Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Climbing, steroids, and being thin

Jamie Emerson recently had an interesting post on steroids and climbing and Andrew Bisharat (the editor of R&I) recently posted a related article called "Climbers Who Cheat" discussing the advantage in climbing given by being thin. I just couldn't bite my tongue and hold off on responding to this most recent article. Since the R&I site doesn't allow comments, here are my thoughts.

First, I think Jamie's article on steroids is good mainly for asking questions about steroid use in climbing in a public setting. Jamie has a very popular site and likes to ask thought provoking (and reaction provoking) questions. Unfortunately, the comments occasionally sink to profanity, personal attacks, and heated tempers. I have a few thoughts on steroid and PED use in sports in general and climbing specifically. Personally, I am not morally or ethically opposed to the use of PEDs, what I'm opposed to is cheating (defined as breaking written rules), lying, and dishonesty. For that reason, I'm against the use of banned PEDs in all competition settings. I also have a huge problem with someone misrepresenting their achievements outside of competition by using PEDs without disclosure.

That being said, climbing is different that most organized sports. Most climbing does not take place in a competitive setting, it takes place in small groups of friends with each person competing only with him or herself. If Joe Schmoe wants to dope so he can send V10, I have no problem with that. Personally, I take pleasure in working hard and clean for my progress and would not do this. The issue becomes a bit murkier when dealing with top level athletes who are earning a living as sponsored climbers. Again, I would have no problem with someone climbing 5.15 while doping, as long as there is full disclosure. Sponsors would then have to choose whether or not to sponsor said climber and I'm sure most would not.

The problem in all sports is that the risk of being caught is low (especially in climbing where no outside of competition testing system exists) and the rewards are potentially large. That is, there is a strong incentive to use PEDs without much deterrent. A final complication, as evidenced by many comments on Jamie's post is the belief by many people that steroids will not help in climbing since the added mass will cancel out any strength gains. This is a terribly flawed understanding of steroids in general. There are many different steroids and other PEDs that have different effects ranging from adding muscle mass to increasing endurance and aiding recovery. Cyclists are even more weight obsessed than climbers and surely everyone has heard the doping controversy coming out of cycling in recent years.

Now, on to the R&I post. This post is what really spurred me to write today. I suggest you read the original, but the post basically discusses the advantage of being thin as climber and the perception that this is somehow cheating akin to using steroids.

"At what point does losing weight to climb hard offend our senses of “what’s fair”? When does losing weight become cheating?" I would say never. I can only speak for my group of friends, but I have never heard anyone mention being thin as unfair or cheating. In my belief, and I think my friends' as well, being extremely thin can be a very serious health problem (as Andrew discusses), but I've never seen it as unfair. Let me know if I'm off base here.

"Some (but certainly not all) of the top climbers in the world have the hollow, sunken-cheek, and ashen look of anorexics. Look at any World Cup podium, and the finalists seem like they could be blown over in a stiff wind." Disagree. There are very few pro-level climbers I would describe as waifish. Do you have to be thin to be a top climber? Absolutely, but you also have to be beast strong. Any top level athlete in an active sport (basketball, football, soccer, cycling, ultimate, running, tennis, etc, etc, etc) is thin and in great shape and think climbing is no different.

"When climbers, our friends and peers or even the pros, succeed on a hard climb, it’s common to hear others qualify their ascents behind their backs." Obviously there will be people who question or are jealous of others' achievement in anything. I choose not to climb with people who have this type of attitude. I think this has less to do with the perception of being thin than it has to do with the excuses and negativity that some people always bring to the table.

Finally, Andrew tries to draw a parallel between being thin and using PEDs which I think is so far off base that I had to post this. Using PEDs is generally frowned upon and absolutely banned in competition. Using PEDs amounts to using artificially engineered substances which have been specifically designed to increase performance. Being thin is living, exercising, and eating in a way that shapes your body according to your desires. Finally, I think the biggest problem with this post is the claim that there is a widespread belief that being thin is somehow similar to using PEDs and gives an unfair advantage. I have personally never thought this and I can't remember ever hearing anyone say this. The only time I've been concerned is when someone looks so thin that it appears unhealthy. Maybe some other people can chime in in the comments to let me know if I'm off base on this, but I simply don't thing this perception exists.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Gainesville Rock Gym

A lot has happened since my last post. As most of you know, my residence in Boulder has come to an end and I've moved to Gainesville, FL. Needless to say, things are a bit different here. The people are larger, the food is greasier and the landscape is flatter. At least there's a climbing gym...

The Gainesville Rock Gym, vertical toproping, overhang/"lead" wall in the back
And that's what I want to talk about today: the merits and failings of the Gainesville Rock Gym. I've been in Gainesville for about two months now so I've had enough time to get a feel for the GRG.

6' tall bouldering cave
Let's start with the bouldering. Fortunately, there is a pretty good amount of wallspace for bouldering. There is a ramp/tunnel leading from the ground floor up to a second level, a 60°+ overhang, a slab, a low ceiling room, a small topout boulder and a 20°ish overhang. Unfortunately most of space is horizontal roofs or vertical walls less than 7 feet tall which immediately transition to a horizontal roof. Also unfortunately, a lot of the wall space looks like it was designed by someone who hadn't spent enough time in gyms to know how to design the walls for one. The design of the walls makes route setting very difficult in many places. There are a lot of 90° corners and sharp transitions from vertical to horizontal. It is very difficult to set fun and consistent routes on this type of terrain. Overall, I think the route setters have done a good job with what they have. There are many problems from V0-V13 so finding something to work on was not an issue and many of the problems actually climb really well. Also, I'll be the first to admit that I'm not very good climbing on a horizontal roof. It usually ends up feeling thrutchy and thuggish. I much prefer technical movement on a 10-45 degree overhang.

The underused (and undersized) topout boulder
As for the route climbing, this has been largely a disappointment. The walls are in the 30' range and there are only 2 parts that are not dead on vertical. There is an arch that's about 7' wide connecting 2 vertical walls near the top (visible in the 1st picture above) and there's a better overhang that ranges from 10-40° with a short vertical headwall at the top. I was most disappointed in two things. First of all, the lead climbing situation is abismal. It costs money to get lead certified: $22 for non-members, as much as 2 day passes. You also have to sign up on a sheet and leave your phone
Upper level with more horizontal roofs and
the top of the tunnel/ramp
number so that someone can call you later to set up the lead test/class. Apparently only a few of the staff are able to give the lead test. Helmets are mandatory when leading which doesn't make the gym feel any cooler either. Unfortunately, none of this seems to have helped with the capability of the lead belayers. I've already had to point out some pretty sketchy belaying to the staff. Also, there are only 2(!) lines of draws in the whole gym so don't plan on leading a large variety of routes. The route selection in the upper grades is also extremely limited. If you're climbing 5.12+ you can just about climb the place out in a single session. The setters clearly spend their time focusing on the bouldering and mainly put up easier routes. With a quick count, I only saw something like 10 routes harder than 5.10. Disappointing.

On a positive note, they're currently making improvements to the gym. A bunch of the top rope walls have been recently repainted and look much better. There's also some new insulation going up and the air conditioning seems to be a bit improved so that's a step in the right direction. Finally, there's a pretty good scene in the gym on weeknights. There's even the obligatory guy campusing with a weight vest.

The overhang and my personal favorite bouldering wall in the gym.
No more of the caves and tunnels please, just put up a 20° overhang.
In the end, the GRG doesn't really compare to any of the gyms in Boulder (yeah Spot Gym!), but it gets the job done. There seem to be good people and psyched climbers and if the management keeps making improvements it can only get better.

UPDATE (July, 10th, 2012): Having been in Gainesville for a bit more than a year now, I thought I'd update a few things about this post. First off, I was apparently given wrong information about becoming lead certified. If you know how to lead already, you can just take the lead test, but only certain staff can administer the test so if on of them is not there, you're S.O.L. The roped climbing continues to disappoint and the bouldering is mostly decent. The biggest problem is the slow turnover of new problems. Problems typically stay up for several months with few new ones set in the mean time. On the plus side, there is a good group of friendly regular boulderers in the 20-30 age range that's fun to hang out with.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Flagstaff again

Over the past week I've spent 3 quick(ish) sessions up on Flagstaff, mainly since it's only about 15 minutes from my apartment, super convenient. My first visit last week was spent repeating some moderates, but I didn't really get on anything too hard. Then, a few days ago I went back and climbed a few harder problems which you can see in the video below.

Flagstaff 2 from Doug Lipinski on Vimeo.

For anyone that's wondering, Hagan's Wall climbs just as well now as it did before breaking in January. The difference is that the good left hand crimp flake is not as good and the part that's left is 2-3" lower than the top of the flake used to be, making the next move harder. I'd say it feels like low end V6 in it's current state. Also, Valhalla is an awesome problem with super fun moves. It's got 2 sharp holds, but don't let that deter you, it's totally worth doing. Same goes for Battaglia's Bottom. That massive backflag move is so tenuous and fun, plus there's different beta possible if you don't like that way. Just convince yourself it's not actually that sharp.

Today I went back up there to try and finish off Battaglia's Bottom and ended up having a pretty great day. I warmed up at Cloud Shadow then got to it, ending up with the following ticks:
Hagan's Wall, V6 (repeat)
Battaglia's Bottom, V7/8 (redpoint, 2nd try of the day, I'm inclined to take soft V8 for this one, feels hard)
Reverse Faceout, V7 (redpoint, 2nd try of the day)
First Overhang, V5 (repeat)

At that point my skin had pretty much given up so I had to call it quits (the biggest drawback to Flagstaff), but I otherwise felt like I could have kept going for quite a while. This got me thinking, my bouldering has been on a huge upswing over the past couple months. In December I ended a months long battle of infrequently trying Valhalla (V7, my 2nd ever) with a very solid send. In January I sent The Turning Point, my first V8 and last month I send Resonated, my first V9. Since then, I've run laps on The Citadel (soft V8) and did Battaglia's Bottom in about 10 tries over 2 sessions. I did Reverse Faceout in less than 4 tries this season and I have Valhalla on lockdown (see video above). The point of this is not to spray or boost my ego. After all, I live in Boulder, where people climb V8 in sneakers with crashpads on their backs. The point is to figure out how this happened. How did I manage to bump up my hardest send by 3 V-grades in as many months?

To be honest I'm not completely sure, but I can point to 2 main things. First of all, during the past 6 months I finally started trying hard problems. I know people say all the time that you don't climb V8 by climbing V5 (or similar grade reference), but apparently I'm a slow learner. It's not that I wasn't trying hard, I was. It's just that I wasn't trying moves or problems that felt impossible. I've been doing that a lot lately and more often than not, those impossible moves go down pretty quickly, usually within a couple sessions of work. I've also stopped thinking about how hard a move will be on link. Instead, I've started to believe that if an individual move goes, muscle memory, strength gains and psych mean it will eventually go on link. After all, the problems I'm doing are less than 8-10 moves, this isn't a battle of attrition.

Secondly, I've been unintentionally training muscle recruitment and power for quite a while. My schedule and real life have meant I've been climbing once or twice a week for months now. That has resulted in me wanting to climb hard on the days I do get out and also needing to conserve my skin and energy for the limited number of good tries I've got, with lots of rest between attempts. This is a recipe for building power: low volume, high intensity, lots of rest. I've also had a couple complete breaks of 2-3 weeks with no climbing. I think that time off allowed my tendons and ligaments to heal any minor injuries and staved off any typical overuse injuries.

The question is, how long can this keep going? If I keep eating and sleeping well, trying projects above my current level, and taking enough off days will I keep improving into double digit grades? My power is without a doubt at an all time high. My endurance is terrible, but I don't really care about that; I don't climb routes. What else can I do to keep things headed in the right direction? Anyone else had similar experiences? What worked for you and what didn't?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Flagstaff Moderates

We had some seriously awesome spring-like weather today and I took advantage with a quick midday circuit up on Flagstaff. Here's a short video of several of my favorite moderates on the mountain.

Flagstaff Moderates from Doug Lipinski on Vimeo.

I had fun putting this quick edit together and I'd like to get some more of these videos up, but I only have a 6 year old point and shoot camera and a memory card that holds 4.5 minutes of crappy video. Add that to the wish list I guess...

Friday, February 25, 2011

...and projects completed

I went back to Eldorado Canyon yesterday with Brock, Paul and Josh S. to get in some more bouldering before the forecast takes a turn for the worse today. We had perfect weather for hard climbing and it was probably right around freezing with a very light breeze the whole time we were in the canyon. We warmed up at the Milton boulder and gave anywhere from a few (me) to a great many (Brock) tries on Milton (V4). Paul came soooo close on his flash go and even closer a few times later as well, Josh worked out some very impressive short person beta for the last move, but couldn't quite stick the lip and Brock ran laps on the problem, including sending it via a dyno from the start holds. As for me, this problem is basically the opposite of my style: a couple technical/balancy slab moves to a dyno (at least with my beta). I'd done it previously and I was happy to do it once today and then save my strength for Resonated.

Eldorado Canyon Bouldering from Doug Lipinski on Vimeo.
Video and Edit by Paul Evans, thanks Paul!

After the long hike back to the car (~10 feet), we parked by the Gill Boulder and walked down to the Water Rock to give Resonated some more tries. I had to try some slightly altered topout beta since my hamstring is still not great after my last encounter with this problem. After Brock and I each did the top section once to make sure we wouldn't blow it after the crux, we started giving some serious tries from the start. The holds felt good, friction was high and psych was even higher. On my second go I fell on the long move out right, the crux for me and the last move before the much easier top section. Brock had a bunch of goes where he fell on that same move or while trying to set up for it. I decided to change my beta slightly where I had fallen before and pulled on for my third go. I honestly don't really remember the specifics of that next try. I just know the holds felt great, I hit everything perfectly and felt super strong. The next thing I know, I was hanging from the jug after the crux, staring down the top section of the problem and telling myself to really focus and not mess this up. A couple moves later, pumped but feeling solid, I was on top of my first V9! I guess that's what it's like to be "in the zone". What a great feeling and one of my favorite problems ever!

Not to be outdone, Brock committed to some beta he hadn't been sold on before and one or two goes later, he sent too! First V9! I'd like to go ahead and take credit for Brock's send too, since I cranked up the motivation and adrenaline to the next level with my send. Just kidding, awesome job Brock!

This boulder problem is pretty close to perfection in my opinion. Plus is fits my style almost perfectly. There are mostly decent holds, but a couple very difficult moves. There is one right hand crimp that's quite bad (and sharp, my only complaint), but it's good enough to crank on if your fingers are strong. There's also a terrible sloping sidepull/undercling for the left hand, but it's manageable with a good foot in opposition and then some subtle body positioning. The bottom (hard) section is overhanging, but not too steep and the setting is ideal, overhanging South Boulder Creek in the middle of Eldorado Canyon. Go do it NOW!

Unfortunately, I didn't get any video of my send. Paul had his video camera running and it recorded me taking my jacket off for the send, then the batteries died. Isn't that just magical, 60s more would have been enough. I'm disappointed, but how could I really be upset after a send like that. Fortunately, we got Brock's send on another camera (albeit with worse quality) and you can see that in the video above. Also, Josh ripped a HUGE flapper open on the sharp crimp to end his day. I guess tropical vacations aren't too good for the calluses. Heal up soon!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Projects completed, projects begun

This winter has been very productive for me as far as finishing up some awesome bouldering projects around the front range. First up was Valhalla (V7) on Flagstaff. This is a very fun, very steep problem with a couple sharp crimps and a last move that spit me off time and again on link. I was able to do the high start (Valkyrie, V5) in one session, but the last move is just hard enough to be the redpoint crux for me. After falling there about 8-10 seperate times over multiple sessions, I went back on a crisp day in mid December with the goal of finally dispatching this problem. On my first go, I totally dominated it. Felt like V3. This was one session away from becoming a mind game and it felt fantastic to dispatch it with such authority. On to the next one...

The Turning Point, V8 from Doug Lipinski on Vimeo.

The Turning Point (V8) was my next objective. All in all, I think I spent around 6 sessions hiking up to the Satellite Boulders to work on this problem before it finally went down last month. The session before I sent, I fell on the last (not super hard) move multiple times because I was using some stupid beta. By the time I figured that out, I was too tired to send. No worries though, it went down first try the next time I was up there. It was cold enough that my fingers numbed out for the last several moves, but there was no way I was letting go. This is my hardest send to date and without a question one of the best problems I've done. The moves, the rock and the setting are all spectacular. Plus there's lots of beta to figure out with different options for almost every move. The video above shows me on the send.

Kahuna Roof, V6 from Doug Lipinski on Vimeo.
Video by Sarah Evans, Edit by Paul Evans

Finally, I went up to Carter Lake last weekend with a good crew to finish off Kahuna Roof and try some other stuff as well. I had been up there about a year ago when I was in poor climbing shape and failed to do the second move. It was a different story this trip and Kahuna Roof went down after the 3 or 4 tries it took to remember the first two moves. This is another of the best problems I've done, with good rock, a fun dyno, a perfect landing and an awesome view. It's listed as V5 on most sites, but there are various rumors of breakage and I'd say it's solidly in the V6 range. We did a few other very fun problems too. My favorites were The Seam (V2), Rocky Top (V4, flash), and Sunshine (V6) which I should have flashed except for my terrible foot beta on the first go. Unfortunately, a lot of the rock at Carter is very pebbly and unpleasant to climb on, but there are still some very good problems.

With no other projects and great weather last week, Brock, Paul and I decided to head down to Eldorado Canyon to try Resonated (V9). This is a relatively new problem put up by Paul Robinson a couple years ago and it's really a fantastic line. It's only climbable when the creek is low and it ascends a prow that overhangs the water using a couple very small, sharp crimps, a terrible sloping sidepull/undercling, lots of body tension and some heal hook trickery to a very long move. I had tried the problem once before and had not been able to do the long move out right, but Brock had done all the moves and thought it could potentially go down. After trying a bunch of different things, I finally worked out some beta that works for me and pulled the crux move! Unfortunately, the top half of the boulder involves cranking way up off a good heal hook and I managed to pull my hamstring pretty bad on the heel hook the first time I tried that move. It's still pretty sore 3 days later, but definitely improving. There were no sends of Resonated that day, but we'll be back soon with high hopes for success. There are two good videos of the problem here and here.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Winter Bouldering Gear

A winter send of The Turning Point, V8 from Doug Lipinski on Vimeo.

I'm not usually a big fan of the cold, and before this winter I'd never spent much time bouldering in sub 50 degree temperatures. As it turns out, I was missing a lot. Even here in Boulder, where January temperatures can reach the mid 60s, 35-45 degrees truly means sending temperatures. The low humidity and cold temps mean no sweaty hands and great friction, but the cold brings other challenges. With that in mind, I present an outline of my winter bouldering gear.

Baselayer: I find this is the key to winter bouldering and it's worth buying some nice wicking long underwear and a thermal top. If it's colder than ~45 degrees I'm usually glad I wore long underwear pants, otherwise I may leave those at home. Wicking is super important, especially if you have anything more than a 5 minute approach. The best way to end up cold is to wear cotton and sweat up your clothes at the beginning of a session. I usually wear some Patagonia Capilene pants and a snug fitting Under Armour ColdGear top. Make sure the top is long enough to tuck into your pants and tight enough to hold itself down, overlapping your long underwear. This prevents any chilly drafts and seems to help a lot with warmth.

Pants: The pants you wear over your baselayer aren't as important in my opinion. I just wear whatever pants I'd usually wear while bouldering.

Top: I typically layer another wicking long sleeve shirt over my base layer. Again, Capilene is my usual choice, but take your pick. This layer should not be as snug as the base layer, but provides a bit of extra warmth while your not wearing a coat. Speaking of which...

Coat: Go warm here. Bouldering is an anaerobic activity that leaves you sitting around between attempts most of the time. A good jacket is key to staying warm while you're not climbing. I recommend a nice down or synthetic puffy jacket. The Mountain Hardwear Phantom Down is my jacket of choice. It weighs less than a pound and has nice fleece lined hand pockets. Typically you'll take your jacket off for a climb and then put it back on right away to stay warm between attempts. I also don't wear my jacket for the approach, you'll just overheat. If it's less than 65 degrees I'll bring the down. I've never once thought "If only this big pad I'm carrying didn't have that extra 15oz. from my down jacket I totally would have sent my project", but there have been several times I left the car in a tshirt only to end up shivering in my softshell and wishing I had brought the down.

Hat: Get a decent windproof hat. Even if your jacket has a hood (which is awesome), bring a hat too so you can keep it on while you're climbing.

Footwear: Socks and shoes should just be chosen according to the approach conditions. If you have to hike through snow dress accordingly. If it's dry I just wear my regular shoes. Obviously your climbing shoes have probably already been chosen. One tip, before you put them on (perhaps during the approach), put them under your shirt to warm up for 5 minutes or so. You can also exhale a few deep breaths into each shoe before pulling them on. It makes the whole business much less painful, trust me.

Misc: A rag or two is always a good idea for soaking up any seepage from melting snow. This can also be used to help brush off the top of a boulder. Also, one of my favorite pieces of gear is a nice big thermos. A thermos full of hot tea helps with hydration and can seriously warm you up. Just try not to burn your mouth! I always go with some green tea and honey, hot chocolate is just too rich and sugary to drink much. Several cups of tea is better for hydration and warmth than a cup cocoa. Also, I usually don't bother bringing gloves. You can't climb in them and my hands go in my jacket pockets between attempts.

Last tips: Warming up is super important. If the approach is at least 15 minutes, that's a great way to get the blood flowing. Also, warming up the fingers on easy problems doesn't quite do it for me. It's a good start, but the rock always just feels freezing until I start getting on some smaller holds. Don't be surprised if your fingers numb out the first try or two on your project, mine always do. Just wait a minute or so and, assuming you're dressed well and otherwise warm, you'll soon feel the burning warmth of some serious blood flow. Sending temps!

I know it's been a long time since I've posted so I'll have another post up soon on the projects which have gone down this winter (the video above is one) and others that have been started.