Mahalo you fucking climbers, you goddamn nerds! I’m just kidding. We’re all part of the same tribe.

You may want to put yourself in a good mood with a viewing of this video. Kelly Cordes just sent it to me, and now I feel energized by its raw crassitude. Think about all the ways in which you can appropriate these sweet one-liners into your own vulgar climbing lingo. “Stay off my rocks, you fucking grommets! Locals only!”

It’s perfect for me because I climb at Rifle, which is basically the Zuma Beach of the climbing world in that it is filled with egotistical locals-only-attitude-having pricks such as myself (not really). I just returned to Rifle after an inanimate winter in which I was necessarily rooted to the couch, healing a shoulder left in tatters from a hard catch that spiked me into the wall on the last day of my China trip. Despite having not climbed or trained much at all, I climbed really well, which was sort of a frightening surprise. It’s like when you drink way too much but then, for no reason whatsoever, you don’t have a hangover the next morning … You’re like, “ What the fuck is this? How the hell did I get away with this?”

Sometimes, the universe throws you a bone that you don’t deserve, and when that happens, you must accept it and not ask any questions.

The proj

After brushing the winter grime off my project’s holds and sussing the moves, I managed to all but sail to my highpoint—a feat that took all of last summer to achieve. I’m right where I left off, only somehow I feel stronger. Could an early-season redpoint be in store? We’ll just have to see if I’m actually on that track, or if the gods are just toying with me.

It’s glorious out there right now. Perfect temps both in the sun and shade, dry rock, no crowds, no douches (besides myself, of course). I wonder who will be this season’s douche bag? There is always one. One new annoyance, one insufferably boastful but also really strong rock climber who settles into his first season in Rifle, climbs a hard route or two, and then makes himself unbearable to be around due to the faucet-less spray fire-hosing out of his mouth from warm-up to warm-down. Of course, come fall, we inevitably become friends once we realize that we’re really not much different from each other in that we’re both terrible people. Then we part ways and continue to fall into all the same traps, year after year. Indeed, one of the best gifts of getting older is that you can feel righteous about not changing your bad behavior.

So, if not training, what have I been doing? Well, I bought a house and got a puppy … Hopefully that explains the absence of my voice on this site in recent weeks. I’ve been sleep deprived by the puppy, and addled by the incessant glut of information readily available in the palm of my hand 24/7. It’s not as though I haven’t wanted to contribute my two cents to all the juicy, futile frays that have percolated online in recent weeks. Of course I’ve wanted to point out what a sanctimonious, jaded Boulder dude that guy over at Mountains and Water can be—even though I agree with many parts of his latest, well-discussed post about how much of what you see online is now dominated by annoyingly sponsored climbers who are all a bunch of Instagram-posting, hashtag-tagging, brand-championing, fame-seeking company drones—even though I find this an ironic perspective to be held by someone who tried to be one of those very same sponsored people, but was dropped and wrote about it bitterly.

(Also, unbeknownst to me at the time of this writing, this subject was broached much more deeply by my colleague in this week’s eBlast.)

I’ve also wanted to take a deeper look at some of the more amazing bits of news that I’ve heard—those 10-year-olds Brooke and Tito both climbing 5.14a, and Ashima’s V13 ascent. Is climbing really so easy that a baby can do it? It’s beginning to look like it. The tide has changed and the latest set has rolled in with this next generation of climbers who, in the next 15 years, will go on to completely redefine difficulty as we now know it.

Or not. Perhaps these ascents are only further proof that having good technique, small fingers and high strength-to-weight ratios are more important than wingspan and muscle mass. And if so, then is the future of rock climbing going to go the way of gymnastics, where the hardest ascents will be by uber-coached pre-pubescent girls who have spent 20 hours/week in the gym since three or four years of age?

I’ve always thought that girls should actually be climbing harder than men, a perspective that gets me in trouble with my lady (who, ironically, climbs harder than me) because I’m basically saying that climbing is easier if you’re a woman, even though by “woman,” I am really talking about any tiny, lightweight person with no tits or ass. The point is: size matters in climbing, regardless of  what your chromosomal pairing happens to be. It’s better to be smaller. The only problem with my theory is that, thus far, there’s no proof: women haven’t climbed as hard as men. The question then becomes: why not?

My theory—again, likely to be unpopular with the ladies—is that women in general lack something that seems to be more common in men: not muscles, not wingspan, and not any of the other oft-cited reasons you hear for why the ladies are a few grades behind the guys. Rather what they lack is that particular brand of male arrogance that causes us to go out on our own and conquer unknown terrain. More specifically, women lack the belief that they can do things that haven’t already been done (usually by other women).

I posit this thesis based on patterns I have observed in women’s climbing, namely how few (if any?) females have done first ascents of cutting-edge difficulty (a situation where it’s not clear if the route even goes, undeniably one of the most significant hurdles to doing hard first ascents) and also how one female’s ascent of a hard route inevitably leads to many other females trying the exact, same route. I see it so many times in Rifle. One girl climbs a hard route; the next week, another girl’s draws are on it. How many females climbed Mind Control this year? I lost count. We can call it the Law of Mind Control that one female ascent begets another.

Even though there is a certain catty competitiveness there, let me be clear that I don’t think this is a bad thing, necessarily, at least in that I understand why it happens. Most of us (male and female) just follow each other’s footsteps; there is only a microscopic percentage of people out there who have the vision, drive and skill to push the limits of the human potential. So really, this is a critique of both men and women, with the emphasis being that I believe women are capable of climbing harder than men, and that these universal mental knots are the only things holding them back from doing so.

We need to see things to believe them. When people see me—with my slouched gait, my poor technique, my shaking, whimpering temperment five inches above a bolt, my belly flab, etc.—climbing a “hard” route, it becomes instantly obvious that they, too, can do it. There’s an undeniable allurement there.

I’ve always been impressed by the women who seem to be more willing to do and try new things and break through. I’ve always admired  Emily Harrington, for example, not just because she was the first female to climb a 5.14 in Rifle (thus paving the way for a growing handful of other women to climb 5.14 there, too), but she’s not afraid to try new things: like competing in the Ouray mixed-climbing competition in her first year of mixed climbing (and then winning the whole event in her second year!) … Or, even her going to try and climb Mount Everest this spring despite having no high-altitude experience whatsoever! Part of me thinks that’s crazy … but I also admire and respect the courage it takes for her to break the mold and do something different.

Anyway, this post turned out longer than I’d hoped … but I got some things off my chest, and for that I feel that this has been cathartic. Hopefully I’ll be able to sleep better tonight. Mahalo.

  • The Stone Mind

    this is my favorite

  • Grubbjasona

    Damn good post.  One of your best!

  • splitter choss

    Hey, my lady climbs harder than me too! I also think you’re dead on with your theory, would love to see some women start proving it’s true.

  • Will

    “…how few (if any?) females have done first ascents of cutting-edge difficulty…”

    Mostly just to temper the “if any?” portion of that question:
    Lynn Hill, The Nose.
    Beth Rodden, Meltdown.

    It seems likely that the dearth of females doing cutting-edge FAs can be attributed to the fact that for a long time, climbing was a male-dominated pursuit (a condition that is still largely true). Add to that the sexism that is pervasive throughout the climbing community, and you have a pretty big barrier that is going to stymie the efforts and motivations of a lot of strong women. Now that this barrier is at least partially being breached, and women are climbing as hard as they are, it’s only a matter of time before they start to put up the sort of FAs you’re referring to. It has nothing to do with attitude or arrogance. It has everything to do with the lingering effects of a historical inequality in terms of access, resources, and participation.

    On another note, I would love to see Ashima go out right now (and I have no doubt she could do it) and put up some lines that might be unrepeatable for a long time. Can anyone else use her beta on Crown of Aragorn? Probably not, at least for the moment. Now imagine if that sort of tiny-pocket, micro-crimp style was applied to some new lines, where there was no other way up.

    • Andrew Bisharat

      The Nose and Meltdown are great examples, thanks. 

    • Jill

      Well said.

      This article demonstrates how easy it is for women’s achievements to be ignored and treated as if they didn’t even happen. To question whether there have been any cutting-edge first ascents by females while forgetting two such famous events….if people don’t want to believe there is a lot of sexism in the sport, there’s a prime example.

      There’s also likely a lot to the fact that men like to brag about their accomplishments more than women. Message boards for things like climbing and skiing have to be 95% male. If you don’t put it on the Internet they don’t believe it happened.

      • Andrew Bisharat


        Trust me that I haven’t forgotten that Lynn Hill free climbed the Nose … but these are two first ascents among thousands and thousands of others … if anything, this proves my point about how rare it is. As impressive as both ascents are, they were also each at least three letter grades below the cutting edge of the sport at the time …

        Anyway … I feel like I’ve written a lot about women’s achievements in the sport, and I don’t like the idea that my article is proof for you that there is “sexism” in the sport. If anything, I feel like I’m sticking up for women and encouraging them to climb harder.

        Also, if anything, women’s achievements in climbing get MORE attention online than others. In fact, female climbing achievement stories on Rock and get way more hits than any other news stories. 


        • n/a

          You saying that the grade of the Nose being “atleast three letter grades below the cutting edge of the sport…” does not accurately portray the difficulty inherent in freeing the Nose in it’s entirety (especially in a day).  Also, to anyone who watches the video of L. Hill on the ‘Changing Corner’s pitch, it should be apparent that the climbers who are capably of climbing modern 5.14 sport routes would struggle immensely on the unique technical nature of the ‘changing corners’ pitch.  Also B. Rodden’s ‘Meltdown’ is probably the hardest climb in that specific style so it therefore is cutting edge.  Again most modern 5.14 sport climbers would probably get shutdown on Meltdown because they have specialized in face climbing not crack climbing

  • Ryan Hamilton

    Great article. I ponder many of these same things as I slog through my day. 

  • Maggie Elias

    Good looking guy on the cover of you book!

    • Andrew Bisharat

      yeah, he’s a beaut!

  • megbisharat

    Really love this article and all the comments that followed. Emily steps outside herself and is a true adventurer. Hope all goes well for her and Sam… I am following the North Face blog with keen interest.

  • jonathan

    You should crate-train your dog (cute!) so that you can get some sleep.

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