Mark Twight is Wrong.

There's No Crying in Baseball & No Cheating in Climbing

One of the most influential alpinists in the English-speaking world is Mark Twight. He has authored two of the most popular and highly-regarded books about mountain climbing, Extreme Alpinism and Kiss or Kill. Now he owns a gym Salt Lake City and focuses mostly on bicycling. Twight wrote widely-read statement in light of Lance Armstrong's admissions that Lance had knowingly violated explicitly-written rules of his sport, and had repeatedly lied about it.

This news compelled Twight to publicizing an attack on people who use bottled oxygen or Diamox while climbing. Twight tells us that these people are cheaters who must be opposed. He never describes how one should manifest this opposition, but perhaps an oxygen-bottle embargo or public excoriation are due. The important thing is that Twight is 100% right. But he just didn't go far enough. 

His argument:

the use of oxygen has no place, is cheating and overrules all other claim to achievement. Supplemental O2 is doping - without question. It is not a medical necessity, which is proven by many, many ascents of 8000m peaks without supplemental O2. 

If O2 allows one to accomplish a task that he or she otherwise could not do or was not willing to do then O2 is a performance-enhancing drug and should be treated as such. 

Sadly, our skeptical reaction further imprisons us within the limitations we set for ourselves or accept from others who set limits for us. If we greet every great performance with suspicion what becomes of its potential to inspire? What means will we use to unlock our own potential? Who will plant the guideposts along the trail? What new level of performance by one or two individuals will free the hundreds struggling just beneath them? 

This is what the cheaters have done to us. It is why we must expose and oppose them whenever it is possible.
The closest Twight comes to explaining why supplement O2 is "cheating" is stating the fact that it is not a medical necessity for climbing. It also makes climbing easier, and in some cases allows one to accomplish what they could not have done without it. So we have: The use of a substance that makes climbing easier, but has been proven not necessary for everyone, equals cheating. 
 He adds a further condition in which O2 is cheating.
"If O2 allows one to accomplish a task that he or she otherwise could not do or was not willing to do then O2 is a performance-enhancing drug and should be treated as such."
So if you were willing and able to do something without a substance, then using that substance wouldn't be cheating. Tank-up, Ueli, you've earned it! 

I initially found this justification awfully thin. But as my brain came to life over a morning cup of coffee during my last alpine start, I began to see the wisdom in Twight's words. After all, he's Mark Twight! He was writting climbing manifestos before I was born. And then it hit me! I was cheating at that very moment by fueling up for a 2AM drive and pre-dawn snow slog with a thermos of hot coffee. The impossible had been murdered, no mystery about it. It was Blake, in the driver's seat, with a double Americano. Surely others had done this climb without caffeine to speed their reaction times and make them more alert. I hung my head low in recognition of my own performance-enhancing shame. I had failed before I'd even stepped out of the car. But my cheating didn't stop there. I had brought along a vitamin-c tablet for my water bottle, since I'd been fighting off a head cold. But by adding this foreign supplement to the water in my pristine (though seldom-washed) nalgene, I was really just stealing from the future. If I was unable to handle this climb without coughing up a lung, then my body was just not ready and I should have dealt with getting sick and going home. Instead, I was making a deplorable attempt at bringing the climb down to my (phlegm-filled) level. I'm sure that this climb had been done  without supplement vitamins, echinacea tea, or other immune-boosting cheater pills. Surely this, too was desecrating the climb.
As the sun finally rose and glare from snow and ice burned my eyes, I cheated once again by donning my fancy photo-chromatic sunglasses. These served to alter my body's perception of reality, facilitating my travel through an environment for which my body would have performed very poorly. In fact, I am 100% certain that I would have been unable or unwilling to continue if I'd been snow-blinded and suffering headaches, so I stooped even lower, and kept on my shades. But surely some team of hardmen, climbing at night or amid only dense clouds, will embrace the mountain on its own terms and make a sunglass-free ascent, exposing all others as cheaters.
As I retreated from the mountain in contempt of my own ethical depravity, I recalled a 10-year-old I'd seen out climbing the other day, hangdogging in sneakers and having a blast swinging back and forth on a tensioned top-rope. I wondered, at the time, if anyone had told him about free climbing, or tried to explain any of the "rules" of an ascent to him. But 10-year olds generally aren't interested in rules, and to be honest, climbing doesn't have any to offer. Its difficulties are self-imposed contrivances, and we "fail" or "succeed" each time based solely upon the parameters we create for each climb we attempt. As long as we're not lying (and even 10-year-old non-climbers already know that rule) we should construct and pursue our climbs however we see fit. After about 20 minutes of frantic clawing, panting, hanging, rope-pulling, and 5th-grade ferocity, he reached the anchor, peered past the rope to his belayer,and shouted "Dad, I climbed it." He had. And without cheating one bit.


Winter, Spring, Spain

P3 of the Goat Beard - about to get sunny and start melting!

The only good climb on Goat Wall
This winter provided a good (though brief) ice cragging season in Washington. I was able to climb several of the Leavenworth-area classics, make an attempt on "The Pencil" (it was fractured at 80' up, so we did 2 other nearby climbs at the head of the drainage) and I climbed a rarely-formed 1,000' ice route on Goat Wall of Mazama, WA, called Goat's Beard.  The Goat's Beard had supposedly not been fully repeated for 20-odd years after the FA. Local ice gurus Craig Gyselinck and Vern Nelson had kept their eyes on the wall, and after they managed the second ascent, their online pictures inspired other local climbers ready for low-hanging fruit. This year it was fatter than ever, allowing continuous ice climbing where the original climbers had used a move or two of aid out a roof of classic Cascades mega-choss. My partner was Nate "ice-crusher" Farr, who had just returned from Canmore and  quickly ran up his pitches, which consisted of 4/5ths of the climb! The highlights were two freehanging WI5 pillars, an overhanging corner that was turning into a waterfall as we climbed it, and pulling our last rappel rope 5 minutes before a major chunk of the upper route exploded down the climb. We did the route in 5 pitches, with a touch of simulclimbing on a couple of them. I highly suggest a 70m rope for those climbers in the year 2035 who will read this during the next winter that this route comes into condition. And I hope for your sake that the Mazama store still sells day-old sandwiches for half-price in the year 2035 as well.

Leavenworth bouldering is GREAT right now. I've been out 3 of the past 4 days and also recently been able to roped climb a few days in preparation for an upcoming trip to Spain, followed by some April time in the desert southwest! A week ago I got off work in Leavenworth at 2:30PM
 and drove the 1:10 to the parking lot at Index, WA where I met with perpetually-motivated local Shaun Johnson for a half-headlamp and half-running-with-water free ascent of Davis-Holland to Lovin' Arms on the ~600' Upper Town Wall. Despite forgetting the belay devices, we munter-hitched our way up and down the route in 2.5 hours and felt lucky to sneak in an early-February climb of this classic route.

I leave for Spain later this week, and will be there for a month and a half sampling the world-famous limestone. Everything I know about Spain is based upon the following video. I expect to enjoy much religious art and many anchovies!


Gear Mods, AKA How to Instantly void that Factory Warranty

Do you want to hack up your gear or drill holes in it or use a backpack strap to secure your crampons?

Me too!

The following modifications and similar changes will probably result in forfeiting your product's warranty, having a greater chance of other gear problems arising, going lactose intolerant, developing mumps, and sacrificing your first-born. Proceed with care.

8.something ounce crampons which are ideal for most summer alpine rock routes with glacier approachs (Bugaboos, North Cascades, pre-dawn starts on the Diamond, etc). 

optional heel-loop attachment glue
  1. These began weighing 12.3 ounces but I removed the heel bindings and "narrowed" the toe binding with athletic tape.
  2. I reinforced the heel loops with lots of Seam Grip, but if you have the models of approach shoes that actually have strong cord/laces running around the back of the heel, that would be even better and super secure. 
  3. I take a short "simple strap" off a Cilogear pack for when it's crampon time, if you don't have one and you've made it this far, you'll figure something out.

$1.29 for an adjustable pinky rest

  1. Buy a hose clamp from a hardware store, I suggest the flathead rather than phillips model, so you can adjust it with a knife or crampon or nut tool, etc
  2. The "J" shaped piece is some kind of electric cable hold-in-place gizmo. I just wandered around the store until I saw something that looked about right. I then bent it into shape with some burly pliers.
  3. You can loosen this just a little and move it up to the top of the ice axe if you are going to be walking with it, then slide it down and tighten it for the part of the climb where you are "swinging" and it only takes a minute.

The world's lightest boots for automatic crampons

  1. This would probably work with most similar boots as well, but I started out with the "Scarpa Rebel".
  2. Take a hack saw and remove some material from the front of the boot. Use Freesole (a thicker version of Seam Grip) to create a little "shelf" beneath the groove you've cut into the toe, and/or glue on a small bit of hard rubber (the sole of any old junker shoe should work) just below this shelf.
  3. Since a well-fitting crampon front bail is pressing mostly "in" on the boot and not "down" you should have yourself a boot that can take a fairly harsh beating using automatic-binding crampons. I did this before going to the Waddington Range last summer, because we knew that it wouldn't be cold and I wouldn't want a heavy and insulated boot, but I still may want something for climbing "real" ice/mixed using an automatic crampon. I've worn this setup for a 
      little local ice and alpine mixed climbing as well, with good results.
    1. However, I just read that the new version of this boot has been made with this minor change built  into the boot itself - Which seems like a no-brainer and makes me feel a bit like Kramer, with someone else again profiting from my foresight. In an effort to consistently reference Seinfeld, here's where the similarity lies. And as in Kramer's case, the only thing stopping me from  implementing my agenda in the world of boot manufacturing was "... no resources, no skill, no ability, no talent, no brains..."