Bouldering in Joshua Tree

Bouldering in Joshua Tree
Ronnie 15 feet off deck on the classic White Rastafarian.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Southeast Climbing Adventure Pt. 1 - Takedown of the Nemesis Rigs

Things have been off to another running start this year! It has been really exciting and I am staying super stoked doing adaptive clinics across the country, working on the USA Paraclimbing committee and continuing to continue to pursue my own climbing endeavors as well.

I routinely travel up through the Southeast, and even though the climbing up there in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee is approx. 9 hours away from Florida it is certainly my set of "local crags". I got the opportunity through Catalyst Sports, a non-profit organization based out of the Atlanta, GA area to come up and be the lead instructor at an adaptive climbing clinic they were hosting at Stone Summit Climbing and Fitness, the largest climbing gym in the country. Atlanta has always been an area that has been prime for an adaptive climbing clinic, and I was excited to take this opportunity and get some outdoor climbing in at the same time. I have been lucky to have some awesome climbing friends from across the country, and have found myself rolling with an "entourage" on most of my climbing trips. This trip I got a chance to link up with my friends Mark and Andrew.

Mark on the classic "The Wave" (V6)

Our first stop was the boulder field at Rocktown outside of LaFayette, GA. Progressing as a climber has always been a focus of mine, and has taken many variations over the past few years. I remember my first trip to Rocktown exactly four years ago in 2009. I had a climbing prosthesis, but was still primarily climbing without one and most likely bouldering V4 at the time. At the time I did not realize how subtle some of the differences would be in my style going into the future. There are two boulder problems that really stick out in my mind from this trip, The Orb (V8) and Croc Block (V5). The Orb was the hardest boulder problem I had tried at the time, and I remember putting burns onto it and barely being strong enough to get through the roof section. I remember thinking that it was such an amazing piece of rock that I wanted to climb it one day, and it still brings back fond memories of the people we were there with and some of the good times we had. I was so sore for the rest of the trip after trying that problem that I was not really able to complete much of anything else.

My original campus beta. In hindsight not my brightest idea....

We also made it to the very end of the boulder field in Rocktown, and I remember looking at one of the area's gems, Croc Block (V5). It seemed within my reach, as I had sent one of my first V5's that trip. The beginning section was difficult, but I have always had a certain amount of brute strength and I was able to get through the bottom. The crux move revolves around a right heel hook, which I was able to place, but I always wondered why it seemed impossible when I was doing the move the same as everybody else (my hips were completely out of balance). I did not send either of these problems then, or for a very long time afterwards, but they have always been in the back of my mind.

The sculpted sloping rails on Croc Bloc. 

Fast forward four years, I have still continued to push my climbing forward technically, and have now began to analyze and appreciate the subtle differences in balance and control of my hips that the prosthesis gives me (along with being a hell of a lot stronger). Croc Block was first up for the day, still having alluded me all these years despite being well within my ability level according to its grade. Back in the fall I had finally been able to get further on this climb and get established and begin to establish tension with the heel hook at the crux (the prosthesis helps me shift and balance my weight). The next move was still HUGE!! I have made huge leaps and bounds in my technical climbing, and I was finally able to break down the subtle nuances of this climb and use my body positioning to be able to crank up into the next hold. I conjured up the "reckless abandon" that the guidebook calls for, got pissed, and stuck finger flake that had been alluding me all these years. A four year battle had been put in the books and it could not have felt better.

Crushing Croc Bloc by pulling in the heel and toe that used to be impossible for me...

Next up was The Orb. This is a climb that I started trying this fall for the first time since 2009. I knew I had to get way stronger to be able to accomplish this goal, and in November I knew the time was right to go after it. After quickly being able to link together the boulder problem in halves, I started getting stuck in the middle coming from the bottom. It took me multiple trips, and three different evolutions in beta to be able to figure out how to do this move consistently. The sloping holds on this problem are very friction dependent, so we came out with the work lights to illuminate the boulder and try it at midnight in the 30 degree weather. I ended up having a heartbreaker off the top, matched on the sloper almost getting to the "thank god" jug. I knew I was close.

Ideal temps, had to stay moving and motivated. 

Work lights illuminating the orb our first night. 

After sending Croc Block the following day I knew I was ready to go on a rampage and end all of these epics that were sitting on my shoulders. We immediately went to The Orb, and my second try of the day I had one of those moments where hundreds of burns of frustration and muscle memory from trying the moves over, and over, and over all melted into a moment of complete focus and energy that culminated in topping out the boulder in complete shock! There was nothing that was going to stop me from getting to the top, not even my leg falling off while humping my way up on the mantle. 

First day on it in November 2012. 

Feeling like I am on top of the world after the send!
So you ask yourself, how does a trip like this get even better? Only by sending another long term project the next day!

At LRC in Chattanooga, I have been trying a climb called Spyro Gyro (V8) since 2009, which essentially revolves around a huge rotational dyno off of a positive but not so positive sloping pinch hold. It is one of those climbs that seems close, but is really further away than you think. I have probably put over 200 burns into this climb, and got frustrated enough to where I even stopped trying it at all for the past two years. A month ago I was up in the area, and decided to give the problem and obligatory 5 burns. Surprisingly I was really close, but once again came up with no send after nipping the jug with my fingertips. After a hearty warm up, I decided once again this trip to try the boulder just for the sake of trying it. I knew I was close immediately, and was not going to let anything get in my way this time. I dialed in some precise tweaks in beta, and launched up to the finishing jug with a scream of exhilaration and I knew I had finally put this climb to rest as well after so much anguish and failure.

Ready, set, launch!

It felt good to feel like I really had that break through to the next level. I have been in countless hours of  work including climbing sessions at 5:30 am and outside in the elements in the 100 degree florida heat during the summer and most recently the 40 degree winter mornings to prepare to the maximum of my ability. You can never doubt yourself, no matter what obstacles stand in your way. All of the hard work is always worth it, and it is moments like these that serve as reminders. You just have to get out there, do it, and leave it all on the table. Not sure what projects the future holds, but I am going to relish these hard earned moments for the time being, and then move onwards and upwards to the next goals. V9 up next!

Slopers on Supa Coola V6

Night sesh on Soap on a Rope (V4)

Here is the final tick list:

The Orb - V8
Spyro Gyro - V8
Supa Coola - V6
Shotgun - V6
Croc Bloc - V5
Getcha Some - V5
Rage - V5

Not bad for a one legged kid and in three days! 

Part two coming up soon about our awesome adaptive climbing clinic up in Atlanta with Catalyst Sports.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Gunks Adaptive Climbing Clinic - Revisited

I received this email recently from the father of one of our kids were able to take on his first outdoor climbing experience in The Gunks this past October. Climbing is such a powerful sport and experience and I love being able to pass it onto others. 

On October 6, 2012 my son Collin was invited to attend his very first outdoor climb at Peters’ Kill climbing area in Gardiner, New York.   The Athletes with Disabilities Network organized the event.  At only 11 years old Collin already had six years of experience climbing indoors with Peak Potential ( ), but I was very unsure of his ability to traverse smooth, large boulders outdoors.   However, I should have known not to underestimate my son’s drive to overcome adversity.

On December 21, 2001 my wife and I sat beside the NICU crib of our newborn baby boy, a newborn with an extremely grim prognosis.  Collin had suffered an intraventriuclar/intracerebral hemorrhage sometime during 22-32 weeks gestation. The idea of little league, karate, playing an instrument and rock climbing never entered our minds as we contemplated Collin’s uncertain future.  Our only prayer was that he would make it through the night.  Our prayer was answered that night and so many more after that.  Collin’s hemorrhage caused a weakness in the right side of his body called Hemi-paretic Cerebral Palsy.  Over the past 11 years of his life Collin has met many physicians of various disciplines, as well as occupational and physical therapists that have helped him face and overcome the many challenges he deals with everyday.  It was along that journey that we met Dr. Cheng and it was Dr. Cheng who introduced us to the world of rock climbing.

On this mild day in October, we were immediately greeted when we arrived at Peters’ Kill area by amazing volunteers who took time out of their weekends to help children and adults climb steep rock faces.  Their smiles and positive spirits immediately provided Collin and me with reassurance that they would take good care of him.  The volunteers provided him with appropriate climbing and safety gear.  They went over the fundamentals of external rock climbing and the commands to ensure that clear communication would occur between climber and belayer.  We then broke up into groups and Collin started climbing.  We hadn’t anticipated that his knees would take such a beating and in hindsight he said, “we should have brought some kneepads,” but Collin never complained and it never slowed him down.  Collin relies heavily on his strong left arm when climbing and has to use his legs to push himself upwards.  His entire right side is very weak and his mobility is limited.   When he climbs he uses his right hand to hold the rock and to keep his body square to the rock face, but it takes extreme concentration for him to hold the rock and pull himself up.  When he initially started climbing at age 5 we thought he would never be able to traverse a difficult rock course with only one hand and two feet doing all the work, but the volunteers at Peak Potential showed him that it was possible. 

As he climbed throughout the day we were surrounded by encouraging volunteers and other climbers with disabilities and even some with without limbs.  Everyone, both young and old, looked out for each other throughout the day.  For Collin, watching adults who face similar challenges climb alongside him provided him with tremendous inspiration. When Collin reached the top of a huge rock face he not only heard me shout with amazement , but he also heard the volunteers and other climbers clap and yell in celebration.  I could not be prouder of him.

I can’t thank Athletes w/ Disabilities Network, and Ronnie Dickson, Director of Adaptive Climbing enough for making this amazing experience possible.  I hope people reading this will find inspiration for themselves or loved ones with disabilities that they too can overcome huge obstacles and achieve amazing results with the support of volunteers, family members, doctors and sponsors. 

Collin’s proud father,

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

USA Paraclimbing

The adaptive climbing competition movement, referred to as “Paraclimbing”, here in the United States, took a huge step forward on February 23, 2013. USA Climbing offered Paraclimbing divisions for Males and Females as part of the Citizens’ National Championships in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The competition was redpoint style, challenging competitors to log their best 5 boulder problems (of 40 to choose from) on their scorecard in three hours, and was held alongside able-bodied competitors with no special modifications to the problems.
Cranking down hard.....

Kareemah enjoying the day's challenges.
Corey wishing he was missing the left leg instead of the right on A9....
Getting high above the crowd on A6
In an extremely competitive men’s field, Craig Demartino, of Loveland, CO came away with 1st place, edging Ronnie Dickson and Pablo Franck, who battled to a tie for 2nd place. Corey Ramos and Perry Parkongruparkorn rounded out the men’s field in 3rd and 4th place, respectively. The lone female competitor, Kareemah Batts, of Brooklyn, NY came away with 1st place on the other end. Ronnie Dickson (who placed 6th at the 2012 Paraclimbing World Championships) noted that “This is the most competitive that the field has ever been...I started competing in 2007 and it has always just been Craig and I battling for the top two spots, but now I can feel the pressure as other athletes are joining the sport and stepping up their game. I feel like I have made huge strides in my climbing, so I have not gotten any worse, but the field is just that much better.”

Can't even say how much I love this group!

The next USA Climbing event in which there will be Paraclimbing divisions offered is the 2013 GoPro Mountain Games to be held in Vail, CO from June 6th-9th. It is anticipated that there will be a larger turnout for this event, with 10-15 Paraclimbing athletes expected to attend.

The climbing wall and crowd at the Mountain Games.

Craig getting it on problem A6
Scoping out the climbs.

Paraclimbing Committee Chairman Craig Demartino (bronze medalist at the 2012 Paraclimbing World Championships) notes, “2013 has been the year to establish the building blocks and foundation of the program. The events chosen were easy to implement among the lower limb amputee climbing population. 2014 will be a much more ambitious year in which we hope to offer many more categories within the Paraclimbing Division and also host a Paraclimbing National Champinships. To this point, that we will have a much stronger representation at the 2014 Paraclimbing World Championships, which will be held in Gijon, Spain.

If you are interested in more information about USA Climbing’s Paraclimbing offerings, please contact Craig Demartino at or Ronnie Dickson at
For more information about USA Climbing, please contact Ally Kupcewicz ( or (303) 499-0715

Corey Ramos getting his flagpole on....

My not quite as good flagpole.....

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Adaptive Climbing Clinic in "The Gunks" presented by Athlete's w/ Disabilities Network

This has been a really successful year for the clinics that I host here in the USA. I was able to host clinics at Joshua Tree National Park, Planet Rock, Brooklyn Boulders, and the amputee coalition headquarters. This was my 5th and last clinic for the year, and probably the one I have been looking forward to the most.

Group shot from Clinic

Cliff Line

I was able to team up with Andrew Chao of Peak Potential, a local adaptive climbing non-profit in New Jersey that works primarily with kids, and Kareemah Batts of NYC Adaptive Climbing to get the word out through the local community.

Me and Andrew at the top of the cliff

The weather was beautiful and it was prime fall season in New York with the fall leaves change in full swing. Our clinic saw a really lively group of 14 that came out to enjoy the day. The 60 foot cliffs at Peter's Kill Park provided the perfect venue to host our clinic. The sun was shining for most of the day, and a cool breeze kept the leaves coming down off of the trees. I could not have asked for a better guiding service, Mountain Skills, and group of volunteers for the day. Our participants were able to enjoy over ten different climbs, as we switched locations to a different spot of the crag in the afternoon after the Evolv and Sanuk sponsored raffle.

We had a great group and I am really looking forward to next year's event.

I have been climbing for six years now and had one of the most memorable experiences of my climbing career the day after the clinic.

My friend, Jerod Minnich, is a double below the knee amputee who has been a local climber to the area for years. Jerod and I met at the Extremity Games but it had been years since we had seen each other. He reached out to me to come volunteer at the clinic, and wanted to get together the day after to do some multi-pitch climbing at another area called The Trapps. One of our participants from the clinic, Tommy, a below the knee amputee from Philadelphia, decided to hang with us for an extra day as well.

Jerod racking up
Finishing the first pitch

The route we decided to tackle on Sunday morning was High Exposure, probably the most classic 5.6 at the Gunks. I primarily stick to bouldering, and have never climbed anything of this height. We got an early start and made our way to the climb with our party of 6, excited about the 250 foot adventure that lay ahead of us.

Three guys, two legs

 Jerod led the way and we all cruised up to the open air moves and the stunning scenery that awaited at the top. The experience of being up high with nothing but air under your feel was astonishing. The only thing that made the experience better was getting to have it with such a great group of people.

View from the top of the cliff

It never ceases to amaze me how diverse of an experience climbing has to offer, and how people of such different backgrounds from all over the country can converge to have such a powerful experience. I love being a part of the community and can't wait until the next big adventure rolls around.

Group Panoramic at the top
Thanks to Athletes w/ Disabilities Network, Evolv, Sanuk, Sterling Rope, Mountain Skills, and Black Diamond for making this all happen.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

IFSC Paraclimbing Championships 2012 - Paris, FR

Climbing has been a sport that has exploded in popularity as of late among the global community. The past ten to twenty years have also seen huge strides in sports in the adaptive community, with improved technology and attitudes redefining what challenges are possible to overcome. Naturally other sports such as track and field, skiing, and more recently triathlon and snowboarding, among other activities have been the first to garner a large following of adaptive athletes because of their mainstream popularity. The Paralympics and now even the Olympics, with Oscar Pistorius' groundbreaking inclusion on the South African team, have become the pinnacle of sport for an athletic community that has thrived as of late with increased access to opportunities, training, and technology. 

London 2012 Paralympics
Climbing, while not as mainstream, has followed a similar trend. This year was the second hosting of the World Paraclimbing Championships. The main categories represented are Blind, Arm Amputee, Leg Amputee, and Physical and Neurological impairment with 62 athletes representing over 20 different countries. I myself was one of the two first competitors to represent the USA at this competition, competing in the leg amputee category. 

One of the blind competitors from Italy, with his guide.
To spare the whole story, I started climbing six years ago after I chose to have my leg amputated above the knee after dealing with a worsening congenital disorder since the age of 5. One of the things that was so liberating about climbing was that everybody has to learn how to climb in their own way, and I think the freedom behind this is the reason why the sport has become so popular in the adaptive community. 

I normally don't focus on the competition aspect of climbing, choosing to focus more on my outdoor climbing (I pull enough plastic in Florida as it is!). This opportunity came up and I immediately contacted my friend Craig Demartino, a below the knee amputee from Colorado to get him on board as well. We were both psyched to be involved, and by default were able to get selected to the team through USA Climbing.
Climbing Green Wall Essential in Bishop, CA

 In the past there used to be an event called the Extremity Games, essentially an X-Games for those living with limb loss or limb difference. From 2007-2009 we had three great years of "national championships" hosted once at Aiguille Rock Climbing Center and the other two at Planet Rock. Currently there is no national championship or avenue for adaptive athletes to compete in climbing here in the United States, although there are opportunities to learn how to climb or experience climbing through Athletes w/ Disabilities Network, Paradox Sports, and the Orthotic and Prosthetic Activities Fund
McKayla, Craig and I at the Extremity Games.

My coach had always told me to be ready for anything while heading to a competition, and he was not kidding. Craig and I both climb with our prosthetic legs all the time. We did not expect this to be a big issue going into world championships. We were wrong. 

Upon arrival it was great to meet all of the other athletes from the other teams. Spain, Japan, France and Italy probably had the biggest representatives of athletes. We proceeded to the medical checkout to have them place us in our respective category, this process mainly being used to quantify degree of physical disability and level of blindness for the other competitors (B1 category - totally blind and then further on into partial, but still very severe degrees of blindness B2 and B3). The first year of the competition saw all competitors climbing without a prosthesis in the leg amputee division, and this year the main issue was that 6 out of the 11 competitors were climbing with prosthetic legs. The Italian judge immediately decided to impose penalties of 20% on all competitors wearing a prosthesis. A number that was pulled out of thin air and completely unfounded. 

This was just the start of a long battle (which I will spare each nitty gritty detail), that eventually by day two of the competition, ended with co-efficients that were more or less fair. The decision was made that an above the knee amputee climbing with no prosthesis should be given a 3% advantage over one climbing with, and that an above the knee amputee would have a 3% advantage over a below the knee amputee climbing with a prosthesis. These numbers were more in line with what I believe to be correct. 

For the record I will state that while the prosthesis does make the climbing different, I do not believe that it provides an advantage. The competitors that CHOOSE to climb without a leg have done so because they have found a prosthesis more cumbersome for their climbing and have adapted their style accordingly. This would be like asking the athletes in the 100 M sprint at the Paralympics to hop to make the playing field equal. It is absurd. The rest of the field should not have been penalized because of the choices of others. They spent so much time focusing on each individual disability that the other aspects of the competition that should have seen more emphasis (route setting) were neglected. 

Topping out qualifier number one. 

The first qualifier ended up being set way too easily, with only two of the 11 competitors failing to reach the top of the approximately mid 5.10 route. The second qualifier probably an entry level 5.12 on the gently overhanging 5 degree wall was set perfect. My american compadre craig just missed topping out the route, and I finished fourth out of the field (making a mistake in execution), with a generous lead over the 5th place competitor. 
Sabar from Indonesia climbing without a prosthesis on the first qualifier. 

Craig on his way to 1st on the second qualifier.

Top four were granted entry into the finals, and having topped the first route and gotten fourth on the second, I felt confident that I had done enough to put myself into the medal round. Just as everything else had been a mess leading up to this point, I should have known better, but decided to leave the stadium since the whole scenario seemed very cut and dry. 

Upon looking at the scores later that night, I was was completely dumbfounded to find that myself and the German competitor that had finished in front of me, Thomas Meier, had been pushed out of finals in 5th and 6th place. 

Essentially what had happened, is that even though everybody had topped out the first route, the way that positions were determined based on disability (even though we were all clearly able enough to crush that route without differentiation) had produced a seven way tie for third, and since the 1st and 2nd place competitors had gained such an advantage on the 1st climb, even though they performed below the rest of us on the second and harder route it did not matter. I did not have a fighting chance the second I got on the route. 

Talking through some of the details with an IFSC official

The crowd for finals.
If a scene could speak for itself the final results certainly did. The top finishers, above the knee amputees who climb without a leg from Spain and Japan, edged out my teammate Craig Demartino (a below the knee amputee who uses his leg), for the first and second place positions fair and square on the pumpy 5.12. The other competitor that by a fluke of scoring made it into finals fell five holds into the route. After days and days of arguing, none of it mattered in the end. The climbers that did not wear a prosthesis beat the equally capable climber that was wearing a prosthesis, vindicating what I had been saying all along. We all have had to learn how to adapt our climbing style, and climbing with a prosthesis makes it different, but not easier than other styles. 

The podium for the amputee leg division

I will say that it has been hard to wash out the bitter taste left in my mouth from the competition. I had high expectations, and was confident that even in a worst case scenario I would make podium. It would have been much easier to accept my own mistake on a route, and missing out on finals because of that, instead of being denied a deserved position because of scoring. 

Either way I am glad to have had the opportunity to get the chance to travel to Paris and meet so many amazing people. The adaptive climbing community is still small, and we are all at the forefront of the sport. There is a lot of work to be done, with this only being the second year of the competition, and I am confident that it will continue to grow and get better in the future. I can only hope that mistakes like these will be ironed out.
Myself with new found friends, athletes from Venezuela and Spain.

Checking out some of the sights. 
Climbing in Font the day after the competition

I have been fortunate to help host adaptive climbing clinics across the country, for the past four years, introducing over 500 people with disabilities to their first climbing experience. I think what we need most at this point is a national championship that helps set the stage for climbers across the country to aspire to. I hope to be able to work with USA climbing to bring an adaptive division to nationals. 

Our group at the inaugural adaptive climbing clinic in Joshua Tree that I run every year. 

Climbing brings out some of the best "try hard" moments that the human spirit has to offer. Over the past six years as a member of the adaptive climbing community I have never ceased to be amazed by some of the challenges that individuals are able to overcome to bring out the best in themselves. I have seen blind climbers lead onsight hard 5.10, I have seen paraplegic climbers campus up routes that others have trouble even doing with their feet, and just when I think I have seen it all somebody else comes along and completely smashes my conceptions of what is possible. 

Warren MacDonald getting it done! 

Myself outfitting adaptive equipment for a participant at one of my clinics, who is blind and missing both of her legs below the knee.