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Yosemite History Posted on 06.10.2010 by greg.kuchyt

Well, I figure the best way to kick off the Yosemite dispatches is to do a quick history lesson on climbing in Yosemite. In America, Yosemite is to climbing as Philadelphia is to liberty. Yosemite is the launching point for the development of techniques necessary to climb the massive faces of rock in Yosemite Valley. “Big Wall” climbing, as it became known, was born in the valley in the middle of the 20th century. This period, 1950s-1960s, is referred to as the “Golden Age” of climbing in Yosemite. Before we get too far into the start of what we would today consider “climbing” we need to talk about how all of it started.

In the late 19th century, climbing was mostly un-roped scrambling of various formations throughout the Yosemite National Park. John Muir reportedly is credited with the first climbing in Yosemite with his solo scramble up Cathedral Peak in the Tuolumne Meadows. The climbing activity that followed for the next 60 or so years was in the same vein as Muir’s ascent of Cathedral Peak; scrambles up terrain considered “pedestrian” by today’s standards. It is the lack of the use of ropes that limits the technical progression of difficulty, unlike in Europe where more technical ascents were occurring due to the use of ropes and rope skills.

In the early 1930s, European rope-work technique made its way to the Sierra Club by way of Americans who learned the trade in the European Alps. With this skill, climbers are able to climb without a fall ending absolutely in death, although the hemp ropes used at the time were a slim safety margin. Climbers also learn to use pitons, a type of protection hammered into cracks in the rock and clipped to the rope to limit the distance a climber would fall.

The climbers of the time turned their new found skills and eyes towards various spires in Yosemite, with a premium being placed on standing on the summit of “something”. However this traditional mountaineer’s perspective was dashed when in 1936, the first ascent of a major wall was accomplished after Morgan Harris, Kenneth Adams, and Kenneth Davis completed the first ascent of Royal Arches. To contrast for our East-Coast climber friends, this is about the same time that Fritz Weissner and Hans Kraus began climbing in the Shawangunks.

While climbing continued in Yosemite through the 30s and 40s, the impact of WWII was definitely seen in the historical record by the lack of paradigm re-defining accomplishments. Many of the Yosemite climbers served in WWII and used their technical skills in the early formative years of the 10th Mountain Division. While the war diminished climbing activity in Yosemite, it also paid back dividends in the form of the war time development of lightweight aluminium carabiners and much safer nylon kernmantle ropes. As well, pitons were available as army surplus following the war, giving climbers a cheap source of pitons that was previously filled by expensive mail orders to European climbing shops.

Post-war climbing in Yosemite was most notably defined by the work of John Salathé, a Swiss-born blacksmith. Salathé realized that the soft iron pitons in use were not durable enough to stand up to the repeated use required to tame the larger faces of Yosemite Valley. Being a blacksmith, Salathé produced the first steel pitons that could stand up to repeated use in the hard Yosemite granite. Using his newly produced pitons, Salathé made ground-breaking ascents between 1946 and 1950 proving his re-designed pitons a success. In the process, Salathé became the first to bivy on-route in Yosemite; a tradition to be both willingly and unwillingly followed by countless climbers to come.

The 50s saw the beginning of the “Golden Years” with two prominent climbers coming into the limelight and cutting their teeth on many first ascents in Yosemite Valley; these climbers were Royal Robbins and Warren Harding. Both Harding and Robbins began exploring longer and harder routes in the Valley refining their technique. In 1957, Royal Robbins, Jerry Gallwas, and Mike Sherrick completed the NW Face of Half Dome, proving that even the long, steep, imposing walls of the Valley were not unclimbable. Harding, his sights originally set on the NW Face of Half Dome, turned his attention to the quintessential wall in Yosemite Valley, El Capitan. In 1958, after 47 days spread over a year and a half, Harding finally topped out on El Capitan after a siege war of attrition with the wall. Harding’s route which ascends the prominent prow of El Capitan is named simply and aptly, The Nose. Both Robbins’ and Harding’s ascents were visionary and progressive for their times and re-defined the idea of what was possible.

The 60s ushered in an era of progression and an influx of new climbers. The now well known names of Yvon Chouinard, Tom Frost, Layton Kor, Chuck Pratt, and others were very active in the Valley, constantly expanding the boundaries of what was possible. In the late 50s Chouinard began making his own steel pitons and selling them out of the back of his car. By the mid-60s, demand was so great that Chouinard partnered with Frost and started the Chouinard Equipment Corporation, the precursor to today’s Black Diamond Equipment. About this same time Royal Robbins returned from a climbing trip to the United Kingdom and brought back “chocks“, a removable type of “clean” protection that are wedged into cracks by hand and do not damage the rock like the hard steel pitons. In order to prove their efficacy, Robbins established several climbs using only nuts as a means of protection.

The 70s begin with a growing concern over the increased number of climbers and the scarring of the rock being caused by the steel pitons used to protect the climbs. Chouinard, being influenced to not destroy the climbs he so cherished, began manufacturing his own line of chocks and invented the hex, another type of passive protection used to cleanly protect a climb. In 1972, Chouinard Equipment included in their catalog a 14-page essay by Doug Robinson in which the argument to abandon pitons in favor of “clean” protection was made. This essay is credited with jump starting the clean climbing movement virtually overnight in the US and ending the era of prevalent piton usage. In addition to the clean climbing movement, the 70s also saw speed records on The Nose (less than 24 hours), increasingly harder free climbing grades, and the introduction of the spring-loaded camming device by Ray Jardine. The 80s followed in the same suit as the 70s; increasingly faster, harder, and more daring climbing continually re-defined the possible in Yosemite. The 90s continued to see further refinement of speed records and increasingly difficult and bold climbs. However, climbing in Yosemite during the 90s was most notably defined by one person, Lynn Hill. Lynn Hill’s groundbreaking 1993 free-ascent of The Nose established a new benchmark for style and planted the seed for future climbers to bring free climbing to the big wall arena.

To this date, climbers in the Valley are forever pushing the boundaries; climbing faster, harder, and bolder than the previous generation of climbers. Visionary climbers like Tommy Caldwell are planting the seeds today for the future generations of climbers in Yosemite with his attempt to free the aid route Mescalito. The limit is far from being met, but the bar is set so high at this point that progress comes in small, yet groundbreaking steps.

So that’s a “quick” run-down of climbing history in Yosemite. As you can see, this area is pretty integral to the progression and development of climbing in the US. It’s incredibly humbling to think about being in a place like this, imagining these pioneers setting foot on these massive granite faces looking up into the unknown that hung above them. It makes what we do look like child’s play with our modern gear and detailed descriptions of the routes and what to expect. Their experiences are the true essence of adventure and their accomplishments are all the more visionary and bold because of it. We can only hope to achieve such great things in our lives, but we’ll settle for walking in their steps, thankful for their foresight and work the whole way.


Yager, Ken. “A Short History of Yosemite Rock Climbing.” Yosemite Climbing Association. YCA. 10 Jun. 2010

Chouinard, Yvon. Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman. New York. Penguin. 2006

Red Bull & Cerro Torre letter Posted on 06.03.2010 by greg.kuchyt

There’s some controversy regarding recent activity in Argentine Patagonia. Alpinist has the story, here. In short, a Red Bull sponsored athlete attempted to free the famed Compressor Route (VI, 5.10 A2) on Cerro Torre. A film crew was in tow to capture the attempt. Apparently the team drilled an additional 60 bolts into the Torre formation, including a direct rap line, and left 700m of fixed rope. This is the ugly side of climbing, the community is spraying every which way about it and I’m sure nothing will ever be resolved.

I have my own opinion and beliefs on style, I’m a product of learning to climb in an area with a lot of history and strong ethic when it comes to bolts (i.e. minimal). I don’t agree with this, and I also think it violates the larger global climbing ethic. Some of the power houses of alpine climbing have gone on the record as well to state their displeasure in this matter. It should be noted that US hardmen Josh Wharton and Zack Smith almost completed a bolt free ascent of Cerro Torre about 3 years ago. Talk about style, integrity, and commitment. That’s the style I respect and value, it’s rising to the mountain, not bringing the mountain to your level.

Regardless, I was not happy with what happened and since I can’t really do anything about it, I exercised my vestigial prerogative as a consumer in the land of the free and the Incorporated…I wrote a pious letter that won’t make a difference.

“I’m writing to express my extreme disappointment and disgust regarding the controversy related to Red Bull sponsored athlete David Lama’s activities in Argentine Patagonia. The controversy surrounding the addition of fixed hardware on the Compress Route on Cerro Torre is a testament to how little your company seems to understand about a community of its intended customer base. While statements have been made arguing that nothing illegal has transgressed, the difference between legality and morality is the real issue at hand. The fact that some of the most respected and accomplished international alpine climbers have spoken out publicly on the matter is testament to egregiousness of the offense against the ethics of the global climbing community.Even if the fixed hardware is removed, the rock will be forever marred for future climbers. This is unacceptable. As David Lama is a sponsored athlete of Red Bull and the trip was publicized by Red Bull, I hold Red Bull equally responsible in this matter as David Lama, Daniel Steuerer, and the film crew. As such, I will forgoe any and all future purchases of Red Bull or any affiliated product. In addition, I will encourage friends to follow suit in refusing to purchase Red Bull products. I don’t imagine that this will have any significant impact on Red Bull or its profits, but it is all that I can do, so I will do what I can to stand for something I believe in.”

I should probably mentioned, I’ve actually never had a Red Bull. I’ve gotten into Monster Khaos in the past year and half to get through late night drives. Lately though, I’ve been ditching Monster for Stewart’s Green Buzz after a friend of mine turned me on to it. Green Buzz is all natural; green tea, honey, caffeine and then the usual assortment of herbs and the “hippy shit” (ginseng, taurine, etc). Stewart’s is more of a local company for us (Saratoga Springs, NY) and they are a much better company (they treat their workers pretty well; benefits, retirement…not bad for a gas station gig).

[PODCAST] Win Some, Lose Some Posted on 05.30.2010 by greg.kuchyt

This past week was pretty rough for me, I’ve been dealing with a bunch of stuff and it’s been forcing me to be introspective. That’s not a bad thing, just exhausting after a while. I’ve needed some creative outlet for all this or face a meltdown. Lately I’ve been listening to the Dirtbag Diaries and I’ve become a big fan. So, in shameless “imitation is the best compliment” fashion, I’m trying my own hand at writing and producing my own podcast entries. So far, I enjoyed working on this…so I imagine I’ll make some posts podcasts from time to time when I feel like they would benefit from being presented in that medium.

This cast deals with Matt and I getting shutdown before we even got off the ground on a climb we set out to do yesterday. Part of my awesome week involved me messing up plans to climb for four days straight. In the post I talk about how my week led me to want to do something bigger than the typical cragging. It’s been a while since Matt and I threw ourselves at something in the backcountry and that’s mainly my fault. I talk about that a little bit as well. Well, it wasn’t in the cards though. So instead we had to find meaning in the day elsewhere, and I think we finally settled on the lesson for the day. I hope this is enjoyable, I know it’s not 100% perfect but for the short turnaround time and my first shot I don’t think it’s too awful.

Oh, apologies for the low volume…you’ll probably have to crank it to hear the cast. I need to up the input level next time, so I had to cut everything down to the quiet vocal tracks and I can’t really make it any louder without distorting the audio.


Music: Bigdro & Zinndeadly Ft. Mystic – Choose One; Substantial – Day in the Life; The Album Leaf – Redeye; Method Man – Win Some, Lose Some

Fear, Style and the Unknown Posted on 05.29.2010 by greg.kuchyt

First things first. I’m not going to pretend like I’m setting any kind of benchmark for the world of climbing. I don’t pretend to believe that I do anything that matters to anyone other than myself. Everything I write here is really more of a chance for me to work through the mess of thoughts in my head. A lot of times I’m too diplomatic and consider too many points to be able to come to easy opinions without working them out first, so this helps with that.

In general I’m afraid of new things; I’m afraid of the unknown. I’m not afraid to fall, I’m afraid of not knowing what the fall will be like. I’m not afraid to make a decision, I’m afraid to make a decision when I don’t know the outcome of it. I’m not scared of new things, I’m scared of new things when I don’t know how they’ll integrate into my life. I think we all get the point now.

I’ve been using climbing to help work on broadening my ability to deal with “the unknown”. My emotions always seem magnified when climbing; I’m super excited when I have success, super scared when I get challenged, and super frustrated when I fail. Because of this, I’ve been really trying to push myself, on both rock and ice, the past 6 months to get into “uncomfortable” situations where I won’t know what’s going to happen. Through this process, I’ve run into a dilemma of sorts regarding rehearsing vs. on-sighting routes that are at my limit.

In my mind, the purest ascent is the on-sight, I don’t think that’s a controversial opinion. I prefer to on-sight routes rather than rehearse moves because I think it is an expression of skill level, again nothing controversial here. Where I was struggling was the notion that rehearsing/working a route (head-pointing) is a cop-out. I think I felt working a route was a cop-out because it’s me saying I’m scared to get on this route because I don’t know how it’s going to end. Will I succeed or will I fail? If I fail, what does that mean? This is the stuff that made me accept repeating the same climbs over and over last year, not putting it out there on something new.

So, an on-sight is an expression of current skills/fitness. On-sighting means you were able to put it all together there and then; that you were good enough to do that route. For me, it’s also validation that I’m pushing my comfort zone and not falling into the patterns I’d like to break out of. A couple weekends ago I put aside my on-sight mentality on two 5.10b trad routes I had my eyes set on. One was because the conditions were really cold and the crux looked thin (i.e. small, finnicky gear) and I didn’t think it was smart to go at it. The second was on a face route where I just didn’t see the gear. Keep in mind the gear was all there, I just didn’t see it, so I rehearsed it all on TR to make sure it was safe in my head. I struggled with this decision, eventually leading the second climb from the ground later that day and leading the first climb last weekend. I got through both routes fine, but after completing the first of the two routes two weekends ago, I felt like my accomplishment was somehow tainted.

In retrospect, when you’re learning something, you have to practice it to make progress. As well, progression happens in steps; big walls and hard lines had to be aided before they were freed, which bumped up the standard. In reality, head-pointing doesn’t do any harm, it’s a tool in the tool box to keep you safe and push your limit. Use it right and you can use it to propel yourself safely onto other “hard” objectives. The day after that second 10b, I on-sighted a fairly sustained 140ft. 10a face route that forced me to move above micro-cam placements. Progression; that’s probably one of my hardest leads yet in my 2 years of leading, and it was on-sight.

My dilemma was that I felt like I was wimping out, that I was falling prey to my fear of the unknown. I realized, I was willing to take risk, but sometimes you need to know what’s good for you and limit your risk. That same idea carries into life too, sometimes the unknown part of a decision is too much risk, and you change things to limit that risk. That 5.10a was plenty dicey in a couple spots (more so than the 10bs possibly). To quote Dustin Hoffman’s character in Confidence, “You know what I learned about style that day? … Style can get you killed”. A tad extreme? Yeah, maybe, but a valid point to consider as we push ourselves closer and closer to the limit.

Training thoughts Posted on 04.23.2010 by greg.kuchyt

In the past month I’ve realized a couple of things. First off, I can’t train super hard for four days a week and take climbing trips. If I am to train that hard, I have to not do any type of climbing or anything on the off-days or the weekends. This paradigm would probably work if I didn’t climb year-round (rock & ice). Since I do climb year-round, and would like to continue doing so, I now know I can’t train that much and still get out without getting injured. Hopefully I’ll be able to escape being on the injured list aside from aching shoulders every now and then.

Second, somewhere in the past year I made a lot of progress in my climbing specific strength. I think it’s fair to say that all the training has definitely helped in this respect. Being fit helps you in that it reduces the limit physical conditioning plays when you get to a “difficult” section. I can hold on longer to try and work through the moves and apply better technique. I experienced this a few days ago, leading a 5.9 trad route that I had followed a year or so ago. Last year, I made the move way harder than it needed to be by trying to lay-back where I should have stemmed and finger locked. I used “better” technique this time, though still probably not so good as I was a bit scared from the mental history I had with this route. Stemming and jamming was orders easier & felt way more secure than lay-backing and soon I was above the crux putting in my next piece of gear. It’s nice to feel progress.

Red River Gorge (3.30.10 – 4.2.10) Posted on 04.08.2010 by greg.kuchyt


roadside parking area

Busy Tuesday at Roadside Parking Area

We were wheels up around 06:30 and had and unusual NE wind that helped get us to Mt. Sterling, KY in about 3 hours. After picking up the dropped off rental car and driving into Slade on the famed Mountain Parkway, we chose to hit the Roadside Crag for a solid half-day of climbing. We got to the cliff around 13:00 (1 pm) and did an “easy” day just go get mileage in. We did the following:

  • Roaside Attraction (5.7 5-star Trad)
  • Five Finger Discount (5.8 4-star Trad)
  • A.W.O.L. (5.10a 4-star Sport)
  • Crazy Fingers (5.10c 4-star Sport)
  • Pulling Pockets (5.10d 4-star Sport)
  • Fadda (5.10a 4-star Sport)

We wanted to get on Andromeda Strain (5.9+ Trad) but the description and the look of the route made us wait to try and get on it after it had a chance to dry out. We ran into a nice guy who just moved to the area to work as a snake handler at the local reptile zoo (which doubles as a snake venom milking facility) who we made loose plans to climb with. Don and I then packed up and went to the hotel and realized the restaurant was closing so we then went down to Miguel’s to revel in the Gorge’s climbing scene and plan the next day.

Earthsurfer (5.11d)

Don on the lower section of Earthsurfer (5.11d)


We decided to head into Muir Valley with our new found snake handling friend. Specifically we went to The Hideout for the 5-star route Boltergeist. We climbed the following:

  • Moots Madness (5.10a 3-star Sport)
  • Boltergeist (5.10b 5-star Sport)
  • Bushwhacked (5.10+ 3-star Mixed)
  • Preemptive Strike (5.10c 4-star Sport)
  • Earthsurfer (5.11d 4-star Sport) [Greg only w/1 fall; Don climbed first half of route below crux)

At the end of the day, we hit up Miguel’s again with our reptilian wrangler friend and had a good day overall (probably my favorite day of the trip; mellow, enjoyable, and no stress)


Don and I resolved to trad climb today and we set our sights on the Long Wall specifically the two 5-star routes Autumn & Rock Wars. I think this is when things started to catch up to us. I know I didn’t sleep much that night and we were directly in the sun and the temps were over 80 degrees. We didn’t get a lot done, but we were also climbing “harder”. Here’s what we did:

  • Autumn (5.9- 5-star Trad)
  • Rock Wars (5.10a 5-star Trad)
  • The Gift (5.12a 5-star Sport) [Greg led to 6th bolt (above first technical crux, below upper power crux) after two falls and then bailed]

After I bailed on The Gift we wasted a lot of time trying to figure out what to do and then finally settled on just running up a nearby 5.10b sport route, Boom! Boom! Out Go the Lights. We both made it only to the second bolt and then finally bailed on the route due to sensitive skin and what felt like incredibly sharp rock that took any pleasure out of the experience. I just want to say the the Trango Squid is an awesome device that allows you to clean fixed quickdraws with ease. I think you can make a similar setup with a work clamp, but for $30 the squid is worth it to me. We retreated back to the hotel restaurant for dinner and made our plan for the next day; to climb for a half-day and then pack it up and head home.


We woke up early and headed off to Pebble Beach with Central Scrutinizer (5.9 5-star Trad) & Brontosaurus (5.10b 5-star Trad) being the main objectives. Here’s what we did there:

  • Scabies (5.9+ 3-star Sport)
  • Central Scrutinizer (5.9 5-star Trad)
  • Environmental Impact (5.7 4-star Trad)
  • Straight-Edge (5.12a 3-star Sport) [Greg attempted, bailed at the first bolt…no go juice]
  • Brontosaurus (5.10b 4-star Trad)

I pretty much hit the wall on Environmental Impact. My feet were really sore and I was climbing horribly to do whatever I could to not use my feet. I made it to the first bolt on Straight-Edge and just didn’t really feel like I had it in me to try and push through, so rather than hijack the rest of the day I bailed, only to get schooled on Brontosaurus. I just didn’t have the go juice to get through that without falling, thankfully seconding the pitch. I didn’t sleep well the night before and the aggregate exhaustion of the trip and the 80 degree weather of these past two days hit all at once. Thankfully, after Brontosaurus we were heading to the car and the airport.

All in all this was a much better trip for me in terms of performance. I didn’t suffer from the fall anxiety of the last trip at all and I managed to push myself on to a couple of really hard (for me) climbs. Don and I discussed it and I agree with him that the next trip I need to bang out as many 11s as possible to become rock solid at that grade. In all I took back a greater sense of what I’m capable of and a bigger ticklist for some climbs I want to try to attempt here at the home crag in the Adirondacks. We’ll see how this goes.

Hopeful expectations Posted on 03.29.2010 by greg.kuchyt
Packed bags for Kentucky

Bags all packed

So in about 6 hours I’ll be heading to Kentucky again. This time I’m armed with a little more experience and an idea of what I’m getting into. Last year I struggled most of the time down there. I’m just not used to that kind of climbing. It’s funny, 4 years ago I probably would have been better suited to climbing down there, but the past couple years I’ve been focused more and more on trad here in the Adirondacks.
In previous years I used to crank out time in the bouldering cave and on the wall working hard problems/routes. Now I’m more focused on keeping my endurance and strength in maintenance mode and keeping overall fitness up so I can get out and increase my plethora of trad technique/experience, as I feel like that’s where the bulk of advancement is made in moderate to hard trad climbing.
I’m getting away from the point here. Last year I managed to finally settle in on the last two days in Kentucky and was able to hit easy 5.11 (not bad, but not great). This round my goal is to attempt to get on 5.11d, or if things are really going well 5.12a. Last year I was scared to fall or move above a bolt if I felt like I was going to fall (residual self-preservation from climbing in the Adirondacks). This year I’m rolling in with more experience and coming off an ice season with some leads that put me in a soloing head spaces. I managed to roll this into the rock season already this year and got into a hard roof crack (hard 5.9) that I took a couple falls on (bomber gear). It was a big step to get on a route where I knew I would likely fall.
So in short, this time around I’d like to push above bolts and not be worrying about falls (a ridiculous fear most of the time) and concentrate on climbing at my limit (the whole point of sport climbing). Hopefully I can have some success in Kentucky and bring it back here to the Adirondacks and fuel my push into the 5.10 grade, but only time will tell.

2010 Rock Goals Posted on 03.16.2010 by greg.kuchyt

I previously posted my “report card” from the 2009 rock season. So to follow suit, here’s my goal list for 2010. It’s exceedingly bold and optimistic. We’ll see how things go. 2010 Rock Goals