean? It does not mean hypervigilance, are also posted in bold print throughout most facilities. nervously scanning the environment, waiting for an But ultimately your safety lies in the hands of your accident to happen. A tense mind and body causes tunnel partner(s) and yourself. Again, the good news is that vision. We operate best when we are calm, alert and gym accidents are comparatively rare, and nearly all fully present to what’s directly before us, glancing ahead of them are avoidable. Once you are competent with the toward where we are going. basic safety procedures, it all breaks down to vigilance. In short, vigilance assumes three basic forms that have stood the test of time: A) appraising difficulties B) regular reminders and C) oversight. John Long has climbed nearly 50 years and is author of the Experienced gym climbers constantly appraise popular How to Climb book series. 44


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Elite climbers can crank off monster campus sessions, but most of us should stick to less impactful routines, to avoid injury.


Hangboard Deadhanging

Get the best bang for your buck in 60 minutes

Don’t despair! If you only have an hour to train, welcome to the world of most climbers. It can be demoralizing to read about the top climbers and their eight-hour-a-day beast-fests, yet these crazy train-a-thons aren’t part of the real world and for most climbers would do more harm than good. In training, less is often more, and you can make incredible gains with short sessions if you are ruthlessly efficient with your time and planning. Short sessions can be great for focus, motivation and avoiding injury. Climbers used to believe that certain types of training can’t fit into an hour, but current thinking is that you can do a cut-down version of most sessions. What you can’t do, however, is cut down your warm-up. If you rush that, the least that will happen is a poor, unproductive session, and the worst is 46


that you’ll twang a tendon. Even if you think you are getting away with hasty warm-ups, microtrauma can build up in the muscles, and injury may strike later down the line. In cherry picking from a huge list of potential sessions, go for the ones that will deliver the most bang for your buck.


Hangboard Deadhang repeaters This is the perfect go-to endurance session when time is short. You can build in the warm-up starting off with feet for assistance and hanging on the larger holds, say, for six seconds on and four off (or seven/three). Do four or five in a row, rest a minute, then six or seven in a row. Go footless for a set or two, switch to smaller holds for a set, and increase to eight to 10 in a row. Then you’ll be ready to start the real session: Do blocks of 10–18 hangs (each 90 seconds to three minutes of work) in a row, with three to five minutes’ rest between each. The warm-up will take 15 minutes, and you should be able to fit five to seven blocks in the remaining 45.



You can perform these sessions at home, at the gym or anywhere you can rig up a porta-board. Deadhangs are the key finger-strength exercise for climbing. Make these a priority, and only include exercises—such as pull-ups or lock-offs on jugs, or leg-raises and front levers—for the arms and core if you have time. Warm up progressively using your foot for assistance, either in a stirrup-sling or on a chair. Then do two-armed half-crimped deadhangs, either single max hangs or repeaters (e.g., three or four in a row). Calibrate to hit failure between approximately four and 10 seconds. Stronger climbers can add weight to increase resistance or remove fingers to train the “front three” and “back three” fingers separately. An example would be a 20-minute warm-up, then 20 minutes of deadhanging and 20 minutes of other exercises (pull-ups, etc., per above), taking two to three minutes’ rest between sets.



Incorporate the warm-up using the same procedure as per the hangboard. Use your feet on the kick-board, and climb up and down, initially on the largest ladder rungs for only 20–30 seconds. Increase the time to 45 seconds and then to a minute, then switch over to the medium or smaller rungs, and do a set or two to complete the warm-up. For the real session, go for five to seven blocks of one to three minutes of effort, followed by three to five minutes’ rest. Stronger climbers can go footless for strength endurance.



If time is short and you wish to boulder, go for a volumebased session. Warm up on easy problems, then do 30 to 50 problems in an hour. A popular sequence is the pyramid session, where you group the problems in grade

Paxti Usobiaga, the first climber to onsight 8c+ , is known for epic sessions of six to eight hours of training six days a week. He would be the first to say you don’t need to train anywhere near as much to get seriously good.

bands, such as V1 x eight, V2 x eight, V3 x eight, V2 x eight, V1 x eight. Take 30 seconds’ rest between the easiest problems and 45-60 seconds between harder ones. Alternatively, go for three to six problems in a row, rest three to five minutes, and repeat. Aim to fit four to six blocks in.

LONG ENDURANCE Do timed stints of climbing, such as five minutes on and five off. Link easy lines on the auto-belay by climbing up and down, or climb around on an easy part of the bouldering wall. Push harder and get very pumped for four to six minutes if you wish to train aerobic power, or go light and easy for slightly longer, such as eight to 12 minutes, for aerobic capacity.

Neil Gresham is a professional climbing coach in the U.K. He writes the Training department for Rock and Ice, and has climbed 8c+, 5.14a X trad, WI 7, and loves deep-water soloing.



GO FROM 5.9 TO 5.10

One key to breaking through to 5.10 is to lap routes that are easy for you.

Three exercises for climbing harder

Probably 99 percent of climbers, whether they boulder or climb routes in a gym, are looking for progression through the climbing grades. In my experience, it’s often not about the grades, but that a grade represents improvement—the indicator that things have moved forward. Here, I’m going to look at the key factors in your climbing (and, more important, training) that affect progress through the grades from 5.9 to 5.10. Three common areas of training are key to moving up the grade ladder. I’ll offer what gives the biggest bang for the buck at each level. If you’re able to stick to two out of the three exercises for at least three to six months of the year with regularity, you’re certainly going to improve your chances of climbing a number harder. Many climbers will be making this transition during their first five years of climbing. Therefore, as a coach I would introduce some training exercises that give you a foundation of f itness and general condition ing in climbing-specif ic muscle groups. 48



This exercise should be the staple of any climber’s diet. You can dip into it year after year and always adjust it for intensity once the gains come. It w ill i mprove you r ability to hold off a Reps: 1-3 pump, give you more endurance for routes, Rep duration: and subtly improve 10 minutes your technique along Rest after rep: the way. I call this 10 minutes exercise “10 on 10 off.” Intensity: very low Climb continuously (enough that you’re for 10 m i nutes on able to chat while large holds that do climbing) not get you pumped Climbing surface: low or fatigued. This is angle or vertical t he equ ivalent of Gym facility: bouldergoi ng to t he p a rk ing wall, toprope, for a very light jog, lead, auto-belay or where you can chat Treadwall t o a f r ie n d w h i l e work ing out, and t he ef for t i s ver y low intensity. Typically, you will do this on the easiest terrain in the gym and on the very biggest holds.




This exercise seems simple, but its success depends on engaging your body tension from fingers to toes. The aim of the drill is to move on steep terrain (choose climbing that has relatively good holds and is not at your maximum) by using “cross body tension” through twist locks. If you are pulling and locking with your left arm, then you want to be driving most of your weight through your right foot. Your body should make a twisting motion—look at your hips to confirm—during the moves. Reps: 4-6 moves (stop if T he i mp or ta nt t h i ng for you lose good form) helping you progress to the next Sets: 4-8 grade is the ability to focus on Rest after sets: 3 minutes body tension through the move. Intensity: medium (enough Really think about tensing your to make you concentrate, core, engaging your legs and but not so much as to make driving up into the movement. you shake!) Hold that tension all the way until Gym facility: bouldering you hit the next hold! Only then wall, top rope, lead, should you think about releasing auto-belay or Treadwall. a small amount of tension to It is generally easier on a adjust your feet, ready for the bouldering wall though. next move.


If you’re looking to gain some initial core tension and strength, these two exercises are a good starting place. While a quality core conditioning program should work the entire torso (front, sides Reps: 15-30 secs (stop if and back), we find that you lose good form) most 5.9 climbers will be Sets: 4-8 able to do this exercise Rest after reps: regularly, and it will open 1-3 minutes the door to more complex Intensity: medium and specific exercises. (enough to make you This exercise has contact concentrate, but not so points at the shoulder and much as to make you foot level—exactly what we shake!) do on the climbing wall! Gym facility: floor If you’re at all unsure about form, a coach at your local gym will be able to give you tips with just a minute of advice. Make sure that your lower back doesn’t arch during exercise reps and that you keep your neck in a neutral position.

Tom Randall is a professional climber, entrepreneur and founder of Lattice Training, The Climbing Station Gym, Sublime Climbing

and Wideboyz Volumes. 50



The side plank (top) and the basic plank (lower) build core strength necessary for advancing your climbing to the next grade.

To execute a twist lock, rotate your shoulder and hip toward the opposite hand and foot, and reach.


Melise Edwards takes on her inner dialogue, while helping shape larger conversations within the climbing community. For more on her story, visit



Battling conditions of the moment, tackling hurdles head-on, dismissing self-doubt â&#x20AC;&#x201C; and focusing solely on the send.




Loud music fuels your climbing session.

Loud music may disrupt others trying to enjoy the outdoors, including landowners.

Leave the speakers at home or at least turn them off when others are nearby.

Lowering off the top anchors is the norm.

Top anchors may not be regularly monitored for wear.

Consider rappelling to lessen the impact on anchors.

Gym staff clean up chalk spills, and provide trash cans for bar wrappers and discarded finger tape.

Chalk spills and trash are your responsibility.

Clean up after yourself and pack out your trash.

You stash your pack and unused gear in a locker.

Sprawling gear can crush plant life, trample sensitive soil, and disturb other climbing parties.

Be aware of where you’re dropping your gear and contain it as much as possible.

Fixed draws on lead routes are standard.

Landowners may not appreciate the visual impact of fixed draws.

Know the rules before you go, and don’t leave draws on your project unless they are allowed.

You do your business in the bathroom.

You do your business in the wild.

The best methods for human waste disposal vary depending on what kind of environment you’re climbing in. Know before you go:

Climbing in large groups is no big deal.

Climbing in large groups is not always appropriate, especially when the crag is crowded or in areas where access is sensitive.

Stay low profile—climb in pairs at crowded crags and in areas where access is sensitive.

Gyms implement rules and standards to encourage safety, but it’s the climber’s responsibility to double check gear and partners.

The great outdoors contains many natural elements that can create hazardous situations, and it’s the climber’s responsibility to manage these hazards.

Climbing is inherently dangerous inside and outside. Be aware, find a mentor, and double check your gear and your partners every time.

Illustration by Kristin Marine

Responsible outdooR climbing pRactices that help pReseRve access







OUTSIDE ADVICE effort. This unites us. The things you don’t know yet, the experiences you haven’t had, or the styles of climbing that you haven’t yet pursued do not disqualify you from this community. M ill ion s of i ndoor cl i mbers a re interested in climbing outdoors. Let’s take an inventory of what you probably already know, modify these abilities, and list the new skills you’ll need to learn to make the transition from indoors to out.

TECHNICAL SKILLS You’ve learned to use basic equipment such as belay hardware, you can tie yourself to a climbing rope. You can lead and take falls, belay and boulder. You learned to fall and land on a padded surface. How can you modify these skills for your first trip to a crag? The graph below can guide you, but you should also take a class or hire an instructor, and practice near home before you need these skills at the crag.

Indoor Skill

What’s Different Outside Modification

Using basic equipment: harness, chalk bag, shoes, carabiners, belay device.

Nothing is provided for you— you must carry your own gear.

You’ll need to add some things that a gym may have provided for you: bouldering pads, rope, anchoring and protection equipment, and a backpack big enough for everything. Purchase and wear a helmet.

Belaying a top-rope.

Top-ropes will not have big double-wrapped anchor bars outside. The ropes you’ll use outdoors will stretch more.

Practice taking a climber’s weight and lowering before they get high off the ground. Keep the belays tighter when the climber is closer to the ground. Consider using ground anchors and an Assisted Braking Device (ABD).

Belaying a leader.

Lead falls can be longer and more difficult to catch. The belaying zone might have tripping hazards or be cramped.

Consider adding ground anchors. Consider using an ABD to give your belaying a backup. Select belay zones carefully and keep them uncluttered.

Taking Falls.

Outdoor climbs can be longer, and the terrain has more ledges and protrusions. Usually there are larger gaps between protection, resulting in longer falls. Ropes stretch more.

Learn to identify places where a lead fall would result in injury. Practice taking longer falls in safe places.

Landing on a padded surface while bouldering.

The padded surface is not uniform. It does not cover all possible landing zones. Spotters are common and helpful.

Practice falling on the middle of a bouldering pad and using a spotter’s direction to land on the pad. Practice coaching a spotter where to be, where to put pads, and when you are about to fall.

54 GC N U M B E R


ENVIRONMENTAL SKILLS Since ever y climber is a par t of the same community, we have communal responsibilities to the climbing environment. Both indoors and out, we’re conscientious about how we respect other users. Egregious environmental offenses at an outdoor crag—such as tossing a food wrapper or cigarette butt onto the ground—would be equally offensive in a gym. It’s obvious there are certain procedures for dealing with human waste at the gym—and the same is true outdoors. We pack out solid waste, and we urinate in discreet places away from trails, water sources and climbs. The same rules for dogs and children apply to gyms as they do to crags. Some gyms don’t allow dogs; some crags don’t, either. No gym allows dogs to destroy their facility or attack other patrons; no crag climbers tolerate that either. No gym allows parents to leave their children unsupervised; the same should be true at a crag. Leave No Trace ( offers a set of guiding principles that help climbers preserve and respect natural settings.

COMMUNITY SKILLS Climbing unites us, and our essential kinship means we all deserve the benefit of the doubt. Approach fellow users with consideration and respect, assuming that no one knowingly endangers the climbing environment and this community. Your response to others should be governed by gentleness and compassion. You may be inconvenienced by an interaction, but your willingness to give others the benefit of the doubt should moderate any confrontation. After all, ignorance is defensible, up to a certain point. We’re not born with an understanding of rock climbing, nor the rules that govern different climbing disciplines. View interactions with fellow climbers as growth opportunities. We’re all here for the challenge and camaraderie we receive through our shared vertical pursuits.


If you fell in love with climbing in a climbing gym, then you are a climber whether you boulder, top-rope, lead sport or trad, climb slabs or offwidths, place Tricams or stack bouldering pads, have a dog or not, have kids or not, hike 15 miles from the car or 15 minutes. We’re all climbers because early in our journeys we passed the only test there is: We have proven that we enjoy challenge and achieving goals through sustained

LIGHT S CAMERA COMPS Celebrating Athleticism Around the World Adam Ondra on his way to a win in the lead competition at the IFSC World Championships in Paris, France, in 2016, where he also took silver in bouldering. Ondra had won in lead and bouldering in Paris in 2014, becoming the first athlete to win both in the same year. Clockwise from top left: Charlotte André, a judge at the Tout à Bloc in 2017, an annual competition open to amateurs and professionals, held in L’Argentière-laBessée, France. In Munich in 2017, Monika Retschy (GER) celebrates her retirement from competition. Miho Nonaka takes the silver in bouldering at the 2016 World Championships, where 386 athletes competed at the Accor Hotel Arena in Paris to a packed crowd. Nonaka was number one in the IFSC rankings in women’s bouldering for 2018. Viola Baptista of Italy takes flight at the Tout à Bloc. All photos by Jan Novak except facing page upper right, by Eddie Fowke.


Clockwise from upper left: Fourtime Youth World Champion speed climber Daria Kan (RUS) awaits her turn at the IFSC European Championships in Campitello, Italy, 2017. Kai Lightner (USA) at the 2017 Youth World Championships in Innsbruck in 2017. Despite suffering a ruptured ulnar collateral ligament and two avulsion fractures in his thumb, he went on to win two bronze medals.

Akiyo Noguchi (JPN) at the Moscow Bouldering World Cup finals in 2018. A fixture on podiums, she finished third in the event. Yongsu Lee (KOR) leaps for the buzzer at the Chongqing, China, Speed World Cup in 2017. Tomoa Narasaki (JPN) in the Bouldering World Cup finals in Hachioji, Japan, in 2018. He finished second. All photos this page by Eddie Fowke.

All photos this page from the Tout à Bloc 2017, L’Argentière-La-Bessée, France. Clockwise from top left: Marie Laporte guns for the next move. Swiss competitor Sofya Yokoyama eyes the prize. Oriane Bertone, age 11, from Réunion Island, France. In early February 2018 Bertone at the age of 12 became the youngest person to boulder 8B+. Urška Repušič of Slovenia on her way to finishing in second place. All photos this page by Jan Novak.


The World Cup bouldering stage was the centerpiece at the town-wide GoPro Mountain Games held in Vail, Colorado, this past summer. All photos on this page are from that competition. Clockwise from upper left: Hannah Meul , 17, the youngest member of team Germany and a member of the 2018 Summer Youth Olympic team, placed 10th. Miho Nonaka (JPN) puzzles out the third finals problem. After this shot, she took a scary fall, hitting her face on the volume. She placed second. Packed grounds at Vail for the sole World Cup held on U.S. soil.

Jernej Kruder (SLO) gets creative with his beta on problem three during menâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s qualifiers. Alex Puccio thanks the crowd after winning her second-ever World Cup gold, nine years after her first. She won the Arco Rockmaster in 2011. Akiyo Noguchi (JPN) mid-send on the third finals problem. She was the only woman to top it, and finished in third. Menâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s podium at Vail (left to right): Tomoa Naraski (JPN), Rei Sugimoto (JPN) and Sean Bailey (USA). All photos by Zach Mahone except for lower left and right middle, by Levi Harrell.

communication | design craftsmanship | integrity | pride relationships | walls | competitions holds | furnishings | detail inclusion | reliability | 541-388-5463 | Bend, OR



Above: Hoops outside the Memphis Rox gym in Soulsville, Memphis, Tennessee.

Lower right: Professional climber Kai Lightner trains at the Memphis Rox gym during a visit.

Memphis gym offers inner-city youth a chance to climb and give back

In July of 2018, Chris Dean, a 26-year-old African American from South Memphis, was standing outside the Memphis Rox gym, which he helped found, when two elementary school-aged kids from the neighborhood approached him. “Hey, man, how much does it cost to go in there?” one asked. “It’s free,” Dean told the kids. “Call your parents. All they gotta do is fill out a waiver. You go in there for free, climb for free, play for free, eat for free.” Founded by Hollywood director Tom Shadyac—whose father, Richard Shadyac, was instrumental in developing the nonprofit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis—the Memphis Rox climbing gym runs on an experimental pay-as-you-can membership model. It’s the only gym of its kind in the country. “Anyone can climb here,” Shadyac says. While climbing is notorious for its dirtbags and Sprinter Vans, it has been 62


largely inaccessible to underprivileged u r ba n yout h. S ho es c os t money, harnesses cost money, and there are few outdoor gear shops in inner cities ... forget about it. Additionally, in urban areas where 16 percent of people live below the poverty line, compared with just over 13 percent in rural areas, according to 2015 Census Bureau data, youth have limited or no access to outdoor climbing. This is where gyms like Memphis Rox—which opened in March—are changing the game. Memphis Rox gives inner-city and at-risk youth a chance to experience climbing for the first time. T he 32,0 0 0 -squ a r e -fo ot gy m i s in the heart of Soulsville, one of the poorest neighborhoods in not only

Memphis—which had a poverty rate of 26 percent as of 2015, 12 percent higher than the national poverty rate—but in the entire country. It is also one of the most violent, with a homicide rate 64 percent higher than Chicago’s in 2016. “Because we’re the only rock-climbing gym in Memphis at the moment, we’re bringing people here to Soulsville from all over the city,” Shadyac says. “People who wouldn’t normally ever cross paths with each other are meeting here.” Zack Rogers, the gym’s director of administration, says that giving back to the community counts as “currency” at Memphis Rox if someone can’t afford a membership. To “pay” their way, someone who wants to climb can volunteer anywhere in the Memphis community or be a volunteer belayer at the gym. Volunteer hours earn a membership. In addition, the gym has a mentorship program that pairs kids with staff mentors based on their



Upper right: Memphis Rox staff (from left) Manny Lugo, Micheal Hunt, Brittany Luckett, Ken Miller, Jared Evans and Abigail Powers.

Left: The climbing park, built by the Trust for Public Land and The North Face, was designed by local kids in the Montbello neighborhood of Denver, Colorado. When it opens in early 2019 it will be free for everyone. Lower left: A Soulsville local cuts his teeth on a boulder at Memphis Rox. Below: Nick Taylor, 24, Memphis Rox member and volunteer. Bottom: Jarvis Dean, 18, of Soulsville works on a problem at Memphis Rox.



interests. Meeting with their mentors five times per month earns the kids memberships. By making climbing more accessible, Shadyac hopes to keep kids in school and off the streets, and give them a means to challenge themselves and grow. “Climbing is such a collaborative, cooperative sport,” he says. “It’s unique, in that your climbing is not diminished if someone else is climbing really well.”

In a Class of Its Own

Memphis Rox is perhaps the most remarkable instance of such a program, but it was not the first. The Mountain Goat, a 5,000-square-foot gym that opened its doors in South Carolina in 2012, was the nation’s first 501(c)3 nonprofit climbing gym. Unfortunately, the Goat struggled to stay afloat. “There’s really not a ton of financial benefit in the nonprofit model for a

climbing gym,” Ryan McCrary, the Mountain Goat’s founder, said in a 2016 Climbing Business Journal article. “From the side of serving the kids, it’s fine, but we will eventually be spinning the gym into a for-profit in order to raise the capital needed to build a true commercial facility.” The Mountain Goat has since shut down. Despite the Mountain Goat’s struggles, other organizations have found creative ways to combine community service and climbing. In the Montbello neighborhood of Denver, Colorado, The North Face is partnering with the Trust for Public Lands (TPL) to open a free outdoor bouldering area. Daniel Woods, Margo Hayes and Matty Hong supervised a climbing workshop where kids from the community designed the bouldering structure themselves, holds and all, using clay models and drawings. The finished product, a 180-square-foot WWW.GYMCLIMBERMAG.COM


Now, I’m a Rock Climber Above: Micheal Hunt (left) and Stacey Puryear give a tour to the Soulsville Charter School located across the street from the gym. Left: A happy customer climbs to new heights at Memphis Rox. Right: Jarmond Johnson was raised by a single mom and grew up being the man of the house. He now works at Memphis Rox.

boulder, stands almost 12 feet high, features 13 problems from V0 to V3 and is completely naturally featured. “Before climbing with the athletes,” says Emily Patterson, TPL’s program director, “lots of the kids said they felt scared and nervous, but after climbing they said they felt stronger, not afraid anymore. All these features on the boulder, such as the little alcove underneath it and the sitting nook on top, came directly from the kids. They got to see their designs come to life.” There are also organizations like the Brooklyn-based Brothers of Climbing, which hosts events and gatherings for minority climbers and promotes participation in climbing by more people of color. And there are similar initiatives at other gyms. Touchstone gyms have partnered with the nationwide mentoring program Big Brothers Big Sisters of America to allow all “Little” siblings to climb for free so long as their “Big” siblings are members. Touchstone’s Great Western Power Company gym in Oakland is creating an after-school climbing team and mentorship program for underprivileged youth of color. LA Boulders is working to build a climbing wall at the Boyle Heights Boys and Girls Club. The Boyle Heights community, which is 94 percent Latino, has one of the highest population densities in L.A. County, and almost a third of the population lives below the poverty line. 64


Eighteen-year-old Jarmond Johnson, who works at Memphis Rox, was raised, along with his two sisters, by a single mother. “Ever since I was 6 or 7, I had to be the man of the house,” he says. On his first day working at Memphis Rox, Johnson received news that his brother-in-law was killed in a hit-and-run in Atlanta. “He died out of the blue,” says Johnson. “We was just on the phone with him the day before, and he said he was coming home to visit that weekend.” On Johnson’s second day at work, his fellow staff pitched in and helped him raise $700 to defray the cost of bringing his brother-in-law’s body home. As a child, Chris Dean lost his father to gun violence not far from Memphis Rox. He began his life, he says, “worrying about what gangbangers were getting out of jail, what gang they claim, and what colors I should wear around them.” After his high school won a national competition, he had the honor of introducing President Obama as the speaker at his school’s graduation. He went on to intern at the White House and graduate from Lane College on a scholarship. “We got kids growing up in South Memphis saying, ‘When I grow up, I’m gonna be a professional rock climber. Parents are like, ‘What the ... what they teaching you up at that gym?’ It’s amazing, man,” Dean says. “It makes my heart sing. And we still need more. We need a Chicago Rox, we need a Detroit Rox. We need to put this in the worst neighborhoods, and show you why they’re not the worst neighborhoods.” Only a few months along, Memphis Rox is showing no signs of slowing down. “As of right now, the vast majority of members actually pay, and some people are paying it forward, paying more than the suggested $55 per month,” says Director of Aministration Rogers, who notes that the gym’s initial hopeful projection was at least 300 members paying the suggested dues by the end of their first calendar year of operation. After only three months, Memphis Rox has over 700 paying members. “For most black kids, especially in South Memphis, the stereotype is you gonna be a rapper, football player, or basketball player,” Jarmond Johnson added. “Now, I’m a rock climber.” Owen Clarke, 21, began climbing in rural Alabama at the age of 11. He is a senior at the University of San Diego and recently interned at Rock and Ice and Gym Climber.



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ORIGINS the blocs of Fontainebleau B y K e v i n Ta k a s h i S m i t h

Keenan Takahashi learned to climb in a gym but was quickly lured outside by the inspiration and challenge of real rock. Venturing to the beautiful wooded boulders of Fontainebleau, France, he found what he was looking for on the sandstone blocks: 28,500 problems, complete with color-coded circuits, which decades later were the genesis for color-coded routes in the climbing gym. Step all the way back to 1947, when Fred Bernick painted up the first color-coded routes in Fontâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s CuvierRempart sector. The idea was further developed with the standardization of route difficulty and color in the 1980s. Now you can find color-graded circuits all over the forest, giving you a guidebook-free way to explore the area. (Start with the orange circuits, and try to move your way through the black circuits.) In this photo Takahashi leaps to the top of Rainbow Rocket (8A/V11), Fontâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s most famous dyno and just one move at that. A local Parisian climber, or Bleausard, looks on.

Takahashi doing his best impression of a lizard on Gecko (assis) (8B/V13). The standing start was first done by Julien Nadiras, a longtime Font climber and developer, with FAs of some of Fontâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s most sandbagged and rarely repeated new-school problems, like Imothep (8A), Londinium (8A), Le Tajine (8B) and Chaos (8B). After Nadirasâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; first ascent, the logical sit start was done by Olivier Lebreton, a Bleausard known for first



ascents such as Lâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;Apparemment(bas) (8B), Tostaky (8B), and Hip-Hop(assis) (8B). Nadiras graded the stand start 8A+, and Lebreton graded the sit start 8B+. However, many have begun to regard the sit start as being 8B, especially since it has been flashed by Adam Ondra, and down-climbed barefoot (!!!) by Charles Albert. On his trip to Font, Takahashi managed to flash the stand start, and dispatched the sit start on his next day.

Fontainebleau is considered the paradise of slopers. Many plastic hold shapers try to mimic the fine-grained sandstone texture of the classic Font “bubbles,” but there’s nothing like climbing on the real thing. Water, moss, wind and time have left behind creative sculptures of stone that demand precise footwork, exact hand positions and finicky body English. Because they have been weathered by rain, the egg-shaped sandstone boulders of the forest almost always have sloping topouts, leading to some interesting and technical manteling to get atop even the smallest objective. However, if crimps are more your cup of tea, you’re in luck. Fontainebleau sandstone also occasionally forms with sheer badges of quartzite edges called “grattons” that are improbably thin and incredibly hard. In the photo above, Takahashi kicks for the exit of La Directe du Surplomb de la Meé (8A/V11).

Jimmy Webb and Clément Perotti scope projects deep in the Forest.



Hannah Donnelly twists along the immaculate crimp rail on Atomic Playboy (8A/V11).

Clément Perotti double-dynos for glory on Magic Circus (8A/V11). Interesting to note that while Fontainebleau is renowned for its technical movement, it also hosts an incredible circuit of some of the most difficult pure dynos in the world. Bottom: Jimmy Webb focused in at the top crux of The Island Assis project. Once completed, the problem could be the forest’s first 9A/ V17. Fontainebleau is the birthplace of climbing’s first numerical grading system for pure difficulty. The Font scale goes from 1A to the as-of-now theoretical 9A.





Font’s most stable (not rainy) weather is between mid-March and early May, or October and November. High temperatures during this time range from 60 to 75 degrees. The best climbing conditions are days with freak amounts of wind, or when the pressure shifts and a Nordic wind blows over the French countryside. Climbers in Font can often be seen huddled around laptops, intently tracking weather patterns as if they’re waiting for a weather window in Patagonia. Fontainebleau is surprisingly family friendly, with many of the gîtes, hostels and accommodations accepting families. Most approaches are also quite easy—some are practically roadside! Left: It ain’t over till it’s over. Takahashi humps the exit of a seemingly diminutive bloc. One of the best aspects of Font is that you can find a slew of boulder problems in any style imaginable. From the lowest lowballs to some of the most committing highballs in the world, from crimps to cracks, pinches and slopers of all different shapes and sizes, from technical slabs to all-points-off dynos, Fontainebleau hosts what may be the greatest diversity of rock and movement in a single climbing area.


Daniel Woods

on the first ascent of The Process, V16. Buttermilk Boulders, Bishop, CA. PHOTO: DAVID CLIFFORD



FrictionLabs Pro

Thursday, July 19, was a typical summer day in Grapevine, Texas, a city of 51,000 just 30 minutes northwest of Dallas. Stocky brick buildings and a gleaming white water tower were the only objects of vertical relief to break the plain for miles. The sun glared off the black asphalt. A high-pitched bug-whine filled the air like a rung cymbal and a muggy wind stirred the dead grass. The national weather service had issued an “Excessive Heat Warning.” Looking into the 10-mph breeze was like getting licked in the face by the Devil. Friday was supposed to be hotter, 109, and the next day might hit 111. It could drop to 103 in a week, but it might not go below 100 degrees again before September, if ever. 78


by Jeff Jackson

This hellish weather is one reason Outside magazine chose Dallas as the “Least-Outdoorsy City” in America, and yet Team Texas, a group of Dallas-area athletes ages 8 to 19, trains right here in Grapevine and happens to be the most successful climbing team in the history of USA Youth Climbing competitions. Texas has won 10 out of 15 Lead-climbing National Championships, including the 2018 Nationals. The team has taken the top spot in 14 National Speed-climbing Championships. The current female Adult National Bouldering champion, Alex Puccio, the current female Adult National Lead- and Speed-climbing champion, Claire Buhrfeind, and the current male Adult National Speed-climbing Champion John Brosler, are all Team Texas alumni.



The most successful team in the history of USA climbing comes from one of the worst climbing cities in America. The reason for its success could be coach Kyle Clinkscales.


As the success of Team Texas illustrates, you don’t actually need outdoor crags to be a great gym climber. But there are many towns in the U.S. with good climbing gyms and no nearby climbing, and these places don’t win National Championships almost every year. What’s the secret? One big reason for Team Texas’ success is coach Kyle Clinkscales: 43, unassuming, a neat beard, broad fore-

on dynamic movement, but one of the younger kids had left his gear strewn all over the climbing area and now they were paying for the infraction. “It reflects on all of us,” Coach Kyle explained as the team punched out the reps. “Remember, you’re not the only people on the planet. And most things worth being part of are bigger than you.” Clinkscales is prone to these coach-

Facing page: Team Texas mastermind Kyle Clinkscales points the way to success for David Kwon at his gym in Carrollton, Texas, on the outskirts of Dallas. This page clockwise from upper left: The man-made towers of Dallas. Sibling team members Sophia and David Kwon plan their next training session. Delaney Miller trained with Team Texas and competes internationally. She placed second at Psicobloc in Park City, Utah, in 2013, 2014 and 2018.

“MOST THINGS WORTH BEING PART OF ARE BIGGER THAN YOU.” head and prominent ears. Dressed in a collared shirt, he stood calmly watching his team doing up/downs, a jumping exercise like a burpee without the push-up. On Thursdays the elite team typically tries their projects and works

ing proverbs, often gleaned from his own parents. His dad, Kirk Clinkscales, worked at the Dallas Times Herald selling ads. His mom, Donna, was a secretary. Both are now retired. Clinkscales is steady and somewhat WWW.GYMCLIMBERMAG.COM




Antheunisse, 26, lives in Austin, where he works at Texas Instruments as an electrical engineer. He won six youth national championships, taking all three disciplines several times. Outside, he’s climbed 13 V13s and five 5.14c’s. “Kyle has this way of building trust and credibility with kids, like every single one, so that they take everything he has to say really seriously. Probably more than 50 kids, including myself, would tell you that he is like a second father.”

“EMBRACE THE SUCK” After the up/downs another kid approached and said he’d forgotten his shoes and couldn’t do his project. “Well, it sucks to suck,” Coach Kyle said. “Figure it out, cause we got work to do.” When the kid continued to complain, Clinkscales deadpanned, “Don’t blame me if you wanna get better. Remember, you can quit any time. Your parents would save lots of time and money.” The older kids paid no attention. They’d heard all this before. In fact, this attitude of “no excuses” is a big part of the Team Texas vibe. Delaney Miller, a Team Texas alum—who also worked extensively with coach Kim Puccio—is a three-time National Champ in sport climbing and has placed as high as 7th in World-Cup competitions. She says


Clockwise from top left: Team Texas at the Youth World Championships 2005 in Beijing, China: left to right, Nic Sutton, Alex Puccio, Brian Antheunisse, Bryce Dyer, Elizabeth “EB” Brown, Ryan “Future” Roden, and Nick Douglas. Clinkscales at the wheel on one of his annual team road trips to real rock. The Summit Carrollton gym where the team usually practices features approx. 3,000 square feet of 23-foot-tall toprope climbing walls, and approx. 6,000 square feet of bouldering. Alex Puccio at the 2018 Bouldering World Cup in Vail, Colorado, which she won.

strict, according to Team Texas athletes, but the kids make fun of him constantly for being fat and old. He’s neither, but they think it’s hilarious to rib the coach and he takes it all in stride. Like any good coach he’s the arbiter of goals and limits. More than anything, he can help you get your mind right. I spoke with several athletes Kyle described as the best he ever coached, and they all said that Clinkscales’ greatest gift is his ability to connect with kids and prepare them mentally to win. “Even he admits that he could use some improvement at coaching the technical aspects of climbing,” says John Brosler, 21, a nine-time speedclimbing national champion (four youth and five open titles), with multiple podium finishes at the World Youth Championships. “But [Clinkscales] excels when it comes to coaching the mindset. He can analyze your body language on and off the wall, note the things you talk about at practice or with your friends, and use that to determine how you, individually, should approach your climbing. That’s what he’s best at, and that’s what makes him so unique. When you talk to him, it often seems like he knows you better than you know yourself.” “I would call him an extremely effective and talented amateur child psychologist,” says Brian Antheunisse.

that her favorite Team Texas motto is “Embrace the Suck.” It’s a slogan that suggests one should not only avoid excuses, but actually welcome hardship. “It means: Be there to work hard,” says Miller. “No over-competitive dbags. Be kind to yourself and others.” “Embrace the Suck” is about accepting your fate,” Clinkscales says. “We just try to develop professional people, not professional rock climbers, and by doing so, you get kids to realize they want to compete and they don’t want it

turns hip-belaying each other from the top of a random 35-foot shale cliff close to the cabins. They tied in with a double overhand knot, “to be safe.” “I f e l l o n c e a n d d i d n’t d i e ,” Clinkscales says, and he was instantly hooked. “When I got home a climbing gym opened up one mile from my house. How’s that for lucky?” The gym was called Exposure, the first climbing gym in the state, and Clinkscales took to gym climbing, eventually climbing 5.13a and boulder-


“NOBODY CARES HOW MUCH YOU KNOW” to be easy. Something I say to the kids is, ‘Do you like to be pumped, tired and scared?’ And they always say, ‘No,’ and I say, ‘Well let’s just climb laps on this 5.7 all day.’ Of course they don’t want to do that. So, we try to teach them that we really want it to be difficult and we want it to be scary and you want to have to try hard.” Clinkscales started climbing in 1993 when he was 18, on vacation with a wealthy girlfriend whose parents rented a bunch of cabins in Lake City, Colorado. On a whim, he and his buddy, Kirk Jones, bought a 7-millimeter hemp rope at a hardware store and took

ing V8 outside. In 1996, Clinkscales approached Greg Hoff, Exposure’s manager, and pitched him an idea. Kyle would recruit kids to coach and charge their parents. Eighty percent would go to Kyle. The gym would get 20 percent plus the usual membership fee. Hoff agreed to Clinkscales’ proposal and soon after Clinkscales walked up to a promising 10-year-old boy named Chris LoCrasto and said, “Hey I’m a climbing coach and I’d like to coach you and your brother, Frank.” The boys were stoked and their parents signed them up. (Chris LoCrasto

From upper left: Team Texas alumnus and five-time National Speed Champion, John Brosler. With practice over, Clinkscales takes his turn on the wall. One of the first Team Texas members, Chris LoCrasto, now co-owner of Summit Gyms and head routesetter.



Texas Team member Brendan Mitchell at Youth Nationals. Mitchell won in Lead at the PanAmerican Youth Championship in Mexico City in 2014. When there’s no rock, climb trees; Clinkscales on the road. Six-time Youth National Champion Brian Antheunisse at Nationals in Portland, Oregon, in 2000.

TEAM USA Clinkscales was attending Texas State University at the time then dropped out and told his parents he wanted to be a climbing coach. “They were like, ‘Cool, just remember: Nobody cares how much you know till they know how much you care.’ They literally said that. Fortunately for the kids I didn’t know shit, which means the only thing I could do was care a lot about them and have fun working hard and getting better.” In 1999, Clinkscales had two athletes on the fledgling USA Climbing Team, 82


“THAT WHICH IS HARD TO ENDURE IS SWEET TO REMEMBER.” Sarah Brown and Alice Braginsky. He traveled to Italy with the girls for an international competition and Jeanne Niemer, then-president of the Junior Competition Climbing Association (JCCA), asked Clinkscales if he could help manage the kids in isolation (the area where competitors hang out before climbing). He obliged and suddenly he was the official U.S. Climbing Team coach. Clinkscales was active in all aspects of USA Climbing. He was a board member, on the rules committee and the appeals committee. He was the first head coach for the USA National Team. He started the coaches’ committee, helped write the coaches’ code of conduct, came up with the selection process by which the coaches became U.S. Team coaches, lobbied and allocated the money to send coaches to Worlds, and created the rules for the youth team National Championship award. He’s a nationally certified route setter as well. Daron Pair, Stone Summit Gym owner and former president of USA Climbing, has known Clinkscales for 10 years: “It is very difficult to maintain sustained excellence over a long period of time,” he says. “But Kyle has

managed to do so by always putting his kids first. It is important to Kyle that every child becomes the best they can be and fulfills his or her potential.” The team star ted a tradition of summer road tripping in 2000 with a month-long outdoor climbing trip. Clinkscales recruited help, bought a van, and the team hit some of the biggest sport-climbing areas of the day— Shelf Road, Rifle, Wild Iris—on their way to nationals in Portland, where Braginsky made the U.S. National Team and, along the way, LoCrasto climbed 5.13 outside at age 14. 2018 was the 18th annual month-long summer road trip. The team has been to 20-something climbing areas outside of Texas. This year they headed to the Red River Gorge. Why does Clinkscales do these road trips? “When you get kids out, they grow as people,” he says. “These days parents try to fix everything for their kids. When you’re on the road with Team Texas, parents can’t fix things for you.” And then, predictably, he quotes something he probably picked up from his parents: “That which is hard to


would go on to climb 5.14 and V12. He now co-owns five Dallas-area climbing gyms, partnered with Clinkscales and another Team Texas alum, Stan Borodynsky.) A few days later, Clinkscales approached 10-year-old Sarah Brown’s father and he signed her up. (Sarah Brown got second place two years later at the 1998 national championships). Suddenly Clinkscales had a team. “As far as I know,” Clinkscales says, “I was the first professional coach in the U.S., meaning that I made my living from the very beginning from coaching and as far as I know I was the first to ‘own’ the team, meaning I took a commission of whatever I charged the team members.”

Clinkscales emphasizes the value of having a strong core. Team Texas, the 2018 national champions. The coach working out his next move.

endure is sweet to remember.” “ W h e n y o u c l i m b o u t s i d e ,” Clinkscales says, “you can’t blame your failure on the route. It’s not some ‘stupid’ route set in a gym. The climb is gonna be there when you’re long gone and there’s five stars by it in the book. And you’re 15 hours away from home dealing with conditions. There are climbers from other places who will throw away their entire trip because conditions are bad but we don’t live in Colorado or Salt Lake. When we go climbing at the Red River Gorge, we go in the summer and it’s crazy hot and the humidity and all of that. People whine about the heat and we are just like, it’s a climbing day, we are going to go rock climbing and that’s what we do. And if it’s raining, we go rock climbing. If it’s 1,000-percent humidity, we go rock climbing.”


“IF THEY’RE GOING TO GIVE AWAY MEDALS, YOU MIGHT AS WELL TRY TO WIN THEM.” By 1999, Team Texas had 20 kids, including 12-year-old Stan Borodyansky, who fo c u se d on sp e e d cl i mbi ng. Borodyansky now co-owns the Summit gyms with LoCrasto and Clinkscales. He’s an active coach as well, specializing in speed, the discipline Team Texas has dominated from the advent of U.S. youth competition speed climbing in 2003. (The only team national speedclimbing championships Team Texas hasn’t won were this year’s nationals and the 2006 competition when they didn’t field a team.) Most climbers scoff at speed climbing, says Clinkscales. “But we work at it. It is something that we care about. My parents always told me: ‘If they’re going to give away medals, you might as well try to win them.’ Way back in the

day, everybody was too cool to do speed climbing and we were just like, why? It didn’t make sense. You get to compete. So we worked at it.” And the work has paid off in 14 national championships. Team Texas athletes John Brosler and Claire Buhrfeind are the current adult male and female national speed climbing champions. Brosler is the U.S. record holder for the 10- and 15-meter speed wall and holds the record in Male A and Male Jr. for speed climbing. He is a five-time adult national champion.

THE CORE CAN BE LOST C l a i r e B u h r fei nd i s t he c u r r ent sport- and Speed-climbing National Champion—she took fourth place in boulder ing—and many see her as America’s best hope for an Olympic gold medal in climbing in 2020, the first year Olympic medals will be awarded for climbing. Since points will be tallied for lead climbing, bouldering and speed, Buhrfeind’s time on Team Texas, where the athletes have always trained speed, might give her an advantage over athletes who have never focused on the category. “In the women’s field, we stack up incredibly well,” Clinkscales says of America’s Olympic competitiveness. “We have a realistic shot because of the three-discipline format and because there won’t be any real specialists competing. You’ll have to be competitive in all three disciplines. I think that bodes well for American women. Claire and Alex Puccio both have an incredible shot. We haven’t quite gotten there with the guys.” Is Clinkscales psyched about climbing being in the Olympics? “Yes, very psyched about it. I truly believe that if Margo [Hayes] or Brooke [Raboutou] or

Claire or Puccio or Nathaniel Coleman or Kai Lightner—one of those guys that has a big personality and is just a really, really good kid—lands anywhere near the podium at the Olympics, climbing will go to a level that none of us ever imagined. Toward the end of our interview I asked Clinkscales to name the best gym climber in America. “You have to give it to Puccio because she has won 11 bouldering national championships and she literally has alligator blood running through her veins. She’d have had the same success in sport and speed if she’d have cared half as much as she did about bouldering. Now she does, so look out.” Last, I asked Clinkscales the question I’d been wanting to ask since I first heard about Team Texas’ successes. How do they consistently beat teams from Salt Lake and Boulder and other climbing epicenters with great weather, the best crags and even better gyms? His answer surprised me because it wasn’t about training techniques or motivational speeches. It was about gym etiquette. “If you come into one of our gyms,” he said, “we have specific areas where our team trains. We try to keep the kids out of the regular gym population as much as we possibly can and I think our members are appreciative of it. But it also creates a very intimate environment with the coach and the kid. It’s a place where we can work on weaknesses. We are right there and kids know when you are in it or not, and that’s what fosters the growth. Our kids don’t usually quit Team. They go all the way through and become leaders. It’s #teamtexasfolife.” Jeff Jackson is the At Large Editor for Gym Climber and Rock and Ice.





Raboutou wins gold at Youth A World Championships

HOW DID YOU DEAL WITH NERVES? I always get a bit nervous, but I’m more just excited to start climbing in a competition than nervous. When I am nervous, I try to just focus on my breathing, and when I get on the wall, all the nerves go away. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE EXPLOSION OF POPULARITY IN GYM CLIMBING? It’s great that so many people are trying out the sport. Gym climbing is a much easier way for people to get into climbing. Hopefully new climbers will start their love for climbing in the gyms and also expand it to the outdoors. DESPITE BEING YOUNG, YOU’VE BEEN IN THE COMPETITION SCENE FOR A WHILE. HOW HAS IT CHANGED? More people have become interested, but the psych has always been high as far as I’ve seen and the competitors keep getting stronger. DO YOU HAVE ANY OUTDOOR GOALS? Some of my outdoor goals are as simple as just taking the time to get outside. Others are completing projects and developing some of my own climbs. HOW DO YOU STAY PSYCHED? The best way to stay psyched is to just climb. I don’t train as much as I just climb on boulders and routes at the gym. It makes it so that I really enjoy all of my sessions! WHAT DO YOU EAT BEFORE A BIG COMPETITION? I don’t have a specific meal before every competition, but if it’s in the morning I usually have eggs and veggies. and sometimes if it’s later I’ll have sushi or a big salad.

hard. I just have to remind myself to look at the big picture and have fun. When I do that, I always find myself enjoying competing. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TRAINING EXERCISE? I like to train on the Tension Board. I have a list of certain hard climbs and I try them every time I get on the board to see my progression. WHAT ABOUT THE OLYMPICS MOST EXCITES YOU? I’m really excited that climbing will be in the Olympics, and people will get to see how cool the sport is, both physically and emotionally. HOW DOES INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION DIFFER FROM THE U.S. CIRCUIT? International competitions (especially in Europe) have climbs that are much more technical and less straightforward than in the U.S. There are also a few different rules between U.S.A. Climbing and the IFSC, including our scoring systems.

HOW LONG ARE YOUR TRAINING SESSIONS? I usually climb for three to four hours at a time.

WHO DO YOU THINK ARE SOME FAVORITES TO MEDAL IN THE OLYMPICS IN 2020? Miho Nonaka and Akiyo Noguchi from Japan are very strong combined competitors and have a good chance at doing well if they make it to the Olympics. From the U.S., we have a lot of strong combined competitors and it is going to be interesting to see who will make it.

WHAT’S THE HARDEST PART ABOUT COMPETING? TRAVEL? STAYING FIT? I think that it can be the ongoing pressure that makes competition climbing

Catch Brooke and other U.S.A. Olympic hopefuls on the U.S.A. Climbing: National Cup Series circuit this Fall.

HOW OFTEN DO YOU TRAIN PER WEEK? It depends on the week, but usually five days.




HOW DOES IT LIKE TO WIN ON A GLOBAL STAGE? It’s kind of crazy! It’s cool to think that there is no higher stage on the youth side!


Become a 2018â&#x20AC;&#x201C;19 SEASON MEMBER at and compete with the best Membership types: Adaptive <> Coach <> Collegiate <> Competitor <> Judge <> Routesetter <> Supporter

inside and out the f ine ar t of climbing B Y B OONE SP EED



Lisa Chulich at photographer Boone Speedâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s home gym, Planet Granite, Portland. WWW.GYMCLIMBERMAG.COM


Sam Elias comes to grips with the La Foixarda Tunnel in Barcelona, Spain. “It’s a free outdoor public climbing gym,” says Elias. “It’s very popular, and you can basically find people there 24/7.” The tunnel and nearby area offer boulders, traverses and bolted routes. The tunnel itself is about 50 meters long and four meters high, and was developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s during the run up to the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.

Facing page upper: Lisa Chulich unlimbers in early morning light at the 30,500- square-foot Planet Granite, Portland, Oregon.

Facing page lower: Olivia Hsu, PrAna ambassador and student of Ashtanga yoga, at the DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Boulders), Brooklyn. The DUMBO Boulders are the largest outdoor bouldering gym in North America. With 4,900 feet of climbable surface, the boulders can accommodate 51 climbers at a time. Owned by the NYC Parks Department, the DUMBO boulders are managed by The Cliffs at Long Island. They were built as part of the redevelopment of Brooklyn Bridge Park.



Upper left: Christine Bailey Speed, Planet Granite, Portland. Speed, a nurse by profession, traded her stethoscope for a camera five years ago, and, like her husband, Boone, now shoots professionally. She has also run Moon Climbing North America for the past year. Upper right: Chris Sharma. Post Wile E. Coyote moment at the first-ever U.S. Psicobloc. Lower left: Steven Jeffery circa 1999 shot on Cross Processed film at the original Wasatch Front Climbing gym, opened by the late Dave Bell. Bell was also the original founder of Pusher Holds. Facing page upper: Lisa Chulich hucks a V9 at Planet Granite, Portland. Chulich, a former gymnast, began climbing when her local gymnastics gym closed. She began competing when she was 16, and has since been in seven World-Cup competitions. Facing page lower: Woodie session at the original Brooklyn Boulders.

90 TK





C r aG zo yo d by michael levy


A peek into how team Japan became a bouldering power Tomoa Narasaki fist pumps after flashing a triple-dyno problem i n f i n a l s at t h e W o r l d Cup in Meiringen, Switzerland, in April 2018. He took second place.

lex Puccio threw back her head and howled, to a returning cacophony. She had just flashed the last problem in the women’s finals at the 2018 IFSC Bouldering World Cup in Vail, winning gold on home soil. A great story—but there was another in the lives and routines of the silver and bronze finishers. Quieter stage presences than the brawny and open Puccio, Miho Nonaka and Akiyo Noguchi of Japan were podium fixtures this past season—both took medals in all seven bouldering World Cups of 2018. As for the men’s field, the Japanese climbers Rei Sugimoto and Tomoa Narasaki wore gold and bronze, respectively. They too had an outsized number of podiums in 2018.


T h e J a p a n e s e a r e d o m i n at i n g .

In the big picture at Vail, when the qualification fields of 58 women and 91 men were whittled down to finals of just six of each gender, a whopping eight of the 12 were Japanese, and four of them earned medals. While Japanese competitors represented just 10 percent of the starting field, they accounted for 66 percent of both finalists and medalists. “The Japanese are crazy good!” Jernej Kruder wrote in an email. Kruder, from Slovenia, was the overall champion—followed by Narasaki and Sugimoto in second and third—for the 2018 Bouldering World Cup season. All begged the question: How are they doing it? Sure, Japanese climbers have been among the elite in our sport for decades: Yuji Hirayama was onsighting 5.14b when Alex Megos and Adam Ondra were 11-year-olds, and Dai Koyamada was proposing V16 when a 14-year-old Daniel Woods still hadn’t even contemplated getting that spider tattoo. But Japanese ownership of the bouldering World Cup podiums is a new phenomenon. While they are no slouches in lead either—Keiichiro Korenaga finished third overall in the 2017 IFSC Lead World Cup for the men—bouldering is where the Japanese team shines. Noguchi won three WWW.GYMCLIMBERMAG.COM


Akiyo Noguchi Holds on and b e at s t h e s w i n g at t h e W o r l d Cup in Munich, G e r m a n y, A u g u s t 2 0 1 7, e n r o u t e to a third-place finish.

events this year, and Nonaka one, while she and Noguchi finished one -t wo i n t he over all I F S C rankings. Narasaki was first in Moscow, Sugimoto at Vail, and they were two-three overall, with their teammates Kokoro Fujii and Tomoaki Takata in sixth and seventh (and Yuji Fujiwaki just outside the top 10 in 11th) overall. As an observer, I figured at first that the phenomenon probably had something to do with superior training: that Noguchi, Narasaki, Nona ka, Sugi moto a nd t hei r teammates simply condition their bodies better. Only Sugimoto answered a correlating inquiry. Sugimoto, who started climbing at age 8, said that his weekly training routine consists of two days of physical non-climbing t rain ing, t h ree or four days of bouldering, and one session of mental training with a coach. That’s a punishing regimen, yet no more intense than



other World Cup climbers like the Canadian boulderer and lead climber Sean McColl or the German powerhouse Jan Hojer. Theory number two. Perhaps the number of Japanese sensations has something to do with the prevalence of climbing gyms in Japan? Japan boasts about 600 climbing gyms. The U.S. has some 600, too. The difference is that Japan has about 200 million fewer people and is about 25 times smaller in area. The real clue, and what may bolster theory number two, is that due to expensive real estate and restrictive building codes, over 90 percent of the Japanese gyms are exclusively bouldering, according to Naoya Naito, owner of seven climbing gyms called PUMP. Naito explained: “Because of the difficulty [in differentiating gyms in] scale and size ... the culture to differentiate with quality and variety of problems took root in this country.” Competition between gyms forces setters to be innovative with what they have, seeking more difference between the facilities. Takako Hoshi, the slight, softspoken assistant coach for the Japan National Climbing Team, concurred. “In order to draw people to come,” she said, “the gyms have to have really interesting and

Lower Left: In D a i K o ya m a d a’ s Project Climbing Gym, holds cover every square inch of wall ava i l a b l e . Below: Akiyo Noguchi (left) and Miho Nonaka Puzzle out sequences together.


Also present in the idea of shugyo is an utmost dedication, an apprenticeship, to a single pursuit. nice routes. So some of them have this competition style, and also really nice styles with volumes. Some of them are very hard in a different way. Some, like Dai Koyamada’s Project Climbing Gym, have a wall plastered full of holds. So athletes can go to different gyms and try

all different kinds of routes.” Still, access doesn’t breed ability; it alone cannot explain the Japanese brilliance. Watching Akiyo Noguchi break the beta on the women’s third finals problem in Vail—stemming wildly out right and palming on a blank Entre-Prises wall, eventually going full horizontal as spectators gaped—was a thing of beauty. Seeing the raw power of Tomoa Narasaki as he campused off overhanging one- and two-finger pockets on the men’s second finals problem felt like watching a character in some physics-defying video game. Skill and power like that, even among the preternaturally gifted Chris Sharmas of the world, or climbers who train ad nauseum,

require a je ne sais quoi—perhaps some strange monomania? A diet of sushi? Hello Kitty? Kruder told me: “When it gets to the top 10 climbers, [it] doesn’t matter anymore where you are from, but what is your mindset.” So maybe one answer lies in cultural and societal idiosyncrasies that have evolved in Japan over centuries. Hoshi, who lived abroad in China for 17 years, has an unusual perspective into Japanese culture both as a part of it and an outsider. Hoshi spoke of shugyo, a concept she describes as “training like a monk.” There are six different Japanese words that describe types of training, and while four of them are easily translated, shugyo is harder to WWW.GYMCLIMBERMAG.COM



encapsulate. In essence, shugyo is an all-encompassing approach to daily life: it is about constantly seeking to better oneself, in all aspects, so as to achieve balance between the spiritual and the physical and, ultimately, eke ever closer to enlightenment. Hoshi tried to explain how shugyo extends to even the simplest areas of life with an example. “In Tokyo, it is very hard to get around the city. You have to plan ahead to go from point A to point B. Train times are exact and complicated. So nobody wastes time. So climbers, when they get to the gym to train, know that they cannot waste any time. They take it very seriously.” Ikuko Serato, co-owner with Dai Koyamada of Project Climbing Gym, further identified modesty as a strong component of shugyo. “We are taught to be modest to our own ability and t e c h n i q u e. B e i n g m o d e s t s e e m s converse to being aggressive ... but I think it has an effect on the strength of Japanese climbers.” Also present in the idea of shugyo is an utmost dedication, an apprenticeship, to a single pursuit. Climbers elsewhere might fit in a climbing session between slack lining or a rip of the bong, but in Japan climbers seem more singularly focused

Upper:Rei SuGimoto C e l e b r at e s t h e t o p t h at would clinch him gold at t h e Va i l W o r l d c u p, 2018. Lower: Young c l i m b e r s at b-Pump in Yokohama, Japan.

M i h o N o n a k a c r i m p i n g h e r w ay t o g o l d i n M e i r i n g e n , Switzerland, 2018.

on climbing. Sugimoto said, “Even if they are not professional … some people train every day. When I see the gyms in Europe or the USA, it seems that people there enjoy climbing as one of many hobbies. But many Japanese climbers only think of climbing.” Sugimoto also brought up the concepts of konjo and kiai. In “Samurai and Science: Sports Psychology in Japan,” from the book Cultural Sport Psychology, Yoichi Kozuma writes, “Konjo has been loosely translated into English as ‘guts,’ but it has a much deeper meaning, including high physical endurance, courage under adversity, and the tenacity to face pain and hardship for the good of the team.” Sugimoto said konjo affects his climbing: “When training is hard, and I want to give up, I tell myself kiai”—the short sound made by martial artists, e.g. hi-yah. “Then I manage to do that training and finish it. I push myself. Then I’m also able to exceed my limits when competing.” While parsing philosophies like shugyo, konjo and kiai and how they manifest in Japanese climbing can seem abstract, there are smaller, concrete ways to see the tenets in action. In the U.S. we say, “Come on!” to urge a climber upwards—a harsh imperative, though meant encouragingly. Analogous phrases like the French “Allez!” have a similar tone. Yet the Japanese term “Gamba,” as Sugimoto pointed out, means, “Do your best.” Michael Levy is the associate editor of Rock and Ice.

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5 MILLION —Number of indoor climbers in the United States, making gym climbing more popular than surfing. Source: Outdoor Industry Association


609 —Commercial climbing gyms currently open in the United States and Canada. Source: Climbing Business Journal

40,545 —Problems logged on the MoonBoard app, between its two hold setups, as of August 10, 2018.



The B-Pump in Tokyo, Japan’s largest bouldering gym.

“I like things to be aesthetic, different with the colors, a game that is a bit artistic, even if it is not art, but still a bit artistic. Also for the spectators, that it makes them dream, that it surprises them, that it makes them laugh, that it creates emotions. If it doesn’t create emotions, if it just ranks the climbers, that is not enough for me. I want something more, even if it is not always possible!” —Jacky Godoffe, in an interview with with the IFSC, on his boulder World Cup route setting.



—People toproping in gyms with water bottles and hexes racked on their harnesses. Source: Educated guess

—Climbing routes listed on Mountain Project for Florida. All are boulder problems. Two are on real rock. One is a six-foot concrete stormwater structure that can only be climbed when a retention pond is dry. The other is on a giant flat-circle sculpture outside a courthouse. If you live in Florida, be happy that you have those four new gyms.

NADA —Ascents thus far of The Project , an indoor route that has spit off Adam Ondra, Alex Megos, Nalle Hukkataival and Stefano Ghisolfi, among many others. The route is permanently set at the Klättercentret Telefonplan, in Stockholm, Sweden.


—Money spent per month on organic, dairy-free, gluten-free, naturally sourced bars at the front desk because you keep forgetting to bring anything else. Source: R&I’s intern, Owen Clarke

Andy Cross

Be a climber. Where you find joy: pursue it. Where you see others finding joy: encourage it. Whatever makes you a climber: do it. These are words. See our actions at

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Gym Climber #1 Winter 2018/2019  

Climbing's Inside Track

Gym Climber #1 Winter 2018/2019  

Climbing's Inside Track