Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Crazy Horse (more soon)

I spent a week climbing and adventuring in Northern Thailand and will write about it soon! (likely after finals)

Determined to blog more and send most

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

It's a new day!

After rereading my previous post (wow, it's been a while!), I have to say, things are looking up! I'm in college, woo!!!, studying some awesome things, climbing outside here and there, competing a little bit, and spending some time with some awesome people. MIT gets intense sometimes, and my brain is definitely in better shape than my body right now (minus the sleep deprivation), but I'm pretty thankful to be am where I am right now.

I'll start at January of last year, when I finally had my shoulder rehabbed enough to start climbing hard again. MIT gives us the month of January to do whatever we want, so I decided to live with my sister in Washington, DC for the month. I worked at a web startup during the day writing content for their marketing team, and trained for ABS Nationals at night. I got to climb at Earth Treks Rockville, which is a fantastic gym, and also happens to be where Taylor Reed coaches!

Earth Trekking with Emily and Taylor (Rockville, MD)

One weekend I had to go to a fraternity conference in Indianapolis, so while I was there I checked out this awesome gym there called Hoosier Heights, where they have a DWS simulation wall built over a foam pit. It was so much fun!

Climbing "The Snake" at Hoosier Heights (Indianapolis)
Sadly I didn't walk away with many photos from Nationals, but I managed to have a good time anyways. I was one of only a handful to flash the last qualifier route, which felt pretty cool! I missed Semifinals by a couple of spots, but it was still the best performance I've had at an Open Nationals, with some pretty significant constraints on my training schedule.

Fast forward to spring break: I got the chance to check out the Red River Gorge, and it was awesome! I flew into Cincinnati, met up with Alex, and set up camp a few hours south at Miguel's Pizza, one of the greatest climber hangouts on Earth.

Trying for the redpoint on 8 Ball, 5.12b (RRG) photo: Alex Bugaj
I was awestruck by the Motherlode cave, and was really excited to try Flour Power,  one of the most aesthetic climbs on the wall. I've had a poster of Emily Harrington crushing this climb since I was 13 years old, so it felt surreal to finally be pulling those moves myself! Halfway up the wall, there's this ledge where you can sit down for a no-hands rest and read one of the magazines people have left there. I even saw a coloring book, but sadly, there weren't any crayons.

Fast-forward again to summer: I was back in LA, working in an Artificial Intelligence lab (robots everywhere!), and climbing out of LA Boulders. Some highlights included learning how to surf (thanks for teaching me, Jay!), hitting up Black Mountain with Isaac, and a road trip to Ghost Ranch with my sister and Greg.

Learing to surf (Malibu, CA)

Sunset from Kitchen Mesa (Ghost Ranch, NM)

This past term I've gotten outside a few times with Matt, and discovered that Northeast bouldering is pretty good!

That's all for now. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Some News

I'll be brief. I won't be going to Youth Nationals in Atlanta for the last year that I am eligible. After seven weeks off recovering from surgery, I lost a lot of strength in the supporting muscle groups in both of my shoulders that were keeping my rotator cuff injuries at bay. When I tried to make a comeback for the SCS season, I aggravated them pretty badly. Simply put, it now hurts to climb hard. Although I was able to participate in Regionals and Divisionals, it was without any serious preparation and only put off the focused recovery time I now feel that I owe myself after three and a half years of chronic shoulder issues.

This was a very hard decision for me to make, mostly because of the people I will miss seeing at the event, but also because it feels a bit like giving up. But it's also out of respect for the game. This level of competition demands a level of preparation and effort that I'm physically unable to put forward this time. I would choose to either train well or rehabilitate (injury) well, but by now only one of those options is achievable for me.

To all my friends in the competitive climbing community: you are the most inspirational, estimable, and supportive group of people in my life. Although this isn't goodbye, I love you guys, and I'm going to miss every one of you.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Paris World Championships

I really thought I'd already blogged about this- oops! I hope my hordes of dedicated readers aren't too upset with me.

Paris is a city best experienced first-hand. With a baguette in the other hand. If you've been, it shouldn't be too much of a surprise to you that the food was the highlight of my trip. It was very difficult to stay away from those chocolate croissants until I was done competing, but because I didn't make it past qualifiers, my dilemma was short-lived and I was quickly consuming pastries to my heart's content.
Creds to Rachel Schwartz for kick-ass restaurant recommendations. Chez Omar, above, was unreal.

Even when we ate at the apartment, I could still get excited about the CHEESE
Also, I have this weird habit of napping excessively frequently in Paris. It's just something about the city, I guess.

Oh yeah, and I also represented the United States for speed climbing. As awesome as that necessarily was, there are a few reasons that this, the reason I traveled to Paris, was ultimately not the highlight of my experience there (which should help explain why I'm writing this halfway into the post).

Stepping up for my first qualifier run

Here's what I took from the experience. I executed well, given my level of preparation, and that felt good. Shockingly, I actually managed to beat Sean McColl, one of my heroes and a former world champion in the speed climbing event. However, this success, along with the ridiculously low cutoff times for the final round (below seven seconds!) drove home a message that wasn't what I expected to learn from the comp, and it wasn't the happiest one. The lesson was simple: if I want to succeed in speed climbing, I will need to specialize. The day of the generalist competitor is over. None of the speed climbers in finals were a threat in the other events, and vice-versa.

As sobering as this realization was for me, I still had a great time with the Speed Team and we managed to laugh off our collective destruction by the professional speed climbers we were up against.

Julian, Ahmed, and I waiting out the speed delays

Julian, Dominic, and I ("The Dream Team") celebrating our 36 through 38th sweep.
Even if the professionalization of the speed event was unnerving, it was part of a broader trend the competition spelled out in bold terms: this sport is getting awesome. Watching finals was like a dream come true, and not just for the quality of the climbing. The crowd filled a stadium larger than the Staples center. Even the live feed was awesome (ok, I did a little watching from the apartment, I admit), and the commentators are professional quality. They even use those drawing tools now, the ones that football analysts always play with! And the Olympic Committee was there to see it all firsthand.

Just seeing climbing on TV's made me so happy.
For anyone denying that climbing is a spectator sport, I have 19,000 fans here who would say otherwise
As inspiring as it was to see my sport growing before my eyes, that source of inspiration paled in comparison to the paraclimbing events. I saw a Brazilian athlete with cerebral palsy fight his way up a forty-five degree overhang, a British woman lifted out of a wheelchair to battle it out on the same route, and a blind Japanese man nearly send it. As climbers, we often make flimsy excuses for ourselves to forgive our own shortcomings in climbing: "I'm too short for this route," "that move was too scrunchy," or, my personal favorite, "my shoulder hurts." These men and women had real excuses. But they kept climbing, kept training, and overcame greater challenges just to get on the wall than I've ever been faced with, in climbing or in life. It was enough to make me feel guilty to be able to just get up and climb without thinking about it. But I believe that being grateful is more productive than feeling guilty, so I adopted a new mantra: No more excuses, ever. Craig DeMartino was the only American athlete to medal in Paris, and he did it with an amputated leg. Let's follow his example.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Thailand: BETA

Josh Levin and I co-authored this post to help climbers visiting Tonsai and Railay sort out the details of their trip and show up more prepared to enjoy the best beach climbing in the world. To anyone not visiting, it will be a pretty boring read. You have been warned.


We spent almost all of our time on the single-pitch sport climbs on Tonsai. These are right on the beach, so the convenience was unbeatable- plus, most of them are safely bolted (see "safety" below). I don't know how strong you're feeling right now, but you should have a month's worth of great options if you're in the 5.11 to 5.13+ range. You should definitely get a guide book to find the climbs. You can get one online or at a climbing shop on West Railay. Also bring a sixty meter dry-treated rope, 15 draws, a GriGri, and lockers, ATC's and slings if you plan to try out the multi-pitch. Here is a cross-section of my favorite sport climbs:
  • Lars & Lars 5.11d- one of my all time favorite technical climbs.
Emily Andrews on Lars & Lars
  • Reminiscence 5.12a- I loved it, Josh didn't. Wet start, but improves rapidly.
  • Bhet Mak Mak 5.13a- stiffer and more interesting than some of the other climbs on the beach.
  • Tantrum 5.13c- probably the only climb you will ever need to do a figure-four on outdoors. lots of campusing out the roof leads to an easy-ish finish. Fun 13c right by the tonsai bar.
  • Asia's Shadow Play 5.13c- amazing crimps, great movement, beautiful climb- probably the most photogenic route on the beach. If you have 3+ people, have someone climb the 10d crack just to the right of this and anchor themselves about halfway up to take pictures. It's a bit of work but the photos are well worth the effort. 
Josh Levin on Asia's Shadow Play. Photo: Emily Andrews
  • Cara Congresso 5.13d- really fun moves. A four-clip boulder problem culminating in a lunge to a bucket jug, with some rewardingly easy pulling at the top- except if it has rained recently- like it did before Josh and I sent- in which case, good luck!
  • Jai Dum 5.13d- stellar climb that follows an overhanging line of crimps on the right side of tonsai beach wall. lots of big throws and an exciting final mantle at the anchors.
  • Heart of darkness: 5 pitches, 5.11d- on the Cat Wall. Bring lots of food and water, and review what "back-clipping" is with the locals. Be fully prepared to downclimb most of the route, and plan a whole day for it. Probably one of the coolest climbs I've ever done in my whole life. (there's a section in which you climb THROUGH a tufa)
Definitely go deepwater soloing at some point during your trip. There are multiple guide services on Tonsai that you can talk to about this, but basically you sign up the day before and show up at around 9am to see if it's cancelled for the day. It often is, but keep trying. You'll need to sign up with like five other people to optimize the cost (and the experience- it's very social), so be sure to plan ahead and make friends. That said, even paying full price (I think the equivalent of like 30 bucks) is totally worth it. Ask to go to the Spider Man wall, it's the most famous. Also, pay attention to tides because if they're too low in the morning they will probably cancel.
A note on the multi-pitch: if you go during the Monsoon season like we did (the summer months), then you have to expect huge thunderstorms at virtually any moment. They roll in remarkably fast. Thus, the multi-pitch experience is much different, and you'll have to stick to the overhanging, slightly sketchier (since it gets less traffic and hasn't been rebolted), less classic climbs like we did. Our experience was still awesome, and it actually rained most of the day, so the Cat Wall is definitely a good option- the Thaiwand, on the other hand, would be a lightning trap in those conditions.
If you go during peak season, you should have somewhat predictable weather. Still be wary of anything resembling rain clouds, but definitely make an effort to get on the classic multi-pitch over past West Railay. Again, bring tons of food and water.

Living in Railay- "the life"

Where to eat: find Mama's Chicken on Tonsai behind the Midnight Bar (or was it the Pirate Bar?) for the best fried rice you've ever had (also great curry, pad thai, and other stuff). This is super convenient for lunch and dinner because it's a two minute walk from the climbing. There's also a smoothie bar right next to it, and although we were worried at first, we had many smoothies by the end of the trip and did not get sick.

Sadly, the big pancakes are not so good. Everything else is.

Elise Sethna, in particular, lived on these. 100x better than Jamba Juice.

Where to stay: we stayed at the Tonsai Bay Resort (the only one with AC on Tonsai) and really enjoyed it. Free breakfast, electricity (only at night during Monsoon season), very clean rooms, and did I mention AC? If you're staying on West Railay you will get nicer accomodations but you will have a very steep 20minute hike to get to the climbing. Don't stay on East Railay if you can avoid it; it's needlessly far from the climbing and not as nice as the other beaches in my opinion. Check out railay.com for booking and more information.
Note: don't stay in Krabi if your trip's primary focus is the climbing. It's inconvenient. See Transportation below.

Rest Days: occasionally the bouldery style of the beach climbs will make you sore enough to take one. Head over to West Railay for some finer sand to relax and read. They have a little market if you feel like picking up souvenirs, a nicer climbing shop than those found on Tonsai, an ATM, and WiFi in the hotel lobbies. The networks are password protected, but that isn't a problem if you're creative.
I also highly recommend renting a kayak for a few hours if the weather looks good. If you rent one on Tonsai and head north (away from West Railay), just around the corner there is a spot for some small cliff-jumping, and fifteen minutes of paddling further there is actually some DWS on what's called the Ao Nang Tower. It's a great adventure. Not very restful, but very worthwhile.

Health and Safety
Don't stop reading; this is important. If you get the Lightner guide book you will get way more info on this- I highly recommend it actually. Thailand is a friendly place and you shouldn't feel threatened most of the time. However, a few things are very dangerous about it that you should be aware of.

1) The hospitals suck. Make sure you won't need to go to one. If you do, insist on going to the private hospital in Phuket, not the public one in Krabi. It's a little further but supposedly higher quality. I think it's 45 minutes via boat taxi instead of 25 minutes.

2) Do not trust the bolts unless they're titanium glue-ins. Even new looking D-ring steel bolts regularly pop out of the wall. Any guide book you buy will have pictures so you can learn how to tell the difference.

3) Don't drink the water. You should probably go see a travel doctor before you go to get antibiotics in case traveler's diarrhea occurs anyway, and to make sure your shots are up to date. Plastic water bottles are sold everywhere fairly cheaply and are definitely the way to go.

4) The animals carry diseases, and poop in the sand. You'll do plenty of walking around barefoot, which is fine, but try to wear sandals and avoid the monkeys and stray cats. You don't want to have to try out one of those hospitals.

Yes, you read that right- Tonsai is teeming with monkeys. Mostly they ignore you, but keep track of your stuff (it's amazing what they get a hold of...) and try not to show your teeth to them. It's a sign of aggression.

5)In one of the guidebooks, it severely warned against exploring caves that are not listed in the guidebook in your free time, since there are bird-hunters that will actually shoot you if you attempt to go near their caves. There are also land-mines, supposedly. Never had any problems with this at all, but just something to keep in mind and it makes a great story ("hey ____, we were climbing near an active mine-field!"). So just avoid hopping fences or trespassing at all costs.

Also, infections occur more frequently in the jungle environment. Bring plenty of first aid supplies and use them gratuitously. Antibiotic soap- liquid is better, since bars collect bacteria- is a must.


Though this may vary depending on the specifics of your trip, here are the basics. It's easy to find a bus from the Krabi airport to Ao Nang Mao. In fact, at the bus stand there are now signs for Railay; just buy a ticket there and keep telling the drivers, ticket sellers, and boat drivers that you're looking for Railay Beach. There are no roads that connect the Prah Nang peninsula (where Railay is) to the mainland, so you'll have to take a bus or taxi to a small coastal town and a boat taxi from there to Railay Beach. Get a few hundred dollars at the airport exchanged for Baht- Thailand is cheap, but not THAT cheap. Eating on Railay especially gets expensive. Thankfully, there's an ATM on West Railay.
Remember to bring/do before you go: (not a comprehensive list, but hopefully still useful)

  • Credit cards and an ATM card- call your bank before leaving to make sure you can withdraw cash from Thailand
  • Sunscreen and bug repellant
  • A sharp knife to trim your rope, since the ends wear down extremely quickly in Tonsai
  • A sense of adventure :)
Have an awesome trip. Trust me, you won't want to leave.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Singapore Youth World Championships

     Josh and I woke up early, hauled our stuff over to East Railay to catch a boat, and bid our goodbyes to the best beach climbing in the world, thanking God for sunshine all the while. It was our last day in Thailand, and we'd been living in fear of another steep, muddy trek across the Prah Nang Peninsula like we suffered through when Emily left during a monsoon.
     A few hours later, our boat taxi pulled up to a remote dock hemmed in by jungle with little sign of habitation- let alone the resort where we hoped to stay the night before our departing flight. I thought well, if this guy's leaving us high and (somewhat) dry, this could be the adventure of a lifetime. Thankfully it wasn't, the resort was a five-minute walk inland, and our faith in the random boat dude was rewarded.
     That was the sort of mindset Josh and I left Thailand with. A couple days later we were back in the comp zone, pulling on standardized speed holds, and trying not to get psyched out. I must admit, I missed the beach climbing life, but I soon experienced some great highlights to ease the culture shock.

     The only thing you ever hear about Singapore is how clean it is. People somehow forget to mention the breathtaking urban architecture. There were awesome buildings left and right, but everything pales in comparison to "The Boat" (Skywalk, which is actually sitting on a hotel) and "the seashell" (the ArtScience museum. Yes, you read that right) in the Marina Bay area.

      There were a lot of malls. And yes, we referred to Sentosa, the resorty area we stayed at to be close to the comp venue, as "Disneyland with the death penalty." But on the flipside Singapore is diverse, culturally rich, and tolerant to the core. Just walking around after US Team Practice we found excellent vegetarian Chinese food and a Buddhist temple.
     Plus, I got to hang out with two of my favorite girls! (Cicada and Michaela)
     They asked the girls to wear sarongs, but aside from that understandable request the place was super welcoming to tourists, which we thought was pretty cool.

Indoor forest at customs. nbd.
     Also, I know this is a bit out of place but I have to give a shout out to the world's best airport (pool on the roof, movie theaters, world-record indoor slide, need I go on?) and the great food of every variety.
If I had to live on a desert island...
     In a flash, the comp was in full swing. Opening ceremonies were the exciting blur they always are, in large part due to the iffy camera lighting. I did manage to lift our flag higher than those of the other countries- a rare feat, since Russia always comes prepared with a telescoping pole- by sitting on Owen Graham's shoulders. It was a special moment for me, and I even got the crowd going a bit, but probably an unpleasant one for him. Then of course I handed it back to Shannon Lockridge and Alex Fritz, its rightful bearers through the ceremony.

    The venue was sick- an overhanging wood wall right on the beach- but they forgot to add rain covers. You know, during monsoon season. This was problematic, but the weather delays usually resulted in something awesome, like this game of ultimate frisbee:
Andy, some Malaysian climbers, and I won the first game

     I was bummed to miss out on a game of cricket that happened while Sport qualifiers was delayed, but oh well. There was even a huge international long-jump contest right there in the sand. We may not speak the same languages, but we all know how to have fun together.
     Soon it was Saturday, and it was my turn to represent my country (not counting the frisbee games earlier in the week). I got there early, warmed up, and then waited for a good six or seven hours before climbing due to slow-moving warm-up runs on the speed wall. Still, as before, the delays turned into a bonding experience, even if we were all a little stressed out.
The speed team, sitting still for longer than anyone can remember. Oh yes, and Sean McColl in the background.

     To our surprise, Ryan Strickland (USA teammate) and I raced each other, just like we had every day in practice! It was Ryan's first Youth Worlds, and he killed it. Unfortunately I didn't meet my goal of making finals, but I achieved a personal best speed time of 9.5 seconds and placed 18th in the Junior category. It felt good to perform my best under lots of pressure, but the most gratifying aspect of youth worlds, as usual, was coming together as a National team with youth climbers from across the United States. It is truly unique in our individual sport to experience that kind of unity, especially with our top competitors, and it is far more powerful than the divisive competitive habits we grow used to. So, if any of my US teammates- or any competitors, really, are reading- remember how much we all have in common and how much more we can achieve by working, climbing, and competing together, instead of just trying to beat each other.
      On that note...Josh and I got interviewed after our climbs by some volunteers with a serious looking camera. Maybe it went up on the live feed, maybe not. We'll probably never know where that footage went, but now I now what it feels like to talk to cameras after a big performance- very difficult. ("I'm really grateful to be here...what was the question again?")
     Chelsea had the great idea of having us race to the island and back for a limited number of free shirts. We all started out with enthusiasm, but our endurance for swimming was quickly depleted and it took all our efforts to simply avoid drowning. It was fun, in retrospect- especially wrestling for the finish line with Josh, five or so others passing us while we struggled to beat each other. Does that sound hypocritical in light of my previous discussion? Eh, whatever, we both got the shirts.
For the last night, I started out in search of artificial wakeboarding (among Sentosa's more interesting attractions) with Brendan, Andy, Josh, Cicada, Michaela, Nicole, and Jacquelyn. I ended up eating the best chicken quesadillas of my life (in Singapore...who knew), meeting up with Alex Fritz and Callie Walter, swimming in multiple hotel pools and the ocean, running from a crazy German guy... and (you expect this by now) bonding with my best buds on team USA. :)

Thanks for reading!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Thailand 2012

*Note: a bit tired of the blogging narcissism, I'm planning on following this with a new type of blog post that centers around a place instead of an individual, and could help friends travel and climb around in Thailand. Check back soon!

     Tonsai. The most beautiful climbing I've ever experienced. A sport climber's paradise. The place where your rope falls apart, your shoes never really dry, your chalk bag fills with sand, and you don't really mind.
     Josh, Emily, and I were really glad we chose to go here before worlds, not just for the amazing environment, but because it really suited where we are in our outdoor climbing careers. There were a lot of 5.13's right there on the beach, a minute's walk from our hotel, so Josh and I did most of them. The exceptions tended to be either too dirty or too unsafe. Emily did the same with many of the 5.10's and 11's.

Photo: Emily Andrews
Photo: Emily Andrews

     This was my second time in Thailand. Although over five years I got a lot taller and a lot less tan, Lars & Lars (above) is still my favorite 5.11 in the world.

Photo: Emily Andrews
     This 5.11, however, was a contender. I could stem across to that tufa, so it was a good thing I put up the draws. Josh had to jump across. You could deck or hit that shelf from almost anywhere on the route. 

    Early on in the trip it seemed like my shoulder would put a serious limit on how hard I climbed on Tonsai. It was scary for me to push through some pain while I had two world championships in the coming weeks, but I desperately wanted to take advantage of the amazing climbing Tonsai had to offer. Fortunately, I only missed one climbing day and managed to improve the old injury's condition by taping, stretching, and warming up more effectively. 
     Then I had the best day of sport climbing of my life so far. Cara Congresso, a 5.13d that has been called 5.14a- probably a guidebook error, but still flattering- finally went down after many falls from the top on previous days. The last several jugs were very wet and a bit crumbly, but luckily I managed to pull through. It was fortunate that Alyse and Allison, some friends from Canada, were passing by as I was climbing because there was a big tangle in the rope that wouldn't go through the GriGri. They totally saved my send. 
     It was my hardest redpoint ever, and the day was young!
Photo: Emily Andrews
Photo: Emily Andrews
     After Josh sent his project on the other side of the beach (a ridiculously hard 13d called Jai Dum), I took a shot at Asia's Shadow Play 5.13c, managing to send it before lunch. Crimpy, technical, and 15 degrees overhanging, I'll remember the climb as one of my favorite routes in the world. Here's a great shot of Josh on it:
Photo: Emily Andrews

     After lunch and a smoothie I hopped on Tantrum 5.13c. It's an amazing line with a big dyno as the first move, some campusing and heel-hooks through the middle, and a big jug at the end. No pics of the send, unfortunately, but here's one of me lowering off:
Photo: Emily Andrews

     I knew it had been a great day, but I thought I might finish up with another send. Josh hopped on and set the bar high by flashing Sex Power, 5.13b. Unfortunately, I fell just beneath the chains as the day was coming to an end. Still, three 13+'s in one day felt pretty good!

     As if there wasn't enough excitement in our lives, we went deepwater soloing and multipitch climbing on two of the days. It rained both times, but somehow that didn't stop us on either occasion. I lump these vastly different experiences together because they shared some key things in common- they took me way out of my comfort zone, they made 5.11 feel like 5.14, and I didn't bring enough food. Great memories, not so great getting down.

Photo: Charlie Andrews
Photo: Josh Levin

My favorite memories, though, will be of hanging out with Emily and Josh. 
Photo: Josh Levin

Photo: Elise Sethna
Photo: Charlie Andrews

 Singapore post will be up soon, once I gather enough pics. Thanks for reading!