Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Climbing to make a difference in Mexićo

Rory Smith and myself take a sketchy late night walk to the top of the neighbourhood, Independencia.
I’ve often wondered whether climbing could have a positive and effective impact on world issues. I’m not sure how effective it could be on large scale topics, such as creating a lasting world peace, bringing an end to world poverty or ensuring that everyone is given their basic human rights as these are vast problems that require the collective unity of nations to make a stand. But what I do know, is that climbing can make a difference to people on a global scale.

One of my good friends and personal heroes, John Ellison, proves this with every ounce of his existence and his work with Climbers Against Cancer (CAC) which he formed in 2011 to raise money and awareness for cancer research. CAC in its short existence has raised more than $350,000 and united the climbing community by demonstrating that we can make a difference together, but that we need someone to lead the way.

With John’s inspiration branded firmly into our minds, in March 2014, Tiffany Hensley and myself, Gareth Leah headed down to Monterrey Mexico after hearing about huge potential for new rock climbing and a program called Escalando Fronteras (Climbing Borders) who use climbing as a medium to bring an end to the recruitment of child soldiers into the drug cartels of Monterrey. 

Such a project struck a chord with myself. Born and raised in the small industrial town of Ellesmere Port in the UK, I had a misspent youth that lacked both ambition and direction. When I discovered climbing in my early 20’s, it changed my whole perspective of the world. I had found something which filled the void in my life, bringing with it the direction I so desperately needed. I wondered that if climbing could do this for me, could it possibly do the same for these youth?

With so much poverty, many of the youth look to drugs as an entertainment.
Speaking with the program organiser Rory Smith, a smart and worldly guy in his late 20’s who’s passion for his project emanates through every conversation, he welcomed our idea to help and we quickly set about creating Project Wall-E with two distinct goals.

First, our goal is to help Escalando Fronteras by volunteering our time to the program and teaching the kids new skills, develop new routes in the nearby neighbourhood (enabling them to climb locally in their free time), and provide climbing gear through sponsor donations. 

Secondly, we will develop climbing in Monterrey on a larger scale and collaborate on a guidebook to help bring eco tourism to the recovering city with the desired effect that the climbing area will, in time, bring money to the impoverished areas and offer the kids an alternative way to earn money outside of Mexico’s dangerous drug trade.

The intimidating entrance to the neighbourhood of Independencia
Especially motivating is that the whole concept would not be possible without the help of like-minded and conscientious companies who also believe in making a difference by sharing something we love.

We left for Mexico early November. If you would like to know more about Project Wall-E, Escalando Fronteras or Climbing in Mexico by following the hyperlinks.

Make your next year count, make it meaningful, make a difference!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Climbing beyond cartels

Visiting the slums of Lomas Modelo in Monterrey
In April 2014, my life was in complete chaos. I was going through a divorce, I felt that I had given in to a life of mediocracy, and I suddenly found a strong desire to put a meaning to my life outside "making money". You could say I was going through a mid (early) life crisis.

Having decided that morning to take the first flight of JFK to well, anywhere, I found myself in Phoenix Arizona with no plans and no direction. Having been invited by a friend to go Monterrey, Mexico some weeks earlier, I made a quick phone call and took next available flight to California where I then hitch hiked to the coast to meet up.

Leaving the airport, I slung my duffel over my shoulder and stood alongside the highway in the blistering heat, thumb up and deep in thought. What was I doing here? Where was I going? What should I do with my life? Have I become satisfied with mediocracy? It didn't take long to catch a ride and I was able to quickly make my way to the meet up point where I hope to find my friend (Tiffany Hensley) and her giant white sprinter named Wall-E.

Meeting up, we spent a day talking about my current situation and discussing how we would make our way down to Mexico. Before we left New York, I had spent some time scouring government website, blogs and travel forums to find all the information I could about current affairs in Monterrey. Many of the people I spoke to about the area knew very little information other than It was "sketch balls". Hearing this repeated by many people made us nervous to travel down, but after having a brief phone call to hostel owner Ramon Narvaez, we decided there was little risk if we took the proper precautions and were soon on the road.

Ramon Narvaez taking a well earned rest from the kids

We arrived in Monterrey a couple of days later and experienced no problems on the way down. The large number of armed police and military we saw along the road brought a strange sense of security after reading about so many horror stories about kidnappings and road blocks by drug cartels.

Pulling up to the hostel Aguacate, we were greeted by the cheerful Mexican owner and his entourage of dogs. After a quick tour of the place, we hit the road with Ramon and his pack of dogs, heading to Parque La Huasteca where we had heard about unbound potential for new development. What we found was incredible!

Entering Parque La Huasteca, Credit: Tiffany Hensley
As we approached the canyon, we were silent in awe. The giant limestone walls rose steeply out the riverbed like spear heads for more than 1000ft. While we rolled through, Ramon informed me about a guidebook he had written to the area, but that it had become quickly outdated due to the speed at which it was being developed. I was instantly fascinated by the news. I could see the opportunity to this place held for rock climbing and pondered how I could find a way to be here.

Returning back to the Aguacate, I discussed with my friend the potential I saw for bringing eco-tourism to the park. She agreed there was a lot that could be done here and then proceeded to tell me about a program called Escalando Fronteras that was utilising the climbing area as a way to educate "at risk youth" about the world outside the slums and the opportunities they have.

Some of the founders of Escalando Fronteras
The pieces came together. I knew immediately how I could fulfil my life's crisis and at the same time, be immersed in everything I loved. I began putting together a project plan with these ideas in mind with the hope that I could present it to sponsors at the winter Outdoor Retailer (OR) show in Utah. Tiffany also had a vision to go back to Mexico to work with the kids and so we teamed up to maximise our efforts naming our plan "Project Wall-E" after here van.

That August, we went to OR in Salt Lake City and were blown away to find so many like minded companies that saw the potential to do good we did. We talked to hundreds of people and spent tens of hours walking the show floor but leaving OR, we were still unsure if we had done enough to make this a reality.

The kids of Escalando Fronteras
By the end of September 2014, after months of follow ups and phone calls, we had succeeded to gaining enough support to carry out the project and we began putting the wheels in motion to head south.

Now in November, we have arrived in Mexico and our work has only just begun. One of the programs goals for this year is to raise funding so that they can build an accessible climbing gym for the kids as an alternative way to spend their free time. You can check out their Indiegogo campaign and donate using the link below:

This is one of the biggest challenges that I have ever undertaken in my life. To try re-invigorate the national park into a booming tourist economy that will allow these children to carve out their own futures, outside the slums. If you would like to know more about Project Wall-E, Escalando Fronteras or Climbing in Huasteca , you can get more information here:


A huge thank you to our sponsors who without their support we would not be able to make this possible.
ClimbTech, Hanchor, Mad Rock Climbing, DMM Climbing, MAXIM ropes, Nite Ize, Voltaic Solutions and Justins Nut Butter.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Gear Junkie: DIY Huarache Running Sandal

If your feet could talk, they'd ask for these!

I think that as climbers, we can agree that we're not best known for the aesthetics of our feet. Years of cramming our street size 10 into a climbing shoe 2 sizes too small leaves our toes in far from ideal shape, but a chiropodist dream. So this is a liberation, a way to thank our feet for all the abuse we put them through, the Huarache Running Sandal.

Based on designs from the Tarahumara people who inhabit a small corner of Northwestern Mexico, the crag flop is a simple, practical and comfortable shoe that weighs very little and is easy to slip on between climbs.

The Tarahumara call themselves the Rarámuri, meaning "runners on foot" or "those who run fast" in their native tongue. Made famous by the book "Born to run", they are best known for running distances of up to 200 miles in one session.

In this article, we'll take it step by step in how to create your very own Huarache running sandals, but with a modern flair!

Box cutter
4mm Diameter Hole punch 

You will need a sole material, we're using Vibram Cherry which I picked up from Rock and Resole but you can other materials. I've heard of people recycling mocasins and using race car tires as an alternative.

12ft of climbing accessory cord or nylon paracord, 6ft for each flop. Again, this could be any string material but you'll want it to be soft as to not chafe the toes. 

Step 1: Tracing your foot.
Placing the rubber on a flat surface, trace around your foot using a pencil / pen. Be sure to keep the pencil vertical when drawing to get an accurate size of your foot. 

Step 2: Creating the Outline
Now that we have an accurate trace of the foot, using a pen / pencil, we're going to smooth off the edges by following the natural curve of your foot allowing some movement and flexibility for the foot once we cut out the rubber sole.

Step 3: Cutting out your sole
There are a number of ways to remove your sole from the sheet. A box cutter or a pair of strong scissors seem to do the best job. Scissors tend to be a little easier to use and don't pose the same worry of cutting off your fingers. 

Step 4: Punching holes
As with cutting out the soles, there are a number of ways to punch holes in the material. The thing to remember when making holes is that if you make them circular and exact, they're less likely to rip through. Avoiding using a knife if possible as the holes it creates is more likely to tear. 

To punch the holes, first mark between the big toe. Next, mark a line above the ankle bone either side of the foot about 1 centimetre long. At the end of the line, place another mark for for a hole. (see below) Using the hole punch and hammer, place holes in the marked locations.

I decided that with these shoe I would put some rivets in as a further precaution to stop the rubber tearing but it's not necesary.

Step 5: Lacing your flops
This part may seem complicated, but once you've tied the laces a couple of times, its super easy.

There is no easy way to describe how to tie them, so I found this video online that will make it easier to see and understand the patterns.

Have Fun!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Gear Junkie: Mad Rock Redline Climbing Shoe


Sculptured by the hands East Coast legend Obe Carrion, the new Redline climbing shoe from Mad Rock is truly a game changer!

Where to begin?

This shoe is unlike anything that has been on the market previously due to a number of features including the very unique and very useful, moulded compression tongue which makes this fit like a slipper and a tie in in one.

The shoe also utilises Mad Rocks Tek Flex upper which is designed to let the foot "breath". I've never yet used a shoe that truly breaths, but this is about as close as it gets currently in the climbing footwear world. The sole is fitted with R2 rubber which combined with the Arch Flex technology, keeps the shoes shape even when the foot is loaded in unlike many other shoes which tend flatten out.


Mad Rock have been known previously for creating budget products which people would often shy away from thinking the lower cost had some correlation with quality. The new Redline sets to change that precedent and show that they not only make high quality, but that they can also role with the larger climbing companies when it comes to pushing the envelope of climbing innovation and technology.

These admittedly might not be the best choice when hitting the slabs as the same technology that allows them to keep their perfect shape for overhangs is the same that also makes them less than ideal for smearing. A couple of people I showed the shoes expressed worry that the rubber may be to stiff. However, after testing these on a number of rock types and different conditions from the Red River Gorge to Boulder Canyon and even the Gunks, I find the slightly stiffer rubber actually makes them perform better on small and delicate holds.

Cost: $$$$
At $160, these are priced similar to that of it's competing shoes such as the La Sportiva Solutions or the Scarpa Instinct. They are significantly more than other shoes in the Mad Rock range but you're also getting a lot of new technology for your money.

Performance: 5/5
For me, the shoe couldn't be much better. It fits my foot like a glove with zero dead space throughout and provides me with great performance without crippling my toes.

Value: 5/5
The quality of the shoe is unquestionably high but how long they last only time will tell. I've been using mine every day for a couple of months and they still show very little signs of wear. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Gear Junkie: Hanchor PIPE-T1 backpack

If you're like me, you'll have a number of backpacks floating around your home, all with different purposes. One for your rope, one for the work commute, one for multi-pitch, another for the gym. The list is long and hunting for the right bag when its time to shine arrives can often leave you running late.

Being a bit of a minimalist, I'm always looking out for multi-use objects and items that can make life simpler. Take the spork for example. Why have a draw full of rattling cutlery that takes up space when you can have a spoon, knife and fork in one? 

Admittedly, I wouldn't be singing the same tune if I was blessed with ample space to live, but 3 years in a NY apartment the size of a dive bar toilet and then up-sizing to a Ford Van, I'm ruthless when it comes to owning anything that takes up space.

I  recently picked up the new Hanchor PIPE T-1 backpack and have been having fun taking it on a variety of adventures..

The bag itself is made of bomber X-Pac VX21, a laminated fabric which has incredible water proofness and shear strength. The bag itself is not rated as waterproof as the seams are not sealed, but it held up incredibly with the torrential NY rains that seems to come sporadically. Its zips are laminated to further aid in keeping water out and it has a number of zipper pockets throughout to make organising your life into a bag that much easier.

Over past month or two, I've used this bag everyday for carting about my laptop about (Mac book pro 13") and taken it on a number of trips to see how it performed.

 I first took it hiking up 14ers in Colorado in which it performed well. I easily fit everything I needed for the day, including one very tired dog (awww) and didn't chaff or rub. I also managed to fit a bladder in the bag with a bit of jimmy rigging with a NiteIze "S" clip. Not ideal, but it worked.

Next, I took it to a climbing competition in Arkansas titled "Twenty Four Hours of Horseshoe Hell". The competition involves climbing continuously for 24 hours to accumulate points and climb as many routes as you can. It's an incredible event that will leave you feeling like you've been through the ringer the day after.

For this, I loaded it with snacks, a guidebook, water proof clothing and multiple water bottles that conveniently fit snugly in the front pockets. Over the course of the competition, It got coffee'd , dragged across rocks and  thrown through brambles. Amazingly, after the comp the bag was still in great shape!

Most recently, I attempted a long multi-pitch adventure which was to repeat one of the worlds longest routes in the Gunks, NY. We unfortunately got rained off the route after just 2 days but the bag came along for the ride and was comfortable enough but I don't think this is one of its strong applications.


The bag is incredibly tough and hard wearing by any standard. It's another testament of Hanchors' commitment to make quality products that are built to last. Primarily designed as a nifty day pack, it's proven itself to be tough as the city I live in (NY) and suitable for many different uses. 

As for pricing, the PIPE-T1 comes in at around $174 which seems a lot at first glance but competitively priced when compared to its competitors such as the Arc'teryx Blade 30 or the Osprey Packs Spin 22.

Cost: $$$$
On the high end of the price range

Comfort: 4/5
Stays comfortable after extended period of time and when fully loaded

Features: 5/5
The bag is loaded with small details that help organise your hectic life into a bag

Functionality: 5/5
This may not be the first bag you reach for when you go on a multi pitch fiasco, but it fits most other days. Whether your simply commuting to work, getting groceries or wondering around town, this pack is pretty neat!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Quit your job and go climbing

While on my recent travels to Utah in order to attend the annual Summer Outdoor Retailer event, I was lucky enough to get a viewing of the latest Reel Rock Film Tour - Valley Uprising from Big Up Productions and Sender Films.

Such an event is something to behold. Since it's beginning in 2006, Reel Rock Film Tour has been screened in hundred of locations and inspired millions of people. This time around was no exception!

As we followed the crowds towards the plaza it became clear this was far from a simple film viewing. This was a gathering of the climbing industries most influential and ambitious characters. Those who had dedicated their lives to a passion that gave them a sense of achievement and belonging. Pushing the physical and mental boundaries of our sport!

Wondering around the small mezzanine out front of the Megaplex 12 Cinema, I brushed elbows with many of americas climbing heroes. Lynn Hill, Dean Potter, Hans Florine and Ceder Wright were just a handful of those enjoying the h'orderves and local brews put on by the Reel Rock crew.

The effect of bringing together this band of people who emanate such enthusiasm and camaraderie was mind blowing. It was incredible to see how such a diverse and geographically separated group of individuals that were so tightly knit through their passion of rock climbing.

Stepping into the theatre, you could sense the audiences anticipation for the film which had been some 7 years in the making. Unlike the rock tours previous years, they showed just one film, "The Valley Uprising - Yosemite's Rock Climbing Revolution." This was a tribute to Yosemite Valley, to its history, its people and its unique culture that has been in the climbing spotlight since the 1950's. 

Tracing back the valley's climbing lineage, you're taken on an journey into the depths of the climbers mindset beginning with the golden age of Yosemite climbing right up to the present day. Many of the valleys unsung heroes are featured in this video that is guaranteed to leave you feeling more than a little amped for your next adventure. I for one was ready to quit the 9 to 5 and follow the romantic notion of a vagabond lifestyle!

The profound effect of the tour re-lit a fire in my belly that's been buried inside for some time, fearful of failure and the unknown. Although the times have changed considerably since the dirt bag lifestyle of the 70's, this journey into history shows that each generation finds their own adventure if only they're brave enough to take the leap!

The tour begins in a couple of weeks and I would make sure you don't miss this! You can check out locations and dates by visiting the Reel Rock Tour website.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Long Wall Project: The Longest Route, Never repeated

The Great Wall of china is a 5.9 R, traverse of the the Gunks. It was first climbed the year I was born back in 1987 and is still awaiting a second ascent. At 9000ft long, it is arguably the longest established rock route in the world.

Alongside my good friend Leigh Campbell, we aim is to raise $1 for every foot of climbing we complete for Climbers Against Cancer and will stay on the wall for as long as is needed to complete the route. This means we will likely need to portaledge at least 1 night, possibly two at the lofty and comical height of around 15ft off the ground, battlng heat and humidity, ticks and chiggers, blood, sweat and tears!

With help from Cameron Maier of Bearcam Media, we will create a video for this project to be submitted to major film festivals such as BAMFF, Reel rock film tour and Kendal Mountain Film Festival, creating awareness of CAC and the need to help causes bigger than ourselves.

By creating a positive media piece and leading by example, we believe we can motivate and empower the outdoor community to apply their talents and skills to social and environmental issues, benefitting everyone, whether your climbing rock faces or the corporate ladder.



Gareth “Gaz” Leah
Worldly adventurer, passionate writer, business developer and climber. Born and bred in the UK, Gaz has climbed all over the world including Mexico, France, Spain, Oman, Dubai and all over the US including Yosemite. Famous for having the worst beta on plastic and often referred to as the chubby chaser of climbing, he seeks out new adventures in undeveloped destinations.

Leigh Campbell
Former US Army photographer, graphic designer, studio photographer and climber. A Gunks climber and Catskill ice climber, Leigh is happiest when clinging to the side of a cliff in New York State. He is always up for a good adventure, whether raiding foreign fighters or an epic long traverse of one of the most famous cliff lines in the world. Often referred to as an urban redneck, his passion lies in climbing the blue lines of winter and respecting the art of traditional rock climbing.


Your donations and support means so much to us as we get geared up ready to do battle with The Long Wall. Sharing this project with your friends helps us spread the word and continue to raise money for this incredible cause, making the world that little bit better.

Lets face it, if we cure cancer, the world would be even more kick ass!

You can help our campaign by donating $$$, sharing with friends and supporting our on Fundly campaign on Facebook. 


Gaz Leah & Leigh Campbell

The Choss Bruvas


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Thirsty for a better world

For as long as I can remember, I've been drawn to the idea of philanthropy.

I used to think that it was a word associated with the super rich. Those that had abundant amounts of money to spare and didn't know quite how to spend it. I'm sure this interest in sharing wealth was some how spurred on by my own up bringing in a low income family. Growing up as a family of 5, we didn't have much in the way of material possessions or money, and my parents taught us that if we wanted something, we would have to get it ourselves. Despite this, I never felt like I was really missing out. My parents loved me and I was inspired by their tenacity to try and make our way of life better through all of the struggles. We weren't the only family this way, many of my friends families were the same and because of this, we bonded and supported each other.

Reflecting on my childhood, I can remember specific days and moments that taught me some of my greatest lessons. Like the day when my Donnay school shoes fell apart and we couldn't afford a new pair, so I simply glued the sole back on. Or the time when all the kids in school went away skiing for the summer but we were too poor to afford it. I didn't even ask my parents if I could go for fear of making them feel inadequate, I knew they worked so hard for what we did have. 

One of my fondest memories is of a caravan holiday I went on with my friends family to Yorkshire shortly after recovering from Stephen Johnsons Syndrome. I was socially embarrassed of my patchy appearance, lacked confidence and could not fund the holiday myself. Without asking, my friends and family helped me out. Knowing i'd not been on a traditional holiday, well, ever. They understood that at the moment in my life, I really needed some community support.

I can't help but think how unbelievably lucky I was to have these experience and this up bringing. Having nothing taught me the true meaning of value, respect, hard work and humility. It also taught me that all you really need are the basics: 

Food. Water. Community.

Now in my late 20's, I've not become one of the super rich and I still don't feel like i'm missing out. I feel that now more than ever, I understand the need to give back and the importance of helping out others less fortunate, just as my friends and community had done when I was in a lull. 

This last year, I've been focusing on paying back into social and economic causes that I admire with what I have to offer, which is simply my time. One of those causes is Second Mile Water. A small non for profit out of boulder, their aim is to raise money and end water poverty, empowering people to live a better story. 

This summer, alongside incredible companies such as Patagonia and Prana, they are running an initiative titled the Colorado 54 that brings people together from across the US to collaboratively climb all of Colorado's 14,000ft (4000m) peaks. Together with my incredible friends, we are going to summit Quandary Peak as Team Wall-E and are looking for other to join us!

If you too enjoy busting a lung at altitude, basking in the sunlit mountain tundra, rejoice in helping others and can make it to the sunshine state. Check it out!

You can learn more about the Colorado 54, follow our progress and join our campaign below by clicking the link. 

#Patagonia #Prana #NewtonRunning #BrownWaterCoffee #MtnDogMedia

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Climbers United

Cancer. It’s a word that all us fear and yet we hear it so often that its potency is becoming diluted. In 2012, 8.2 million people died of cancer (1), contributing to over 14% of all deaths worldwide and the number is growing. It is thought that everyone will be affected by cancer at some point in their lifetime and although treatments are becoming more successful, there is still a lot of work to do before a cure is found.

One Friday in 2011, John Ellison, a happy and humble man living in the UK’s Peak District, went to the doctor for a check up after he experienced some usual pain in his right leg. Initially being turned away due packed office hours, John insisted and the secretary, seeing concern in Johns expression, squeezed him in an appointment. The doctor ran some routine blood test and told John he would be in touch. On the Monday, just few days later, the doctor called. “John, We have the test results back and i’d like you to come back in right away for further tests”. After a biopsy of the prostate, the results were back. John had Prostate Cancer, it was very aggressive and had spread to other parts of his body. In total, John had between 25 and 30 tumas on the bones and the cancer was deemed un-curable.

After being diagnosed, John says he had two ways of viewing this, “I can be living with cancer or be dieing with cancer. I choose to live”.  Having been a climber most of his life and the climbing community being his extended family, he set about channeling his new motivation for life into something that could help others. That motivation became Climbers Against Cancer. An organization that is set to unite the community for a greater cause than ourselves and attempt to make a real difference in the battle to find a cure for cancer. Unlike other “non-profits”, CAC donates 100% of the money raised to cancer research organizations around the world. They have currently contributed large donations to research in Australia, Canada, France, the UK and most recently, the USA.

In Summer 2013, top female climbers Shauna Coxley, Alex Puchio, Alex Johnson, Juliane Wurm, Sierra Blair-Coyle, Angie Payne, Mina Leslie-Wujastyk, Leah Crane, Katie Peters, Anna Stohr, Melissa Le Neve and Meagan Martin, banded together to create an official CAC calendar. Structured around a run down 1950‘s caravan, photographer Caroline Treadway captured the incredible moments as the girls decked out in post war clothing for the shoot which would be sold to raise money.

In Europe, CAC is well established. Supported by many of the top climbers such as Adam Ondra, Shauna Coxley and Mina Leslie-Wujastyk. It’s awareness is spreading and goals are being fulfilled, having currently raised over US$350,000 (EUR 250,000) since its forming and it continues to grow strong. It’s been named the official charity of the IFSC (International Federation of Sport Climbing) and is supported by the UIAA, Mammut, Lowe Alpine, Marmot, The North Face and Entreprises. 

In the United States and Canada, it’s gaining awareness with the help of athletes Chris Sharma, Alex Pucchio, Sean Mccoll and child prodigy Mirko Caballero to name but a few. With this incredible support, CAC continues to be a positive contributor to the global climbing community.

Seeing this change in the industry is nothing short of inspiring. With the climbing industry rapidly growing, there is comfort in the knowledge that our culture and community is one which is conscientious to both its environmental and social impact. 

John himself draws inspiration from our community and through all of the highs and lows of dealing with cancer, one thing has stayed consistent. John is always smiling. When asked why, John’s reply was simple “I smile because i’m always happy and see the bright side in everything”.

I hope that reading this article inspires you to think about how you can make a difference to your community and that maybe you too can see the good in everything, just as John has come to do. 

You can find out more about John, Climbers Against Cancer and their incredible efforts at on their website:  

 Reference: http://www.who.int

Thursday, April 24, 2014

OutdoorFest: Live in the city, Love the Outdoors

Photo courtesy of OutdoorFest.
Since moving to New York in 2012, I've been continually surprised by the number outdoor enthusiasts and weekend warriors that call the city home.

Whether its driving eight hours for a couple of cherished days at Kentucky's Red River Gorge or waking up at 3am on a monday morning, to endure the freezing temperatures of the Rockaways "Dawn Patrol" surf scene.. 

These rebels of societal norms represent a growing sub culture of city dwellers that go to great lengths in order to get a fix of there chosen liberation. Often skipping that night out at the bar with friends in order to be on performance for the following days adventures.

Last year, while exploring New Yorks hectic networking scene, I met Sarah Knapp. Working for a local outdoor company, she emanated joyful enthusiasm and creative flair poured from behind her thin black lenses. 

It was clear from the start we shared big ideas and dreams. Both hungry for adventure and an un-shakable passion for the outdoors, we would geek out for hours in coffee shops about how we could make a difference to the community that we love.

A year on from our coffee house rendezvous's, and after consuming enough caffeine to power the entire state of Rhode Island, Sarah has launched her own outdoor festival named "OutdoorFest".

The festivals goal is simple, to get New Yorkers off the sofa, and active in the outdoors. Unlike traditional festivals, OutdoorFest does not take place in one central location. Instead, Companies and contributors from across the city participate by holding events in separate locations, spreading the outreach and allowing more people to take part. 

It's also entirely free.

Without a barrier to entry, the festival naturally scoops up many low income families who previously wouldn't have had the chance or even known that they could kayak the Hudson or trail run the Palisades Park.The community response to these events has is nothing short of astonishing. With last years events (albeit under a different name) engaging more than 6000 people, this year aims to be bigger and better!

This incredible event is currently raising money to help keep the it free. You can donate AND get some sweet perks in return by checking out the Indiegogo campaign below.

I will be hosting 2 events for the festival:

Urban Mountains
June 5th, 7pm @ REI Soho
I'll be talking about how being a passionate business developer lead me to write the guide to NYC and the struggles along the way as well as sharing the story of Climbers Against Cancer and how our incredible and unique community can make a difference.

Central Park Bouldering Tour
June 7th, 9am to 2pm @ Rat Rock (Umpire Rock)
Alongside The Cliffs and in support of Climbers Against Cancer and The Access Fund. I will be giving tours of the rocks in Central Park, sharing beta where wanted and doing some pebble wrestling with you good people.

I look forward to seeing you there!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Birdsboro: The secret sport climbing of the east coast!

What's the best kept secret in East Coast sport climbing?

Home to over 120+ sport climbs with grades ranging from 5.4 to 5.14, Birdsboro is a little known sport crag that is neatly tucked away in a quiet corner of Pennsylvania.

Gaz Leah on Hinterland 5.12d

Development of the crag began back in 1993 when a handful of locals discovered the quarry, which at the time was buried under a blanket of poison ivy! The locals instantly recognised the potential for climbing on the many large faces of diabase rock, and quickly set about bolting their first line, "Zorro" 5.12a. Located on the "Wet Side", Zorro required very little cleaning, and an existing path leads straight to the base. 

This was the birthplace of Birdsboro climbing!

Birdsboro is unlike any crag you may have been to before. When you first arrive at the parking lot where the old road ends abruptly, you are greeted by a gently flowing river that is often packed with local fly fishermen (and women!). An old house sits on the far side of the river, which is now only accessible by taking the cable traverse, since the road washed away in the early 70's. And this is where the experience truly begins.

The second cable traverse

Crossing the wire cable, you continue your journey down a short section of the old route 82 which resembles little of its former self. Much of the road has been reclaimed by the earth leaving behind a narrow section of asphalt with yellow markings down the center. Passing over the old surviving bridge and alongside the working quarry, you reach the final cable traverse that leads the bottom of a short hill and the start of the climbing!

Upon reaching the top of the hill you find what is aptly titled; "The Bunker". It’s an old building once used by the quarry for storing dynamite that has now been re-purposed as a toilet for many visitors to the area. To the right is the Birdsboro notice board that is regularly stocked with the latest topo and news on the area. Beside it sits the bolt fund donation box and a choice of two paths that lead to the upper and lower tiers. Following the narrow path, the journey continues along the upper tier where the quarry opens up revealing its true beauty! 

The Main Wall
On one side, you catch a glimpse of the spectacular reservoir wall through the thin veil of trees and on the other side a large looming rock wall shoots upwards. This is the main wall, an area of the quarry that is popular with groups due to its variety of grades and varying angles. Here we met up with local climber, route equipper, and all around local legend Ted Coffelt to get the grand tour and learn more about the quarry.

As we walked along the upper tier, Ted points out each line we pass and tells us the story of its name and how it came to be. He explained to us how over the last twenty years, the quarry has undergone an incredible transformation; from a once overgrown ivy hole into its current state as staple for local outdoor enthusiasts. The area is now used for an extensive array of activities such as fly fishing, mountain biking, hiking, shooting, trail-running, and of course sport climbing. 

Ted pointing out the crag classics
We stop beneath the “Big Wall” and Ted points out one of his favourite lines, “Hinterland”. It’s a beautiful route that takes a direct line up the tallest part of the crag and is graded 5.10 to the first anchor and 5.12d to the second. At ninety feet long, it is a true test of endurance with the crux being at the very last move.
Ted highly recommends we try the route and we’re only too happy to oblige. Looking up at the wall, I couldn’t help but feel slightly intimidated by the sheer size of the wall. Slipping on my climbing shoes, I study the wall trying to figure out the moves and wondering if I have enough juice to climb such a long continuous overhang. I tied in and with a nod from my friend, I begin climbing. 

Bill Piehl on HinterLand,  
Moving carefully up the rock, I soon came to the first anchor and feeling pretty good, I decided to continue on to the top. The first few moves were manageable, but I soon found my forearms burning as the wall grew steeper and the holds became unmercifully smaller. I knew this attempt was soon over. Falling from the last clip, I lowered to the ground. Normally, I would find this disheartening and see it as a failure, but I didn’t feel disappointed. Instead, I was totally psyched at how amazing the route was and couldn't wait to try it again! I took a break and then got back on the sharp end, this time sticking all the moves and clipping the top anchor. 

It was apparent why Ted likes this route so much. It utilizes every move I've ever learnt in climbing from heal hooks to rock overs and even a dyno at the end. It truly was a full value route that just kept revealing new challenges. Ted was proud to see others having such a good time on the routes he and the locals had spent so many years bolting and maintaining.

Since visiting Birdsboro and meeting Ted, I've been truly inspired by the climbing there and believes that this is a place everyone should visit at least once. Whether you’re looking for a casual day out hiking or an adrenaline fueled day climbing, Birdsboro should be at the top of your places to visit in the area. 

Birdsboro Bolt Fund,
I hope this article piques your interest and encourages you to take the trip over to this great climbing spot. Please be respectful to the many people that use the area and pay thanks to those that have given their time and money to make this all possible. Above all though, have a great time!

The best place to find the latest information on Birdsboro Quarry is to use the website which is updated on a regular basis by the locals. Here you can find everything from the latest routes to the weather and more: