Thursday, February 25

Snow in the Desert

Winters can be rough for us rock climber types. Comfortable climbing destinations are few and many miles between, days are short, and delicious celebratory baked goods are plentiful. For many it is a time to switch pursuits, catch up on socializing, or maybe dust off that Nintendo 64 and re-beat GoldenEye and Super Mario Kart. For others the winter is a time to embrace the pursuit of pulling plastic and pump mileage in the gym while meticulously planning for the months ahead.. dreaming of short sleeves and flip flops. Regardless of your wintertime activities and motivation level, the early spring always brings a touch of heartbreak. We fool ourselves into thinking that late February is actually spring, and that April is for sure the summer. Despite how many days we inevitably freeze our asses off, it seems to consistently take only 9 months or so for us to forget such lessons...

cattle standoff
Of course we all thought we had guaranteed sunshine time. I tricked myself into not only packing a tank top, but shorts and flops too. Unfortunately, a titanically sized storm was on our asses the whole way through New Mexico over the last few days, and we learned the hard way that there is indeed a winter even in the desert. When we first arrived at Palomas outside Albuquerque, it took a good 25 min for me to cultivate enough psych to convince the team (Beau Stuart, Andy Mann and Paige Claassen) to post-hole through thigh deep snow to what looked, from afar, like a giant, steep, beautifully streaked limestone cliff- baking in the sun. This approach should have been warning enough, but we carried on (sorry team!), enduring heinous wind and bitter cold beneath a turd of a cliff (again, sorry). Regardless, we made fun out of it, searching for fossils and finding laughter in the absurdity of the conditions.

Things did look up however. My good buddy Leif Gasch hooked up some killer topos and gave the beta spray down on a couple south-east New Mexico gems; Sitting Bull and Last Chance Canyon. Deep in the middle of nowhere, tucked below the erie landscape of Roswell, you'll find a couple killer limestone crags. Sitting Bull is something of a mini-Killer Cave (Sinks Canyon), complete with a wide range of burly sport climbs that ascend buttery smooth pockets and skin-friendly edges. I really enjoyed the classic thuggery in 'Broken Arrows' 12d, as well as the bouldery 'Custer's Last Stand' 13b and 'Kootenai Cruiser' 13d. Our time spent there was rad, albeit not quite the tan-a-thon we all hoped for (read: it was frigid). The hangout at Sitting Bull is hard to beat and definitely hard to leave behind. The surrounding landscape and dripping limestone waterfall is stunning plus the locals were generous and eager to share their little hidden oasis.

myself thugging through 'Kootenai Cruiser' 13d
After another solid, lonesome drive even deeper into the middle of nowhere we found ourselves dropping into the vast, beautiful canyon that is Last Chance. With a shockingly different type of limestone, this area boasts over a hundred established climbs in a canyon over an hour and a half from the nearest gas station- you can't help but feel the power of the brutal New Mexico desert out there.. it takes no prisoners. We found refuge near an old pump house and set up a campsite to remember. The howling wind ripping across our tents over the previous few nights had resulted in little to no sleep, so we were willing to do anything to find shelter.

Beau Stuart- looking prime after a windy bivy

At the tail of the trip we planned to drop off Andy Mann for the Rock Rodeo in Hueco and hopefully even get a couple routes in while we were at it. Unfortunately the freezing theme continued, and we awoke to a brisk 30 degrees and snow in El Paso.. bummed.

Although we all experienced some high gravity and the weather was not ideal, the adventure value of the trip was huge and we were all stoked to see a handful of new crags- it's always rad to get out on the road, regardless of the turn out. Nothing like some camp fires, howling coyotes, random motels, Carlo Rossi and late night buildering to kick start your stoke for springtime on the road. Beau, Paige and I killed the drive home in record time, thanks to the blaring pop music pseudo-karaoke.. our new favorite drive time activity. It's only appropriate that as I'm writing, the weather has gradually turned to crap here in Boulder.. guess it's time to bust out the N64.

At this point, late March is just around the corner and I know a place where (fingers crossed) winter is well over by then. With a couple local jaunts and some hard hours pulling plastic between now and then, I'm excited and ambitious for my first trip to the Virgin River Gorge. My homegirl Lauren Lee has offered to give Paige and I the grand tour. For many years I've had my walls covered with photos from three classic American sport climbing spots- the Red, the VRG and Smith. I had a chance to visit the Red last fall and I'm eagerly awaiting my first visits to the others this spring- assuming the spring does come.

Hope everyone out there is patiently coping with early onset spring fever.. hold tight! It's coming! Plus I know you haven't beat James Bond on '00 agent' yet- sh*ts impossible.

-all photos courtesy of Andy Mann-

Tuesday, February 16


Seeing fellow members of the climbing community out at night can be strikingly familiar to the first time you saw your high school math teacher grocery shopping. 'Whoa, dude, check out Mr. Jones- he's like, buying eggs and bread and sh*t- I guess that means he must eat food.. maybe he is human?!'

In much the same way, seeing all your gym and crag buddies out at night, all fancy, or sleazy, or intoxicated (or all three), can be a bit of a shock- revealing an alternate identity of people we may strictly know as climbers. Until a unifying event or celebration occurs, it's not uncommon to never see such climbers in anything but chalk covered pants, dripping in sweat and looking fully haggard. Contrary to popular belief, climbers do clean up well and even the most burly of hard men and women get their party on when the time is right. So and so might destroy your project in the gym, or maybe they butted in front of you last weekend on that boulder problem outside, but under black-lights and deep house music- everybody is stoked and we are all just dancing monkeys.

Nick Sherman and Andre Di Felice- hard boulders all day, hard boogie all night
The community runs thick around Boulder, and we were out in great numbers last Saturday celebrating the Chinese New Year and Valentines Day. With so many climbers under one roof, it was refreshing to see high heels and leather in place of approach shoes and cotton. I treasure such events because it gives an opportunity to relate to a community on a different level.. plus I'm a closet dance freak. Needless to say, we had a ball and, yes, even the filthiest of us (read: myself) looked FABULOUS.

Paige takes a break from the all-Marmot getup to make this dress look amazing
Speaking of fabulous, I'm proud to announce that my injured ligament is on the mend, and my finger is functioning at at least 85%. I've been training like I mean it recently, eager to whip myself into peak fitness for the budding spring season- lots of rock climbs to climb on. Despite a little tweakage, I've been seeing some real gains recently and I'm increasingly excited to get out and try hard. Take a look at this spunky little video Simon Fryer at the Boulder Rock Club posted about my recent setting / training practices.

nothing against you!! finger healing the hard way- chinese medicine wrap
Paige Claassen, Beau Stuart, Andy Mann and myself are heading south for a little while to catch some rays and sample some New Mexico stone tomorrow. None of us have ever been, and we're hoping to check out a couple of the choice spots. I've heard the state has some real hidden gems and I'm looking to dig 'em up! It will be great to touch some real stone for a week, seeing in that since my return from Asia I've only gotten out twice (...shhhh...). I'll have some top quality images and undoubtably a couple good stories to share upon my return- stay tuned.

Lastly, I'm proud to announce that I'll soon be working in collaboration with where my site will be one of the featured athlete blogs. I'm stoked to hook up with this crew and continue to broadcast consistent, high quality JSTARinORBIT for your at home viewing pleasure!

Thursday, February 4


A routine can either be empowering or debilitating. A little too much routine will eventually bore anyone out of their mind- be it consciously or not. But sometimes a routine can really aid in mental / physical regrouping- which is just what I needed after a couple months solo in Asia. I've been home long enough now that something of a routine has emerged, just in time for me to plan my next escape from it.

I've been training at nearly full-tilt, sweating out the last of that delicious Thai green curry that's been racing through my veins for some time now. Unfortunately I returned home with something more than an unsatisfiable desire for spicy food- an injury.. I'm incredibly lucky to announce that this is my worst ever climbing related injury (actually not being sarcastic- I've been very fortunate to avoid / prevent / quickly treat undoubtedly a lot of potential injury over the years). I'm almost certain at this point, after chatting with numerous doctors and healers, that I've slightly torn / damaged a ligament in my middle finger. Lateral movements are a bit painful as are some handholds, but I can actually still pull down just fine- and I have been, at an exhausting rate.

Paige Claassen is gonna DESTROY 2010
Based on a bunch of suggestions, I've been using a Chinese poultice at night, sometimes icing, taking MSM, massaging with arnica, taping, and singing my finger to sleep with sweet lullabies at night. Something, or everything, or nothing (?) is helping- but I'm slowly feeling improvement. I would guess that adding rest to that list of treatments would work wonders, but I'm just too damn inspired right now to think of non-climbing.. got big plans for this year!!

Among inspiring news, I'm stoked to announce my fresh partnership with Odwalla. Anyone who has tried their line of bars knows they mean business- 11 different flavors, healthy ingredients, delicious. I'm stoked to team up with such an environmentally and socially responsible company who is prime to break into the outdoor industry- keep an eye out!

Friend the Boulder Rock Club on facebook to check out weekly, embarrassing short videos of the nations best route setting crew talking about and revealing beta secrets to our newest creations- kinda funny actually.

rouge puppy stole my socks! wtf!? andy mann catches the ACTION
Lastly.. I'm COMMITTED to enhancing your visual experience on my site- so get ready for JSTARINORBIT version 4.0 featuring way more photographic content!!

Monday, February 1


To round out a week of trade-showin' I checked out the Denver SIA last week to visit the mighty Arcteryx booth, check out our brand new awesome base-layer system and see what this ski industry show was all about. Lured in by thumping bass, screaming and curious smells, I made my way to the snowboard corner of the trade-show on my way out to my car.

In dramatic contrast to what I would ever expect from a trade-show, this corner was rowdy, un-supervised, young and unprofessional. It was a every bit of a party, complete with camp fires, drinks, music, low-hanging skinny jeans and attitude. I couldn't help but laugh and jokingly profess aloud, 'damn dude, screw rock climbing, I need to get into this sport!' Brought up by said experience along with a number of recent stimulating articles and discussions about climbing media and the growth of the sport, I engaged in a monologue rant on the drive home.. below is a rough text version.. enjoy!

Much of the reason why snowboarding has emerged as a powerful industry and seemingly lucrative pursuit is based on it's appeal to spectators and the ability for advertisers and manufacturers to use lifestyle as a selling tool. Good snowboarding is awesome to watch. It's loud, dangerous, thrilling and fast. So much so that people outside of the sport are willing to pay to see it- be it in person or televised. The snowboard lifestyle is (at least portrayed) as loud, lush, hip and sexy. This lifestyle is a powerful marketing tool to masses of youth, evident by the swarms of high-school / college age kids who hurriedly buy that new Billabong checker pattern hoodie or [insert any number of fresh, popular board brand apparel here]. What teenager wouldn't want to live the life of Shaun White? The dude crashes Lambo's and makes 10 Million a year!! and while he might be the most successful of the new wave snowboarder entrepreneurs, even the lifestyle of those working the lift all season for a pass and a measly wage in order to get fresh tracks 4 days a week is made marketable- why? cause that kind of live-your-dream drive is inspirational.. a kind of drive many rock climbers can relate to.

The size and power of the snowboard industry is not based on the accessibility of the sport (how many people can really afford to snowboard or live anywhere near a ski area).. I believe the power of the snowboard industry is heavily based on the ability to sell the pursuit (in one form or another) to those completely outside of the sport.. be it spectators (and thus advertisers) to an event, or apparel / lifestyle to a entire generation.

Despite the efforts of many, rock climbing has not yet emerged into mainstream limelight with any where near the same velocity as snowboarding. I personally think this is in large part due to the difficulties making rock climbing entertaining for non-climbers (creating large scale spectator events) and the lack of appealing and lifestyle oriented marketing (not such a bad thing really). The comp / indoor scene has come a long way.. and I think most would agree that indoor climbing and indoor competition is where the most growth potential for rock climbing exists (as experienced in Europe). Making climbing appeal to a broader audience is the key to growth in this area- the accessibility of indoor climbing has increased vastly over the last five years domestically and the spectator value of competition is beginning to accelerate with such events as the Teva Games, Gravity Brawl, high ball comps, etc. Competition organizers and route setters (including myself) are drawing inspiration from high profile events like the Winter X Games, making comps and routes exciting and finding [SAFE! please] ways to challenge athletes in new ways that also entertain and display obvious difficulty that non-climbers can relate to or simply understand.

Next is media.. When you open a snowboard magazine, it POPS.. explosive aesthetics have become so key to print and video media that even mainstream advertisers have realized the importance of making their adds fresh. The competition for visually exciting space is so intense that the act of an unprepared individual peering into a snowboard magazine may induce a seizure- the result, is, in my opinion, a visually striking book, and one that has lead advertisers to competitively invest in marketing to the point that A) athletes have greater support B) magazines have more money for photographs (photographers) and writers and C) despite the high shear volume of ad space, most advertisements are as cool to look at as the articles themselves, and often even feature the best photographs in the book. Advertisers have been driven to invest more creativity, money and effort in creating cool ads. I think this is great- given how much of climbing print media is add space why not make them interesting and inspiring? (and if you value reading great climbing news and articles and seeing amazing, inspiring photography please don't complain- because it's the ads, not the subscriber dollars that allow these magazines to even exist).

Obviously, snowboarding and rock climbing are very different pursuits that have aged differently from respectively different origins. Let me be clear that I'm not necessarily an advocate for the rapid, widespread growth of rock climbing. I don't really want to see a Chris Sharma XBOX game or a Target line of Lynn Hill clothing. I do, however, want to be aware of what it might take for climbing to grow and how that might affect our experience of the pursuit, the life and monetary success of athletes and the impact of a larger industry on climbing access and lifestyle. Mostly, I simply find such comparisons interesting... and I do enjoy flipping through Transworld every time I walk the magazine isle- I would love to see print media and advertisers take inspiration from the snowboard industry.. everyone likes a more visually pleasing magazine- the reader, the advertisers, the athletes, the photographers, etc...

I hope my rant encourages these questions:
How would the growth of climbing effect our sport? In what ways would more climbers (thus more money) or more spectators (also more money) change the industry, compromise or encourage indoor/outdoor access? How can media be improved and made even more inspirational? How do youngsters manage to walk with such skinny, low-riding jeans?

So in celebration of the such a blog post, I've made my site 'POP' a little more with fresh graphics and a wicked photo compliments of Andy Mann- Paige Claassen destroys the 1st and 2nd pitch of Eldo's testpiece 'Genesis' 12d... second try.

And one more thing.. on the topic of media, inspiration and sharing one's experience.. a generous grant has been created on the behalf of climbing legends Micah Dash and Johnny Copp- have a look here and get stoked!