Dirtbag Skills!

Here’s my new article: “How To Be A Dirtbag” (7 Skills To Build Your Rugged Side).

Pic credits:
1. Cassie Chyne Cook at Monkey’s Face, Central Oregon (Mikey Holmes’ pic)
2. Ben Leroy’s pic of me bouldering at Sisters Boulders, Oregon
3. Rainy Hoffmeister at Lost Rocks, Northern California
4. Jennie Hoffmeister‘s pic of me on the Alvord Desert slat flats, Eastern Oregon


How To Climb Like A Beginner

All injury stories are the same. I was feeling pretty good, starting to climb well when I…



(Choose a noun: KNEE, SHOULDER, HAND, ACL, WRIST, ANKLE, LEG, MCL, pinkie…)


I wasn’t feeling very good, hadn’t been working out hard enough at that time, when I pushed it more than I should and I…


The injury’s not where the story gets interesting. Yeah, I’ve had injuries before (broken ribs, dislocated thumb, fractured wrist, etc.) and yes, you’ve had injuries as well. You tore your rotator cuff. You snapped a tendon in your ring finger. You injured the whatever-its-called in your elbow when you fell off your nephew’s trampoline. Really, our individual injuries are not that interesting.

But our attitudes? What we do after our injuries? That – to me – is much more interesting.

Unfortunately – for a while at least – after surgery or getting the cast off or the knee brace, or doing physical therapy, we have to climb easy. We can’t go hard. We can’t run up The Rostrum. We can’t send that Bishop highball we’ve always to finish. We can’t project that 5.12+ trad route at the Gunks. For a while, we have to keep from getting injured again. We have to maintain good attitudes and sound training fundamentals while still climbing easy. And that’s difficult. Most of us – naturally – want to go hard, want to push our abilities, want to send something that we’ve never sent before. But the road back to climbing hard starts with climbing easy. There’s an art to climbing easy, and in my experience, a lot to learn from that time period of easier exertion.


With Beginner Routes, There’s No Competition

I’m a competitive person. If three of my friends and I are attempting a difficult route, I want to send it first. I don’t mind if someone else is successful on the route as long as I’ve already been successful on the route. See, I like to win the game. I want to win the game even if no one else knows that we’re playing the game. If everyone thinks we’re just having fun, I might be competing in my head. That makes me seem like a jerk, but truthfully, I sometimes am a jerk. I’ve competed for who can be the best at throwing rocks at a metal sign, for who can open the well-sealed jar of jam, for who can find the prettiest piece of petrified wood.

I’m way too competitive.

The problem with being a way-to-competitive-climber and having a significant injury is that there’s no competition on beginner routes. Everyone can climb VB or 5.6.

That bodybuilding guy with zero footwork who wears a leather vest to the gym, wears no shirt underneath, and climbs with bent arms all the way up the wall? Yep, he can climb 5.6.

That college girl who yells “SPOT ME! SPOT ME! SPOT ME!!!!!” in a hysterical voice the second she leaves the ground on the easiest VB taped-route? Well, she sends that level too.

So if I’m climbing beginner routes – and only beginner routes – I’m on everyone’s level. Actually, I’m below most people’s level. There’s no one to beat at climbing, no one to be better than. So I have to let go of my competitive mindset, and that’s probably good for me. Thinking about it a little more, I realized that letting go of a competitive mindset – at least once in a while – is probably good for most climbers. Maybe if we all spent a little more time climbing easy routes, we’d find joy in the process and we’d let go of ridiculous competitiveness. For example, we might stop selfishly hoping for our own friends to fail on tougher routes until we send them ourselves.

About to send her project

Roo climbing into the overhang – about to send her project.


Because Beginner Climbing Is Climbing Just For Fun

Climbing is supposed to be fun. When Alex Lowe was told in an interview that he was one of the best all-around climbers in the world, he shook his head and said, “The best climber in the world is the one who’s having the most fun.”

And it’s not like I don’t have fun climbing. I have a lot of fun. I sometimes laugh and smile all day long. But I’m pushing myself, pushing hard. I have a lot of goals, and if I don’t meet my own high expectations, I get disappointed. I feel like I haven’t “performed.” And how weird is that?


It’s as if a day of climbing with my friends is actually a violin recital and there’s some classical music critic in my head asking if I played Tchaikovski’s symphony well enough.

I tend to get caught up in my “what’s next?” mentality as well. If I can trad lead these five middle-grade routes in one day at my local crag, then I should be able to do “Astroman” the week after next.

But what’s after 5.7 if you’re only a 5.7 climber right now and you don’t push it? Oh wait, I know the answer to that: More 5.7. Always. And maybe a few VBs and a sprinkling of 5.6s as well.

To be honest, isn’t Royal Arches one of the best routes in the Valley? And what does that go at?

Never mind that you’ve always avoided Royal Arches because you don’t want it on your 8a.nu scorecard…

unintentional cool guy face

Beware of making unintentional “Cool-Guy” face. Trust me, neither of us are very cool.


Make Up Endurance Challenges

Since you’re not at the gym or crag to “perform,” you can climb without worrying about sending hard routes. But just because you’re climbing without a high-end goal, doesn’t mean you can’t make up challenges for yourself. Easy endurance challenges are great.

For example:

  • Climb 20 VBs in one session. Then another day, climb 30. Then 50. Inside, at the gym, this challenge is sort of a fun one or two-hour workout. But outside, it takes a lot of exploring to find twenty or more VB rock routes, and it’ll be fun finding that many easy boulders even in your home area. The first time I did this challenge at my favorite bouldering area, I realized how much I loved the location, how cool it was to climb easy volcanic rocks in a beautiful ponderosa and juniper forest.
  • Do pyramids on a VB. Climb up one move, down one move, then up two moves and down two moves, up three and down three, slowly building to climbing the whole route in one vomit-pumping, VB-obsessing manner. This is an excellent drill inside or outside, and your forearms get tired.
  • Research the height of a famous, long, easy rock route, then go to your local crag and climb that height in one day. If you want to be obsessive compulsive, count the total pitches of 5.5, 5.6, 5.7, and 5.8 on the famous route and climb the route in full-imitation-mode, pitch by pitch, at your home crag.
warm up route

Roo on one of our favorite easy routes


Don’t Care What Other People Think And Don’t Get Caught Up

This is difficult for competitive people. Trust me, I know. Although I’m not the strongest climber in the world…or North America…or my own region…or even at my small, local gym (please don’t tell anyone how weak I am), I like to be thought of as a strong climber. I hope people think, “Look how strong he was on that cave route. He made that look easy.” But the truth is, “strong” is a vague and relative term for most of us. Stack me up against a beginning climber and I look pretty strong. But when I hear that Chris Sharma warmed up on two V7s at Bishop, I don’t feel so strong anymore. So why do we worry about comparisons? Why do we hold so tightly to our faulty illusions of greatness?

To climb easy well, that is, to enjoy easy climbing, I have to stop caring about what other people think and how I compare to them. And to do this, I have to turn down local “hard-man” offers. I have to avoid getting caught up.

The scene:

A local hard-man takes a long drag on his cigarette. Crushes the tip with his calloused fingers. Says, “Pete, I bet you could send this route pretty quick? Wanna jump on it?”

I shake my head and am grateful for what I get to climb this day. I say, “No, I’m doing an easy day on these 5.8s over here.”

Local hard-man, shirtless and tan, stretches his neck one way, then the other. “But don’t you wanna burn down this 5.11+ real quick? I’m sure you could.”

It’s a trap. I have to watch out. I just saw him fail on that route and he doubts I can do it. He wants a failure comparison. He hopes that maybe I won’t make it to his highpoint, so maybe he can say, “Yeah, but Pete looked like crap on it too. It’s pretty sandbagged for 5.11+.”

But I can’t fall for this trap even if I think I can do the route, even if I’ve done the route many, many times before. I can’t get re-injured on something meaningless. So I have to say, “No thanks. But lemme give you a belay if you wanna try it again.”

It’s a dangerous world out there at the crag. Stick to your easy game plan. Stay easy. Stay healthy. Get stronger slowly.

Try-Hard Face

Avoid “Try-Hard” face as well.


Focus On Form

Quiet feet. Straight arms. Steady pace. Decisive hand-placement. Use every part of your body. Don’t waste your time trying to find the best part of every hold. Push off your feet much more than you pull with your arms. Rotate your hips. Roll your body through each move and keep a steady progression.

In Fall Of The Phantom Lord, Dan Osman talks about putting three-quarters of his body weight on his feet. Think about that as you climb 5.6, 5.7, 5.8. It’s pretty cool to focus on that sort of efficiency and recognize when you’re climbing smoothly, effortlessly, like a trout swimming through an eddy.


Climb With Kids

Some of this essay makes climbing easy sound like a mental challenge or somehow less fun, but that’s not true. Some of the most fun climbing days of my life have been on easy routes. Many, many, short, easy routes. Or long easy routes. So many fun days when the grades didn’t matter at all.

Climbing easy is especially fun with kids because kids climb for pure joy. They swing on overhanging holds. They sing as they climb. They chase lizards to the other side of the boulder. And sometimes they only want to climb barefoot.

So do what they do. Take on their mentality. Sing with them. Run around and explore. Take off your shoes and catch that lizard. Climb with a child’s sense of wonder.


Roo on a log

Maybe do this instead of stressing about sending that hard route?


Finally, Renew The Mind

So what’s wrong with VB? What’s wrong with infinite 5.7 pitches? Do I always need a challenge, or have I always been worried about what other people think?

VB is like a beach in Costa Rica, like body surfing warm moderate waves. Don’t worry about how it looks. Don’t be too competitive. Relax. Enjoy the process. Go back to the beginning of your climbing life but with better technique and more gratitude. As Bob Dylan once sang when he was apparently talking about rock climbing, “There’s no one to beat you, no one to defeat you, except the thoughts of yourself feeling bad.”



Peter Brown Hoffmeister is currently climbing easy in the sun, recovering from a car accident.

Back By Popular Demand: End-Of-Year Dirtbag Report

Because you asked for a dirtbag update:

Usually, I celebrate dirtbag Christmas at work. This is how it goes: Bri-Bri, My-Only-Friend-In-The-Entire-World-Jeff-Hess, and I scour the multiple “lost and found” boxes for a week. We find the most useful items, in sizes that fit the others, wrap them in school-issued newspaper, then have a gift exchange on the Friday before break. I’ve gotten a good travel coffee mug out of the exchange, a nice sweatshirt, and an excellent shell that I use all the time, plus a few other items that I use on a semi-regular basis.

But we didn’t celebrate this year. We let ourselves get too busy to have fun.

Very undirtbag.

And although I didn’t celebrate dirtbag Christmas at work this year, Jennie and I made each other gifts at home – instead of buying them – and I still felt sort of like a dirtbag.

Sort of.

See, I’ve had some very undirtbag moments this year. The weirdest?

In October, a public speaking gig got me put up in the fanciest hotel I’ve ever stayed at. They flew me first class to the event and rented a late-model, bright red Mustang for me to drive. At the rental counter I said, “Oh, no thanks. I don’t need a Mustang.” But the rental agency woman just smiled at me and said, “You’ll love it. It’s such a great car.”

In classy style – as if I was fighting against the new me – I did accidentally flip the car into reverse as I drove forward into valet parking, grinding the gears so loudly that all of the valet parking boys doubled over laughing.

That felt dirty. But still, there was valet parking at this hotel. Only valet parking. No other option but valet parking.

Yet a dirtbag is a dirtbag is a dirtbag…

A dirtbag spends less money, believes in time over money, believes that working is only worth it if it means that he is buying more time. A dirtbag would rather lay his sleeping bag in the dirt, the free dirt, than pay for a campsite, a motel, a tent, or anything else. More time outside. More time climbing. Swimming rather than showers. Sharing food rather than networking. Sleeping on someone’s floor to save money. Surfing more. Biking more. Skateboarding in the street. Laying in the sun and reading. Climbing a tree and staring at the clouds.

Another thing: I’ve been injured this year. I tore four ribs off of my sternum joint in an accident in February and spent all year doing physical therapy. I’m mostly healed now, but the doctors told me that the dent in my chest wall will never go away and I may never climb like I did before the accident. Being injured is funny for a physical person because it’s hard to feel rugged when you’re in pain all of the time. How rugged is a man laying in the fetal position on the floor, high on Percocet?

But I did get out this year anyway. And here’s a Dirtbag-6 list for those who like lists:

1. Nights camping this year: 29

2. Months wearing the same pair of shorts: 2 straight

3. Best outdoor endurance climbing day: July 17th, 36 routes, The Columns, Eugene, 1692 vertical feet, 5.8 to 5.10a

4. Backpacking trips: 3 (The best: Alder Springs, Squaw Creek Canyon, Central Oregon)

5. Days swimming in a river this year: 37 (most recently, December 18th, Polar Bear Swim, Willamette River, Oregon)

6. Nights slept on a floor this year: 13

I’ve also eaten a lot of free food, taken donations from my friends’ deep freezers, gone two full days just on food-scores from a single staff meeting, waited until people left a pizza place then finished all of their leftovers, and scored a box of Twinkies from a trashcan.

But let’s see…Proudest dirtbag moment of the year?

One night, a few weeks ago, Jennie returned home from a walk and said, “I found us a Christmas tree, and it’s perfect. I just need help getting it because it’s at a dumpster.” Nine feet tall, with the top broken off, I cut and reshaped it into one of the prettiest 7-foot Christmas trees anyone has ever seen. Forty dollars saved.

And finally, two nights ago, I was given my brother-in-law’s “too tight new jeans.” They’re Ralph Lauren jeans with the sales tags still on. My daughter turned to me and said, “Take ‘em back, dirtbag. What could you do with all that money?”


VICE Magazine & Smoking

I got to talk to River Donaghey, a writer with VICE magazine, this week. We did an interviewed about Yosemite, bears, dirtbagging as a verb, and my forthcoming novel, Graphic the Valley:

Here’s the VICE feature interview with a few pics (including my garage climbing wall – my woody – behind me in the lead photo).

Although he mentioned a little bit about my odd younger years and my memoir The End of Boys, he didn’t mention my child-smoking cover.  And on that topic, look at this weird photo shoot, where a photographer used incense, cheese sticks, and chalk to create his images.  For the record, my mother wanted me to become an artist like Picasso when she taught me to smoke.  So my cigarette was real.

Hey Dirtbags – Climbing Is Dumb?

I love it when one of my climbing friends sends me an article he found online and it turns out that the piece is written by one of my other climber friends.  My bouldering and accident-prone friend Nick Birdseye (who can solidly climb V8 and has also stabbed himself so badly that he needed surgery because he was trying to make jean shorts out of a pair of jeans he was currently wearing) sent this to me, and I didn’t even notice it was written by another hilarious friend of mine, Brendan Leonard, until I finished reading.

This was published in Adventure Journal.  Excerpt:

“Try to tell someone that you spent your weekend trying to send your project, which in layperson’s terms is, “Well, I tie a rope to my harness, take my shirt off, cover my hands in chalk and try to climb up 65 feet of overhanging rock, where there’s a set of chains…” — and they start to glaze over. I mean, come on, it’s easily no more ridiculous than, say, golf, or cricket, right?”

Click to read the whole article.  It’s worth it.

Dirtbag Training Diary – A Speed Onsight Workout

It’s the little things.  Does the Twix bar my daughter bought for me, a carrot, a coffee, a bottle of pink lemonade, and two stems of broccoli really make the work-out better?  Yes, definitely.  I only had one hour, and I was chewing and drinking the entire time.

I warmed-up with traversing (while talking to my friend about the Tour De France and how apparently some people watch the world’s most famous bike race just to see “all the different cows the riders pass” – I guess the French countryside has some interesting bovine locals).

Then I climbed three VB routes to finish the warm-up.

And because my knee is a little messed up from soccer games, I tried an on-sight drill.  Climb an accelerator with minimum rest, demanding onsights.  Don’t fall on that knee.

Three VO onsights.  No falls.

Three V1 onsights.  No falls.

Three V2 onsights.  No falls.

One V3 onsight, then I fell on the second V3 route.  I jammed my knee hard when I fell, and that was pretty much it.  Traversing, then five minutes of high-rep weights, and my hour was up.

And I still had a little pink lemonade left over.