I started The Stone Mind less than a year ago, in February 2012. In some ways, it feels like I just started. In other ways, it’s like I’ve been writing it forever. At first it was just a way to keep me working with words after I left my job as a magazine editor. I wasn’t even sure what I wanted the blog to be about. I posted product reviews, photo galleries, an interview or two, personal essays, even a short story. As the months passed, things came into their own focus, and now most of my posts deal with climbing, nature (human and otherwise), and Eastern philosophy, and the many ways in which these topics connect, overlap, and inform each other.
In 2013, I plan to explore these topics further, while at the same time reserving the right to strike out in new directions — this blog, after all, is nothing if not an experiment and an act of personal passion.
Before moving ahead, however, I thought it might be nice to take a quick look back at the most popular posts of the past year. Here are the Top 10 (out of more than 100), ranked by page views. For various reasons, these are the ones that have garnered the most eyeballs. There are many other posts that are dear to me on this blog that have received only a fraction of the views. I know time and attention are the Internet’s most precious commodities, but if you like any of the posts listed below, you might consider taking a moment to poke around in the archives, too. Either way, I hope you find something that interests you.
In honor of National Poetry Month, a blog called Asshole Climbers posted Ode to the dude bouldering in a harness. To whet your apetite for poesy, read the first stanza, below, and then click through for the full monty. Gotta <3 the Internet…
The other day in the gym I was having a session
Getting thrown off my project and feeling depression
In the corner of my eye, I spied some dude trying his darndest
But for some reason he was bouldering in a harness!
Reading Peter Beal’s blog, Mountains and Water, can be a frustrating experience. He assumes a dour air and seems to relish poking the climbing establishment (if there be such a thing) in the eye. He can, at times, make it sound as if the world of climbing has been corrupted, hollowed out, sold up the river, and that we climbers are all somehow complicit. Though I rarely agree with the viewpoints Beal expresses on Mountains and Water, I have, of late, come to see him in a new light.
In a recent post entitled “Sell, Sell, Sell: Is There An Alternative?” Beal employs the following language to describe the current state of affairs in climbing media: “mundane,” “monotonous,” “sponsor-friendly platitudes,” “endlessly repetitive,” “feel-good bromides,” “sentiments lifted from self-help pop psychology and faux humility,” “trivial thoughts,” and “Ever crisper, more highly defined, and artfully manipulated images of nothing.” In the same post, he suggests that “the climbing environment is reaching a tipping point in terms of how much more commodification it can stand before a total vitiation of the core of the sport is achieved.”
Whenever I disagree strongly with an argument, I take it as a sign. It means that argument has hit a sore spot. And any sore spot we have within us is worthy of further examination. Beal’s critiques, and the less-than-tactful means he chose to express them, certainly made an impression on me. One minute I was making my coffee, and the next I was locked in a mental spasm, trying to formulate exactly how and why I disagreed with him. I was drawn back repeatedly to the act of poking holes in his arguments. Then, all at once, I saw that I was on the wrong path. The issue isn’t so much whether Beal’s specific points are valid, but whether his intellectual monkey-wrenching is valuable. I have since come to think of Beal’s blog as a service to the climbing community. He is our gadfly.
The calssical Greek philosopher Socrates was famous for his use of carefully concocted arguments to stimulate thought in his fellow citizens. He saw debate as critical for the health of a society. Unfortunately, Socrates’ views so irritated the Greek state that he was sentenced to death by the ingestion of a hemlock-based poison. But before this, as recorded in Plato’s Apologia (which translates to “defense” or “explanation”), Socrates made the following statement during his trial:
“…if you put me to death, you will not easily find another, who, to use a rather absurd figure, attaches himself to the city as a gadfly to a horse, which, though large and well-bred, is sluggish on account of his size and needs to be aroused by stinging… .”
In his metaphor, Socrates is a biting gadfly on the flank of the state, a horse that is grand, beautiful, worthy of devotion and respect, but also prone to sleeping. A sleeping state, as Socrates sees it, is one that does not think deeply or consider important questions. It is the gadfly’s job to ensure the horse remains awake, that the state remains vibrant and alive.
If Beal is a gadfly and climbing is the state, then his pointed questions and critical language are intentional — it is a method to rouse us from our complacency. His acts have drawn the ire of many in the climbing community, but that is to be expected. “You, perhaps, might be angry,” says Socrates, “like people awakened from a nap.” Indeed, it is natural to take up arms when confronted by a disruptive voice. Our first response is to strike out and defend our cherished viewpoints and, ultimately, convince or compel the disruptor to be silent. But this is the wrong response — there is more good than harm in Beal’s writing, regardless of how “right” or “wrong” we might deem him to be. Already, his posts have had an effect. Editors from Alpinist and Rock & Ice have responded to his discontents, and quite a few commenters have weighed in on his posts. Discussion and reflection have been stimulated.
Socrates suggests that, without him, the people of the state “would pass the rest of [their] lives in slumber…” Perhaps he was right; it is all too natural for humans to settle into a comfortable existence, where one is to be had. Although I do not compare Beal to Socrates on other fronts — Beal is not the progenitor of Western philosophy, for example — I do see the value in his incendiary tactics. With a few sharp strokes of his keyboard, he has stung the flank of climbing. It is no mortal wound — only a small drop of crimson has sprung up — but the gadfly has served its purpose. The state is awake, at least for a little while.
I recently watched (via DVD) Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson attempt to free climb a particularly blank line up Dawn Wall in Yosemite. Even though I’m a jaded former climbing magazine editor, I was amazed as the camera revealed a barren, vertiginous world of golden granite that few humans will ever visit. I watched, slackjawed, as the duo battled to crimp down on ripples and slivers, took massive whippers thousands of feet above the valley floor, slept on a portaledge, pooped… . It was clear to me how the climbers got to their lonely, suspended perch, but, hey, how did those get cameras up there? Perhaps you’ve wondered the same thing when watching vids like these.
Well, I know a few of the crazy dudes who do this high-angle camera work, and the truth is, they’re climbers, too. The camera operators must be comfortable with the heights and inherent dangers of climbing, fit enough to get where they need to go while hauling a big fracking bag of camera gear up with them, and have a solid understanding of safety gear and techniques. Oh, they also have to know how to point a camera in the right direction and a push the little red button, too.
While the grueling process just described isn’t bound to change anytime soon, there is a new weapon in the climbing documentarian’s arsenal: the remote-control helicopter. I came across this guest post from Swiss photographer Fred Moix on Nikon Rumors today and felt the urge to share. In it, Fred explains his use of aerial drones for getting far-out shots from pretty much any angle. Fred isn’t the first to use this technique, and the rig he shows in the post, while effective, seems to be pretty DIY. A more polished version can be seen at dedicam.tv. Mammut enlisted the aid of the folks at Dedicam in the making of the video below, which really captures the feel of exposure, height, and freedom that climbing offers.
While no climbing video has really pushed the limits of this technology yet, I think it’s only a matter of time before we see aerial shots incorporated to into more videos from big-name production companies, just as we’ve come to expect artsy DSLR depth-of-field focus pulls and mechanized time lapse slider shots.
Media makers are constantly pushing to document the act and beauty of climbing in greater detail and from wilder perspectives. And while no series of images, words, and sounds will ever match the soul-expanding intensity of a great day out on the rock, quality documentation does offer new ways of looking at, understanding, and sharing our passions. It brings new climbers to the sport and inspires old ones to don their dusty shoes again. In this regard, I see the untethered, dragonfly views that aerial drones enable as a welcome addition to the photographer’s or videographer’s quiver. And I’m excited to see what’s next.
Anyone out there have some other rad examples of climbing footage (or footage from any sport, really) shot with aerial drones? I’d love to see ‘em. Post your links in the comments.
— Update –
A commenter pointed out, as did the videographer Corey Rich himself, via Twitter, that the D4 premier video Why incorporated RC heli shots. These appear in both the kayaking (or extreme canoeing, as I like to call it) and climbing segments of the movie. I watched Why several times and, frankly, I’m very disappointed in myself for missing that [snaps self with one of several rubber bands worn around wrist]. Embedded below are both the making-of, where you get to see the RC heli crashing and being repaired, and the original short movie, which is masterfully put together.
Climbing Magazine was founded in 1970, and for most of the forty-two years since, print media has been the primary means of tracking the people, places, gear, and ascents of the climbing world. But no longer.
Today, print magazines are just another source amidst a rising flood of climbing media. The Internet is positively awash with information by climbers, about climbers, and for climbers, to the extent that, if one is so inclined, one can consume thousands of words, hundreds of pictures, and dozens of videos every week. For free. (In the months and maybe even years to come, this is one topic I’ll be returning to.)
But is it quality? you’d be wise to ask. The answer is the same here as with the Web in general: Some of it is, and some of it ain’t. Either way, it’s all out there, and you can search it, share it, comment on it, and more. There are videos, photos, podcasts. There are gear junkies, training nuts, and high-on-their horse pontificators. There are perspectives from pros, companies, moms, and everyone else in between. (Some people are excited by the diversity; others, not so much.) Thanks to the communicative powers of the Internet, climbing, like every other topic, is now displayed and picked apart in minute detail from a hundred different angles on a constant basis.
When he’s not wearing his blogging cape, the Climbing Narcissist is known as Brian Runnells, a twenty-eight year old software developer born and raised in Wisconsin. He started climbing twelve years ago and started his blog five years ago. In the beginning, says Runnells, he never expected the blog to take off the way it has. Today, he estimates his blog receives around four-thousand visits on any given weekday. Recently, Brian was named the number-one climbing blogger by Outside Magazine.
And as a surefire sign that The Climbing Narcissist has moved beyond the realm of pet project, the Narc has recently launched his very own iOS app. Below a quick Q&A with the Narc himself, a brilliant yet reclusive computer dork (that’s how I imagine him, anyway) with his finger on the pulse of the climbing world.
It looks like your new iOS app is basically a slicker way for people on an iPhone or iPad to get their climbingnarc.com updates. Is that correct? That sounds about right.
Is there anything about the app that really changes the experience of browsing your site’s content? As a native app, I think it provides a much more responsive experience and it makes it easier to really dive in to all the content I’ve built up over the years.
What was the motivating factor behind the app? The main impetus behind doing it in the first place was a desire to broaden my skill set as a software developer. I actually started working on the app over a year ago, but various factors led to it taking much longer than I initially expected.
Do you have middle/long-term plans for the app? Features and functionality you’d like to add? I have a pretty long list of things I’d like to do with the app, but it’s difficult to come up with content for the site and work on the app at the same time, so we’ll see how that goes.
Who actually developed the app? Much like the website itself, I did all the work myself.
Do you think this app will increase feedback on your site, since people will be able to read from anywhere (the bathroom for example, where there’s nothing better to do than weigh in on a climbing debate)? I’m actually curious to see how that goes. I would hope that it would increase interaction, but typing on smartphones tends to lend itself to shorter responses. And commenting on the internet is already a perilous experience for moderators (me), so I’ll be keeping a close eye on that.
You’ve been voted Outside Magazine’s No. 1 Climbing Blog; how do you keep stardom from going to your head? I whisper the words “stay brave and humble” to myself one hundred times each night before bed.
But seriously, how do you feel about that designation? Do you feel that you deserve it? Do you think the idea of a “top climbing blog” makes sense yet? Have we come that far? I do put a lot of energy and passion into the site, so it feels good to have people recognize that in any manner. I think the idea makes sense, but like any good list one could argue endlessly about who/what deserves to be included. That’s ninety-five percent the point of those things anyway, isn’t it?
Since you are No. 1, does that mean you make enough money off of ads to quit your day job? If the topic of my site were anything other than climbing, that might be true. If you know anyone that might want to advertise or needs help working on a web-related climbing project that pays actual money, please inquire within. Have computer, will travel.
Does your blogging ever interfere with your day job? Almost certainly, but I’m a pretty good at multitasking.
I assume you started your blog out of personal passion — did you ever expect it to grow into something bigger like it has? Not for a second. I still remember the early days when I was super psyched to get ten, twenty and then one hundred visits in a day (even if eighty percent of them were me refreshing the page). Even though the readership of my site is still small in relative terms, I do feel very grateful that it has grown the way it has.
What do you see as your role in the climbing media world? What are you offering that the climbing mags and their websites do not? My main focus has always been to provide a personal perspective on what’s happening in the climbing world. Through that effort, I think I’ve been able to capture something many people identify with, which is why the site has achieved some modicum of success.
Do you think that print magazines are becoming less relevent as blogs grow in number and popularity? Magazines everywhere have been marginalized by the internet — climbing mags are no different. I’m not sure what they need to do to keep up with the times, but I know I will be closely following what they do end up doing. I do think they will always have a place though, but probably not as many of them as there are right now.
Have you encountered any issues with image-use rights? I have had several discussions about what constitutes acceptable use in the age of embedding and linking, and there are a lot of different perspectives. For example, do you feel there is anything wrong with citing a climber’s blog and embedding an image (that they did not take) from their blog in one of your posts? I actually spend a lot of time thinking about this and I don’t know what the right answer is. I could go on about this for a while, but in general I try to limit my use of other people’s images, crediting them as much as possible when I do. Whether it’s right or wrong I think most people recognize at this point that if they put a picture online, it’s likely to be used anywhere and everywhere. It sort of turns into one of these “everybody’s doing it” scenarios…
How do you keep track of all the news out there? Personally, I use RSS feeds, among other things, like IFTT. RSS feeds are obviously a big tool, but social media has increasingly been a place where people are talking about climbing, so I spend a lot of time perusing those outlets as well.
Which of these terms/roles do you most closely identify with: Journalist, Aggregator, Blogger? And why…? I don’t know what would be a good term, but the one I am most uncomfortable with is “journalist.” I’ve never pretended that what I’m doing abides by any tenets of journalism, and the reality is that little of what happens in the online climbing news sphere has much to do with actual journalism.
Having seen a ton of climbing news come and go in the past couple of years, where do you think the “sport” is headed? Climbing in the Olympics, for example… The more I read about it, the more unlikely it seems that climbing will make it in the Olympics, but that would certainly be an interesting development on multiple fronts. Otherwise, I think there will likely be a lot of changes with regard to access issues, kids crushing, consolidation of gear companies and the like that should be very interesting to follow.
What do you see as the future of the Climbing Narc blog? Do you see it growing to include other writers, kind of like an Adventure Journal for climbing? Or will it always be you and you alone? I think about the future of the site all the time, but I haven’t really come to any conclusions as to where it should go. I think the fact that the site has always been a solo venture has given it a lot of flexibility, but this has also limited the kinds of things I can do because one person can only do so much. Do I try to press ahead and make the site into something more, do I keep the status quo or do I move onto something else?
Do you think it makes sense for bloggers like you to band together and sell ads across multiple sites, as a way to increase advertiser interest and reach a wider audience? Is this a direction you find interesting? I’ve had discussions about this sort of thing with a few people over the years, but not much has come from it as of yet. I do think there is a lot of value a site like mine (and others) can offer to potential advertisers out there, but trying to frame the message and reach the right people in the industry has been difficult. The Internet in particular is a place where the industry is a bit behind the times in how content creators and companies can work together to create value for both parties.
What blogs and sites do you frequent most? It’s hard to make a list since I actually visit very few sites directly on a daily basis. I try have as much information as possible pushed directly to me in one fashion or another. 8a.nu is probably the only site I actually go to regularly, although that might change if they make it any harder to browse their site.
Anything else you’d like to add? I think people might find it ironic how much I dislike writing given how much of it I’ve done the past five years. It’s almost painfully difficult for me and I’m not very good at it, yet I keep on doing it. Sounds kind of like my climbing career now that I think about it…
I, for one, am excited to check out the Climbing Narc’s new iOS app. Looks like climbing blogs are growing more and more advanced. I spoke to The Narc (aka Brian) about it and his blog the other day. I’ll be posting an interview shortly. Stay tuned…
Brendan Leonard, writer and creator of the blog semi-rad.com, recently penned a very smart guest post on the Outdoor Research blog about the nature of sponsorship in the outdoor industry. His basic premise is that people passionate about the outdoors can be valuable as “influencers” and brand ambassadors, even if they are not totally rad at their activity of choice. In the article, he explains that Outdoor Research actually did make him a sponsored athlete — “The Least-Talented Sponsored Athlete in the Outdoor Industry,” as he puts it. Leonard’s article, like his blog, is well written and insightful, but there’s one very important thing he’s leaving out. He actually is rad, just not at the things that normally garner sponsored-athlete status.
First, it’s important to know that Leonard’s whole blog revolves around passionate people who do cool things that aren’t going to make the covers of “the mags” any time soon. The blog’s tagline is: “The Relentless Pursuit of the Everyman’s (and Everywoman’s) Adventure.” It’s as if Leonard looked at all the outdoor media, with all the faster/stronger/bolder pro-athlete profiles, and asked “What am I, chopped liver?” He isn’t the first person to feel that the things that inspire him about the outdoors aren’t the things he’s finding in the established media. But he is one of the few who are actually doing something about that disconnect. And he’s doing it well.
As a former magazine editor and current outdoor industry minion, I’ve fielded many article pitches and seen many sponsorship requests from people who are “semi-rad” (or even not-at-all-rad, which is something else entirely). The thing that makes one semi-rad person really exciting and another not, however, is storytelling. Can they write a paragraph, take a picture, or shoot a video that makes us feel the way they feel when their passions are up? That, for most people, is the missing ingredient. It’s easy to forget, but passions are like asses and elbows; everyone has ‘em. To inspire — now that’s another trick altogether.
The truth is, having passion is great if you’re the passionate one, but if you can’t share it with the rest of us, that value can only spread so far. Luckily, there’s Brendan Leonard — a rad writer making a strong case for the semi-rad climbers of the world.
This is a post about a blog called Bass For Your Face. But before I say anything about this blog, which strikes a perfect, zine-like balance between awesome and stupid, I have a question for you: If you’ve climbed in both the Eastern and Western United States, you might have noticed that many climbers in the West are lacking something. Do you know what it is?
OK, I’ll tell you.
It’s a sense of irony. In other words, a deep love of sarcasm. A shit-talking streak that will make you feel like a total moron while at the same time letting you know that, even though you probably are a moron, your climbing buddies love you anyway. Having lived in Ohio, New York, Colorado, and now Utah, I’ve gotten a good sense of this difference. Often, when talking to a climber from the Western states, I’ll make a snarky East Coast comment, like shouting “Dab!” as a climber enters the crux of a climb. Or suggesting we go climb choss at Little Cottonwood Canyon. “What? I didn’t dab!” They’ll say, totally missing the point. Or, “LCC isn’t chossy! It’s, like, bullet granite, dude!” C’mon, son!
I don’t know what it is about New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and the rest of those frozen, Blair Witch-looking little states packed together in the Northeastern corner of the country, but the people out there just have an edgy, self-deprecating sense of humor that the people in the West tend to lack. Maybe it’s because the population density in the East is so much higher, or the weather is so much more hateful. Or maybe the vast, open spaces of the West just make the human brain go slack.
Now before you go getting your sarcasmically challenged panties in a bunch, Westerners, I know this doesn’t apply to all of you. And I know there are plenty of insufferable tool bags on the East Coast, too. But it’s something I’ve noticed and I just felt the need to finally get it out.
Ahhh… much better.
Back on track: If you’d like a taste of the New York climbing vibe, raw and uncut, I recommend checking out bassforyourface.com. In the “About” section of their site you’ll find this little tiddlybit of language: “Not satisfied with Louder Than Eleven (inches)? Bass For Your Face will make you cry for FIFTEEN.” This gives a pretty good sense of the kind of content contained therein. B4YF is run by a hyper-ironic band of rowdy hipster rock climbers constantly working to put up (or just repeat, as the case may be) new boulder problems in the Gunks. In a climbing area widely regarded to be picked cleaner than a turkey carcass at Joey Chestnut’s Thanksgiving dinner, the B4YF crew, along with Ivan Greene and some other enterprising bloc-jockeys, have been adding instant classics left and right. For example check out all the V4+ goodness in this professionally shot and edited YouTube masterwork:
Finally, if you want to see an East Coast, off-topic snarkfest to end all snarkfests, don’t miss out on boldering.com, a message board centered on the depraved lives of Internet nerds who climb up little rocks for fun. This board was starting by at least one East Coaster so intensely sarcastic he’s almost impossible to talk to. You keep asking yourself, “Is he being serious, or is he making fun of me?” (Or at least, I do.)
On this post, as will all my posts, if you don’t like what I write, you can tell me to STFU in the comments.
I am constantly adding snippets to my running list of blog ideas. In this quest, I enlist the help of handy apps like Evernote and Google Docs, pen and paper, and even voice memos. It’s a long list with a few good thoughts and lots of junk. And, of course, not all of the ideas will come to fruition. Ideas are easy; it’s the execution that’s difficult. And then there are those times when someone just beats you to the punch. Such is the way of things.
One of the ideas on my list that actually got my pot percolating had to do with the controversy surrounding Hayden Kennedy and Jason Kruk’s recent bolt-choppery on the wind-blasted, knife-blade of a Patagonian peak known as Cerro Torre. (Read the dynamic duo’s manifesto official statement here.) I won’t go into detail, but basically, a climber named Cesare Maestri attempted to climb Cerro Torre in the 1970s, using a compressor-powered drill to pepper the immaculate granite wall with bolts. The route, in honor of his technique, is called the CompressorRoute. This bolting spree has pretty universally been accepted as wrong, as it scarred the rock and all but ruined the climb for any future climbers who might want to do it using cleaner (i.e, much less bolt-y) means. Fast forward to 2012: two young tough guys climbed the CompressorRoute (relatively) cleanly and then pulled out a bunch of Maestri’s bolts. Seems simple enough, but a heated debate followed nonetheless.
The controversy is, in the truest sense of the term, a tempest in a teapot. Climbers on the Internet have tripped over themselves in a effort to share their opinions on the topic, most of whom, as Kelly Cordes pointed out in his most-excellent appraisal of the situation, never have and never will lay a finger on Cerro Torre. Meanwhile, to non-climbers, the “ethical” debate over bolting must be confusing (at best) and, at worst, trite.
With many experts who know far more of this topic than I ever will having already weighed in, I reasoned the only value I could add would be an tongue-in-cheek explanation for non-climbers or climbers who just can’t stand to take things like this so seriously. Then, of course, BJ over at splitterchoss.com beat me to it:
My favorite paragraph from the Splitter Choss post:
People leave the controversial route in place, because it’s much easier to get to the top using all the bolt ladders. Over time it becomes generally accepted, even though everyone knows it’s wrong, like porn, or watching American Idol.
I guess I can’t complain — I still managed to make a post (of sorts) on the topic, even if it is a blog about a blog. I’ll cross the idea off my list and start working on the next one. Such is the way of things.