Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Patagonia: Lessons in Ego and Caring

I. Down

I couldn't believe it.  Climbing conditions were perfect -- there was hardly a cloud in the sky, the sun shone bright and warm on my face, the air hung still, a rarity in windswept Patagonia -- and yet we were going down.  Away from the summit. Bailing.  

The previous day Cheyne Lempe, Matt Van Biene, Joel Enrico and I had hiked up to Laguna de Los Tres with our sights set on climbing the classic Californian Route on the south face of Cerro Fitz Roy.  Heavy winds on the approach subsided as we cooked dinner in camp, and after a few hours of sleep and rushed pre-dawn preparations our crampons crunched confidently across the glacier.  

Watching the weather, getting psyched for the next morning. Cheyne Lempe photo.

First light beneath the east face of Fitz Roy. Cheyne Lempe photo.
First light on the approach to Fitz Roy

Matt nearing the mixed climbing on the approach to La Silla. Cheyne Lempe photo.

By the time we finished the approach climbing up to La Silla, a snowy shoulder partway up the south side of Fitz Roy, I was suddenly less confident.  The Californian appeared covered in rime and ice, and the entire route was already in the shade.  We had planned for a quick one-day ascent and hadn't brought any cold weather clothing or bivy gear.  We are also weak children compared to the likes of Salvaterra, Garibotti, Karo, Donini, and other Patagonian hardmen who probably wouldn't have given the icy conditions a second thought.  

After some brief discussion we opted instead to try the neighboring Franco-Argentine route.  The crack systems in the upper half of the route looked pretty icy as well, but at least it was in the sun.  Unfortunately the ice started lower than we had thought; most of the second pitch was completely covered in a huge slab of rime and ice, and it didn't look like conditions would improve as we got higher.  So after only one pitch, in perfect weather with nary a cloud in the sky, down we went.  

Joel starting up the splitter first pitch of the Franco-Argentine.

Half-joking, half-not, Cheyne lets Fitz know his feelings.

Hiking back to town the next day we rested next to the dusty trail and berated ourselves for turning back.  

"We should have just gone for it."

"I can't believe we went all the way up there just to climb one pitch."  

"Everybody else is sending right now."

I looked up at the sunlight floating through the swaying branches of the lenga trees overhead.  Why was I so concerned about what everyone else was doing?  Didn't I come down to Patagonia for myself?  For my own hopes and dreams and desires?  And why was I so unhappy without our decision to bail?  Hadn't we just enjoyed two days of amazing weather while moving through an incredible landscape of ice and stone, surrounded on all sides by breathtaking views that only a relative handful of people will ever see?

"Guys," I said, "Every reason that I can think of for being unsatisfied with what just happened is coming from my ego -- some deep desire for others to respect me and think I'm cool, and a subsequent worry that they'll judge me for bailing off 'the easiest route on Fitz Roy' and not respect me because of it."

A silence fell over our conversation as my words sunk in.  The other guys nodded in agreement.  Soon we were all smiling and joking, our spirits lifted.  Recognizing my looming ego and it's attempt to control my attitude allowed me to appreciate how amazing the previous few days had been, even if we hadn't reached the summit.  I finished the hike back to town with a deep gratitude for the sun on my face and the air flowing in and out of my lungs.  

But I should have known escaping my ego couldn't be that easy.  It never has been.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Summer Wrap Up

I woke up one day last week and thought somebody had broken into my house.  I heard a strange rustling noise in the living room and slowly crept downstairs to investigate.  I tiptoed through the kitchen as the rustling grew louder.  Preparing to fend off some intruder I jumped around the corner into the living room and promptly started laughing at myself.  There was no one there.  The sound was just a heating vent blowing air into the large fronds of a house plant.  

"Well," I thought to myself, "Heat's on for the first time.  It is officially fall in Seattle."

Hard to believe we're already well into October, right?  Where did the last few months go?  Seems like just yesterday that I was waiting for the sun to wring the spring moisture from this damp corner of the country, my head full of plans and ideas for the summer that lay ahead.  That summer's gone now.  Most of those plans went uncompleted and few of those ideas came to fruition.  But a lot of new plans cropped up, and unexpected opportunities were seized by the horns.  All in all it was a pretty rad couple of months.  

I thought I'd wrap it all up in one neat package for anyone who's interested.  So, here it is. An act in seven parts.  The Highlights of Summer 2012.  

Part I - Yosemite

It all started off with a bang when I got the chance to go to Yosemite in June for a little "business" trip.  

In May my boss, Fitz, had asked me, "Austin, do you want to go climb El Cap next month?" The "Yes" was out of my mouth before he even finished the question, and soon we were driving south on I-5 with a car full of climbing gear and camera equipment.   

For nearly two years Fitz had been documenting the story of climber Craig DeMartino, who lost his right leg in 2003 following a 100-foot ground fall in Colorado.  Craig had since come back to climbing - ticking routes up to 5.12d and climbing The Nose in a day along the way - but he still wanted to complete an all-disabled ascent of El Cap.   He already tried once in 2011, but he and his partner, Jarem Frye, had to turn back a few pitches up Lurking Fear when Jarem's prosthetic leg fell off.  

El Capitan

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

New Video Out

I know I haven't posted up in awhile, but I'm not going to apologize for it because I've been wonderfully busy doing other things that I care more about, like climbing, filming, being out in the mountains, and spending time with good friends.

I'm psyched to say that the most recent video I finished is now up and live on the interwebs, and though I'm biased I think it's pretty rad.

In March myself and Matt Van Biene spent some time in Indian Creek climbing and filming with Will Stanhope (aka Skinny Fat, aka The Great White Hope) as he attempted to headpoint some of the area's hardest, diciest climbs, and also look for some new routes of his own.  We captured this search, and his FA of Down in Albion (5.13 R), in the video below.  Check it out if you've got a moment.

As Will mentions in the video, it was a pretty crazy day that he finally sent Down in Albion, because Hayden had just sent the FA of Carbondale Short Bus (5.14-) earlier that morning.  Beyond the obvious fact that I was psyched to have footage of both sends, it inspired me to see both of these guys really give everything they had to pull it off.  It definitely made me think about how I can do a better job in my own climbing of really concentrating, knowing what moves you need to do, and just executing them.  Looking at the footage Will and Hayden both almost make the routes seem easy, but I can assure you that these things are HARD (We went back the following day to get some more shots of Will on DIA, and he couldn't pull the crux moves, which certainly says something about how tired he was from his attempts the day before, but also says something about the headspace that he was able to put himself in for the send and just focus and believe he could do it.  Mad respect.)

A shout out to Will, Hayden, Matt Segal, Andrew Burr, Nasa Koski, and Derek Craig for all their help down in the Creek this spring, as well as to all the monkeys who were down there having a good time and crushing.  That place is truly one of my favorite on Earth, both because of the magical landscape and beautiful people who spend time there.  I can't wait to head back this fall.

I hope everyone's getting out, living life and loving it.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Hop on the Short Bus

In late March I had the opportunity to go back down to Indian Creek to film a couple of videos for work. Southeast Utah has to be one of my favorite places in the world, so it wasn't hard to say yes to a "business trip" to the desert. The weather was great, the people were better, and I was even able to get in a fair bit of climbing in between days of shooting.

One of the climbs we captured was the first ascent of the long-standing project "Kansas City Special" at the 4X4 wall in Indian Creek. First tried by Nick Martino in 2007, no one had been able to link together the bouldery, low-percentage moves on this dicey thin line. No one, that is, until young-gun, goofball, and all around good guy Hayden Kennedy showed up this spring. Fresh off an epic season down in Patagonia, Hayden was psyched on some single-pitch-in-the-sun action where he could "come down at the end of the day, have a good burrito, a couple beers, and not be suffering on a mountain with some dude spooning with you."

Hayden worked the line for a couple days with fellow crushers Will Stanhope and Matt Segal, and sent after just a couple of lead burns. He renamed the line "Carbondale Short Bus" in reference to his hometown of Carbondale, CO, his current vehicle/home, and the short nature of the line. It was ridiculous watching Hayden on the climb, because it is so difficult yet he makes it look like 5.12.

My friend Matt Van Biene and I had a lot of fun filming this and putting it together, so check out the video on Patagonia's website:

We're currently working on another video featuring some of the footage that we got of Will on a couple of climbs in the Creek as well, including his first ascent of Down in Albion (5.13 R), so stay tuned for that! 

Hope everyone is well and getting out in the hills. The weather's finally on a good kick up here in the NW and I'm off for a few days of climbing up in the mountains.


Monday, March 5, 2012


I went to college at a small university just outside of Boston. About five miles from the heart of the city, to be exact. And though I could clearly see the downtown skyline every time I walked across campus, that place might as well have been on another planet. I think I can count on both hands the number of times I ventured into Boston during my five years there.

And while this had a lot to do with the fact that I was the type of kid more likely to be found in the library on party nights rather than out at some bar, it had even more to do with the fact that I find urban cities largely uninspiring. I dream of rock spires and splitter cracks, not skyscrapers and neon lights -- when I had free time in college I wanted to get outside and explore real forests, not the urban jungle.

And so it was that the place I came to know as a second hometown was not the metropolitan city five miles away from my dorm-room door, but rather the unlikely community of Lincoln, New Hampshire.

Alpine Mentors

In a recent post I mentioned working with Steve House on a video for his new program, Alpine Mentors. This is non-profit program that aims to pair young aspiring alpinists with some of the world's best alpine climbers, who will act as mentors to prepare participants to succeed on some of the biggest alpine climbs in the world. It's a pretty awesome opportunity if you ask me, and I'm excited to see who will ultimately be chosen to participate in the program. I'm excited to say that we've finished our video, which describes the program and Steve's vision, and it is now live on the web.

I spent most of February working on this project - be it flying down to Ouray, CO, to film for two weeks, or editing back here in Seattle - I'm really psyched on how the final video turned out. Check it out below:

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Summit Post

I was putting together some panoramas from last fall's road trip and found this one taken from the top of the North Six Shooter in Indian Creek. It's hard to explain how beautiful life is from up there, but maybe this photo will give you an idea. Click the photo to see the big version. Enjoy.