Red Tower Forever

Both lack of ambition for escaping Seattle and the lax tempo of this balmy Sunday led me by and by to an old favorite stomping ground of mine:

(Photo from JWT of Mountainproject.com)

Splitter cracks, real granite (and other) rock chunks embedded in concrete slab and footholds more slippery than any Yosemite water groove, the Rock certainly has much to recommend it as an urban climbing destination. It certainly is a favorite of local Washington hardman alpinists looking to fatten up their calves and hone their technique for airy adventures in the Cascades.

Requiring particularly precise footwork and bizarrely tuned contact strength for its polished holds, the area both excites the passion and ignites the fury of the beginning rock climber. Add to this the singularly painful nature of the concrete-sided cracks and the novice clearly must develop prodigious amounts of strength, technique and pain tolerance before calling himself a true initiate of the unique style offered at the Rock.

I believe the main impetus for my disdain for any true climbing-specific training regimes stems from the brutal tutelage of this functional urban sculpture. Climbing in socks four or five days a week until I bought my first pair of Boreal Aces, I thrashed, grovelled and fell off the Rock with all the agility of an ogre. Luckily, the Teflon-like lack of friction allowed me to develop the contact strength to match, bypassing for the time being the need for any real technique gains aside from hand and finger jamming, which I gleaned from thrashing up the vile concrete grooves, damaging key nerves in my hands and likely exposing myself to all manner of infectious diseases from the blood spatters of other devotees to the Art of the Concrete Crack.

Strangely, the Rock remains a favorite destination of mine for any city-bound sunny day. The chance of catching a glimpse of one of Washington's unsung heroes adds an unmistakable aura of mystique to the climbing experience: one can almost always find an entertaining yarn being spun amongst the dusty gravel by a colorful character. Invited or not, the vector of a lively diatribe will most assuredly point in your direction at some point, sometimes reaching a vaguely threatening level of florid, bitter invective concerning the most refreshingly far-flung of subjects. Just as in Yosemite, however, when one tires of the similarly strange politics and customs of the Valley floor, one can soar to the heights to seek solace in the fresh air and new, inspiring views. If perching on one foot atop the Rock's "big" tower, 30 feet above the gravel and nary a foot wide, no longer excites, however, it's time to brown-bag a malted beverage back on terra firma and try to absorb some culture. Lord knows I did.

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