Monday, December 26, 2011
In the few days that I've been home I've put a lot of thought into my time on the road. What did I gain? What did I lose? What did I learn? What did I teach? Could I have done more? Should I have done less?
How do you measure four months of experience? Can you? I'm still not quite sure, but here are a few ways I might:
2500 dollars spent
334 pitches of climbing
22 good friends made
8 COLD nights
1 flat tire
115 nights in my sleeping bag
1 crazy night in Vegas
2 dead rabbits
1 broken camera lens
2 awesome meals at the Lee Vining Mobil
3 Cormac McCarthy novels
1 run-in with Johnny Law
5 loads of laundry
3 cams, 4 stoppers, and 3 biners found in Yosemite
1 dropped ascender
5 consecutive weeks without a shower
3 weeks without changing any of my clothes
1 night on a wall
2 of the scariest moves I've ever had to make
17 summits (cumbre!!!)
1 desert tower
7 cans of Cobra
1 absolutely insane shooting star
97 degree high
4 degree low
2 Milt's milkshakes
2 ropes acquired
1 attempted car break-in (we were doing the attempting)
6 days in Smith Rock State Park
3 days in Pine Creek, CA
26 days in Tuolumne Meadows
27 days in Yosemite Valley
14 days in Moab, UT
32 days in Indian Creek
4 days in Canyonlands National Park
4 days in Joshua Tree National Park
Too many hours behind the wheel
137GB of video
2 European assholes
15+ awesome Euros to remind me to look past stereotypes
1 fantastic bunch of Kiwis
157 miles hiked
1 wild drunken midnight offwidth bouldering session
1 blood red lunar eclipse
3 sketchy Star Drives
5 rolls of tape
Thousands of hand jams
More amazing sunsets than I can remember
1 life affirming experience I'll never forget
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
To wrap up the last month: the good weather in Indian Creek inexplicably continued well into December and I was climbing in a T-Shirt in the sun even on my last day there. I feel like I progressed a lot as a climber during my time in the desert and I remain convinced that Southern Utah is one of my favorite places on Earth.
That said, a cold front blew in for a few days while my brother was visiting me in the desert, and while everyone else in the Creek bailed for warmer climes we sacked up and went for a 4-day hike in Canyonlands. Despite the cold (it never got above 35) we had an amazing time exploring the twisting slot canyons of the Needles area. I'd be lying if I said that we were totally comfortable the whole time (the cold at night pretty much necessitated that we cuddle up against each other for warmth) but that was kind of the point - sometimes you need to seek out discomfort in order to better enjoy the privileges of your daily life. By the time we finished it was a true pleasure to simply stand indoors.
I spent a few more days in the Creek after my brother left, but my body kept telling me that it was time to leave. I couldn't seem to recover after climbing and my psyche was getting lower each day. So I packed up and made the long drive to join some friends in Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
No, I was excited because today is a rest day. A well-earned one at that. The last two weeks have been full of fantastic climbing in Indian Creek, truly one of my favorite places to climb. I swear I'll never tire of driving past these sandstone cliffs at sunset, watching the stone turn from orange to maroon to chocolate while the blue sky above burns away in a fiery explosion of reds, pinks and golds. I've climbed some hard cracks, gotten spanked on some easy ones, and loved nearly every minute of it. These have been good, good days.
Yet life is a magical balancing act and the good cannot always come without the bad.
What makes me feel even worse is that this was the first time I had thought about him in a long time. I've often wondered how he was doing or where he was, but I never took the initiative to look him up and give him a call or send him a letter. Hell, I never thought that I would get an email telling me he was dead. And that's the terrible thing about it. I wish that it could have happened some other way, but my friend's death reminds me of how important it is to let your friends know how much you cherish them each and every time you see them. You never know when you might not have another chance to do so.
Walking around Moab after reading that email I called up a couple of friends that I hadn't spoken to in awhile. They were surprised to hear from me, but glad nonetheless. We didn't speak for long, but I made sure to let each of them know that I care about them no matter how long we go between phone calls. If you want a surefire way to put a smile on someone's face, go call a friend you haven't seen in awhile or send them a letter. They'll love it.
The relationships that we have with others are truly some of the most important things we will ever have in this world. If you're reading this, even if it's been awhile since you and I have spoken, know that I care about you and wish you the best. If you want to talk, always feel free to give me a call (206-683-1672). I'd love to hear from you. If you send me your address I'll send you a postcard from wherever I am. I promise.
Sunday, November 6, 2011
I blink against the sharp glare of Jeff’s headlamp as he squeezes into our small tent. His movement kicks up the thick layer of red dust that covers everything inside our meager abode and permeates life here in the desert. A cloud the color of dull copper obscures the air and I hold my breath for a second to ward off the fine powder before quickly realizing the futility and letting it settle dryly into my throat and lungs.
Crawling into his sleeping bag, Jeff sits up to stare wearily at his hands. Countless handjams in the splitter sandstone of Indian Creek have left the backs of his palms spotted with large scrapes and gouges - “gobies” as they are endearingly called by climbers. While most Creek veterans might sport a small scrape here or a layer of skin gone there, Jeff’s hands feature wounds the size of small countries. His wrist looks like its been gnawed at by one of the dogs that roam the campground around us, the torn pink flesh and dark red blood gleaming in the beam of my own headlamp. He grimaces silently, slowly curling his fingers into a fist.
One quick funny story from the class: Near the end of the course we conducted a night-time emergency scenario in the desert outside Moab. I was a mock patient in the exercise and was supposed to be suffering from an open fracture of my right tibia and fibula (lower leg). The instructors outfitted me with some fake blood and an actual piece of bone attached to my shin, and told me that I was to take a fall when they gave the signal.
When it came time to fall I looked around me, saw a promising rock slope leading into a sandy wash, and tumbled down it with a howl of pain. I rolled and rolled and just when I was starting to worry that the slope was much larger than expected I came to a sudden stop. I screamed louder, releasing a stream of expletives as I realized that the sandy wash I had rolled into was in fact a large stand of cacti. I quickly rolled out of the cactus that I was lying on and looked down to see at least 30-40 long thorns sticking out of my left side. Before I could remove any of them my rescue party showed up on the scene and I had to pretend that the pain in my "broken" leg hurt more than the scores of cactus barbs in my body. Awesome. We all knew that we had to keep the scenario as realistic as possible, so even when they asked about the thorns I kept screaming about my leg. In the end it took about 45 minutes before I could take them out and I'm pretty sure that there's still a few lurking in the coat I wore that night.
Anyways, now that the class is over I am headed down to Indian Creek, the crack climbing mecca of the world. I'll be down there until the end of November trying to learn the dark arts of finger stacks, ring locks, fist jams and off-widths. It's gonna be an ass-kickin good time.
Saturday, October 29, 2011
Monday, October 17, 2011
Saturday, October 8, 2011
Friday, September 23, 2011
We all love epics. Shivering bivies, horrific bushwhacks, days without food or water, terrible injuries suffered high on remote peaks, near-death experiences. Let's face it, they're awesome.
Okay, maybe they're not awesome while they're happening, but we relish talking about them later over a cold beer or listening to some unbelievable story told around a glowing campfire. Epics remind us that we are capable of far more than we believe possible, that we possess some hidden inner strength. They reveal something rarely seen in daily life: the immense tenacity of the human spirit and will to live. And on the rare chance that we find ourselves in the midst of an epic, we are given an opportunity to find this spirit within us and see what we're made of.
Ultimately we are all human. We compare ourselves to others. And as not only humans but also climbers/bikers/kayakers/surfers/skiers, we are obsessed with grades and ratings and need to know how we stack up against everyone else - Is this route harder than that one? Is she a better skier than I am? Am I more badass than he is? Was my epic more epic than your epic?
Enter the E Scale.
Monday, September 5, 2011
Saturday, August 27, 2011
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Southern Arizona is literally FULL of fascinating stories waiting to be told. The borderlands have an extremely unique and chaotic history that continues to shape events today. There are so many complex, overlapping themes and angles that one could spend decades down there and still find new, captivating narratives to tell. Drugs, immigration, corruption, politics, land rights, national security, poverty, wealth, Indian reservations, nationality, English, Spanish, Spanglish, death, life - they all shape daily life along the border. And it all happens in a breathtakingly beautiful environment, where the soft glow of orange sunlight filtering through undulating hills of sage and stands of saguaro cacti can almost make you forget that the desert is also a harsh, unforgiving killer.
I have to give a truly huge thanks to Sherman Teichman and Heather Barry of the Institute for Global Leadership at Tufts University, and to Gary Knight of the Program for Narrative and Documentary Practice for making this trip a reality and giving me the opportunity to work on this project. And also, of course, to Sam James and Adam Levy - mis hermanos por siempre - for support along the way.
Below are the photos and essay that I put together following the trip. Enjoy.
For me this was a huge jump. I had spent the last five years earning a degree in International Relations from an "elite" university in the Northeast (with super duper honors too!!) with the plan to become a Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. State Department. Think "James Bond meets Barack Obama meets Richard Holbrooke" - that was gonna be me, I swear. Unfortunately for our country and diplomatic corps, I hadn't factored into my planning the full ramifications of a single chance trip to the local climbing gym with one of my friends in our sophomore year of college.
Thus began an all consuming passion with climbing and adventure that would take me through South America and Patagonia my junior year, and all over the Northeast and rest of the United States over the following two years. Soon I found myself hanging out with a new group of friends three nights a week at the local climbing gym, and headed up to New Hampshire to climb and hike every weekend.