Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Ninja Warrior Sweden: An unfortunate ending

On Thursday they aired last episode of Ninja Warrior Sweden and now that it's all over I can share my thoughts on how it all went down.....

Of the 125 that started Ninja Warrior Sweden 65 made it past the first course and only 17 completed the second, though a total of 25 would advance to the "finals".  Of those 25 people only three (Alex, David and myself) completed the finals Stage 1 and advanced to "Stage 2".  Here is a clip of my completion of Stage 1.

 As for Stage 2, those that watched the final got a glimpse of what happened as Alex, David and I fail on the final obstacles in the rain.  Alex had the good fortune of going first and got to attempt the "floating doors" when they where dry but it started raining on him as he pulled onto the "cliff hanger".  David and myself were not so lucky as the rain was dumping when they ushered us toward the floating doors making them impossible (I seriously don't think they are possible when dripping wet).  It was all very anticlimactic and hugely disappointing on so many levels.  Here is a clip of my run with the lame ending.

The weather had been an issue for much of the weekend but despite the varying conditions we were told they would do their best to uphold the integrity of the "competition".  There were times on earlier stages when people were stopped from running so rain could pass, tarps were put over and obstacles were dried off.  These measures of course took time and when the final rolled around they were behind schedule and production was stressed.

I do understand that there are things you can't control but whether a member of production, a participant or a spectator I find it hard to believe anyone could be remotely satisfied with the way Ninja Warrior ended.  It is such a shame to end an otherwise wonderful experience on such a sour note especially when it could so easily have been avoided.

From the beginning I understood that Ninja Warrior is a TV program before it is a competition and didn't question why it is shot outside and at night (apparently it make for better TV).  I lack the expertise to legitimately question the way things were done but I assured myself that nobody wanted Ninja Warrior to turn out well more than those calling the shots.  A compromised competition is bad TV and that was the one thing I thought they wanted to avoid but in the end that is what we were left with.

I guess I'm still a little bitter as having us do the last obstacles in the rain made them impossible in all likelihood robbed somebody of 500,000kr.  Alex, David and myself felt cheated as we joined to conquer the "world's hardest obstacle course"  but weren't given a fair chance.  Maybe waiting another hour for the rain to stop wouldn't work because the sun would be rising (bad TV?) but the one thing I just can't reconcile is why tarps were not put over those final obstacles.  Covers had been used on previous obstacles and there was ample time but for some reason it wasn't done.

Immediately after the filming I had talked to the other finalists and written a letter stating our grievances but in the end it was never sent.  The thing is I had nowhere to send the letter as everyone I interacted with in production was awesome and also bummed with the way things worked out.  On top of the fact that there was no villain, just unfortunate circumstances, there is very little a complaint would accomplish.  It was the first year and mistakes were made and while writing it as "rookie mistakes" doesn't give me much comfort at this point I just need to get over my bitterness and know that things will be better run next season.

But enough of my ranting.  It is over and done with and there is nothing I can do about it but come back next year and go all the way.

So just a few more things before bringing the blog back to posting about climbing.

First, I wanted to say congratulations to Alex as he will now get the opportunity to compete in Japan. Yes, I would have liked to go to Japan (or win 500,000kr for that matter) but he is deserving and will do well.  And props to David for killing the course as well.  He was left in the same situation as me and given the chance to take on a dry final there is no telling what he could do.

Secondly, the burgeoning Ninja community in Sweden is awesome.  I have little doubt that Ninja Warrior will take hold in Sweden the same way it has in the USA.  The community is in it's infancy but folks come from all walks of life and everyone seemed super energized, even those that knew they had almost zero chance of "total victory".  Just a great group of people all around from those that produce the show and participate all the way down to the young fans.

And that is that.  Sorry about that little rant (hopefully that doesn't affect me coming back next year). So until next back to climbing rocks.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Ninja Warrior Sverige: My quest to become a Swedish Ninja Warrior

Here is a little write-up on my experience leading up to the final of Ninja Warrior Sverige (Sweden).


Many of you are certainly familiar with the television program called Ninja Warrior.  If you don't know about it you should just type it into Google but in a nutshell Ninja Warrior is an extreme obstacle course where contestants get one shot at completing various stages in pursuit of "total victory" and a big cash prize.  From my understanding the show originally started in Japan back in the 1980s and as it gained popularity it was adapted for an American audience and in 2009 American Ninja Warrior began.

I remember seeing some clips of the early episodes and thinking that it not only looked like fun but it also looked relatively easy.  Apparently many a rock-climber must have had similar thoughts as it wasn't long before fellow climbers (a fair number of them personal friends) began joining the ranks of competitors and consistently being among the best performers.  Some very talented friends have taken on the course and in the end all them punted (that means failed when you shouldn't have) and it seemed surprising to me that in the 6 years of American Ninja Warrior no one has ever won the $500,000 prize.  I'd talk to my friends afterwards and try to gather what went wrong as the obstacles were so far beneath their level.  In the end fatigue, pressure or something always seemed to send them to the drink.

Despite my friends' failures I was still convinced I could complete the course and while I considered applying for the program in the USA the logistics of living in Sweden deterred me and I was relegated to trash-talking my friends from afar.  Then last spring I discovered through a random conversation with a friend that I would be given the opportunity to backup all that talk as Ninja Warrior was coming to Sweden.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect but I threw together an application and before I knew it I was jumping through hoops and hanging on rings with other wannabe ninjas at a tryout in Gothenburg.  After the tryout I was fairly certain I would make it on the show and began trying to figure out how one would train for Ninja Warrior.  I had a couple climbing friends that also were selected and while we trained a few times I feel that high level climbers are pretty well equipped to take on the course without really training.  That said it would be helpful to try some of the specific obstacles and I build a salmon-ladder and ultimate-cliffhanger just to ensure I wouldn't do anything stupid when it mattered.

Leading up to the filming I wasn't nervous at all but just excited about the chance to participate and for a sweet payday.  I also figured that this was the first year in Sweden and the course will probably be a bit easier than what they have in the States so if there was ever a time to win it would be now.  For the two months before the filming I had integrated some extra ninja specific training to my usual climbing and felt that as long as my nerves held out and I didn't do anything stupid I'd come home with a fat wallet. That being said, it's hard to know how you'll perform when there is a big production around and nerves were the big question-mark for me.

Just before the filming our little family drove to Stockholm (Björke was less than two weeks old) and I went through the rigmarole of checking in and learning how things would be run.  While waiting my turn to go (there is quite a bit of waiting involved) I met fellow ninjas and watched as others attempted the first course and tried to glean any tips from their runs.  I was still calm and confident all the way until I was standing in front of the quad-step when suddenly those nerves decided to show up.  Despite preparation and confidence I got butterflies in my stomach and was so nervous that I almost got the "shaky legs".  All those "what ifs" came rushing in and I'm noticeably fidgety as I stare into the camera waiting for the production folks to give me the go ahead.

Fortunately when I was given the green light the nervousness evaporated and it was just me and some obstacles to play on.  It reminded me of when I played basketball and a similar thing would happen at tip-off before big games but once the whistle blew it was game on.  With the moment of nervousness gone the first course was easy and from there on out I didn't worry about my nerves.  Here is a clip of the first course.

The second course wasn't that difficult either but I had a little reminder on the salmon-ladder that it only takes one poorly timed mistake for it all to end.  I think a fair number of others learned this the hard way as only 17 of the 65 that attempted the second course succeeded.  Here is a clip of the second course.

Going into the final I was extremely confident as you could see the obstacles we'd be attempting and none of them seemed too difficult.  "Total victory" seemed as good as mine, but would I show up my friends in America or just be another punter...................

I'll do another write-up in a couple weeks after they have aired the final episodes as I can't spill the bean.  For those in Sweden tune into Kanal 5 at 2000 on Thursday for some Ninja action.  Youtube clips are available for those outside Sweden.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Bishop Bouldering: Milking it

I've been spending quite a bit of time in Bishop this winter.  To be honest there are lots of other places I'd rather be in terms of climbing but when rolling with the family Bishop has proved to be perfect.  The weather has been incredible (as long as you're not considering the serious drought) and with a multitude of bouldering close to the rig you can always squeeze in a climb between snacks, naps, changing diapers, combing hair, etc, etc....

There is lots of rock around Bishop but it is the granite of the Buttermilks that keeps me coming back.  Got to love this place as it's hard to beat the setting.  The view is best appreciated from the top of a giant boulder. 

The Buttermilks are know for amazing highballs and Suspended in Silence in the Pollen Grains is one of them.  This problem has actually broke recently making it a couple notches harder but difficulty is no obstacle for Brian as he shows how it's done.

Not all problems in the Milks are tall.  Chris on the grainy slopers of Brian's Problem.

One of my favorite problems in the Buttermilks is Lydia's Mouth, also at the Pollen Grains.  The unique moves out the giant mouth might reduce shorter climbers to tears.

Also at the Pollen Grains Sarah cranks on Cindy Swank.

Lina styles the Buttermilk Stem, a must do for any climber.

The Solitaire boulder is most known for the problem the boulder is named for but I find some of the other problems on the boulder to be better.  Another One climbs extremely well and comes recommended for anyone visiting the boulder.

Ryan on the slopey topout of Another One.

Judge Not is on the back side of the Solitaire Boulder and despite having no stars in the guidebook is my favorite problem on the boulder.  The crux isn't hitting the jug but matching with your left hand before you spin off.  Here Noah unsuccessfully tries the wet-noodle technique on the dyno.  

Checkerboard is one of my favorite problems ever.  A striking line on beautiful rock in an amazing setting.  4-start problems are extremely rare but this one is a very strong contender.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

New Year's Resolution, Instagraming and Malibu Bouldering

Every time I post after a long dry spell I talk about making a renewed effort to keep Kearney Journey up to date and relevant.  Needless to say these previous efforts proved minimally effective as life and appathy inevitably interfere with blogging.  Now once again I'm stating my intention to maintain some semblance of regularity on this blog and I even thought I'd try to make it a new year's resolution of sorts (despite waiting almost a full month to make said resolution).  So we'll see how it goes but I'm shooting for the very achievable goal of averaging one post a week for the rest of the year.

I'm also learning my way around Instagram (@kearneyjourney) where I'll be regularly posting photos of my adventures (see sidebar for feed).  For those without Instagram I'll be sharing those pictures on facebook as well, so if you like the Kearney Journey page you'll get them in your feed.

So until the next time, here are a few more photos of the bouldering at Malibu's Tunnel Boulders

I've actually been spending lots of time just hanging on the beach this trip but I do get out to the local bouldering from time to time.  Sure is nice to watch the sunset over the pacific after a bit of bouldering (or whenever really). 

I don't have much that I know of that I haven't done around Malibu so I've been trying a few of the more obscure problems.  One such problem at the Tunnel Boulders climbs a steep face and has a first move that was beyond my ability.  I guess Gato Cosmico will have to wait until I'm stronger 

My back-meat looked pretty good doing the upper moves of Gato Cosmico but failed me on the start.

Prairie on a sweet warm-up at the Tunnel Boulders

Matty contemplates using a mono.

One of the funner problems I did is a classic sloper problem called Leah.  The problem is essential lifting your butt off the ground and doing a couple hard bumps with your right hand before some easy moves on sweet slopers.  Even if the climbing isn't all that interesting it's a good line and some of the best rock around Malibu.  Got to love those slopers.

The fun thing about sandstone is it have be hard to judge difficulty.  Here Lina milks the slopers of a deceptively difficult problem.  

Terminator is one of my favorite problems at the Tunnel Boulders and I've added it to my circuit.  There is also an obvious sitstart I've spent a couple sessions on that adds considerable difficulty and may still be undone.  It's nice to have something to work on. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Getting Psyched for Bishop with some old footage.

Tomorrow we get back on the road and head to Bishop.  Psyched to be back there and circuit the old classics and maybe even manage some new problems.  Here are a couple older videos from previous years.  I should make some more of these.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Castle Valley: I want to climb that.

"Because it's there" was George Mallory's famous reply to the question of why he wanted to climb Everest.  The question itself might seem a bit preposterous to some climbers as it can be hard to understand how someone can see a towering peak, jutting pillar or any similar formation and not want to be on top.  That seeming innate desire had me scrambling up buildings, trees and rocks as a small boy and when I grew older it transitioned to hiking up mountains just to be rewarded with a grand view.  So when I eventually found climbing it would seem that it would take me to new heights, but instead that initial desire to simply reach the highest point quickly morphed to include finding the most striking and/or difficult line and over time I was standing on fewer and fewer summits until eventually I reached the point where I'd exert days of effort to crawl out of some 10 foot hole covered in graffiti.  It's an interesting place to end up.  

Now don't get me wrong, I love bouldering and have no intention of forsaking my beloved pebbles but there is a yearning when visiting certain places that makes me want to put aside the pad and tie in to a rope.  There are features that are so impressive in scope, contrast, ascetics and/or magnitude that they beckon like sirens, appealing to that fledgling climber that like Mallory felt the need to climb it simply because it's there.  I'd know the big walls of Yosemite or perhaps the peaks of the Sierra Nevadas might come to mind for many but if you're not willing to commit the time/effort or lack the expertise necessary there are some dessert towers that will appeal to the "Mallory" in us.

Though lacking the commitment of El Cap and on a much smaller scale Castleton Tower in Utah's Castle Valley just begs to be climbed.  There are plenty of towers in the area but this one stands out as it stands imposingly, demanding your attention.  The first time I drove through the valley I was captivated by Castleton and felt the urge to stand on top of it.  Of course having dedicated myself to bouldering all these years I had to recruit someone capable of helping me to the top and luckily for me my sister Prairie has become an excellent trad-climber.  So it was with great excitement that I joined my sister to bag a tower for what has been a highlight of my 15 years of climbing.

It's easy to see why Castleton is a "must do" for climbers visiting the region.  And while I can't help but want to stand on top of such formations this desire is not shared by all.  When asked, my sister Heather replied with no hesitation that she had zero desire to see the view from the top of Castleton.  I'll share my pictures with her though just in case. 

The hike to the base was fairly casual and took roughly 40 minutes.  Prairie had done Castleton a couple years earlier and said the trail was much better now.  Even if you got off the trail you'd have to be dumb or blind to actually get lost.  "Does anyone know how to find the massive tower?"

At the base of Castleton.  A note to those going for a winter assent of pretty much anything in the northern hemisphere, if the high temperature for the day is going to be just just a few degrees above freezing it is best to avoid routes with the word "north" in their name.  As I mentioned earlier Prairie had done Castleton a couple years earlier via the classic Kor-Ingals route.  Wanting to take an alternative route to the top she opted for 5.8 on the other side of the tower and I foolishly followed....  The first pitch of the North Gully is superb climbing in an ascetically pleasing dihedral but I couldn't appreciate any of it as my hands were so cold I had to fight the urge to vomit while I wondered how long it takes for frostbite to set in.  Seriously though, my hands have never been colder and I really felt like vomiting.  When I finally joined my sister at the anchor after climbing the first pitch we chuckled about how miserable we were and how we had never thought it possible to have to try so hard on a 5.8.  When the blood flowed back into my hands along with the feeling best described as the "screaming barfys" (you want to both scream and barf simultaneously) we decided it was best to just rappel down and go around to the sunny side and do Kor-Ingals.  I must say that while I was jamming my numb meat-hooks into the freezing crack I couldn't help but be impressed with my sister.  Not only did she lead with absolutely no feeling in her hands but she belayed me up the first pitch thinking we'd continue climbing through icy hell.  Or maybe she just wanted me to expericne the same suffering she just went through.  Either way I was happy to have had that miserable experience and even happier that we bailed and went to climb in the sun. 

Prairie racking up.  Needless to say, things went great once with got in the sun.  We danced up Kor-Ingals wondering how we could have been so dumb.  Live and learn.

The mandatory summit photo. 

The view on top for my sister Heather (just in case).  And there are some more towers I'd like to stand on.  

The beauty of climbing like this is the gratification you get when you get to a remote place.  It might not require great strength but even an easy climb can be an adventure and give a sense of fulfillment much greater than sending a V-hard boulder problem.  Maybe the reason I explore and develop so much is that it is a way to instill that sense of adventure that is generally lacking in bouldering.

Castleton casting a shadow.  Clearly this tower was happy to see me.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Malibu Bouldering Video: Malibu Creek and Tunnel Boulders

We are still in Malibu waiting for a spell of bad weather to pass and I used my time to throw together a little video.  The footage is from various years (you might notice the haircut) and highlights a couple problems that are worth doing it in the area.

One of the problems is located in Malibu Creek State Park which is known primarily for it's sport climbing on steep volcanic tuff but has a bit of bouldering.  Chubbs (aka the Malibu Roof) is hands down the best problem there and is a saut after test piece for Los Angeles Climbers.

The other problems in the video are from the Tunnel Boulders that sit just north of the tunnel in Malibu Canyon.  Unlike Malibu Creek this area is a soft sandstone and while some of boulders are super solid most of the climbing is on friable rock and the problems are "evolving" as the area gets more traffic.  Regardless, there are some good climbs to be done.

Hope you enjoy the video.  And for those that don't pick up the quote at the start, drop everything and go watch The Big Lebowski  right now.

Malibu Bouldering: Malibu Creek and the Tunnel Boulders from Walker Kearney on Vimeo.