The RV Project

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Archive for the month “November, 2012”

A Review of Liquid Grip, The New Liquid Chalk

Like every climber ever to grace this earth, I suffer from non-optimal skin. It sweats too much, it’s too thin, it’s cracked, it’s split, it just hurts. I’ve tried damn near every chalk there is. So far, the best I’ve been able to figure is Antihydral about once a week and plain old block chalk before every go.

Recently I was reading Dave Macleod’s Online Climbing Coach blog and saw a review for Liquid Grip. I’ve tried Liquid Chalk and I like it, but it requires reapplication and is otherwise a pain in the butt for me. Liquid Grip is supposed to be an “apply and forget” sort of product, which would solve my main complaint with liquid chalk, so I figured it was worth a try.

The company gives the somewhat dubious claim that the product adheres to the amino acids in your skin and will not transfer to other surfaces. Of course I perked up when Dave gave it a positive review, but I grimaced when I read that “there is a small amount of Rosin (less than 5%) in the product and they reassure that there is no transference to surfaces although didn’t say how this was tested.”

I sent away to Liquid Grip for a few samples. On one hand, LG could very well be a manna for los manos. On the other, I’m very concerned about rosin being used on rock, because over time it forms a slick coating to the rock and destroys the friction of the original surface. I set out to test the no transference claim myself, and see if it was safe for use on real rock.


I was nervous to directly test the product on popular boulder problems in case there was some transference. Instead, I decided to do a more traditional experiment, with a control and a variable.

I chose a chunk of solid sandstone in our campground and subjected two different parts of it to a series of simulated grabs. I applied some Liquid Grip to my left hand and washed my right hand clean. The right hand was the “control” in this case, as I would use only block chalk as if I were really climbing. The lip of the boulder was slopey and uniform in texture, and I crouched down and slapped each of the “holds” 50 times.

During the treatments, I reapplied Liquid Grip once to my left hand, and I chalked up my right hand several times (again, as if I were normally climbing). According to Liquid Grip, only one application would be enough for 90 minutes, since there is no transference. I felt that about 25 attempts at sticking one crux hold is a decent approximation of one session. This experiment, then, represents roughly two individual sessions on a hard move to a sloper.

After the simulated grabs, I used a Moon horsehair brush rather vigorously on the two “holds” to brush off the excess. The question, after all, is how persistent the residue is. Chalk clogs holds too, but is easily removed with a brush.


Upon applying Liquid Grip, you’ll notice that it smells nice (a bonus), and takes a bit longer to dry than Metolius Liquid Chalk. Unlike Liquid Chalk, Liquid Grip doesn’t result in a cloud of dust if you clap your hands. In other words, the binding/no-transference claim seems to stand up.

Liquid Grip also felt smoother, like it wouldn’t overly dry my hands. I washed my hands after the experiment so I can’t say what long term use would do to your skin.

During the grabbing, I noticed that the product did adhere to my skin much better than traditional chalk, but as the photos show, some of the product definitely transferred to the rock.

After the grabbing and brushing, the chalk-only treatment was as expected. The rock was lighter in color, of course, but the texture was all still there. No chalk stayed caked in the grit of the rock.

The Liquid Grip treatment, on the other hand, showed definite signs of losing texture. The photos show it fairly well. Even after a vigorous brushing, there was an obvious residue in between the grains of the sandstone.

The test boulder, before testing

I applied the Liquid Grip to my hands, then washed my right hand clean before the experiment.

Here is the dried Liquid Grip on my hand before use.

This is my hand after 25 “grabs.” Much of the product remains, though some has clearly transferred to the rock surface. I then reapplied and did 25 more grabs.

The Liquid Grip test spot after 25 grabs and no brushing. Note the fairly natural color of the rock, due to the low transference of the product.

This is the Liquid Grip treatment spot after two applications and 50 simulated grabs. I have not yet brushed this spot. Note that on protrusions, you can see some residue.

The control spot: Loose block chalk. This is pre-brushing.

The control spot post-brushing. The rock texture is unaffected, though slightly discolored.

This is the Liquid Grip spot after a thorough brushing. You can still see a lot of residue in the grains of the sandstone.


Liquid Grip should not be used on outdoor rock climbs. The photos clearly show that after two applications and 50 simulated grabs of a sloper, the texture of the rock is severely impacted. If one person used Liquid Grip to climb one boulder problem, and it took them one attempt, there might be no impact. But if many people use Liquid Grip on a popular problem, however, the results will be dramatic and very undesirable. Even after two days and a light rain, the Liquid Grip spot on the boulder in our campground is quite visible.

I think previous reviewers missed the transference because they used it “as usual.” This would mean just climbing a few routes or problems, and over the course of a few laps one wouldn’t notice a particular hold getting gummed up. On the other hand, if this were used on something like The Hulk, a popular problem with a distinct crux, I’m sure that the repeated touching of the same holds would result in a very noticeable impact.

Liquid Grip might be a good solution for indoor climbing. Holds are washed fairly regularly, and the reduction in chalk dust would be a major benefit. I can’t speak to the product for other uses, though I did notice my hand feeling more “conditioned” than the chalked hand. Perhaps this would be a good product for weightlifters or gymnasts who need a little extra grip but for whom chalk is too dry.

I realize there are other rosin-containing liquid chalk products on the market for climbers, but I haven’t tried them out. I suspect the issues might be the same. At the moment, I think the overall impact is fairly minimal since only a small minority of climbers use anything besides normal chalk, but if these products become popular, I would start to worry.

Do you use Liquid Grip? How do you like it? Have you noticed any transference to the rock?

The Essential Guide to Joe’s Valley Living

Having spent over two weeks in Joe’s Valley, and also having gotten the low-down from friends who have previously been here, we have gained insight above and beyond the Insightful Guide. If you are planning your first trip there, or even if you have been before, read on for some useful information you might not have thought of. It may be getting a little chilly/snowy there soon, but bookmark this post for Spring/Fall 2013, and feel free to ask questions or make additions in the comments.

Hike a little bit further and you might find a new boulder! Spenser high above New Joe’s and Orangeville.


One of the most important amenities on any climbing trip is firewood. In Joe’s, there are three options.

The first option is to gather. PLEASE DON’T. Plants don’t grow very quickly in the desert, and what’s dead and on the ground is an important part of the ecosystem. The areas near popular campgrounds are picked through anyway, which means you’ll be tempted to hack into a huge log that’s being used as a bench, or something like that.

The second option is to buy it for the standard $6 per box at Food Ranch or another store. Good wood, bad price.

The third option: there are many trailers along the roads that are stacked with firewood, usually with a sign listing a phone number. Our favorite firewood source is also the closest to the camping. For $10, we filled the back of Bert, more than enough for several nights. The best part is that it comes from a family-run sawmill, and if people don’t take the scrap, it’s just a big flammable pile in their yard. I don’t want to blow up the spot, so I’ll leave it to you to find on your own. I promise it’s not hard to find.


You are reading a climbing blog, hence you know how important the morning glory is to the rest of the climbing day. The Food Ranch has clean bathrooms, but it’s also about a gallon of gas to make the round trip into town. There are two options near your camping: either 2 miles up Left Fork or a mile and a half up Right Fork, you’ll find a pair of port-o-potties. They’re put there by the Salt Lake Climbers Association, and are kept quite nice. Please donate to help keep Joe’s Valley poo-free.


You’re probably on a budget. The Food Ranch is the most popular (and closest) spot, but it’s also pretty expensive. I like to patronize them anyway, as they are very friendly towards climbers, but if you eat at the Food Ranch regularly you’ll likely be heavier and poorer than you meant to be.

Still, there is Food Ranch beta: Donuts go on sale in the afternoons, around 4 or 5. Get a dozen then (but the Butterfinger and Oreo donuts will almost certainly be sold out by then). Lunch items like pizza and such also go on ½ price sale, so if it’s a rest day, just wait out the lunch rush for cheaper food.

For big grocery runs, Stewart’s is the place. It’s a few miles further but worth the drive. Produce is reasonable (they even had kale) and there’s plenty of selection of other items.

There is no gluten-free bread in this vicinity, as far as we can tell, but they do have GF pasta and such.

Now, if you’ve a little more cash in your pocket, check out Dale’s Meats in Huntington. Operated by Gordon Ungermann, this non-descript little garage can be hard to find, but it’s worth seeking out. He pulls out a big hunk of meat from the freezer, you say how thick you want it, and he slices it off right there. It ends up being something like $7 per pound, and they’re the best steaks we’ve had on this trip, hands down. If you’re lucky, you can snag some jerky too. It depends on what he’s got in stock. He can be found at 142 East and 300 North in Huntington. Call first to make sure he’s there: 435.687.2276.

As far as eating out goes, there’s pizza and there’s pizza. Oh, and there’s a sweet BBQ spot run by a nice lady named Kellie on Main street in Orangeville. She’s open for lunch and dinner unless herself or her kids are sick. The brisket is gooood.


This is basically to say, don’t worry about it. It’s free and it’s everywhere…if you pull up on a crowded Saturday, either crash with someone or just drive a little further. There are no demarcated sites or anything, so if you can find some space, you’re in luck. Just be considerate if you’re crashing someone’s fire. Offer whiskey, something to smoke, or firewood. If you’ve got nothing, then either be funny or be quiet. </etiquette screed>

The Locals

As climbers, we aren’t too different from the usual people who live in and visit Emery County. Bouldering is one of the many outdoor activities that people partake in, and we tend to all get along pretty well. There is a huge network of 4×4 roads in the area, plenty of horseback riding, hunting (and poaching), and RVing, which is sort of an outdoor activity, I guess. On an unrelated note, we still are happy to be rid of the giant trailer.

The result is that the roads are well-maintained, the townsfolk don’t give you particularly dirty looks if you’re a climber, and people care more about the weather than anything else.

It should be noted, however, that climbing has by far the biggest draw in terms of out-of-towners. That means more money coming into town from out of state and even out of country. They treat their climbers well. The Food Ranch is littered with signs saying “We Love Our Climbers.” I even met the County Commissioner James “JR” Nelson, who gave me his card and told me to call with any request for help. “If your car breaks down on a Sunday and nothing’s open, call me,” he said.

Of course, this is also Mormon country, as you probably know. Go easy on the Mitt jokes and things should be alright.


This is tricky. Utah is a 3.2% state, so anything you buy in the grocery store will be like having sex in a canoe (i.e., fuckin’ near water). For real beer, wine, and hard liquor, you’ll need to visit a State Liquor Agency. There’s one in Castledale, but you must time your visits properly: it’s open 12-7, Tuesday-Saturday. Selection isn’t great, but there is a double IPA that weighs in at 9%.

I’m not sure about open containers or other laws, but generally the canyons are pretty safe from law enforcement.


As far as we could determine, they don’t.

Rest Days

There are 4WD roads EVERYWHERE. This is a very popular hunting/fishing area, and if you’ve got some time you should grab one of the OHV roadmaps that are pretty much everywhere and go exploring. There’s a network of roads that we didn’t get a chance to check out that will take you to the very top of the mesa above the confluence of Left Fork and Right Fork.

Further out, there’s the San Rafael Swell, with some of the finest landscape in the country. The best part is there won’t be throngs of tourists. Ask around for directions, just about anyone in town will be able to direct you to the Wedge AKA Little Grand Canyon

Triassic is another cool, trippy moonscape, with some very fun looking boulders. If Joe’s gets too cold, drive 45 minutes down the road.


Back in Bishop

The past week has been a blur. We left Joe’s Valley last Tuesday afternoon and Spenser drove us straight to Bishop. Leaving our amazing campsite at Joe’s was the most difficult part – we will likely never find a better fire pit, but it will be there waiting for us when we return!

A scene from our Joe’s Valley campsite. You can partially see the amazing fire pit that was built up by earlier residents.

After an 13-hour drive with a quick stop at a barbeque joint, we were back in the Pit. As we drove in around 3am on Wednesday morning, as suspected, the Pit was FULL. Since we were the first of our group to arrive, we grabbed one of the only open campsites we could find and passed out. Thankfully by the time we had woken up, there were multiple open campsites. As we waffled about saving site #15 for our friends (a prime spot with tons of flat real estate for cars & tents), Spenser ran into Jenn Zecchin, who we know from the Bay. Jenn was on her own this Thanksgiving and was driving around the Pit looking for a campsite. Perfect timing as she was able to park in site 15 and save it for the rest of our group. A benefit to all since we didn’t have to feel guilty about saving a site with just our crash pads, as we know many groups in Bishop are in the same boat.

The gorgeous sunset that we drove into as we left Utah.

Wednesday was a rest and get ready for the gang to arrive day. While I’ve only been to Bishop a handful of times and Spenser has been coming here for years, both of us were surprised at the state of the Vons parking lot – almost filled to the brim. Bishop, at least around this time of year, is now even more of a bustling community. Since we had gone to bed around 3:30am the previous day, we were wrecked after running errands and headed to bed extra early in preparation for the next day…Turkey Day!

Our first sunset in Bishop this year. The sky was filled with a fire-y red!

While snuggled up in bed working on our Burning Man video, we receive a knock on the door as friend #2, Kyle, had arrived. Shortly after, Jondo also arrived and the four of us ended up chatting in the trailer for over an hour. Although we neither went to bed early nor worked on the Burning Man video, it was worth being able to catch up with a couple of our Bay Area friends before the Thanksgiving craziness ensued.

We awoke the next day to find most of core crew present – Glenn, Zack, Kat, and Chris had arrived late in the evening. We fueled up on coffee, bacon, and eggs made in the trailer and, as it was a scorching day, headed to the ‘Milks.

As expected, the parking lot was popping at its seams with all the dirtbag-mobiles and a Mercedes-Benz (WTF?). We all met Steve and Angie in the main area and began the painful warm-up process. I forgot how much the Buttermilks bite back!!

Steve working the moves on The Mystery. One of the only people in our group trying hard Thanksgiving day.

After hitting the usual suspects, Hero Roof, IronMan, and the Peabody Boulders, a few of us headed back early to start the food prep process.

Our yearly Thanksgiving feast continue to outdo itself. Kat was nice enough to volunteer to prep the turkeys, while Chris donned his ‘fry shirt,’ a red plaid long-sleeved number that was bought at K-Mart last year for the same purpose, and dunked turkey #1 into the sizzling oil. Zack began preparation of his famous stuffing, while Jondo was in charge of creating a gluten-free (yay!) gravy from scratch. He’s the chef for the Facebook group nowadays, no big deal. Kyle made some incredible mashed potatoes, Steve and Angie brought some creamy-cheesy vegetables (a huge hit), and Adam and Nichole rounded out the food with cranberry sauce.

Kat getting down n’ dirty with the turkey.

Turkey #1 being removed from the oil by Chris. Yep, that’s THE fry shirt.

While we waited for some stragglers, turkey #1 was quickly devoured and deemed an appetizer. After everyone had arrived, turkey #2 was also quickly gobbled by the group, which by now included a few more friends, even Jackson and Ryan, a couple of awesome Canadian dudes who we met during our time in Joe’s Valley. Surprisingly, there were no leftovers and after a raucous campfire, we all went to bed with full, happy bellies. While many of the yearly crew was missed (most of Spenser’s Santa Barbara climber friends are currently dispersed throughout Europe), it was still a great campfire with many old and new friends.

The only negativity that punctured the celebratory weekend was the trash and crap (literally) that I found around our favorite crags. As I ventured to relieve myself on Saturday, I ran into a disgusting pile of poop next to the Pollen Grains parking lot. The icing on the poop cake would be that is was covered by wet wipes. My second run-in with poop was at the Happy Boulders on Sunday, also witnessed by Liberty. This is seriously disgusting and upsetting. Not only are people pooping without digging an appropriate hole, but also leaving tissue or wet wipes next to or on top of the business that they dropped. It’s UNBELIEVABLE to me and needs to stop. Even if there were not any access issues in Bishop, this behavior is still unacceptable. Be prepared when you go out to the boulders and bring a baggy to pack it out, it’s really not difficult and is your responsibility if you are a climber.

The next few days were a whirlwind of climbing, campfires and a game night at the Pizza Factory. Lastly, a ridiculously fun first-ever BishGNAR completed our weekend (more on this later).

A Bishop Thanksgiving could not be complete without a trip to the Pizza Factory. Don’t let the smiles fool you, Dan and Jondo are cold-blooded buck hunters.

Now, with everyone gone, Spenser and I picked up the pieces of our shambled and dirt-ridden lives today. The truck and trailer are clean again and so are we! A soak and shower at the Keough’s Hot Springs is just what we needed… Now it’s time to create our Bishop ticklists!

For now, we will leave you with this photo of the glorious Zack Macfarlane from the day of GNAR.

Get Ready for BishGNAR!

The past few days at Joe’s have been a whirlwind of falls, sends, laughs, and campfires. Thankfully, no tears. Our final days were rounded out with my send of Big Cheesy and Spenser crushing many of his projects: Worm Turns, Ghost King, Playmate of the Year, and Lactation Station! Still, we are leaving with many projects left unticked, but are incredibly happy to reunite with our Bishop crew for another Thanksgiving.

This year, Thanksgiving will be different. This year, BishGNAR is coming to town.

First things first, if you haven’t seen the original G.N.A.R., get on it. You can watch the trailer below, or the entire movie (highly recommended) here.

G.N.A.R. – movie trailer from on Vimeo.

We are bringing the competition to Bishop. It will take place on the Friday or Saturday after Thanksgiving, the exact date is TBD as of now. We have the list of rules (climbing related, if you haven’t caught on yet) and they are going to knock your socks off, literally. If you want in, let us know! The more the merrier. We will have the rules printed out by Thanksgiving Day, so come find us if you want to prepare ahead of time. We’ll either be climbing at the Buttermilks or camped in the Pit. Just look for the big red truck.

Want the title (trophy included) of GNARliest dude or dudette in Bishop? Then it’s time to sack up and prove it!


The RV Project

Cast Iron Chaos and the Lessons Learned

When we were preparing for The RV Project part deux, Spenser and I decided to downsize. Goodbye 30 foot trailer, hello little just-big-enough-for-two 10 footer. Going from a house to a bedroom meant downsizing everything, including our cookware. We decided we only needed one pan to cook with and, more significantly, we were going to be all hippy about it and forgo the Teflon.

You really want something non-stick when on the road, so cast iron seemed like the best choice. I did some minimal research about how to season a cast iron pan (make it non-stick) and, at a quick glance, it seemed pretty simple. Neither of us had owned cast iron cookware before, but how hard could it be?

Boy, was I wrong.

Spenser came home with a brand-new Lodge Logic cast iron pan from Jax Outdoor Gear, very reasonably priced at around $25. It came pre-seasoned per the label, but the saleslady at Jax told Spenser to at least season it once more before using it. The saleslady had instructed Spenser to rub the pan down with oil and then run it through the ‘clean’ cycle on the oven. Naturally, the clean function did not work on Brad’s oven, so I sat down to do my own research on how to season the pan.

Down the Google bunny hole I went. Apparently, everyone on the internet has an opinion on the best way to season a cast iron pan.

There’s this guy:

He thinks he’s got the answer, but I didn’t trust him for some reason…

After some more digging, I thought I had found the answer.

This lady had really done her research – read her post if you would like the chemical explanation of how to best season a cast iron pan. Although I appreciate all of the forethought and research that went into her blog post, I wasn’t ready to commit to buying flaxseed oil for $17 per ounce. Especially when many people online had seemingly good success with almost any type of cooking oil.

I tried seasoning the pan only once, since it already came pre-seasoned, but it was nowhere close to non-stick after the first round. (Eggs are the best test.) So I scrubbed the pan down and started over again. This time, I followed the scientist’s directions to a T, except for using canola oil instead of flaxseed oil.

After 6 rounds and 18+ hours, my pan was seasoned. Right?

Wrong. Partially.

The pan works pretty well, but it is not evenly seasoned. In the beginning, some parts would wipe off cleanly, while others needed a good scrubbing. This, I assume, is due to the nature of the pan (see rule #1 below).

After all this, here are my rules for seasoning a cast iron pan.

#1 – Buy vintage, if possible. Vintage (pre-WW2, specifically) cast iron cookware has a smoother surface due to quality of iron ore AND the machining that is no longer done due to labor expense. Also, they have likely been used (and seasoned) over and over again, which means the job is done for you.

On the left is a Lodge 8SK 10.5″ skillet. On the right is a Favorite Piqua Ware skillet of the same size. The Lodge is probably 16 years old while the Favorite is at least 74 years old. I don’t know the exact date of manufacture for the Favorite but the Favorite factory shut it’s doors in late 1934, a casualty of the Great Depression. Taken from this post.

When shopping for a vintage Wagner (considered a top-notch vintage brand, along with Griswold), be wary of this logo. This line of cookware was actually manufactured between 1991-1999 and not 1891 (it just commemorates Wagner’s 100th anniversary). For more on the history of Wagner and Griswold, check out this post.

#2 – Dry the pan. The pan must be bone dry before you apply the oil. This is one of the most important tips I found out, otherwise the oil will not harden on the pan properly (or evenly). It is helpful to dry the pan with a towel and then place it in the oven at about 200 degrees for 10-20 minutes. This will guarantee that your pan is dry, dry, dry before you begin.

#3– Don’t use too much oil. Again, people have their opinions on what the best type of oil is. I used plain old canola oil because that is what we had. The most important note about the oil is to not use too much. Rub it on with your hands or a paper towel and rub it almost completely off with a paper towel. You want the thinnest layer possible so that it will harden evenly and not leave a sticky residue.

#4 – Use high heat. Pretty much as high as your oven will go (or use the clean setting).

#5 – Go through the seasoning cycle once and if it looks like the pan on the right, you’re good. If not, do the process again.

Seasoning gone awry on the left. A perfectly seasoned pan on the right.

Finding a high quality vintage cast iron pan that someone wants to let go of is not the easiest of tasks. So, if you ended up buying a new cast iron pan like us, here’s a few tips that we’ve found helpful at keeping it as non-stick as possible:

–        Before you cook, heat the pan up for a bit and then spread an even layer of oil over the pan and heat that up for a few more minutes. This really helps food not stick to the pan.

–         Clean the pan as soon as you can after you have finished cooking. Immediately is best, but as soon as possible is okay.

–        Use hot water to clean the pan, or boil water if you are like us and do not have a hot faucet.

–        Use a stiff bristled plastic brush with NO soap to scrub the pan. Soap is the devil when it comes to cast iron, it essentially cleanses away the seasoning that you just worked so hard to make.

–        Wipe it dry as soon as you are done cleaning it and rub a thin layer of oil over the inside of the pan before you store it away. Rubbing the oil on only works if the pan is still quite warm (pores open). If you’re living on the road like us, don’t worry about the layer of oil, it doesn’t really harden on the pan if the pan is rinsed with cold water.

The good news is that after a few weeks of almost daily use following the tips above, our Lodge Logic pan has become increasingly non-stick! There are still  parts of it that stick less than others, but overall we are very happy with it. Goodbye, Teflon! Alright, I think that’s all I have to say about cast iron. ‘Till next time!

Some Boulder Problem

Know which one?

Surprise Surprise

We saw our families.

On Thursday, November 8, Vikki’s father turned 60 years old, and we flew back to the Bay Area to pop in and surprise him. Vikki and her mom conspired very cleverly, and when we showed up on Thursday morning he was utterly shocked. We spent the day eating gluten-free pizza, then driving to San Francisco for a fancy dinner.

On Friday, November 9, our good friend and CEO of Groopt Patrick Allen turned 27. We went over to the Groopt house to surprise him. We spent the night partying with our favorite entrepreneurs, sharing stories of triumph, and sake-bombing.

Matt Fultz flashing Bunny Crushers V9. Can’t wait to get back to Joe’s!

The rest of the weekend was a relaxing break from constant dust and cold nights, as we spent time with our families and friends. Since we’ll be spending Thanksgiving in Bishop this year (as per the usual), it was a perfect opportunity to get some quality family time in before we revel in turkey with our other family, the climbing family. We hung out and ate good food with Zack and Dan, whom you might recall from previous episodes, as well as our friends Chris, Sofie, Wendy, Drew, and Glenn.

As I type this, I’m squished into a seat on Southwest flight 868 en route to Salt Lake City. Our friend Scott was nice enough to drive us to the airport, and we left Bert sitting outside of his house. We’ll reunite with Bert, and spend the next week hopefully wrapping up some projects in Joe’s Valley. After that comes the long drive to Bishop, where we’ll fuel up with turkey for a month or so of Eastern Sierra bouldering.

Before we go, Vikki has to knock down Kill by Numbers, Big Cheesy, Spam, Baldwin Bash, and Vertical Ice. I need to finish Ghost King, and I need to try (and hopefully send) Black Dahlia, Resident Evil, Lactation Station, Nerve Damage, Trent’s Mom, and Beyond Life. Damn, that’s a long list for just a week…

We’ll report back. In the meantime, we posted some photos from Joe’s on our Facebook page.

Crash Pads- A Review of What We Have

I’ve been bouldering for about 8 years now. Shortly after starting to explore the Santa Barbara mountains with Chris Yorks and Dan Kovner, I invested in my first crashpad, a Franklin Dropzone. Since then I’ve had a multitude of foam, nearly all of which we’ve somehow brought along on the RV Project. We’ve got a good variety, and in going through them I see there are plusses and minuses to each. If you’re thinking of buying a new pad (or searching for a used one), think first about what you’ll mostly be using it for and what you might already have.

Mammut Soho

The goods

  • 120 x 100 x 9 (cm) or about 48″ x 39″ x 3.5″
  • It’s blue
  • Three hooking metal buckles…weird closure system

I got this one as a freebie from a then-road-tripping Alex Johnson who didn’t have space in her car for this one. I can understand why. It has two taco folds instead of the usual one, and it folds into a triangle. This makes it, as far as I’m aware, the only crash pad that gets bigger when folded up. Two straps keep the sides together, and then a big diaper flap comes up from the bottom and attaches to the top, making for a big storage pouch. The flap also can be used to protect the shoulder straps from the dirt when the pad is in use.

The unique bi-fold design has major advantages. As a backpack, it’s easy: you just fold it up and toss everything in, and the flap keeps it there. The profile is narrow, making hiking through forest or the corridors of Hueco Tanks much easier. Also, because the two folds are at 60° instead of being folded all the way over, the foam will last a bit longer in the hinge region.

As far as I can see the main disadvantage is the car storage issue. In addition, the stitching on the diaper flap is a little weak, with the result that my flap is now far less bombproof in terms of holding stuff.

The carrying system could use a hip belt, but it has a chest buckle which helps. Otherwise, the shoulder straps are a little narrow and could use more padding. When you fill the pad with a gallon of water, shoes, lunch, and extra clothes and then hike for an hour, you feel it in the upper traps.

One last note on this one: Many other boulderers have watched me put the pad together and remarked that the closure system is dumb, or looks hard to manage. I used to think that too, but once you get the system down it’s no worse and maybe even a bit better than the standard system you see on Organics, Mad Rocks, etc. I think it’s just non-standard and funny looking, which frightens most people. Though I won’t deny that the diaper flap is a little goofy.

Organic Full Pad

The goods

  • 3′ x 4′ x 4″
  • Pretty purple colors
  • Big flap for help with closure

One thing I’ll give Organic is simplicity and quality. They use some of the best foam out there, and I know people with some old-ass Organics that still save ankles. They also have a sweet hybrid hinge that’s part taco, part hinge, which does well to mitigate the tendency for pads to rapidly fold in half when landed upon.

Vikki found hers on Craigslist, and of all the pads she’s tried, this is the only one she can comfortably carry. Perhaps it’s time for pad manufacturers to think about a female-specific carrying system. Guys would buy these for their girlfriends in a heartbeat…for me it would’ve meant that Vikki could carry more to Upper Chaos. The shoulder straps are pretty comfy, and it has both waist and chest buckles for tight fitting.

One minor peeve with Organic that I have is that I don’t like the hook/strap closures. They are kinda tough to loosen and not that easy to tighten. I also don’t think the flap is necessary. In theory you can put your wallet/keys/guidebook in there for safekeeping, but the chances are good that you’ll put your phone in there, forget about it, and land on it. The flap does help, though, because its length allows you to strap one pad to another and carry two of ’em.

All in all, this pad is a very solid pad. And it’s all made in the USA. Pick your pattern and be a standout, just like a Scion driver!

Asana KJ Highball 2

The goods

  • 60″ x 44″ x 5″
  • Cam strap closure

This is the biggest pad we have. It’s also the most expensive, but we got a discount for helping Asana with a photo shoot. Designed by highball hero Kevin Jorgeson, it features 3″ of open cell (soft) foam sandwiched between two 1″ layers of closed-cell foam. This means that it can effectively be used upside-down, and handy thing for draping over boulders in the LZ. I have jumped from high up and this is the pad to land on.

The closure system is so simple it should be standard all over the place everywhere. It’s just some 1″ straps that you feed through camming buckles. Cinching is a cinch and loosening is as easy as hitting the button. There is no flap, and I was initially worried that things would tend to fall out the corners, but even when I have a bunch of loose small stuff in there it’s possible to keep it all in by tightening the straps a lot. (I try to avoid this, as it places lots of stress on the seams.)

Carrying this pad is a dream. The padded hip belt and contoured shoulder straps are what I wish I had when I was hopping talus in Colorado, but they work equally well for scrambling up loose hillsides on the “longer” approaches in Joe’s Valley.

This is just a well-made pad. The hybrid hinge works well of course, though they took out the anti-taco straps from the first KJ pad that would keep the pad stiff if you tightened them. I think they are planning on a KJ 3, and they’ll put the straps back on. There’s a little carpet corner for cleaning your shoes (which is clutch), and the handles are tubular webbing with a little plastic tube to give it shape. Little details like these make it a joy to bring the pad out.

Franklin/Black Diamond Dropzone

The goods

  • 3′ x 4′ x 4″
  • Blue was your only choice…now you have a few, I think
  • Hooking metal buckles for closure

For an all-round beginner pad, it doesn’t get much better than this. The closure system (there are two, but they’re similar) is fairly simple and does a good job to insure that even the small stuff, like a guidebook, won’t fall out when you pack it up for the hike. It’s a taco-style (solid foam folded in half, instead of cut and hinged), which I generally prefer as it is less likely to fold in half and slam you in the face if you fall in the middle of an uneven landing.

I’ve had three of these, and the one main complaint is that the closure system is the first to fail on all of them, rendering them useless as backpacks. I’ve since used them as secondary pads, or as an extra in case a friend without a pad wants to join up.

A major bonus is that two of these makes just about a perfect bed. We’ve got them in the truck for that purpose.

Franklin Hipster Pad

The goods

  • Little
  • Only a shoulder strap

This little guy landed in our lap a while ago. I don’t know what it’s really called, as Franklin was bought by Black Diamond long ago, but since you can only carry it over one shoulder, the Hipster pad seems apropos. This one is worthwhile as a solo-circuiting pad, a little sit-starter, folded up as a hole-stuffer, or as a couch to sit on between burns. If you’re on a road trip, it’s a useful little guy to have, as you can strap it to your primary pad and give yourself a little more coverage. Even with Vikki and I, you’d be surprised at the difference between two pads and two and a half pads.

Some general comments about crash pads

Firstly, if you’re going to be hiking much more than 15 minutes or so, you’re going to want a hip belt. After climbing all day and hiking 2 hours out of Mt. Evans Area A, my traps were so sore with the Mammut pad. A couple of times my neck actually spasmed and I couldn’t climb for a few days afterward. Hip straps. Very good things.

Pads that don’t have flaps are prone to dropping stuff (especially guidebooks, due to their slim profile), but I personally would rather have all the design focus on making the pad simple and easy. If you pack smart, you don’t have to worry about it.

In this mesh bag you’ll find: 4 pairs of shoes, a 1st aid kit, a chalk bag, a chalk pot, and a set of rain gear. When we unpack at the boulders, the entire list becomes one item.

Packing a crash pad is sort of an art. Firstly, you want to stick your puffy jacket and extra clothes in the bottom and around the edges. Water bottles and the like go in next, and finally your guidebook (or whatever else is relatively fragile). We got ourselves a large mesh bag that we just toss all our shoes, chalk bags, and rain gear into. This guarantees that nothing can fall out, and when you get to the project, unpacking just means two or three items instead of a garage sale of shoes and such.

To summarize: Hip belts and mesh bags.

Also, if you go for a mega-big pad, like a Mondo or that giant Metolius, beware. Everyone loves having a friend with a Mondo…nobody wants to carry the Mondo. My friend Bryan got an Edelrid Crux, which, if you want to go big, might be the way to go. Check out his review here. The Crux seems to toe the line nicely between size and cumbersomeness.

Lastly, adding a smaller “butler” pad to your arsenal is strongly advised. They slide in to your regular pad, are perfect for lowballing, and can also be used to patch holes in your pad setup. Asana and Black Diamond both make some pretty good ones.

Anyway, these are just my opinions after spending a few months bouldering around the USA and seeing different kinds of pads and pad systems. Of course everything comes down to personal preference, but hopefully this’ll give you something to think about if you’re currently hunting for a pad.

What’s your favorite pad? What pad features do you love? What pad features do you hate? Leave a note!

Are Piercings Worth the Price?

As Spenser said in the last post, we have arrived to sandstone heaven. I could not be happier. Colorado has beautiful stone and a multitude of great climbs, but Joe’s Valley is just easy. Especially after a summer consisting of driving an hour and a half, hiking another hour a half, climbing, hiking over talus for a half hour, climbing, and repeating. Free camping, boulders everywhere, and a town with everything you need just a short ride away. It’s been effortless getting used to life at Joe’s.

But I’m getting carried away. The point of this post is to talk about piercings! Let’s go back to where my curiosity with this began. Towards the end of our first climbing day at Left Fork, we met Mina Leslie-Wujastyk and David Mason. Mina and I started talking about physical therapy and the recurrent shoulder/neck injury she used to struggle with.

Spenser working the moves to They Call Him Jordan. This starts and finishes on one of my big projects at Joe’s Valley: Wills a Fire.

Mina’s shoulder would act up, especially during training, much like my injury (similar neck pain with numbness down the arm). She went to a chiropractor in Britain that was more on the alternative side of things and he told her that her piercings could be hindering her recovery. Piercings? Really?

Her chiropractor explained that because of the repetitive stress on her body from traveling, climbing hard, training, and so on, her immune system was already working overtime. To add the piercings on top of all that was possibly the straw that broke the camel’s back, in a way. Since her immune system was constantly working to fight foreign bodies (her piercings), it was unable to properly heal her shoulder.

They followed up this discussion with proprioceptive muscle strength tests – measuring how strong her arms were at opposing force with or without the specific piercings. Apparently, the difference was striking – especially for the tongue ring (Mina said she had a tongue, nose, and earlobe piercings at the time) initially. Then, after a relapse, it looked as if her nose stud was also a problem. One by one, all the piercings were gone. Since then (around the beginning of February), she was finally able to take her training to the next level and the rest is girl crushing history – I’m sure many of you have seen Mina’s recent sends of Tetris and Mecca.

Tetris V12 in Wild Basin, RMNP. from mina leslie-wujastyk on Vimeo.

So I know this is all sounds like “airy-fairy stuff,” as Mina’s boyfriend, David, likes to say. But can there be some truth to it? I decided to get on the laptop at the good ol’ Food Ranch and do a bit of my own research.

I did a bit of online scouring prior to getting my tongue pierced. At that time, my research led me to the conclusion that the worst I could really end up with was a chipped tooth or lisp. I was willing to take those chances. As most of you already know, the exact words that you Google make a huge difference.  When I started researching piercings and the effect they can have on the immune system, I was given a completely different world of information.

What Mina’s chiropractor was saying apparently makes complete sense. Piercings stress out your body and cause increased cortisol (the stress hormone) production. Pumping out cortisol is your body’s natural reaction to a threat, but sadly our body’s flight-or-fight response can’t differentiate between a real threat (a bear attack) versus a perceived threat (a really bad day at work or a piercing). Too much cortisol in the body is linked to weight gain, depression, and high blood pressure. Sure, I’m not worried about weight gain, depression, or high blood pressure necessarily, but continuously elevated cortisol levels inhibits the immune system while also leading to an overall cortisol depletion in your body. Low levels of cortisol can lead to low energy. A lowered immune system AND low energy?! Now this is very bad for climbing. Especially for a climbing road trip. This just skims the surface of what elevated cortisol levels do to your body, for more check out the Wikipedia page on it.

I then did a little more digging into tongue and navel piercings specifically, since those are the two that I am attached to, or that are attached to me, I guess. This is where we get into the more “airy-fairy stuff.” In acupuncture and related practices, such as acupressure, the tongue and navel are high-energy zones and metals (body piercings) are supposed to be avoided because they impede energy flow. What acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine refer to as “energy balance” can be related to the balance of our body’s endocrine system, for those of us who do not like to use words like “energy” and “flow.”

Acupuncture regulates our body’s Qi (pronounced chi) by improving energy flow through 14 meridians, channels that carry the Qi to various organs to keep our energy fields in balance. Before many of you start to dismiss this altogether, let me remind you that acupuncture is now recognized by NIH, the World Health Organization, and most medical doctors as an effective health therapy for certain medical issues.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the belly button is located in the middle of a primary energy line, the Conception Vessel Meridian. This is a forbidden acupuncture point known as CV8 and, in theory, can lead to core energy burn-out and cause fertility issues in women. While the tongue is divided into 5 parts: stomach, lungs, heart, gallbladder, and liver. The middle of the tongue (what is traditionally pierced) involves the spleen and stomach points, related to chronic digestion problems. Of course, we’re getting into theories at this point, but I found this all quite interesting. Anyone with piercings experience these types of issues?

The parts of the tongue according to Traditional Chinese Medicine.

I’m still figuring out what to make of all this. So far, my conclusion is the same as it has been for a while: every part of our body is connected, a disturbance in one part will inevitably effect the rest of the body in one form or another. I think the point that resonated most with me after all my reading was that a piercing will undoubtedly cause extra stress on the body. This, in addition with other common stressors, such as training, not getting enough sleep, and improper diet, will add up and the piercing could make the difference between your body healing properly versus the issue becoming chronic.

This clicked with me. I have an overactive immune system and continuing digestive problems due to Celiac Disease. Anything that could be getting in the way of me having an awesome climbing day and enjoying every day of this road trip needs to go. I took out my tongue and belly button piercings a few days ago. I figure it’ll be a fun little experiment (of course there are too many other variables, but a test nonetheless).  I have grown quite attached to my piercings (I’ve had my belly button ring for 10 years now), especially the reaction my tongue ring gets from certain people, but I don’t need it.

A quick update, it’s been about a week since my tongue ring and a few days since I took out my belly button ring. My shoulder has really been doing well in spite of the heavy climbing load. I’ve even been sleeping on my left side (which I have not been able to do comfortably for months). This is also great since I’ve haven’t been able to do my physical therapy exercises consistently at Joe’s. Nevertheless, no shoulder pain. I know this does not prove anything, but I think it’s extremely fascinating and hopefully helpful to somehow else out there! Even if it’s just the placebo effect, who really cares? What I do know is I’m done with piercings for the moment.

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