The Rock Project (from Black Diamond’s blog)



Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Access Fund’s Executive Director, Brady Robinson, dissects the changing face of conservation.

The author and Jimmy Chin flexing in Joshua Tree, 1996. Photograph: Courtesy Brady Robinson

As a climber growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I was drawn to the dirtbag lifestyle. I sought adventures with friends, nights spent under the stars and meals enjoyed in the dirt in between climbs. Along with my buddy, fellow Minnesotan Jimmy Chin, I was overwhelmed by a strong passion and excitement for climbing. We didn’t think about the future. We were completely focused on the present and whatever climbing objective we could dream up next. Freedom and possibility seemed nearly infinite. And in those days of youth, we took our national parks and the public lands for granted. They seemed as immutable as the rocks we climbed.

We looked up to heroes of generations past—Muir, Brower, Chouinard and so many others. They had crafted intense lives based in the outdoors, stripping away anything extraneous and embracing the rawness of experience and adventure. These experiences created a visceral connection to the land. And like our heroes, we came away from our trips with a sense of wonder and appreciation for the places we saw, places we often had largely to ourselves.

But times have changed. Gone are the days when Yosemite Valley and other iconic destinations were frequented by only a handful of core climbers. Now, according to the Outdoor Industry Association, over six million people in the US climbed rock or plastic at least once in last year. It’s becoming clear that climbing and other forms of human powered outdoor recreation like mountain biking and backcountry skiing have moved from the fringe to the mainstream. And this influx has caused alarm, with some wondering if we are loving our wild places to death.

Several years ago The Nature Conservancy reported that the average age for new members was 62 years old, with only 8.5 percent of its members under the age of 45. These numbers translate to a youth that is disconnected from the traditional conservation movement. And this lack of engagement begs the question: Who will lead the next generation of conservation?

Climbers, that’s who. And backcountry skiers, mountain bikers, hikers, paddlers—the enormous and ever-growing population of those who have ardent connections to the land through their outdoor pursuits. These young adventurers are the heirs of the conservation movement. The same passion that Jimmy and I stumbled upon as we explored the upper reaches of Yosemite is present in the minds of all who have a love for wild places. And, in my experience, this passion inspires an intense desire to protect these landscapes.

The author climbs at the Cookie Cliff, Yosemite, 1997. Photograph: Courtesy Brady Robinson

So, as our growing community learns to love the places we play, we must be sure that we don’t destroy them in the process. As the Executive Director of the Access Fund, my staff and I work daily to keep climbing areas and their surrounding environments open and conserved. We recently partnered with Black Diamond to launch the ROCK Project, an innovative education program designed to meet the influx of climbers head on, giving our community the tools to minimize our impacts on climbing areas and conserve our treasured landscapes.

Preparing the next generation of climbers to be responsible outdoor users is critically important to the future of our sport and our public lands. Most climbers of the current generation had their first climbing experiences indoors. The dirtbag, stripped-down outdoor experiences that Jimmy and I and all of our friends had in the ‘90s might be foreign to many of today’s climbers. So we have launched the ROCK Project to sustainably connect today’s climbers to the outdoors. And hopefully, we will be helping to reenergize the conservation movement in the process.

In the coming months, we will take the ROCK Project on the road, engaging climbers in six cities across the country and lighting that spark that will create the next great generation of conservationists. As climbers within the greater outdoor recreation community, we have the passion, the drive and the authentic motivations necessary to protect our wild landscapes. But it won’t happen on its own. We need the tools and the leadership to call us to action. And we need you. We hope you’ll join us in this movement.

See you out there,

Brady Robinson


2013 Colorado Trail Race

Here’s a little recap of my experience:

I bought my bike, a Specialized Epic Comp, this January for the Colorado Trail Race. At that point I had been mountain biking about 5 times since I moved to Colorado in 2007. I’m friends with Stefan, the race founder and organizer, though rock climbing. For those of you who don’t know, he is just as talented at climbing as biking, and still holds the coveted round trip record for the First Flatiron here in Boulder. After talking to him about the CTR, I decided it was the perfect adventure to give me training motivation and something big to be excited about. I was a serious expedition climber/alpinist for many years. Now 40 with a real job and a family, a week or so away seemed pretty reasonable compared to 4-8 weeks for a mountain trip. The challenge was huge and I got to be a beginner again – there was so much to learn about bike packing and racing!

On my first ride with Stefan this winter, I was timid on the descents and cramped up after 3 hours of riding. I had to walk my bike up every hill towards the end. Stefan later admitted to being surprised by what a gumby I was. It was my first time on a 29er, and I felt dangerously high and disconnected from the ground. But I was serious about my training, got better and entered a few longer distance races to tune up my skills and get some intensity. After pestering Stefan and reading Toby Gadd’s blog and others religiously, I was able to gain the experience and equipment needed to credibly enter the CTR. Two weeks before the race Stefan and I went out for a two-day tune up with 132 miles and 19,000ft of climbing. I’m lucky to have him as a friend and mentor.

Day 1
After an incredibly cool and surreal breakfast at Carver’s (Is it really 3:30 in the morning? Is this really happening?) and an urban roll-out with everyone dutifully waiting at a red light for no one because it was 4am, I settled into my pace and tried not to continue second guessing my decision to bring 18,000 calories as opposed to my initial plan for 4,500. In climbing there is a saying, “if you bring bivy gear you will bivy”. By bringing 4 days of food I was almost certainly guaranteeing that I wouldn’t make it to Silverton before the grocery store closed at 8pm. But as a newbie, I decided that pushing more weight would be worth the peace of mind and quick transition in Silverton. I’m still not sure if it was the best decision, but it worked out.

All my conversations that morning were disembodied – I was talking to shadows in front and behind me, never putting a face to anyone. It was four days later that Pete Schuster and I would realize who we’d had a conversation about our families that morning. Much of the day was a blur, just trying to keep going. I know how my body performs at altitude when I’m acclimatized, and I was most definitely not acclimatized! After finally gaining Rolling Pass, I descended in the moonlight, avoiding turning on my lights until it was absolutely necessary. That descent is probably one of the highlights of the trip. I was surprised, however, at the amount of climbing required to get “downhill” to Silverton. This was my first lesson in patience on the CT. Sometimes you’re just going to be going slow, no sense in getting worked up about it! Keep chipping away…

I got to Silverton at 11pm. Though I heard that some people were camped out in a city park, I decided to keep rolling towards Stony Pass to find a nice quiet bivy site. Just outside of town I found a tree and slept a luxurious 6 hours. Any temptation I felt to try to climb Stony that evening was tempered by the knowledge that I was still dealing with the altitude and sleeping as low as possible would be a good move.

Day 2
After taking an embarrassing 1 ½ hours to get rolling from the moment I awoke, I made good progress up Stony Pass and was pleasantly surprised to find that I had it all to myself! My legs felt good and the lack of people made me feel like I was doing well, or at least doing something others weren’t. I spent most of the day alone, though Tim Graczyk passed me as though I was standing still somewhere on section 23. A hiker found a water bottle and gave it to me, seeming to insist that as a racer it was my duty to reunite it with its owner. I emptied it out and put it in my jersey pocket. Later in the day, when I finally met up with some other riders at the high point of the Colorado Trail, I found the the bottle belonged to Eric Foster, one of the “Triple Crown” riders doing the CTR, Arizona Trail Race and Tour Divide all in one year. He was very happy to have it back. I guess neither of us considered this to be support. I think there’s a fourth rule implicit in the vibe of the CTR: Be Nice/Don’t Be a Dick. Eric and I found that we had a lot in common through the climbing world and rode together on and off for the remainder of the day. He’s accomplished a lot in his 24 years. The flowing descent from the highpoint of the trail was some of the best riding of the whole CT! Later that night, when a crowd descended upon the campground off Hwy 149 on the Garita detour, Eric and I slipped away and rode up to Los Pinos Pass to bivy.

Day 3
Eric and I heard a number of riders go by our bivy that night and the next morning. Once we were rolling, we continued to chat and later met up with Paul Bosworth and another ride whose name escapes me. We rolled into Apple’s new location. This was my first experience with a trail angel – it was so much fun! The group atmosphere was super positive. Apple was very pleased to have a full tent, though he seemed a little more intrigued by three young women hikers than us CTR riders. We stuffed ourselves with chips and sodas while Apple told the story of Jefe refusing anything as he whizzed by.

As I got going from Apple’s tent I sensed that group camaraderie, while fun, isn’t always consistent with racing. I felt myself wanting to wait on people I had gotten to know, while other riders who were clearly in race mode were getting in and out as fast as they could. I was feeling good so I decided that I would start racing harder that morning. I wanted to be the guy that people saw at Apple’s tent and never saw again. I was able to pull away for part of the day, riding mostly alone until finally reaching Tank Seven Creek. A number of guys pulled in as I was getting ready to leave, including Todd Johnson and Pete Schuster. They were super friendly and supportive. I got rolling and ended up pushing into Fooses Creek with the company of Nate Stewart and Matt Fusco. I found a soft, level piece of ground before the trailhead and got a few hours of sleep.

Day 4
As I was getting ready to roll Todd and Pete came blazing by. I managed to catch up with them briefly on Segment 14 but not for long. This was when I began to realize that I really suck at walking my bike uphill. Every time things turned to hike-a-bike, I went backwards. There was another brief rendezvous at the Mt. Princeton Hot Springs shop, with everyone stuffing their face with soda, chips and ice cream. I rode alone for much of the ride into Buena Vista. I reunited with Todd, Pete and Nate there and it seemed that we reached an unspoken understanding that we’d all ride together for a while. After resupplying, calling family and stuffing our faces again we were off. It was really fun to ride with these guys. I knew they were all better riders than me, so I felt lucky on several levels. As we left the road and began the hike up to Twin Lakes, I was again reminded of how much I suck at hike-a-bike. Why didn’t I train for it, at all??? My only saving grace was that I was able to spin up most sections in my granny gear as the other three walked. I hung on by my teeth all evening, announcing several times that I was off the back only to somehow climb back on again 10-20 minutes later. We all camped together before the descent into the Leadville Detour.

Day 5
We awoke to rain and stuffed wet gear into our bags and were off. We elected to avoid Leadville and froze our butts off on the bypass. Somehow riding the highway made all the fatigue come to a head – we were barely able to stay awake until we finally got on the single track and the amazing ride into Camp Hale. I had a hard time on the climb up to Kokomo Pass. At some point Pete and Todd turned on the gas and I had nothing. They literally just walked away from me and I couldn’t spin my granny gear fast and long enough to stay with them. That was the last I saw of them. Nate stayed with me, however, and I took the lead coming down off Elk Ridge, determined to crawl back on once again. This was a mistake. I’m not a great bike handler on a good day, and when I’m exhausted I’m much worse. I had a spectacular wreck coming off the high point of the ridge and went down hard on my shoulder and head. I tweaked something in my shoulder (it still hurts) but was otherwise OK. Nate stayed with me as I got my bearings. After several minutes, with no warning, my front sidewall burst open spraying white sealant in a stream. I ran over and applied direct pressure (thank you, first aid training) which stopped the bleeding momentarily. Nate insisted I take the wheel off. He banged the tire on a rock, this way and that, until the rip finally sealed. The sidewall held the rest of the race! Once he knew I was OK, Nate took off and I went very, very slowly, feeling timid due to my wreck, my shoulder and the increasing amount of rain. My bike was shifting really poorly too. I made it to Copper, got a table at a restaurant, and replaced my bent derailleur hanger as my waitress told me about getting third in a mountain bike race just the day before. Cool! I rolled out before Nate and began the Tenmile ridge climb. Nate soon caught up with me and we began questioning the wisdom of climbing this thing with so much thunderstorm activity. Even in good weather I think it is a silly place to bring a bike. As we neared the top, a middled aged woman wearing a garbage bag for rain protection and a young boy passed us going down. They were riding cheapo mountain bikes and said they felt sorry for us. Very surreal. We crested the ridge and got down the other side in one piece, though one strike in particular sounded very close. We climbed a few miles up from highway 9 and crashed for the night.

Day 6
After 6 hours of sleep, Nate and I awoke to several sets of fresh tire tracks. We eventually came upon David Pickett-Heaps spinning up the trail. His head was bobbing to some rocking tunes, so it was really hard to get his attention to pass. He soon passed us on the descent, however, and that was the last we saw of him. I lost Nate somewhere before Kenosha pass. The race was taking its toll on me at that point. I made my way, solo, to the Tarryall detour. I really hated the first 10 miles and started grumbling under my breath. Things got a little better at the little store (Stagestop Saloon) when I got an unexpected Coke, chips and enthusiastic commentary from the proprietor. With no prompting from me he told me my standing and also said I could probably chase down the two in front of me – he pointed out two figures along the lake. I took off and was able to catch Matt and Brad from Asheville, NC. They hadn’t slept at all the night before and were starting to feel it. Soon we were all reunited with Nate in the Tarryall penalty box for a 20 minute wait on the pilot car. As soon as Brad’s head hit the grass he was asleep, and talking in his sleep too. We had a good laugh at his expense. We dealt with the flag lady who was nuts (for real) and ended up getting a ride in two trucks, which was weird but what are you going to do? After being dropped off, Nate and I took off, though he soon pulled away from me again. Perhaps this would be a good time to note that Nate rode a RIGID SINGLE SPEED for the CTR. No gears, no suspension. Cruising through the burn area and marvelling at all the boulders and crags made me really appreciate the detour – I think it is a keeper. Nate and I rejoined once again at the campground and I decided I’d do what I could to stay with him this time. We eventually stopped for dinner and within minutes Matt and Brad came walking up the hill. These guys don’t stop! Matt refused to sit down, and soon they were off again. As we completed the detour that night, Nate and I went back and forth with Matt and Brad several times before pulling away.

Nate and I decided we’d like to hold our position in the race, and the only way to do that was no sleeping. We took three 15 minutes naps that night as we pulled closer to Denver. Some of the riding was great, but my ass was hurting so much that I could no longer sit normally. Pain was the predominant feeling that night and morning. On the last descent I wrecked once again (I must be one of the worse bike handlers to do the CTR) and this time my rear brake felt really squishy afterwards. So I went super slow on the way down. I told Nate that he should go ahead and I’d meet him at the end. He seemed to consider this for a moment, but then looked me in the eye and said, “no, we’ll finish together.” What a gentleman. And that’s what we did, though through a cruel twist of SPOT fate, I was awarded 14th and he got 15th. So it goes.

We did it! I did it. My shoulder still hurts, my right hand is numb but luckily the swelling is mostly gone from my legs. I have spent much of the last 3 days in bed. I don’t know if I’ve ever been this worked. I gave it everything I had, which feels great. And I met a lot of wonderful people and saw some amazing sights. Too early to say if I’d ever do such a thing again. For me, the CTR runs the fine line between type 2 fun (fun in retrospect) and something beyond. It was an awesome experience and I feel very lucky to have gotten to know some of you through it all. Thank you!

TEDxBoulder Video Repost

On December 19, YouTube took down the original posting of my TEDx video because “its content violated YouTube’s terms of service.” This was apparently collateral damage from a widespread crackdown on artificially inflated view counts. The original YouTube version ( had 26,497 views before it was taken down. I hope it is restored there soon, but until then you can view my talk on vimeo. You can read more about this on the blog of one of my fellow speakers:

TEDxBoulder – Recreation and the Future of the Conservation Movement

In September, 2012 I had the honor of speaking at TEDxBoulder. My talked focused on the role of human powered recreation in the future of the conservation movement. The big, traditional organizations (such as The Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society) are concerned that as their membership ages, younger generations aren’t refilling the ranks. I believe that recreation has a crucial role to play, thought both the conservation and recreation communities need to adapt to remain relevant.

Climbing the North Pillar of Fitz Roy

As soon as Ben Gilmore and I arrived in El Chalten, the final bus stop for climbers traveling to the Fitz Roy/Cerro Torre group, we began to hear war stories from other climbers. There had been a lot of accidents.

A climber from Spain rapped off the end of his lines and fell 30 meters, breaking the end of his femur. He was cleaning his fixed lines after an ascent of Royal Flush [Grade VI, 5.12c, 44 pitches, East Face of Fitz Roy]. Several climbers from various expeditions came together and spent a long day getting him down.

A woman was almost crushed in a snow cave at the Paso when a huge boulder fell from the cliff above. Two Argentineans dug her out. Luckily, she only suffered a broken arm. The famous German climber Bernd Arnold got blown over by the wind while he had his feet between two rocks near Lago de Los Thres and broke his ankle. A climber in the Casarotto gully was hit by some ice, which ended his trip. Additionally, the weather had been poor and everyone was in a foul mood. Ben and I tried to keep our smiles on as we got our gear up to Rio Blanco, the main Base Camp for attempts of Fitz from the east side.

As we hiked up carrying only light daypacks, I reflected on my last trip to Patagonia. Last year I had arrived at El Chalten partnerless. Three Americans took me under their wings and showed me the ropes. After watching me do double 80-pound carries one day, they took me aside and said, “Any fool can suffer, Brady.”


Ben and I got horses this time. Another huge labor savings came when we inherited a spacious snow cave at Paso Superior, the high camp for most climbs on the east side of the Fitz Roy group. We did a few carries between Rio Blanco and the Paso and were quickly installed. At this point, we got our first view of the route. The North Pillar of Fitz Roy rose up 4500 feet from its base, caked with snow and ice. It looked hopeless. Surely we were fooling ourselves thinking we had any chance of climbing it! Beginning to feel defeated by the climb before we had even started, we tried not to think about it too much. One step at a time.

Several days after we arrived, the weather deteriorated, bringing heavy snow and wind. Two French climbers went up to the Paso during that time and very nearly got swept away by an avalanche. They lost a bag of gear while riding a one-meter slab. Ben and I stayed down. The snow soon stopped and enough sun came through to stabilize the snow slopes.

The route we chose followed a huge dihedral that splits the north face of the North Pillar (between the Casarotto Route and the Polish route, “Devil’s Diedro”) which was attempted by an American team last year. We went up and fixed eight pitches from February 8-10, reaching the American high point from last year at pitch seven. After an exciting ice overhang at the bergschrund, the climbing was free and easy, but very snowy and icy, so the going was slow.

I kicked steps for 10 meters in my rockshoes on one pitch. Ugh. It snowed much of the time. Even though low on the climb the huge dihedral blocked most of the wind, belaying was a chilly chore. Ben got the first pitch above the old high point.

He started out by taking a factor-two daisy chain fall on the anchor when a cam blew out. His fall jerked me into the wall as I watched him pass me on the way down. He finished the pitch, calling it A2+, but he’s a horrible sandbagger and agreed to A3 later. We went back down to camp after that.

For some curious reason, my right hand started hurting, and over the next few days the back swelled up. My tendon squeaked audibly when I raised my index finger. I was pretty sure the trip was over for me. Ben ended up finding a partner and tried the Red Pillar on Aguja Mermoz (aka Vela y Viento) to the north of Fitz Roy, while I iced my hand and read books, pretty depressed. I went up to high camp with my stuff a day later, just to see how it would go.

After spending a day fraught with language difficulties and route finding on Aguja Mermoz, Ben was understandably in poor spirits. My hand was pretty much the same, but we organized our gear in our snow cave and decided to continue fixing rope.

The next morning I led an A3 pitch that took us over a roof and out of the dihedral. I took a short daisy chain fall early in the pitch, then an eight-meter whipper when the edge of the crack I was in blew out. I was fine, but went a little slower after that.

Ben led another pitch and we found a fantastic bivy site. A huge flake, separated from the wall, was filled in behind, providing a level surface surrounded by rock walls on all sides. My hand felt okay, so we went down and returned the next afternoon with bivy gear and food for three nights.

We spent a night on top of our lines, and then on February 19, blasted upward. We ran into the old Casarotto line after two more pitches, which was a little bit of a bummer, but it was the best line to take, so we took it. We found that the Casarotto Route has a lot of wide cracks. Ben did a great job on a poorly protected 5.10 off-width flare. Yuck!

We wondered at Casarotto’s feat, as he had soloed the route in 1979, long before camming devices had become “mandatory” gear for off-width cracks. We also wondered at all the junk he left on the route.

Seconding on jugs with a huge pack sucked, but it was a great day. Many pitches included stunning hand cracks. The sun shined all day; there was no wind. We drank meltwater through our blow tube at belays and laughed at our good fortune.

rime on fitz

Climbing until midnight, we finally reached the top of the North Pillar. We chopped ledges in some ice bulges for our bivy. Full moon, still no wind. Gazing out over the moonlit landscape, I knew we were in the midst of a fair weather spell that Patagonia climbers dream about.

The next morning we rapped into the notch and looked up at the final headwall. It wasn’t too hard to see why some parties turn back. The face looked terribly steep, with rime ice bulges and hanging ice falls and generally scary looking gnarliness everywhere.

The sun was out in force, so the ice was beginning to fall. Our closest call came on the first pitch out of the notch, when the crack system we had been on just 10 minutes before got hammered by ice fall. Whew.

We followed wide yet relatively moderate cracks for four pitches, then wandered over ice, snow, rock, and rushing waterfalls to the top. We summited at 6pm. After a short food and photo break, we descended the Franco-Argentine Route, partly so we could claim a traverse of the peak, but mostly because I knew the route from last year and rapping the North Pillar would have been a nightmare.

We found the first anchor by following tracks left in the snow by another party. Even though I’d rappelled the same route the year before, it would have been very difficult to find without the tracks. The southern slope of the summit is a sea of snow, ice, and rock devoid of any defining feature. After a relatively pleasant evening of rappelling, we spent a night at the notch on the south side (the bretcha) and finished rappelling the next morning.

My hand was puffed up pretty bad by then, the knuckles turned to dimples. Ben pulled the ropes on the rappels while I watched, idly nursing my hand.

2000 Fitz Roy

We went to our base camp and crashed hard. The next morning at 9am a French climber we’d met several days before woke us up, saying his partner had broken his ankle while coming down the headwall just below the Paso (our high camp, about three to four hours above us). Seems he neglected to put on his crampons for the icy descent.

We gathered our gear and headed up the rescue, which took all day. After that we were exhausted, but even more gratified to have had the luck to complete such an outstanding route and return unscathed.

Our route is a new variation to the Casarotto Route, and we made the fifth ascent of Fitz Roy via the North Pillar. We named our route the “Diedro Directo” variation to the Casarotto (5.10, A3, 32 pitches), opening 12 new pitches of climbing, up to 5.9 and A3.

We weren’t the only ones who enjoyed the spell of good weather. During the same period, Kevin Thaw and partner made the first all-free, alpine-style ascent of the Czech route on the west side of Fitz Roy. Americans Nate Martin and Tim O’Neill summitted Cerro Torre (with the summit rime ice mushroom) via the Compressor Route. They also did an alpine-style, all-free first ascent on the northwest face of Cerro Stanhardt, 19 pitches, 5.11 WI5 M4, in only 12 hours. Que fuerte!

Mick Pointon and Leigh Mcginely of Great Britain climbed the Ferrari Route on Cerro Torre from the ice cap. Leigh went snow blind in the descent, thinking he had lost his sunglasses, when in fact they were still in his pack! This year, February was the month to be in Patagonia.

brady on fitz

— Brady Robinson, Correspondent

Originally posted on, archive at