Tag Archives: First Ascent

Social Outcast with Steve Arsenault


On Sunday, November 17th,  2013 we will be hosting the 6th installment of the Boston Rock Gym Social Outcast Club.

Social Outcast Club is a unique way for climbers to learn, socialize and share experiences about what we all love in a fun, relaxed atmosphere. During each gathering, several BRG climbers and guest speakers cover a range of climbing topics!


Who is Yoda?, an introduction to the new Route Setters of the BRG

Setting high goals and training for them!, Aleksey Shuruyev
How an average climber can climb big walls in Yosemite
First Acsents, Steve Arsenault
Steve Arsenault is one of the biggest legends of the Mount Washington Valley. Steve was the first climber to ever establish a big wall route on Cathedral back in 1967 (Pendulum) and has continued to set routes all over New England as well as the rest of the country. Some of his more famous routes are Cro Magnon and Jane (Crow Hill, MA) as well as Intimidation and Book Of Solemnity(Cathedral Ledge, NH) and VMC Direct Direct (Cannon, NH).
Bring in used and unwanted gear, and sell it or swap it with another climber. Another man’s trash is another’s treasure.

WHEN: Sunday, November 17th, 2013 at 7PM.

COST: FREE for members or with a day pass.  *$10 Day Passes will be available after 4 PM

WHAT TO BRING: Your favorite food and drinks for potluck table—and a smile of course…

ADDITIONAL: Please email us, or let us know if you want to share your experiences and show your videos at one of the upcoming meetings.

Social Outcast - Nov 2013 250

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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Matt McCormick on his recent trip to Pakistan and the Copp-Dash Inspire Award.

By Gavin Heverly

Matt McCormick is a good friend of mine, and a familiar face around these parts. For years up until he moved up to Vermont he was a regular at the Boston Rock Gym. A positive figure in our climbing community, and always motivated to train and try new things, we were all really excited to hear that Matty had won the 1st Annual Copp-Dash Inspire award to take a trip to Pakistan to deliver books to children and to make an assault on the unclimbed Southwest Pillar of K7 West. I caught up with Matty to get the lowdown on his trip.


Gavin: Tell us a little bit about your climbing history. What was the journey that led you from the gym to Pakistan?

Matt McCormick: The progression and journey is a major part of what keeps me psyched in my climbing. Knowing that there’s always more places to go and routes to climb is really motivating. I started climbing in 1997 in Massachusetts where I mainly climbed at The Boston Rock Gym and Crow Hill in Leominister. From the start I always have been interested in pretty much all aspects of climbing; from bouldering to ice and mixed climbing. Going to Pakistan this summer was really the result of those 12 or so years of progressing through all those different disciplines in climbing and traveling to pursue my goals in each.

Climbing in the seeming never-ending rain.

G: What was the application process like for the first annual Copp-Dash Inspire Award? What made you go for it, and how did it feel when you got it?

MM: The idea to apply for the Copp-Dash award was pretty whimsical. My good friend Jim Shimberg suggested that we apply (he later chose to not go) and so I did a bunch of research, picked an objective and filled out the application. More so than other grants, the Copp-Dash was really meaningful because Jonny and Micah. Although I did not know Jonny and had only hung out with Micah briefly in the Red River Gorge, their energy and spirit seemed pretty contagious throughout the climbing community. I had just landed at Logan Airport coming back from Yosemite when I got the message that we had gotten the grant. I had not been overly optimistic about my chances of getting the award and all of a sudden it was fully real that we were going to Pakistan.

G: So why K7 West Face? What was it’s appeal to you? Tell us a bit about the climb, the region, and the mountain.

MM:I’m definitely not the first person to eye the Southwest Pillar of K7 West. A few different teams have made attempts of varying significance on the pillar but no one has made it to the summit as of yet. The pillar combines both high-end rock and mixed climbing which is super appealing to me. The Charakusa Valley is a beautiful place with tons of wild flowers and streams running through base camp. Far from the cluttered glaciers of some of the bigger mountain base camps.

The reason to travel. Seriously.

G:Ok, the experience and the trip itself…let’s hear it. Success? Failure? Difficulties? High Points? Low points?

MM: It’s seems that successful expeditions to the alpine are the sum of many parts. Weather, partnerships, skill, and good bit of luck. The weather really hampered our attempts on the main objective of K7 West. On each of our attempts we got absolutely soaked and ended up walking back into base camp looking like drowned rats. We managed to summit the beautiful pyramidal summit of Naisa Brakk in a pouring rain storm after repeating Tasty Talking (11-). Climbing-wise the expedition was not as successful as I would have hoped but that seems pretty par for the course the majority of time in the alpine.

One thing that stuck with me the most was the amazing people that we met in Pakistan. The Pakistani people were some of the most welcoming and friendly people I’ve met anywhere and I made many friends that I hope to visit on future trips. May f our friends expressed a perception that we were crazy to go to Pakistan due to the anti-American sentiment. What we found couldn’t have been farther from that perception.

G: Why talk about this crazy snow-capped mountaineering business on a rock gym website anyways??? In your eyes, what are the connections? Is it unreasonable for the average gym climber to aspire to go on expeditions of this nature?

MM: For me it comes down to a passion for climbing in general. Whether it’s far-away alpine objectives or trying to send your plastic project, the same energy drives you to send. My climbing started in the gym as I think it does for many young climbers these days. The future of hard alpine climbing lies in climbers taking hard free climbing skills to the mountains and climbing and training in the gym lends itself to this end without a doubt.

It is certainly not unreasonable for the average gym climber to undertake an expedition of this sort. The first steps of researching, planning and then ultimately buying the plane tickets is all it takes. There are objectives for every one of all skill levels. Interestingly, Jason Kehl and some others were in Kashmir this past summer to boulder in the alpine. Maybe this is the future of bouldering…? Expedition bouldering!

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By Gavin Heverly

Wow. Mountains. Being primarily a boulderer, and occasionally doing some multi-pitch trad….I am not going to lie, I totally romanticize the idea of traveling to some far region of the world and spending weeks or even months assaulting a mountain. My good friend, long time BRG member, and strong climber Matt McCormick recently returned from an expedition in Pakistan. Look out for an exclusive interview in the coming week or two regarding his trip and his experiences.

For now, check out the video Matt made about preparing for the trip:

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By Amanda Beals

Several months ago I wrote 3 posts on rock climbing. I particularly focused on the work of Sender Films as I attended their premiere of First Ascent their Nat Geo production. Pete Mortimer of Sender Films kindly took time out of his busy shooting schedule to chat a bit about his film company and the developing profile of rock climbing as an international sport.

AB: How did Sender Films come into being? (be as specific as you can)

PM: I’ve been making climbing films for more than ten years now. After college, I independently produced a couple climbing films, which were all well receive in the climbing community. After the release of “Return to Sender” in 2005, I was joined by Nick Rosen, a writer living in New York City and friend from Colorado College, who helped write and direct the first official Sender Films release, “First Ascent.” “King Lines” followed, which was a collaboration with Josh Lowell and Big Up Productions that continues to be the best-selling rock climbing DVD of all time. In 2008, Sender Films released “The Sharp End,” and 2009 brought the release of a six-part series co-produced by National Geographic International called “First Ascent: The Series.” The Sender Films family remains a core group of climbers and filmmakers based in Boulder, Colorado, with big plans for the upcoming years.

AB: What is the market like for Climbing films? Documentaries?

PM: It’s likely that the market for rock climbing films will always be a relatively small niche, supported by the loyal fans and practitioners of the sport. But at Sender Films, we want to bring a less esoteric product to viewers that goes beyond the realm of sports-documentary, and tells genuine stories that are exciting and compelling to all audiences. In the past, we’ve distributed the films ourselves and in gear shops, and DVD sales have been the biggest bread-winner for the company.However, we are looking forward to the international television release of “First Ascent: The Series” to more than 140 countries in January, and the DVD box-set release coming this Fall. We have high hopes that this box set will be our biggest release yet and will cross over to more than just rock climbing fans.

AB: DUMB QUESTION: How the hell do you film a person like Honnold free soloing at Half Dome? What are the biggest concerns with any kind of filming?


PM: Shooting Alex Honnold was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever been a part of. It goes without saying that what Alex does on those big-walls is dangerous, but his casual attitude and fearless approach to danger renders us, the cameramen, shaking in our harnesses, while Alex cruises these difficult climbs with ease. Composure is the name of the game in free-soloing, where the slightest mistake means certain death for the climber, and certain liability for the film-makers, and Honnold holds it together like a Theravada monk. So that helps a lot, as does the exhilaration of just being a part of something so far-out; what Honnold did on Half Dome and Moonlight Buttress will probably never be repeated, so this stuff was a one-take kind of thing. Obviously, our biggest concern when filming is the safety of the athletes and all crew involved, and all of the climbers that we work with make our jobs that much easier by being such professional, impeccable athletes.

AB: Who are the climbers you are most excited about?

PM: At Sender Films, we like to focus on styles of climbing that emphasize the adventure, because a great story naturally follows from the more epic goals and achievements of these styles. Trad-climbing, alpine climbing, and of course free-soloing have inherent conflict and high stakes, and thus lend themselves to more elaborate stories, as the athletes spend years researching their ascent, training, and encountering physical and emotional obstacles all the way to the top.Dean Potter has taken climbing a step further by synthesizing it with BASE jumping, which is some of the most exciting stuff we can hope to capture as filmmakers… but it’s hard to say who will step it up in 2010. We have solid relationships with many of the top athletes in the climbing world, and are keeping busy in the off-season to come up with next year’s objectives. Every year, it is easy to feel like we’ve hit the ceiling of potential in pushing the limits of rock climbing, but somebody always comes along and blows the top off all over again.

AB: Any films on the horizon about female climbers?

PM: We work often with athletes like Steph Davis and Lisa Rands, and have been brainstorming different objectives with them, as well as Lynn Hill. Most of our future projects are still in development right now, but there are a lot of incredible female climbers out there who will be duly represented.

AB: What does the future hold for Sender Films? Sundance Film Festival?

PM: We’re moving in all kinds of directions right now, but we’re feeling pretty good about the future of Sender Films. The Reel Rock Film Tour just had its biggest year yet, and it will be back next year with more of Sender Films’ traditional fare. Fans can also look for us to expand into different genres as we evolve into a more diverse production company and explore interests beyond the world of adventure sports. Sundance is definitely on the horizon – watch out Redford, we’ll be BASE-jumping in for the premier.


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Epic Love: Big Climb Style



I posted a few days ago about wunderkind Alex Honnold and his solo ascents sans ropes.

I thought that was the only post I wanted to write on behalf of the ReelRockTours.

Changed my mind. And, quite honestly, there would be a perfect place in hell for me by not mentioning the  Nat Geo presentation of Sean Leary’s moving tribute to the memory of his lover and fellow climber, Roberta Nunes.

This Nat Geo presentation was the complete opposite of their portrayal of Honnold which highlighted technical eye candy and offbeat humor. The tribute to Roberta Nunes enters the realm of almost folkloric proportions. Think Tristan and Isolde.

Both Sean Leary and Roberta Nunes were world class rock climbers.


Sean Leary made a promise to Roberta that should she ever die before Sean that Sean would spread her ashes among the mountains in Patagonia.  Several days after this somber exchange, Nunes was involved in a fatal car crash. Eerie.

What takes place following Nunes untimely passing, is nothing short of remarkable and again worthy of a Shakespearean play. After 2 years of profound grieving, Sean and two of his buddies, Renan Ozturk and Cedar Wright, screw up the courage to trek to Patagonia, forge new terrain in Roberta’s name and disperse her ashes to the blustery, robust winds of Patagonia.

French author, Muriel Barbery, writes:

How many years do we spend forgetting the passion we breathed into any activity that held a promise of pleasure? Why are we now so rarely capable of such total commitment, such elation, such flights of charming lyricism…


For Sean and his friends, the initial trip to Patagonia was replete with bad weather, low spirits and sadness. The longing Sean experienced for his climbing partner and lover was evinced painfully and transparently on his face. With inclement weather, the men were stuck to bouldering and short climbs near their base.

Weeks passed. Still no opening in the weather.

And, with a day left to their trip, an opening in the weather presented itself. I cannot explain how they scaled this virgin rock in short order; but, they did. From Sender Films’s Blog:

But then the weather and the climbers pulled through. As the clouds held back and the sun shone bright over two days, Cedar and Renan sent a killer first ascent on Mochito. Then Stanley wingsuited from the summit of El Mocho, one of the few BASE jumps anyone has done in the range. As the chute opened, Roberta’s ashes were released into the mountains. The thermals almost blew Stanley back to Chalten, but the Andean condors guided him to safety. He stuck it. We stuck it.

Check out KempleMedia for crushing photos of this act of beauty.

Sean base jumped from the rock’s peak releasing Nunes’ ashes to elements. A flight of charming lyricism.

Ok. I know no one who would do this for me (except maybe my crazy mother). I share this story as a testimony to commitment and perseverance. There are no words to duly underscore the power of this love, a love forged in stone.

As many of us, often remark how unexceptional our lives have become, I defer you to Sean and Roberta. Take note and live fully.

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Rock Climbing: A religious practice?



Chris O’Connel, owner and aficionado of the Boston Rock Gym contacted me a few weeks back. O’Connel is a dedicated and kindly reader of my almost daily epistle and wondered if rock climbing was on my agenda during my year of “elite fitness.” HELL YA! I replied.

As many of you may know, I work in social media consulting. I cut out the PR agency out of a media campaign and take it straight to the web. I create a digital strategy to capture the the trends of the media as it has almost fully jumped ship from newspapers and radio to cloud computing, mobile devices and social networking.

Anyway, I’m on board at the Boston Rock Gym and in turn I get to train and write about my experiences as a novice ( oh so novice) climber who still has more junk in the trunk than she should and a bosom that keeps her from actually getting flush against the wall. I wonder if my Zaftig figure is akin to a bulldog swimming? Are we both destined to drop like a boulder in water? Time will tell.

What I do know is the following:

I humbly bow before the young athletes that do climb, boulder and forge new, breathtaking death defying routes for the immortal to chance their luck.

I say this with out pretense and with complete humility.

I had the pleasure of attending the Reel Rock Film Festival at The Regent in Arlington last Thursday night.

Two words from the Film Festival: Alex Honnold. (PLEASE WATCH VIDEO)


I will plainly admit: I have no words to describe Honnold as a climber. The 23 year-old, featured in Nat Geo’s new series, First Ascent, becomes the first person to free solo Half Dome’s NW face. And, for those not in the climbing community, this means the kid climbed a sheer, flat rock without ropes. Honnold climbed with pluck, a quiet mind and graceful gait.

The California Geological Survey about Half Dome in 1865 stated: “It is a crest of granite… perfectly inaccessible, being probably the only one of the prominent points about the Yosemite which never has been, and never will be, trodden my human foot.” Well, it got trodden, people by a veritable Spiderman.

As I watched this episode of Honnold’s ascent, I felt dizzy, nauseous and quite honestly not believing my eyes. I sought information. How does a person train for such a climb? What is Honnold’s diet? Does Honnold have water with him? How the hell is this being filmed? The only facts I received that were even tangentially related to Honnold were that he reads Dostoyevsky, he possibly has never been kissed, lives in a van and arguably has the empty mind and quiet soul of the Buddha (sans body fat) seeking enlightenment not under a tree but in his embrace of the rock.


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