Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mirror Neurons and the Science of Beta

I'm not a scientist. In no way do I have the patience to deal with control tests, double-blind studies, bunsen burners, or anything resembling the scientific method. I don't have the discipline to keep an open mind to all possibilities, only letting the real world evidence guide my hypotheses. And I definitely don't want to work with (real) monkeys.

Monkeys have fleas
I am, however, an armchair scientist. I love to read about studies in which other people have invested absurd amounts of time. Reading their hard won conclusions (or better, a synopsis written by a non-scientist) from the comfort of my breakfast table, I can easily think to myself: "yeah, that makes sense to me".

Another thing I'm good at: relating everything back to climbing.
Here's a link to a NYT article about a study done on monkeys in Italy.

In the study, the researchers looked at the brain activity of monkeys when the monkeys performed simple actions, such as reaching for a banana. When the monkeys performed the action, a certain set of neurons in their pre-frontal cortex (which controls motor activity) would light up. In an unexpected twist, the researchers found that the same set of neurons also lit up when the monkeys watched someone else, even a human, perform the same action.

They named these neurons "Mirror Neurons", and have spent many more years researching them in both monkeys and humans. The first thing that came to my mind, though, was the image of a climber miming the beta for a route.

Simply watching someone else act out the crux moves of some difficult route actually activates the parts of the brain that you will use in preform the moves yourself! Wow, maybe I don't even need to climb anymore, I can just sit at the base, watch climbers with real talent, and vicariously send. I might even get vicariously pumped! This also explains why I reach for my chalk bag while sitting on the couch watch climbing movies...

I can almost feel the holds...
Climber: Brad Gobright Photo: Eric Draper

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Naked Edge Speed Record

A few days ago my friend Blake and I lowered the speed record on the Naked Edge, one of the coolest routes in Eldo Canyon. The record is for a roped team of two, roundtrip from the bridge that marks the start of the approach trail.
Our roundtrip, or bridge-to-bridge, time was 1h 13m. Here's a short post by Blake recounting the ascent:

The Edge seen from across the canyon. The route follows the prominent arete on the right side of the wall.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


For an another fun and safe season of Colorado rock climbing:

First one in, Last one out. My car is often alone in the Eldo parking lot.

 Me on the exciting and super-exposed final pitch of Mellow Yellow (5.12a). Redgarden Wall, Eldo. Photo by Joel Anderson.

Bob Rotert on the famous Naked Edge (5.11)

Forest sunbathes as Blake finishes following the first pitch of Ramblin' Rose (5.10). Wigwam Dome, South Platte.

 Me soloing Positively Fourth Street (5.10a). Photo by Matt Lloyd.

Two climbers on the second pitch of Werk Supp (5.9). The Bastille, Eldo.

Me on a successful booty mission. 
Step one: Solo up Rewritten (5.7). 
Step two: Construct the retrieval device with nut tool and coat hanger. 
Step three: Boooty!

 The Bastille catches late afternoon sun.

The beautiful town of Eldorado Springs.

My friend Weston on a brief visit from Michigan, descending Bear Peak.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

New Speed Record on an Eldo Classic

Ruper is one of the most classic long routes in Eldo. It weaves its way up the imposing vertical bulk of the Redgarden wall, finding the path of least resistance on some outrageous terrain, providing six enjoyable pitches of 5.8.

Ruper, with the arrow indicating the East Slabs descent

I've solo-ed Ruper many times, and when I saw a comment on MountainProject about the known speed record, I was intrigued. Mic Fairchild, one of the most prolific Eldo climbers and soloist around, wrote that he once did the route in just 44 minutes round trip from the bridge at the start of the approach trail. That's a mind-boggling time for a route that often takes parties the bulk of a day to complete!

His roundtrip time included: 
-running up the switchbacked trail to the toe of the wall
-scrambling up the long, water-polished 4th class Lower Ramp
-6 pitches of 5.8 climbing, from steep face to OW, interrupted by a long traverse/downclimb on the huge Upper Ramp
-the infamous "East Slabs" descent, mostly 4th class downclimbing to a steep gully trail

So today I found myself in Eldo on a perfect, wind-less, sunny day, and I decided to try the feat.

My total time, roundtrip from the bridge: 32 minutes and 11 seconds. There's a new speed record for this Eldo Classic!

Monday, November 22, 2010


Long ago, perhaps thousands of years in the past, a group of Polynesian islanders drifted their way through the unknown ocean (later named the Pacific), moving north from their previous island homes. We don't really know why they left the tropical paradise they'd lived on for many generations, maybe disease, famine, war, or just the urge to explore. They probably sailed double hulled canoes, packed with dozens of people, as well as food, water, crops, and livestock. 

They had to bring everything they'd need to survive; they did not have a clue where they were going, or how long it would take to get there. The level of uncertainty of this voyage is unthinkable, and literally impossible, in our modern world. We know very little about these people, but we can say this:

Being students of the night sky, as they surely were, they would have noticed, one night, a peculiar star on the horizon. As they drifted North each night, the start rose higher and higher in the sky. While every other star in the sky made it's nightly rotation, this star remained fixed. For sea-borne navigators, with no other immovable navigational landmarks, this probably would have been celebrated. Of course, this star is Polaris, the North Star, and it is only visible from the Northern Hemisphere. 
It is only visible when one crosses the Equator.

Many centuries later, and perhaps to this day, sailors the world over celebrate the crossing of the Equator. Seaman who have not previously crossed would be hazed, beaten, and sometimes tossed overboard to "celebrate" their passage into the world of true ocean-going hardmen.

The Southern Cross

Sometime on the night of January 22nd, 2011, I will lose sight of Polaris and cross into the Southern Hemisphere for the first time in my life, safe in the cabin of a jetliner at cruising altitude. Hopefully I don't get tossed overboard.


This winter, my friend Blake and I will be headed to Argentina. We plan to climb all around Patagonia, that great mountainous region on the southern edge of the Americas. 

I'm glad we don't have to use this map...

Some of the many towers of the Frey, above Bariloche, Argentina. We'll be climbing here at the beginning of the trip, and will hopefully be joined by our friend (and fantastic photographer!) Forest.
Photo by Rolando Garibotti

A few photos of the beautiful mountains above El Chalten, Argentina, including Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy.
A view of Cerro Pollone from the West, with the Donini-Crouch line marked up the West Pillar, and the summit ridge continuing to the summit. Hopefully, Blake and I will make it out there to attempt the first free ascent of the route, and potentially continue along the ridge to the as-yet-unclimbed Main Summit.

Note: I didn't take any of the photos in this post. All were swiped off the interweb.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

More IC pics

Here's a few shots from Garrett Grove's blog from our recent trip to Indian Creek:

Me onsighting "Slice and Dice" (5.12)

     BJ on Annunaki (5.11+)                              Me on Sinestra (5.11)

   The classic Scarface                          Me, again, on Slice and Dice

The full Creek experience, and the legendary Alf

Thanks Garrett!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Photos from the Desssssssssert

You know how to tell the difference between "desert" and "dessert"? Supposedly you'd only want to visit a desert once, while you'd certainly want dessert (at least) twice.

I'm glad I already know how to spell, because I love the desert!

Specifically, the desert of the Colorado Plateau and Southern Utah. This past week or so, I made yet another seasonal pilgrimage, sampling Indian Creek, Castle Valley, Moab, and Zion. Here's a few pictures:

Looking out the back of my car on the first morning of the trip. Rain, bummer.

We spent the wet morning taking photos.

The weather cleared, though, and we were climbing later that afternoon. The weather the rest of the trip? SPLITTER!

Chance the Crag Dog

Night at camp with a nearly full moon

Blake makes coffee pre-dawn. We're in the Castleton Tower parking lot, preparing for the "Castle Valley Enchainment", which includes summiting five towers: the Convent, Sister Superior, the Priest, the Rectory, and  Castleton. We would only complete three, and still didn't get back to the car til midnight. You can read more on Blake's blog.
Double Self-Portrait from a belay on "Fine Jade", tower #1. It was very cold in the morning.

Blake with the ridge, the Priest, the Rectory, and Castleton.

Back in Indian Creek, a young crack master shows off his tape gloves.

Clayton, an IC vet, also sporting tape gloves

In honor of the rattiest of desert rats, Alf, here's my "Indian Creek Sunset Panoramic". Definitely click on this one to zoom in!

Josh on Moonlight Buttress. We made a quick trip out to Zion canyon to tackle this crack-climbing masterpieces towards the end of my trip. How'd it go? Check back soon for another post with more pics!

Yes, you might notice that there are no photos of actual climbing. I've realized that most of my photos of climbing suck, and it takes a ton of motivation to get into a position to shoot good action shots. That, and talent. My friend Garrett has both, and produces amazing images. He shot some from the trip, and hopefully I'll post some here soon.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Into the Big Wide West

I'm not really a poetry kinda guy, but my friend Matt posted a link to a Levi's commercial, and it inspired me to find this poem. I thought it fit with the name of my blog, so I'll post it here.

Pioneers! O Pioneers!


Come my tan-faced children, 
Follow well in order, get your weapons ready, 
Have you your pistols? have you your sharp-edged axes? 
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

For we cannot tarry here, 
We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of danger, 
We the youthful sinewy races, all the rest on us depend, 
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

O you youths, Western youths, 
So impatient, full of action, full of manly pride and friendship, 
Plain I see you Western youths, see you tramping with the foremost, 
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

Have the elder races halted? 
Do they droop and end their lesson, wearied over there beyond the seas? 
We take up the task eternal, and the burden and the lesson, 
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

All the past we leave behind, 
We debouch upon a newer mightier world, varied world, 
Fresh and strong the world we seize, world of labor and the march, 
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

We detachments steady throwing, 
Down the edges, through the passes, up the mountains steep, 
Conquering, holding, daring, venturing as we go the unknown ways, 
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

We primeval forests felling, 
We the rivers stemming, vexing we and piercing deep the mines within, 
We the surface broad surveying, we the virgin soil upheaving, 
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

Colorado men are we, 
From the peaks gigantic, from the great sierras and the high plateaus, 
From the mine and from the gully, from the hunting trail we come, 
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

From Nebraska, from Arkansas, 
Central inland race are we, from Missouri, with the continental 
blood intervein'd, 
All the hands of comrades clasping, all the Southern, all the Northern, 
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

O resistless restless race! 
O beloved race in all! O my breast aches with tender love for all! 
O I mourn and yet exult, I am rapt with love for all, 
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

Raise the mighty mother mistress, 
Waving high the delicate mistress, over all the starry mistress, 
(bend your heads all,) 
Raise the fang'd and warlike mistress, stern, impassive, weapon'd mistress, 
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

See my children, resolute children, 
By those swarms upon our rear we must never yield or falter, 
Ages back in ghostly millions frowning there behind us urging, 
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

On and on the compact ranks, 
With accessions ever waiting, with the places of the dead quickly fill'd, 
Through the battle, through defeat, moving yet and never stopping, 
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

O to die advancing on! 
Are there some of us to droop and die? has the hour come? 
Then upon the march we fittest die, soon and sure the gap is fill'd. 
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

All the pulses of the world, 
Falling in they beat for us, with the Western movement beat, 
Holding single or together, steady moving to the front, all for us, 
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

Life's involv'd and varied pageants, 
All the forms and shows, all the workmen at their work, 
All the seamen and the landsmen, all the masters with their slaves, 
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

All the hapless silent lovers, 
All the prisoners in the prisons, all the righteous and the wicked, 
All the joyous, all the sorrowing, all the living, all the dying, 
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

I too with my soul and body, 
We, a curious trio, picking, wandering on our way, 
Through these shores amid the shadows, with the apparitions pressing, 
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

Lo, the darting bowling orb! 
Lo, the brother orbs around, all the clustering suns and planets, 
All the dazzling days, all the mystic nights with dreams, 
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

These are of us, they are with us, 
All for primal needed work, while the followers there in embryo wait behind, 
We to-day's procession heading, we the route for travel clearing, 
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

O you daughters of the West! 
O you young and elder daughters! O you mothers and you wives! 
Never must you be divided, in our ranks you move united, 
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

Minstrels latent on the prairies! 
(Shrouded bards of other lands, you may rest, you have done your work,) 
Soon I hear you coming warbling, soon you rise and tramp amid us, 
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

Not for delectations sweet, 
Not the cushion and the slipper, not the peaceful and the studious, 
Not the riches safe and palling, not for us the tame enjoyment, 
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

Do the feasters gluttonous feast? 
Do the corpulent sleepers sleep? have they lock'd and bolted doors? 
Still be ours the diet hard, and the blanket on the ground, 
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

Has the night descended? 
Was the road of late so toilsome? did we stop discouraged nodding 
on our way? 
Yet a passing hour I yield you in your tracks to pause oblivious, 
Pioneers! O pioneers! 

Till with sound of trumpet, 
Far, far off the daybreak call--hark! how loud and clear I hear it wind, 
Swift! to the head of the army!--swift! spring to your places, 
Pioneers! O pioneers! 


Or, in the parlance of our times: