Dress for the Send you Want, not the Send you Have

The past few years I started wearing a red shirt for home crags and a green shirt for away crags. I always wear my Prana Zion climbing pants. God. What a shameless plug. This is why they sponsor athletes so dorks like me can drool over their shit, namedrop it, and not get a dime. Whatever. No one reads this blog anyway so joke’s on you, Prana!

Home crags consist of all my favorite high desert haunts, which is where I spend the vast majority of my time so I’m almost always in the same faded, nasty, sweat-stained red tee. It’s so dark under the armpits that you could develop film under them if I raise my arms. Actually, I’ve got two red shirts but both are v-necks and are basically in the same condition so it feels like the same shirt. 

I’ve also got two green shirts to choose from and both are pretty gnarly, but they’re at least noticeably different from each other. One is a plain, regular-necked American Apparel shirt, in the most generic shade of green possible. I don’t even know why I own it. The other is a green shirt from Figueroa Brewing with the label for their Lizard’s Mouth beer on the back. I wear it every time I go to the Lizard’s Mouth bouldering area. I’m like the guy who wears the band’s t-shirt to their concert. 

Guess where I am?

Bear with me. I understand that talking about old clothing I still wear climbing like I’m broke, which I’m not, or like I live in a van, which I don’t, or like I have no style, which is probably true, is a boring way to start. But clothes make the climber to a certain degree, at least in our own minds. Why do you think so many dudes wear beanies with their shirts off when they boulder? There’s even a dude at my gym who cut massive holes in a t-shirt he wears all the time plus a beanie. It’s his thing. I actually like it more than the been-there-done-that shirtless beanie bros. So cheers to that stoic sonofabitch. Never seen him smile.

Point being is I’m not alone in my repetition of climbing clothes. Maybe my closet is even simpler and more repetitive than others when it comes to their big day out every week, but I don’t think the spirit of my approach is all that unique. Lots of people have lucky clothes they revere like talismans of climbing power, as though Chris Sharma wakes from his bong-ripped stupor up in the clouds to look down upon you and smile, blessing you with the send that day because wearing that beanie yet again means you’re worth it. Psah!

What if I were to tell you, however, that that the world of lucky climbing clothes extends beyond your own person? Get ready for some Inception-level shit. 

Wes’ son Mojave has a shirt with a preying mantis on it. It’s pretty ugly and somewhat horrific looking in a way, but also kind of cool. The mantis has these unnecessary bumps all over its body, bulging claws, and this wild glean in its glaring, yellow eyes. It looks like it could kick your ass. 

We went to Fairview one day and he was wearing this thing and I thought, “Wow that’s an ugly shirt, but also kind of cool. That’s a mean looking bug.” Later that day I sent Palm Nailer, a techy 12a second-go after damn near onsighting it. 

I climbed a couple times after that weekend without Mojave present and didn’t do so hot. Had a real shit day at New Jack and then had a really fun day with Wes but not exactly a barnburner as far as my expected abilities go. I got an 11a called Hangnail second-go after bailing off another 11a called Solar Warrior Dynasty. I usually expect to onsight 11a’s at my local crags but that day I was feeling subpar. 

So then next time out Mojave is back and he’s in that damn shirt again. I was having another rough start but then I looked into those evil yellow eyes (on the shirt not the boy, he’s a sweetheart) and thought to myself, “Don’t waste the power of the shirt.”

I hucked onto Toecutter, a hard 12a and fell twice. I did it again and fell twice that time too. It’s short but powerful and very beta-dependent. It’s not a route I was ever going to onsight so just pushing myself enough to get on it in the first place and do that well was meaningful. It was clear to me that Mojave’s shirt gave me the conviction I needed to dig in and try hard. It was then that I entered a new realm of climbing superstition.

The next weekend I got on Toecutter feeling confident for the send even though Mojave and the shirt weren’t with us. I was close, damn close, passing that tricky second clip only to fall post-crux on two separate attempts. I went up a third time and was so gassed I finished but it wasn’t pretty. Time to go home.

Third session on Toecutter Mojave was there wearing the shirt and I sent. 

Toe-hooking Toecutter for its nasty second clip

It’s actually a great route and I’ll spend more time talking about it and others at Fairview another time but that’s not what this post is about. It’s about the fact that the very next weekend I tried Alien Highway, another Fairview 12a, with just Danelze and I struggled mightily. I got on it the weekend after that when Mojave was there wearing his shirt and I surprised myself by redpointing it way sooner than I expected (February 2021).

That was the last time I climbed with Mojave around. I haven’t sent a 12 since as of writing this (April 2021). I am not so naive to think that I won’t send a 12 without Mojave and his magical shirt, and I also don’t know if the shirt’s power is contained strictly in Fairview or if extends to other areas. Those abilities have not yet been tested. What I do know is that you can take your lucky beanie and shove it straight up your ass because there is nothing more powerful than someone else’s lucky clothes. My climbing uniform is the same on the best days and the worst. But Mojave’s preying mantis shirt has been there for all of my best days this season in Fairview. 

The story of this shirt is not yet concluded, and I do not know where its path will ultimately lead. Legend has it (some dude I don’t know on Instagram) that Fairview has a 13, though the guidebook calls it a project. I’m not going to get ahead of myself, and children don’t stay the same size forever. There will be a time when the shirt is retired. Hopefully it is passed down to his younger sisters so that they can keep the power going for a while. No matter, this tale is still being written, and I know that next time I’m out and Mojave and the shirt are back again, it’s going to be a good day.

Squirm, eh?

Squirm. The direct version that goes at v5. Now that’s a fun problem!

One of my favorites in Jtree, located in the Stonehenge formation outside Cap Rock, this sloper beauty encapsulates all that I love about Joshua Tree bouldering. Powerful opening moves off a prominent feature, smeary feet, thuggy bumping on sloped monzonite, capped off by a western roll mantel made possible by a faint sloper edge right where you want it. I’ll take all of that you got.

It took me my second session to send. Danelze and I were with Joe, Betsy, and Chelsea plus Chelsea’s friends from Washington state, Jeff and Alexa. I hadn’t met Jeff and Alexa before but they really fun. They figured prominently into the day when Alexa lost the car keys out in the desert. Ha! 

We opened the day warming up at the Roadside Rocks, which hosts my very favorite warmup slab in the park. Patina Slab 5.9. Name says it all. It’s so featured for that less-than-vertical angle you could probably send it first go after staying up all night drinking beer, eating Taco Bell, and crying about your ex. It’s one of the easiest problems I know of that’s less than v0. It may be slab, but even the easy slabs are marked by faint impressions that make ascension possible, and pack a far more cryptic read than this little number provides. Funny how that works.

Patina Slab gets no stars in the Miramontes GB while the adjacent route, Chunkers at 5.8, get’s two. Chunkers is thuggy for the grade as you layback and pull up on, yes, chunky features along an arete. It’s harder from a purely muscular standpoint, and I think less fun. How Patina Slab gets zero stars is beyond me, but that’s why you can’t take that stuff too seriously. You never know what you might like despite what the dominating culture will tell you. There are people who don’t listen to Nickleback ironically, after all. 

Like most Americans, I don’t listen to Nickleback at all, though I have been mistaken to be Canadian on more than one occasion. One of these was at a Kings game when the Ottawa Senators were in town. It was the final year of the current contracts for both teams’ number one defensemen, Drew Doughty and Erik Karlsson respectively, both widely regarded at that time as the two best defensemen in the league.

After the game I was talking to an Ottawa fan in line at the bathroom in a conversation that extended from the urinal to the escalator. Those piss talks with strangers surprise you sometimes. Not that I usually partake, but Kings won and I was feeling good. 

He talked to me about how he had watched Karlsson years ago at the World Junior Championship (WJC) and knew he’d be special. I had never watched the WJC before, which surprised him, and he told me it was a must-watch that started every year on Boxing Day. He then asked me, “You’re Canadian, aren’t you?”

Maybe he assumed anyone who was a Kings fan was still Canadian, because who watches hockey in southern California? Many people actually. It’s not as fringe as it’s believed, though at this point hockey is probably less popular than rock climbing. God I wish the opposite were true. 

Another time some guy at Mountain High thought I was Canadian. Apparently something in my voice or pronunciation had him certain that I was, despite me telling him that I was born in California, and had spent my whole life here. This was at the beautiful Foggy Goggle bar, where Danelze and I were taking a break from skiing and he and his girlfriend were likewise taking a break from snowboarding. That’s already a troubling foundation, we don’t exactly love each other, skiers and snowboarders, but this guy’s girlfriend was really taking to Danelze. She was a true sweetheart, and called men simple and predictable. Wait…

My favorite bar, Mountain High’s The Foggy Goggle

Anyway, her boyfriend was visibly drunk and so I offered to buy him a Labatt Blue. This set him off and he slurred, “Labatt Blue? I knew you were a fucking Canuck!

I told him I was just joking but he didn’t believe me. His girlfriend decided to take a bathroom break with Danelze and thought that he and I were cute together and could bond for a few minutes while they were away. He didn’t say a word and was a bit drunkenly angry, refusing even to look at me. When the girls got back his girlfriend asked if we bonded. He either mumbled or said nothing at all, I can’t remember. I was too busy laughing to myself.

Speaking of Canadians, our friend Joe seems a little Canadian when I think about it. He’s from Oklahoma and is a well-mannered man with a subtle twang in his voice. He and Betsy are a lot of fun. She’s from Maine and not super into meat, but Joe is. He hunts and skins that shit himself. I think if he were up there with me at the Foggy Goggle that drunk snowboarder might have tried to take a bottle to our heads. 

Joe doesn’t climb often but when he does he’ll knock out a JTree v1 or something off the couch. Just like how he doesn’t ski much but when he does he’ll knock out a black diamond off the couch. I like it when Joe comes along with us places.

He and Danelze gave me a spot on Squirm when I sent. It’s a two-padder since there’s a pronounced rock about two feet tall at the base. I dropped off a few times to land on the padded rock, so it’s not much of a concern. It has a rounded flat top and a pad folds over it neatly. As far as rocks at the base of problems go, I’d define this one as polite.

Joe with the spot early in the squirm

As I said earlier, Squirm embodies so much of of what I love about Jtree boulders. It’s not like it’s crazy hard or anything, but it has that air of the improbable about it at first glance at its big, bald finish. The introductory sequence has a different character as you start out in a kind of alcove. You get this monster rail feature on the right to match on and lean off, sticking your left foot out against the other side of the scooped face. Your right foot smears delicately as you bump up higher on the opening rail. You then take the right foot and swing it over a bit into the center of the concave so that you can push up and gain a left sloper at the lowest edge of the bald top, and then a higher right sloper after that. This is the set-up. The crux comes next.

Setting up for the final crux foot placement

It’s easy enough to replicate this maneuver once you get it down, the harder part now is taking that right foot and more or less dragging it up the face of the rock until you can awkwardly plant it somewhere on that opening rail. I ended up scumming it up and pressing down with my heel angled to the sky when I stuck it, at which point there was no turning back because that’s all I needed to send. I instinctively shot my right hand up and latched a sloper edge high on the boulder’s top, which gave me enough purchase to bear down and pull my left heel up high so I could roll over and mantel. So sweet.

Getting ready to send

I mentioned a western roll before, which this problem lends itself to pretty readily. I actually did it more gracefully than that, managed some air between my body and the rock, but the rolling motion was all there and as far I’m concerned you’d be forgiven for rubbing your stomach on the top if that’s what happens. It’s just so satisfying pulling a move like that which could never be replicated on plastic and puts you face-to-face with the strangeness of slopers in all their wild beauty.

My joy at having just climbed what I still maintain as among my very favorites in the park was momentarily stalled due to a new and urgent mission. While I was working Squirm, Chelsea and Alexa took a walk back to the car. When they returned, we were all basically done, and then checking her pockets and backpack, Alexa realized she had lost the car keys. So now we were all part of a search party.

We scoured the ground heading back to her and Jeff’s Subaru, which had lost the passenger side window on the drive down from Washington and was replaced by a plastic bag (talk about bad luck), but the keys were nowhere to be found. We then retraced her and Chelsea’s steps around Cap Rock and back out to Stonehenge a few times. Around the third time back out there I found her keys sitting in the shade of a little bush, and the relief she and Jeff felt was felt by us all. It may be a National Park, and they may have been around friends, but two states down with missing car keys in a place without cell reception was palpably unsettling. Finding those keys was like sending Squirm all over again, only better. 

We went to the Joshua Tree Saloon afterwards and got to know each other more. Alexa said that Bud Light tastes like watermelon. Oh my. She’s right. I swear. Open your heart and try it and tell me you don’t pick up on those watermelon notes on the finish. For me, Bud Light will never be the same. 

Chelsea and Jeff and Alexa were camping in the park that night and climbing routes the next day. Danelze and I were right on the edge of calling in sick that next day since it was a Monday, but declined. It was the last and only time I saw those two and a reminder that sometimes taking the sick day is worth it. I have no idea what I did that day at work. Though I know when I left that job I had around 200 hours of sick leave in my balance. 

Squirm. Lost keys. Bud Light tasting like watermelon. That’s what I remember. And when I finally try out a Labatt Blue, I’m sure I’ll savor that memory, too. Maybe it tastes like maple syrup or some shit. 

Funny Names, Exploding Holds, and an Honest Love for Choss

For not living in the desert I regard myself as a desert rat as far as climbing goes. Choss doesn’t bother me, it’s what I know. I’ve fallen a number of times climbing routes in Apple Valley and New Jack City with a rock in hand, as it just goes “boom!” right in my mitts. I can’t even feel guilty about broken holds like I cranked too hard or something, or didn’t knock on the rock enough to determine how solid it was. Sometimes this stuff just blows out there. Boom! Look out below.

I’ve kicked off all kinds of kitty litter scooting up slabby faces, and have freed more than a few pebbles of metamorphic rock from very pedestrian foot placements. It all adds to the flavor of the climbing in the high desert of southern California. It’s a fuck-you to the climbing world, to the all-too-holy ideal of perfect, bulletproof granite. I climb where you might fall even when your beta is perfect because the rock you’re climbing on is helplessly insecure, and unwilling to say a word about it until it snaps. Though honestly, one look at some of these routes should be warning enough.

In one of these crumbly paradises, in the Horseman’s Center area in Apple Valley, is a little hallway of fun shorties called the Black Corridor. It has about a dozen sport routes from 5.7-12a. For my take, it has a couple of real fun 11’s, a good 10a, and a beautiful 5.8. The 12a is…well, let’s just say it aint named Grain Surgeon for nothin.’

Now the funny thing about Grain Surgeon is that the beginning of the route is totally bomber. Seriously, it’s like goddamn steel. It’s 20-25 feet of slashes that feel good on your fingerpads. They’re a little thin like you want them to be but not overly hard. The first bolt is a little higher than it is on surrounding routes, and feels about .10c getting there, but the climbing has smooth, foot-rocking flow.

The top of the route, about another 20 feet, is another story. What the hell happened? Suddenly you’re on the worst kind of Joshua Tree slab. 3 bolts worth and each move an insecure squirm fest. You’re climbing an arete mostly. You enter the slab on a face and quickly transition left a little at the bolt. There are some seams out right that you can use for hand and foot holds, but these things give true meaning to the common phrase “needs to clean up with traffic.” Except that will never happen. Not many people climb these routes to begin with and of those that do, few at all get on Grain Surgeon. This thing is going to be a lifer for crumbly choss and slipping rubber. Maybe that entices you or maybe it doesn’t. But if you’re in the area, now you know.

I’ve only done Grain Surgeon once. It was a little touch-and-go up there, what with the grain and all. I remember clinging to the arete. Danelze said I looked fine and my feet weren’t flailing or anything, which is funny, because I remember feeling like Fred Flintstone when he drives a car. The second to last bolt is oddly placed, a little too far right, and I crossed over my chest with my left hand to clip it. Whatever my right hand was on, I wasn’t ready to let go yet. More of the same yabba-dabba-doo smearing followed up to the last bolt as I began to exit the arete again and join the face towards the anchors. There’s a ledge at the top you access for the chains, which I mantled up sloppily, get-out-of-the-pool style, feeling the tug of gravity and it’s hot breath laughing in my ear. I had the last laugh though. The flash was mine, my first at the grade. 

And I say flash, for the record, because earlier I had scoped out the top section of Grain Surgeon pretty intently as I slowly lowered down off an adjacent route. I got an eyefull of those seams and had an idea then and there how I might need to tackle them. You can’t call it an onsight when you descend at a glacial pace so you can stare at the route to your side, eeking out whatever visual beta you can. As I said, ethics matter, even if no one else is holding your feet to the fire. Because if you’re not honest with yourself, are you really honest at all?

No. The answer is no, you fucking asshole. Unless of course you’re actually honest, which means you’re a good person. 

Along these same lines of thought, I was excited but found that second-to-last bolt a little unnerving. A pure ethicist, or as pure as I can be in the nearly lawless world of sport climbing, I had to wonder if I broke one of the only rules by deviating from the route. I followed the natural line, but I wondered, was it somehow even more diabolical and required more movement, however cryptic, on the face? Was the arete on? 

I didn’t worry much, because it seemed pretty undoable any other way. I emailed Jim, who bolted it, to confirm. I described what I did and he said in an email, “Yep. You did it right. Good job.”

Nothing like some true validation a few days later. I saw Jim on another trip to the Corridor with Danelze, Wes, Emily, and Adan. The guy is a crack-up. He was out riding his bike and saw some activity at the Corridor so he decided to drop by and see how it was going. Jim is psyche on psyche on psyche, and the best kind of it. A heart with arms open wide, he just loves to hear people talk about climbing so he can go ahead and launch off with minute details of routes right in front of your face as well as at crags you’ve never even heard of, tucked away off the beaten path of the high desert, unknown on Mountain Project and to the community at large. Jim will tell you just what’s out there and how much you’d like it. Love him.

Face on the right is Grain Surgeon; Adan climbing on an adjacent route

I thanked him in person for getting back to my email, and he laughed and nodded his head with enthusiasm. Regarding the odd bolt, he said, “Yeah, sometimes we get a little eager!” The enthusiasm for a new route rushed the process, caused the bolt to go a touch farther right than it should have. So it’s not a perfect job, but it’s a damn good one. A fine human labor that gifted me the high of a new watermark achieved. For that my heart is grateful.

Now as far as grades are concerned, it goes without saying that different areas have different thresholds. Grain Surgeon was hard, but I’d argue not as hard as the average 12a at New Jack, or maybe any of the 12a’s I’ve done there.  But whatever. You can’t get too bogged down in that stuff unless the route was totally soft or something, which it assuredly wasn’t.

Besides, the extra-heavy choss factor on Grain Surgeon gave it its own unique edge. Navigating that messy-ass rock first-go is something I’ll always treasure. I hadn’t kicked off that much gravel since I downclimbed Pigfucker.

Oh boy. Pigfucker. Nothing better than the description in the Miramontes Jtree guidebook: “A decade of ascents and it’s still raining grain off of it!” Known as the worst problem in Josh, and centrally located next to Yabo Roof in the JBMFP area, Pigfucker is easily accessed and given its infamy for awfulness, it’s drawn quite a crowd over the years. The fact that it hasn’t cleaned up at all makes it some kind of a miracle rock, its cup overfloweth with bad shit. 

I’ve never sent Pigfucker, at least off the ground. For some reason, not knowing the rock super well, I downclimbed it in 2015 to get off the top after I sent Yardarm, one of Jtree’s better v1’s. Yard arm is a big, dynamic movement off a low crack/seam thing to flat sloper top out. There’s an undercling you can bump to as an intermediate for the static send, also an option, but less fun. Still more cool though. Dynos just aren’t cool. Sorry.

Anyway, here I was, dropping off the lip to that “gut-busting” bulge described in the book, swinging my feet down to pure choss below. I’m kicking off, and pulling off, so much rock that it’s in my hair, it’s in my friends’ hair, and it’s covering the pads like confetti. I keep moving down, pulling half the climb off with me in the process, though when I finally got to the ground it miraculously still stood, as though nothing had happened. I don’t know how that thing does it.

My friends joked I should tick it because isn’t downclimbing harder than going up? I don’t know, some stupid day out there I tried to get on it again but that gut-busting bulge feels pretty different pulling onto it as opposed to dropping to it. I declined to keep going because I wasn’t hungry but I was getting a mouthful of kibble.

Off the Grid is a great brewery for a send beer in Apple Valley

So Grain Surgeon reminded me quite a bit of Pigfucker, which is probably not a great endorsement. I’d give it a star for the bottom part, but that’s about it. I actually like the movement up top, because I like just about everything that I climb, but I’ve never recommended the route per se. Don’t get me wrong, I still celebrated the flash with Danelze and Chelsea afterwards at Off the Grid Brewing, enjoying a nice beer in their garage-like setting, watching the lawn signs whip and ripple in the warm, windy desert day. 

Thankfully this wasn’t my first 12a route I got clean, that honor belonged to a route I dare call better, in New Jack. Cromag. I’ll tell that story another day. Though come to think of it, I pulled a rock right off on that one, leading to a fall before my redpoint go. It was about as big as my palm, hitting Danelze in the shoulder. Thankfully she had a helmet on. Man, I’m telling you, if you want to take a piece of the climb with you when you go home, hit up the High Desert. Otherwise I’ll do my best to be the traffic that cleans these babies up, though don’t expect it to make much of a difference. 

Weekend Warrior

I’ve been climbing since late 2007, when I was instantly hooked after going to a climbing gym on a date. It took me until 2009 to actually climb outside, and I only reached that obsessive level of being an every-weekend climber in 2015, not so strangely when I also started working in an office full-time. I guess something about circling back as I break down silos as part of my professional development moved the needle for me regarding my attraction to getting out on real rock more consistently. I love climbing, but as the years go on, I realize just how much I need it.

This is a blog about what climbing means to me and lines I personally find notable and memorable. As a published author and also someone who gets paid in part to write, this is more or less a journal about my favorite hobby. Some posts may be much longer than a typical blog post, weighing in at 2,000 words+, hence why it’s described here as “maximalist.” I will also mention the names of my friends and climbing partners without any introduction or background about them. But for the record, when you see the name Danelze that’s my girlfriend and love of my life. 

I also am interested in the ethics of climbing as a sport and as a game, such as the value of honesty and not ticking problems you dab on or lines you off-route. I also aim to delve into the value of grades, our personal conduct amongst each other as climbers, and the responsibility we bear in an ever-emerging sport. And last but not least, I’ll take great joy in trashing boulder bros. Though it’s not out of a mean place, I swear. It’s just coming from a person who doesn’t think doing bathangs for the gram make you cool, especially if it’s so you can muscle your way into some kind of sponsorship. Oh, and keep your music down, you rascals!

As for my own climbing, here’s some background for context. I boulder and sport climb, mostly in the High Desert region of southern California. This includes Joshua Tree National Park, a couple crags in Apple Valley, and a chossy beauty known as New Jack City in Lucerne Valley. I climb elsewhere too, but many posts will feature climbs from the aforementioned places.

Me in Joshua Tree

I prefer volume and new sends over projects, and as such my high-points grade-wise outside are decent in themselves but low considering how long I’ve been at this sport. I’ve bouldered up to v6 or v7, and red-pointed up to 12b. I’ve lead one trad route in my entire life and followed on one multi-pitch. You won’t find tales of major epics anywhere on this blog, but you will find some expansive takes on popular and obscure lines both, including the finer points of climbing on choss.

For anyone interested in reading this stuff, you might just come across some worker bee’s take on that weird little V2 you did in Jtree that no one posted to MP yet, or that funky bolt line next to a graffiti mushroom. Happy to reply to any comments if any come up.