11 Predictions About the Future of Rock Climbing

Astronauts explore the cliffs of Mars. Digitally enhanced acrylic painting for NASA by Pat Rawlings..
Astronauts explore the cliffs of Mars. Painting for NASA by Pat Rawlings.
Most long-term predictions about the future are terribly inaccurate, even when made by intelligent people with a good view of history and the current landscape of the topic at hand. Then again, sometimes the most absurd predictions come to pass. Basically, when it comes to painting a picture of things to come, it’s a crapshoot. It is in the spirit of wild speculation that I bring you 11 predictions about the future of rock climbing. What do you expect to see in the next 10, 20, or even 100 years?
  1. People forget the rocks. Due to increasingly turbulent weather patterns (“global weirdening”), worsening pollution, increasingly restrictive land-use laws (thanks to a combination of overuse problems and liability), and the proliferation of super-gyms, outdoor climbing rates actually begin to drop, despite a quadrupling of the total climbing population.
  2. Clean climbing 2.0. New reactive super-adhesives that can be activated and deactivated at the push of a button allow climbers to place “removable” pro pretty much anywhere with no ill effects to the rock. Likewise, a new bio-degradable chalk substance that evaporates after and hour in contact with stone makes traces of human passage far less evident. Purists are confused by such new developments and suggest that in fact it’s the lowering of the challenge to fit our limitations that is the main problem, not the marring of the rock.
  3. Gravity can suck it. The discovery of gravity-diminishing materials makes carrying gear to and from the crag a whole lot easier. In the Himalaya, the Sherpa community suffers a slowdown in business as visitors can now carry up to 500 pounds each of gear. Ethics debates rage around the appropriate use of these materials in climbing contexts.
  4. The first route on Mars. In the year 2032, the first viable Mars colony officially opens its doors to Earthlings interested in a serious change of scenery. In 2035, a climber named Maria Alverez from New LA makes the journey to Mars Colony Beta (aka Big Red), where she makes an ascent of the sheer 4000 meter cliffs at Echus Chasma. A bold feat in Earth gravity, she succeeds on her first attempt due to the significantly weaker gravitational field on Mars.
  5. Sticky rubber body pads. The invention of sticky rubber shoes in the 1930s and sticky rubber knee pads in the 1990s leads eventually to the sticky rubber body suits of the 2020s. Now climbers can use every part of their bodies to gain purchase on the rock, leading to more creative resting possibilities. New techniques like arm-wedging, chest-scumming, and “starfishing” become the norm, and most of the climbs at Rifle are immediately downgraded again.
  6. Comps are America’s pastime. Climbing finally makes it into the Olympics in multiple events, including bouldering, sport climbing, ice climbing, speed climbing, hangboarding, and a new parkour/climbing hybrid known as “free style.” Nike jumps on board. Kids get climbing scholarships to top tier universities. Stadiums are erected to house the wild new climbing structures, which can be reconfigured instantly using an iWatch app. Viewership of National Climbing League Championships exceeds Super Bowl and World Cup viewership. Merchandising goes off the hook (the most popular energy drink is called “Crimp Juice,” while its top competitor is “Sloperade”) and endorsement deals for top-level competition athletes reach into the hundreds of millions of bitcoins.
  7. A dark side emerges. Now that stakes are higher, people find new ways to cheat: anti-gravity pellets sewn into harnesses; nano-bot “chalk” that forms molecular bonds with the rock; genetic doping… . Gambling and corruption scandals become the norm. Climbers “throw” the comps in exchange for massive payoffs. The National Climbing Association is formed to monitor and enforce the rules of the game, but it’s ruled by an authoritarian regime that’s rife with its own transgressions.
  8. The sport grows younger. Climbing 5.14 or even V14 by age 14 is no longer a big deal. In fact, in 2023, a five-year-old flashes Just Do It,  Smith Rock’s iconic 5.14c, after his dad jokingly tells him his binky is up there. As competition becomes increasingly lucrative, parents start their little rock jocks earlier and earlier. Climbing moms replace soccer moms. Kids are placed on strict Zone diets and encouraged to practice their one-arms while doing homework.
  9. Climbing continues to splinter. As the sport grows, new subtypes of climbing cleave off and flourish. Free style climbing (see no. 6, above), one-move “max difficulty” problems, tread walling, slab comps, etc.—all of these grow into their own sports, complete with heroes and stars, specialized equipment, arcane rule systems, and dedicated websites.
  10. Robot climbing is a thing. Climbing bot battles become popular on the Internets as engineers design ingenious machines that can solve complex three-dimensional movement puzzles in unexpected ways. In 2035, the first climbing bot incorporating artificial intelligence is deemed a sentient being and allowed to enter a World Cup comp. The bot wins easily and in 2036 robots are banned from World Cup competitions. A Non-Human Climbing Series is quickly formed to accommodate them.
  11. The more things change. Despite all the changes, all the attention and the money, the new technology and trends, many people still just climb for the joy of it. Same as it ever was.

Photo Friday: Welcoming the D800

Succulent on the coffee table. Shot with a Nikon 105mm f2.8 Micro at 1/60 sec, f3.2.
Succulent on the coffee table. Left is the full, right is a 100% crop. Notice how unobtrusive the grain is in the crop, despite the fact that it was shot at ISO1250. Shot with a Nikon 105mm f2.8 Micro at 1/60 sec, f3.2 (click to see a larger version).

I just picked up a Nikon D800 from Pictureline, one of the best camera shops I’ve been to and certainly the finest shop in Utah. I have been shooting test frames around the house, and so far I’m impressed. The dynamic range, noise at high (1250) ISO, autofocus, overall usability, and overall image quality are superb.

I had to download a RAW update for Photoshop, and still can’t seem to get things working with Lightroom (I think I have to buy an upgrade), but I was able to open and pixel pick through a couple dozen images. They are definitely superior to the shots from my old D700, and far better than those of the D7000 I shoot with now. I’m anxious to get this thing out and capture the Salt Lake Valley and surrounding Utah landscapes, which deserve every iota of the D800’s 36mp full-frame sensor power.

So far, the only thing that I am not pleased with is the Live View feature. When you zoom in to focus on an image, the view is very noisy. I have read about this as a possible problem to be solved with a firmware update. Hope it doesn’t prove to be a problem down the line… Until then, here’s a quick example of the detail you can get out of the D800.

First Encounters With the iPen: A Real Stylus for the iPad. Or Is It?

The iPen with its receiver and a "refill" nib

The iPad is undoubtedly the king of pads (a dubious title if I’ve ever heard one). Although it certainly wasn’t the first tablet, it was the first tablet to achieve widespread acceptance. The iPad’s simple, “just works” interface (Apple’s hallmark and greatest asset) has enabled users to… to… well, I suppose it’s allowed them to “surf” the “net,” check email, watch videos, listen to music (and more!), all from the palm of their hands. Both hands. Or more realistically, their laps. Their laps where their laptops used to go.


Well, iPads do have touch screens and killer battery life. At any rate, I have one, and I’m pretty psyched on it, even if it doesn’t do all that much that my laptop, desktop, and even my Android phone can’t do. Now that I think about it, it’s weird how much I like it, considering it’s almost completely redundant. (It does really shine when I’m traveling. And I like reading books on it.) But there’s one thing I always felt would add a lot to the iPad, and that’s a real stylus.

iPen with iPad
The "active" stylus setup: a battery powered pen with a receiver that plugs into your iPad and pics up the pen's location.

I bought one of those crappy capacitive stlyli from the Internets about a year ago. My fiancée sighed when she found out. “What’d you get that for?” she asked. I explained how fat and dumb my finger felt when taking notes or making sketches on the iPad. I explained the need for a finer point and better control. “How cool would it be if I could use the iPad like a pad of paper — you know, to take notes in a meeting or edit PDFs onscreen. It would make the iPad, like, nearly perfect!” She rolled her eyes, which was the correct response. I’ve hardly used the thing. Every time Ido use it I’m amazed at how litte demonstrable improvement it offers over my fingertip.

So when I came across the Cregle iPen on Kickstarter and watched the compelling video, I scrambled to place the order. (Well, my fiancée placed the order, as it was to be a Christmas gift. I guess I convinced her the iPen was better than the other stylus I bought.) At the time, the fundraising goal had already been more than tripled. (At close, the project raised $162,333, more than 500% to goal.) I pledged my $70, was excited for about fifteen minutes, and then forgot all about it. Until I started getting the emails.

Over the next three and a half months, I received seventeen thirty-two emails from Cregle. There were delays. Problems with Apple. Talk of refunds. Talk of which apps the iPen would work with. About a week ago, I started inquiring about a refund myself, thinking perhaps the whole project was taking on water. There was this disheartening post on theverge.com about Cregle not really being a start-up, the iPen not really being the first active stylus for the iPad, and other shady business. In fact, there may be shady business going on, but I no longer care, because today I got my iPen.

The tip of the stylus
The tip of the stylus

Just so you understand the theory, the iPen is an “active” stylus, meaning it feeds additional information about its location to the iPad, rather than just interacting with the iPad’s capacitive touch screen, like the above-mention crappy stylus. To make the iPen active, Cregle employs a two-part system. The stylus itself is battery powered and holds at its tip a nib that moves slightly in and out with pressure. The second component is the receiver, which is a rectangular block about the size of a pack of gum that slots into the the UART port (the charging port) on the bottom of the iPad. The receiver picks up on the pen’s location and relays that information to the iPad. In theory, this should offer a very fine-grained location awareness and, thus, a more accurate stylus experience.

I’m looking forward to putting the iPen through its paces and writing in more detail, but having played with it for ten minutes, I can already make a few observations.

  • The stylus itself is stylish and comfortable to hold.
  • The iPen works, but it is not a perfect or seamless experience. Sometimes it will stop writing, or loose sensitivity and need to be re calibrated.
  • However, when it does work, the sensitivity and accuracy are much better than with capacitive styli or a fingertip.
  • For truly taking notes, as with a pen and paper, the iPen is still not there. It reminds me of writing with a ballpoint pen that periodically stops writing and then starts flowing again; it’s not impossible to write with, but it is hard to get into the rhythm of it.
  • Something strange: the iPen came with two “refill” nibs that go into the end of the pen, and a little metal tweezer to extract them. What happens to these nibs that requires them to be replaced, I can only imagine.
  • Due to the “active” stylus design, the iPen is only compatible with a few apps. Cregle claims to be working with developers to get support for more apps, the most exciting of which is probably Procreate. Autodesk SketchBook Pro and Brushes support would be great, too. But at the moment, the only compatible apps are GhostWriter NotesGood Notes, and iWriteWords.
  • I get the sense that GhostWriter Notes, which is the only one of the compatible programs I have, is not the best. UPad seems better, and I’d love to try the iPen with another app, as it may be that some of my issues are software and not hardware related
  • Probably the best thing about GhostWriter Notes is the Evernote compatibility. I depend on this app for my day to day writing and thought storage.
The receiver
The receiver, which picks up the pen's location and relays it to the iPad. Unfortunately, this approach means that only apps specifically made to work with the iPen will know what to do with the signal.

At this point, I couldn’t rightfully say whether the iPen is worth the money. (One doesn’t, or shouldn’t, go in on a Kickstarter project expecting perfection.) But I think the iPen is a very interesting concept that’s relatively well executed. My guess is that additional and more-advanced app support will improve the experience greatly. And the next generation iPen will probably offer improvements in accuracy, consistency, and maybe even some additional features, like pressure sensitivity.

I’ll write and doodle with the iPen for a while and then report back. In the meantime, I’m happy to answer questions or hear from others who get early release versions of the iPen from Cregle.