Thursday, May 02, 2013

Climb On! (product review)

"Behold the hands, how they promise, conjure, appeal, menace, pray, supplicate, refuse, beckon, interrogate, admire, confess, cringe, instruct, command, mock and what not besides, with a variation and multiplication of variation which makes the tongue envious."

~Michel de Montaigne

Hands are useful things. 

And I use mine for so many things that I love. I climb with them. I make my living as an artist and graphic designer with them. I hold my daughters' hands in my hands. I build and create with them. I knead bread with them. I communicate with them, through gesture and typing and script. They are essential. They are a requisite, an imperative to my life. 

But despite - or perhaps because of - the necessitous of my hands, I abuse them. I am not gentle with my hands. And when you take the aggregate of abuse I inflict upon my hands it is no small miracle that they still function as well as they do.

Added to the physical abuse I inflict my poor hands I am constantly washing them, what with baking and cooking and building things. I scrub them and soap them up in hot water.

My hands really say a lot about me, and I don't mind the many scars and callouses that decorate them, but I do like to keep them in the best shape that I can. In addition to the hard playing I do, banging them, scraping them, bruising them, they are as equally important in holding my baby daughter, braiding the hair of my eight year-old, holding my wife's hand.

This is a tough situation to be in when you hate - HATE - lotion. Lotions are pretty gross. They mostly feel slimy and slippery and gooey. Kind of like a toad has licked you. And I promise you you don't want to try climbing with a coating of toad spittle on your hands. (Please note that I do not actually know what toad spittle feels like; this is just a broad supposition on my part for the sake of literary illustration.)

Enter Climb On! Originally made for climbers (Yay Climbing!), this is a great skin care product for anyone who has, well, skin. Seriously. This stuff is fantastic! The emulsifier (the stuff that holds all the other stuff together) is Cera alba (also known as yellow beeswax). And what that beeswax holds together is pretty amazing: Prunus armeniaca (apricot kernel oil), Vitis vinifera (grapeseed oil), Triticum vulgare (wheatgerm oil), essential ois of Citrus vulgaris (neroli), Lavendula angustifolia (lavender), Citrus limon (lemon), tocopherl (vitamin E). It's all the stuff your skin needs to be happy.

Don't believe me that this is all good stuff? According to the folks at Climb On! all the ingredients are chemical free and food grade. Yep, you can eat this stuff. And because I believe in thoroughness, I tried it. Just remember that just because you can eat something doesn't mean you should. It's kind of gross to eat. But safe!

Because I climb a lot, I use it a lot. And it works great. It really soothes and softens without the greasiness or sliminess of other lotions I've tried. One of the great things about Climb On! is that I can use it and still climb. It absorbs that well.

And Climb On! isn't just great for my hands. I use it on my feet, which also take a huge amount of abuse being shoved into tiny climbing shoes and made to run mile after mile in Fivefingers, to give my wife foot massages, on the many abrasions I get on my arms and legs while climbing, on my baby daughter's diaper rash (Thanks for that tip, @climbonproducts!), and on the skin around my eight year-old's nose when it gets chapped in the cold weather.

The scent is pleasant and not overwhelming. It smells clean and fresh.

I highly recommend Climb On! If you have skin, give it a try. 

Climb On! has a whole range of natural care products. Give them a visit at and follow them on Twitter at @climbonproducts.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Teachers Are Important

I think that teachers are important.

Of the influences that shape who and what we are, teachers are second only to parents in their capacity to subtly and dramatically impress, direct, incite, arouse, instigate, and persuade us. That is a bold statement, but a true one. (Upon greater reflection, I stand by that statement with one caveat: It is true from my perspective of having parents involved in my life, interested in me, and always willing to be full participants. In this world of dismissive parenting and parenting-by-proxy, perhaps I'm granting too much power to the class of disinterested parents. But teachers are still at the top.)

This is, like most everything powerful, both a good and bad thing. If you are lucky enough to have a good teacher - or so blessed as to have a great teacher - the benefits are incalculable. If you are unlucky enough to have a poor teacher - or so cursed as to have a terrible teacher - the costs are likewise hard to calculate.

I've had both.

When I think about the cast of people who, over the course of 40 plus years, have made a direct impact on my life, have changed the substance that makes me "me," teachers hold many of the top spots.

It is not so much the subjects taught by those teachers as it is the way they taught them that left a mark upon me. Enthusiasm for ideas, for learning, for knowledge. I've sat through classes with brilliant academics at the helm of a class who could not impart a single fact because of a complete lack of connexion with students. And I've been taught by teachers of decidedly ordinary knowledge but extraordinary personality who, if I close my eyes, are still present and alive in my mind after 30 years. It is true what Karl Menninger said, "What the teacher is, is more important than what he teaches."

There are teachers whose subjects have been, by a great degree, lost to me with the passage of time. Oh, perhaps tidbits from high school civics survive somewhere in my brain, but most of the knowledge from that class has seeped away. But a statement made by the civics teacher - a true gem of wisdom - imparted with great feeling and caring is still with me. Fresh. "You don't have to memorize all the facts. You don't have to cram your head full with every date or name. But if you learn to be good at finding information, know where to look for it, that will serve you well."

And it has.

Along with the Chungs and Attlesons and Zubers, teachers who inspired me and filled me with a love of learning, there have been others who did the opposite. 

When I was seven I hated school. Really hated it. I would pretend to be sick. And when that wore thin, I willed myself to actually be sick. And I got sick. I had a teacher who would not let me write my name in cursive - which sounds silly, but it was the way she invalidated my worth for wanting that small thing that made the impact. She told me that I did math the wrong way - not that the solution was wrong, but the way I did it was wrong. She was very good at attacking each student. She had a thousand little ways of making me feel stupid and wrong. And, as my mother discovered when visiting the school to find out the reason behind all this kid-sick-at-home-business, a teacher who yelled. A lot. My mother could hear her yelling at the class from all the way down the hall. After that I continued my education elsewhere.

That bitter taste has always remained with me. A bad experience with education like that does not just fade; it lingers, tainting all other experiences you have. If you want me to not hear a word you say, to lose any interest I might have had with an idea, raise your voice. Yell at me. It is guaranteed to block any learning from my brain. It took a long time after that for me to open up to teachers, trust them. Fortunately I had a home that was filled with learning and knowledge. But what about kids that don't have that?

So why am I talking about a teacher I had when I was seven?

Having had both good and bad teachers, I am very aware and very sensitive to the personalities of my daughter's teachers. And we've been lucky. No, we've been blessed.

At seven years old, my daughter loves school. It is the complete antithesis of what I experienced at that age. For that I am thankful. My daughter is, in so very many ways, like me. The good and the bad. Quick to become interested, curious, sometimes-too-inquisitive, but also impatient, easily bored, and often unfocused. It takes a special teacher to make both sides of that coin positive. My daughter's teacher does just that.

I have watched the ways in which her teacher, Ms. Kelsey, interacts with my daughter and all the children in her care.  I'm impressed. I see the use of creative solutions for each student, tailored to fit them all. I cannot envision a scenario in which my daughter comes home in tears because her teacher would not let her write her name in cursive. She'd incorporate that desire into a lesson somehow. 

And that makes my heart smile.

She has a talent as a teacher and is able to exemplify K. Patricia Cross' wise words about teachers: "The task of the excellent teacher is to stimulate 'apparently ordinary' people to unusual effort. The tough problem is not in identifying winners: it is in making winners out of ordinary people."

On this Teacher Appreciation Week 2012 I want to thank all the teachers who have helped me create myself, pursue my dreams, and foster a love of knowing more. And I want to give a very special thank you to Ms. Kelsey. I hope you know how precious and valuable a thing it is to me to see the wonder, joy, and excitement in my daughter's eyes each and every school day.

Teachers are important. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Stink! Stank! Stunk!

"The three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote: Stink! Stank! Stunk!"
~ Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel

I love my Vibram Fivefingers. All flavours. From my Sprints to my Bikilas to my KSOs to my Komodo Sports.

I love them all.

For the past five years my shoe of choice has been Fivefingers. And with few exceptions, I wear them everywhere. They feel better on my feet. They let me move my toes and flex my feet. Yes, I own other shoes. And Fivefingers are not practical for every situation. But I adore them.


Well, there is a darkside.

A rather horrible one.

Fivefingers stink. A lot.

And it is not just a sweaty-feet-in-shoes-all-day smell. It is rank. It is concentrated ick.

Not everyone has this issue. But enough people do that I know it is not just my feet.

And the lengths to which people go, the creativity which is applied to this problem is interesting. Because the stink goes beyond just washing them. You can't just thrown them in the washing machine and tada! they are odorless. No. 

As I said, this is super stink.

I know one guy who washes them. Then soaks them in OxiClean for a couple of hours. Then sets them to dry in front of a fan.

After much trial and error with various products, I settled in to a pretty simple routine of washing my Fivefingers - by hand so I could do some scrubbing - with Scent-A-Way and then treating them with McNett MiraZyme Enzyme - an enzyme-based de-stinker for wet suits. It works pretty well.

And then someone brought Nikwax Sandal Wash to my attention. 

Although not made for Fivefingers, it is technology geared toward a similar problem: stinky sandals. I have owned one pair of Tevas in my life. The stink was similar. (I have no idea why.)

I have been using Sandal Wash for about six month now. And I have to say I am impressed. 

My two-step process has been reduced to one; I only have to wash my Fivefingers with Sandal Wash. And it does really get rid of the stink.

The tech behind the de-stinking is great and works without leaving a heavy perfume-y smell behind. 

I do take issue with the application bottle. But this is mainly due to the fact that it is designed for use on sandals and Fivefingers are not sandals. The bottle has a tip with a sponge applicator on it, meant to distribute and then scrub the Sandal Wash into the sandals. Because Fivefingers are shoes not sandals this is problematic. You cannot get into the toe area of the Fiverfingers with the bottle. And to get the Sandal Wash out you have to press down, applying pressure on a little valve on the tip. You cannot just pour the solution out. Within two weeks I had completely destroyed the sponge applicator and it just fell off. Now I just up-end the bottle and put enough pressure on the little valve to get some of the Sandal Wash to pour out. I use an old toothbrush to get the Wash down into the toes. Scrub-a-dub. Rinse. And let dry.

If you have Fivefingers - or sandals - and are plagued by the dreaded VFF stink, I recommend giving Nixwax Sandal Wash a try.

If you want to check out this solution for yourself or if you have any questions about Nikwax Sandal Wash, give @ProfessorNikwax a shout or check out Nikwax to find a dealer near you.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Koskenkorva Martini

"I've climbed with some of the best climbers in the world, more importantly, to me, they are some of the best people in the world. That's another reason why I climb."
~Jim Wickwire

I really like to climb.

No, really. I do.

And why I like it so much - love it, in fact - is hard to distill down into a single statement. I've tried. But each time I think I have it quantified and pinned down, I realise I've left one or two or a hundred things out. Every climbing experience is unique and holds its own magical treasures. There are certainly things which top the list of why I love climbing and some ever-present themes - the zen-like quality; the control; the mindfulness; the freedom; the challenge; the dance-like movements - but I can have as rich and rewarding an experience playing around on 5.8s teaching new climbers as I have puzzling out the pieces of a rapturous - and torturous - 5.12 that draws sweat, blood and tears. How is it that I enjoy climbing as much on a perfect blue-sky day as on a miserable, rain-soaked and frozen-to-the-bones day? Why is a top-belay in too-small shoes in the blazing sun just as enjoyable as a sit-belay from a grassy field in the shade?

There has to be something, right?

A recent weekend adventure of climbing brought that something out of the shadows and into sharp focus. As variable as the situation, the weather, the location, the temperature, the comfort of the gear, the quality of the rock, there actually is a constant: the people. I get to climb with awesome people. And a day climbing, 'suffering' up an unknown 5.14 in Golden or in agony 50 feet up a cliff in Diablo Canyon because I brought the wrong shoes for multi-pitch or freezing my ass off in El Rito because a summer storm moved in to dump rain and hail while halfway up a 90 foot route, with people I truly like is better than most anything I can think of.

I turned 40 this year. I viewed turning 40 in the same way I viewed turning 20: a non-milestone. It held no more fear or excitement than turning 39 did. Or 12. Or 26. However, 40 is a nice, round number and it did elicit a good party and a wealth of presents (Yay presents!). Among the gifts was a climbing route. Really.

Two fellow climbers, Vaino and Doni, had scoped out a possible new route and had earmarked it for me to develop. I got a card. And a photo of the cliff. With a note: This is your route.

I don't squeal. But if I did? Big squeal.

To say I was excited is a bit of an understatement. I've rode shotgun on bolting before. I have some first ascents. My name is attached to a few routes. But I had never developed a route from start to FA.

And setting the route? Bolting it? Climbing it for the very first time ever? PERFECT.

Yes, it was a beautiful day for climbing. Yes the weather was incredibly cooperative. Even the burrito from Sofia's Kitchen  - chicharones and red chile for me, thanks! - was remarkably tasty on the way to the crag.

But it was the company that was truly perfect.

Every climbing adventure I have had revolves around the shared experiences. And this was no exception. I am honored and quite flattered that Doni and Vaino entrusted me with such a gift. They have developed entire walls and Vaino has set some of my favorite routes both in New Mexico and Colorado. But what truly made the experience memorable was that they were with me and I got to climb with them.

So if you want to climb something I've set, head down to Socorro in southern New Mexico. Maybe you'll feel some of the joy I experienced - especially if you climb it with good friends.

It is in The Box. On Alcohol Wall, which is part of the Major Wall Area. It's a short 5.10a. But it is mine and I'm pretty proud of it.

Koskenkorva Martini (5.10a)
A short, fun route. Easy standing first clip. Start on some generous incut holds, moving left, making the second clip and up to the feature (a little cave with a large tooth that looks like the silhouette of a bat). Pull up on a solid match on the 'tooth' and reach for a juggy side pocket to the left for the clip. High feet will get you a decent hold on the right and higher feet will get you up to the great ledge on the left - definitely the crux. Pull up to a short scramble for another clip and up to the finish at the anchors.

Koskenkorva Martini

Vaino & Doni
 Setting and bolting the route.

Safety first.

Drilling a bolt hole.

Drilling a bolt hole.

Hammering in a bolt.

Cleaning the route.
First ascent of Koskenkorva Martini.

The "bat" feature.

Moving past the crux.

At the bolts.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Why I Buy? The Shiny and the Solid

"And I am a weapon of massive consumption
And its not my fault it's how I'm programmed to function"
~Lily Allen

Gear is almost indescribably wonderful.
I am a confessed gear whore.
gear whore n. someone who has to have the best, most expensive, coolest gear, useful or not.
Yes, I like the shiny and the new. And there are times when I look over my rack and I realise I am just one or two colour-coordinated draws away from being one of those sport climbers.

But really, why do I buy what I buy? Such a simple question does not have a simple answer.

I have worked in marketing and advertising for the past 20 years and have a pretty good grasp on how the artifice and casuistry of product pimping works. But that doesn’t mean I am immune. In fact, I have a high appreciation for a well-crafted advertisement and am more likely to invest at least my time into researching a product that is packaged well and peddled in just the right way to highlight its particular je ne sais quoi. Black and white sketches or flat product photos might be enough to pique some consumers’ interest, but many people really do prefer the glossy, full-colour splash of gear-in-action (me included). It’s a world of embodying the brand.

Not an actual product. Sorry.
Companies like Black Diamond Equipment and Petzl know this. They don’t casually spend their advertising dollars. And retailers know what they are doing when they put those pretty products in the hands and on the backs of pretty people.

But as much as the beautiful people and shiny colours get my attention, it is not the reason I buy. Getting the customer into the store or to your website might be half the battle, but half does not make a sale.

The performance of a piece of gear - be it a rope, draw, cam or headlamp - is crucial to any buying decision I make. I may like shiny, but that shiny needs to be backed up by solid and functional. When it comes to climbing gear, I’m trusting my life to its performance; if the lobes on a cam fall off, a rope fails in a fall or the stitching on a belay loop comes undone, the prettiness of any gear is moot. Taking a look outside of the sphere of neon advertising is important. And for that I love reviews.

Katanas = awesomeness!
To glean the information I need about gear, I love reading reviews. From the slick editorials in industry magazines to the postings on Internet forums and retailer web pages, the views of actual end-users is invaluable. Knowing the good and the bad and how they balance is key to get me from “Oh! Shiny! Want!!” to actually purchasing a product. No piece of gear is perfect (OK, maybe my lovely Katanas...) and knowing about the less-than-perfect aspects of it helps me weigh the actual value to me, myself and I.

But reviews can still be a bit remote or removed. It’s great to read what Sharma thinks about the new Sterling ropes (OK maybe we’ll file that one under ‘embodying the brand’ and walk away) or what badgirlclimber873 thinks about the Grigri 2. But it is even better to be able to relate those experiences to your own use of gear. And that’s where one of the most important elements of why I buy gear comes into play: personal recommendations.

I trust the people with whom I choose to surround myself. And a thumbs-up from a friend is worth more than all the glossy-pages any advertising budget can buy. The breadth of use of gear by my fellows may not be as far reaching as the pros nor even as broad as many other people out there, but it is immediately relevant to me and my use. Our abilities and interests run, if not entirely parallel, at least in the same spheres.

If I am looking to get a new piece of equipment, my most valuable resources are the people around me. Have they used it? Do they like it or not? Why? Does the x-factor of a particular piece of gear really matter in the end? No one is paying them - outright or under-the-table - to give me an opinion.

The final piece in my decision to buy is personal experience. I like to try out equipment before I buy it. On the trail, at the crag or in the store, being able to see how a piece of gear and I work together is important. It can be something as simple as knowing if my hand fits nicely into a chalk bag or as crucial as knowing if a pair of new climbing shoes (Don’t worry Katanas, I’m not replacing you!) cuts in at the ankles or has a toe-box that doesn’t suit my feet. That’s why I am so often a repeat customer; when I am familiar with and trust gear I will keep going back to it again and again.

Perhaps characterising myself as a gear whore is unfair and, in fact, untrue. I am actually very cautious and judicious in my decision to buy. A company might get my attention with flashing lights and sirens, but it is quality, dependability and reputation that will get me to cross that line and become an actual consumer. I do like to have pretty gear. And yes, some of my gear goes unused for long stretches. But I don’t have it just for the sake of having it. Make a quality product that is useful and innovative. Wrap it up in a pretty package. Let me use it and put it to the test and talk to others about it. I might buy it. And if I do, I'll tell others about how much I like it.

This post can also be read on the fabulous PembaServes website: Why I Buy? The Shiny and The Solid.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Climbing the Wu Wei

"... at the still point, there the dance is, But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity, Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards, Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point, There would be no dance, and there is only the dance."
~T. S. Eliot

"The natural is sufficient. If one strives, he fails."
~Wang Pi

I had an interesting exchange on Twitter about climbing. 

tweep1: Gnarly bruise and knot, plus a sore elbow, from fighting my way up a crazy 11c yesterday. :) #climb
@Paukku: Tsk tsk. You shouldn't be fighting. Flow with the route. Become the route.
tweep2: I'm a big proponent of having the ability to both flow and fight, then you can get thru whatever the route dictates

@Paukku: I find that if I think a route dictates 'fighting' I am climbing it wrong. I am very wu wei when it comes to it.
tweep2: but there are routes out there that require full extension lunges and low lock-offs, which many would call "fighting"
@Paukku: Semantics. Fighting is purposeful violent conflict meant to establish dominance over something. Not how I climb.

Semantics indeed. One could argue that I could just accept that "fight" in this context was being used to indicate "conscious exertion of power" and move on. Some routes are 'harder' and require different movements and more effort, right? But to me that is not the point. To me, climbing is not about power or winning or conquering. And it is certainly not about fighting.

Wu Wei
One of the seeming paradoxes of Taoism, a school of thought I greatly admire, is the concept of Wu Wei. It is a concept of effortless action or action without doing. Non-doing. Put another way, it is action in which there is no division between the object and the action that is done. It is action that is both spontaneous and effortless without being passive.

Got that?

From a climbing perspective, this translates to graceful climbing. And I admire graceful climbers. I love watching the flow - another key for understanding Wu Wei - of a climber who does not fight against a route. Each move is the right action, appropriate to its time and place, and creates greater harmony and balance within the climb. Capturing that beauty of form and movement is how I approach climbing.

This is key to the mental character of climbing - a constituent element of climbing that is sadly overlooked by many, especially as this sport becomes more and more popular.

Climbing in the Wu Wei is not the absence of action, but rather the absence of conflict. It is climbing without combative or egotistical effort. This kind of climbing is like water that flows over and around the rocks in its path; it does not try to force a path, but works with the natural rhythm of its surroundings. Water is yielding and soft, yet it is powerful and shapes the world.

Rather than seeing a particular move within a climb - a lunge or a lockoff - as an obstacle, I see it instead as an opportunity to understand the flow of the route. Those moments of clarity - those wonderful aha moments - when a route seems impossible and then suddenly becomes possible are never about how I can fight harder; they are about realising the flow of the route and then matching it. They are about accord.

Am I just splitting hairs?

I don't think so.

To characterize climbing, even a very challenging and difficult climb, as fighting is contradictory to the very essence of why I love climbing. I am not getting into the arena with an adversary who must be subjugated or defeated; I am journeying with a friend.

As Benjamin Hoff states in The Tao of Pooh:

When you work with Wu Wei, you put the round peg in the round hole and the square peg in the square hole. No stress, no struggle. Egotistical Desire tries to force the round peg into the square hole and the square peg into the round hole. Cleverness tries to devise craftier ways of making pegs fit where they don’t belong. Knowledge tries to figure out why round pegs fit into round holes, but not square holes. Wu Wei doesn't try. It doesn't think about it. It just does it. And when it does, it doesn't appear to do much of anything. But Things Get Done.

That is how I approach climbing. And that feeling, when I am in the moment of a climb, when I am following the lines a route reveals to me, letting them lead me so that I flow, is one of the best feelings in the world. It makes me peaceful and present. I am the point, the still point.

One of the nicest compliments I have ever received is when someone told me that I make climbing look effortless. I could not do that if I was fighting.


Thursday, September 01, 2011

Gear Review: PETZL Xion Rope & Ange Finesse Quickdraws

A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving. 
~Lao Tzu

Sometimes things don’t go as planned. And sometimes that is just what you need.

The plan was straight forward enough. A day-trip to Castlewood Canyon for some rope climbing, specifically to Grocery Store Wall. It’s a crag I have climbed at before and it offers a good variety of routes. My climbing partner, Tali of Cupcake Mafia, was interested in some solid TR and I was excited about getting back on “Bozo No No”, a 5.11a sport that I was itching to climb again, and use my new, shiny gear.

Bozo No No, August 2009

I am funny when it comes to gear. On the one hand I like the familiar, the predictable and the comfortable. New gear tends to stay new on my rack because when I am comfortable with a piece of gear, I rely on it without thinking, reaching for it instinctively. It becomes an extension of me. I almost always turn to the old gear, favouring it over new gear which is untested in my own hands and can be, and often is, decidedly different in feel and operation. On the other hand, new gear is sexy and pretty and I’ somewhat of a gear whore.

When some new Petzl Ange Finesse Quickdraws and a lovely 10.1 XION rope came into my possession, those two facets of my personality collided. What to do with the new gear? I had been getting rather anxious to go climbing. As most every crag in New Mexico was closed due to the fire danger and actual fires, climbing in my home state was pretty much out. But with a trip up to Colorado planned and the gear being so shiny, it seemed like this was a sign. Synchronicity!

So here we were, driving through Franktown on the way to Castlewood Canyon and some outside routes at long last.

Grocery Store Wall is easy to get to from Denver. That’s both good and bad. Good, because who doesn’t like a quick drive from Denver and an easy five-minute approach? Bad, because who doesn’t like a quick drive from Denver and an easy five-minute approach? It can get crazy crowded. But when we parked the lot was not even close to full. However, the two 16-passenger vans did make us a bit nervous.

There’s nothing more disheartening to find when you head out to the crag than ropes as far as the eye can see. It’s like finding a crowded indoor gym outside somehow. The vans apparently supplied the kids to complete that gym-feel.

Maybe “Bozo No No” would be open. But no, a sizable group was gathered around the route and there didn’t seem to be any open TR routes to set up on to wait it out. My new gear was making noises from inside my pack. It sounded a lot like “Climb!” So what to do?

Grocery Store Wall is the only wall I’ve climbed at in Castlewood, but it is by no means the only wall in the canyon. There’s rumoured to be more than 600 routes in there. And Tali and I had looked at some of the other areas in the canyon. The night before we had discussed options if we encountered this very scenario. The Dungeon had stood out as a good possibility because it is not as easily accessible and therefore might not appeal to the washed masses of hobby-climbers. The routes are harder, but there’s still a good supply of TR and I’d have a large selection of sport routes to choose from.

Of course we had not counted on the cat.

Each of the crags we had selected as options had been dutifully looked up on the ever-helpful Mountain Project and printed out as mini-guides. This was especially important as a) we had experienced a “wandering around Castlewood Canyon kind of lost” experience before and b) the other possible crags were unfamiliar to either of us. So we leafed through the guides to The Dungeon and found we had only the cover page. Because the cat likes to play with the printer. (Thank you, Finn!)

What the heck, we thought. We’ve got the directions to the crag. And a whole day to play on routes. Off we went along Cherry Creek River. As anyone knows who has set off to find something with only an indistinct idea of where it is and only vague directions on how to get there can attest, a moderate hike can become one of unusually great scope. But Castlewood Canyon is simply gorgeous and despite the humidity and heat the walk was beautiful.

(A word of advice here. Always, always read through the comments on Mountain Project. If you don’t you might miss important advice. For example, when the directions state that the area is “Located at the N end of West Rim” and you do not read the comments, you might miss where it states: “The Dungeon is not located on the north end of the west rim...[it] is located just north of the western-most projection of the east rim.” And if you are not wanting an epic approach, this is good stuff to know.)

Neither of us had planned on the long (long) hike, but the vistas were incredible and really, it was just what I needed. Great company and good adventure are a salve for the soul. (Thank you, cat!)

When we arrived at last at The Dungeon, it became immediately clear why it holds that name. We approached from the top, and looking down on it it really does look like a dungeon.

We were tired, over-heated and sweaty. But we were here. It was time to unpack the gear and climb. Wally, my ever present climbing charm, was ready to go.

The Dungeon offers sport climbs from 5.9 to 5.12d. Of course, not having a guide of any kind and not being familiar with the area, it was down to just playing on routes and seeing what felt good. We rappelled down into the shade (yay!) and started to climb.

The first thing I can say about the Ange Finesse Quickdraws is that they are light. Really light. The Ange S biners weigh in at only 28 g. That’s 9 g less than my usual biners weigh. The weight is not really an issue for day climbing on short sport routes (unless your approach goes from five minutes to several hours), but it is definitely appealing when putting together a rack for multipitch adventures. Twelve Finesse draws can save you up to half a pound.

The Ange S biners look different. They use a single wire gate system that quite honestly looks puny. But the design is pretty ingenious. The gate is remarkably smooth and despite its svelte appearance locks solidly into a hole in the nose. The hole, incidentally, prevents debris, like the flour-y dirt of Castlewood Canyon, from becoming trapped in the biner.

Another nice feature of the Ange is that the S biners sport nifty little grooves on the top and bottom on the inside of the biner. These act as guides that aligns the biner on both the sling and the rope, keeping the axis just right.

But along with the reduction in weight comes a significant reduction in size. The Ange S biners are smaller. A lot smaller. This is my only real gripe against the Ange. A smaller biner means a smaller gate which means a smaller opening. In the case of the Ange S it is 0.9-inches . I’m used to the 1.125-inches opening on my usual biners. That doesn’t look like much on paper, but this smaller opening made me fumble my clipping every so often. Kind of big deal as I (perhaps unwisely) warmed up on “The Rack”, a 5.11a. The last thing I wanted was to be groping awkwardly to get a clip.

I put the draws through the paces. I fell. A lot. And I hung on the draws quite a bit as well. Despite calling the Anges “Barbie biners” all day, they did what a draw is supposed to do. I was timid at first, the diminutive size making me think these were light-weight in the strength department as well, but I came to trust them. With a rating of 20 kN (4,496 lbf), gate closed - most of my draws have a 24 kN (5,395 lbf) rating, gate closed - they caught me just fine and I have no complaints when it comes to that.

Along with the Anges draws I brought along a pretty green Petzl 10.1 XION rope. I know. 10.1. Tiny little draws and a big rope. But the great thing about the XION is that it doesn’t feel like a big rope. The rope is smooth and supple and remarkably easy to handle. It glided through the ATCs without any problem. The weight was not an issue on the short sport climbs in The Dungeon. And it was a great rope for TR. And it’s green. You can’t go wrong with green.

(Quite happily we were unable to test out the Duratec Dry treatment that is a feature of the XION.)

After a day of playing in The Dungeon, we decided it would be wise to try to beat the setting of the sun and get back to the car. We could practically see the car from The Dungeon. Ok, it was across the canyon and across Cherry Creek River, but the hike in had been a little too epic. We decided to bushwhack. And that’s another story.

You can also find this review on the excellent Pemba Serves website: Gear Review: PETZL Xion Rope & Ange Finesse Quickdraws.