What’s Your Gear?: Ben Karkin, Sport Climbing

Climb naked. Would you do it? Here in the Inland Northwest, home to the bare buns fun run and more than a few souls who aren’t opposed to a skinny dip now and then, you may not be all that surprised by Spokane-grown Ben Larkin’s website, called ClimbNakedShoes.com.

“When it comes down to it,” he says, “all you really need to go climbing is a decent pair of shoes.” His site, currently a climbing forum, plans to retail shoes online in the near future.

Larkin himself is a climbing enthusiast, who started climbing in grad school. “I went once or twice in high school,” he says, “with my mom, but then I started going more regularly with a friend, and eventually I started going every day, met some new friends there, and really got into it.”

Larkin says he loves climbing for the personal challenge—“It’s a really humbling sport; you can watch and think it’s a piece of cake, but when you get up there and try it, the climb becomes a whole new challenge and you have to try new things,” he says. “It’s an achievement any time you get to move on to the next level of difficulty.”

Larkin climbs mostly indoors and on sport-climbing routes, and he says his favorite moments are “it’s great when you can flash—just do the route the first attempt.” Let’s take a look at the gear that gets him up; and fortunately, for this interviewer, his gear does consist of more than just shoes.

Shoes: A pair of FiveTen Galileos. “I needed a new pair of shoes when I went climbing at Leavenworth last summer, because the old ones had holes in them.” He likes the rubber of the FiveTens better than his old Mad Rocks: “the rubber on the old shoes started falling apart as soon as I went outside with them—the rocks at Minnehaha really tore them up.”

Socks? “No socks at all—you put your feet in your shoes barefoot so you can limit the shoe slop.” He adds, “I don’t care if my feet are killing me, because I know I’ll be able to take them off in a few minutes, anyway.”

Harness: Mamut. It has a self-locking waist band. Larkin mentioned Petzl makes some harnesses with self-locking leg bands, as well, but he likes his because “you don’t have to double-back it, so it’s convenient and it wasn’t too pricey.”

Belay Device: Larkin uses two belay devices, a Black Diamond ATC and a Trango Cinch. He uses the cinch primarily, because “I think it’s better than the GriGri, because it’s easier to lower people when I’m belaying them.” He uses the ATC when he does sport climbing routes he’ll be belaying down.

Carabiner: Larkin prefers self-locking carabiners. “You don’t have to finger-tighten it, but it’s pretty much impossible for the thing to open on its own,” he says.

Chalk: Metolius Super Chalk. “It’s super, but it doesn’t make you climb any better,” he says. Larkin doesn’t take much stock in powdered courage, but like anyone, he gets sweaty palms now and then, too. “It’s always nice to sit back and dip your hands in the bag.”

Ropes: The relationship between a man and his climbing rope is not a relationship to be formed haphazardly. “Ropes can be quite a lot to take care of. They’re high maintenance. If I was going to buy one,” he says, “it would probably be a Mamut rope.”

Clothing: “Shorts, or something that doesn’t hang down over your feet so you can see your feet while you’re up there.” Also, he adds, “preferably shirtless to show off my muscles.”

His checklist before heading out for a climb? Shoes, harness, some carabiners, both belay devices, chalk, and a friend who owns a rope. “The friend can come too,” he says.

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