Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas & Best Wishes for 2014!

A very Merry Christmas to all and best wishes for all your endeavors in 2014! I am very thankful for all of the wonderful experiences that I have shared with partners, clients, course members and others in 2013. The season is always a time for gratitude and reflection on how fortunate I truly am.

Today my wife and I took a walk and gave some Salzburg homeless people on the Kapuzinerberg food and various items of clothing. Jennifer calls it "Renegade Santa". Giving to people who are lacking, unfortunate and in need. Directly having contact with the homeless, talking to them and interacting, is a practice that allows one to see how lucky and blessed one actually is.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Chamonix / Mont Blanc Training

Chamonix Pre-Season Winter Climbing Training 2013

Travel & Arrival Day: Salzburg - Frankfort - Geneva and finishing with an hour transfer to Chamonix. A very early morning, but everything went well and got to Chamonix at 13:00. The transfer service, “Chamexpress” was a great new discovery as a way to get from Geneva to Chamonix with minimal hassle.

Every time I am briefly in the world of the business people & “general” population, I realize how much differently I live and how I just don’t really fit in. On the other side, it is amazing what we as a species are able to accomplish - the Frankfort airport is a perfect example of this - a complex, man-made system that functions fairly well, and really astonishingly well when you think of all that could go wrong and it’s sheer magnitude. The small details of the system have hiccups that must Be worked out and adjusted by the different elements (human & nonhuman) in the system. Often these adjustments are made on-the-spot and in an improvisatory manner.

It got me thinking of an insightful analogy to how we look at “systems” in our own lives. When we create a system to become healthier, climb better, work and earn better, etc. we are also running systems to accomplish these goals. Often we get caught up in how the small details are inefficient and fail to realize that as long as things are progressing in the right general direction, the system is functioning successfully. We have to expect that along the way we need to react to and always steer ourselves accordingly in the direction to reach our goals and not get hung up as the inevitable glitches spring up along the way. Despite the lack of ideal perfection in the system, enormous things can and will be the result. You just have to persevere, show up, put in your time, etc. Success come through the suborn application of just sticking with it and and evolving.

I am staying in Le Hotel Chamonix for two nights before the first group arrives. The rest of my travel day was spent at the guide’s office getting information about the weather (past, current at 3,500 meters & forecast), buying a few things - mostly some good quality protein - to take up to the Cosmiques hut. the guide's office is always an important resource for me in the Chamonix valley.

The first group arrives on Saturday morning. I have Friday to myself. I went up to the top of the Midi and in poor visibility set a gps track to the Cosmiques ridge and the Cosmiques hut. I made the group reservation at the hut and got some more information about the conditions of the various routes and glaciers. Next, I went over to the Triangle du Tacul and soloed the Contamine-Mazaurd route in the center of the face (a route I did with my friend Erwin 3 or 4 years ago), rappelled down the Chere Couloir, and climbed the mixed line, L’Infidle just to the right of the Chere. I intersected the the Chere Couloir after its sixth pitch or so and rappelled down again.

I got back to the Midi station just before the 16:00 car down. I really felt the altitude on the last uphill bit before the station. I was pleased to get some accurate gps waypoints and have a first hand view of the conditions above 3500m. The bit of solo climbing was a treat too!

I met the first group of three at the Midi Station and got on the 09:30 gondola. As expected the exposed snow ridge station exit got their attention with the 1000m drop on the left and 300m drop on the right. I short roped the group down the 230m exposed ridge, relaxing after we got to less exposed ground for the pleasant walk over to the Cosmiques hut.

We did an easy route that traversed the Points Lachenal. the flat walk across the basin gave the three a chance to take in the stunning and intimidating surroundings.  On the flats, everyone was okay, but once we had to cross the bergschrund and climb a 40-45 degree snow slope the elevation was felt by all. Also, at this point of the route you are standing quite near the threateningly leaning lower seracs of the Tacul northeast face. Though somewhat protected by the form of the terrain, you feel that you could touch the triangular teetering lower serac. Jumping ahead, the next morning at breakfast, we saw ice debris and the long fracture crown of an avalanche on the approach slope to the normal route on the Points Lachenal. Part of a seracs had broke off, impacting the slope a causing a slab avalanche with a meter high crown and a good 250 meter width.

Many times the first couple of nights at higher elevation are characterized by a faster than normal heart rate, a bit shorter and shallower breathing and headaches (especially when pushing the level of exertion). The Cosmiques hut is at 3613m, so the first 2 nights or so are not so restful. This was clear with this small group. The combination of not sleeping well and being in rather intimidating terrain makes people less experienced in this environment doubtful and worried while underway.

The following day was devoted to skill training that would enable the group to safely do more challenging routes. We worked on moving with crampons and ice axes in steep terrain (including self-arrest) and basic rope technique including rappelling. The lower sections on Triangel du Tacul offer excellent opportunities to work on climbing 50 degree ice, climbing on a fixed rope, mechanics and efficiency of climbing in a rope team, and descending. Later that day we went over to the small north face of the Gros Rognon to do the short north face route.

the next two days where used to do two routes: the Contamine-Grisolle with harder mixed variations and the wonderful traverse of the Cosmiques Ridge. Both tours caused some wide-open eyes and a bit of an adrenalin rush in the participants.

I could leave a few things up at the the Cosmiques hut for the 6 days that I would be with the second group. So I had a pretty light pack while doing the ridge traverse. We moved pretty well and were finished in a bit under 4 hours. This was great, because we got down to Chamonix village in the early afternoon and could make use of my re-organization day, take a shower and sleep in a nice bed.

On the following Wednesday morning, I went back up to the Cosmiques hut with the second group (of now only two, as the third participant  cancelled) for a more advanced program as compared to the first group. After dropping some excess things off at the hut, we went through the full array of training for crevasse rescue: holding all types of falls, rescuing a conscious and unconscious partner and self-rescue methods.

I was really looking forward to the next few days. With just two guests, we would be able to get on some nice routes and really climb a lot over the next few days. This proved to be the case. Thursday found us on the “Contamine-Mazzuad” route up the middle of the Triangle du Tacul. Later the same day we did three pitches on fun, moderate mixed terrain on the right side of the face. 

On friday we got up at 04:30 and got going by 05:00 to climb the “Contamine-Negri” ice route that bisects the north and east aspects of Montblanc du Tacul. We started early so that we could get to the top of the Triangle and traverse the snow ridge to the summit.

The atmosphere for the climb was serious: cold, foggy, dark. Stepping over the remains of a recent serac fall in the darkness of the morning approach set the tone for the day. The weather was not perfect, but gave no reason not to do the climb.
We roped up at the bergschrund and found a place to cross where recent avalanche snow had filled in the gap. The climb unfolded with pitch after pitch of moderate 60 degree ice interspersed with steeper steps and easy mixed sections.

After following the final snow slopes and ridges, we topped out at around 14:30. We had decided to rappel over the upper part of the Triangle and the Chere Coulior to descend. This took a very long time as the upper rappels are continuously moving towards the left as you look down the face (to the right as you are rappelling). the terrain is moderate mixed and filled with small rock cliffs, cracks, horns, etc. The ropes got stuck once or twice when they were pulled. Forcing me to climb up and free up the mess.

The weather was holding out, with strong cold winds from the north west. We were at the base of the couloir by 18:00 and made our way back to the Cosmiques hut at around 19:00., a long 14 hour day all-in-all.

During dinner we needed to address the next couple of days. There was a big storm forecast for the evening continuing into Saturday. 50 to 60 cm of snow was predicted above 3000 meters with strong winds and zero visibility. The small group was due to descend on Sunday and head home. We were concerned that the Midi gondola would be shut down due to the storm. Additionally we would be restricted in our selection of tours due to the effort of breaking trail and avalanche danger.

I wanted to sit it out at the hut and see what developed: do what ever was possible on Saturday. The weather was expected to improve and clear late on Saturday with Sunday being precipitation-free with some sunny spells. The two guest however felt otherwise and wanted to try and get down to Chamonix on Saturday as long as the gondola was in service.

On Saturday morning, after a late breakfast, we called the Midi station and found out that they were starting a bit late but would be running. The luxury of a late breakfast was something we could enjoy, along with the two-person hut staff, as we were the only guests at the hut. This is one of the reasons that being in Chamonix later in the fall is so attractive: At the weekends there were a handful of people in the hut, but during the week we were the only ones there!

Decision made, we headed out in white-out conditions towards the Midi station mid-morning. Roped up and breaking trail through the new snow took time. The orientation was not an issue as it seems as I have done that short trip a hundred times. I did have a gps track and way-points as insurance in my pocket however.

Once we got to the exposed snow ridge 250 meters from the station, I short-roped Vaclav and Antoine as we carefully made our way upwards. There was a bit of nervous energy traveling up the rope and we where all a bit relieved to reach the ice tunnel entrance to the station.

The rest of the afternoon was spent with going through the process of route planning and preparation for doing an independent tour. We meet up in a cafe and spent over two hours thoroughly going over all aspects of preparation, route planning, orientation, etc.

Due to more than a half meter of new snow above 3000 meters, our last day was spent in the valley at the idyllic sport climbing area Les Galliards, 2 km outside of Chamonix village. The day started out cool and damp, but then rapidly transformed into a beautiful sunny Autumn afternoon. We learned and practiced all elements of alpine rock: placing traditional protection, building anchors, rappelling and climbing in stiff-soled mountain boots.

The last day brought a fitting and relaxed end to the couple weeks of working with two small groups in magnificent surroundings. Looking back, the weather and conditions were always more than adequate to undertake routes or have training sessions. There were absolutely no issues with over-crowding in huts, waiting in long gondola lines or not getting into a pension or restaurant in town.

I am already planning an alpine training event again in Chamonix for 2014!

Monday, October 21, 2013

For Sale: Ice Climbing Equipment / Verkauf: Eis-Ausrüstung

I am selling some high-quality ice climbing equipment. There is a post on at this link: Ice Climbing Equipment / Eis-Ausrüstung. The same post is on www.

Included are BD Fusion Ice Tools, BD Stinger Crampons and more. I am expecting that it will all be sold very quickly. Contact me at, use the contact form on the right with "Ice Equipment" in the heading.


Last pair of brand new, never-used Black Diamond Stinger Mono-Point Crampons with an extra set of 2 front points, now reduced to €135,-- including shipping - THIS IS AN EXCELLENT DEAL!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Old School Mojo

My client and I finished our personal training session in the climbing gym with a strong, positive vibe. He had a good climbing workout and was motivated to steadily train and improve. We set our next appointment. I was satisfied that I had constructed our time together so that we ended exactly with the atmosphere that I wanted - positive motivation and desire for personal improvement. I had two hours before my next client. Time for me to train! Alright!

I planned a boulder session that included warming up, some movement & mobility work, a power endurance set of 10X15 moves, trunk stabilization, learning new problems & moves (towards the level of max strength), and wrapping up with an endurance 4X4.

One of the route setters of the facility had set two new boulder problems earlier that morning. He wanted to know if I was planning on trying the new boulders. "Sure, after I'm warmed up", was my reply. I do not like someone to disturb my focus when I am training. One of the most irritating things is the very common habit of some climbers to spew bata about how to climb a route or boulder. The verbal directions of, "put your left hand there, then switch feet ...", or what ever, is the absolute worst form of instruction and training advice.

A climbing coach or trainer has to first and foremost try to grasp what the client is feeling and experiencing. A good coach then needs to create the atmosphere in which the client teaches themselves the most productive mental and physical things that are appropriate to their level of individual development at that time. Wow - that was a mouthful, and if i succeed even a little in coming to this state, then I am doing something right with my client.

Back to my boulder session. I warmed up and was doing my stuff when the setter came over to see if I was trying his new boulders. I hadn't yet. "They're not old school boulders", was his comment. What the fuck does that mean? Am I too "old school" to do them? I admit, I have a chip on my shoulder at times, and I can be a surly  overly sensitive, scruffy bastard (just ask Jennifer or Steve at Glaros!) too, but already my ire was raised.

He had come up to me the last time I was doing supplemental trunk exercises to show me a "really good, hard core exercise" with a thera-band. It wasn't hard. It wasn't good. It was just his ego saying, "I know something more and better than you". Yeah right. Here's a good core exercise: dead lift twice your body weight.

I really didn't want to do the boulders with the setter looking on because I wanted to work them out and do them for myself. But, I relented out of a competitive, "I'll show him attitude" and the knowledge that I sometimes shy away from climbing in front of sport climbers who have climbed higher grades than me.

I tried the yellow problem and right after the first move the spewing of bata started. He had a comment for everything I was doing, "Yeah, that's right, put your foot there, no, use the hold in your left hand", and so on. Most times this is given as encouragement, but the intuitive sense was that all the verbal banter comes from a place of superiority. Pretentious as hell. I couldn't on-sight the boulder, nor did I really care, was completely out of focus to sense what was going on in my body, and was irritated with myself for placing myself in a situation that I knew would come to this. I spoke politely in general, meaningless, phrases with the boulder setter and excused myself by saying I had to finish my planned workout in time to get ready for my next client.

"Your muscle at the front of your hip - what's it called? - that raises your leg is weak. That's why you can't lift your left leg high to place it on the foot hold", he told me as I got a cup of tea behind the cash register. "Yeah, I have to work on hip movement and flexibility so I can step high, like a lot of men", was my polite, sort of general, again meaningless, response. The guy then went on to explain how I could "test" my movement and strength of my psoas (yes, that's what the muscle is called) by raising up and holding my leg in that position, further adding that, "lucky for me, unlike most men, I don't have problems with hip flexibility or (psoas) strength".

Motivation can be an elusive thing. The widely held belief is that we are motivated by something outside us. I think your motivation is solely your responsibility. You have to find the "wanting" inside yourself and tap into this energy to push you through obstacles and discomfort. I think success comes from looking inside yourself and harnessing the personal power that is within every individual.

The next day, my late morning bike ride to the climbing gym felt great. I was primed. I had done my supplemental strength workout at home earlier that morning. (Weighted pull up ladders, 300 various kettlebell swings & presses.) I had had time to get some personal, professional development work done and and listened to this podcast (Nr. 55) - - with Elliot Hulse. Boy the ride felt great as I was pushing a big gear - flying!

It got me thinking of JT's "Steamroller", a "hefty hunk of steaming junk". 1979, senior year of high school. I have come a long way since then, but also I am the same person inside, but just more of it. 34 years later it was just pure testosterone turning the cranks. "a churin' urn of burning funk"!

I had a two-hour session with a school group in the climbing gym. Afterwards, I would do a short, intense boulder session.  I finished up with the school group at 14:30. The teachers and students where all smiles. The first of their three, two-hour sessions went well and they were excited about coming back to continue in a week. They all felt good about themselves. They were more empowered than when they came into the gym at noon, earlier that day. Now it was my time.

Warmed up. Worked some harder boulder moves. Sent the new red problem. Sent the new yellow problem. Time to go home. 16:00

Never, never, never let anyone tell you that you can't do something. Never, never, never tell yourself you can't do something. You're a steamroller baby!

Well I'm a steamroller baby
I wanna roll all over you
Yes I'm a steamroller for your love, babe
I'd like nothing better than to roll all over you
I'm gonna inject your soul with some sweet rock & roll
And shoot you full of rhythm and blues

Well I'm a cement mixer baby
A churnin' urn of burnin' funk (Yes!)
I'm a cement mixer for you baby
A churnin' urn of burnin' funk
Got down right now baby
Well I'ma demolition derby baby
A hefty hunk of steamin' junk
Mr. McD got the blues for you and me

(Solo break)

Well I'm a napalm bomb for you baby
Stone guaranteed to blow your mind
I'm a napalm bomb for you babe got to tell you one more time
To sit down, stand up, go home, back to Raleigh
Stone guaranteed to blow your mind momma, yeah
And if I can't have your love for my own to take home 
And keep me warm there won't be nothing left behind (Oh!)
Broken heart, broken heart, oh
I just don't seem to can lose
This here low down
No where
Half life
Freeze dried
Deep southern funky fat fried
Chicken chokin', mother f*cking pain
Come on, oh, roll on over
and help me lose the steamroller blues

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Ice Climbing Training Seminars, 2014: Pre-Season Notice

Wolfgang climbing steep ice in Cogne, Italy, January 2013
Here's a short notice that I have fixed the dates for 2 group ice climbing training seminars for the 2014 season.

Seminar I: Maltatal, Austria, 09.01.2014 - 12.01.2014. This is a beginners level training from thursday evening through sunday late afternoon.

Seminar II: Kandersteg, Switzerland, 13.02.2014 - 18.02.2014. This is a follow up to the first seminar. It is a intermediate level training starting on thursday morning and finishing on sunday, mid-afternoon. You should plan on a wednesday evening arrival time.

I will post more details on the blog and in the outdoor section. I am also planning on having day events as the ice conditions warrant in the Salzburg area. Just use the contact form on the right if you need more information. I will only be able to accommodate 4-5 persons in each seminar. Let's hope for a great ice season in 2014!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Snow Safety at the Season's Start

This is copied from Jimmy Chin's Blog ( It is one of the best accounts of living through an avalanche that I have read. There was a major snow fall in the Mont-Blanc range when I was there last week and we have had the first real snow fall in the north-eastern Alps last week and again above 1400 meters today.

The best defense against an avalanche is not even coming close to getting caught. Rescue equipment is nothing more than a last-ditch hope at survival when everything else has already gone wrong. 2 friends of mine died last year in avalanches. Reading the story below brings back the memories.

Surviving an Avalanche - ‘There is Clarity I Need to Remember…’

jc-turn-iiThe following is an entry taken directly from my journal. It is rough. It is raw. It is a personal recounting of the avalanche on April 1, 2011 in the Tetons that nearly took my life. I share it in part to inform, but also to keep the memory fresh, for selfish reasons. You’ll understand why as you read on…
I watch Jeremy (Jones) carve effortless turns. He cuts left onto the steep wall onto a small safe zone. I make sure he is clear. He looks back. I see Jeremy’s line and drop in just right. I make my first two turns and lay into the third. It feels heavy but so good to carve. The feeling of weightlessness as I come out of the turn is like no other. I am happy.
Then the world shifts, something feels unfamiliar and I hear someone yell. I look up over my shoulder to the right and see the whole mountain moving. At first it looks like slow motion footage, then, snap! My eyes widen and suddenly everything moves into fast forward as I watch the mountain begin to fall apart into huge slabs. The cracks grow and the speed of reality pitches me off balance. I try carry my speed, to get out to the side but there is notside. It’s an ocean of snow and I am being pulled downward. Faster and faster. I am part of something too big to comprehend.
I see trees ahead of me. They bend and snap as I head towards them with the massive waterfall of snow. I see Jeremy. He is yelling. I brace myself hoping it will only go a short distance and I will be ok. But the accelerating speed, the forces tell me differently. I kick and swim to stay on top, then feel weightlessness and acceleration. I know I’m pouring over the first rollover and my heart sinks. I have one last glimpse of where I am going as I get drawn into the darkness.
Hope fades and fear rises. It is a dark time. I feel speed, velocity, power, forces unnatural for a body to experience. Then comes the weight. It pushes down. It compresses. It is more and more and more and more…..It is unbearable. I hear myself roar from a place I knew a long time ago. It is primal. It comes from my stomach and into my chest. I hold on to my body. Bracing, bracing, tightening for impact. The impact never comes, but the weight gives me no release and I feel my chest compressed and crushed. No chance to breathe. No chance to expand my lungs. It is dark and it is dark.
I think about fighting, but there is nothing to fight. I can’t tell which way is up or down. I am completely overpowered and overwhelmed with the weight. I don’t have a breath and I know there is no out. Sometime in this moment I become only my consciousness. I don’t leave my body per se, but I am no longer a part of it. The roar of the avalanche diminishes and I am only a thought “I always wondered how I was going to die and now I know….I always wondered how I was going to die and now I know….I always wondered how I was going to die and now I know.” Then it became “If I’m thinking, then I must be alive, if I am alive, if I am alive, I should fight.” The conversation is strangely unattached or emotional. It feels like it could have gone either way. It seemed merely a second thought that I wasn’t ready to leave yet…but it becomes a decision.
The roar returns. It sounds like a wave crashing. I am held under. I know I must let go and let the wave take me for now. It is too powerful to fight, but I can tell I am moving back up the snowpack. The weight is lessening. I hope the avalanche does not stop, because I know I am still too deep and if it stops now, I will not survive. I still have no air. I relax, submit. There is a glimpse of hope.
I finally feel the weight subside and I punch for the top and gasp for my first breathe of air. The sun is blinding and my lungs fill. I roll onto my back. As I turn to look around me, the fear stops for a moment as I look in awe at what I am a part of, an ocean of snow, a whole mountainside undulating around me, flying down, down, down. The sheer magnitude of size and power is incomprehensible. I am a part of something utterly chaotic yet beautiful, devastating and unstoppable and for the moment, I am riding it like a dragon.
I look down and see the valley below. The trees look tiny and I know I am going all the way. I see the next roll over. I feel the presence of my mother. No joke. She is looking on from above, from around me. She is only present, not wishing anything. She is not judging, she is not worried, she is only watching. I feel sadness. This time I know what’s going to happen and I brace as I pour over the top of another cliffband and disappear back into the darkness. Repeat. The weight, the roar. I laugh at the thought of creating an airspace, at the thought of any semblence of control.
I submit to the forces, but I do not give up. I think of being held under a heavy wave while surfing. I try and save my breath, my strength for the right moment. There is snow pushing into my eyes, down my throat, its crushing my face. I hope there will be another moment. It is black and I feel true fear, panic rising. I push aside the thought of death and focus on what I will do when the moment is right. Let there be another moment. Let there be another moment. I feel the velocity. The elevator drop feels like forever.
Again I am astonished by the forces. I wonder if I will be torn apart, limb from limb. I don’t know if I was making a sound, but another roar. I wait. I feel the weight subside again slowly. I can feel I am moving back up through the snowpack. Now the speed is slowing. Please don’t stop now, not yet. Please, please, please…..I am slowing down, but the weight is still too much to move. I am encased in concrete. They will never find me….Slower, slower, slower.
I am almost at a stop when a feel a surge from underneath me pushing me. Up, up and I am being birthed towards the light. The snow stops and I’ve been pushed to the top standing upright in chest deep debris. I gasp for air. The debris sets instantly and locks me in place. I cannot believe what I am seeing. I am alive. I look at my arms. Then I hear it.
Another sound of rushing snow. I look behind me and see a 10 foot tall secondary wall of snow blocks crashing towards me. I realize it is going to knock me over or cut me in half and bury me. I can’t move and I know I don’t have the power or force to stop it. I will die if it goes even a foot past me. They will never find me. I do the only thing I can and brace my back against it as it bears down on me. I feel it against my back, the weight, the power and I take a deep deep breath…..and it stops against my back. My face is two inches from the snow. It is over. I am alive and somehow, uninjured.
As I dig myself out, I look up to try and figure out where I had come from. I am so far from where I started I can’t see the starting zone. I am guessing I have gone over 2000 feet. I wait to look for Xavier and Jeremy and Matty. It takes them 15 minutes to show up in view far above me. The avalanche had ripped everything to the ground and getting down couldn’t have been easy. I swing my arms to try and catch Xav’s attention. I’ve seen Xav drop into some insane lines and never seen him even wobble, but now I see him point his board through the refrigerator size debris trying to get to me and watch him cartwheel. Again, he gets up, points it and stacks. Somehow, he is down to me in a couple minutes through the concrete debris. It looks to be several hundred feet from the top to the bottom of the debris pile. I see trees everywhere around me, snapped and protruding from the snow. Jeremy and Matty make their way down.
Jeremy arrives breathless and starts repeating himself, “I would go down and look and say to myself, no one is going to survive this, then I would go down and look again and say to myself, fuck, no one could survive this. Then I said, if anyone is going to survive this, it’s Jimmy….Fuck man!” He steps aside and sits down. He is silent for a while looking off towards the mountain.
There is strange clarity for me…..Life’s priorities are stacked perfectly in front of me. I know it is clarity I need to remember, that I can never forget. I know it but I wonder if it will last. I wish it will last. I know life will I pull me apart in different directions. I know I will get distracted and I will try to remember the clarity….to live fully, to act for the right reasons, for the right people, to let go of other people’s expectations, to live with intention, that time is short, our life is a gift, use it wisely….but I know it will not last. Nothing this clear could last. Can I keep it close to my heart? Will it stay? Remember….Remember…..Remember.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Just a thought ...

Next time your climbing think about the quality of your movement. Regardless of your ability level, strive to be as exact and beautiful as possible in every single aspect of making a movement. This aspect of how you view your own climbing does not develop at some level above where are are presently. It must be there before you get to that next level.

Expansion and extension of the physical and mental aspects of climbing bring freedom in thought and action. Freedom in climbing comes through precision, and precision is divine.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Better Climbing, Part III - Movement

climbing is about movement.   It is about moving with momentum, dynamically flowing in infinite nuance. It is about the subtle timing and coordination of movement from different parts of your body - and integrating them. It is about knowing how to initiate the appropriate movement, and sequences that make up that movement, for a given situation.
Your ability to grip small holds, or better said, finger contact strength, is certainly necessary to climb at a higher level. However this is widely misunderstood by many climbers stuck at an early intermediate, mid-grade level.

Your hand strength allows you to move and position your body underneath the hand holds. Your fingers and lower arms have to be powerful enough to hold on and allow you to generate the needed momentum from you ankles, knees, hips, or other parts of the body that will bring you to the next grip. The common mistake of newer (and some times not so new) climbers is that they try to generate the needed momentum from the hands and lower arms. The incessant gripping and pulling eventually leads to local muscle exhaustion in the lower arms. A climber stuck in this cycle will then complain that they aren’t “strong enough”. They then go and do more pull ups, get a finger board and/or start using a campus board in an effort to increase their strength. At best they develop some additional finger strength, but they still do not move efficiently. And most importantly, their focus for getting better is quite far from first and foremost improving and learning movement.
Usually this leads to an almost pre-programed injury in the fingers, elbows or shoulders because the climber has not learned how to move. I don’t know how many times I have seen this happen. Unfortunately, this is very common when a less experienced climber  hooks up with someone who climbs at an higher level then they do, but climbs with poor, inefficient technique and a dominance of initiating movement with pulling through the fingers.

The less experienced yet enthusiastic climber, who is happy to be climbing with a “better” partner, than starts repeating their partners routes on top rope, subconsciously using the same crappy movement patterns that they witnessed while belaying (yes, once again, who you choose to climb with is vitally important), and low and behold, in six weeks they are climbing with tapped fingers, wrists or elbows and soon thereafter taking a three month break due to finger pulley injuries, elbow tendonitis or tears in the rotator cuff.

You may think that people who show up in climbing in the gym with tapped fingers, wrists or elbows (or god forbid that stupid fucking colored Chinese tape) are hardcore. But believe me, they are just misguided. Honestly, if your best red-points are at 6b or 6c and you need tape because your fingers, wrists, elbows, etc. are sore or injured, than you are doing something very wrong. Fix your injuries and soreness with learning how use your body properly to move while climbing, not with tape or other medication.

One may use tape to first and foremost protect or prolong your skin. Use tape to reinforce delicate tendons and pulleys in your fingers when doing campus training at the appropriate time (please don’t even get on a campus board until you are regularly climbing at 7b, but that’s another post). Maybe use tape to cover a small cut or wear spot on the skin, especially if you are trying to red-point something and doing the same move over and over again that has led to the sensitive skin issue.
The Canadian climber Will Gadd has written about his time as a competitive sport climber doing the European sport climbing circuit as a professionally sponsored climber twelve to fifteen years ago. To paraphrase his story, he was by far the “strongest” of all his competitors. He could do many more pull ups, weighted pull ups, one-arm pull ups, front levers, etc. If the competition was about pull ups, he would’ve won everything hands down. But, it was all about climbing and he regularly placed in the mid-twenties or was eliminated in the qualifying rounds. Why? Because he finally relized that he couldn’t move properly while climbing!

The top sport climbers in the competitions (mostly French at that time) were unable to do more than a handful of pull ups at best, however they moved with an element of aesthetic beauty and grace that was far, far ahead of what Gadd could mimic or even imagine at that time.

When Gadd asked his European competitors how they could climb at such a high level at all the comps despite being in his opinion so weak, he was told that they grew up trying to climb with beautiful, artistic movement. They tried to make all the moves and sequences as easy as possible. they tried to solve climbing challenges with movement, positioning, grace and fluidity - never through brute strength. This is an admirable trait that all climbers should strive towards and keep in mind when you come up against a crux in which you think you need to become “stronger” to solve.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Better Climbing: Change, Part II

Be mercilessly merciful. That is the attitude to take with yourself when it comes to changing. You can debate about what tactics to employ for any given behavioral goal, but once you have made the decision, then follow through in a singular, committed and laser-like, focused manner.

There is no "try" there is only "do".

I do not think that at the point of commitment it makes any sense to make incremental steps towards your goal. I believe that success depends on seeing this as a black and white issue.

A common bad habit with climbers is foot placement. A inefficient behavior is one of placing your foot in a sloppy manner, imprecisely, not keeping your eyes on the foothold until the foot is engaged, pumping it a couple of times to see if it will hold, etc. This basic deficiency must be overcome if you want to make any further progress in climbing. So, how? The next time you put your foot on a hold, do it with precision, exactness and trust. Easy, right? and yes I know I'm a genius at teaching climbing and you can send me your payments via my soon to come pay-pal account.

But, really the trick to this is to stop kidding yourself into thinking that you have to "try and be better with your feet". Put your fucking foot on the next foothold with concentration and precision! There are no marks for this - it's "pass / fail". Stop being nice to yourself and say, "well, I'm trying", or "I almost got it now". That is all a bunch of politically correct self-delussional talk that's just a bunch of crap. You have this one chance to place your foot properly: you can either fuck it up and make it harder to do the next time, or you can do it right - right now!

This, by the way, is the hard part of mastery and why in climbing that people are content to say, "I just climb to relax", or "I don't care about the grade, I just want to have fun". It is easy to ignore that feeling deep down that you are not really performing to your best and utilizing what you were given to the best of your powers.

Self-Awarness Exercise: Answer The Questions
  1. In what context do non-productive or self-sabotaging behaviors come forth?
  2. Why do you repeat the behavior?
  3. What are you holding onto that gives you the sense of short-term comfort?
  4. Why are you avoiding the confrontation of changing?
  5. Why does the old habit / behavior have power over you?
  6. Does the bad habit or behavior supply something that feeds your ego?
  7. What is the excuse for not changing or embracing the new productive behavior?
Tactics For Change
  • Plan counter strategies & remain flexible: have a day-to-day, moment-to-moment awareness
  • Get rid of bad stuff: negative outside influences, people, situations, food, drink, etc., etc., that lead you down the path of self-sabotaging behavior and giving in to inner weakness - yes, this does sound harsh but you are responsible for the control of your physical, mental and emotional environment
  • The people you climb with mater immensely: you want partners that are following the same path as you - you absorb so much consciously and subconsciously from who you climb with; make sure what you absorb is productive!
  • Focus particularly on changing the imputes that initiates a routine that now longer is productive, or leads you down the path to an old bad habit - if you are aware of how the chain of events start, then you can break it
  • Publicize your new behavior and changes
  • Do it together: engage in the process of changing with like-minded partners and utilize their help
The rewards of going through these processes time and time again are that you increase your personal power. Each time you confront a non-productive behavior is a challenge that you will enter into with less apprehension as each habit is confronted and dealt with. Before you know it anything seems possible as you begin to play in the realm of personal power.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Climb Better: Change, Part I

Every climber has the power to make significant improvements in his or her ability at all levels of experience, fitness and age. The quickest way to do this, is to make changes to your routine in which you eliminate non-productive habits and behaviors. 

As a human we desire, some more - some less, consistency, predictability and regularity. In some cultures, and segments of society this is a very strong influence. The Zen idea that everything is in a state of transformation, is the counter application: The only constant is change.

The climber who is always thinking of ways to mix things up, find a better solution, change inner and outer environments, tinker with all elements of training, climb in new areas, adjust nutrition, etc., etc., is going to progress at a much quicker rate, have more personal power and have the physical and mental basis for a long term, satisfying, climbing career.

The flip side of this situation is the climber that is stuck in perhaps what once was a productive routine that is no longer bringing results: Signs of this are frustration, a sense that you are "punching your time card" and clocking-in for a mundane climbing session, you are stuck doing the same warm-ups, have the feeling that you are always, "starting over again", repeatedly climb the same route that is at your highest level and your on-sight level is more than three letter grades below your best red point (i.e. , red point level at 7a, on-sight level 6b).

Keep These Points in Mind:
Change is uncomfortable, causes struggle and pain - especially emotional

Always find ways to do something different to bring about a novel (good) stress to your body & mind applying the principal of homeostasis

Bad / Old / Outdated habits & behaviors are engrained and comfortable therefore they feel, "right"

Change is a process of learning, developing and forming new habits and making them feel, "right"

Change is psychologically unpleasant and the initial reaction is avoidance

Establishing new behaviors will lead to increasing personal power and is compounded everytime your face up to and push past the discomfort

The moment of change is what is most painful

Temporary setbacks are normal and expected: acknowledge them - stop behavior - re-establish commitment to change - start fresh immediately from the present moment

Do not let relapses lead to sabotaging the whole process

Self-sabotaging behavior is a psychological disfunction of not valuing and having faith in yourself - "I'm just a 6a (or insert any grade) climber and can't improve because I'm too heavy, not strong enough, too old, inexperienced, not in climbing shape, don't have the nerves, scared, can't climb full-time, work too much, etc., etc.

Make use of external motivators: tell friends, partners, trainers, regulars at the crag or gym, etc., about your new habits & behaviors you want to acquire

Keep the benefits of changes and new behaviors in the forefront

Changing and the acquisition of new, productive behaviors is a tactical exercise in self-experimentation: failure = ineffective tactics, not personal weakness!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Book Review: "The Art of Ice Climbing"

The first ice climbing book that makes a significant impact since Will Gadd's Ice & Mixed Climbing is now available in English.

The Art of Ice Climbing, published by the small Chamonix alpine equipment manufacture, Blue Ice, is a much needed addition to the resources available to both experienced and aspiring ice climbers.

Here's an interview with one of the book's authors, Jerome Blanc-Gras on Epic TV.

I first heard of the book when it came out in it's French version more than a year ago. It looked so good at that time that I almost bought it despite my very poor French. I'm glad I waited for the English translation.

The book has a lot of unique content, great (and inspirational) photos and short interviews with international figures who aided in the development of alpine and waterfall ice climbing.

The gear maintenance section has an excellent step-by-step description of how to get beat up ice screws back into service. Along the same lines, is the section on sharpening and customizing picks for ice and dry-tooling. Complete with an explanation of how the various surface angles affect performance.

The last third of the book deals with such issues as commitment, choosing your line, overcoming difficulties (cruxes), and overall safety.

In the safety section the authors develop a system of planning and evaluation with a check-list type process. Finally there are four case studies of real-life accidents/situations in which the climbers behavior is evaluated.

I think this book, along with Jeff Lowe's Ice World and Gadd's previously mentioned Ice & Mixed Climbing, forms the third part of a trilogy of books about ice climbing that all alpine ice and mixed climbers should read. Many thanks to Jerome Blanc-Gras and Manu Ibarra for the book and to Blue Ice for pubishing an English translation.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Klettertreff Gaisberg / Open Climbing Gaisberg

Sonne am Mittwoch!
Outdoor Klettertreff am Gaisberg kommende Mittwoch, 5.06.2013 ab 18:00. Treffpunkt in Klettergarten Rechts oben ab 18:00.
Trainer Gebühr für Abend €75,-- bei Teilnehmer geteilt.
Mehr Infos bei mir oder 0688 815 0331
Sun on Wednesday!
Open climbing on the Gaisberg this  coming Wednesday, 5.06.2013 from 18:00. Meeting point is in the climbing area on the upper right side at 18:00.
Trainer fee is €75,-- for the evening and shared by the participants.
More information at or 0688 815 0331

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Training FUBAR

This is a rant. You're warned. There is so, so, so much shit regarding training for climbing. One could argue that most people think they are training for climbing when they go climb, but mostly this activity has more social and entertainment components than athletic.

I want to talk about supplemental strength training for climbing. To define what I mean, I'm discussing non-climbing, supplemental training that is done in periods in addition to climbing specific training. The goal of this training is to 1) increase raw strength, 2) gain muscle mass (ideally while loosing body fat), 3) deal with personal mobility issues, and 4) re-hab and/or prevent injuries.

This is the work out I did this morning:

1. Warm up with mobility & movement: free-form of pvc complex, pvc presses, shoulder dislocates, kettle bell & sand bag carries, dumb bell waiter walks, air squats, pvc overhead squats, kettle bell dead lifts, round-the-world, & goblet squats - about ten to fifteen minutes of continuous movement

2. Strength: 10 sets of 3 pull ups with 25kg. additional weight
Metabolic conditioning: 20 kettle bell swings @ 24kg - 3 weighted pull ups @ 5kg (5 rounds)

3. Strength: 20 weighted push ups @ 15kg - 12 goblet squats with 2X25kg dumb bells (5 rounds)
Metabolic conditioning: 25 kettle bell swings @ 24kg - 5 pull ups (four rounds)

4. Cool down: 10 dumb bell power cleans @ 2X20kg - waiter walks with 24kg kettle bell (3 rounds)

In between the work sets (those written above) I did some "warm up" moves at a lighter weight, or played around a bit with weighted step ups, snatches, sand bag hinges, etc., whatever came to mind and seemed appropriate.

Total volume of the working sets reads at 65 pull ups, 100 push ups, 60 squats, 200 kettle bell swings. I did all of the body movements on pulling, squatting, hinging and pushing. The focus of this strength work out was obviously pulling. I was finished in about an hour and fifteen minutes. I will do a second bouldering session later in the day.

The work out addresses the four points I noted at the beginning of the post. I focused on pulling strength on this work out. My next supplemental strength workout will focus more on pressing movements. Kettle bell swings create powerful hip-hinge and drive movements that are essential for dynamic movement in climbing. Push ups are very important for me because they stress the chest and shoulder girdle, counter act the overuse of all the pulling while climbing, and are at a relatively high amount of reps so I don't add too much bulk on my chest. Goblet squats with dumbbells are a great for stressing the core, and done at full range of motion, are great for hip flexibility under load. The finishing movements of power cleans and waiter walks are power movements and stability work for the shoulders.

Most people, or the common beliefs are, to go to a fitness studio and do the various machines to work your biceps, quadriceps, pectorals, hamstrings, etc. This is the body-part, train muscles in isolation, poor imitation of body builder-type training that does not work for an athlete that climbs. There are so many things wrong with this style of training: the body is one piece - so train the whole body. Muscles do not work in isolation. There is no transference to climbing. Lastly, this style of training with machines does not address the four reasons of doing supplemental training in the first place.

It is FUBAR that this is what the fitness industry is selling us.

Train smart
Train hard.
Don't train like everyone else.
You want to be better then everyone else, don't you?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Gaisberg Klettertreff / Gaisberg Open Climbing

Outdoor Klettertreff am Gaisberg kommende Mittwoch, 15.05.2013 ab 16:30. Treffpunkt in Klettergarten Rechts oben ab 16:30.
Trainer Gebühr für Abend €75,-- bei Teilnehmer geteilt.
Mehr Infos bei mir oder 0688 815 0331

Open climbing on the Gaisberg this  coming Wednesday, 15.05.2013 from 16:30. Meeting point is in the climbing area on the upper right side at 16:30.
Trainer fee is €75,-- for the evening and shared by the participants.
More information at or 0688 815 0331

Monday, March 25, 2013

Kletterkurse am Fels Outdoor Programm 2013

Draußenklettern mit Outdoor Kletterkurse von Kletterhalle Salzburg / denkundstein. Termine sind jetzt On-Line:

Kursinformation und Anmeldung über Kletterhalle oder direkt bei mir

Outdoor Climbing Courses

The outdoor courses form Kletterhalle Salzburg / denkundstein for spring and summer 2013 are now set!

Register for the courses over the Kletterhalle or by directly contacting me at

Friday, March 8, 2013

großes pafelhorn north face

i knew it was possible to ski. on that day i knew i would find my perfect moment, and i did it.”  - steffano de benedetti on skiing the first descent of the aiguille blanche de peuterey

anatomy of a ski descent

the idea of skiing the north face of the größes palfelhorn (2222m) came to me as i looked over the wimbachgries from the ofentalscharte after a late fall training tour in steep snow and mixed terrain. i had never heard of anyone skiing this face.
großes palfelhorn from a few kilometers into the wimbachgries
the obvious couloir that dominates the north face is wide and inviting two-thirds of the way up the face. afterwards it was unclear if it went further and if it would be possible to reach the top.

the first step in the process was to enlarge a digital topo map and see if there was a possibility. I also looked to see if there was any recorded routes on the face. sure enough, there are some historical routes (pre WWII) on the größes palfelhorn and its sub-peaks that are described as very dangerous due to the crappy, extremely friable  rock that makes up the peaks that line the wimbach drainage. no surprise there. i enlarged and studied the photos i took from the ofentalscharte, trying to discerne possible lines on the upper face.

this past november, after a bit of snow, i went into the couloir for the first time. on a training tour with my short approach skis and two ice tools searching for a bit of early season ice. the couloir is filled with very large boulders and small rock walls that would need a lot of snow to fill in.

last friday, march 1st, i went into the wimbach drainage to check out some unclimbed alpine ice. i had a relatively heavy pack with minimal ice climbing gear and two 30-meter twin ropes. i wanted to see if there was any possibility of climbing some of the alpine ice that forms seasonally. i skinned in on my ski mountaineering gear, using dynafit tlt performance boots and my shorter dynastar mythic rider skis.

the forecast of clearing weather burning off the low-level fog never materialized. i could not see whether any ice had formed. however every 30 minutes or so came the loud freight train rumble of avalanches releasing and rock fall as the sun warmed up the upper slopes of the mountains above the fog line. i wasn't going to blindly wander into that.

so plan “b” was to continue in the couloir on the north side of the palfelhorn. i got up to about the 2000 meter mark (above the fog line at 1600 meters) before the weight of my heavy pack full of unnecessary gear drained my motivation. the clouds and fog had also started to come up from the valley making visibility poor and i was also a bit nervous and scared about going higher. i de-skinned and skied down in settled, cold powder from my high point.
high point reached on friday, march 1st, looking up towords the crux of the descent
i could go back into the couloir on the following monday, march 4th. this time i went with the appropriate gear that i would need for the climb and descent.
gear carried and used on successful descent
(ski poles with one black diamond wippet self-arrest pole, light ice axe, crampons, light ski mountaineering harness, 3 pitons (baby angle, pecker, small knife blade) two lengths of accessory cord, 3 wire-gate carabineers, 2 screw-gate carabineers, mini-first aid with emergency foil bivouac sack, small head lamp, wood deadman with piece of cord, 30 meter twin rope, over gloves, extra pile glove liners, small piece of wax, small multi-tool, 1/2 liter thermos with fruit tea, photocopied photo & enlarged topo of upper couloir, and a light-weight puff anorak. all this went into my 12 liter skiing backpack)

i wore thin long underwear under soft-shell pants and my arteryx mx hoody. on my head was a head band under my grivel helmet with sunglasses. light weight fleece gloves on my hands. i used my tlt boots, dynastar skis and of course skins.

no, i did not have avalanche rescue equipment. and yes, i was alone.

in this manner i could move fast and had enough material and equipment for soloing moderate terrain and getting out any trouble by rappelling or self-belaying if needed.

i skinned into the shadow of the couloir and out of the warm sun of a perfect day. i was surprised to see a second set of ski tracks coming out of the couloir. it turned out that some one had followed my skin track from the following friday up to about the 1600/1650 meter level before skiing down.

i quickly reached my previous high point and continued for another 50 or so meters before i put my skis on my back and boot packed up the steepening gully. the crux of the descent would be a steep and narrow section bordered by rocks.
boot pack track 200 meters before the end of the couloir
i topped out of the couloir at just under 2200 meters, following the right branch to a small notch.

as i neared the end of the couloir, there were steady spin drifts that would wash down the gully as snow as blown off the rocks above and bordering the couloir.
spin drift coming off a small cliff, looking into the hidden, upper gully
“in the perfect moment i was, or felt to be, a little superman.” - steffano de benedetti

the snow was a mix of cold powder, wind pressed powder, breakable wind slab and hard wind slab. at times i simply had to ski from one jump turn to another to control my speed. at other times i could link a few turns, and towards the bottom of the couloir the snow was much better and just fun to ski.
looking down the couloir after the first couple of turns, crux 150 meters below
i have been watching the classic ski films “blizzard of ahhs” and “steep” lately. the films feature scott schmidt, glen plake, doug coombs, the great french steep skiing pioneers, etc., and steffano de benedetti. i find the films, and especially the comments of de benedetti extremely thought provoking and inspiring.

“to live so close to the possibility of dying, you understand what is really important and what not.” - de benedetti

however the best line from “steep” goes to glen plake. to me it’s a metaphor because we tend to put ourselves into various forms of confinement, whether it is a necessary part of life or a self-imposed limitation of our true desires.

“when i got out of jail, i went skiing.” - glen plake
using my "get out of jail free" card

Großes Pafelhorn North Face
Main Couloir, right branch - 45/50 degrees, ca. 550 meters
approach ca. 1000 meters
total elevation ça. 1550m / 24km distance, ça, 7 hours