willful suspension of disbelief

willful suspension of disbelief…according to wikipedia, this can be “seen as the willingness of the audience to overlook the limitations of a medium, so that these do not interfere with the acceptance of those premises.” you might now be asking yourself, “what does this have to do with anything here in the gym” or “how does this even remotely relate to climbing?”

it might take a little bit, but i can explain. the short, vague, non-helpful explanation is that it relates to route setting.

the long explanation:

when you, our customers and members, come into the gym, you see specific features everywhere (layback crack, offwidth crack, stem chimney, pin scars, etc.) and you most definitely see routes going through and around all of these. and you probably think (sometimes) “that seems really contrived, why would i stay on these bad holds when i can reach that feature instead.”

as route setters, we of course see these same features, but we see them in a different way. we don’t necessarily see them as continuous. in other words, we block out the other parts of the feature in order to achieve the particular flow or movement for our climb. if we didn’t look at the features this way, we would be limited with what we could set and would always have to be hyper-cognizant of the proximity to said features. for example, in the front canyon at the north gym we have a really good layback crack; at the south gym right by the front desk we have a splitter crack. if the climbs we set near these always had all features on from bottom to top, it has the potential to be essentially the same climb every time. we would be doing you a disservice by allowing this to happen. we want to mix things up and keep you on your toes (no pun intended).

so it takes a willful suspension of disbelief in order to see the routes in the same way we do. using your imagination and “pretending” that only the specific taped-off portions of a feature exist, not the full thing, is necessary at times. our hope is that it yields more interesting climbs with more satisfying movement and body positions. of course, nobody is going to stop you from climbing straight up the crack. but honestly, how many times could you continuously climb it before you got a little bored 🙂


geeking out on climbing

i believe i am reaching a new level of climbing geek-dom with this post. i started thinking about the different shoes i have worn over the years. this lead to me thinking about what shoes i was wearing for certain sends and milestones and breakthroughs. i was surprised, and somewhat embarrassed, to realize that i remember a large number of these shoe-milestone combinations.

flashback to christmas 2005, and i’m on a trip to the southeast, climbing at horse pens 40. my whole goal for the ten day trip was to do a v5. i had a pair of mad rock mugens (the all white ones) that didn’t fit my feet quite right. so i went to the general store and talked to big mike and walked out with a pair of evolv defy’s. during the remainder of the trip, i managed to send ‘bum boy’ (v4) and eked out my first v5, ‘slag’.

now it’s the summer of 2007, i’m living here in colorado and have been putting in some time in boulder canyon. i sent my first 5.12a in a pair of five ten anasazi velcro’s. fall of that same year, i sent two 5.12s on the same day (in rifle, no less) in a pair of la sportiva testarosas. first 5.13a, again, the testarosas.

fall of 2009, and i’m in kentucky at the red river gorge for two weeks. probably my best two week stretch of climbing, with several 5.12b flashes, two 5.13a redpoints, a 5.12d onsight (just the highlights). the weapon of choice this time around was a pair of five ten dragons.

recently, evolv has supported me and over the last several years have helped me break into new grades (optimus prime lace up, talon, shaman).

you get the idea…a lot of brain power and space dedicated to something with no value whatsoever, but for some reason i remember these things.

i’m sure everyone has their own neurotic tendencies when it comes to climbing. feel free to post comments with your own habits and neuroses…

hard or easy for the grade?

what makes a route hard or easy for its specified grade? how can one route rated 5.10d (just as an example) be so much easier or harder than another route also rated 5.10d?

unfortunately, the answer is not simple.  many factors contribute to a route’s difficulty, and many of these factors can combine in odd and unique ways.  let’s list some of these factors:

  1. hold size: obviously, the smaller the hold, whether for hand or foot, the harder it will be to use.
  2. hold type: jugs, crimps, slopers, pinches
  3. hold orientation: in order of easiest to use…straight down pull, side pull, undercling, gaston (reverse side pull).
  4. wall angle: this one is subjective.  the angle can range from slab (less than vertical), to vertical, to overhanging, and depending on your specific physical strengths and weaknesses, any of these could be harder than the other.
  5. distance between holds: the farther apart they are, typically the harder the move.

once you start looking at combinations of these factors, things get complicated.  so when evaluating the grade of a route, it is extremely important to think about and consider all of these factors, especially as they relate to what your own strengths and weaknesses are.  i will use myself as an example.

i am not a very good ‘technical’ climber.  when things get less vertical and the holds get small, i tend to climb quite poorly.  i started climbing at the red river gorge, in southeastern kentucky.  for those of you that have climbed there, ‘technical’ is not really the name of the game.  techniques such as ‘grip it and rip it’ or ‘yank and yard’ are much more suitable.  so when more than that is required, things get difficult for me.  but i know this about myself.

so, in rifle, where the lines are steep and powerful, i have redpointed 5.13c.  in shelf, however, where the lines are vertical or slabby, and the holds are thin, requiring delicate balance and movement, i have only redpointed 5.12b.  quite a disparity! but i adjust my expectations accordingly.  in rifle, if i don’t on-sight or flash 5.12a, i’m upset.  but when in shelf, i shift my expectations, and am happy just to do 5.12a.  and believe me, it doesn’t happen often! to be such a talented climber as to be good at all styles, i believe, is a bit of a rare thing, especially as the climbing gets more difficult and the grades increase.

“how does this relate to what happens at the gym,” you might ask.  well first and foremost, it is important to remember that grades are very subjective.  there are so many climbers of differing sizes and strengths.  if the routes in the gym were to stay up for a really long time, we would eventually get a true consensus on what the grade actually is.  much like long-standing routes outside, that have become ‘benchmark’ routes of their respective grades.  but, we don’t have that luxury inside.  you, our customers, would get bored with the routes and all the holds would be really greasy.  plus, we (the routesetters) would be out of jobs!

the second thing to take away from this is that with many different setters, we have many different setting styles.  sometimes there are very straight-forward climbs, and sometimes there are more technical and devious climbs.  sometimes you’re making big moves on big holds, other times you might have to trust bad foot smears with small hand holds.  one setter’s style might be typically hard for you, while another setter’s style might just suit you to a ‘t’.  different strokes for different folks.

the third thing to take away from this is that if a route isn’t ‘straight-forward,’ perhaps it can teach you something.  i think this point is extremely important.  this is up for debate, but i believe that by the time you hit 5.12c, perhaps 5.12d, you have seen all the different types of moves you will encounter while climbing.  as the grades get harder, you will see more difficult combinations of these moves, and the holds will most likely get smaller and/or farther apart.  to me, this means that even if you have redpointed up to 5.12a or 5.12b, you can probably still learn a thing or two (or more).

with that in mind, some routes that we set might have movement that is either completely foreign to you or seems to be really difficult for your typical style of climbing.  it doesn’t necessarily mean that the route is harder than the suggested grade.  it could be perfectly reasonable movement for the grade, and this could be an opportunity for you to get introduced to it.  these situations can prove that grading something at or above ones limit is really difficult.  realize that as you get more acquainted with a certain grade (read: climb that grade A LOT), you can more accurately assess the grades around it.  this, of course, takes time.  and if you think about it in simple terms, who is more ‘qualified’ to comment on something graded 5.10d: someone who has climbed over 100 5.10d’s in different areas and gyms *or* someone who has climbed 5 5.10d’s at one area or gym.

so before you mark a certain grade on the customer rating sheets, think about all of the factors touched on above.  doing so can help the grades in the gym be a little bit more consistent.  of course, we (as setters) aren’t perfect.  but we don’t miss and/or sandbag our grades ALL the time…

behind the wrenches, an exclusive behind the scenes look

let me set up a scenario for you: you get out early from work or school on friday, perhaps the weather isn’t looking too great for the weekend, and a quick sesh at the gym seems like the best option.  you’re super psyched because it’s only 1230 and the gym probably just opened.  you pull into the parking lot and see plenty of other cars; maybe it’s already packed in there because everyone else had the same plan as you did.  you walk up to the door and pull but GASP…it’s locked! you cup your hands around your eyes to get a better view, and sure enough, there are people climbing in there.  you pull again, but yup, still locked.  what’s going on?!!?!?!

behind those locked doors are the fearless ROCK’n & JAM’n routesetters, fully immersed in a cave and high volume setting day.  these are the days that we take the extra time to set in the lead cave as well as catch up on some easier graded routes that have been overlooked over the past weeks.  for example, on friday january 6, 2012, there were 5 setters, ng, jg, cc, la, and khn.  between us, 9 routes were set.  now i can’t personally take credit for the volume (neither can corey) as we got the cave routes (more on that later).  but lucas and keith each bucked up and set 2 routes apiece, while nathan was the real champ racking up 3 routes!  he counted up all the holds and found he had bolted 156 holds to the wall.  156!  and a lot of the holds that these guys used had to be washed.  they went up and down their ropes a lot! after a while, even in the most comfortable harness, limbs start to go numb.  plus hauling heavy buckets, filled to the brim with holds, up and down the walls can get a bit tiring, to say the least.

nathan on rope and ladder stripping and re-setting the 5.5, 5.6 and 5.7 on the slab wall

nathan hauling a big feature up the slab wall

gotta make sure you choose good holds. so many options...

5.12+ in the making. just need to come up with a sequence.

then there are the ladders.  they have names at rj1.  our largest ladder is a 35 ft extension ladder named ‘widow maker’.  i can’t say exactly how heavy this beast is, but a typical ladder of this size clocks in around 85 lbs.  and this isn’t a comfortable 85 lbs.  our second largest ladder (and the only other one to earn a name) is a 32 ft extension ladder named ‘bertha’.  she is definitely the little sister of ‘widow maker’, but is a force to be reckoned with all the same.  a typical 32 footer weighs around 70 lbs.  now we’re certainly not the largest guys around, but 4 days a week we’re hauling and moving these babies around.  you get good at finding balance points quickly, otherwise you’re dropping the ladder onto the mats.

so on a day like january 6, corey and i got to use the big ladders, since we were setting in the cave.  i started out with ‘widow’, corey on ‘bertha’.  we got them into the cave and started stripping our routes.  at this point, you might ask yourself: ‘what about the really steep section of the cave?  the wall doesn’t seem vertical enough to get the ladder to prop up against it.’  i was getting to that…you essentially pin the top of the ladder against the roof, and weight it enough to allow it to sink and shift into a stable position.  and sometimes it decides to sink and shift a little when you’re higher up which usually induces a bit of terror and a minor panic attack in me.  other setters reactions may differ.  and it gets really fun when you’re hauling up a heavy hold or a large volume.

corey on 'bertha', in the roof

once on your ladder, you may realize that the section of wall you need to either strip or set on, is too far away from your ‘comfortable’ perch.  so you have to squeeze your upper body through the rungs and lean through to the other side of the ladder.  this to me is absolutely terrifying, but sometimes it’s what the job requires.  january 6 had it’s fair share of these maneuvers.  and we were able to set both of our routes without the use of a rope, which is a rare but exciting feat to accomplish.  of course, it required standing near the very top of a fully extended ‘widow maker’.  but it’s just another day on the job.

me through the rungs near the top of 'widow maker', close to the top of the lead cave

corey on 'widow maker'

i guess that’s it for this episode of behind the wrenches.  hopefully this gives you, our faithful members and guests, a small bit of insight into what goes on during our typical setting sessions.  we certainly have off days, sometimes you just don’t feel like you have good moves.  it happens.  and we do need to hear about it.  many times, though, that’s the only feedback we hear.  keep in mind that some positive feedback from time to time lets us know what kinds of movement and climbing styles you guys enjoy, and also lets us know that all of the effort we put worth week in and week out isn’t all in vain.

3 brand new slab climbs (green, white and orange @ 5.7, 5.6 and 5.5 respectively)

straight up the center, red 5.11 (corey) and white 5.12+ (jamie)

gear review – evolv shaman

This past spring, Evolv released the much-anticipated Shaman, a high-performance, steep bouldering and sport-climbing shoe, designed from scratch by Chris Sharma.  The basics include: three Velcro straps to secure the shoe, a fairly severe down-turned toe, leather upper in the front of the shoe, cotton around the heel, the “knuckle box” above the big toe, and the “love bump” midsole.  Retail price is $145, and they can be ordered/purchased through ROCK’n & JAM’n (see counter staff for more details), from Evolv directly, or from Bent Gate Mountaineering.

First things first, these are not “beginners” shoes.  These are meant for climbers looking for a very high-performance shoe.  That being said, after climbing in these shoes for the past two months, I have to say that they perform brilliantly on the terrain they are geared toward.  The middle Velcro strap helps keep the middle of the shoe and the heel “suctioned” to your foot, making foot placements, heel hooks, and heel scums feel extremely secure.  And with the non-stretching cotton heel, there is no sliding around on the inside, either.  The “knuckle box” gives your big toe extra room, and in conjunction with the “love bump”, allows your toes to curl without sacrificing comfort.  In other words, you don’t have to downsize these shoes to make them perform at the highest of levels.  I personally wear a size 9 street shoe and sized my Shaman’s at an 8½.  I feel like they can “grab” any foothold they need to, and I’m not doubled over in pain at the thought of slipping the shoes on.  The rubber is extremely sticky yet durable, and will give you the necessary confidence even on the most marginal smears.  I would say, pound for pound, these shoes compete with any of the top rated shoes for steep bouldering and sport-climbing.  They have become my shoe of choice for absolutely everything past vertical.  So if you’re drawn to the overhung rock, from 5.9 to 5.14 or v0 to v14, give ‘em a shot; you won’t be disappointed.

(Note: as with any shoe, you should try it on beforehand, if possible.  But if you have had a pair of Evolv shoes before, they should be sized the same as the Optimus Prime or Talon, or ½ a size larger than the Defy or Pontas)

Comparable shoes: La Sportiva Solution, Five Ten Team 5.10

And the Winners Are…

First, a big ‘thank you’ is in order for everyone who made it out to Winter Wonderland despite the frigid temperatures and frosty driving conditions. So, thank you. Second, here are the top three finishers (sometimes referred to as ‘winners’) from each category:


Colin Duffy (2168)

Mikey Lowe (1775)

Aliza Nishke (1754)

Women’s Recreational:

Jenna Park (2384 + Moonboard Climb-off)

Chelsea Battan (2384)

Men’s Recreational:

Emilio Espinoza (1627)

Women’s Intermediate:

Charise Denavit (3561)

Men’s Intermediate:

Walter Wood (4820)

Patrick Radecker (4660)

Daniel Hayes (4562)

Women’s Advanced:

Jacinda Maurer (5180)

Rochelle Rocha (3026)

Men’s Advanced:

Osiris Graves (6779)

Kevin Rust (6611)

Jamison Burt (6591)

Women’s Open:

Mercedes Pollmeier (5412)

Men’s Open:

Seth Lytton (8118 + 33 pullups)

Asher Shay-Nemirow (8118 + 24 pullups)

Jamie Emerson (7826)


Silvia Luebben (4485)

Gary DeGroat (4203)

Hillary Nitshke (2089)

Photos of all the sports action are posted on our Facebook page. Thanks again to everyone who came!

Coming Soon to an RJ Near You

Bouldering League!

Yes, fall Bouldering League is right around the corner. Starting in October, the League will be taking over the boulder at both gyms. Sign up, hang out with friends, meet some great new people, and enjoy the delectible boulder problems prepared fresh each week by our top movement chefs.

Look for more details in the coming weeks, including times, scoring format, and info on the end-of-League party!