April 23, 2008

No chalk, no shoes, no pro. No problem?

On Friday, April 25, The North Face team members Vera Schulte-Pelkum, Heidi Wirtz, Renan Ozturk, Cedar Wright, Matt Segal, and Alex Honnold head out to try their hand at the legendary sandstone tower climbing in the Czech Republic and Elbsandstein, Germany. Known as the ultimate traditional climbing areas, where local ethics prohibit the use of metal protection (creating the towers’ notorious and dangerous runouts), chalk can not be used (making every climb a quasi-first ascent with no chalk trail to follow), and where purists climb barefoot. Previous visitors have described the towers as "the most unique, terrifying, and exceptional cragging destination on earth."

Follow the team’s journey right here.

May 1, 2008

Its been non-stop here in the Elbsandstein!!






Its been non-stop here in the Elbsandstein!! The last few days have
been a blur, as we tour the endless climbing areas, and get used to
the extremely sketchy climbing techniques. Many of the climbs here
are quite run out, and yesterday I pretty much reinvented myself on a
5.11 runout that if I had slipped would have likely put me on the
ground. I felt shaky from the adrenaline surge for the rest of the
day. Peter Mortimer and Nick Rosen from Sender films are on a mission
to capture the climbs and beauty of this area, and I was pretty
impressed with the massive crane that they erected on top of a
teetering tower to capture footage with; quite the production! Bernd
Arnold continues to tour us around, which is invaluable, as everything
is in German, and the climbs are often hard to find, and harder to
find protection on. I think Bernd is the most amazing 60 year old
climber I’ve ever met, and I think he really gets a kick out of
introducing us to this unique style of climbing. Last night we had a
spirited conversation/debate about ethics in climbing, discussing the
merit of sticky rubber kneepads, and other new tools in modern
climbing. While we all had our differing views, one thing was clear,
we all really love climbing and feel strongly about going about it in
the best possible style, which in many ways is exemplified by this
oddball backwoods european climbing area where it’s not uncommon for
people to solo routes barefoot without chalk, which really is a style
that’s hard to improve upon. While this style of climbing is pure and
to be admired, it is also quite dangerous, and my main hope for the
trip is that no one breaks a leg or worse. Today it’s raining but
hopefully the sun smiles on us soon and we can go run it out on
sketchy sandstone, because even though it’s real scary, it’s a whole
lot of fun.

Photos: Renan Ozturk

May 8, 2008

So, Our time here in the Elbsandstein has come to a close







So, Our time here in the Elbsandstein has come to a close and the
group will be moving onwards towards the Adrspath for the second leg
of our journey. So far my experience of climbing among the Bohemians
has been an eye opener. What strikes me the most about the
Elbsanstein is how ahead of it’s time the climbers and the climbs
were. In 1904, the difficult grade of 5.10 was already established,
and they didn’t even have carabiners. By the late sixties, our new
friend and invaluable tour guide Bernd Arnold was establishing
extremely bold (i.e. fifty plus foot fall potential) 5.11s, many of
which he still repeats at the age of 61. Most of the group has been
pretty humbled by the climbing style here, as it requires a cool head
and a free solo mentality. Climbs have been backed off, or just
avoided all together because of the size of the runouts, and it’s hard
to climb many routes in a day. Each climb is mind rattling,
adrenaline zapping experience with chalk completely outlawed in the
Elbsandstein.

I have been forced to confront the fact that I am a chalk addict.
Chalk not only keeps your hands dry and grease free so that you can
climb more securely at a higher level, but it makes route finding a
lot easier, which when you are thirty feet above a knot that you
haphazardly wedged in a crack…is a major consideration! I’m still
instinctively reaching for my chalk bag when my hands start to sweat.
With out chalk I’ve taken to frantically wiping my hands on my pants
and then blowing on my fingers. Yesterday I had an especially unique
experience, of climbing an overhanging headwall using only small
pieces of cord threaded through the rock for pro. I got pumped out of
my mind trying to thread the cords and then tie a knot in the two ends
with one hand, YIKES!!!

Every evening the group has be having heated conversations about he
merits and downfalls of this unique climbing style. Some in the group
feel that the no chalk, and no cams or stoppers rule is contrived and
silly, but my opinion is that Climbing is inherently contrived and
silly, and I find it refreshing that there is a place where the rules
are so different. The end result of this unique ethic, is some of the
most mental, harrowing, and rewarding climbing in the world. Largely
this unique and bizarre climbing style is a result of the social and
political isolation that this part of the world has endured. For a
long time, the climbers developed their approach with little to no
outside influence. The end result is definitely something different.

Now it’s time to leave Germany and head for the Czech. From what
we’ve heard the Ardspath where we are heading is even more dangerous,
and the locals tend to be less helpful and more prone to throwing us
on the most dangerous climb possible and enjoying the show.. Should
be interesting! Nick Rosen and Peter Mortimer are making a movie
called Sharp End about the risks and rewards of bold traditional
climbing which will premiere early fall this year, and have captured
some great footage of this unique backwaters climbing area. All of
the climbing photos in this dispatch were taken by Nick Rosen co-owner
of Sender Films. Stay tuned for more dispatches. Cedar Wright.

May 8, 2008

So We’ve made it to the Adrspach














So We’ve made it to the Adrspach…and it is amazing!! The
endless towers are super inspiring, and the overall vibe of this place
is that of a magical wonderland of intricate spires peaking out of a
beautiful forest. The cracks here are great, but it sure is scary
protecting them with only knots and the occasional massive but rusty
ring bolt. This is the land that time forgot. Ethics are frozen in
the past…no chalk, no metal gear…you better be ready to run it out.

May 12, 2008

OLD SCHOOL SKETCH-GNAR!!!





OLD SCHOOL SKETCH-GNAR!!!

So, the end or our journey is in sight, and it now seems like a good
time to reflect on a three-week journey into the past to a mystical
land of sandstone towers where climbing ethics developed behind an
iron curtain and never caught up with the times. A place where cams
and chalk are taboo, a good knot placement is hard to find, and the
slow slipping feeling of your fingers on a grainy sloper can not be
relieved by a dip into your chalk bag!!! A place where it’s actually
illegal not to run it out. This is an area where most of the locals
have broken bones, and the helicopter takes away another victim of the
severe runouts nearly every weekend!

This is the only bastion of climbing where the absurd idea of jumping
huge gaps between towers is considered a sport, and has a grading
system! We hear legends of a man named “Oxygen” who pushed tower
jumping to a new level! If you see the gaps he jumped they defy what
seems possible or sane…broken bones would be the best-case senario of
blowing one of his unrepeated tower jumps! A lot of beer gets drank
by the locals before and after climbing, and one old school local
recommended two strong beers before attempting any dangerous line in
the park!! At the end of the day you celebrate the fact that you
survived another climbing day by drinking more beer! “When in Rome”
as they say.

Since our arrival here in Adrspach, the group has debated the
merits and downfalls of this unique and scary climbing style. Surely
there isn’t a more serious, mentally demanding place to climb than
this bizarre haven of Bohemian climbing, but because they lacked cams
and stoppers, they often placed bolts next to cracks, which offends
some members of our team. But the end result is not safe or
unchallenging, in fact it’s the exact opposite. Sure it’s a little
weird to see a bolt next to a crack, but you could take away the bolts
add cams, and have a lot less scary and challenging experience! So
yes the cracks are bolted but that doesn’t make them a homogenized
safe experience…it ironically makes them even scarier, when all you
get is a couple knots and maybe a bolt or two per pitch you better
have you’re A-game on!

My viewpoint is that climbing and ethics are inherently contrived and
at least here in the Adrspach climbing is earned with blood sweat and
fear, and feels like a gladiator sport for the mentally honed! The
style is refreshingly different! This isn’t gymnastics, it’s like
boxing or bullfighting, it’s frigging the full sketch-gnar, it’s
terrifying!!! Maybe it’s because I’ve always respected and practiced
the art of Free Soloing, but I appreciate it here where you have to be
fully committed to the moment, and can’t fake it and climb beyond your
limit. You stay solid, and locked in or you risk hitting the ground
and ruining your trip, your legs and maybe your life. The number you
climb becomes arbitrary, and is not the point, it’s about the beauty
of the line and how solidly you can climb it. Yes it’s contrived and
silly, but all climbing is in some way.

Also for sheer beauty, the Adrspach is one of the most inspiring
places I have visited. There are hundreds of spires and when you
summit one, you look down on an endless sea of sandstone needles
sticking out of a beautiful alpine forest. This has to be one of the
best slackline venues in the world, and yesterday Renan and I rigged
and sketched across one of the coolest highlines I have ever walked.
It was one of those cleansing, soul soaring moments you always hope
will happen but can never count on…so we are feeling thankful for a
beautiful experience in a beautiful place. We have three more days
here in the Czech, then back to our respective homes in the states,
where we will definitely appreciate our cams and chalkbags with
renewed enthusiasm. Cheers…CEDAR WRIGHT. ..from the field sketches Renan Ozturk (also movies at
rockmonkeyart.blogspot.com!)

May 23, 2008

Bare Foot in Bohema Part2: the Czech

Welcome the ADRSPAch, the land of towers: more scary climbing, high-lining and tower jumping. (produced on location)

September 1, 2008

The Travel Begins

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