Friday, December 6, 2013

Yosemite Bouldering: An alternative view of the valley

Entering Yosemite Valley is something you can never forget...

The views are sculptured right out of a dream and as the white granite wall rise up all around, you catch your first glimpse of the iconic Half Dome and El Capitan face in the distance.

John Muir once wrote of Yosemite, saying; 

"None can escape its charms. Its natural beauty cleans and warms like a fire, and you will be willing to stay forever in one place like a tree."
- John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938),

Surrounded by this beauty, It's easy to see how many people over look the many boulders that litter the floor below. On a recent trip I took to the valley, I was lucky enough to be with a fantastic group of people that have embraced both the big wall and boulder culture.

Kevin Jorgeson and Carlo Traversi are childhood friends and have been climbing in the valley together since they were young. Kevin in particular, has been here A LOT. Since the age of 16, he has visited every year, repeating many of the hard problems including the notoriously tough problem Dominated, V13.

Kevin Jorgeson on the ultra classic, Bachar Cracker

During a rest day, they gave me the "Classics" bouldering tour. After a short time, it became clear that there is an incredible mass of established bouldering here and even more than had yet to be climbed. We visited problems such as the The King, Hexentric, Bachar Cracker, The Force, Thriller,  Dominated and everyones favourite, Midnight Lightning!

Can you guess what it is?

If you've never climbed on Yosemite granite, it's friction and density are amazing! The rock deals out incredibly creative problems, on massive boulders that have just the right amount of holds to make them possible. 

The valley offers a lifetime of boulder problems yet to be sent that are easily accessible, but until recently, it had been suffering from a drought of enthusiasm from climbers. That is until a couple of weeks ago, when Carlo Traversi turned up in his magical land dolphin.

Carlo is quite possibly the strongest muthaf*cka i have ever had the pleasure to climb with. He has an incredible ability to seemingly levitate between big dynamic moves with the precision of a surgeon. I think he may also be the only person that has a chance at beating the impossible Gorilla Grip game that was at fair grounds across the UK in the early 90's.

In his first couple of weeks in here, Carlo has establish a V12 FA and repeated many of the hardest problems including the V11 highball, The Shield. He is now on the hunt to find a boulder where he can establish the next level in yosemite bouldering.

Mary Mecklenburg on incredible "Tendons Give"

Carlo is not the only one in the valley sending hard problems. A new wave of strong young climbers has hit the valley and made this a hot spot for new development. Keep an eye on this place over the coming boulder season. I'm sure we'll see some great updates!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Dawn Wall: Standing on the shoulders of a giants

Looking up at the Dawn Wall

The Dawn Wall... Situated on the worlds most prolific rock face in Yosemite Valley, its name echos in the in the mind of climbers across the entire globe. Its difficulty is legendary and has thwarted many of the worlds best climbers including Jonathan Siegrest and Chris Sharma. 

This project has been in the limelight of the climbing world for almost five years, making it one of the longest (if not THE longest) climbing projects ever attempted. 

The team heading the siege on this mega route is Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, both incredibly talented climbers with massive climbing achievements to their name. Together, they have spent an estimated twelve months in the valley on this project alone, over 70% of which Kevin estimates has been spent working up on the wall. 

That works out at to be: 255.5 days, 6132 hours, 367, 920 minutes or...

Kevin Jorgeson jumaring up pitch 4

six times longer than the average person spends brushing their teeth in a lifetime!

Due to Tommy's recent accident in which a haul bag took a 200ft whipper onto his harness, separating his ribs (Article), Kevin contacted me to come out and stand in as his belay for the interim period while Tommy heals up. With such short notice, i wasn't sure whether I could make it happen, but knew I had to find a way. Ever since I first saw a picture of the Captain, I've dreamt of climbing up the wall by any route possible. Helping out on the hardest one was definitely a bonus!

I managed to juggle my commitments and hastily booked my flight out to San Francisco where I met up with Kevin. Together, we embarked on a highly caffeinated journey to Yosemite Valley some three hours away.  Upon arrival, we were joined by legendary camera men Keith Ladzinski and Andy Mann of 3 Strings Productions who planned to film Kevin's progress on the wall.

Andy Mann joining us at base camp around 1000ft up

Keith Ladzinski and Andy Mann in position for the second traverse pitch

The crux of the project is some 1000ft up the wall where the route crosses over the notoriously hard  and impressive aid route, Reticent Wall. (If you've not heard of this route, read Psychovertical by Andy Kirkpatrick). These two pitches are where our efforts are focused as neither have been sent. However, getting to this point on the route requires a jumar "warm up" that feels like the equivalent of sprinting a 5.9 route for an hour and a half.

Gareth Leah (me) working my way up to base camp

This is a small price to pay for the views you receive being up on the wall. Peering out from the portaledge, the midday sun warms your whole body and paints its soft glow across the the valley.

A truly unforgettable moment.

We're two days into the filming and have been forced to take a rest day due to bad weather. We're aiming to head back up in a day or two if the weather permits. We may head up today to secure the ledges better after a forecast of 40mph winds...

it's going to be GRIPPING!

A room with a view

I'd like to say a huge thank you to Adidas Outdoor who kindly shipped me out a box of their awesome technical gear to keep me warm while up on the wall. With such last minute notice to leave, I would never have had time to get everything together in time. I'd also like to thank Scarpa for hooking me up with some awesome shoes. You guys ROCK!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Rock Climbing in New York: NYC Bouldering Guide

"New York City is best known for it yellow cabs, retail stores, and phenomenal skyline. It's a city full of coffee culture, alternative fashion and rock climbing... 

This lesser known fact may come as a surprise to most who have yet to explore the hidden landscapes beneath the cities veil of steel and concrete. These unique boulders are steeped in history and offer a climbing experience like nowhere else In the world!" - Gareth Leah

Over the past year I have searched for, climbed, photographed, documented, and climbed again hundreds of boulders in NYC in a quest to create a bouldering guide for arguably the most famous city on the planet. It's taken blood, sweat, flappers and tears to bring about what i believe is one of the most incredible looking guidebooks ever created. It's been an incredible journey, making some incredible friends along the way and nesting into the city that i now call my home.

When i first began this project, I didn't truly appreciate the scope of what i was creating. It was a personal project that i took upon myself to fill time and get to know people. It had a different design, different images and different feel to what it has now become. Below you can see the Final cover (left) and the original (right).

It originally had around 80 pages and was based upon the style and design of the old subway map. The images i took myself while learning the how to use a camera and in all honesty, it was a little mediocre. 

Original designs (below)

This final version of the book comes almost a year after the original was drawn up but still has remenants of the original. The maps have been transplanted from the old version and spruced up with some water color and slight modifications. The line drawings have been adapted to overlay new images and the route colors changed to fit the publisher. 

New Version (below)

The book also gained some media attention from: The New York Times, The New York Daily News, Grimper Magazine, Climberism Magazine, Grimpe Magazine, Gripped magazine, Empire State of Climb and The Vertical amongst many others.

The book is now out and available here: Sharp End Books and at many outdoor retailers worldwide

I hope this book takes you to places you've never been before and gives you a new perspective on NYC.