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Submitted by fjielgeit on 2003-12-25

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Most tools of our craft are defensive in design: to protect us when we fall. The belay system is engineered to absorb huge stress loads. Take a thirty footer. You know what I mean.

What gear is offensive in design? Like chalk, verapes help us adhere like lizards to stone. Five.Ten summed it up nicely, "The only shoe to climb 5.15." Some bragging rights. I like the Saltic ad of the racing motorcycle rear tire glued to the track.

In the mid 1980's, I was glued to the track on a difficult 5.10 variation to a Joshua Tree classic, Stick To What (5.9, Echo Rock). Shoes: E.B.'s. Shortly after this episode, I did a repeat wearing first generation sticky rubber Boreal Fires. Doing some mental comparisons after my second ascent, I noticed a difference in traction, sort of (more on this later).

Twenty years ago I wasn't too concerned with such gripping details as rubber composition. I wanted to climb to my limit and be gripped. Recently I wrote a shoe review for Rock & Ice. During my research on the Bufo Unbreakable, their fabulous gym shoe model, I began to get under the manufacturer hype to study the sole -- soul -- of the boot.

To find out how klettershoes were constructed, I destructed a few old pair. I talked with shoe reps and cobblers. I watched quietly at climbing shops and gyms as folks tried on and test drove new models. I listened to their buying strategies (or lack of, "Those fit, OK."; "I like the looks of that pair, I'll buy them."). And I read comments by the pedagogues of our sport.

Duane Raleigh, current Chief Editor / Publisher of Rock & Ice has said shoes do not make the climber. Duane wrote this when he worked for Climbing Magazine. He used as example, Bernd Arnold, the famous East German who put 5.12's and 13's in the 1970's and 80's in Elbanstein near Dresden, often barefoot. Layton Kor, the Colorado legend, says any good alpinest can climb hard in mukluks. Chris Sharma leads a 5.13 in clogs. Shoes do not make the climber.

I began this rant by saying shoes are an offensive weapon in our battles on the crags. Rubber chemistry and formula composition (as guarded as the Pepsi recipe) has come a long way since Vibram Yellow Dot. Yet I could glue Mad Rock finger tip caps over steel reinforced fingernails, be shod with the most sensitive foot forming slippers with adhesive soles, but if I don't have what it takes on the inside to send the pitch, what's on the outside won't help.

OK, we are made of the right stuff. So I buy the wrong footwear, a flimsy slipper when my climbing style is better suited to a model with a thin mid sole. Have I gained an advantage? What I got is a stress fracture, right foot, 3rd metatarsal. After I healed from this injury and miss the reason for the breakdown, I take my sophisticate goulashes out to the crag, lace up, and begin walking around the gritty base of the climb grinding soil into my once tacky pads.

This disrespect is how I treated my rubber in the early days. When I climbed the direct start on Stick To What, both E.B.'s and Boreal's had a layer of decomposed granite and fine clay embedded in the rubber. John Bachar of Boreal, in a 1994 Climbing article on rubber performance, "(sticky) rubber gets screwed up by dirt (looses effectiveness)."

Moral to the story? Today I am nearly an old retread, but I still love to wrench my feet into tight boots and kick up my heals. I do keep my sole rubber clean and gluey, as best I can. I need every offensive advantage to get up routes like Stick To What. Do you understand?


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