Ecuador's Multi-Pitch Mecca: Clipping bolts in Cojitambo

Shattered boulders litter Coji's landscape. The town's traditional occupation is shaping tiles from the rock long-scattered across its hillsides. It’s a bittersweet sight for boulderers in a sport climbing mecca, but the area’s most important faces remain intact.

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Reasons, promises, and Cuyuja climbing

I knew no one in this country. I had never lived more than 15 minutes from my parents, and my knowledge of Ecuador was limited to a vague mental image of an alpaca in a poncho. I had never even been to South America. So I understand why my presence here seems pretty random to taxi drivers, coworkers, and even fellow gringos. Maybe it seems more random when I tell them that I moved here for the climbing.

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Rain and Ropes: A jungly affair at Santa Clara Alta

In the meantime, though, I have Santa Clara Alta. Its gray volcanic rock has little in common with that of the Canyon, with few roofs, thin cracks, and what I must describe as chunky slab. The approach, however, feels like I'm back in Alabama — if Alabaman forests were jungly Andean affairs, home to giant birds and (probably) baby dinosaurs.

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Second Impressions: La Perrera's volcanic wonderland

I believe the first phrase I used to describe the boulders at La Perrera was “Cotopaxi’s dried-up lava barf.” While these gray beauties are mementos of volcanic eruptions past, that description may not capture the magic of this place. In fact, after a weekend in the lush green playground of igneous rock and baby waterfalls, I still don’t think I’ve processed the wonder.

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Ecua-Crag Introductions: Las Canteras, Sigsipamba, and La Perrera

The thing is, I haven’t been super motivated to climb recently. I sent my first two V6es the week before Peace Corps staging, and then I didn’t climb for two months. It sucks to feel how weak I’ve gotten so soon after that milestone, and I’ve had trouble dragging myself to the gym ‘cause I know how much bruising my ego will take once I get there.

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Chickamauga Dreamin': Five Rocktown reveries

Dogs and babies flock to me. Their moms and dads have jerky and peanut butter, but they don’t even notice ‘cause we are busy playing What’s That Face and Where’s That Stick. I give a top roping cub scout beta, and he finishes his first 5.7. His joy is unparalleled.

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Look Ma, no rope!

I was a little worried about being crippled by the fear factor of climbing semi-high over the deep, deep sea. But once we got to the cala, it was just too awesome. But also weirdly not a big deal. Just climbing, you know?

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And here's the thing about bouldering in July. Yes, it's really hot, but it's also really green. All the plants are stretching their limbs and yawning greedily in the sun, and the moss is creeping up over the rocks. There are evil thorns coming at you everywhere, and it is just really hard to find stuff.

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Pulling on Parisian plastic

20150715_172700 I found a gym that has me missing Active from across the Atlantic.

Arkose is a bouldering gym in the graffitied backstreets of Paris’s Montreuil suburb. Sista Fran and I have been traveling for a few weeks and hadn’t been able to climb. So when we got to Paris, we were psyched to hit up some polyurethane.

We googled something like “Paris climbing gym” and found a bunch, including behemoth Hardbloc (“LA PLUS GRANDE SALLE DE BLOC EN FRANCE”) and Arkose, a tinier establishment. We decided to try Arkose based on the fact that it was 12 minutes closer to our hostel than Hardbloc. We got lost anyway, but I’m glad we chose it.

I’ve decided that Arkose is like Active’s cool teenage cousin who lives in the city and gets to drink wine at dinner parties. Or something. It’s another little warehouse-y gym where space is scarce but creativity is not. There’s some slabby stuff, some steeper stuff, and a big fake top-out boulder. There’s a sweet play area by the traverse wall, and there are communal chalk buckets just sitting around.

Also, this: there’s a bar inside. Like, 10 feet from the climbing. You can fall off your project, turn around, and order a drink. Ha! Is this a thing? Europe.*

Oh, and you can get food too. Fancy-sounding food like “croques” and “tartines.” Ooh la la.**

I really dug the atmosphere at this place. It was quiet and cozy with friendly staff and chill vibes.

I wasn’t familiar with the grading system — I think it was based on the Fontainebleau bouldering grades, with seven levels of difficulty from “child” to something like “really freakin’ hard” (in French, of course). This was kind of freeing because we didn’t have any V-goals hanging over our heads. We just climbed until we burned out, and it was a good day.

Some things I noticed about the Arkose crew, which may not constitute any consistent differences between the American and French climbing cultures but, rather, are freestanding observations drawn from a single personal experience:

1. Nobody was “powering through.” Seriously. I didn’t get on a single climb that required me to blast off into space with the strength of a thousand flying oxen. Everything was tech-y.

Now, I didn’t try any of the hardest problems, and there’s a chance some hidden dynos got past me. But it really seemed like everybody at this gym had to use their beta-smarts.

2. Everybody used the changing room. Except for us. We were in cute tourist clothes for the morning, but we changed into quick-dry leggings and neon sports bras before getting on the metro because that’s what you wear to the gym. Well apparently, just 'cause you wear it at the wall doesn't mean you wear it to the wall.

Turns out these posh city dwellers wear real clothes in transit and save the gym attire for the gym. Oops. I had wondered about the conspicuous lack of Parisian norts…

3. People spoke French. Duh. I was a little bummed that the language barrier kept us from bonding with the Frenchfolk, but a little beta exchange did occur, and I got a couple of “Allez, allez”s. But also…

4. It was really quiet. Which was nice. Everybody was super calm. But it was kind of strange being surrounded by men and not hearing a single grunt. The closest I got were my own little struggle-squeaks.

I suppose some beta spraying may have occurred — in hushed voices, with minimal hand movements — but it was probably in French. Because, again, duh.

tiny rock wall for SAP-4

After leaving the gym, we put our tourist clothes back on and embarked on a quest for the perfect Eiffel Tower pic. During our journey, we discovered a little fitness area by the Seine River, complete with tiny rock walls. So cute! We played.

tiny rock wall for SAP-2 photo cred, as per yooj, to Mackenzie Taylor Photography So now we must be ready for Fontainebleau, right? I hope so, ‘cause we just got into Font proper, and we’re setting off at o’ dark thirty to beat some of the heat. We’ve got a guidebook, a new brush, and a rented crash pad — fingers chalked and crossed.

*Other unexpected alcohol sightings in Europe include shelves of liquor at like every gelatería ever, Parisian old ladies sipping beer at breakfast, and a kid drinking rosé from a bottle on the Paris metro.

**I actually heard a French lady say this yesterday. It was to me, about her little dog, whom she also called “très mignonne.” <3

Spring meh, almost bandits, protein cookiez

Spring is making me sad. I mean, don't get me wrong. Flowers and breezes and sundresses are great. But bouldering season ended way too quickly.

You may have noticed, O Dedicated Reader, that I haven't posted in a while. Well, that's because I was too sad to write after the weather ruh-UINED my spring break. I mean, not really. But kind of. You know? You don't, but you will, 'cause I'm going to tell you now.

Months ago, Caroline and I both took off all of spring break and an extra weekend so that we could have Super Awesome Rocktown Fun Times fo dayyyz. And we did. For two days. Ish. We tried lots of new projects and didn't send anything and drank gas station sangria that was surprisingly good. And then it rained, and kept raining for the rest of the week at every crag in the Southeast.

It did not, however, rain in Athens. And everybody freaked out. It was like, 65 degrees outside, and girls all over town emerged bikini-clad from their winter nests to tan on the still-dead grass, smiling and shivering in the breeze. And my non-climbing acquaintances kept saying things like, "Oh em GEEE, it is SO. NICE OUT." And I was just like:


But it ended up being an okay week. Seester and I actually spent a day hanging out in Chattanooga proper, which I hadn't really done before. It was wet, but Chatty wears rain well. We found a vegan restaurant (with donuts!) and a bakery for dogs and Jane Austen-inspired toddler books for our future progeny and...

Well, anyway. We didn't climb.

But guess when I did climb? Last weekend! And guess where I climbed? Boone!

It was my first time there, and it. was. awesome. I was apprehensive about climbing on granite (#boatrockh8rsclub), but the rock was wonderfully grippy and not too sharp.

I went up with Evan, John (the one who went to the Obed with us last summer!), and another John. (There are actually quite a few Johns. This one was one of the professors on my Costa Rica study abroad last year! He is super cool and has a greenhouse and roasts his own coffee beans.) We were only there for two days, and after a brief detour to the M1 (?) Boulders, we split our time between Grandmother Mountain and Blowing Rock.

It was beautiful, so lush and uncorrupted. It was hard to believe it had been snowing there a few weeks prior.

IMG_1565 All photo cred** (except the selfie) to PhD John and his iPhone skillz.IMG_1584Look at this tree!11080325_10203988476979658_5985551446123624659_oOur new album cover.

It was refreshing not to see any graffiti on the rock or trash on the ground. The area doesn't get as much foot traffic as many climbing spots. There's not a guidebook or even a topo for these boulder fields, and there's not much information on the internet. We learned some stuff from the Boone Boulders website and the rest from other humans at the crag.

I sent three ~V4s at Grandmother: Dynobot (which I did not dyno), Car Door (a sloper-juggy-sidepully feature climb with one big move in the middle), and a slopey traverse I don't remember the name of. I didn't get to try any fives, but there is allegedly a moderates mecca within the Grandmother Boulders called Valley of the Kings. I really want to find it and work Potato Chip, a V5 feature climb that looks super goofy in the best way.

IMG_1534 The slopey traverse.

Oh, hey, check out this climb. It is called Look Ma, No Hands and is supposedly a zero or a one or something. You are supposed to climb it with just your feet, but I think only Evan got up without using his knees or elbows. Super awkward to climb and fun to watch:


Super Strong Nick joined us Saturday evening, and our camp site was super sketch. We were actually camping on the side of the road. In this tiny clearing across from a death hill. Awaiting attack by bandits. In retrospect, I kind of doubt the legality of our setup... Caroline and I are planning a trip for April, and we will be opting for a more ~*legit*~ space.

Everyone complained the next day about how loud and windy and cold the night was, but I slept like a very sleepy rock in a fuzzy sleeping bag I borrowed from Evan's mom (Thanks a ton, Faye!). In the morning, we went to Blowing Rock so Evan could work a V10 called Squeeze Job and Nick could get on Flagyl, another 10. There weren't as many moderates here, at least not that we knew about. I got shut down quickly by The Finn, a V5 that Obed John sent at the start of the day.

IMG_1627 John on The Finn.

I was also denied by a supposed V3 called Center 45. Apparently it is ultra-classic. Meh. I never got the first move.

I tried the five to its right, the name of which I have forgotten, and was quickly shut down uh-gain. Then Greenhouse John and I found a wall of jugs with Nick's guidance. We repeated a few zeros with increasingly harder/sillier beta, then got pumped on some contrived traverses before checking out another four called Harvester of Sorrows. I really liked the first part of this problem: slightly reachy moves on kind-of-terrible slopers, then a WHOOSH-y heel hook and some hand matching. But the topout is some awkward slapping around and then a giant mantle I just couldn't do yet. (Have I mentioned how mantle-weak I am?) I'll get it next time, though; I've been upping my pushup game.

Nick and Evan didn't send their problems, but they still climbed well. Nick got every move on Flagyl out of sequence before splitting his tip and heading home, and Evan was sooo close on Squeeze Job. But most importantly, at the end of the day, we got pizza.





These are the cookies I made for the trip.IMG_20150320_224746

They are vegan and full of protein. Here is the recipe, kind of. ("scoop" = ice cream scoop)

Recipe, Kind Of*

1 can of chickpeas 1.5ish scoops of almond butter 1.5ish scoops of shelled hemp seeds 1 tsp. baking powder a little salt

Put all of that in a food processor and mixed it all up 'til it's dough. Then ball it up into little cookie nuggets, press 'em down with a fork, and press the following tidbits into the top:

some craisins some chocolate chips some coconut flakes

Then bake 'em at 350 degrees. I think mine were in the oven for about 12 minutes. They should be soft and taste like health. You can obviously forego the chocolate chips to make them #sugarfree or whatever, but I would also opt for a sweeter nut butter because the chocolate is what made these taste not-legume-y.

*I can't take total credit for this concoction. It is based on a recipe I found on Instagram a while back, from @herbivorous_rex.

**Full disclosure: I edited the colors in three photos and cropped two of them. Not John's doing!

Hospital Boulders, little plastic corners, don't destroy the crag plz

How was your Valentine's Day? Mine was pretty good. I went to Little Rock City and bled on things. It was a great day of trying stuff, making friends, and practicing proper tape technique. But Sunday was even more exciting because I went to a new crag!

I say "new" mostly because it is new to me, but it really is a pretty new climbing spot. I'm talking about the Hospital Boulders in Gadsden, Alabama.


Located in the middle of a neighborhood and down the street from the eponymous Mountain View Hospital, the area became open to climbers in 2012 through negotiations between the Southeastern Climbers Coalition, the Access Fund, and the (now previous) landowners. It finally became SCC property last year after a lot of fundraising to pay off the AF loan used to secure the area. (Half the boulder field, however, is still on private property — so be careful where you walk!)

I had heard the name a few times, but the Athens climbing folk don't make their way to Gadsden very often. And I don't know why not! It's like a smaller, denser, less developed Rocktown. Admittedly the rock isn't quite as amazing at in Lafayette, but it is pretty darn awesome. It's just as close to Athens as any other good climbing, and it doesn't require a pass. After passing through a dummy-locked gate*, you just park next to a barn, walk 20 feet, and climb on rocks. YAY!


There isn't a guidebook yet, but there is a topo. Many of the routes are unnamed, and oodles are waiting to be FA'd. It was really fun just climbing on whatever and not worrying about grades.


10984535_10153113658229402_3258364031153117434_o Chris on a V4, or a V5, or a V6. Who knows?!

The important stuff: we climbed lots of things, I am now psyched on roofs**, and Lucy made Evan a hat.

10861059_10153113658454402_4814469427924070979_o The hat.

And Taylor took photos! All of the ones in this post, in fact. Check out her website. And her new Instagram.


So that was cool. But something has been bothering me about climbing lately.

It started with little plastic corners at Little Rock City. You know what I'm talking about? When you open a Clif bar, or a Lara bar, or a Luna bar, or whatever bar you are eating (because you are probably eating a bar), you rip off the upper right corner (or maybe the left one), and then it disappears.

Well, actually, no, because matter doesn't do that. You actually just dropped it in the dirt and forgot about it. And now it is just sitting there, not disintegrating because it's made of film plastic, and film plastic doesn't do that.

So there are little corners sprinkled all over boulder fields, like malignant sparkles waiting to be picked up by an observant dirtbag or choked on by an animal. And whoever dropped them probably didn't even realize it. They probably don't know their trash has taken up residence in an ecosystem which has no use for it and, in fact, is negatively impacted by its presence.

I am not a scientifically minded person. At all. I've withdrawn from two logic classes in college, and as fascinating as my geology class was, I barely passed. But I was a Girl Scout for 12 years, and if I learned one thing from Brownies about caring for the earth, it was this: you should always leave a place better than you found it.

Now, that is easy to do when you are at LRC and can stuff somebody's litter into your pocket on the walk back to the car. But climbers as a group are not doing an excellent job of cleaning up after ourselves, and we are certainly not leaving our crags better than they were before we came along. The fact that we are even interacting with the earth in our bizarre way means we are going to change it. But at the very least, we need to try harder to leave no trace — or at least a smaller one.

I am pretty new to climbing, and really to outdoorsiness in general. Most of what I know about minimizing my impact I've learned from the Internet and fellow climbers. So I am definitely not an expert. But I remember how I was when I first started climbing outside a year and a half ago: totally clueless to the impact of my new passion on the environment, but not wanting to be a part of the problem. I know there are others like me out there, and I think it's a good idea to address some basics of keeping climbing an innocent sport that doesn't destroy the planet or anger anybody.

The SCC has a nice little "crag minimal impact" flier that you can view here. A lot of it seems pretty intuitive, but there are definitely items climbers tend to overlook. Some problematic behavior I often witness (and some of which I am guilty) on bouldering trips:

1. Not staying on trails. Two words: unnecessary erosion. Another word: bad.

2. Leaving toilet paper everywhere. I know a lot of people have different opinions about what to do with toilet paper, and many folks just bury it. But considering how many people you see at the crag, and incidentally how many people do their business at the crag, the amount of toilet paper we are putting into the ground no longer seems negligible. And honestly, it doesn't seem like everyone is doing a good job of burying theirs; the fact that it is so easy to find a chossy rock with a bunch of TP wads strewn behind it is a good indicator that we should probably just pack it all away with our bar wrappers and their corners.

3. Leaving cans and bottles in fire pits. I don't know why this is a thing. A lot of people think that this is an OK thing. Maybe they are trying to make a fuel gift to future campers? But aside from the fact that aluminum and glass need some mega hot flames to burn, and the fact that cans and bottles are recyclable, and the fact that you are probably risking a fine just by bringing glass into a camp site, it seems obvious that glass and metal do not belong sitting out in nature after you have left, getting rained on/rusted/blown away/whatever. Like, they weren't there before you got there. They shouldn't be there when you leave. Right? Correct me if I am wrong and this really is a benign practice.

4. Throwing food scraps on the ground. I do this ALL THE TIME. But I recently learned that it really is important to pack everything out; even though things like apple cores are biodegradable, they take a while to break down, so much so that it's kind of a problem to just leave them in the dirt. According to Leave No Trace Dude, banana peels need a month to disintegrate, and "those bits of orange peel left behind might still be there a few years from now." Yikes.

Additionally, when lots of people leave food scraps behind, animals become habituated to it. This is a problem — I think — because they can then become dependent on humans' scraps, and/or they start eating whatever we leave behind instead of getting the nutrients they need from the food they would naturally be eating. So the reasoning here is similar to why you're not supposed to feed bread to ducks.

5. Not scrubbing off tick marks. This is more of an etiquette issue; it is pretty rude to chalk up a rock with a million lines and then just leave it like that for the next climber. For one thing, they might not want your beta. Also, tick marks are ugly. And again, that chalk wasn't there before you showed up; at least rub it out a little before you leave. I am definitely guilty of forgetting to clean my projects, but it's something I think a lot of us could work on.

6. Being obnoxious. Another etiquette issue, but an important one. When an area opens up for climbing, especially an area near civilization like Hospital Boulders or LRC, we want to be good neighbors. We don't want to have a reputation as the scruffy new kids on the block — leaving trash in the forest, letting our dogs run wild, and playing bad dubstep out of crappy iPod speakers. 'Cause climbing anywhere is a privilege, and if we are awful neighbors, it will be that much harder to open up new areas. And besides, we're better than that. Right?

So. Am I on point? Way off point? Did I forget anything super common and terrible? Am I wrong about the cans? Speak up in the comments!


*The gate was dummy-locked on Sunday. In the future, the SCC may implement a code, so make sure to check the website any time you're planning to go.

**UPDATE 1/4/2016: Just got back from my second trip to Hospital, and it turns out those mega-cool roofs are not on SCC property. Super tragic, but we steepthusiasts must stay away. :(

Seven weeks later...

Oh my gosh it's been so long I'm sorry. I had midterms and tests and essays and a cold and work and articles and birthdays and then I got another cold and then I hurt my finger and then I got sick again.

I've been overwhelmed. I haven't been able to climb as much as I've wanted, although I have been out a few times since October 3rd (I'm sorryyy). And I've been stressing out about the prospect of recounting my recent climbing adventures because - There have been a few. - I keep leaving my camera places and not getting photos. - I haven't opened that Dave MacLeod book in a month. - I haven't been climbing (or eating or sleeping or studying) particularly well.

So, just to check in with my readers (I love all seven of you <3), here are some lists.

Recent sends: - Trouble (V3, Rocktown) - The Thespian (V3, HP40) - Green Machine (V4, LRC) <-- my first outdoor 4. - Seven pullups! #yes

Recent frustrations: - working during gym hours - being too sick to climb - my first tendon injury(/ies)

Season goals: - Super Mario (V4, LRC) - Croc Bloc (V5, Rocktown) - The Hobbit (V5, Rocktown)


I bought new shoes on closeout. They are Evolv Predator G2s. They are stiff and hurt a lot. I need to get my Hornets resoled but I don't know how much that costs and also I've never mailed anything that you have to put in a box. Actually I have only mailed like four things ever and they were cards.

I am in Oregon with Evan and his family. We are climbing at Smith Rock on Saturday. It will be my first time climbing not in the Southeast. Yesterday I saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time.

A tendon in my finger is hurt. I am not climbing on crimps.

I wish I could climb more but am trying to be a grownup about it. Hypothetical hierarchy: school-work-relationships-climbing. Food is in there somewhere. Unfortunately cleaning is not.

My room is really messy that is why I said that.

I wrote a thing for my creative writing class about my mental experience when I think I might take a lead fall. Maybe I will share it with you post-workshop. I want to take lead falls at Smith. Or I think I should. The prospect actually makes me slightly nauseous.

Oh and I climbed in my first competition. It was called Boulder Bash and happened at UGA. Active climbers got first in advanced (Nick!), first in men's (Jamie! He's 14) and women's (Elaine!) intermediate, and third in women's intermediate (me!). I climbed poorly (I've been doing that lately), but it was really fun and not as stressful as I feared.

I realize the food aspect of this blog is very lacking. I will work on that. Evan and I made sushi. Here is a photo:

sushi It was pretty good.

See you soon! Follow me on Instagram! Eat vegan and recycle!