Jason Kehl

Not Always Hands-On Learning for Climber

By Melanie Ho
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Jason Kehl gained half a day earlier this month. He left Tokyo at 6 p.m. on June 12, and it was still 6 p.m. on the 12th when he arrived in Boulder, Colo.

For the 29-year-old rock climber from Jarrettsville, Md., time is not of the essence, especially when he's climbing.

"[I] really search the rock and really read it," Kehl said. "There's a lot to learn about the climb when you're trying to figure it out."

A first ascent involves more than seeing a rock and starting to make your way to the top. During his trip to Japan, Kehl made a first ascent on a rock three hours southwest of Tokyo, first noting the aesthetics of the rock.

"It was a beautiful boulder, the whole top was covered in roots -- very old, it looked like it had a lot of history," Kehl said.

The initial attraction made him think about whether the boulder could be climbed and, if so, how to map out the route. It took him two days to figure out the 25-foot climb, with almost the entire first day spent climbing the bottom -- the boulder's steepest part.

Kehl specializes in high-balling, a variation on bouldering that uses gymnastic-type climbing for heights more than 15 feet. No ropes are involved.

The potential to fall from 55 feet, a height Kehl once reached in California, is another reason why patience is crucial.

"[A] 20-foot fall is pretty common for me, maybe 25 feet, but after that you really don't want to fall," Kehl said.

While time has little significance to him, geography is essential.

"A lot of people think it's this adrenaline junkie sport, and I can't think of any of the top climbers who think of it as that way at all. I like it because of the traveling aspect and you get to be outside and go to places where hardly any people are," said Beth Rodden, one of the top female climbers in the world.

Kehl's three-week tour of Japan came after a winter spent in Texas, Utah, Colorado and Arkansas. Now in Boulder, he plans to leave for Squamish, B.C., in a few weeks to escape the heat and climb deep into the forest. He's rarely in a place more than three months and climbing has given him not only the chance but a reason to travel.

"There are places I would never have gone . . . Peru or somewhere in Kentucky, and if you don't have a reason to go, you don't," Kehl said. "When you do go there, the landscape is so beautiful and it's just a crazy place to be."

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