For the Love of Rocks

It occurred to me while I was standing in the check out line at Safeway that I did not fit in.  The only items in my cart were a pair of neon purple over-sized dish gloves, a tube of Neosporin, several nail files of various grit, a minor collection of exfoliating boar’s hair brushes, a flat head screwdriver, and one stiff-bristled nylon toilet brush. No milk, no apples, no paper towels, no shaving cream, nothing of that sort. The cashier gave me a look, said “what are you doing with all these nail files?” without explicitly saying it.

To me these were obvious purchases: the gloves were for washing dishes, to keep my hard-earned calluses from going soft. The Neosporin was for repairing a split crease on my middle finger. The nail files were for keeping said calluses from getting so thick that they might snag a pebble and be torn off. The boar’s hair brushes and toilet scrubber were for brushing up the grips on a boulder I wanted to try that afternoon. The screwdriver was needed for bicycle repair and did not factor into the otherwise exclusively climbing-related nature of the other purchases.

I don’t even think about these type of things anymore, but for entertainment’s sake, I thought some reflection might be in order. What follows is an abbreviated catalog of the weirdness associated with a long-term climbing career.

* My street shoe size has shrunk from 10.5 to 9.

* I compulsively file the skin on my fingertips to avoid the dreaded split tip. There musn’t be any small tears or irregularities that might snag on a grip.

* Well-fitting long sleeve shirts are hard to come by. The typical climber physique of broad shoulders, long arms and a slender torso is not something often catered to by finer clothing manufacturers.

* I do not think twice about using words such as crag, crux, crimp, dyno, and beta in everyday conversation. Furthermore, there is no hesitation to pantomime crux moves in public, even if it means throwing an imaginary heel hook on the dinner table.

* Following advice from a respected colleague, I did not use soap, shampoo, or deodorant for eight months. Showers were still had, but as more of a rinse than a total cleanse. All of this was done in an effort to keep my skin free of callus-altering chemicals, and while I apologize to anyone that I spent any amount of time with at close proximity, I will say that my skin was in amazing condition for rock climbing at that time.

* I abhor getting my hands wet, which results in excessive, some might argue obsessive, dish glove use. Seriously, nothing is worse for climbing than soaking your hands in hot, soapy water. Avoid at all costs.

* There is never a problem with wearing the same pair of pants for two weeks straight. Too, I do not buy pants that won’t allow for high steps. You never know when you might have to bust out a mantle.

* Again following advice from a respected colleague, I once ordered this mysterious substance called antihydral  from the internet. Invented by champion fooseballers (seriously) to keep their hands dry, this stuff, when applied correctly, keeps your tips in top condition for upward of two weeks. As a bonus, it hardens the skin too, which is ideal for climbing in areas such as Hueco Tanks or Bishop. Of course, when used incorrectly it can dry your skin so much that it splits open like an overripe tomato and, due to the dryness, doesn’t heal for a month.

* As a rule, I never purchase a pair of shoes I do not think I could climb at least V5 in.

* If I know I will be climbing outside on a particular day, I will not shave for three days beforehand. Shaving cream softens the skin on my hands, and we can’t have that. Of course this is not much of an issue for me, as I can’t grow facial hair of any sort.

* There are holds everywhere, on buildings, tables, chairs, dashboards, tupperware, fax machines, picture frames, bicycle pumps, filing cabinets, fruit (watermelon slopers, obviously), everywhere. Naturally, there are cryptic methods of utilizing these grips that must be ascertained, which is why I’m currently figuring out the best way to kneebar my computer desk.

There is more. Much more. For now, however, this will do.

Reflecting on the list above, I am struck by two things. One, I might love rock climbing so much because it completely engages the exceptionally neurotic portion of my psyche. Two, trusting a colleague’s advice only leaves you smelly and with holes in your hands.


Motivational Evolution

When I first took to the towering twenty-foot walls of the Wheat Ridge Recreational Center in the autumn of 2004 I was a doe-eyed lad of eighteen. I had been climbing once before, in 2001 or 2002, and never thought about climbing again until a freak racquetball accident turned my attention to the curious grey, grip-covered wall. Every day after school I would drive my baller ’87 Buick Century to the Rec Center and climb for the three hours that the wall had staffed belayers. At the time I was obsessed solely with achieving the summit, clawing my way to the top by any means necessary. I enjoyed working at height and feeling the air, all twenty feet of it, underfoot.

A few years later I was working at ROCK’n & JAM’n and climbing had taken over my life. No longer was I drawn to the heights provided by roped endeavors; bouldering was my bag, baby, and I was driven to do the hardest moves I possibly could. Three days a week I trained with Athletik Specifik to improve my power, contact strength, and overall fitness. College afforded an easy schedule and I was able to climb outside three to four days a week. Excursions were made to Hueco Tanks and Joe’s Valley on the regular and summers were spent in the alpine solitude of Rocky Mountain National Park. Times were good and I tasted success at grades well beyond my initial expectations.

Now I feel as though I have entered a new phase of my climbing life cycle. While I am still drawn to difficult power moves and the desire to send the gnar has not diminished much, other facets of the climbing experience have bubbled to the surface of my psyche. Mostly, intense beta and intricate sequences are now the focus. I’m learning to think with my legs as much as my arms, to pay attention to body positioning and how minute adjustments in ankle angle can affect the solidity of a heel or toe hook. In the past if a move or sequence was troublesome the solution was always pull harder, get stronger. The current solution is thinking, hypothesizing new beta to utilize strength already possessed, analyzing failure and learning from mistakes. Old habits die hard, and the new crux is remembering all this beta, remembering to think outside the box. Slowly, I improve.

Perhaps the key factor to my long term, committed relationship with climbing is the evolving nature of my desire to climb. From the purely adrenal excitement of height to the brutish power of physical performance to the complex intellectual process of problem solving, there remains always a new challenge, a new approach, a new discipline to master.

It is worth noting that these motivational mutations were not forced or decided upon. They came like a sea change, unnoticed until after the effects were felt. One must remain perceptive to these alterations and embrace them when they come.

the 1%

climbing grades. so subjective. so arbitrary. yet so important, even though no one wants to admit it. it’s one way of gauging our progress and validating ourselves as climbers. no one wants to climb strictly for the numbers, but let’s be honest, who doesn’t relish in the accomplishment of breaking into a new grade?

and there are definitely milestone grades. if you have sent 5.10, you probably remember the first one you did. same thing with 5.11. then there is the mythical grade of 5.12.

i still remember the first 5.12a i sent after coming back from my shoulder injury. it was a level of climbing that i didn’t think i would get back to. i would have been happy being able to project that grade. in fact, that was my goal back then, to be able to do the moves. but i found a climb in boulder canyon that suited my style, worked it for a little while, then one day i sent it. i couldn’t believe it! i thought that i had broken through some imaginary barrier…that i had accomplished something. i had reached a level that, in my head, many people don’t reach. which brings me to the question: how many people in the united states that call themselves “climbers” have climbed 5.12? what is the percentage?

let’s kick up the difficulty a notch. i remember when i sent my first 5.13a. i had been on “sonic youth” (a clear creek canyon classic!) three times previously and went down there again to work out some moves. even though i was carrying a forearm pump the likes of which i had never encountered before, i screamed and grunted my way through the final crux boulder problem and somehow clipped the chains. 5.13 was never on my radar, and i was just as surprised as anybody else that i actually sent one. it was unbelievable to me, and it took a while for this accomplishment to set in. but it again begs the question: how many people in the united states that call themselves “climbers” have climbed 5.13a? what is the percentage?

being here in the front range of colorado definitely skews our perspectives. everyone knows a lot of people that climb 5.12. everyone knows probably a handful of people that have climbed 5.13. everyone knows at least one person that has done 5.14. but we live in one of the american climbing meccas. there are so many crazy strong climbers here, that our percentages are off compared to the rest of the country. so when looking at all the “climbers” in the united states, at what grade does the “1%” apply to? in other words, what grade have only 1% of all u.s. climbers sent?

i’ll end with one final note…because we do live in an area with such a dense concentration of strong climbers, it is very important to not let your own personal accomplishments get overshadowed. climbing is hard. climbing 5.10 is, in the grand scheme of things, hard. so just because the person next to you is warming up on 5.11, don’t let that discourage you from being proud about your sends or trying hard. feel free to spray about it, because you know you did something.

A Message from Anna and Adrian


Like Deb and John, we shared a common dream, to own an indoor climbing gym. Our
dream began about 6 years ago. That dream was forged here in Colorado. We were
introduced to climbing in Clear Creek Canyon, Rifle, Shelf Road, and the gyms of
ROCK’n & JAM’n. We loved everything about this wonderful sport, and we loved
the culture and community we found among other climbers who shared our passion.
ROCK’n & JAM’n played a pivotal role in the development of this dream. Because of
this, these two wonderful gyms will always hold a special place in our hearts.

When Deb and John agreed to pass this torch, we viewed it as not only a fantastic
opportunity, but as an enormous responsibility. Deb and John have created something
special with ROCK’n & JAM’n. Our goal therefore is simple, to make Deb and John
proud in the years to come. We would like to begin this journey with a commitment to
honor John and Deb’s mission statement.

Our goal is to provide an innovative, high-quality facility that meets the needs of
the area’s indoor rock climbers.

Our commitment is to continuously improve our facility and services in order to
keep pace with our customers’ expectations well into the future.

Our pledge is that our actions will be characterized by fairness and integrity.

ROCK’n & JAM’n has established itself as the premier indoor climbing gyms in the
Denver Metro Area and we want to ensure that they retain this well-earned position at the
top of the industry.

We look forward to getting to know all of you who share our love for these gyms and this
sport. We, along with our two sons, Holden and Aiden, will be the new faces walking
around, so please do not hesitate to stop and say hello. If you love climbing, we are
already friends.

We thank Deb and John for this opportunity and we thank you in advance for welcoming
us into the ROCK’n & JAM’n family.


Anna and Adrian Parker