Freelancers are the lifeblood of the outdoor media industry, but COVID-19 has shrunk journalism budgets across the board. Climbing Magazine, which gets about 75% of their content from contributors, is keeping up the work, and even doling out cash.
“You do it because you love it, or you have to, like a compulsion.”
Those words, and variations of, have been shared with me time and again from freelance writers, photographers and artists. Through grins and contemplative stares, over beers and across Zoom calls, the sub-text is that you don’t do it for the money.
The inner drive buttresses morale through tough times, but when work dries up, cash helps too.
For over 50 years, Climbing Magazine has been leading the way. Thanks to a new initiative by the publisher, they are giving a portion of their revenues directly to freelancers through their Climbing Contributor’s Fund (CCF). During April and May, 25% of proceeds from new Summit Memberships are apportioned to the fund. For every 50 signups, $500 gets doled out.
I spoke with Matt Samet, the Editor at Climbing, and Kevin Riley, Associate Publisher, to learn more about their new effort, the only one of its kind in the industry.
Author: How did the idea for the fund come about?
Matt Samet (MS): This was all Kevin Riley’s, idea. He goes on long trail runs and does these epic solo brainstorming sessions and comes back with tons of great ideas. Almost makes me wish I was still a runner!
Anyway, when the COVID-19 closures hit and everyone was sent home from work, we at Climbing all saw these effects trickle down pretty quickly, especially in the form of our many beloved freelancers. I’ve been a freelancer on and off myself over the years, and you’re always hustling, always saying “Yes” to any and all gigs because you don’t know when you’ll hit a dry spell.
With the economy basically put on pause, we knew there would be a big dry spell for many of our contributors, who are often piecing together a living with multiple gigs, including contributing to the magazine. We wanted to do whatever we could, while at the same time encouraging more people to sign up for our Summit Membership, which in turn supports our staff to work with freelancers to develop our content.
Why do you feel this is important to do as a publisher?
Kevin Riley (KR): Helen Keller said, “Alone, we can do little; together, we can do much.”
Climbing reaches over 1M people across its platforms, giving it the unique ability to galvanize the community to help the writers, photographers, and artists that make climbing (and Climbing) so special. As climbers, we take care of our own and many climbing contributors are facing difficult financial situations right now. Sure, being a climbing writer or photographer might sound glamourous, but the truth is it takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice to do what they do.
Can you talk about the role that freelancers play for Climbing?
MS: I reckon that 75 percent or so of our content comes from freelancers, who are out in the field, writing, shooting, creating video, and creating all this original content.
We are able to create some content ourselves here, too, being based in a climbing center like Boulder, Colorado, and with the three of us on staff—me, Kevin Riley, and Digital Editor, Kevin Corrigan—all being passionate writers (and the two Kevins are great photographers). But because we work in a deadline-based industry, we’re chained to our desks much of the time, so there’s only so much we can do from here. We rely on our network of freelancers to bring us the goods from all over the world.
How do you fund this?
KR: The CCF is funded through the Summit subscription.
The important difference is that we committed to expediate payments to contributors, so they get checks in their hands right away. We decided to allocate a portion of Summit Membership sales to CCF because it had the best potential to raise funds while CCF recipients could provide exclusive content for Summit Members as a token of gratitude.
How has response been from readers and the larger climbing community?
MS: So far, it’s been great. Our first contribution went to the photographer and photo editor, Irene Yee (@LadyLockoff), who’s based in Las Vegas, Nevada, and is an amazing talent and someone we work with often.
Irene created a video sharing her processes for both photo selection and editing in Lightroom, using shots from The Firewall in Liming, China—it’s a very cool behind-the-scenes look at a photographer’s process from hanging in the harness, shooting photos, to editing, to publication, and a great resource for anyone interested in climbing photography.
If you enjoy climbing and adventure stories, consider signing up to become a Summit Member with Climbing (which includes a bevy of other goodies) or sign up for a subscription to another publisher to help assure they continue to operate (and provide work for freelancers). Adventure Journal, Sidetracked, Rock and Ice, Alpinist and others widely use freelancers for content.
Are you a freelancer? Here are a few additional resources for those in the outdoor media industry:
Helsinki is 6,125 miles from Mexico City. Yet for Finnish climbers, Ben Koponen and Juha Kurikka, it wasn’t too far to open their dream gym.
Even if Ben had never been to the country before.
They arrived in Mexico City in the summer of 2017, not really knowing what to expect.
From Roots in Finland
Ben likes emerging climbing communities, apparently.
He grew up in Finland during the rapid rise of the sport in the early 2000s, learning on the hard granite of Nummi, just outside of Helsinki, at Falkberget, and farther afield. Finland won’t be mistaken for cliff-laden destinations like France or Spain—most of the country tops out under 656′ tall—but that hasn’t stopped locals from seeking out the best of what’s around. Or from becoming some of the top in the world, like Nalle Hukkataival, one of the strongest boulderers today.
Bouldering exploded onto the scene with the discovery of Vaasa in 2000. The boreal forests which cover roughly 75% of the land, offer enchanting solitude and barely touched bouldering potential. This is the environment that Ben grew up in: The thrill of finding undiscovered places, the dedication to develop something new, and the ruggedness to endure long winters (though I’m told the climbing season makes the wait worth it).
Perhaps there’s something about the eagerness to get outdoors post-hibernation that’s blossomed a strong climbing culture. Ben estimates there’s about 120,000 in the country whose total population is one-quarter the size of Mexico City.
(If you’re interested, you can watch the documentary, “Cold Rock,” to learn more about the history of climbing in Finland).
As climbing gained in popularity, so did the demand for indoor options.
The First Time Around
Today, there are eight climbing gyms in Helsinki, or about one for every 8,100 citizens.
Ben ran a gym in 2011 when things were on the upswing. But he and his partner were a bit early.
“It was growing, but not that fast and my partner lost interest. So we decided to close it down,” says Ben. “But I was always telling my friends, ‘Some day I’m going to open another one.’”
What About Mexico?
Juha was looking for a change and proposed the idea: “What about a climbing gym? And what about in Mexico?,” recalls Ben.
“I thought about it for two seconds… Let’s go!,” he says, laughing.
Ben had never been to Mexico before, but Juha had spent 6 months there in 2015, then went on a two week fact finding mission in early 2017.
“We wanted to know: What is there? Is there any potential? Is this just a crazy idea?,” Ben jokes.
Upon Juha’s return to Finland, an unfortunate snowmobiling accident resulted in 3 bed-ridden months with a broken leg. Turns out an exercise in immobility is a good opportunity to hatch a business plan.
They were on the move to Mexico City later that summer, crutches and all.
Sprinting to Stop
“The nice thing about Mexico is if I want to open a book store, I can get it up and running a week later. That’s basically what we did here: I rented the space from a friend, ordered about 1,000 books, built the shelfs, and put up a small sign on the window.”
That was how it was described to me by El Jefe at Librería La Comezón in Querétaro. I heard other iterations thereof, from opening a pizza shop to starting a crash pad company. You can basically just start, and move things along quickly.
That wasn’t the case with RockSolid.
“We didn’t know anything about the city,” begins Ben. “The first thing we did was to print a whole bedroom wall-sized map. We marked all the schools, the Metro lines, bus lines, etc. to get the idea of what the city was about.”
They started searching uptown around Polanco then moved south. Sometimes they’d show up to a listing found online to find nothing resembling the pictures. Other times the location just didn’t work. Eventually, they uncovered an old printing factory that had gone defunct 6 years earlier.
Legal work took four months. Wood they had pre-bought for the buildout had been sold to another customer, so they had to wait for new timber to be cut and dried. And then construction took longer than expected.
“Eight months of building and before that, one year of planning and finding a place,” says Ben.
“We opened RockSolid on July 6, 2019,” he declares, beaming.
It was the biggest gym in the country at the time.
A New Home
“I’m really happy to be a part of the community here in Mexico,” shares Ben, reflecting on the opening of the gym and of his time so far. “I felt home from the moment I came.”
They’re just in the beginning, not even a year in since opening. But Ben seems pleased with the progress.
“It’s been good. Super long and rough journey, but it was all worth it.” Just like winters in Finland.
People used to just try hard on real rock and rain mattered. But like sport climbing, then bouldering, then gyms… love it or hate it, the trend has taken root and is here to stay.
Comp (short for “competition”) climbing is a sub-discipline of the sport that takes place indoors and puts athletes into structured events designed to “see who’s the best,” or something like that. Kinda like the tennis or golfing version of climbing.
Since lead, speed, and bouldering were admitted into the Olympics for 2020 2021, I was curious: Why did it take so long for the sport to be included?
I also wanted to know more about what comp climbing is about, and to some extent, who is interested in this anyway?
“If given the choice between going bouldering or watching a world class climbing comp, I’d rather watch the climbing comp,” says John Burgman, one of the leading voices on the sport.
“People can’t wrap their head around that,” he professes.
John has been tracking comp climbing since 2014, regularly writes on the topic for Climbing Magazine and Climbing Business Journal, and is a frequent guest on Plastic Weekly, an indoor and competitive climbing industry podcast.
Anyways, a few weeks ago I didn’t know much about comp climbing. Now I do.
Working through the fast-paced historical account, a few things stood out: 1) The story is fraught with tales of intrigue and 2) John loves history.
He must have interviewed dozens of key players from the annals and frankly, only Sauron and John know how he managed to keep track of the details. After awhile, my head began to swim like soup trying to follow all the names, places, feats, and spectacles.
Still, John has a ceramicists’ touch to smooth out a vast quantity of material to make something appreciably easy on the eyes, that’s readable and entertaining.
John tracks the story beginning in late-80s:
“One hazy afternoon in 1987, a young California rock climber named Jim Thornburg met up with a longtime friend, Scott Frye, to carry out an ambitious plan.”
The duo loaded up their car with epoxy and rocks gathered from Tuolumne in Yosemite, and headed towards a quiet on-ramp at the back of Lake Temescal reservoir northeast of Oakland. Their plan was to glue holds onto the girders, and in doing so, they created some of the earliest artificial climbing routes in The States.
Contrast those humble beginnings to today’s super-mega 50,000+ square feet climbing gyms, and you get a sense of how things have grown.
Said another way, climbing has evolved. Fast.
While the book covers 30 years of the sport, it feels like 3 or 5 generations have passed in that time. If you read too quickly, it’s like Robin Williams’ Jack all up in here (points to head), or Lisa’s colony of small beings.
From a trad-only ethos that peaked with the Stonemasters to gym-only super climbers of today, there’s a veritable cast of characters that have helped develop the sport.
You’ll recognize names like Lynn Hill, Jeff Lowe, and Alison Osius, will probably have heard of people such as Hans Florine or Mia Axon, and may not know about (but should!) the contributions of folks like Kynan Waggoner, Jackie Hueftle, and Scott Rennak, among countless others.
Heck, just take a gander at the Olympic roster to see evolution in action.
In 1989, Robyn Erbesfield (now Erbesfield-Raboutou) and Didier Raboutou met while competing at the Second International Sport Climbing Competition (ISCC) at Snowbird, organized by Jeff Lowe. The event was also the second ever World Cup event in the U.S. (following the first iteration of the ISCC the year prior, where the Finals route was rated in the low 5.13s). If the last name sounds familiar, that’s because Brooke Raboutou, their daughter, is on the inaugural Olympic team, while their son, Shawn, now boulders V16.
“Many people feel that sport climbing will eventually be included in the Olympics,” suggests a recap of the event in a Climbing article at the time.
Prescient. But it would still be a long road to 2020, with a lot of history to be made along the way.
Move over monkey bars, these polygonal bouldering blocks are the playground equipment of the future.
Hard Body Hang (HBH) out of Budapest, Hungary has created decahedron and tetrahedron “Urban Boulders” to help more people enjoy the thrills of climbing, outdoors and for free, while in the city.
In an increasingly urbanized world, not everyone can skip town to get to real rock. Today, 55% of the world’s population live in cities, a proportion that is expected to increase to 68% by 2050 based on predictions by the United Nations.
Accordingly for urbanites, the sport of climbing is growing fueled by indoor facilities.
In the U.S. there are over 7.7 million climbers, according to an Outdoor Industry Association report from 2014, with over five million frequenting the gym, as noted in the 2019 State of Climbing report by the American Alpine Club. The Climbing Business Journal tracks the commercial gym industry and their research shows about a 6% yearly growth rate for new climbing gyms since 2000. Based off data from the Climbing Wall Association, gym facilities average over 100 new members per month.
That’s a lot of people flocking indoors, which HBH is trying to change.
As former rowers, Szabolcs Csepregi and Tamás Erdélyi spent much of their career training inside. When they retired, they began looking for a way to stay fit alfresco; Ideally cheaply and always accessible. That’s when they came across body-weight exercises in city parks.
“We started making street workout equipment six years ago [think pull-up bars, monkey bars, parallel bars],” says Mezős Balázs, the Marketing Director of the company. “Our motto is ‘playground for all,’ because the important thing is that these are sports for anyone—You don’t need any extra equipment. Anyone can go and start working out and having fun.”
HBH gained in popularity as the parkour and street workout movement grew across Europe. Parkour is like American Ninja Warrior in a metro setting, emphasizing dynamic movements—such as swinging, stemming, and jumping—to navigate through complex environments and structures typically found in city parks, subway stations, and stairwells. Part of the allure of the activity is the freedom it allows participants to reimagine the concrete jungle.
Since 2013, the company has installed over 300 workout parks from Segovia to Hong Kong and Abu Dhabi to Ruka.
Bouldering parallels parkour for its potential accessibility. After all, you only need shoes and something to climb as a baseline. However, crags are often far from downtown and inaccessible by public transport, while gyms are expensive.
Bernard Gara, one of the newest members of the team, joined with 20 years of climbing experience and encouraged the group to think about new types of equipment for public spaces. They began designing ways to make bouldering available for any inhabitant of a city.
Thus, the Zigzag boulders were born.
Made from hot-dip galvanized steel and weather-proof materials, the modules provide a fully customizable human-sized puzzle. And if the blocks remind you of the maddening Rubik’s Cube, that’s because they were inspired by the 3-D combination game, which is, *ahem*, another Hungarian invention. (Thanks, Ernő!).
“Today, in Hungary, people rarely go rock climbing,” begins Mezős. “They climb indoors and that’s why I think it’s important to show them how much better it is go to outside.” Even if it’s in the city.
And providing a soft landing for the exploding bouldering scene
Bouldering in Mexico has taken off over the last decade, in part because of the growth of accessibility of the sport. Gyms like Casa Boulder, V+ Bouldering, and Levita, and climbing equipment brands like Cyrus Gear, helped usher in new generations by reducing the friction to getting started.
Launched in 2009, Cyrus Gear was the first bouldering-focused climbing company to find success in the country. Founder, Cirenio Israel Lopez Mendez, introduced some of the first ever, locally-made crash pads, and hasn’t looked back since. Their sprocket-styled Aztec-inspired logo is now ubiquitous with bouldering in the country.
In this interview, we chat about how Israel got started, what the scene was like in the beginning, and his first, reluctant, sale.
1) How did the idea for first making crash pads come about?
It was the quest for boulders that motivated us to produce our first crash pad. At that time there was no option for what we were looking for: [A pad that had] density, resistance, size, durability. That’s why we decided to produce the first crash pad, which was designed for personal use only. Selling them was never a thought.
2) What is your background with climbing?
I’ve been climbing for 27 years. My introduction to climbing was during my first year of junior high at the age of 13. A friend of mine invited me and introduced me to Cristian Macoco, who adopted me in the climbing world. At that time, we would go to nearby climbing zones, like Aculco, Villa Alpina, Los Remedios, among other places.
The fourth time I went, at Los Dinamos, I did my first multi-pitch. It was a route named Viiaje Mágico [5.9+ trad], and I felt immensely happy. That day we tried to use a cam for the first time… we couldn’t use it, lol.
For me, being on the wall, in the middle of the forest, in a place I couldn’t imagine… It was magical. This experience, each time I climb, it is still magical for me.
3) What attracted you to bouldering?
For the first many years I practiced sport climbing only, but then I met this place to the north of Mexico City called “El Bovedón.”
That’s where my introduction to bouldering began. From there, many other friends showed me other zones to go bouldering. Everything was new for me, and it was fascinating; it was like climbing only the hardest part of a line.
4) What was the climbing scene like in Mexico, specifically for bouldering, when you decided to start making pads?
Bouldering in Mexico was barely known. Back then sport climbing was more common. Maybe it’s because there were no local brands or stores that made it easier to get the gear or to practice bouldering. At the very least, it was just not as known as it is now. The bouldering community has grown during the past few years. Now it is as popular as sport climbing.
It’s very satisfying for me to know that there are a lot more people climbing now than ten years ago. Me and my team are very happy knowing that we contributed to this development; more people practicing bouldering is a dream come true for me.
5) What was the process like for making your very first pads?
At the beginning, I just really wanted a crash pad.
That idea, the need to make the first one, started humbly. It was stuffed from recycled materials and it was not eye appealing. But when it was finished, it was the best crash pad in the world for me. Plus it worked very well!
The first sale happened when a friend of mine asked me to sell it to him. And I didn’t want to; Imagine, to sell your first creation? I couldn’t. [But eventually did.]
I made another crash pad for myself with many improvements and yet another friend of mine bought it. It was difficult because I made it for me, but [then I thought] I want to share the experience.
Then we made another crash pad, and decided to name it “Cyrus”. The first Cyrus was sold the same way the others were [from people seeing them and asking about them]. Since then we haven’t stopped producing and improving the crash pads. It’s been over a decade now.
6) How has the climbing community changed since you first started?
The community has grown a lot from then to now, and it is easier to have the tools to practice the sport.
This community is still full of people who love outdoors, who seek self-realization in contact with the rock, [and this is what] takes us to the forests, mountains, deserts, canyons and other places surrounded by nature.
Over the years, I have been able to be in touch with climbing, but now it has become more accessible thanks to the creation of gyms, the development of new areas and the [further development of] areas that already existed too. [I think] the climbing community in Mexico will continue growing and this will not stop.
7) How might climbing in Mexico be different if Cyrus Gear was never formed?
I don’t know, since we all influence everyone; all actions, words, experiences, creations, etc. Each and every human being has some kind of result on the unknown future.
What I can tell you is that the work team at Cyrus is looking for the tools to be able to climb with quality products and make it accessible to everyone who wants to climb. What began with the dream of being able to make our own material and tools continues growing.
Now with social media, it makes it easier to everyone who has the same dream: Just contact me and I can share the experience of a climbing line or a boulder to help them [get the beta they need], and of course, to provide them with quality and accessible products. For that, they can check out our website: cyrusgear.com.
Now the new dream is being part of the community and helping directly fulfill the needs of climbing in Mexico, and to contribute as much as possible for this sport.
You can check out all of Cyrus Gear’s products, from quickdraws to crash pads to chalk bags, on their website, or at climbing gyms around the country.
You’re planning a big climbing trip. It’s going to be great fun! But you want don’t want to totally hoof it, some modern creature comforts would be nice.
Perhaps like a bed, or hot showers. A kitchen with full-sized utensils, or a fully-stocked bar.
Where to go? Does modern convenience and climbing work outside of #vanlife? (#jokes)
You’re darn tooting! They are called climbing hostels, my friend. And thanks to our climbing community friends, we are sharing some of our favorite hostels and primo climbing destinations from around the world, with you. To enjoy. And to visit. Venga!
Location: Shigu, Yunnan, China Camp/Hostel:Stone Drum House Facilities: Small dorm, private rooms, yoga room, communal kitchen, food to order Nearby Crags:Shigu (easy walking from the hostel), Water & Diamond Wall (4km taxi ride followed by a 5 minute walk to Diamond Wall, or a 20-25 min. walk) Best Time to Climb: Dry season is from October to May. The best time for climbing is in the winter from November to February.
Review: Situated at the base of towering limestone mountains, Stone Drum House is a family run hostel that embraces climbers as part of their pack.
Lucy, the resident pup, was the first to bless me with greetings. This uniquely restored Naxi-style house is equipped with hot showers, filtered water, washing machines, a yoga room, wifi, and natural sitting toilets where you toss in wood chips to allow for nature to take care of your big business.
The home cooked meals were definitely one of the things I looked forward to at the end of a long climbing day. Everyone sits around a table where a family style meal is served. After we devoured the food that was presented to us, we shared our daily adventures be it climbing, market day, or hiking. A projector is also available in the same area and we made good use of it during our stay.
We rented a four-bed dorm room and each of the beds was equipped with a heating pad for cooler nights and a nice thick duvet to add to the homeliness of the hostel. We each had our own pull out storage box under the bed where we could keep our goodies nice and tidy.
The family who runs this hostel consists of Reuben, Ling, and Ashley. Reuben is the guy you thank for helping set up the beautifully bolted climbs here. You may need to start the conversation with him, but he’s a walking plethora of knowledge about climbing in general. Ling is the matron of the hostel who is a great cook and a very welcoming host. Their son, Ashley, is solely responsible for blowing kisses and bidding us a good night every night.
You can read Jojo’s trip report, with plenty of useful information, here.
Written by, Jojo Yee: “Currently based in Bangkok, Thailand, I travel the world to meet great friends and explore awesome crags.” | @jojoyees
Location: Thakhek, Laos Camp/Hostel:Green Climbers Home Facilities: Camping, bungalows, dorm, restaurants Nearby Crags:Pha Tam Kam (easy walk from the campground) Best Time to Climb: The climbing season runs from October to May, with December and January being the very best. The rainy season runs from June to September (when the Green Climbers Home is closed).
Review: “It’s next to Thailand, right? And you’re sure there’s climbing there?”
Before traveling to South East Asia, I knew next to nothing about Laos. I asked my travel and climbing partner and he assured me he had heard of a place with lots of sport climbing and some cool hut-things to stay in, so I agreed to give it a chance. Little did I know those bamboo bungalows would become like a second home to me, and the limestone walls surrounding them would hold my favorite climbing thus far in my travels.
As many people would agree, Green Climbers Home is very difficult to describe. When your tuk-tuk driver turns down the dirt road you are really entering a different world; a little climbers’ bubble in the middle of Laos. I first went to Green Climbers Home in March 2018 and instantly fell in love. The relaxed and welcoming atmosphere of the camp, paired with the beauty of the area and the tremendous volume of climbing within a few minutes walk made me feel like I was seriously living the dream. Those two weeks flew by, and I knew I had to go back as soon as I could.
I very strategically began asking Uli and Tanja about working there in the future, and the next thing I knew I was booking flights and making plans to return the following season as a volunteer.
The two months I spent working at GCH was easily one of the best experiences of my life. I think I could have happily stayed for the whole season, still feeling like I had only scratched the surface of the climbing there. With nearly 400 routes and seemingly endless potential, this area has so much to offer. I mean where else can you find a legit roof!? It is worth it for every climber to test their heel hook and knee bar skills at The Roof, and try not to get completely turned around in there. A trip to GCH also isn’t complete without a shot of Laos Whiskey at the top of the multi-pitch, best enjoyed at sunrise. And after a long day of climbing (let’s be honest, mostly sweating), you mosey into the restaurant, order the dinner special (hopefully it’s schnitzel night), pass around some climbOn, and cheers your big Beer Laos to all the sends of the day!
Uli and Tanja have built (and rebuilt after a few fires) something truly special in Thakhek, and I am so grateful to have had a small part in its story. Until next time!
Written by, Nicki Simon: “Born and raised in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, I have spent my whole life loving the outdoors and telling super cheesy jokes.” | @nickisimon
Location: Kaeng Khoi, Thailand Camp/Hostel:Nam Pha Pa Yai Camp Facilities: Camping, speciality housing (earthen houses, tree houses, bamboo house), restaurant, cooking area, equipment rental Nearby Crags:Nam Pha Pa Yai: Pasak River Wall, School Wall, Bat Cave Wall (15 minutes walk) Best Time to Climb: November to early April. Rainy season is from May to October, but many routes are underneath a roof and remain dry.
Review: This small climber’s hostel is nestled in the countryside 3 hours north of Bangkok by train (and 2 hour north of Dong Mueng).
It is one of my favourite climbing homes. I have both stayed in my own tent and in the bungalows, while other options include earthen and tree houses. Each day our “transport” to the limestone crag took 5 minutes including an invigorating zip-line across the peaceful river. Although the river wall is most popular, there’s a few other areas like the Bat Cave and Kayak Wall (accessible by a paddle).
In the evenings we were spoilt for food with epic buffets to feed us after a well earned day. It’s here I’ve eaten some of the best food in Thailand, hands down! To top off the gluttony, Joy makes the best bread available in the country: Fresh rye-walnut-sourdough. What I love about the place is how eco-friendly it is, from the mud houses to veggie gardens that supply much of the kitchen.
Our days would consist of warming up at the well stocked outdoor gym and yoga area, and playing on the slacklines under shady trees. On rest days we would go in to town for some of the best massages I’ve ever had and buy fruit, or just laze in hammocks at camp, hike up the hill or swim in the river. The area and number of climbs are not the biggest on the SE Asia circuit, but the rock and route quality is superb with routes mostly from from 6A to 8A, so there’s enough to happily spend two weeks there. The chilled vibes and beautiful area make it hard to actually leave, and easy to come back!
Note: The vibe is pretty chill. During the week there is crowd is of traveling rock climbers, about half a dozen on average. The weekends bring the crew from Bangkok, so it gets busy and high energy and psych is all about.
Written by, Zuza Kania: “I’m just ye average climber, lover of travel, exploring nature and adventure.” | @wonderlustfox
Location: Takaka Golden Bay, New Zealand Camp/Hostel:Hangdog Camp Facilities: Camping, bunkhouse, kitchen (for guests of bunkhouse) Nearby Crags:Paines Ford (quick walk), Pohara (10 minutes by car) Best Time to Climb: Year-round. Rain can be streaky.
Some people may look at it and think it’s a bit beat up, grubby, and rough around the edges. Because it is. It is absolutely all of those things. And that’s exactly why people love it. But if you’re traveling solo and fancy a climb, be sure to hit it up.
Like it says on the website, you go for a day and stay for a month. It’s pretty cheap at NZD$14 per night for a pitch, but there’s also a bunkhouse (that wasn’t available when I was there) that offers a bit more ‘luxury’ at 20 bucks. Regardless of which you go for, anyone who visits will fall in love with Hangdog’s super chilled out, welcoming nature. It’s also perfectly situated for climbers and lovers of alternative lifestyles. After all, Takaka is the best of bases to live ‘the hippy life’! The surrounding nature and landscapes are pretty epic to explore too.
More importantly for climbers, Hangdog gives you near instant access to some of the top climbing spots in the country. For instance, just across the road you duck through some bushes and enter the most picturesque of river-oases. Crystal clear waters are lined by limestone slabs. It’s bouldering paradise. There are ropes to climb up, rocks to jump off, and a sweet overhanging ceiling to get the forearms working. Get tired? Cool off in the water.
Be aware that it can close in winter time (like, southern hemisphere winter time, from June to September…ish). Head there for summer for the best vibes.
Written by, Danny Newman: “Danny’s a26-year-old digital nomad who is currently writing and traveling his way around the world.” | What’s Danny Doing?
Location: Long Dong, New Taipei City, Taiwan Camp/Hostel:The Bivy Facilities: Small dorm, private rooms, lounge area Nearby Crags:Long Dong (less than 5 minutes driving), Bitou (walking distance from Long Dong) Best Time to Climb: It’s a rainy area (140in/370cm per year). Spring and fall can have streaks of rain. Winter can be cold and occasionally perfect. Summer is dry, minus the typhoons, but very hot
Review: The Bivy is the first accommodation around Long Dong that is designed for climbers, and is what I have called my home for the last 4 years. My husband, Qx, and I are Singaporean rock climbing guides based out of The Bivy, located less than 5 minutes drive from Long Dong (Dragon’s Cave), the biggest and best rock climbing in Taiwan.
On May 6, 2015 The Bivy opened its doors to its first group of guests. Since then, we are pleased to meet and host climbers and foster friendships from all over the world. The Bivy is where climbers gather, exchange beta to get around independently and safely, and share climbing stories over beer, whiskey or sake.
Living in a quaint little fishing village, we get to enjoy nature, serenity, clean air, good spring water, small catches of fresh local seafood and seaweed. Other than climbing at Long Dong, we enjoy bouldering at Bitou Boulders and taking a walk around Bitou Cape, an underrated hike that offers a breath-taking spectacle of the Northeastern coastline of Taiwan against the backdrop of glistening waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Written by, Kelly Khiew: “Rock climbing guides and couple based in a fishing village in Taiwan with their lovely doggie, Chongchong”| @qxadventures
Location: Geyikbayiri Village, Antalya, Turkey Camp/Hostel:Kezban’s Guest House and Camping Facilities: Bungalows, posh bungalows, camping, communal kitchen, restaurant, tent rental Nearby Crags:Geyikbayiri (2-25 minutes walking, depending on the wall) Best Time to Climb: Beginning of September until the end of May
Review: This place is nestled in a valley of limestone cliffs with 360 degrees of amazing views, and approaches can be as short as a 5 minute walk.
The vibe at the camp is really chill. There is a fully equipped communal kitchen where we cooked most of our meals and there was usually a campfire at night where climbers gather. There are fruit trees plants in the camping area, so you get to sample pomegranate or mulberries while you walk back to your tent, which hovers over a wooden platform and [comes] fully equipped with a mattress, blanket, pillows, and sheets. You may also choose to set up your own tent.
Kezban’s is owned by a local Turkish gentleman named, Senol. He picked us up from the airport and we stopped at a grocery store along the way to pick up food. It was near the end of the season for climbing–April–so no one was available to cook for us.
There is also a mysterious turtle that may bless you with a siting and give you some good luck for your send day. Please give your love to the Black and White pupper here who will definitely accompany you all day at the crag.
Location: Ulassai, Sardinia, Italy Camp/Hostel:Nannai Climbing Home Facilities: Private rooms, apartment, dorms, cabins, communal kitchen, café Nearby Crags:The Canyon (minutes by foot), Jerzu (10 minutes by car), Baunei (50 minutes by car)
Review: You find this cosy home for Climbers and outdoor lovers in the heart of Ulassai. This small mountain village in Sardinia welcomes you with the warmth of a true family.
This life project started over a cold beer between 6 friends: Dreaming about changing lifestyle, [being] closer to nature and [having] a home to share all this rock and beauty became a reality after hard work and dedication.
Nannai means “grandmother” in the local dialect. And that is exactly what you get. A cosy place, great company and a family vibe. This international team with Belgians, Italians, English and even Canadian hosts create an easy going flow which make you instantly feel at home.
[Here] you will find plenty of climbing partners, tips about the best lines and sectors and an update of the freshly bolted lines by our team (now featuring over 700 routes!). The hosts can show the best hikes and beaches around and where to find the best local products
The first weekend of June, the village transforms in a true outdoor festival. Highliners, yogini’s climbers and bikers all melt together in a 3-day festival with classes, shows, workshops and a legendary party.
Written by, Sofie Van Looy: “Belgian born and community-formed, I care about welcoming people into our home and connecting them with all that Sardinia has to offer. Glad to have left the big city, with family in tow, to be closer to nature!” | @nannai_climbing_home
Location: Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain Camp/Hostel:Camping Siurana Facilities: Campground, dorms, cabins, restaurant, café Nearby Crags: Siurana (walking or light driving), Montsant (1 hour), Montserrat (2 hours), Margalef (1 hour) Best Time to Climb: Best in late fall to early spring, though because of its mild Mediterranean climate it can be climbed year round.
Review: A quick 2.5 hour drive from Barcelona, the mountaintop village of Siurana perches high above a majestic valley enshrined in limestone walls and lush greenery. Complete with a castle and café, [you’ll find] spectacular vistas which will haunt your memories for many a year. This town is home to some of the best climbing in Taragona, and of course, one of my favorite crag camps!
We didn’t exactly dirt bag it, as we (four dudes from Cali) rented a permanently parked mobile home for €70 per night. As of June 2019, camping is €7 per night and dorms are €12 per night. The mobile home came complete with a full kitchen, bathroom with shower, a master bedroom and a bunk room. While not spacious, it was plenty big for 4 people and gear. With potable water from the tap, plenty of hot water for showers, clean sheets and plenty of parking, I would gladly recommend this option to those willing to spend the cash.
The goods: Plenty of excellent climbing within walking distance at the village crags, delicious espresso, the camp’s paella is one of the best I’ve had in Spain (you have to order the night before), tasty house wine and lots of potential partners if you are traveling solo.
Notables: The bakery in Cornudella is amazing – it’s the only bakery in the town before Siurana. The bartender at the camp’s café/kitchen bolts at Montsant and has the freshest beta. Many of the eateries in both Siurana and Cornudella are closed after 10PM. Buses take lots to tourists to visit the village on the weekends so the parking and eateries near the castle can be overwhelmed.
Written by, Stephen Le: “Travel to climb; climb to explore; explore to learn.” | @rockraft
Location: Bernal, Querétaro, Mexico Camp/Hostel:Chichid’ho Facilities: Camping, dorm, cabins, communal kitchen Nearby Crags:La Peña de Bernal (5-10 minutes walk), boulders (1-15 minutes walking) Best Time to Climb: Summer is rainy season (though it only averages ~28 in.). Winter stays warm (high desert) so really, any season.
Review: La Peña de Bernal in Mexico is full of myth and questionable legend. What is undisputed is its stellar bouldering, fun multi-pitches, and excellent hostel.
The volcanic plug is the second (or third, or tenth?) largest monolith on earth, depending on which source you trust, and stands like a sentry over the Pueblo Mágico of Bernal. It’s aura is bewitching, as are the facts: It is considered one of the 13 Wonders of Mexico, the geographic center of the meandering country (again, disputed), and one of the earliest climbing hotspot for Los Mexicanos, dating back to the ’60s.
With that said, the climbing is great: Make your way to the top of the Porphyrytic steeple via one of the 20+ multi-pitch lines or enjoy over 100 boulder problems from V0-V12.
Soak it all in from your homebase at Chichid’ho, which offers an oasis-like reprieve from Mexico City (or wherever else you’re venturing from). Weekends fill up, if you’re looking for potential partners, and the quiet workdays make it a prime place for remote workers.
If the idea of lesser-trafficked multi-pitches and climbing on some of the most classic Mexican boulders sounds appealing, be sure to visit La Peña de Bernal and let it cast its spell over you.
Written by the author: “Traveler-ish, climber-ish, writer-ish.” | @aarongerry
Location: El Potrero Chico, Hidalgo, Nuevo Leon, Mexico Camp/Hostel:Rancho El Sendero Facilities: Camping, dorm, private rooms, cabins, communal kitchen, restaurant, pool Nearby Crags:El Potrero Chico (15 minutes walk) Best Time to Climb: Winter is best, from November to March. Shoulder months include October and April.
Review: Rancho el Sendero is the perfect site for climbers of all budgets looking to stay walking distance from El Potrero Chico but away from the party crowds.
I spent about a week with friends in the Casa Grande and a few nights in the private room with my boyfriend. The Casa was great for a group (we were a group of five) and included two bedrooms (room 1: One king bed, room 2: One king & one twin bed), a private bathroom & full-sized kitchen area (including a refrigerator, oven, 4-burner stove top and sink). My only complaint was that we didn’t mingle with everyone else as much as we would have if we used the communal kitchen.
The reasons I loved and am recommending Rancho el Sendero:
The host went above and beyond for our comfort. I fell sick while in EPC and she drove me into town and helped me find a doctor (which was a challenge since most the clinics were closed due to a local holiday).
Thanksgiving dinner – the host cooked a surprise dinner for everyone (FOR FREE)! And occasionally made other special dishes.
Perfect location for solo travelers/travelers looking to make new friends: Everyone was friendly and inviting. If you went to the main communal kitchen you were bound to find other climbers to climb or do rest day activities with. On a rainy rest day my group of five were able to join ~6 others for a day trip to the hot springs!
Written by, Radhika Patel: “I have been a rock climber from ~9yrs & I believe climbing is one of the BEST ways to travel and make lasting connections around the world.” | @radhiworldtour
Location: Stanton, Kentucky Camp/Hostel:Climber’s Home Hostel Facilities: Private room, kitchen, climbing gym Nearby Crags:Red River Gorge (15 minutes by car) Best Time to Climb: Spring and fall are best, though winter on a sunny day can work too.
Review: Staying at the Climber’s Home hostel is like staying at your moms house.
Sunny Yang, who has been a climber for most of his life, is an amazing host. In 2014, he encountered a horrible tragedy [when he] was paralyzed in a hit-and-run. Since then he has over come many odds and is an inspiration to all who know him.
With the love of his wife and family, and the support of the climbing community, he regained his ability to walk, and climb. Now, he represents the USA on the National Paraclimbing Team. By creating the Climber’s Home Hostel, he is giving a gift back to the community.
The climbers home Hostel is equipped with everything you would need and is extremely clean and comfortable. Whether you are cooking or eating out, staying at Climber’s Home makes the culinary logistics of your trip very easy. Stanton hosts one of the few supermarkets in the area, and the hostel is located less than a mile from the local Kroger. No trip to the Red would be complete without at least one meal at Miguel’s Pizza or Red River Rockhouse, and these restaurants are conveniently located on the way to and from the majority of crags.
Written by, Sandra Samman: “Climber of 15 years and mom to a famous adventure climbing cat, Denali Gato.” | @denaligato
Location: Santander, Colombia Camp/Hostel:Refugio la Roca Facilities: Private rooms, bungalows, dorm, kitchen, restaurant Nearby Crags:La Mojarra (easy walking from the hostel) Best Time to Climb: Climbing can be had year-round, since the weather is fairly consistent being near the equator. December to February is considered the dry season.
Review: In June of 2019, I visited a climber’s dream destination: Refugio de la Roca. This ecological hostel is located in the Colombian Altiplano Mountains, and energised every inch of my body and soul. And as an environmentalist, I highly appreciated the Refugio using rain water, solar water heaters and biodegradable products.
Refugio de la Roca is known to rock addicts for it’s amazing orange sandstone climbing, La Mojarra. There are 200+ routes of satisfying cliffhangers for all climbing abilities.
As a newbie, the spacious covered outdoor area with restaurant and bar, the yoga room or hammock chill lounge was my spot to meet new friends. Here we drank healthy smoothies in the mornings or munched on gourmet style french toast, vegetable omelets and granola with organic fruits, while waiting for the sun to leave the rock face just after noon.
Warning: Watch out for the small cheeky monkey, Jacinto. He stole a lot of homemade bread buns and cigarettes packages off our tables.
Written by, Diana Dolensky: “Originally from Germany, I moved to Auckland, New Zealand in 2011 for a lifestyle change. I enjoy climbing, horse riding and travelling” | @didiana1981
Location: Huaraz, Peru Camp/Hostel:Monkeywasi (Monkey Wasi) Facilities: Private rooms, dorm, kitchen, equipment rental, bouldering wall Nearby Crags:Hatun Machay (1:20h by car), Cordillera Blanca (1:30h by car) Best Time to Climb: May-September. Rainy season begins in November
Review: Nestled in the lap of the mighty Cordillera Blanca is the compact but bustling town of Huaraz… not to be confused with Juarez, which is quite a different destination! The cityscape marches up the hills, and in the upper reaches of the town one can find an inviting climbing hostel by the name of Monkey Wasi.
Reasonably priced and run by incredibly friendly folks, Monkey Wasi is everything the discerning dirtbag climber could ask for… the beds are comfortable, the common areas are fantastic, and most importantly, the showers are hot! The mezzanine level offers a perfect venue to plan your next alpine mission, whether it’s a popular route like the French Direct on Alpamayo, or a rarely repeated test-piece like the West Face of Cayesh. There’s an excellent pizza restaurant below to refuel after a big climb, and an amazing bouldering wall to keep those fingers strong for the incredible alpine granite on La Esfinge.
Huaraz offers an incredible diversity of climbing, including bouldering, sport, trad, big wall, mountaineering and alpine climbing. Monkey Wasi is a perfect hub to meet likeminded climbers in each of these disciplines, so if you’ve come to Peru on your lonesome and hoping to hook up with partners, you could do a lot worse. Here in the “Empire of the Sun”, the bluebird days seem to go on forever, so climb hard and rest easy at Monkey Wasi.
You can read Ryan’s trip report for the 1985 route here.
Written by, Ryan Siacci, Esq.: “When Ryan isn’t swearing his way up off-widths or sobbing quietly on an under-protected multi-pitch route, he is writing for his blog.” | zenandtheartofclimbing.com
Mexico has a rich climbing history that dates back to the 1940s.
For various reasons, the origin stories of the sport hasn’t been well documented, and unfortunately, many of the pioneers are moving on to eternal multi-pitch pastures, taking with them the tales of the past.
The duo behind Pez Leon Docs worked their way backwards in creating the first long-form documentary about the history of climbing in Mexico. For the past few years, they’ve been dirtbagging around the country filming contemporary climbing feats. While interviewing veterans in each locale, they slowly began to uncover the long past and intrigue of earlier generations.
The documentary is expected to be finished by the end of the year (2020). Read on to learn more about their project, and if you want to support the final production, consider contributing through their online shop.
Please note, I translated Rebeca and Jhasuá’s responses from Spanish to English using my rudimentary understanding of the language, translation tools, and ultimately, a review from my friend, Daniel, a budding professional translator (i.e., please excuse any errors). Where it made sense, I altered the responses for readability.
Aaron: What inspired you to start creating documentaries about climbing in Mexico?
Rebeca Zuñiga y Jhasuá Medina (in Spanish): Nosotros estábamos muy inspirados por la escalada por que además de ser un increíble deporte que te permite explorar tus límites y enfrentarte a ellos, te motiva a viajar otros lugares, a explorar otras fronteras y a descubrir lo inimaginable; aunado a esto y en nuestros viajes encontrábamos en México un paraíso de roca con mucha historia y muchas generaciones que dejaron un gran legado en todas sus rocas.
Y así fue como empezamos a atraer este pensamiento a nuestras vidas y asi fue como llegó Sueños de Altura.
English (EN): We were very inspired by climbing because as well as being an incredible sport that allows you to explore your limits and confront them, it motivates you to travel to other places and explore other frontiers and to discover the unimaginable; coupled with this and in our travels we found a paradise of rock in Mexico with a lot of history and many generations that left a great legacy in all the rocks.
And so it was that we began having these thoughts and from them, Sueños de Altura came to be.
What is your background? Have you always done creative work?
Jhasuá: Soy originario de Colombia y desde muy joven la escalada ha sido un pilar importante para mi vida, estudié geografía pensando que sería la mejor herramienta para la exploración y más tarde estudié fotografía y cine para poder contar esas historias de alturas, y de lugares remotos que era lo que realmente me interesaba. Desde entonces he realizado diversas producciones de cortometrajes en documental y ficción buscando siempre aportar una mirada distinta pero que a su vez permita entrar en esos mundos que solo pocos pueden alcanzar.
EN: I am originally from Colombia and since I was young climbing has been an important pillar for my life. I studied geography thinking that it would be the best tool for exploration, and then later I studied photography and film in order to be able to tell the stories of the heights and of remote places that were what really interested me. Since then I have made several productions, including documentaries and fictional short films, looking always to provide a distinct look while allowing the viewer entrance into these worlds that only a few ever reach.
Rebeca : Yo vengo de otra rama, la Administrativa-Contable. Entonces para mí ha sido un gran reto entrar en este mundo pero a su vez mi experiencia ha permitido que este documental crezca pues desde la producción estos proyectos se convierten en grandes empresas.
En muchos sentidos el documenta ha cambiado mi estilo de vida desde que empecé soñar.
EN: I come from another branch (of industry). The administrative and accounting [side of things].
So for me, it’s been a great challenge to enter into this world, but in turn my experience has allowed for this documentary to grow since producing these projects turns into huge undertakings.
In many ways, the documentary has changed my lifestyle [because] since [then] I [have] started to dream.
How did you get into climbing? What do you like about the sport?
Jhasuá: Yo empecé desde muy joven en los gyms de escalada donde aprendí lo técnico, pero solo hasta que vives una gran aventura en una lejana montaña y sólo dependes de ti para sobrevivir es cuando de lo más profundo aflora el espíritu guerrero de lucha y de sacar (sic) todo lo que traes para poder seguir habitando estos mundos verticales, es ahí cuando todo cambia y pasa de ser la escalada un deporte, a convertirse en una filosofía de vida, en una religión.
EN: I started very young in the climbing gyms which is where I learned the technique. But, it’s only until you live a big adventure in a distant mountain and depend on yourself in order to survive; when from the depths of your being a warrior spirit rises up and brings out everything you carry within in order to continue living those vertical worlds.
It’s there that everything changes and the climbing passes from a sport to a philosophy of life, into a religion.
Rebeca: Cuando empecé a escalar empecé a verlo solo como un deporte que me hacía bien. Me costó mucho trabajo entender los movimientos, agarrar fuerza y domina las maniobras con la cuerda pero conforme fue pasando el tiempo y mediante el documental ahora la escalada se ha vuelto el eje principal de mi vida.
EN: When I started to climb I began by seeing it only as a sport that was good for me. It took a lot of work to learn the movements, to get stronger and to master the maneuvers with the rope. But as time went on and through the documentary, climbing has become the principal axis of my life.
What motivates you, in life and climbing?
Jhasuá: La exploración, la aventura, y el poder descubrir lugares remotos son mi mayor motivación, por ende los deportes outdoor son los canales para internarme en la naturaleza desde las profundas cuevas a las altas paredes roca, son canales de percepción que se abren y te conectan con lo esencial y majestuoso de la naturaleza.
EN: The exploration, the adventure, and to be able to discover remote places are my biggest motivations. Consequently, outdoor sports are my avenues for getting deep into nature, from the deep caves to the high rock walls; they are channels of perception that open and connect you with the essential, with the majestic side of nature.
Rebeca: Ahora estoy muy motivada con el documental sueños de altura se cumpla y viaje a muchos lados y a mí me encantaría poder viajar y escalar mucho (sic).
EN: Now, I am very motivated by the documentary, Sueños de Altura, to travel to many other places. I’d love to be able to travel and climb a lot.
Empezamos con un proyecto que traían Ricardo y bruno y los seguimos en su caravana Escalando México, empezamos a entrevistar a personajes de las áreas de escalada que visitábamos, fue ahí que nos dimos.
Cuenta que había muchas historias que merecían ser contadas y muchas se estaban perdiendo tras la muerte de algunos pioneros de la escalada en México.
EN: We began with a project that Ricardo and Bruno brought [to us], and we followed them climbing around México in a camper van. We started to interview people in each climbing area that we visited, it was here that we realized that there were a lot of stories that deserved to be told and many of them were being lost when some of the pioneers of climbing in México were passing.
What have been some unexpected things you’ve learned since the project began?
Durante el rodaje de este documental no teníamos una línea precisa que seguir pues no existía una investigación contundente al respecto. La búsqueda nos fue llevando desde un personaje a otro y poco a poco fue agarrando forma la historia. Este proyecto se ha convertido en una gran escuela con grandes maestros para nosotros.
EN: During the shooting of the documentary, we didn’t have a precise line that we followed because concrete research, past investigations, didn’t really exist. The search was taking us from this person to that, and a little by little the story took form.
What has been the reception from climbers in Mexico when they learn about the project?
Sentimos que hay mucha expectativa al respecto ya que estamos abarcando muchos personajes de diferentes generaciones y regiones del país, que en conjunto forman una gran historia que estamos seguros les va a encantar.
EN: We feel that there are a lot of expectations in this respect because we are covering a lot of people from different generations and regions in the country, and collectively they form a great story that we are sure they are going to love.
How has climbing in Mexico grown over the past 5, 10, 20+ years?
La escalada en México ha crecido mucho en los últimos años, pero en sus inicios tuvo muchos cambios y transformación que la fueron consolidando como el gran deporte que hoy en día es.
EN: Climbing in Mexico has grown a lot in the last few years. Since its beginning it has changed a lot and transformed, consolidating into the great sport that it is today.
También nos encantaría que los lectores pudieran seguir nuestras Redes @suenosdealturadocumentary y que compartan el proyecto con sus amigos pues vale mucho la pena, ya que en la historia se encuentran nuestros orígenes y la raíz misma de este gran viaje.
EN: We have an online-store. We are selling items that our sponsors have donated to the project. Money raised goes towards funding the project.
We’d also love if the readers followed us on instagram at @suenosdealturadocumentary, and that they share the project with their friends because it is worth it, since our origins and the very root of this great journey are part of this story [that we all share].
John Burgman is a freelance writer who mainly reports on competition climbing for Climbing, Climbing Business Journal and Gym Climber. He is the author of three books, including the upcoming “High Drama” about the history of American competition climbing, coming out in March (2020). He is a former magazine editor, a Fulbright grant recipient, and a graduate of New York University’s MFA program. His work has appeared online and in print at Esquire, Trail Runner, Portland Review, Gym Climber, Boundary Waters Journal, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. He is a frequent guest on the popular climbing podcast, Plastic Weekly.
In this episode we chat about John’s path towards becoming a full-time writer and what it was like to move to South Korea at the age of 29 when, seemingly, all his friends were moving back to the city, getting married, and having kids.
Climbing Outside the Lines is an interview series with people doing things a little differently, and who just happen to climb.
Santiago de Querétaro is rich with climbing right here in the city. I went out for a day to explore a few of the areas, and even do a bit of development at a new bouldering field. Join me on the journey to see this treasure trove!
According to my network, most people own a pair, rounding up in integers. That’s a 3:1 ratio. At this measure, that gives me 3x the depth of understanding of the average climbing pants owner. We’ll have to check the math, but the back of the napkin calculation seems to suggest I’m an expert in this domain.
Read on for my review of the stellar E9 Matar “Urban Climbing Trousers.” In my expert opinion.
E9 knows bouldering.
The company was founded in 1998 by Mauro Calibani, the first ever Bouldering World Champion (2001). Calibani was part of a bouldering renaissance in Italy, sinking his chops into an newly developed bouldering mecca, Meschia, in the Province of Ascoli Piceno (near the “calf” of the country). In 2003, he established what he suggested was a V16 in the area, Tonino ’78.
He was so all-in that he moved to Ascoli Piceno (the city) to be closer to the spot (uhh, the bouldering).
All of this to say, Calibani was inspired to create a brand that combined his eclectic personality with the inspiration impressed upon him by the sandstone rocks of Meschia. He didn’t want to go far for climbing or business; E9 is designed around a “zero km concept” which means the totality of the production cycle takes place within a few km of their headquarters in Ascoli Piceno.
Alas, I bought my pair of pants in Querétaro, Mexico, so mine are part of their special “10,427 km production + transport concept” line.
These are a little like the MC Hammer pants of the bouldering world. Which in short code means: They are awesome!
They are a bit baggy (through the crotch, thigh, leg) yet never get in the way. By comparison, the Boulder Denim jeans and the Foehn Brise pants tend to catch in the knee when I’m doing big high-steps / bringing my knees close to my chest, which, maybe it’s my peculiar style, but it happens fairly often. The flexibility (high-steppability?) is supported by a Wicked Big Gusseted Crotch, like so BIG I can’t even…
And double articulated knees. If this is the power of double-articulation, I can’t wait to see the performance, precision, and lubrication of Fusion5x articulation (looking at you Gillette).
E9 says the material is denim. I would say it’s denim-like. You can see how the weave of the fabric looks similar to jeans, but it’s a thinner textile, lighter, and much stretchier, comprised of 75% Cotton, 22% Polyester, 3% Elastane. That’s a lot of words to say they are stretchy.
Fit and Look
They have a relaxed fit and sit naturally at the hip. The waist has a stretchy band, kind of like yoga pants, which makes it easy to readjust on the fly. Internally the waistband includes cords which attach at the rear, and which you can pull tight and tie if you need to keep things extra secure.
I wore these around the city, and they appear more bohemian than your average trouser. I like the look, but it’s very casual, whereas I can wear the Boulder Denim jeans with a button down shirt and head to the bar.
The orange (just past-prime pumpkin?) is distinct.
The material is on the thinner side, but is standing up after about three weeks of climbing.
The Boulder Denim jeans can snag on sharp edges, which pulls threads. I haven’t encountered such an incursion into these pantalones yet, so the verdict is still out. The weave appears tighter than on the BD jeans or the Brise pants, which may help prevent snagging.
I’d mainly use these for bouldering since I tend to do more aggressive moves when compared to sport or trad climbing. I’m not sure how well they’d hold up to knee bars or general jamming since they don’t have extra layers on high-wear areas.
4-way stretch fabric
Breathable: Allows airflow in 60s-70s F, and warm enough down to 40s. I wouldn’t want to wear them in temps much higher
Fabric: 75% Cotton, 22% Polyester, 3% Elastane
I really like E9’s quirky aesthetic, and I’m pleasantly satisfied with the quality of the product. It’s clear these have been designed with intention and simplicity in mind.
To learn more about the company or to order your own pair, visit shope9.com.