From Helsinki to Mexico City: A Long Way to Open a Climbing Gym

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.

From dust to dyno. Photo courtesy of RockSolid.


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.

A ray of light portends what’s to come in an old dusty print house. Photo courtesy of RockSolid.

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. 

An international crew gathers for a Reel Rock showing. Photo courtesy of RockSolid.


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.

Are These Modular Bouldering Walls the Future of Playgrounds?

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. 

Pro climber, Kinga Zsilák (gold medalist at Hungarian Lead Climbing Cup 2019), showing off the posibilites. Photo courtesy of Hard Body Hang.


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.

Workout park among the mountains of Fagernes in Norway. Photo courtesy of Hard Body Hang.


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. 

Modular Zigzag boulder. Photo courtesy of Hard Body Hang.


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. 

Our Favorite Climbing Hostels, From Those Who’ve Been There

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!

ASIA

CHINA:

The Stone Drum House, and Lucy, the pup, of course. Photo courtesy of Jojo Yee.

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

LAOS:

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

THAILAND:

Pasak River Wall. Photo courtesy of Zuza Kania.

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

NEW ZEALAND:

Golden Bay. Photo courtesy of Hangdog Camp.

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.

Review: Rough-and-ready-climbing-community-built-from-scratch-and-opened-to-the-world. That’s Hangdog.

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 a 26-year-old digital nomad who is currently writing and traveling his way around the world.” | What’s Danny Doing?

TAIWAN:

Inside The Bivy. Photo courtesy of Kelly Khiew.

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

Kezban’s and friends. Photo courtesy of Jojo Yee.

TURKEY:

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.

You can read Jojo’s full trip report here

Written by, Jojo Yee: “Currently based in Bangkok, Thailand, I travel the world to meet great friends and explore awesome crags.” | @jojoyees

Alternatively: If you’re looking for a smaller option with less of a party atmosphere, consider The Flying Goat, which I reviewed here.

EUROPE

ITALY:

The Nannai family. Photo courtesy of Sofie Van Looy.

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

SPAIN:

Siurana. Photo courtesy of Stephen Le.

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

NORTH AMERICA

MEXICO:

Just hanging out at Chichid’ho. Photo by the author.

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

Campground at night. Photo courtesy of Rancho El Sendero.

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: 

  1. 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). 
  2. Thanksgiving dinner – the host cooked a surprise dinner for everyone (FOR FREE)! And occasionally made other special dishes.  
  3. 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

U.S.A:

Climber’s Home. Photo courtesy of Sandra Samman.

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

SOUTH AMERICA

COLOMBIA:

View of Refugio la Roca. Photo courtesy of Diana Dolensky.

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

PERU:

Bouldering wall at Monkeywasi. Photo courtesy of Ryan Siacci.

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

Preserving Mexico’s History of Climbing: Interview With the Makers of Sueños de Altura

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.

Thanks to Rebeca Zuñiga and Jhasuá Medina, documentary filmmakers and climbers, la historia is being preserved in Sueños de Altura (High Dreams).

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.

“This is one the first climbing books written in Spanish (1948) and It became the basis of the knowledge for Many Mexican Climbers.” Photo courtesy of Pez Leon Docs


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.

Rebeca and Jhasuá. Photo courtesy of Pez Leon Docs


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.

Rebeca and Jhasuá in Africa: “Thanks to ‘Por La Tierra Originaria’, we could get to know natural beauties and incredible people.” Photo courtesy of Pez Leon Docs


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. 

“Here in Peñoles in December 2018 with Bruno García, José Hernández and Balta.” Photo courtesy of Pez Leon Docs


How did the idea for Sueños De Altura come about?

(It looks like it may have started in 2017, following Ricardo y Bruno García, in establishing the FA of Lujuria (Lust), 5.14d?)

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.

“36 years ago German Wing followed his dreams and travelled from Mexico City to Yosemite Valley California, a Mecca of rock climbing.” Photo courtesy of Pez Leon Docs


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. 

How can readers of this article help the project?

Tenemos una tienda en línea. De artículos que nuestros patrocinadores donaron al proyecto los cuales estamos vendiendo 

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].

Gear Review: E9 Matar Urban Climbing Trousers

I fancy myself a bit of a fancy pants about climbing pants. 

Not to be braggadocious, but I own three pairs of climbing pants that I’m quite chuffed about: Boulder Denim 2.0 Jeans, Foehn Brise Performance Pants, and now a pair of E9 Matar “Urban Climbing Trousers,” which I picked up a few weeks ago.

‘Trousers,’ you say? You are fancy!

Indeed, Madame, indeed.

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. 


Overview

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).

Calibani describes the setting as a “mesmering forest [sic]”, while others compare it to “your backyard garden” (meant as a compliment, I think). Unfortunately, due to disputes with the landowner, the bouldering area was shut down around 2002, but it appears there’s a “new” Meschia where climber’s are welcome (in part because the landowner has an airbnb for rent).

Bouldering at Meschia. On an iPhone!


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.

Handmade in Italy. Photo courtesy of E9.


Performance

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.

Look at that gusset! #norestrictions. Photo by the author.


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.

Sit at the hip, dip at the… crotch. Photo by the author.


Durability

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.


Uses

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.

Bunched, scrunched or straight out, they are all good. Photo by the author.


Features

  • 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
  • Adjustable cuffs
  • Double-articulated knees
  • Stretchy waist
  • Fabric: 75% Cotton, 22% Polyester, 3% Elastane


Recommended?

Hell yeah!

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.

Bicolor and bold. Photo courtesy of E9.


To learn more about the company or to order your own pair, visit shope9.com.

Working Remotely or Remotely Working: Lessons Learned From a Work Week at a Climber’s Hostel

The moon shines brightest at 4am. 

It had been slinking across the night sky—naturally—but something about the fourth hour causes it to sink into a puncture in the celestial curtain. And just sit there. 

The porcelain plate grows brighter, perhaps by fear, as if it’s hanging on by fingernails and knows it’s about to tumble through. The light is immense and the landscape is aglow—like a Murakami pixie dream, everything just twinkling—which means the hat pulled over my eyes simply doesn’t cut it. 

Cut to: Tossing. Sleeping bag tightening. Bivvy flap scratching. Under-breath cursing.

Such as it was each night of the past week.


Chichidho, a climber’s hostel behind La Peña de Bernal, was my home for the last seven days. It was a test to see if mixing work and play was doable, and if so, to what extent. 

Office space. Photo by the author.


Then the moon came. All bright enough to walk along at night without an extra light. That glow illuminated something else too: Ah, it reminded me that it was like this a month ago! 

When I first arrived. 

Funny enough, the dates change, time passes, but the cycle of the moon remains. It’s almost like you can live parallel lives by attaching new memories to a prominent environmental fixture that only occurs every 30 days: There are visits to Chichidho during full moons and without, no in betweens…

But I guess we’ll have to see if the rhythm continues next month too. 

(Umm, what about the subject of the article, though?)

Oh yea, this is a blog post about working for a week at a climber’s hostel. So how did it go?

Lessons learned from working remotely at a climber’s hostel

1) There was a break in period

Life in Querétaro has been routine, mostly by design. So far, I’ve been trying to keep a regular schedule, circulate among the same cafes, and generally maintain consistency (for the sake of efficiency!). The emphasis is on work, with weekends reserved for climbing.

I didn’t realize how much a change in environment would alter things. In a city, coffee shops open at specific times, stores are around every corner, and things like weather are mitigated to some extent.

No ergonomic swivel chairs here. Photo by the author.


At Chichidho I had to learn a whole new pattern, largely based around the sun, such as:

The big light doesn’t peek over the mountain until 9am (which means it’s cold(er) up to that point); paying attention to the position of the sun during the day as it dictates when and where to go for climbing breaks (and even where you can sit while working); and making sure to charge your laptop and phone before nightfall as the hostel’s solar-powered batteries tend to run low by the end of the day, which precipitates an annoying screech from some sort of electric-thingamajig which I would have liked to minimize as much as possible (to no avail).

You were basing your day around the solar scoundrel up above? How primitive!

Also, the daily ritual of showering for public presentation? Meh.

Takeaway: How does your environment shape your schedule?


2) I was much more vigilant of my mental state and energy levels

In the city, the only real focus is on the tasks that need to get done that day. I find I’m more prone to power through the work even if feeling less than inclined. There’s something about having the intention of “this is a work day” that keeps me “on track” according to more traditional 9-5 hours. This also tends to leave me feeling more drained come nightfall, like you’re “fighting through” to get the job done in a certain time frame.

At Chichidho, projects were still set each day, but the schedule was more variable. Maybe I would start work at 9am then take a break at 2pm to climb with Nathan (a fellow working guest). Maybe I wasn’t feeling it, and instead climb until Noon before starting work. Plus all sorts of other permutations.

We break for “Queso” not coffee. Photo by the author.


Interestingly (probably only to me), I got the same (if not more) work done each day. However, it was spread out and aligned with what felt to be natural “productive periods” (where it didn’t feel like having to overcome inertia: around 10am-2pm, 4-6pm, 8-10pm). I rarely felt depleted come sleepy time. 

With that said, I felt very unmotivated to do work today, so there’s something to just sitting down and doing it.

Takeaway: When do you feel most productive? Depleted?


3) The stoke for climbing was more even keel

Maybe the adage, “absence makes the heart grow fonder” applies here. 

When I can only climb outside for two days a week, I really look forward to those days. When the weekend comes, climbing is the only focus and the sessions are long.

But, when climbing is all around there is no longer a feeling of scarcity. We’d climb almost everyday but for shorter sessions, and that seemed to give me my fill.

It’s as if during a week in the city, the reservoirs run low and I need a full weekend of climbing to top it up. But at Chichidho, I only used a little gas each day, so the smaller sessions were enough. 

Takeaway: How do you recharge?


What about you? Have you worked while on climbing trips, or for extended stays at a climber’s hostel? How did it go for you? Any tips or lessons learned?

Share in the comments below!


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Analytic Bouldering in Bernal: Route-Reading and Project Progression

Since coming to Mexico, I’ve spent most weekends bouldering around the hostel and campground, Chichidho, in the town of Bernal.

There have been several projects that have caught the apple of my eye, including Naranja Mecánica, V6 (sent!), Tendón de Aquiles, V7 (WIP), and Psicosomático, V6, a tricky bastard, and the subject of this week’s video.

Speaking of which, this one is analytical in nature. The aim is to breakdown the problem (Psicosomático) in order to better understand the process of projecting, figure out the movements, and to improve my ability to read routes before I hop on them.

Special shoutout to Mani The Monkey whose analytical videos were an inspiration for what you’re about to watch.

Waiting for Amealco: My First Video!

Welp, one of my goals for 2020 was to start blogging. Wait. That was last year.

I meant, vlogging!

“V” as in video-blogging. Vide-logging. Vlogging.

Uhh, here you go…

Projecting into the Unknown: Sending My First V6

A few weeks ago I started projecting boulders outside. That means choosing one particular line on a boulder and working out the moves over several sessions (days). It’s a similar idea to practicing “YYZ” on Guitar Hero II until you nail it, or training for a half-marathon.

It’s a process, one that takes time to figure out the intricacies and/ or to build up the strength needed to climb the line. A project should be something a bit beyond your current abilities.

So far in climbing, it’s not something I’ve tried. Rather, a typical day at the crag would consist of jumping on a bunch of routes, and maybe re-trying one I’ve done before. I’ve rarely gone back to the same route, or wall or boulder over the past year.

Because I had only been attempting V4 and V5 boulder problems, grades I could reasonably get in one session, I firmly believed that was my level. I was “a V4/V5 boulderer.” I’d jump on an occasional V6 or V7 at the end of a session, make some progress, but never return.

After seeing a friend send a 5.12 sport route that he had worked over seven sessions, I wondered, “What could I send if I gave it seven days?”

So, three weeks ago I started going to Pawtuckaway with the intention of projecting V6 boulder problems. Specifically, Ride the Lightning, Terrorist, and Bulletproof.

A curious thing happened:

  1. I wasn’t sending them in one session.
  2. I was making progress each session.
  3. I felt like I belonged.

Reiterating point one, I didn’t send any that first day, but I was able to work many of the moves. I thought I might be able to get them the next week, when I was fresh.

V6 #2: Bulletproof. Photo by the author.


Turns out, that’s true. In week 2 I sent Terrorist (my first V6!) and in week 3 I sent Bulletproof (my second V6!).

I got me wondering: What might I be able to accomplish if it did take a full seven sessions?

A V7 or V8? Hell, there’s a V9 I’ve been eyeing at that looks doable. That’s way beyond what I would have considered for myself just four weeks ago.

From a different angle, have I been arbitrarily holding myself back because I didn’t think to work harder problems? Without consideration, I was constraining myself. Perhaps subconsciously I even thought these grades were “beyond me.”

In some sense, I don’t know what the boundaries are or what my limit is. This matters because growth happens at the edge. Food for thought as I continue my own climbing career.

Considering the bigger picture: What could you accomplish if you actually started projecting something at your limit?

You’ll probably be surprised.

The Enchanting Guide: Luke Buxton on Gibralter and the Magic of Climbing

Luke Buxton believes in magic. Or he at least looks for the enchanting in the everyday.

“I’m a bit of a romantic,” he says, describing the heart-twitch-awe which climbing evokes for him. “It’s the joy of intimacy you get to have with a beautiful natural element.”

Whether it’s the boulder strewn and timeworn coastline of Nova Scotia or the thundering Roc nest towers of Canmore, the natural world casts a spellbinding connection for Luke. 

The Skeena River. Photo credit: Sam Beebe

Perhaps it started in his childhood. He grew up in the Skeena Valley, surrounded by the coastal mountains of Terrace, British Columbia. Maybe it was learned; he was a deep observer who drew and created obsessively all throughout his childhood. For sure, the mythical aesthetic has been further cultivated through climbing.

“Yosemite feels like it could easily be the home of ancient Forest Giants and Squamish’s Grand Wall is so lush and beautiful you sense a Faerie Sprite under every fern patch and mushroom,” he encourages.

Luke eventually made his way to Halifax, Nova Scotia to pursue an education and career in animation. (He’s an accomplished art director, animator, and production designer, who has worked on short films for the likes of Willow and Jayden Smith, and nationally syndicated television shows). During his 12 years in the maritime province, he became involved in developing local crags, and eventually was put onto Gibralter, one of the many untapped expanses. 

“Jungle Falls.” Photo courtesy of Luke Buxton


“It’s a pretty forested area with easy public access,” he shares. “My roommate [Mark Maas] and I were inspired to put in long days developing new climbs.”

They had fun, crafted worthy lines, and wanted a way to share their uncovered treasure with the climbing community. So Luke decided to make a guidebook, with his own mystical twist, of course. 

I chatted with Luke to learn a bit more about the inspiration for the guide, and how he came to see the world through Tolkien-colored specs.



Aaron: What brought you to Nova Scotia?

Luke Buxton: I was raised in Terrace BC, and currently live in Vancouver, but Halifax formed a fairly large chunk of my life through my twenties. I was 22 at the time (I’m 37 now) and was living in a VW camper van with my cat traveling and climbing throughout Canada. 

Luke’s workspace. Photo courtesy of Luke Buxton

I worked odd jobs as I went and sold paintings. I had heard of the glacial erratic bouldering in the East Coast and Halifax seemed like a fun spot to stop for a while and find work as I knew there would be lots of people my age due to it having so many Colleges/Universities. I obviously had no clue it would suck me in for 12 years, or that I would find my career path and meet my wife there.    

How did you get involved with the local climbing scene? 

As I’m a bit older, I learned like most from my generation: outside and through a friend.  I followed him up a multi-pitch trad climb on my first introduction and fell in love with the intricacy and challenge of bouldering a short time later. 

I did a climbing trip in Europe with him which included helping a small crew develop some boulders in the Italian Alps, and then more climbing trips throughout the States cemented it as a personal passion I would keep for life. 

By the time I reached Halifax I was hungry to meet local developers and experience the unique granite. Halifax had at the time a fairly small but strong and passionate community of climbers so it didn’t take long to make friends and be a part of the scene.  

What does climbing mean to you?

Like many who are obsessed with climbing, it encompasses many things to me such as community, physical/mental fitness, and personal growth. If I was to narrow down one thing that makes climbing special to me it’s the joy of intimacy you get to have with a beautiful natural element. Taking a hike is one thing, but analyzing, scrubbing and being so aware of every crystal on a large stone in a forest is truly unique to climbing. 

When my cheek is brushing up against a warm stone on a delicate slab climb I feel the happiest I can possibly feel.   

What is the Gibralter guide?  

Some of the local developers had directed me towards Gibralter as one of the better untapped areas with plenty of potential for new climbs if you were willing to put in some heavy lifting scrubbing the rocks.  It’s a pretty forested area with easy public access and my roommate and I were inspired to put in long days developing new climbs and sharing them with our friends and the bouldering community. 

The Maasy Boulder. Photo source: Cnsmobeta.ca


Making a guide was the easiest way to share our year+ of development with everyone and I was excited to put something creative and fun together. My roommate and close friend Mark Maas put many hours excitedly scrubbing and exploring Gibralter with me and I even named the first boulder we scrubbed together after him (the Maasy boulder). 

Years later (2 years ago now) he lost his life to depression and accumulating chronic injuries that were robbing him of his ability to do the things he loved. Gibralter holds an even more special place in my heart now as a sort of memorial place, a space he loved and cherished. He is dearly missed by many. 

Map of Gibralter. Photo courtesy of Luke Buxton


Why imbue the guide with magical storytelling?

Being in the animation industry (I design the worlds in cartoons) definitely had a big impact on how I approached the guide. I don’t think I ever really thought it through so much as it just naturally became whimsical and was influenced by my creative influences. 

I wanted the map to feel like the map at the beginning of a Tolkien fantasy novel or something similar because when we explored those woods we felt that way; adventurers seeking out treasures buried under moss. Now looking at it I think it’s pretty amateur in delivery, but I’d like to think it has retained some charm.   

Was there any overlap between magic and climbing for you, before the guidebook?   

Sure, I think I interpret many aspects of my life with a rather fantastical or whimsical slant; I’m a bit of a romantic. 

I guess I always approached climbing with some element of child-like wonder. It’s pretty easy to do when the places that climbing takes you are often so magical and surreal to begin with; Yosemite feels like it could easily be the home of ancient Forest Giants and Squamish grand wall is so lush and beautiful you sense a Faerie Sprite under every fern patch and mushroom.  


How did the land itself play into the design of the guide?  

The forest in Gibralter feels more like the BC rainforests I was used to climbing in at home, in contrast to the rugged Atlantic coast where most of the bouldering had already been covered. It felt natural to give it that whimsical forest-fantasy look.   

Was there any outcome for the guidebook you were hoping for? 

Not really, I knew it would just be something shared among locals and friends.  It was a fun project on the side with no big expectations.  

Anything else you’d like to add? 

If anyone reading this can make an effort to visit Nova Scotia, they should! 

Go sample the amazing granite and super friendly and perpetually psyched community there. It really is a little known gem in North America.  

A year after Gibralter guide was released I wrote one for local developer Rich Lapaix’s “Jessie’s Diner” area (neighboring to Gibralter). Around that time the useful local digital guide, MoBeta, was in full swing and I felt it was less relevant to finish off my PDF guide and never got around to wrapping it up before we moved back out West. 

I’ve been approached by enough people in the community who want to see it that I decided to retroactively finish/fix it and release it to the community. It was done in the same style as Gibralter and acts in a sense as a Part 2 of Musquodobit bouldering

At the least, it can serve as an accurate historic documentation of the names and lines developed by Rich and a handful of others who paved the way for the growing climbing community of Nova Scotia.



You can see more of Luke’s work at his online portfolio, lukeandrewbuxton.com.

You can download the Gibralter guide from the Cnsmobeta library.

Feature image courtesy of Luke Buxton.