print format & Off The Sofa
Mechanical Advantage writings and ramblings by John Middendorf
Dear Readers, thanks so much for your reading and support of my climbing gear research. I plan to continue to document the tools and techniques of climbing into the more modern ages, (though the more modern time is already pretty well covered on the internet). Right now I am compiling the prior work into a printable format and will comprise Volume I 1850s-1950s of this series in book form. Please let me know if you would be interested in a print version of this series (I will send out another post about any progress). I have also made an index and a search tool for the Substack Mechanical Advantage online series, which can be useful to find my past work.
A little musing: again distracted from my main job of researching the tools and techniques. At the climbing gym yesterday my girl, Remi, proud to have done 24 laps (downclimbing counts as a lap), talked a bit about “going for it”, basically pushing oneself beyond what is within a comfort zone. We are going to Arapiles soon for a week, so trying to get back to the point where I can hang on a 17 and place some gear. It’s a struggle these days. My off-the-sofa rating is very low, and climbing well again will take a lot more discipline, or perhaps a few months at a crag.
Off The Sofa
One of the funner parts of my climbing life, in retrospect, was the challenge of climbing hard “off the sofa”. The spontaneity of “going for it”, an essential skill when out of shape and barely making the moves on a hard lead, was thrilling. And I was always amazed at how quickly I was able to recover and then improve, peaking in my mid-30s. It allowed me to explore a lot of other adventures without worrying too much about my current climbing ability, though climbing was always my main passion.
In the 1990s, I called myself a “spurt climber” because I would climb in spurts—blocks of time fully focused on climbing. Sometimes it was because I was getting into some other endeavor with my friends, in the early days of paragliding with Stan Mish (and later hang gliding) for a few years, then with lots of friends going white-water kayaking in the Grand Canyon and other Arizona/Colorado rivers (in season). It was time really, doing these other endeavors just made keeping in climbing shape difficult, but perhaps it was also because it was not that interesting to climb just to keep in tune; I liked to have a natural objective. Sometimes I’d be focused on learning a new skill or endeavor like telemark skiing, mountain biking, or caving, but sometimes I would just be cooped up in my shop for months doing nothing physical.
But periodically I would usually have a spurt of big climbs in the southwest deserts, Zion, Black Canyon, and Yosemite, generally with solid partners like Dave Insley, Alan Humphries, Kyle Copeland, Barry Ward (1st one-day ascent of Moonlight Buttress), Dave Jones, Walt Shipley, Mugs Stump, Dan Langmade, Roger Dale, Karen Lysett, Shiela Howard, and many others. Warm-up adventures generally involved a road-trip tour for a week or two, barely hitting civilization in that time while exploring and climbing the landscape via my 4x4 Nissan King Cab truck.
The “Off The Sofa” (OTS) ability was a key part of this. It became part of the conversation, with awe bestowed on the climber who worked ski patrol all winter, then fired a 5.11+ finger crack with tricky pro, first route of the season. Often it meant making sure to be doing something that keeps some strength or endurance (hopefully both), then when it came time to fire up or essentially solo 5.10x rock climbing in the desert, and doing it confidently because only the week before you tortured yourself back into shape by doing a dozen laps on a super pumper hard crack at Paradise Forks. It was also important professionally, as I was on call for rigging jobs, the boom in video demand provided a lot of work in those days, and sometimes I would only have a week to prepare for a job like Rock n Road which involved climbing El Capitan at a quick clip rigging a cameraman ahead of a climbing team. We used to say “Oh, we’ll just get back in shape on the approach”, and in that case it was true, despite the short approach to the Shield, with big haul sacks on your back it felt like training.
No Future in Arapiles at 21 was one of my first “hard” leads when I visited there in 1981. I led it quite few times after that, as it requires careful strategy in placing gear on lead and not pumping out. We also worked on toproping the blank bulge to the right, which I wanted to call “If You” to seque to the already named route further to the right, called, “Eat More Meat” (“no future if you eat more meat”). Nobody got my joke, and though I came close to doing most of the moves on toprope (24 or 25?), I realised I was not good enough to lead it at the time, even with practice (I think Chris Shepard later climbed it with a necessary bolt down low).
A few years ago, I toproped No Future with Hamish Jackson and his partner Shumita, who I just bumped into at the gym last night, and I was reminded of that time. It was probably the last gasp of my young selve’s Off The Sofa abilities—after only a week of climbing, and not having climbed much for a few years before (working full time as a high school teacher = zero extra energy), I was able to, albeit at my limit and barely hanging in there for some moves, to climb it no falls. My brain still thinks I can manage a quick OTS recovery, but my body at 62 differs. Like my friend Simon Mentz reminds me, these are only excuses…
That’s all the ramblings for today! Back to layout. Here is the page layout currently: