Monday, December 26, 2011

The Measuring Tape

I am slowly emerging from the cookie coma that I've been in for the last four days. Slowly. Like a sloth. But there is daylight ahead and I'm psyched to get back out and start training again. 2012 is gonna be a big year and I want to be ready for it.

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:

15,327 miles
119 days
2500 dollars spent
334 pitches of climbing
1 retreat
22 good friends made
8 COLD nights
6 states
1 flat tire
115 nights in my sleeping bag
18 postcards
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
6 Its-Its
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
2432 photos
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

West Coastin'

OK, a long time since I've posted, but I've been busy!

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

Good Days, Bad Days

This morning I woke up excited. Peering out of my sleeping bag and through the rear window of my van I saw the North Sixshooter lit by a golden beam of sunrise, rearing out of the dark desert toward ashen clouds above. Two days ago I stood on its summit, laughing incredulously at the beauty of a magnificent sunset seen from atop an island in the sky. I was glad I hadn't planned to go up there today. The growing storm clouds hinted at foul weather to come.

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.

I logged into my email this afternoon in Moab and learned that a good friend of mine from college died earlier this week. He and I were both in a street-percussion group and we spent many hours banging on trashcans, slapping plastic tubes together, and laughing hysterically at our own terrible jokes. I was pretty crushed to hear the news and still can't quite believe it. I feel terrible not only for his loss but also for his family and others who knew him even better than I did. He was only 25 years old.

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

Make It Hurt So Good

Since I'm headed down to Indian Creek for a few weeks I thought I'd post the following little piece that I wrote in March after returning from my first trip to the Creek:

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.

Desert Days

I just finished a ten-day Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course here in Moab, UT and I am glad to say that I passed with flying colors. I actually feel prepared to deal with most any emergency I might face in the backcountry and I can't believe I went so long without getting WFR certified. If you spend a lot of time in a wilderness setting and haven't taken a WFR course you should drop everything and sign up for the next available class. Trust me. Not only will you gain the knowledge to keep you and your partners safe, but you'll feel confident to help anyone in need in the wilderness. Plus most people who take these courses are awesome and I just made a whole new string of great friends stretching from Alaska to Arizona.

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

On The Move

Its a wrap on Yosemite for the season. Now I'm in Southern Utah for the next month or so. More to come soon.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Big Wallin

One of my goals for this season in Yosemite is to learn how to aid and climb big walls. I love free climbing, but knowing how to aid efficiently is an important skill that I've wanted to learn for awhile. Plus, it lets you climb things like this:

Last week my friend Michael, who has a lot of aid experience, arrived in the valley. We had discussed climbing some walls while he's here, so I thought it would be a good idea to find a place to practice aiding, jugging, hauling, etc. Maybe we'd go to a small crag to do some shorter climbs first.

But I have a new favorite saying: "There ain't no shallow end in the send pool."

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Meadows Life

The past few days here in Yosemite Valley brought constant rain, bitter cold, and little chance of climbing. Climbers took refuge in the Cafeteria and Curry Village library, fueling themselves on endless "free" coffee, tortilla chips, wireless internet, and Cobra.

I took the rest days as an opportunity to compile some of the footage that I shot over the three weeks in September that I spent living and climbing in Tuolumne Meadows. I'm still working on a more complete video with narration and better editing, but I hope you enjoy the brief video below. The two other climbers are Sam Radcliffe and James Gray, a couple of British climbers that I've been hanging out with here. As you'll see in the video, the guys are a riot. Go to Vimeo for the HD.

Shifting Seasons

It's always funny how the smallest of moments can bring an ocean of memories flooding back.

I woke early yesterday to get some sunrise photos in Yosemite Valley, but quickly realized that I had gotten up too early. Peering upward through the grainy darkness I scanned the walls for potential shots and realized that I would have to wait awhile before the light was bright enough. High above me dawn's rays spread sapphire life into the sky, but down on the valley floor it was cold. Really cold.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Couple from Tuolumne

I've been up in Tuolumne Meadows for the past two weeks and despite a lot of thunder storms the climbing has been amazing.

During a rare long day of good weather this week I headed out to climb both the North and West Ridges of Mt. Conness with a couple of British climbers that I've been hanging out with here in the Meadows.

The climbs were easy but amazing - thousands and thousands of feet of 3rd, 4th, and 5th class soloing. Just to be able to move fluidly for so long was spectacular, and nothing will put your heart in your throat like hand-traversing a knife-edge ridge and peering over the lip at a 1200ft drop on the other side. Wild! After a big post-climb meal at the Mobil we were treated to one of the most beautiful sunsets I've seen in Tuolumne. Enjoy some photos from the day below.

I'll post more from Tuolumne after I move down to the Valley next week.

The E Scale

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

The Luck of the Draw

Jeff and Eric's eyes grew wide with shock and their heads shook with disbelief as I told them the story.

"Holy shit. That's insane!"

"Dude, I've never even heard of anything like that!"

My head shook with theirs, for I could hardly believe it myself.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Last Night in Seattle

It was my last night in Seattle before leaving on a three month road trip to Oregon, California, and Utah, and I had just picked up my new Nikon D7000 camera. So I decided to make a quick video. Check it out below. Nothing super professional - I literally put it together in 15min - but I thought it came out kind of cool. Go to Vimeo for the HD. Enjoy.

Last Night in Seattle from Austin Siadak on Vimeo.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Arizona : Borderlands

In May of this year I spent two weeks in Southern Arizona working on a photojournalism project about immigration along the Arizona-Mexico border. This was my first experience working on such a project, and it was an amazing opportunity from which I learned more than I probably even realize.

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.

Roadtrip Selects

I spent a month earlier this summer driving and climbing my way from Boston to Seattle. I had a chance to meet up with a bunch of friends in some amazing places, and climbed some of my favorite routes yet. Below are some of my favorite photos from the trip. Unfortunately, most are from the second half of the trip, as my point and shoot was broken during the first half. Enjoy.

The Jump Off

Back in May I made the tough decision to steer away from a looming future in international politics and diplomacy, and embrace an unknown outcome in trying to make a living as an adventure photographer/storyteller/videographer. Or maybe I was going to become a climbing guide. Or perhaps a ranger for the National Park Service. Possibly even a SAR responder. The truth is, I really didn't know exactly what I was going to end up doing, or how I was going to do it, but I packed a minivan with my possesions all the same and left Boston fading in my rearview mirror as I headed West on I-90.

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.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Taste of the 'Pine

Just got back from a hiking trip in the Pasayten Wilderness with my brother. Here's one of the first photos that I've looked at since getting back. More to come...

The Inevitable First Post

There. It's done.

Now I don't have to worry about trying to make the first post some magnificent opus on the meanings of life, complete with a cure for AIDS and the solution to all global conflict.