Saturday, July 19, 2014

Chiwaukum Creek Fire

As those of you who live in Washington know, the north-central part of the state is plagued by several large forest fires, which are grouped into two "complexes," the Carlton Complex in the eastern Methow Valley and the Mills Canyon Complex in the Leavenworth/Entiat area.  One portion of the Mills Canyon Complex is the Chiwaukum Creek Fire, which is burning to the west of Highway 2 between the Tumwater Canyon and Cole's Corner.

Northern Tumwater Canyon on Friday Night 
- note the red tail lights on Highway 2 in the center of the bottom-right quadrant for scale
(image from Icicle TV)

Believed to have been started by lightening in the beginning of this week, the Chiwaukum Creek Fire was described as "explosive" during the first few days, as it grew from roughly 600 acres in the first day to more than 6,000 acres by Thursday, closing Highway 2 between Cole's Corner and Leavenworth.  Fire fighters were initially concerned that the fire would cross Highway 2 south of Cole's Corner and threaten the town of Plain and the northern part of the Chumstick, and issued Level 3 warnings (immediate evacuation) for the Plain River Road area.  As of Friday, however, firefighting crews had established Highway 2 as a fire break, and have focused their efforts on containing the northern edge of the fire.  Though a public statement issued on Friday noted that fire crews were feeling more "confident" about the fire, it is still described as 0% contained, and has grown to roughly 8,300 acres, with high winds expected in the next few days. Air quality in Leavenworth and to the east has varied from "very poor" earlier in the week to "good" today, but the Icicle Canyon is reported as smoke-free and clear.

The Chiwaukum Creek Fire 
(image from

The following links contain the best information I've been able to find on the fire:

The National Incident Information System web site - Official updates from fire crews.

Chelan County Emergency Management Facebook page - Up-to-the-minute updates on both fire complexes, as well as links to pages collecting donations for victims of the fires.

Icicle TV Facebook page - Local information about the fire, with video from an exclusive behind-the-gate tour of the Tumwater Canyon.

It's unclear at this point whether the Chiwaukum Creek Fire will have any impact on Leavenworth's climbing. The southernmost point of the fire is roughly 9 miles northwest of Leavenworth, and is reported to have stretched as far south as Swiftwater Picnic Area. With fire crews' heroic efforts obviously concerned primarily with protecting lives and property located to the north and west, and with prevailing winds toward the southeast, the fire can be expected to continue to spread to the south and east, potentially affecting other areas in the Tumwater Canyon. It seems unlikely that the fire will cross Highway 2 or jump Icicle Ridge and travel down Icicle Canyon, but anything's possible.

Concerns about impact to climbing, however, are entirely trivial in light of the danger to the more than 1,500 personnel putting their lives on the line to contain the Carlton and Mills Canyon Complexes, and the terrible devastation suffered in the towns of Pateros and Brewster to the north, where more than 100 homes have been lost.  Please consider making a donation of money or supplies to the fire victims through one of the links on the Chelan County Emergency Management page linked above.   

Friday, May 30, 2014

Climbers and Assholes Who Rock Climb

It’s been a long time since I have updated this blog, mostly due to the fact that I've been devoting the majority of my free time to working on the new Leavenworth bouldering guide, but I want to poke my head up to offer a sort of “public service announcement.”  [warning: long post!]

As usual, it has been a fabulous spring in Leavenworth this year, with dry weather, consistently good temps, and the perennial bevy of new problems that always seems to pop up once the snow melts.  See for yourself:

Johnny Goicoechea on a New Project in the Tumwater that Rivals the Penrose Step, 
a.k.a. The Ladder Project, in Quality

In addition to memorable sends and new discoveries, however, spring in Leavenworth has also come to mean one thing that, for some of us, defines the experience in recent years:  crowds.  Like, big crowds. 

The Forestland parking lot last Saturday

It wasn’t always this way.  When I first moved to Leavenworth in 2005, it was rare to see another boulderer in the Icicle, and nearly unheard-of to see anyone else in the canyon on a weekday.  It was a great time to live there and be psyched on route development.  Guided by Brian Behle’s sui generis Leavenworth Bouldering: A Cheesy Guide to Pleasing Rock, you could still park your car nearly anywhere in either canyon and pick an untouched plum (or at least what you thought was one).  There was also a very strong sense of community, with almost every car you saw belonging to someone you knew.  I remember when Kyle O’Meara was first acquainting me with Leavenworth’s established bouldering, we would intentionally stop when we saw a car we didn’t recognize parked at a bouldering area, just to say hello, see if they wanted any beta, and see whether they were from Seattle or Ellensburg, the furthest destinations from which visitors would hail.  

Spend Some Time with This Guide if You Can Get Your Hands on a Copy!

My, how things have changed.  For a while following the publication of Central Washington Bouldering, Leavenworth got more and more popular, but the crowds were all still Climbers.  In part because the area was still becoming known, the people who showed up were seriously interested in being there, and comported themselves accordingly—cleaning up after themselves, camping discretely, and acting not only courteous, but genuinely happy to see other people bouldering at the still-lonely areas.  If you took the time to ask, most people you saw probably were friends of a friend.  In the last several years, however, the growth in the area’s popularity has increased, in many ways dramatically.  I attribute this recent trend in part to several videos featured in national-level climbing media that have brought great attention to Leavenworth (or, more accurately, to the handful of overgraded problems that people can come and snatch up like souvenirs), and in part to the huge growth in bouldering generally (which is itself fueled locally by the highly-successful and beginner-friendly Seattle Bouldering Project).   

Leavenworth’s growth in popularity has brought both positive and negative effects.  On the positive side, as I believed when I was writing Central Washington Bouldering and as I still believe, it’s an intrinsically good thing that more people are getting outside.  A cliché, yes, but one that is true even without the mags and REI repeating it ad nauseam.  Second, the hoards present at the most easily-accessible areas have forced local developers to hike further and higher, and look at the stone more creatively, as demonstrated by the prolific development accomplished in recent years by folks like Drew Schick, Cole Allen, Joel Campbell, Ben Herrington, Johnny Goicoechea, Joe Treftz, Ryan Paulsness, Andrew Deliduka, Shaun Johnson, and others (apologies to those who I am forgetting!).  Finally, and most positively, the sheer growth in the user group has finally gotten the attention of the Forest Service, which manages most of the land in the Icicle and Tumwater Canyons and, in a fabulous and much-appreciated ‘pivot,’ has begun to devote resources to promoting the sustainable growth of Leavenworth bouldering.  The most obvious example of this is the scrap metal removal, re-grading, porta-potty installation, and placement of an informational kiosk in the Forestland parking lot.  This work, which was jointly accomplished by the Leavenworth Mountain Association and the Forest Service with support from a number of other climbing organizations, would have been unimaginable 10 years ago and is a sign of great things to come.  

Unfortunately, the list of negatives that also come along with an explosion in popularity at any climbing area is long.  In addition to subjective bummers like overcrowding, several of Leavenworth's more popular areas have seen significant trail proliferation and erosion, damage to vegetation, campfire rings next to boulders, litter, excessive tick marks, and in a few rare cases, chipped holds.  From a gestalt perspective, the rise in Leavenworth’s popularity has also brought “strangers” to the area.  Not everyone is a friend of a friend, not everyone is polite and courteous, and not everyone is happy to see other people.  Andrew Bisharat recently published a thoughtful and well-written piece on this phenomenon, “Climbing Gyms Aren’t the Problem; Assholes Are,” which I highly recommend that everyone read.  Bisharat responds to a recent Chris Noble article in Climbing Magazine that describes an increase in many of the concerns identified above and places most of the blame on climbing gyms and degradation of the mentorship system through which most climbers were formerly indoctrinated.  Bisharat’s essential point is that climbing gyms aren’t to blame per se, but that when any user group grows large enough, there are going to be people in the population who are simply “regular old assholes.”  Bisharat urges people to be decent, respectful, and humble, and to make an effort to bring the assholes into the fold.  My take-away from the piece, and from my own experiences, was that the climbing world is now populated not only by Climbers, the people who are mellow and kind and probably the friend of a friend, but also by Assholes Who Rock Climb, who are, well, assholes who just happen to rock climb.

Unfortunately, I had an experience last weekend that gave me a tangible view into the motivation behind Noble and Bisharat’s pieces.  I won’t belabor the story, but a regular group of friends had planned to start at Barney’s Rubble on Sunday morning, and despite the fact that there were two- to three-dozen people at the area, we decided to stick around and catch a quick warm-up.  We bumped into a couple other friends and joined the rest of the people in clambering around the boulders and enjoying the nice circuit.  Pads were everywhere, and everyone was having a good time, even if they had to wait a couple seconds between laps; it was not unlike the scene on a busy weekend morning at the Birthday Boulders in the Buttermilks in Bishop, or at Bas Cuvier in Fontainebleau.  I walked around the back of one boulder where people were lounging under a nice moderate, saw an opening, and hopped on the rock.  About halfway up the problem, I came out of my bubble and realized that one of the onlookers was berating me, telling me to “get the fuck out of here!” and to “stop fucking climbing on our pads and shit!”  I paused on a jug in the middle of the problem.  Stunned, all I could muster was “are you serious dude?  The guy talked some more trash, then turned around and made a joke about the “awkward silence” he had created.  I topped out, grabbed my things, and left the area, still wearing my climbing shoes as I walked to the car.  

This incident, while stupid and insignificant, broke my heart.  I was not so much personally offended. As a litigator, I deal with jerks all the time, and I am perfectly willing to assume this guy was having a bad day, was upset with the crowd and simply snapped, or felt that I was crowding his space (he had been about eight feet away, on a different boulder).  Maybe he was from a big east coast city where talking to a stranger in that way is perfectly acceptable and not a sign you’re a sociopath.  No, I was heartbroken because I saw, for the first time really, direct evidence that Leavenworth’s boulders were not just populated by Climbers anymore – the Assholes Who Rock Climb had arrived.  In the 13 years I’ve been climbing, I had never seen a Climber talk to another rock climber like that, ever. Through my guidebooks and my work with the board of the Washington Climbers Coalition, I have been working hard to open the door to Leavenworth's bouldering, but I can't control who walks through it.

This is the part where I’m supposed to provide some deep insight into what this means and what I think we’re supposed to do about it.  But I don’t have any.  I could point you to the introductory pages of Central Washington Bouldering and ask everyone to be conscious of their impact and how they treat others.  I could ask you to read the new, stand-alone chapter about not being an asshole when you pick up your copy of the new Leavenworth Bouldering guide (soon – I’m working on it, I promise!).  But I think Andrew Bisharat put it best.  Be decent, be respectful, and be humble.  Don't be an Asshole Who Rock Climbs.  Be a Climber.   

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Lake Serene Photos

Here are some photos from Lake Serene earlier this fall... 

Joel and Drew on a Sweet New Roof

Cortney on a Fun Overhang

 Cole Allen

Drew and Joel on a New Line

Johnny on a Hard Variation on the Warmup Boulder

Cole on Ganja Roof

Johnny Attempting Cole's New Problem Bonanza

Sending Scenery

 Isaac Pinchin'

 Monkey Posse

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Lake Serene Video

Here's a short video of three new problems established two weekends ago at Lake Serene.  It had been a while since I had climbed at Lake Serene, but I left wondering why more boulderers don't go up there -- it is a fabulous little slice of faux-alpine bouldering that is literally right in Seattle's backyard...  The hike is an ass-kicker, but it is hard to complain about a three-mile hike with no altitude when you're standing underneath some of the climbs...  A lot of people work a lot harder for steep, featured climbing in the mountains!

I will follow this post with some pictures from the weekend in a few days, but for now, enjoy the following video of a few choice climbs...

I feel tempted to post more explicit beta for the area, but directions to the lake are ubiquitous, and the only real beta you need is "hike around the lake to the boulders."  A large part of the fun is exploring the surprisingly-large jumble of boulders, and the fact that none of the problems have been graded and very few named...  So just check it out and enjoy!  Note:  If camping, make sure to camp more than 1/4 mile away from the lake - i.e., nowhere in the basin surrounding the lake.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

'Chipping' in Leavenworth

A recent Facebook post by Seattle coaching guru Tyson Schoene brought to a lot of people's attention what Leavenworth locals/regulars have been noticing for the past couple years: a lot of problems are strangely changing, oftentimes in ways that make them easier.  Tyson mentioned the two most oft-cited examples: The Cotton Pony and The Sail.  Both problems changed significantly two or three years ago, The Sail losing a hold (sort of), and The Cotton Pony gaining one (sort of). 

The Sail, Pre-Break

On The Sail, the blocky part of the right-hand crimp that was the target of the crux move broke off, leaving a slightly smaller, slightly more positive edge about an inch lower.  The move's still hard, but it's a little easier.  And one would never know from reading the guidebook, asking for beta, or even seeing a pre-break video of the climb.

Jamie Chong Crushing the Cotton Pony Pre-Foothold

The Cotton Pony 'miraculously' gained a solid, one-pad foothold a few inches lower than the crumbly little left-foot edge most shorter climbers used for the dyno.  The foothold gives just a little extra  push in the right direction, and as with The Sail, the movement remains the same, just subtly easier.  Also like The Sail, the change is subtle, but noticeable.

While people can be quick to point to these and other examples of changing problems as Chipping, the reality is a lot more grey, both from a factual sense, as in what actually happened, and in a moral sense, as in what does it mean.  I am by no means the first, or the thousandth person to opine on the issue, and I essentially agree with the views of prominent climbers/commentators like Jamie Emerson, (see also, also, also...), Dave Graham, Deadpoint Magazine, etc.  But on granite - especially on Leavenworth's flaky, crumbly granite - the factual aspect around a changed problem is often a lot more grey than black and white.  When describing problems in the guidebook I've been working on, I've found it helpful to think of these problems in three general categories: Chipped problems, Suspect problems, and Naturally Broken problems.

Chipped Problems have clearly been intentionally altered with the purpose of making them easier or harder, or simply vanadlizing them.  Chipped climbs are something that nearly all climbers find completely repugnant (with a few notable exceptions like Timy Fairfield and by tacit acceptance, Peter Beal), which is why we react to the subject so emotionally, and why events like last year's Ivan Greene chipping scandal are so shocking.  It's also why we all get so emotional and shocked when we learn of Chipped Problems in our own backyard - we wonder why anyone would think this was okay. 

Suspect Problems are less clear; the problems seem changed, sometimes dramatically, but it's hard to tell whether the changes were due to natural wear-and-tear, aggressive finger-scraping or plastic-brushing, or whether a screwdriver or paint stripper was used to remove flakes or crumbles.  These problems are often described as Chipped, but the perpetrator might have altered the rock unwittingly (e.g., crumbling thumbholds on The Peephole) or innocently (e.g., a gumbie scraping away grainy rock with a wire brush or screwdriver).  Suspect problems are the new-school chipping.

Nautrally Broken Problems are inadvertently broken by a climber during the regular course of climbing.  It seems safe to say that close to 100% of climbers find changes under these circumstances to be unfortunate but unavoidable and thus morally acceptable (think Dreamtime, 'Pipsqueak,' The Knocking Room, and a thousand others I can't think of right now).

These categories attempt to describe the factual circumstances behind a problem's change.  People will have different opinions about the moral aspect of things, but for what it's worth, I personally disapprove of both Chipped and Suspect problems.  While Suspect problems somehow seem less outrageous than Chipped ones, I feel very strongly that people should never take a metal implement to an established boulder problem.  

To turn to the two problems that are often cited as examples of Chipping, I see them as grey areas.   I see The Sail's breakage as possibly Naturally Broken and possibly Suspect, but not Chipped.  I see The Cotton Pony's new foot as Suspect; if I were to wage a guess, I imagine that some idiot from out of town used a screwdriver to increase the size of a pre-existing foot chip -- something I wouldn't do, but also something that doesn't make me as angry as drilling or chiseling (or for that matter, even screwdriver-ing a handhold) would. 

I wrote this post to clarify that while The Sail and The Cotton Pony are by no means the only problems in Leavenworth that have changed recently, it's not as if someone has been going around Chipping new holds into Leavenworth's classics.  Here's a non-exhaustive list of other problems that have changed recently, along with my perception of the changes at issue.  All changes listed have occurred since the publication of Central Washington Bouldering unless noted:

Superman / God is in the Details, Mad Meadows (left-hand Superman start hold suspect)
Dirty Dude Low, Lonely Fish (right start hold naturally broken)
The Lonely Fish, Lonely Fish (crimp traverse rail suspect)
101 Ways to Fling Poo, Twisted Tree (third crimp naturally broken)
420 Moderate, 420 Boulder (historically chipped)
The Prism, The Sword (former second hold naturally broken)
Resurrection / Low, The Sword (left stand start hold chipped/suspect)
Zorro, The Sword (former finger-bucket naturally broken)
Musashi, Egg Rock (start hold naturally broken)
Epoxy Flake, Fuzz Wall (glued-on flake 'naturally' broken)

The Whirlpool, Jenny Craig (second hold naturally broken)
Finished Product, Jenny Craig (start hold naturally broken)
Caveman Cole, Swiftwater (second hold chipped)
Swiftwater Cave Center-Right Link, Swiftwater (historically chipped)
Immortal Techniques a.k.a. Immoral Techniques, Swiftwater (right start hold suspect)

Full Time Night Woman, Mountain Home Road (low start and feet chipped/suspect)

I present this list not to alarm people or somehow make it seem like altering rock is somehow accepted in Washington, but to raise awareness about the prevalence of what I've termed Suspect problems.  Washington climbers should be most concerned not about blatant chipping in Leavenworth, as Tyson's post would suggest, but more about the steady creep of wire brushes, screwdrivers, paint scrapers, etc. being used to subtly enhance established problems.  I would ask the community to adopt a bright-line rule that metal implements should never be used in regard to established boulder problems, and to enforce this rule by educating newer climbers, policing each other, and calling out those who intentionally alter the rock in order to prevent it from happening again.  As the abundance of responses and discussions Tyson's post engendered can attest, we obviously care about this issue.  We just have to do something about it.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Joe's Valley Photos

Sadly, this post won't include any Washington updates...  I've been busy working on the guide and the photos I've been snapping recently have been boring "topo" photos of boulders.  But it is an exciting time to be a boulderer in Washington -- more on that later!

For the time being, here are some pictures from our trip to Joe's Valley this April.  Such an amazing place!

Karlyn on the perfect Kill By Numbers

The Inimitable Kyle O'Meara

Drew Pimpin' by the Storm Trooper

Cortney Crushing

Kyle O Staying Cool on The Kraken

Drew Schick Being Goofy and...

... Crushing Nerve Extension...

... And Trent's Mom.

Cortney on the classic Low Tide

[back to Drew] 
... and Playmate of the Year...

... And Beyond Life.

Can't even do it...

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Bulge Boulders

Here's a short video of Kelly's Bulge (FA Johnny Goicoechea) at the Bulge Boulders in Leavenworth (see below post for rough directions).  It was a short but sweet spring season in Leavenworth this year... I hope everyone has had a chance to get out!