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.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Update -- Big Things Afoot

I realized it's been awhile since I posted about what's going on in my life, and seeing as blogs are ultimately meant to feed your ego by pretending your life is more important and interesting than it really is share your life with others, I figured I'd go ahead and let any of you who actually read this know what I've been up to lately.

The short story is that life is unbelievably awesome right now and I can't believe how lucky I am.

The long story goes a little something like this:

Since early January I have been back in Seattle working as an intern with Fitz Cahall and his company, Duct Tape Then Beer. Fitz is the creator of the highly successful Dirtbag Diaries, as well as a host of other awesome outdoor/adventure media projects including The Season, The Love Letter, Fringe Elements, Tracing the Edge, The Classics, etc. He has also been something of a hero of mine ever since I first started listening to The Dirtbag Diaries a couple of years back, and I still can't believe that I somehow finagled my way into working with him and his amazing wife, Becca.

Now, internships usually involve doing a lot of boring and menial tasks for people who consider you less important than their morning coffee, and I was recently asked by climber/writer Blake Herrington how my experience has compared to that of Kramer's intern in a legendary Seinfeld episode. If you haven't watched that episode, it is absolutely classic, but fortunately my experience with Fitz has been unequivocally awesome so far. I've had the opportunity to help film for some upcoming video projects, wrote a series of articles on Outdoor Research's Verticulture website for the recent video series The Classics, and am currently editing a video about disabled climber Craig DeMartino for submission to film festivals, as well as writing and producing an upcoming episode of The Dirtbag Diaries. I've learned a ton about everything from filming with DSLR cameras on the side of a cliff, to setting up audio correctly for video interviews, to the inner workings of the Outdoor Industry's media ventures. And I'm even getting paid for some of it :)

The other recent big news in my life has been the unexpected success/popularity of my video, A Desert Life. This was the first real video/film I had ever made, and I honestly created it to do nothing more than practice my nascent editing skills and share with a couple of friends. I had NO idea that it would receive 40,000+ views on Vimeo, be featured on the websites of the Discovery Channel and Outside Magazine, or generate dozens of emails from random strangers thanking me for making the film. I even had the chance to do an interview with Alpinist Magazine about the piece, and have begun the process of submitting it to a number of mountain/adventure film festivals. It's been a thoroughly enjoyable, if somewhat crazy, experience, and has me psyched to make a lot more videos and films going forward.

Speaking of new videos, I just returned from an amazing two weeks of filming down in Ouray, Colorado. I was working with my good friend Matt Van Biene, a photographer and fellow Washingtonian who I had originally met in Indian Creek last fall. Through some of Matt's hard work, we had the opportunity to make a video for Alpine Mentors, an awesome new program created by elite alpinist Steve House, as well as another video for Skyward Mountaineering, the guide company run by Steve and his friend and fellow badass, Vince Anderson. I have been a huge fan of both of these guys for a while, and the opportunity to work closely with them was a wild experience. Despite their "hardman" personas, they're super nice and friendly people who know how to have a lot of fun out in the mountains. We spent a lot of days hanging on fixed lines while these guys crushed it, and I think we got some pretty sick footage. We also did a ton of filming for another video about ice climbing culture in and around Ouray, which will either come out very soon or at the beginning of next ice season. Here are some stills from some of our footage:

Right now I'm hard on the edit train here in rainy Seattle, and I'm actually pretty psyched to make these videos come together. It's always fun to go out and shoot the footage, but I really love the editing process and making a vision become a reality.

Not only have the past six weeks been unbelievable, but the future is gleaming bright as well. I can't share any specifics right now, but there are a handful of video projects I might get to work on over the next four months that could take me from rural British Columbia, back down to the desert southwest, and back again up to the Cascades here in Washington.

And of course, I've already begun planning what I hope will be another 3-4 month climbing road trip for late summer/fall. After ticking off some classics and maybe even some FAs in the Cascades this summer, I'm hoping to hit the Bugaboos, the Rockies, the High Sierra, Tuolumne/Yosemite, and the incredible sandstone of the Desert Southwest.

If you read this far, thank you for reading and for your support. I hope all is well in your world, wherever you are.

Livin life and lovin it,

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Storytelling is hard. Sure, we all do it, while we're eating a meal with good friends, nursing drinks in a dim bar, or sitting around a campfire under a blanket of stars. But doing it well? Well, that is an artform - the art of plucking just the right scraps of information and experience from the roiling maelstrom of life and stitching them together into a narrative that flows. We've all heard amazing stories. And we've all suffered through more than a few bad ones. But we love them nonetheless. When told right, stories have an almost magic quality to them.

But storytelling can also house hidden dangers. By filtering the information that you include in a story, you inherently simplify the entire experience that you are trying to describe. Inevitably you leave something out. Now, this isn't necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, but the problem is that we almost always leave the same things out, and we keep the same things in. Despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that life and the world around us are complex systems of non-linear actions and reactions, we're often stuck trying to explain them using the same few storylines: good vs. evil, the quest, rags to riches, voyage and return, tragedy, comedy, rebirth. Sure there's some variation, but the result is that we keep telling ourselves the same stories over and over again.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Desert Life

Alf Randell is a self-described "dirtbag" who has spent nearly a decade of his life climbing amongst the soaring sandstone cliffs of Indian Creek, Utah. In November I spent some time climbing with Alf and documented his life in "The Creek," his love of tall splitter cracks, and his decision to shun city life in favor of a small camper in the middle of the Utah desert.

For me, there is perhaps nothing more inspiring than to see others truly live their passions - to refuse the normal life-script and to make whatever sacrifices necessary to be able to do what they love as much as possible. They show us that another way is possible, that you can choose the life you live, and that money comes second to experience, not the other way around.

This is one of the first "longer" videos that I have made and it was quite the learning process for me. From getting all of the shots out in the field, to spending more hours editing in front of a computer than I want to admit, it was definitely more work than I expected! I had a ton of fun putting this story together and I'm really happy with how it came out. Enjoy.