Thursday, May 29, 2014

Metolius Hold Review

Hold review: Metolius Granite Macros, Hueco Macros, and Cobblestone Modulars

Continuing in a series, I'd like to offer a quick review of a few Metolius holds I picked up recently, since information on specific sets and holds in the Metolius line seems hard to come by on the internet. The two sets I'd like to review today are the Granite and Hueco macro sets, sold in packs of two, and a 5-pack of Cobblestone Modulars. In-depth reviews follow; if you want to read the lowdown, skip to the end.

Hueco Macro 2-Pack (Set B)

Keys not for scale, I just happened to have them there

If those don't look interesting to you, you must not spend as much time window-shopping holds on the internet as I do (not a bad thing). These guys are big and heavy, and pack a huge amount of detail into the interior of the hold. In nearly any orientation, you'll find something to use, whether it be a narrow pocket, incut crimp, deep pinch, or easy jug. The texture is good, and a bit grittier than some Metolious holds I've tried; if you wanted, you could even use the unfeatured part of the one on the left as a sloper.

I circled it, in case you weren't sure which hold I was reviewing.

The larger of the two holds I placed on my flat wall, arranged so the best part of the hold faces up. In my recent competition, people seemed to prefer to use this as a pinchey sidepull. The divots arranged along the bottom can be used as crimpy pockets, but if you can reach the upper part of the hold I don't know why you'd want to. Arranged with the jug side facing this right way, this would be a solid hold even on quite steep ground.

This kind of pinch seems to be the best way to grab the hold straight-on, in this orientation

The second of the two was about as juggy, and I put it right side up on the 40 degree overhand. This provides a nice full-hand pocket that can be pinched for added power. On a 40 degree incline the hold feels great from directly below, but won't offer much traction as you get further out from the wall like a jug would.

Maybe not quite full-hand

Flipped upside down, the underside of the hold offers a fairly good crimp that would be slightly less than positive on a slight incline and pretty bomber on a slab.

Both of these holds offer a wealth of setting options on all levels of steepness, and I love using them. You could probably even put them on a roof for a very tough pinching challenge.

One thing I'd note is that although I haven't had any issues yet, these holds lack anti-spin screw holds, like all Metolius holds. The large backing area seems to help, though, and adding a screw in the pocket would be an easy fix. Certainly it doesn't seem like the same glaring lack as the Incut Edges ledges. Anyhow, moving right along to...

Granite Macro 2-Pack (set C)
I really need to find a good place to store my keys

Again, two big holds, but not quite as featured or versatile as the Huecos above. The “outside” of these holds feels quite smooth, while the “inside” has a nice roughened texture... which still feels pretty smooth. These don't have the same level of grit as the Huecos or the Cobblestones.

The larger of the two I put on the flat wall (you can actually see the bottom of the Hueco above it). Aside from tilting it slightly or trying to use it as the World's Worst Sidepull, you're more or less stuck with a single orientation here. The top of the hold is a fairly thin ledge that ranges from almost neutral on the right side to quite negative on the left. The lip all across is quite sloped and while it doesn't feel that difficult, it's no jug.

Of note for setting problems is that this hold seems to look a lot better than it actually is. I've seen a lot of people go for it and then recoil like it was a hot stove. In the picture above I'm holding the best part of the hold- it looks like there's a bit of a lip on the other side, but there really isn't. I want to set a problem that forces a match on this guy, which would really take some careful movement. I have it set quite low, too, which adds to the fun.

The second of the two offers two useable edges, a neutral one and one that's just slightly positive on my 40 degree incline. Both faces are much narrower than on the larger hold, about a pad and a half to two pads deep.

The incut side is what I have up here, and matching on feels pretty good. The incut side would be very good on anything less steep and hard as hell on anything steeper. There's more of a lip here than on the other hold, but just barely. On a flat wall, the other side would offer a slopey crimp.

These two holds are certainly less versatile than some, but work well if you want some slopey ledges. I bought them to put on the flat wall, and put one on the 40 when it turned out to be more positive than I expected.  Like the Huecos above, I haven't had any issues with spinning on them yet.

Cobblestone Modulars 5-Pack (Set C)

Honk if you love slopers! Like the Granite pieces above, I bought these in preparation for the building of my flat section, and they turned out great. Metolius's Cobblestone line consists of all sizes of flat slopers. This set ranges from the big and fat (lower right) to the nearly non-existant (bottom). Although these holds are simple, they feature a great gritty texture and versatile design.

The centerpiece of this set, for me, is the fatty shown above (lower right in the top picture). This sloper bulges out at the top just enough to be very slightly positive on my 30 degree wall, which is where it lives now. As you can see by the chalk, it gets a lot of use, lending itself well to interesting problems and being a perfect level of difficulty for me at this steepness. On anything up to about 15 degrees, this would be an easy sloper for a beginner. Past that it gets harder; I can match and move past it with careful footwork and slow moves, and a stronger climber could incorporate it into more dynamic moves. On anything steeper than this, I think it would get pretty difficult to use, being too fat to effectively pinch.

Two hands will fit, barely

The rest of the set is much smaller, and I have them on the flats. All are quite similar, with one side of the hold offering a slightly more positive surface. All of them are small enough to act as pinches.

How good the holds are at sub-optimal angles depends on the hold- some are fat enough to be decent even when hanging out, and some can only be used from directly below.

The flattest of the holds I haven't found a home for yet- I'm waiting to put it on a volume or possibly the arete, the only places I think it would be worth using. It's incredibly shallow.

Oh yeah, I did put another one on the 30, but it's awful. A stronger climber could probably use it- this is the most positive hold after the big one, but it's still negative on a 30.

On a final note, I have had some problems with spinning on the big sloper. The hold is fat and positive enough to invite lean-outs and compression moves, but these can cause it to spin; the bolt hole is slightly below center, so if the sides of the positive area are grasped and pulled left or right, it can spin. Like all Metolius holds, a screw hole would be very welcome here, especially since the shape of the hold makes perimeter screws difficult.

The Lowdown:

Hueco Macros: Versatile and fun to set with. Good for vertical to steeply overhung, probably tough on a roof.

Granite Macros: Good sloper ledge and a thin crimp ledge. Not very versatile. Great on vertical, smaller of the two usable up to 45 or so.

Cobblestone Modulars: Great slopers, good texture. Great on vertical to slightly overhanging, with one big hold that can go a bit steeper.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The First Semiperiodic Garage Bouldering Competition and Barbeque in Nishiokoppe

This is bouldering

Last weekend, my garage bouldering wall had its first real public debut, in the form of a (extremely casual) climbing competition and (deadly serious) barbecue! Everything went off without a hitch... more or less. Hitches encountered were small and easily surmounted. Well, they could have been bigger. Nobody died.

None of these holds broke and injured anybody. Success!

I worked overtime to make sure I had at least part of the vertical section up on the wall, which I thought would help with developing problems that beginners could do. More than half of the attendees had little or no climbing experience, and having this section proved to be a good idea, especially with the kids.
Preparing to climb. Safety first!

In the context of Hokkaido spring, the weather was fair: almost ten degrees above freezing and not actively downpouring. Although the competition took place in the garage, barbecuing and general grab-assery were slated for the yard outside, so the off-and-on drizzle posed a problem. We solved the problem with several beers, a few feet of twine, a big tarp, and two convenient laundry poles, but due perhaps to the beer nobody actually thought to take a picture of our makeshift shelter. This regret will live with me until my dying day.

Let the climbing begin!

The format of the "competition" was, let us say, "casual". I prepared eight problems in four ranks of ascending difficulty, and originally had the idea of giving each climber five minutes to try each problem before putting the next one up. Since I was trying to cook and mark problems at the same time, I quickly decided that timekeeping was simply too much work.

The green one! The OTHER green one!

When everyone had climbed a given problem, I marked the next one in chalk- the school kind, not the hand kind. This was super-visible and worked great for the first few, but turned out to be a bit tough to erase. I'm not sure if I'd do it this way again.

Which way is up?
Setting interesting and enjoyable problems on a wall the size of mine required some creative thinking. A few of the problems had foot goals- to complete the problem, the feet had to be placed on a specific hold. This worked out well and added a lot of length. Another option was downclimb problems- start at the top and get to a hold near the bottom, which really changes it up.  Adding these variations helped keep it interesting, given that the only others were really short straight climbs and traverses.

Potential for head injury: fun!

I learned a lot from hosting this event, and would like to do it again. A few kids from the village even showed up and tried their hand at climbing; this is where the vertical wall really saw a lot of use.

Pictured: not a village kid

I even cued up music for each of the sets of problems, but I turned out to not have an extension cord. Added that to the shopping list for next time, along with more seating.

This was probably a foot goal problem

Some things I would change for next time: more cameras. We only really had one camera, which means limited pictures and angles.

Sometimes holds need tightening... mid-climb

I'd also give myself less to do at once. I tried to cook, run the competition, socialize, and take pictures all at the same time... it didn't work. Better organization would help things run more smoothly, even if it is just a casual event.

The Magic of Climbing

All in all, though, a great night and a reassuring sign that my construction techniques, although perhaps let's say "unorthodox", were sufficient to create a structure capable of being climbed on all night without murdering anybody. So that's good. Hope next time will be even bigger and better, and thanks for reading!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Bouldering in Ayoro

Good morning! Like my last post, this post has nothing at all to do with this blog's stated topic, the building of my garage wall. No, as spring finally arrives for good (please God) and the flowers blossom and the cherry trees bloom, so too must this blog blossom and branch out. It's time to talk about some outdoor climbing.

When I came to Japan three and a half years ago, I wasn't a climber and had no interest in climbing. And yet here I am, investing countless hours of time and countable-but-uncounted amounts of money into building a bouldering wall in my garage. But despite how I've jumped headfirst into climbing, this spring marks the beginning of my experience with outdoor climbing on real rock.

A few weeks ago, we took a trek out to Noboribetsu, a town on the southern coast of the main bulk of Hokkaido. Noboribetsu has a lot of volcanic vents and smells a lot like sulfur all of the time, so the locals decided the obvious thing to do was to make their town hell- (and onsen-) themed.
Welcome tourists!
Not included in most guidebooks is the bouldering area at Ayoro Beach, a set of seaside cliffs ranging from about 3 to 5 meters in height. We brought out the crash pads and had a look.
The crux is getting down

This was only my second time out to a "real" bouldering area in the great outdoors. The first was too shameful to write up, and anyway I don't have any pictures. Find the area was easy enough, but my inexperience proved a burden when it came to finding the actual boulder problems as written up in my guide. I imagine that this will come with experience. It would have helped to have met somebody familiar with the area, but we were alone.

Nurikabe Stem 5c

Climbing on real rock is, obviously, much different from climbing on gym holds. Much has been written about this, but until you do it yourself it's hard to understand the difference. One aspect of outdoor climbing that I've found much more challenging than I imagined is identifying holds- since I'm used to colorful and obvious holds against a wooden wall, the art of finding good holds in stone is very new to me. You can see in the pictures that some of the holds were marked up with chalk from other climbers, but many of the easier problems we tackled were not.

Nurikabe Stem 5c

Another challenge was learning to trust my spotter and the crash pads. None of the problems we climbed were particularly tall, but there was still a mental challenge to it. By the end of the day I was pretty comfortable.

Dimple 6a

Sukesou Traverse 6b+

The problem I enjoyed the most was called Sukesou Traverse, shown above. Next time I go out, I need to remember to take pictures of the problems before we climb them! Rated at 6b+, the low problem involves traversing across pockets before going up the wall. Charles, shown above, was able to reach the goal horn from this position; I wasn't so lucky.

Sukesou Traverse 6b+

I tried pulling myself up enough on the sloping top to get my feet into the pockets, but no dice. I did manage to find another pocket up there that I could barely reach, though, and that gave me the leverage to get myself up. Success! This was the first outdoor boulder problem that I had ever "worked" successfully- previously, everything had been either an onsight or a failure
Sukesou Traverse 6b+

We did a few more problems before calling it a day. Next time I go, I hope that I can meet a climber at the site or bring somebody more experienced along; finding the problems and identifying them in the book was more of a challenge than the actual climbing was. Then again, it may be that I need to pay less attention to the guidebook and its ratings, and just focus on climbing.

Orange Crab, 6a+

And finally, boy do I need a tan.

Charles atop Standing Face 5c

Hoping to get out again this weekend, so more to come. English information on Hokkaido climbing seems non-existent, so I'm hoping to get some information and beta pics put up.

Thanks to Charles, Jordan, and Elise for use of pictures and likenesses!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Mutant Hangboard

Hey there, cowboys. This isn't a post about the progress of my wall (big update on that soon), but about what's happened with a marginally older friend. Remember this thing?

Credit to the Wayback Machine (not really)

I do! It's hard to forget, because it's still in my spare room and it takes up a lot of room. If you'll remember, Kuraimu had its humble beginnings as this thing, before I decided to build a proper monster in the garage and relegate this frame to hangboard status. So what's happening with it now?

Pay no attention to the dust

Well, for starters, it hasn't got any holds any more. I put up some campus rungs- low, but I'm not good enough to campus properly anyway, so they are mostly used for hanging and very static moves. It works out alright. The towel on top is for grabbing the edge to do pull ups- it's more stable than it looks.

But wait! What's that futon doing behind the frame? What's going on back there?

I love exposed screws
Oh, a hangboard. This frame serves double duty!

Fire detector for when my workouts get too hot
The board is a Metolius Contact board, a real beast of a hangboard that has been reviewed elsewhere. This thing has more than enough on it to keep me busy for a long while.

Now, originally, I had planned on using the existing board as a home made hangboard by filling it with T-nuts and placing holds. I eventually relented and purchased the Contact for a few reasons:

  1. I keep using all of my holds on the actual climbing wall. To really get the training potential of a proper hangboard, I'd need several matched sets of different holds; this runs up to costing more than just buying the real thing.
  2. I can make rails and pockets to hang on, but recreating the varying depths of the pockets and slots of the Contact would be a lot of work
  3. I like spending money

So I bought the Contact. So far I'm happy with the decision- this thing allows for regimented and controlled training in a whole new way. This sort of training, by the way, is why I even wanted a hangboard in the first place. Many people view hangboards as a sort of stopgap solution to training without a wall, something that I have. And I while I do hope to use my garage wall to get stronger and increase my weekly climbing hours, the hangboard really allows for measured and controlled progress in strength in a way that simply climbing doesn't.

Anyway, moving on, you might have noticed the ropes in the previous pictures. I'm a weak climber, so I need help to hang by my fingers.

Enter the pulley system! Reducing weight allows me to get in 8-10 second hangs on holds I otherwise wouldn't be able to use. It's a simple but effective system.

Shout out to Fighting Road, The Only Choice (unfortunately)

Weight goes on one end of each rope, via a bolt and washer.

Crossloading! Yer gonna die!

I go on the other. 

Repping my gym

Hangs result! The idea will be to continually train using decreasing amounts of weight over time until I can hang unassisted from the target holds. My current big goal is to hang on the deepest two-finger pockets with my middle two fingers for ten seconds. Right now, doing it with 15 kg taken off is a challenge, so I either need to train hard or eat a lot less. The answer here is obvious.

Anyway, that's what's up with my indoor training apparatus. It doesn't have a name anymore. I'm sorry, Indoor Training Apparatus. Would it help if I capitalized?

Stay tuned for more on the progress of Kuraimu proper, as well as more hold reviews- I just got a big box of Metolius goodies. Stay chilly fresh proper my droogs. I wish it would stop raining.