What I Learned in France: in 250 words

What I Learned in France: in 250 words (10 down)

A ruined phone taught me to walk through the crowds; looking out—but more importantly looking up—in France, they are looking up too (unless in the Verdon).

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A popped tire taught me to be patient, and angry. Okay with imperfection because if patience is a virtue what does that make anger?

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A storm taught me to have fun, loosen my grip. All things will dry out on a sunny day—control what you can and find meaning in what you cannot.

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A partnership taught me to be grateful, while humble. We live for ourselves—but laughing isn’t the same alone. Being afraid isn’t the same alone.

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Climbing taught me to be curious, again. Calm while anxious (never equal) above protection. I started to ask myself, what if we can live beyond the illusion of balance?

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(148 words)

To sum it up: Bonjour sounds better in your head when you imagine someone else saying it—what else could be said for that feeling? Disassociated from the reality of work, life, the illusion of balance—the time is now to put yourself in your own (climbing) shoes and move. Feel the limestone, granite, and (visualize) snow. Ride the gondolas and be a tourist—you will stand proudly at the top of many castles. There is something to be said for walking down the street with a baguette in hand. There is something to be said for dreaming big while living free.

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Vignettes

To Be Free

I swim forward, not in water. Above protection, complacency, comfort. I reach back to catch my breath but find–I have gone too far.

Climbing is metaphorical–in the worst way. Painfully symbolic so that whole lives are shaped around a single imperfection scarred on an ancient face. To move upward is progress, to reach back–only human, but to try again–now, that is the stuff that heroes of made of. Constant reminders of mortality. The fear, the tears, the burning (sear) that rips through flesh. We are not created equal–and that is where everything starts. Where dreams begin (where dreams end). It is the inequality, the un-fairness, that drives us to find meaning. Why else, would man climb these self-imposed ladders? Why else, would we try to better our best?

So I swim forward, not in water but upward on granite slab. I reach back to catch my breath and find I have gone too far. I am forced forward, to think only of my next move. I can breathe. I am focused–free. Climbing is metaphorical in the most obvious way. It is so clear what I need to do–where I need to look to find peace. There is no comfort in being comfortable. But there is freedom in being free.


Choices

I have come to believe a choice is a choice only if you stick with it. I started this story at least 5 different times, each time pressing backspace as a new idea popped into my head. Those words disappeared never to reappear again—at least in that order. In those erased words I made a choice—to write, and then to erase.  This may seem like two choices but the decision to write was null after the decision to erase was made and what stood was the choice to erase. So many times in my life I have made what seems to be a life changing decision and two days later I eat the chocolate, I re-activate my facebook, I talk to the person I swore I would never speak to again. Those choices, that in the moment, seemed to be the most significant choice of my life were in fact just attempts to justify, explain, and control my insecurities. The choices that matter, that at their core follow the actual definition of change are what stick with you for an eternity and never leave you wondering if you took the right path. On this particular day I made a choice to be free.


Locked in the Upright Position

Fear, for me, tends toward one thing and when I fear all I think about is this one thing. I can’t conceptualize it—in fact the only way I can describe it is through this reoccurring dream I have where I can’t move. I’ve self diagnosed this dream, with the help of WebMD, as “sleep paralysis” but this seems like a poor excuse, and as a psychology major there must be an underlying cause. So in order to further understand my fear I try to think of what I know. I know I am afraid of getting older; and I guess this dream can tell me I am afraid of not being able to move. But not growing older and being able to move are opposites. Sure I could stop getting older, but then I stop moving; alternatively I could move, but then inevitably I get older.

I come to this realization a lot, and sometimes I scream, usually I just hide. I hide until I remember this flight home from my trip to China after seeing the 2008 Summer Olympics. The sun was setting behind the plane and instead of flying into the night we were entering the previous day. We were moving back in time—running from the night. It was a strange feeling, as if we had the ability in that moment to be infinite. It was as if in that moment had the ability to move while not growing older. Most other airplane rides don’t stand out as anything that exciting. They are long and the people I meet seem just about as ready as I am to get to my destination. But I realized in that moment, I had an opportunity to alter my fate even change my past! I should’ve jumped out of my seat, yelled to the heavens, “I have figured out how to stop being afraid!” But all I felt when I looked out that window was a loss of control. I realized then with a somber dissatisfaction, that no matter how many times I could circle the earth trying to race the darkness and freeze time the more time I would waste trying to control my fate and the more my life would become a series of the same stories.

When I begin to fear, whether it is on a climb or during a test I try to remember I can’t stop time or change the past, each experience leaves me and instead of being unsatisfied and upset that it is gone I must move on. I will never be able to repeat it and reliving it over and over again will dull its original memory and soon it will become nothing but regret. When I remember this I remember that fear is a natural part of being alive, and suddenly the veins of my being open up and the fear rushes out through and out my fingers and toes, I AM FREE.

How Earnestly We Strive

I’m going to try something new here. Since i’ve been bad at keeping a journal and extra bad at keeping up with my blog, pictures have served as a filler for the details that naturally fade. I don’t know if this is a good replacement because pictures only capture one moment and leave a lot for debate–but that is a topic for a different time.

For the last half of our trip in Squamish, Connell and I were greeted by our good friend Jonathan Finch. We met Jonathan while studying at the University of San Diego. Since then he has he returned to Montana to pursue a career in photography–no surprise since he has a great eye for capturing beauty. Long story short, we all met up again in Canada to climb, photograph and explore. Jonathan expressed that he wanted to start writing little vignettes along with the photos he took. I immediately latched on to this idea and asked him if I could take some of the photos he took of us and write–clearly he said “yes”.

A good picture should tell a story and a good story should paint a picture–and the combination of two should… create a symphony? On that note (pun intended) I will try my best to create short symphonies with the words that Jonathan has already written with his photos.

 

“The time we spend waiting”

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The mist burns my lungs. My imagination fills in the blanks–faces behind the fog. I remember weekends spent like this–“dad, why do you think this is fun?” Trudging aimlessly, impatiently–lost through the evergreens. But he knew. You don’t have to close your eyes out here–dreaming with your eyes wide open, the canvas is half painted. It’s hard to appreciate the process if you don’t wait, patiently. Patiently I hike, forward moving towards the big reveal. Sometimes not long enough. The wet moss soaks through my beaten boots and I wonder the worth of the time we spend waiting.

“That smile”

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That smile. Un-provoked, no punch-line. The moment when memory blurs the line between past and present. Frozen, like a picture he smiles. Long after the picture is taken he smiles. Looking at everything and nothing he smiles.  The time we spend waiting for memories that paint lines on our faces.

“Peace”

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Eternally frozen we focus on the familiarities that distract us from the goal–I have seen that tree before, used this gear before, tasted that cool, cool water before. I find peace in knowing that my shoes are tied the same way, the left and then the right. There is peace in knowing that close up, granite crystals shine in the same way–black valleys sprinkled with white snow. The final peace is knowing that the fear will come, but not yet. Created by rituals we find solace in habit–comforted by the details we find silence in chaos.

“How earnestly”

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The wall hangs heavy overhead. The route seldom changes–years of movement trace the hidden cracks–suffocating the pores, draining down the face. Standing at the base I am trapped by the notion that every person is the same–every move mapped out. A puppet directed by anger and fear the wall spits me off and chalk coughs in my face. I search for gratitude and no words come–half hearted smiles fill the gap between us. It is when all expectations fade that I am left, stripped-free–the rope directed decisively by MY hands. The clarity comes in waves, washing clean, calloused limbs. “How earnestly should we strive”–Petrarch lamented to himself, “not to stand on mountain-tops, but to trample beneath us those appetites which spring from earthly impulses”.

“I can tell the way you hang your head”

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Assuming the position you march the well-traveled path. Like the end of a vacation, you reflect–the gait and order so dependent on success. You create your own realities. The mind spinning with “what ifs” and “why nots”. How can one succeed while the other does not? As a unit you find gratitude– their strength is your strength, their weakness yours. Together you wander–often lost.

“The Life”

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We are dangerously perched on the edge of materialism. We laugh at ignorance and proudly walk through the masses–they don’t even know the life they are missing. Pride masks the noise that keeps us up at night–haunts us during the starless nights. We laugh at them, but they laugh at us. How foolish they are, to never live this life. 

“Warming up” 

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 Overshadowed by what you will regret is what you will not. Sometimes warming up is the best part of the day and that is okay. I spent so many years just enjoying the view–when did that become not enough? The lines that create our life are filled with moments that fade because they felt so easy. To err is to assume they are insignificant.  

Mind of Steel, Heart of Gold

Rosie and Katinka rappelling off of "The Great Game"

Rosie and Katinka rappelling off of “The Great Game”

I have been climbing consistently for almost 10 years now. Taking no more than 6 months off at time. I climbed competitively for 4 of those years and have been coaching for 2. When I am coaching the team at Mesa Rim, other climbers and patrons of the gym are usually in awe of the talent of these young climbers—as am I. They ask me a lot of questions of varying degree and detail. Then at the end, almost as if on cue, reflectively say, “if only I started climbing when I was that age”. That phrase sticks with me—on to me. I have heard it since I started climbing. It comes back and bites me in instances like today when I am humbly reminded that one more year of climbing doesn’t always mean a year of tangible progress. But, specifically that phrase latches on to me and invades my calm mind. “You’ve been climbing since you were 13! why can’t you finish this 12a” it says,  as I slam the cams into the crack out of desperation and fear, swearing at myself for not being braver, stronger or calmer. Then I do the inevitable and yell, “take” at my belayer.  I sit back in my harness, trembling at the thought that the cam I pushed far into the back of the crack will probably pop out and I will fall, fall.

It is easy at the beginning of an extended climbing trip to imagine yourself heroically finishing your climbing projects and overcoming your fears. It is easy to picture yourself, music playing (heavy on the bass) taking a huge fall off the wall and then– cut fast to you at the top–you reach the finish line, clip the draws and jump back into space. That is easy. Reality is– unless you have a climbing movie of you out there–sh** like that never happens. Usually, the heroic send is preceded by a shaky gear placement, a few “Elvis legs”, chicken arms and blood curdling yells.

I am constantly reminded that the heroic me isn’t the one who finishes the hardest climbs or moves bravely above a small nut placement. Rather, the heroic me is the one that falls and fails–is afraid, but gets back up and tries again. That notion is so cliche it makes me nauseous. But, it is true. I will explain.

Yesterday at the crag Connell, Jonathan and I were checking out a route, “The Masses are Asses” when 4 fixed lines were chucked over the edge of the wall adjacent to us. A guide ran down after and forewarned us that a large group of people were headed our way and would be rappelling and yelling motivational things at each other. We all kind of laughed it off, the snide “well hopefully that will help us send” was mumbled. We roped up and began to “top-rope tough-guy” the route when low and behold a group of about 20 adults began trudging up the dirt trail, cheering and helping those in the back up to the base. “Come-on mamma bear!” they all cheered and yelled to a larger woman in jeans who, helped by three others made her way up far behind the rest of the group. The three of us watched suspiciously as they harnessed up and hiked up to the top of the cliff. A group of four with helmets and gloves stood their ground at the base, holding the fixed ropes taut for a “fire-man” belay and slowly but surely each one of the adults made their sloth-like rappel down the 60 foot fixed lines.

Connell and I began to assess the moves on our climb. Initially, we struggled. Many frustrating foot slips and botched sequences to be had. We swore and rested and climbed and fell, on repeat. In the background of our frustration those at the base of the fixed-lines began to chant mantras to those rappelling down. They would first ask “what do you give up?” The person rappelling would respond with something like, “speaking negatively about my boss” or “worrying about the judgment of others”. They would reach the ground and an older African American man yelled, “come down for hugs, come down for love!”. They embraced and cried.

At first we laughed, mocking the mantra–yelling it to each other “hey, Connell ‘release all negative thoughts, you make your own realities!'” But then it all started to sink in. The more times those on the ground repeated, “you have a mind of steel a heart of gold!” the more Connell and I began to figure out the moves on our route and the frustration dissipated. The group all made it to the ground–having released their negative thoughts. They hugged, laughed and continued their journey back to the car. Another group came up and the chanting resumed. By that time Connell and I were exhausted, but this climb which first seemed improbable became realistic–our spirits were up as we walked back to the car chanting softly “mind of steel, heart of gold”.

I believe in positive thought, I believe in belief and faith and gratitude towards yourself. I am also kind of a cynic and have a hard time admitting that motivational mantras and ideations really work–it’s all a contradiction. But today when I hung on that 12a and pulled on gear to the chains all I was doing was swearing to myself–and I tell you what, if motivational mantras don’t work self-deprecation doesn’t either. I have always had high expectations for myself. I have always known that great things would come, but I haven’t always respected who I am and how far I have come along the way. I fall and get mad, a lot. It is a habit, a routine that I have trained and perfected since I was taught that on-sighting gets you more points.

So yeah, I have been climbing for 10 years but in that 10 years I have developed a reality for myself that isn’t so keen to falling on a 12a and this is where I begin to re-direct that train of thought. No matter how long you have been climbing it is always a battle and each person fights their own–their own demons. What this trip has taught me more than any other climbing trip is that I create my own reality. Admittedly it helped that yesterday “I create my own reality” was repeated at least 20 times, the mantra worked. Hallelujah.

Anyway, climbing is hard–all types of climbing. Some times I wish I could just focus on bouldering so I wouldn’t have to scare the sh** out of myself on gear, but then I realize bouldering scares me too and is just as hard. No matter where I hide I can never escape the nagging feeling that what I do just isn’t enough. But when that feeling comes, I will repeat to myself, “I have a mind of steel and a heart of gold, I create my own reality” and continue the battle.

So now that everything is out, here is a comprehensive tick list of the past couple of weeks here! Still have more days left to get gnarly. 

Tick List:

Day 5:

Borderline 5.10d/11c (7 pitches) to Angel’s Crest 5.10b/c (9 pitches)

Connell chalking up for Angel's Crest

Connell chalking up for Angel’s Crest

Day 6:

Morning rest (rain)

Banana Peel 5.7 (6 pitches)

Upper slabs of "Banana Peel"

Upper slabs of “Banana Peel”

Day 7:

Full rest (rain)

Katinka and Davis arrive

Day 8:

Rock on (first three pitches)

Rappelling off of "Rock On"

Rappelling off of “Rock On”

Smoke Bluffs: Crime of the Century (11c), 12c to the right (hard, no-send), Connell and Davis: Popeye and Raven (10c/d)

Jonathan arrives–

Check out his instagram and website for amazing pictures:

http://instagram.com/jonathanwfinch 

Day 9:

Nightmare Rock: Grandaddy Overhang 11c (Rosie and Connell), 11a to the right

Calculus Crack 5.8 (6 pitches)—wet

Katinka on our evening ascent of wet "Calculus Crack"

Katinka on our evening ascent of wet “Calculus Crack”

Day 10:

Seal Cove: Traverse to Blown Away 5.9 (Davis and Katinka), Sole Mate 5.10b (Rosie and Connell), 5.10b on left (Katinka, Rosie and Connell), 5.10d in middle (Connell and Davis)

Crank Worx!!, Red Bull Joyride

The Red Bull "Joy Ride" course at Crank Worx

The Red Bull “Joy Ride” course at Crank Worx

Day 11:

Slahanay: The Great Game 10d (4 pitches)

Exasperator Crack 10c (Davis and Katinka–onsight!)

Classic "butt-shot" of Davis on-sighting "Exasperator Crack"

Classic “butt-shot” of Davis on-sighting “Exasperator Crack”

Day 12:

Rest (Davis and Katinka leave)

Day 13:

Borderline 2 pitches (5.8,10b)

Daily Planet (first pitch) 12a

Day 14:

Murrin Park: The Reacharound 5.9, Masses are Assess (5.12b) TR projecting.

Day 15:

Nightmare Rock: Perspective 11a, Claim Jumper (11d/12a), Sentury Box (12a—no send…still)

Update #1: Old Blue

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Connell and I with the Tacoma now dubbed “Old Blue”

Hello from Squamish! After cleaning up my grandpa’s ’91 Tacoma (only 90k miles!) Connell and I made it to Squamish, greeted by beautiful weather and the ever inspiring Chief. Without the luxury of a bed in the truck we set up camp down by the river off the forest road with the ever-growing crowd of festival goers (Squamish music festival) and other climbers like ourselves. For lack of time this will just be an update and i’ll save majority of self-reflective ramblings for a rainy day, which should be Wednesday.

Day 1: Sunset Strip 5.10d, 12 pitches 

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Connell at the top of Sunset Strip

This was a beautiful climb with pitch after pitch (yes, we pitched the whole thing out…) of interesting, mentally challenging and as always, humbling climbing.

 

Day 2: Bullet Head East 5.10c, 4 pitches

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Connell and the marshland

Another beautiful climb with amazing stemming, crack climbing and even a flaring chimney at the end! The stem-box is the money pitch (pitch 3). We ended with original finish which is a chimney that climbed (or I climbed it) more like an off-width. I groveled my way up swearing, sweating and judging by my legs at the end, attacking. We ended the day with a walk out to the spit and a bath in the icy cold river.

Day 3: Milk Road 5.10d A0, 9 pitches

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Connell on “Crescent Dyke”

We ended our three day streak on this beautiful line up the Tantalus Wall. We kind of messed up on what gear to bring and halfway up the crux pitch I was kicking myself for that. Not feeling bold enough to run it out to the top I lowered down and re-climbed it more efficiently. Connell took the lead on the final pitch that traverses out across the headwall on a dyke–I would climb it again just for that. Some amazing and breath-taking exposure.

Today we rest, more updates to come. (stay tuned for some words from Connell)

Squamish

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Espresso Talk from Connell:

Zephyr; a gentle wind from the west.

Squamish is a place of absolute beauty. The Chief looms over the Howe Sound as the Mamquam Ice Fields and Girabaldi Mountain pierce the horizon. Calming winds through the evergreens are ever present. The dense forests host different environments; humid, mossy, quiet…GREEN. Solitude is found on the rock, actually just take three deep breaths and you’l find it anywhere. The history of the Chief; intrusive igneous granite – slowly cooled plutons to be risen then sliced to perfection by Mother Natures Ice Age wrath. Coarse white boulders decorate the base of the Chief as the dome has exfoliated through the millions of years. The water streaks, intricate flake systems, and differing combinations of dark basalt among the rock face reminds me of Native American art… this is their land.

After celebrating a three year achievement of mine a few weeks ago a mentor of mine asked me what the Ultimate question in life was. I’ve been thinking about that question a lot now. Where do I belong in life? I guess that would simply be the question. The answer may lie on the wall, so the search is on.

Here are a few quotes that i recently read while in the local Squamish cafe. “There are no limits, there are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them” Bruce Lee. Climbing the Grand Wall on the Chief did not only challenge my physical fitness but my mental capacity. Fear was an obstacle, the voices inside my head sometimes told me otherwise but I just had to chalk up and keep moving…On the wall with so many hand foot matches you feel like you’re flying haha. Rosie and I split the climb evenly , although i did not on-sight lead “Perry’s Lieback” or “Apron Strings” I gave it my all. Wayne Gretzky said: you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. I am determined with patience to keep taking the shots.

Squamish is currently my idea of an Octopuses’ garden under the sea. This may be the case because Abbey Road is the only CD in my car – My Vehicle – Home. The adventurous path is home. The Tacoma, She is a savage woman. Her name is Lila, In Hindu this translates to the concept of the universe as a playground for the gods.

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Taping up with Rosie: 

Well we have done it all… almost, well, not even close. But it sure does seem like a lot and we aren’t even back in the US of A yet! We have been in Squamish for almost 2 weeks and that has not even been close to enough time to accomplish what we want. (i.e. anyone who wants to go up “The Shadow” with me in the next two days, I will be waiting).

Anyway, this place… is a hell of a place. Yesterday as I pulled my fatigued legs out of the “Split Pillar” on the Grand Wall the “I can’t tell you what I do, but I work for the government” grizzled, yet clean-cut manly man from the party in front of us looked down at me and said “you know, you two, you and that guy down there have it pretty good”. I was huffing and puffing to move out of the squeeze I had gotten myself into (there is an easier way to finish this pitch but as climbing always seems: when you have run out of gear, to get stuck in the rock is better than to fall off the rock). I looked up at him, then out at the glacial (or silted) teal water of the pacific ocean eased myself onto the ledge and said, “yeah, yeah we do”.

Connell and I have been “living the dream” out here, every climbers dream, the dirtbag dream, the pretend unemployed, graduated, goddamned American dream. As I slipped off the mantle on “Whirlwind” and grated my body down 20 feet of granite, I realized after I had settled in my harness–and burst into tears–this here is climbing for you–so raw. Not in the raw vegan, or raw meat sort of way, but in the raw emotion-skin peeling-vulnerable kind of way. Where even the manliest of men can yell down desperately to their partners “pull in the f***ing slack, Bill!” as their hairy, toned, meaty legs shake in physically manifested fear. And herein lies the beauty, we are all vulnerable human beings and any climber can slip and fall–instantly reduced to fear induced tears of anger, joy and raw emotion.

Anyway, below is a more comprehensive version of our story for those of you who like pictures and names, some of the climbs we sent, some we didn’t–all in all we conquered:

A photo synopsis of our Squamish trip thus far: 

Day 1: Half day, The Chief Bouldering

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Day 2: The Chief, (Rock on 5.10a, 5 pitches) to (Squamish Buttress 5.10c, 7 pitches)

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View from top of “Squamish Buttress”

Day 3: Smoke Bluffs, (Crime of the Century 5.11c, Penny Lane 5.9, Yorkshire Gripper 5.11b, Popeye and the Raven 5.10c)… Nightmare rock (Perspective 5.11a, Sentry Box 5.12a–in progress)

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Crime of the Century- Photo: Doug Tomczik

Day 4: The Apron (Whirlwind 5.10c with 5.11a variation, 7 pitches)

No pictures, just scars. 

Day 5: Rest day – Vancouver visit

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“Slack-life” Photo: Doug Tomczik

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Stanley Park

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Photo: Doug Tomczik

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Papaw- Photo: Doug Tomczik

Day 6: Cheakamus Canyon sport climbing, (The Neutered Bovine 5.11c, The Mutation 5.11c, Mrs. Negative 5.12a, The Fleeing Heifer 5.12c-no send)

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In transition- Photo: Lauren Moses

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“Fleeing Heifer” – Photo: Lauren Moses

Day 7: Return to Cheakamus Canyon sport climbing, (Kigijiushi 5.10c, sent Mrs. Negative 5.12a, tried Face the Music 5.12a)…Smoke Bluffs, (Cat Crack 5.7, Flying Circus 5.10a, Neat and Cool 5.10a)

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Connell sending “Mrs. Negative” (12a)

Day 8: Whistler, Crankworks!

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Connell resisting the urge

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Crank Works! -Photo: Doug Tomczik

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Walking to Heckler’s Rock- Photo: Doug Tomczik

Day 9: The Apron (White Lightning 5.10c, 7 pitches) Mountain Rescued injured climber! (Calculus Crack 5.10b variation, 6 pitches), Smoke Bluffs (Kangaroo Corner 5.11a)

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Walking off of “White Lightning”

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Calculus Crack

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First pitch of “Calculus Crack”

Day 10: Seal Cove, (Sole Mate 5.10b) (Swept Away 5.9), Nightmare rock (Perspective 5.11a) (Claim Jumper 5.12a), Smoke Bluffs (Bilbo Baggins 5.8)

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“Sole Mate” (10b)

 

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Traversing out to “Swept Away”- Photo: Lauren Moses

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“Sole Mate” (10b)

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Lauren sending

Day 11: The Grand Wall 5.11a A0, 8 pitches (via “Apron Strings” 5.10b, 2 pitches and “Mercy Me” 5.9, 2 pitches)

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“Grand Wall” topo

 

 

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Bellygood Ledge contemplating

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Connell on “Mercy Me” heading into the Grand Wall

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Connell psyched to lead the first pitch

 

Highlights:

Rosie on-sighting “Crime of the Century” 11c finger crack and “Yorkshire Gripper” 11b finger crack

Connell sending first 11a on gear, “Perspective”
Connell sending first 12a sport route “Mrs. Negative” (Rosie also sending, first hard sport route in awhile)
Rosie taking massive falls on slab, not really a highlight but scarring (literally and figuratively).
Connell on-sighting “Claim Jumper” (12a) on TR
Rosie sending “Claim Jumper” second go (lead)
Not falling in the water at Seal Cove
Cheap sushi
Living out of Connell’s truck
The “Split Pillar” on the Grand Wall
Climbing with Doug, Mark and Lauren
Helping an injured climber who has climbed the seven summits and never broken a bone until now

Hello From the Road: First Installment

Driving up to Squamish

As the cliche title implies, we are saying hello to you from the road–the “we” being Connell and I, the road being “Philz Coffee Shop” in San Francisco, and the you being well, you!

Anyway I am coming at you fresh from a shower in the Pacific…ocean that is, which is how vagabonds do it right? Either way I am about to do something I am very poor at doing, writing trip reports–but I am committed to this blog so am damn well going to try my hardest to do our adventure justice. (Connell will chip in with a few words here and there which I am sure will beef up the content for those of you wanting more details)

Ps. for those of you who are non-climber folk, here is a link to a glossary of climbing words: http://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/rock-climbing-glossary.html

Day 1-Rosie:

(see, I am going to list the days for your reading pleasure)

We started the trip slowly but surely making our way up from San Diego to Monterey where we spent a night to deliver some items to a family friend’s house (sounds sketchy right? it isn’t). We made it to the house at 3am, and despite some creepy noises and creaky creeks we slept soundly until the casual time of 8–no wait that is when we wanted to get up it was actually 11am– how it got to be that late I have no idea. With the day already half over we meandered slowly out east to Yosemite–spending around three hours between REI a coffee shop and back to REI. Finally we reached the gateway to paradise entering the park with youthful excitement (at the speed limit as not to hit a bear) and proceeded to miss the turn for Tuolumne. So just as easy as we had entered the park, we exited. In a state of confusion we turned around after a few miles of map debating and re-enterd the park, proudly displaying the receipt we had just purchased minutes ago. We settled into our pull-out outside the park that night and began what was to be an amazing time in the meadows.

Cool tree we found off of Tioga Pass

Cool tree we found off of Tioga Pass

Day 2-Rosie:

Our first day was spent at Puppy dome, and as far as single pitch climbing grades goes our most ambitious. Maybe subconsciously we wanted to humble ourselves on the first day so we could slowly build ourselves up as the trip progressed, or maybe we truly believed we would send hard our first day—first time in Tuolumne. Call us naïve, but we were just psyched. We warmed up on “Battle of the Bulge” which is a 5.8R that Connell lead and I followed up. We had eyed “Do or Fly” an 11c before which has a tricky start with a bad landing. Wanting to avoid injury on our first day we set up a top rope on it to either “do or fly” I suppose.

 There was nothing easy about the start—a lot of flying and not so much doing. We both took some large swings attempting to figure out the beta (or the moves). Finally after some re-opened scar-tissue and ego-humbling I made it through the start and cruised through the middle lie-backing section only to fall at the last move before the chains above the roof crack. Thoroughly irritated I let Connell rope up and give it a try, after some more grunting, bleeding and swinging he also figured the beta, cruised the middle and fell at the top. We sat at the bottom listing off a whole slew of justifications and excuses for our seemingly weak attempts—seems to be the vice of shut down, ego-bruised climbers. Acknowledging the tone of our conversation I figured the only way to move forward was to send it (how inspiring does that sound?  Defeated climber get’s on climb one more time, regardless of the odds—altitude, being out of shape, tired, hungry, etc, etc… and finishes the route clean, not even a pumped forearm). So now you can probably guess where this is going, yeah I sent it, and yeah it was fulfilling and full of laughter and fist-pumps and—oh wait… its only 11c, and I top-roped it.

 But then I remember why I like Yosemite and Tuolumne so much it reminds you how subjective the climbing rating system is—reminds me why I climb which isn’t (at least I will tell you) for the grade but rather for the process. So my advice for you, the reader, is that you should do things that scare you, that you want to try but the grade (or something relevant in a non climbing setting) holds you back—because you don’t really know what is going to happen. ANY thing can and will happen. But then eventually it will all feel natural and there will be something else that comes along that scares you—like a bigger wall to climb, or a bigger spider that crosses your path—, which in my case was the neighboring 12a “Horseshoes and Hand grenades”. As to how conquering that went, well, I leave that to your imagination. We will say for now I am psyched to add it to my list of projects in the Valley—and am pretty sure I can send it next go. (See, I want to set a framework so you can imagine my climbing future in a positive light). Exhausted we retired to the truck for a night of anticipatory alarm at 5:00am.

Resting at the river

Resting at the river

Day 3-Rosie:

Yes, that alarm did go off, and yes I did snooze it and yes we did sleep in till 8:30am. We had planned to get on the Third Pillar of Dana but with the late start we moved that back a day and decided to tackle some routes on Lembert Dome. As we unpacked our gear and organized for the day in the parking lot beneath the dome an older couple walked up to us. They were most likely in their early 80s but held themselves as if they were about to go tackle these peaks with a youthful vigor. You can always kind of tell the curious tourists from the kindred spirits in climbing areas, and there was something about this man. His wife noted they were not only active members, but also founding members of The Sierra Club, (kindred spirits).

 The husband inquired as to what we were doing, we had decided on the direct North West Face. He nodded, and said “you know that was the hardest route I ever freed”. He then pointed out climbs he had done on the west face of Lembert making some recommendations and giving suggestions. I knew that if had climbed these routes he had probably climbed them with the pioneers—or even been one of them. Who was he? He couldn’t be Royal Robbins or Yvon Chouinard, their grizzled faces are too familiar to me. “And where do you two hail from?” He asked. The conversation shifted to Tahquitz, there his wife chimed in “I learned to climb there!” “Oh yes” the husband reminisced “I put first ascents up there, do you know the area well?”

 Finally I asked, maybe a little too bluntly “who are you?” Here is where his wife proudly took over, “the Sherricks” “I am Mike” he held out a hand. A little digging into my memory would’ve clued me into the fact that he was on the team, with Royal Robbins and Jerry Gallwas, that has the F.A. on the Regular Northwest Face of (get this) HALF DOME! Maybe if I had seen the name on paper I would have realized who I was talking with but instead I blankly just stared at him and his wife knowing, sort of, that I was in the presence of climbing royalty. We let him look through our copy of the newest version of the Tahquitz guide and he found the climb on the South face by the ski tracks that he and Robbins had put up in 1957, “The Unchaste” which goes free at 11a now. After saying our goodbyes and good lucks we made our way to the base, I felt a new energy after that conversation—a new “psych” for the sport and love for the history. The climb was beautiful. A really unsuspecting line until you stood beneath each pitch of climbing. I lead the first pitch which was a fun hand crack topping out at 5.9. Connell lead the next which had a 10a powerful lie back crux, and I led the final, which is the crux of the climb—a 10b thin finger crack.

We topped out in good spirits and took some time at the top to revel in the scenery. For the most part climbs remain the same for years and years, each crack climbed by generations of evolving shoes, new techniques and protected with ever-changing gear. The beauty of climbing is the consistency—for years and years you can return to the place where you found that rhythm and forever reminisce in the sport that shaped your life. Regardless of the evolution of the sport the rock forever remains (for the most part) the same.

Mike Sherrick is on the left standing next to Yvon Choinard and Royal Robbins, at the base of Tahquitz

Mike Sherrick is on the left standing next to Yvon Chouinard and Royal Robbins, at the base of Tahquitz

 We finished out the day with a small epic on the Left Water Crack. Unintentionally climbing a bit too high up the slabs we found ourselves pulling a little Alex Honnold. Either way Connell lead one of the most interesting and unprotected 5.7s I have ever climbed.

On top of Lembert Dome

On top of Lembert Dome

Day 4: Third Pillar of Dana

(Connell will update the 4th day in Tuolumne soon, but below is a quick look at to what we got on)

Third Pillar of Dana

Third Pillar of Dana

Third Pillar of Dana

Third Pillar of Dana

Connell leading on Third PIllar

Connell leading on Third PIllar

Top of Third Pillar of Dana

Top of Third Pillar of Dana

Top of Third Pillar of Dana

Top of Third Pillar of Dana

Day 5-Rosie: (getting burnt out on writing trip reports)

Feeling a bit tired from the previous day’s venture we woke up late and a bit apprehensive. But when we got to the base of OZ I couldn’t believe how amazing the line looked and immediately was psyched. Connell lead the first pitch which off the start was 10a and traveled into some easier terrain. I lead the next three pitches–and having climbed a fair amount of sport in my day I am going to (maybe too boldly) assert that the 2nd pitch on OZ was one of the best 10d sport pitches I have ever been on. The next two pitches were beautiful as well. Connell wasn’t feeling the extension, which is the Gram Traverse that heads out under the ominous roof, so we finished the route to the left. This was an amazing way to end the climb, you traverse out over 300feet of air which isn’t as exposed as the Gram Traverse–but still really exciting and fun climbing.

We ended the day on Galen’s crack, which is an 10c offwidth–Connell’s territory. I gave it one burn and immediately was shut down– you have to be really pumped to work your way through a wide-crack, it definitely isn’t an end of the trip endeavor for me. Connell gave it an inspiring effort and made it 3/4 of the way up before burning out. This will definitely be a project for him, and I am sure next time we get out to Tuolumne he will send it–who knows maybe I will too!

We left Tuolumne, humbled and invigorated, definitely not ready to leave but knowing confidently we will be back soon, even stronger. We sat mostly silent as Connell drove up the 120–rockin’ out to some Jim Morrison on “LA Woman”. Occasionally we would pass the time making each other laugh so hard we cried while watching the thunder-clouds develop in the hazy fire-ridden sky of Southern Oregon. But more than anything we were waiting in anticipation for our next adventure to begin.

Last traverse pitch on OZ

Last traverse pitch on OZ

Tackling Galen's Crack

Tackling Galen’s Crack

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So many butterflies!

Hands after Galen's Crack

Hands after Galen’s Crack

Connell on the 4th pitch of OZ.

Connell on the 4th pitch of OZ.

West Coast Climbers

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Connell and I embark tomorrow on our month long climbing trip up the west coast. Now a month sounds like a long time, but for climbing it really isn’t.  When I was planning the trip I kept on imagining stopping at as many of the climbing destinations in our path as possible, which if you haven’t already done the math would be about one climbing destination per day—not so ideal. So at the expense of quantity we decided with quality.

To give you a brief run down we start in Tuolumne this Saturday for a week. On Thursday we move on to San Franscisco for a night, then to Portland to pick up Nico (yay!) and off to Squamish, BC where we are to spend 13 (amazing, hopefully not rainy) days. Finally we will end our trip with a quick stint back in good ol’ Snohomish where we will spend a few days in the North Cascades, hopefully Liberty Pass, Index and Leavenworth. Then! (There is a then) we end our trip with a wedding! Not mine of course but my dear friend Martina and her fiancé Travis. After which we race back to SD so that Connell can start school and I can re-immerse myself back into the “real-world”, or is it the “fake-world”—may the thought provoking sentences and existential wanderings begin. Anyway, I hope to keep you all informed (whoever the “you” is) with this here blog. I will try to update it on our rest days with pictures and words of wisdom (hah!).

A big thanks to Mesa Rim for allowing me a month off, and to our coffee provider—yes we have a sponsor of sorts—The West Bean. If you haven’t heard of them or tried them check it out. Andrew Karr took me on a tour of their roasting business and who knows after this trip I may be a coffee connoisseur as this is top quality roasted (just right) bean. 

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Oh, and what would we be without some bitchin’ CDs

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To Climb is to Live

I started climbing when I was 7—I think. But memories are fallible especially memories about your life, which are appropriately named autobiographical memories. This is because some you remember and some you know. Knowing and remembering make up two different subsets of autobiographical memory, scientifically referred to as semantic and episodic. Semantic is the portion that holds facts about your life. For instance, I had a 16-year-old fish who just passed—and that is a fact—I know he/she passed and that I had a fish. Episodic is the part that includes the events of your life and the context in which they occurred. For instance when my fish died I was sitting outside eating lunch—more specifically salmon—as my mom broke the news to me over text about my fish dying. Fact? Probably not, I could’ve been eating a burger, but told people salmon to make the event sound more ironic. There you have it, the creation of the unintentional lie. Think of that and all your life instantly becomes a series of made up stories you keep telling yourself. So how can we transfer this remembering to knowing—decipher between fact and fiction?

Psychologists say we remember better by creating context. This is why when I smell Marlboro Light cigarette smoke I can’t help but think of my grandparent’s house in New Canaan, Connecticut, and my grandma’s raspy voice as she spoke to me over the piano about an article she had cut out of the newspaper. But when I say I started climbing at age 7, I don’t smell anything or feel anything. What grade was I even in when I was 7, is that 1st grade, 2nd grade? I search for context, but the only context I can put myself in at age 7 is Betty Spooner’s School of Dance, where I was a dedicated pupil and Mr. Jordan was my teacher. At that point in my life I wasn’t a climber, I was a dancer. I know I started dancing at age 4, first ballet, then tap and ballet, then just tap, then tap and climbing, and then just climbing. I know I stopped being a dancer and became a climber when I was 14, when Mr. Jordan died. But I don’t know when I started feeling like a climber—that could’ve been earlier.

Emotions shroud fact and distort the memories as you replay and solidify events in your head, mixing them up and misplacing them over time—fact becomes fiction in terms of memory. So for all the times I have told people I started climbing when I was 7, I can now only remember I started climbing when I was 7.

I know that climbing has been passed down to me. Not in the “umpteenth” generational sense, but my dad taught me how to climb, and his dad taught him how to navigate the mountains and in turn I suppose my grandfather’s dad taught him how to enjoy the outdoors. My dad finds solace in the mountains along with his dad, hiking through the snow, ice and sometimes rock of the North Cascades. For me, well I find solace there too, but prefer to be high up on the vertical spires of granite, sandstone, limestone protruding from the spine of Mother Earth herself. We could be called the evolution of the vertical life, moving forever upward in our quest for freedom in nature. But this process hasn’t been generational in the sense that climbing on its own has been passed down to me over the years. Rather the need for adventure has been passed on to me, the unadulterated respect for the environment and the continued quest for freedom.

So maybe I could say that climbing has been embedded in my bones since I touched down on this earth, but that would be a lie—something I could probably convince myself by telling enough people and soon it would become a part of my story. But climbing is different than that—get up on that rock face and everything is exposed, including the stories you have told over and over again just to convince yourself that you didn’t make it all up. You can’t hide anything when you climb, and if you do…well you aren’t climbing.

I remember climbing trips better than I remember my high school graduation, or the soccer games I won. I remember climbing trips, at least parts of them like the back of my hand. Whether I like it or not, these parts have been seared in my memory as small reminders of some of the biggest mistakes I have made or the best sunsets I have witnessed.  I climb because of trips like when my dad took me up my first traditional route and we sat at the summit eating crackers and cheese, for the days that I spent out at Tahquitz moving my way up through scattered pitons left by the pioneers in climbing and I climb for the days like the one that I finished Resolution Arete on Mt. Wilson in Red Rock, Nevada.

Resolution Arete travels up the right side of Mt. Wilson, which is the highest peak in the park. The route ends just 50 ft. short of the true summit of Mt. Wison, and has been climbed by only a handful because of the alpine like nature of the climbing—there is only one bolt on the entirety of the face, the rest is gear that we must place ourselves—making retreat nearly impossible. As I read and re-read the route description before the climb I kept getting caught up in the final statement by the authors that reads, “[on Resolution Arete] you will be very much alone”. As climbing has gained more and more popularity, areas with easy approaches and access are crowded with climbers of all ages and levels on the weekends—gym rats who come out to experience the “real deal”. I never minded this too much because I have always found ways to get away from it all. Resolution Arete provided me with that escape, but at a cost. The week before we left for Red Rocks the dreams had started–the blurred sepia-toned movie reel on repeat of me approaching the base of the climb and looking up at the ominous red speckled spire. I get nervous before climbs, and “being very much alone” while drawing me to this climb, scared the shit out of me.

Now I’m not one for trip-reports or detailed route descriptions; I’ve never been good with remembering route names or what gear to place along the way—things most climbers live for after a good climb. I tend to leave a climb humbled by it’s beauty and power—remembering not the moves and how they worked in sequence but how the rock reached out and grabbed me it’s red core pulsing through my veins as I bled up the wall’s wrinkled wisdom. Mike is the type of climber you go with when you want to get something done, and get it done fast. So we went after this route together. Trying to remember the details of the route now is a bit hazy. I remember the hike, and waking up at 2:45 to leave for the base. I remember watching the sunrise as Mike traversed out onto the sun-splotched sandstone. I remember falling on the 7th pitch, getting the rope stuck and losing a piece of my beloved gear. I remember scraping my hand as I attempted to get the rope un-stuck and sitting their bleeding imagining the prospect of having to somehow bail off the route. I remember placing my foot and shifting my body weight onto a knob that I knew was unstable and moments later having it break off as I screamed bloody hell and hung in the air searching to regain my composure. The route has turned into that sepia-blurred movie reel for me, pieces cut out and others meshed together as I search for the details. Yet in all of this searching I reach the last hour of the climb and suddenly there is pure-HD clarity, perhaps because it the most replayed part of the climb in my head.

About 500ft short of the summit Mike and I stopped talking, except for the occasional exchange of commands. We moved forward slowly, tired, ready to get to the summit before the sunset and the rock was so loose—so rotten and aged. We knocked on every piece before we delicately placed our body weight onto the hollow flakes. We were focused and knew that mistakes now were not an option. Trudging up the last few hundred feet was a feat in itself but we reached the summit just as the sun was setting, I ran to the highest point I stood for a minute staring at the round geological survey marker, a sign that indeed someone else had also been up here. The bronze reflected the slowly fading light. Mike and I had just climbed almost 3000ft in about 12 hours these are estimates of my memory, probably exaggerated as happens with time. I looked up and scanned my hand over the desert; I could clearly make out the whole Vegas strip and placed the Luxor in between my pointer finger and thumb. It is at the top of climbs like these, right before the sun sets in which I feel free—all-powerful. I have seen the big walls in Red Rocks in many different forms and at different times. They both comfort and scare me. I always imagine them whispering knowingly “you don’t belong here; it is time for you to go home” as the sun sets and we begin our descents. But there is some sort of comfort in standing on top of them. For that instant all the fear of falling, having to hike down the unmarked trail in the dark, and my fatigued body giving out is forgotten. For the most part I am at a lost for words after climbing trips; I just want to feel the rock again, to feel the beating of the earth through it’s exposed appendages. There is something about leaving a climb—feeling a sigh of relief that I survived, but having the notion haunt me that I will be back soon to go through the process over again. I will be back because I am constantly searching for that freedom, even if it is just for a moment.

Goodbye for now…

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“Most climbers aren’t in fact deranged, they’re just infected with a particularly virulent strain of the Human Condition.”

 I started the climbing team my sophomore because I needed to climb, and I needed to find others who also needed to climb.

There is nothing worse than being in a group of people and feeling like you don’t belong—feeling unable to verbalize what is wrong or what can make you happy. The worst part is you want to change but you can’t, because you can’t even pinpoint where to start. Through all this you continue to sit, enduring knowingly that you are trapped in the hellish dichotomy of judging and being judged. That basically explains my freshman year (with the assistance of emotional word choice).

But what I have come to realize, appreciate and “bow down” to over the past three years are the powerful notions that as human beings we have been given the gift of fear and alternatively courage to conquer that fear and the gift of vulnerability and alternately knowledge to understand that vulnerability is but a testament to our complex and beautiful character. Through all of the bull-shit, and holy-shits and falling-in-shit I have found constants in my life that remind how much I have grown, and the capacity I have to continually grow. For me climbing is a constant. Whether it is a constant battle, series of accomplishments, failures, envies, frustrations, injuries, mental break downs, best days of my life, rough skin, bleeding skin, “ooo’s” and “ahhs” climbing is always there, and will always remind me that I can achieve anything I want to.

Over the past three years you all have reminded me why I climb and why I continue to climb. It never mattered what level you were at, or what level you aimed to be at…what mattered and matters now is that we all share a passion for the freedom that climbing gives us. You are my people, the people that have some of the most interesting stories, the gnarliest hands, the longest hair, the strongest wills, the most enriched lives and my greatest respect. This is not because you are on the team—hell you could be here because you are just curious. No, this is because I have watched each of you push yourself every time you rope up and jump onto the wall, I have watched you move up the climbing grades and work through plateaus, and I have watched you take the biggest risk of them all and that is exposing yourself to the unknown. So hold on to your passion, whether it be climbing, surfing, knitting, eating, sleeping…whatever because your passion will take you past your potential, it will lead you into the future with a powerful unadulterated, untouchable force.

Rosie Bates

A fellow conqueror of the useless