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Prelude (pre-2008): My Discovery of the World of Climbing


My first experiences with the sport of rock climbing occurred during my childhood. When I was about 12 or 13 I attended the birthday party of my friend Matt Gleiner, which he held at the Rock-Ventures climbing gym in Rochester, NY. This gym still exists today and features 45-60 foot walls and over 10,000 sq ft of climbing area. At the time it was very intimidating to me, and I remember having difficulty finishing any of the routes. My friend who I climbed with, David Giuliano, had almost no issues with the heights, and climbed much harder than me. Later in my youth I remember revisiting Rock Ventures on a few occasions with David. I made some progress but still had issues with the heights. David continued crushing as before. We attempted routes with overhangs and other features, but if I remember right, we never got proper climbing shoes. Other than my frequent tree-climbing and impromptu boulder scrambling on family camping trips, this would be the extent of my climbing experience while I lived in Rochester.

Rocky Top Climbing Gym

During my third year of college I finally had my own car, and thus the ability to get away from Charlottesville when desirable. When the weather was nice we started taking short trips out to the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge Mountains, especially to a spot called Old Rag:

As you can see, there is lots of exposed rock here, and in many places you are required to scramble up short walls and ledges. These experiences reminded me of my enjoyment climbing things as a kid, and one day in late 2003, John Wunderlin, John Bates and I decided to head over to a local Charlottesville climbing gym called Rocky Top which also still exists today. The owner, Bill, was one of the coolest and happiest older folks I'd ever met, and his enthusiasm for climbing got us pumped up and psyched for every visit. We got some climbing shoes and harnesses and immediately we were hooked. Here's a picture of John and I on a couple of the routes there:


The route that I am climbing, called Mantle Madness, was my first-ever 5.10, and represented a major leap for me in my early climbing experiences. After that route, I was climbing 5.10's in earnest, and I remember my best route was a slopey 5.10c that I managed to red-point after working it for a few weeks. After sending the 5.10c I only climbed at Rocky Top for another month or so, and was focusing all my efforts on a pink 5.11- that I never ended up sending. In addition to the climbing at Rocky Top, John Bates and I started going outdoors a bit when the weather got better. Oddly, we didn't head to any local crags, but instead spent our time traversing the rocky outside of UVA's Cabell Hall in the courtyard. This may sound crappy, but it was actually pretty perfect rock for the purpose, and we marked out some 100+ foot traverse routes. At one point, a girl yelled at us from a third-storey window: "What are you DOING? You're rock climbing, for NOTHING!" That is verbatim what she said, and John and I had a good laugh on her account. On one occassion I did a bit of impromptu climbing at Old Rag, and this could be considered my first attempt at semi-real outdoor climbing:

My experiences in College, while somewhat laughable, still imbued me with a strong love for climbing. I knew immediately that climbing would be a life-long passion of mine, and although I wasn't able to capitalize on this enthusiasm much in the next few years, it has stuck with me all along.

Devil's Lake

While living in Madison I only had a few chances to climb. This was a combination of not having any obvious climbing partners and the generally bad weather. Oddly, it wasn't a consequence of there not being a place to go, since one of the Midwest's best climbing destinations, Devil's Lake, is only about an hour from Madison. Here's a picture of one of the bluffs there:

I organized a couple of climbing trips with my coworker Aimey Grimmelman to attempt to top-rope some of the routes there. I wasn't much of a gear junky at the time, and looking back, this was pretty foolish to do without cams, since all I could do was sling trees and boulders. Nonetheless, we managed to setup a few lines and get some climbs in. Here's a picture of me on one of them:

And Aimee on another:

I remember the rock at Devil's Lake being extremely hard. A rare form of purple quartzite, it got slippery really easily and thus it was important to climb in cooler conditions and keep yourself from sweating. The only other climbing that I did while in Wisconsin involved a couple trips to the East-side climbing gym, Boulders. Because the gym wasn't located near my residence, and I didn't have a consistent partner, I neglected to get a membership, although I was considering it. It was a pretty nice gym, though, and I would have liked to go more often.

Early Joshua Tree Experiences

After I left Madison I climbed a few times at Rock Ventures in Rochester before my move to Southern California. Upon arriving in Southern California, I visited Joshua Tree National Park within the first week and immediately recognized the potential for climbing. At the time it was early 2007 and I was still on crutches from my motorcycle accident, but I was inspired by the many people climbing the beautiful quartz monzonite crags all around me. As I continued to recover, I purchased a few guidebooks and quickdraws and started scoping out some of the formations. My first attempt at climbing in Joshua Tree was with Colin and Alison Gantenbein (a friend we'd just met as part of a larger camping group) in February of 2008, just after we started climbing at the Arc. We decided to setup a top-rope on top of Cyclops Rock, and thought we were above a moderate route. I decided to lower Colin off the top so he could scope it out. Here's us getting ready:

And here's a picture of Colin on his way down:

As you can see, the rope was running over the rock's edge at this point. I knew this wasn't good, so I had Colin rest on a ledge while I adjusted the anchor so that it was over the edge. It was a pretty amateur operation for sure. The route we ended up top-roping turned out to be a 5.10d, to our dismay. Both Colin and Alison had trouble getting very far off the ground, and I could only make it about half-way. Here's a picture of Alison on her attempt:

Given that it was an overhanging crack, and none of use knew how to perform a hand ham, it was pretty hopeless. The next time that I attempted to climb in Joshua Tree was with Ivan during that summer. We brought some quickdraws, thinking that we would then be able to climb a bolted route, not realizing that even most bolted routes in Joshua Tree are still trad lines without bolted anchors. Anyway, this attempt was ill fated from the start, as before Ivan had been climbing for a half-hour, his dad reported that the keys to both our modes of transportation were locked in the trunk of the rental Porsche. This ended the climbing trip early, and the next time I would return would be with more gear, more knowledge and a smarter approach, as documented in the next section!

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