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Some old stuff...

Revolution Climbing

I've been going through some old stuff on my computer, and I found this Article I wrote for Urban Climber Magazine a few years back. This is the unedited version, the mag didn't want me to use the "F-Word". Read on...

Imagination and independent thought are not highly regarded these days. We are generally expected to shut up, stand in line and follow the rules. Six years of Republican administrations will do that to you. There’s not a lot of free fun any more. Oh, you wanna have fun, do ya? Then buy a ticket, get on the ride and pay $4 a gallon to find some fun, chump. Fun is now a commodity, unless you can find it for yourself. But with the right eyes, you won’t have to look too far.

When I was a little grom, skipping school to climb at Smith Rock, I walked past a woman strolling down the river trail who gave me, from her perspective, a valuable piece of information: “Why are you going to climb that, don’t you know there’s a trail that goes to the top?” Being a wise-ass, I probably responded with “Wow, thanks for the info, old lady” and kept walking. For some reason, I’ve never forgotten the example of her shortsightedness, but it does bring up a good point; Climbing as we practice it today is an abstraction. If getting to “the top” of something were the only goal, then you could take a mellow 3-hour hike to the summit of El Cap instead of spending 3 days banging away at the wall. The top of Midnight Lightning can be attained via tree, so why waste time on a boulder problem?

Climbing is more like an art form than a sport. It’s one of those rare things that are completely open to your own interpretation and practice. It’s different than other sports-like-activities in that there are no distinct measurements of achievement. There are no rebounds, RBIs or rushing yards. There are no assigned positions like halfback, point guard or pitcher. There are no set playing fields, time limits or regulation goal heights.

Some people focus on the difficulty aspect of climbing, others aim towards boldness or speed and some people just climb for fun. Some climbers spend months in the Himalayas and others spend months on a two-move boulder problem. Whatever it is, do your thing. Don’t let anybody dictate what “real climbing” is.

In that vein, you only need to look at Skateboarding for a progressive, innovative mentality towards a sport to truly realize it’s potential. In the 80’s, it was all about riding pools and half-pipes, structures designed or adapted specifically for skateboarding, until the evolution of street-style-skating. At that moment, the whole world became a skate park; everything could be ridden.

In the early 90’s, a group of Skateboarders in Portland started one of the most ambitious do-it-yourself projects in recent history. Looking for a dry and harassment-free place to skate in rainy PDX, this crew rounded up some concrete and shovels and made their way underneath a downtown bridge. Those first few banks and ramps were the foundation of what is now the Burnside Skate Park, a massive selection of terrain that is known world-wide, immensely respected within the skating community and built entirely by volunteers with their own money.

Most of us have saved up cash to visit some super-bitchin’ climbing area hundreds of miles away. Plenty of us have built little torture chambers out of plywood and plastic to stay fit. But you only need to look around you to see that we are surrounded by rock, a man-made rock called concrete.

When people talk about recycling, they use terms like “pre or post-consumer waste”, meaning the creative use of what most people throw away. Buildering is possibly the best use of massive consumer waste for the purpose of fun. By definition, it is recycling; by turning a huge, bland, soul-less piece industrial stone into an object of entertainment, challenge, diversion or whatever you want. It’s creating a use and a destination from dead space.

To borrow from a famous boulder problem in the Gunks, have a look at these man-made crags with “A New Pair of Glasses” to see what could be possible: The steep angles underneath bridges, parking lot ramps and stairs, the massive rounded bulges on freeway supports and the ubiquitous, clean-cut 90 degree arêtes on the corners of every building…the same cool features we look for at climbing areas.

This wide world of concrete is a blank canvas for climbers. But “blank” is not a good thing when you’re trying to climb. And so just as an artist steps to a canvas with his paints, the chemical gods have granted us with our own medium: epoxy.

Say you’ve found a steep angled wall that’s devoid of anything to hang onto. Any glued-on little nugget, edge, chunk, blob or pebble can potentially be used to turn a grey, lifeless, overhanging slab into a burly array of routes. The most barren arête, boring vertical wall or lame corner can become a masterpiece of technical moves, all thanks to our friends in the industrial adhesive business.

The potential of what could be done is nuts. Think about it. A handful of rocks, a $3 tube of epoxy and a wall of concrete is all you need. Every shitty industrial part of every town could have it’s own bouldering area. Places that are devoid of rock could become destinations. Lincoln, Nebraska could be the next Bishop, California. OK, that’s a big stretch of the imagination, but you get the idea.

The good news is the best potential places for such a project are located in areas that attract the least amount of attention. Chances are, the spaces around giant retaining walls and huge bridge pillars are not the best pieces of real estate in town, so your presence would be less conspicuous than trying to press out a mantel on top of the neighborhood 7-11.

So what’s the main obstacle to creating something like this? To sum it up in one word, it would have to be: Validation. If you’ve read this far and you have some comprehension of what we’re discussing, you probably have figured out that this is not entirely acceptable or 100% legal, as far as the larger community is concerned. There will be people who consider it vandalism, trespassing, etc. There will be people who have no interest or understanding of climbing, and even less of a willingness to try and understand and appreciate it. There is no easy answer to dealing with these people. The best method is to treat them with gentle respect and pity, because these sad fucks are already dead inside.

But finding validation within the climbing community itself could be an obstacle. Every new aspect of climbing is invariably met with some kind of resistance. This is the same mentality that derided John Bachar for bolting on hooks, slandered Alan Watts for working out moves by hang-dogging and thought that John Gill was wasting his talents by just bouldering. This myopic view of what climbing is and where climbing should be has rarely created anything of progress, so why bother with seeking their acceptance?

What we do is hard to describe and even harder to contain into a singular interpretation of climbing. It grows and evolves without eliminating any of preceding forms of climbing. There is a massive amount of potential that is all around us, if you know how to find it.