Scarpa North America Blog

Category Archives: SCARPA in the field

El Potrero Chico: Climbing Among The Cartel

Apr. 11th 2013

SCARPA Regional Athlete, Sam Magro, spent time earlier this year in El Potrero Chico, a popular climbing spot in Mexico. While there, the tragic mass kidnapping and murder of 17 members of a Mexican mariachi band occurred. In his post below, Magro recounts the details of that horrifying event and how he found solace in the rocks surrounding him.

This past fall I contemplated several options for an early winter rock trip to offer up a little break from the cold days of ice climbing in Hyalite. I was offered a great guiding trip to El Potrero Chico, Mexico and my decision was made to tag on a few extra days before and after to climb on my own.

I had not visited this winter climbing paradise since 2005. In my mind’s eye there remained visions of top notch limestone cliff bands ranging from 100’ to 2,000’, a giant winter sun warming my shirtless back, 3 tacos for a dollar, friendly stray dogs, and tranquil camping. After a bit of research on the recent activities of the Mexican Cartels I felt it was safe enough to visit this Mecca of sport climbing, I didn’t think that the violence would end up being so close…

Magic Ed, as he is called, picked us up from the airport to drive us the 45 minutes to the town of Sabinas Hidalgo and then the final 3 km to El Potrero. Our cardinal direction of travel changed from west to south and there lay the 2,000’ limestone walls of this impressive cirque that I had not seen since 2005. I asked Ed about routes on that north side, particularly one with quite and alluring name “El Sendero Illuminoso”. He did not speak too highly of it but did mention a new route that had just been bolted to the left that was said to consist of 1,200’ of sustained technical 5.11s and 5.12s. The first ascender, a German fellow, had since left and was coming back to get the FFA on his route in a few weeks. I hoped he would do so soon so that I may be able to touch my fingers on to that nice looking line. We pulled up to our stop and just like that less than 8 hours from leaving Montana in the midst of winter I was now in the warmth of northern Mexico.

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Rocket to Russia: Gord McArthur gears up for another year on the World Cup Circuit

Apr. 9th 2013

Gord McArthur is digging a hole in his backyard; two, actually. It’s what needs to happen when building the proper training structure if he is going to compete with the Russians on their level. The SCARPA mixed climber had a great past season competing on the World Cup circuit, placing higher than any North American in over a decade. In doing so, he has seen his future. And his future is a 26-foot high arch that will take up most of his backyard. “That’s what it takes,” he says, of going against the hammer and sickle hardmen of northern Asia. We got him to put down the shovel for a moment and give us his take on training at the highest levels, and preparing for a little known comp called the Olympics.

Can you tell us why the Russians are so formidable on the World Cup? The Russians dominate the sport of competitive mixed climbing because they train so well. And by that I mean, they have World Cup structures to train on, year round, and they have a team, amongst themselves, to train with. Having a solid training team/partner(s) is the key to success. You can’t push yourself to your ultimate level unless you have someone there, pushing you, motivating you, correcting you, or suggesting various things to you. They’re smart, really smart, and they know how to train to win.

How did you do this last year on the circuit? What’s it like climbing competitively in Europe and Asia? This year I did really well on the circuit. At the world championships in Kirov, Russia, I had my best result to date. No North American in the last 12 years has made it into the Top 20. Because the sport is so dominated by Russians, it’s tough to gain a spot past the qualifying round. But in Russia I managed to climb super well and landed 15th overall, which was huge.

Competing overseas is tough. North Americans are at a huge disadvantage because of the amount of travel it takes, money, adjusting to new cultures, food, people, languages—it’s not an easy road. But, all that being said, it’s un-freakin’-believable. The opportunity to see the world whilst doing what you love? Why wouldn’t you do it?

You’re building your own training facility in your backyard. Can you describe it to us, and why is it important to making the podium in the World Cup next year? If you want to do well on the World Cup, you need to be super specific in how you train. A lot of the Europeans and Asian representatives have World Cup “structures” to train on, which gives them a huge edge. So, I figured why not build my own? And now, the first North American World Cup structure is going to be in my backyard. It’s the only way forward.

Next season is going to be a huge season, packed with events and, oh, did I mention the Olympics? Yeah, so mixed climbing is going to be a demonstration sport next year. It’s important for me to be at the top of my game going into the coming season—to do well, really well.

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10th Annual Red Rock Rendezvous Climbing Festival

Apr. 2nd 2013

Break out of your winter hibernation and break in your new rock shoes at the 10th annual Red Rock Rendezvous this weekend, April 5-7. America’s greatest climbing festival is sponsored in part by SCARPA North America and will be a weekend-long celebration filled with climbing clinics, games, yoga and of course beer. Located only a few shameful minutes from the Vegas strip, Red Rocks provides an amazing venue with thousands of climbing routes, ranging from short sport routes to massive 20 pitch epics. The desert oasis makes for a nice change from the piles of snow in your front yard, and you can finally lounge if some shorts and soak up some sunshine.

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Sales Rep Shout Out: Michael Down and Brian Block

Mar. 13th 2013

SCARPA has been a longtime leader in the outdoor world, but our success can’t be measured only by the passion and tenacity of a chosen few. It takes the dedication of many people for a brand to be successful, and SCARPA has been blessed with many fruitful relationships, many of which are with stalwart sales representatives, “reps”, who by their own love of the mountains perpetuate the SCARPA ethos through hard work and dedication.

Two personalities SCARPA is proud to acknowledge are Michael Down of British Columbia, the recent recipient of SCARPA’s Rep of the Year; and Brian Block, a critical addition who divides his time between Iowa and Colorado. We’re lucky to have two capable (among many) colleagues who are both skilled mountaineers, fathers and resolute characters who bring a wealth of experience and personality to the SCARPA culture.

Brian Block loves the flexibility the sales rep job gives him. With two kids and an affinity for climbing big mountains, it’s hard to create a balance between business, family and free time. Still, he has an agenda that works. “If I didn’t push hard in family, in life, and in business,” he says, “I wouldn’t be myself for my kids.” He knows the difficulties that come with the territory, but he enjoys his current arrangement. “It’s great working with the best, cutting edge gear, and having a flexible schedule,” says Block, “But the people are what make it worthwhile.” Michael Down, who has four kids, and a self-proclaimed “fire for climbing,” echoes those sentiments. “I get to work with the best group of people in twenty years of being in the outdoor industry.”

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Brotherly Bonds: Dorais brothers put family first

Mar. 12th 2013

Brothers Andy and Jason Dorais are close beyond measure – they do just about everything together, including breaking speed ascent records on peaks throughout the U.S., while simultaneously completing their medical residencies in Utah. Recently, a family illness changed Jason’s plan to participate with the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Team and Andy went in his place while Jason stayed home to be with his wife. In this very personal, heart-wrenching piece, Andy talks about love, family, racing, and always keeping the big picture in mind.

Throughout the fall and winter, Jason and I trained to make the US Ski Mountaineering Team. Jason qualified at the National Championships, but I narrowly missed during the three qualifying races in early January. After all the dust had settled, I was the alternate for the 8 man team that consisted of John Gaston, Tom Goth, Marshall Thompson, Jason Dorais, Max Taam, Luke Nelson, Greg Ruckman, and Scott Simmons (Brian Wickenhauser had qualified but yielded his spot to Simmons). All the tickets were purchased and travel plans made. I was staying home.

Then, my brother’s wife got sick. She’s been sick and has been bravely battling a wretched case of cancer since being diagnosed last summer. All types of cancer are life altering and terrible but hers is advanced and quite serious. So far, she has risen to the occasion through surgery, chemo, and radiation, remaining charming and smiling through it all (more on her story here). She is a beautiful example of everything good in this world.

Jason has also been unshakable through this entire experience. In the last 45 days, he and Amanda have gotten married, moved, and been to the hospital uncountable times. He’s wrecked two cars, trained, raced, made the US team, worked the exhausting hours of a medical resident, and remained faithfully by his wife’s side as she has experienced what I’m sure are some of the deepest lows of her young life.

He’s made it look easy.

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Mercedes Pollmeier Helps Climbers Get in Shape for Spring

Mar. 8th 2013

Mercedes Pollmeier was one of four featured trainers in the February issue Climbing Magazine’s article, “New workouts to refresh your gym training and guarantee spring sends.” A strength and conditioning coach and the fitness director at Vertical World in Seattle, Pollmeier’s conditioning workouts focus on staying balanced, strong and healthy as a climber. She knows what muscles are overdeveloped and which ones might need a little attention. Pollmeier gives us a few tips, talks about using the gym to stay in shape for outdoor climbing, and discusses the ebb and flow of the seasons for year-round climbers. She has also created a training video with a few of her favorite exercises. Read more tips from Mercedes Pollmeier on here: or on her blog,

In the winter, it’s tough to get outside and climb, but it also gets boring to constantly climb in the gym. This is the case for me anyways. I have never been able to climb more than 2-3 times a week inside a gym. So, to stay strong during the winter, I like to cross train with resistance training, weight lifting, and intervals. I also use the campus board to develop my finger strength. I increase my conditioning training during the winter-spring (essentially October-April) and climb more during the summer and fall. This goes well with a standard strength and conditioning protocol that most athletes cycle through, so that they don’t get burned out or injured.

I use the same methods and programs to train my athletes as I use to train myself.  In the winter and spring, the focus is on general conditioning, climbing endurance, climbing strength endurance, and finger and hand strength. In the summer and fall, we drop the amount of conditioning (but it still continues) and focus on climbing technique and power.

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Enter the Everyman: Shingo Ohkawa maintains a low profile and keeps on exploring

Mar. 5th 2013

Northwest face of K6, Charakusa Valley, Pakistan

Shingo Ohkawa quietly gets things done. A buyer for IME Sports in Salt Lake City, the SCARPA athlete keeps his wits about him in his adopted Wasatch Range, opening new climbing routes and clucking around steep couloirs when the rock gets covered. When the times are right he heads for the great ranges to explore the vertical wilderness that has become the muse in his life. He’s established routes all over the world, and yet he still gets pleasure playing in his own backyard. He balances his thirst for travel with a commitment to community in his own way. We caught him behind the counter one afternoon to see how his exploits were playing out.

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Artley Goodhart Splits Time between the booth and ice at Ouray

Feb. 28th 2013

Artley Goodhart works in the warranty department at SCARPA, but every now and then we send him out on the road to help at festivals and demo events. This year, Goodhart attended the Ouray Ice Festival and split time between the SCARPA booth and the ice, where he switched roles and tested his limits as a competitor.

As an employee for SCARPA in the warranty department, my day often includes repairing boots or helping in the distribution center with picking orders. Work often consists of average days, but every now and then I get to break out of the routine as a new project or event becomes available. Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the Ouray Ice Festival. I worked the SCARPA booth for most of the weekend, and then competed in a speed climbing competition on the last day.

Working this event meant that I had a place to stay in the SCARPA condo, which as any climber knows, is a huge perk. And the town of Ouray had plenty of fun stuff to do while off the clock. Being on the clock entailed hanging out in a big festival type tent setting people up with SCARPA boots to demo in the ice park. This part of the job I really enjoy. Talking about the gear with people who are pumped to try it out is great, and it motivates me.

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Up the Ante: The Powder Keg Backcountry Ski Race’s new Triple Crown

Feb. 26th 2013

In two weeks Brighton Ski Resort will host the 11th annual Powder Keg, a backcountry race fest of speed, strength and endurance. Racers from all over the Wasatch will descend on Brighton for a weekend of uphill ski running glory. With Race, Rec and Heavy Metal (think Volant Spatulas with 1st generation Fritschis) divisions, backcountry types of all creeds are welcome to participate or cheer on their favorite competitors.

New this year is a Triple Crown, three-race format, beginning with a sprint race on Friday, the main event on Saturday, and a technical team race on Sunday. With three full days of sweat, spandex and skin glue, it’s the biggest event of its kind in the US. Race organizer Chad Brackelsberg believes the race has earned the extension. “It’s becoming more European, where some races consist of multi-day events.”

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Will Gadd’s Favorite Ice Festivals: Modern Day Tribal Celebrations

Feb. 21st 2013

I’ve been going to ice climbing festivals for going on 20 years, and I’ve started to notice some themes at these tribal celebrations. Each one is a gathering of the climbing community; I romanticize these gatherings as the modern-day equivalent of the great tribal Pow Wows of centuries past, where the First Nations elders would tell stories, the youngsters would show off their physical prowess through games of skill, and the guy who sold the beer would do very, very well. Today’s festival communal bonfire is the slide show, and the games of skill are represented in the competitions, formal and informal, that always take place. Small sub-groups split off into bars, romances are kindled and broken, children conceived and plans made for hunting the mythical big ice climbs lurking over the horizon like the bison of old. Like I said, it’s a romantic comparison, but I believe in the idea of climbing tribes that are normally spread thin, gathering in celebration of a common idea: climbing icicles.

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