Wednesday, September 4, 2013

To Kevin, you will be missed.

It has been a few days since I heard about the accident.  A few of us had gathered in southeast Idaho, climbing outside of Arco.  It was a standard relaxed morning, waiting for the walls to go into the shade, when another climber named Ian turned to me and asked me if I knew a Kevin Volkening.  I replied that of course I did, I had in fact gone to high school with him.  Ian’s reply to this was the last thing I was expecting, the news that he had died in an accident.  Things fell silent; it was the worst thing possible.

Climbers are a strange bunch.  To someone who doesn’t climb, it is impossible to explain why.  It is dangerous, it has no social benefit, and can largely appear to be entertainment.  But for those who do climb it is just the thing that more or less controls our lives.  Somewhere between religion and obsession, we find ourselves directing our lives so that we can climb as much as possible.  It drives us to improve and explore and challenge ourselves in a way that other pursuits haven’t.  

So like most climbers this Labor Day weekend, Kevin headed to Wyoming, and I had headed to Idaho, both of us more than excited to get an extra day this weekend to get away.  It is the thing we both loved to do.  And then…

Every time an accident such as this happens it is felt throughout the climbing community.  It is a small community, and the more time you spend climbing the more you realize this.  Everyone knows everyone, and it is impossible to not feel grief because even if you didn’t know them directly, at least some of your friends did, and you know that they had been bitten by the same climbing obsession that drives you.  Nobody goes out to climb wanting to die, they just want to feel fulfillment in life.   

I never climbed with Kevin thought, I knew him from before.  I had heard he’d started climbing a few years ago and from the first time I read his blog I could tell he was hooked.  When he moved to Salt Lake City I was living in Logan – a mere 90 minutes apart – and we even talked about getting together and climbing.  But as things go, we both had jobs, we both had our own climbing goals we were motivated by, and we never made it happen, never knowing there wouldn’t be enough time.  

The first thing I remember about Kevin is laughing with him.  He was hilarious and rambunctious.  Always a positive presence and always excited about life, he loved it and he knew how to live it.  I miss you more than words can say.  We’ll share a belay in the next life.  

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Come together.

Last Thursday marked the end of a year long saga.  Never before had I failed so much.  The obsession, insanity, hope and ruthless devotion finally has concluded.  This doubt that filled my mind for so long has lifted, or is starting to because what happened hasn't sunk in quite yet.  All I can think is how this all came together and nearly fell apart so many times.  Climbing is such a selfish pursuit but this ascent would have been impossible without several things or elements coming together.  Behind each of these is a person or people who helped me, and I hope I can give that back to others in the community.

This all started right about a year ago.  May 1st, the first day of grad school here in Logan.  What a shock after being free and just climbing for really the previous 3 years.  How can people enjoy this life???  This isn't what I want to write about though.  We started exploring the crags up Logan canyon, and were instantly impressed by Rodent Ranch.  For anyone visiting the area, the 12c up there "Basted Pikas" is amazing, would be a classic at any crag.  There is also a mint 11c named Pika Angst, and the 12d and 13b variations to Basted Pikas are both super fun. Then there are several other routes from 5.10 to 5.12 that are all worth doing.

Looking for a project I tried a route that shoots up the right arete of the main buttress that was named Rad Race.  First go I shamelessly stick-clipped up most of the route and could do a couple of the moves, but was mostly convinced that it had broken because there were several sections with things I didn't imagine were holds.  A few days later we returned and the route’s first-ascensionist, Matt Cupal, was there and informed me that the holds were still there.  The problem would turn out to be that Matt has probably an extra 10 inches of reach on me, so I had to come up with my own beta or get taller.  Turns out probably either would have taken the same amount of time;) I eventually figured out some beta, but soon it got hot and I didn't visit the route for a few months. 
The first two holds off the rest ledge leading to the stunning arete.
Eventually fall rolled around and I remembered the route.  I returned to it and this is where the nightmare started.  I felt like I was climbing strong, but was getting owned!  Sometime in the fall I remember talking with one of my friend Jonathan who climbs miles harder than I do.  We were discussing the V-grades of moves on routes.  He joked how routes don't really have that hard of moves very often, but when you are climbing some high grade, no one wants to admit that some V3 is kicking your ass, and say it feels like V8 or whatever.  I reflected on this thinking and applied it to Rad Race.  Maybe the moves weren't so hard.  More weeks went by, I kept trying the route, links got longer but never close to long enough.  I went bouldering at stout and soft areas, I worked on my power.  I did some pretty hard boulder problems (for me), came back to the route and wanted to say "hey, these moves are easy."

But that moment never came, the thing was brick hard and boiled down to three boulder problems in a row, with two holds good enough to clip from.  Here is how it went: The route starts with a two tiered giant choss pillar, in fact you stick clip the first bolt which is about 25 feet up standing on the first tier, just to mount the second tier which is about 20 feet tall.  Then you climb probably 30 feet of 5.11+ to sit/crouch on a tiny ledge, which turns out you can get a no-hands rest on, but it would pump my legs silly to hold the position, and if a wind gust came I'd come close to falling off.  Here the business started: a 7 move V5/6, clip, a 7 move V5, clip from a sketchy heel hook, to a 9 move V7.  The V7 was the kicker, after desperately slapping the arete for so many moves you pull into a nasty right hand undercling, and toss to a slopey crimp.  The feet here are terrible and the core tension to even pull into the position to throw from always left me moves earlier.  No rest, some of the worst foot holds I've ever used, hand holds I didn't think existed other than the tickmarks to point to them, but the sequences were perfect.  Every move packed full intensity, always pressing or compressing or opposing, never a second to go straight arm, no jugs to comfortably clip from.

Fall was ending and winter starting.  I was obsessed.  I skipped classes and work, the route controlled me.  A huge snow storm was rolling in and Melissa joined me for one final chilly morning to try to send.  I gave the route a half dozen goes, falling off a couple move from the top go after go.  I was broken.  A day later the snow hit and all hope was lost.

Then real winter.  Training.  I messaged my friend Ryan who I had heard became the beast he is from a hangboard routine he'd been doing for a few winters.  I tried it, stuck to it and hoped for results.  I campused, tried to reduce my donut addiction and thought about the route almost daily.  Funny how a mind can work, how so much emotion can be attached to something so lifeless.  Around the middle of the winter I went bouldering and did something to my Achilles falling too many times off problems.  What a pain in the ass, “I can't have surgery now!” I thought.  But I also couldn’t wear climbing shoes or go running, the two things keeping me sane in school. Facing months of physical therapy, I desperately looked for another option.  And once again the climber network led me to someone who had had the same problem, and they told me some key stretches (and to do them a lot), buy a massage roller, and ice.  It worked well enough, and still I am getting by today. 
As part of winter training, Kevin, Eric and I won the Tour de Donut in Logan.

Finally Logan thawed out.  We drove up the canyon and my first day there I did an easier version of Rad Race called Myoptic Vision, which basically avoids the V7 and half the previous V5.  It felt easy, and it was nice to clip some chains.  A week later I returned and tried Rad Race proper.  I figured out better beta for the first crux after talking with Matt Cupal over many beers that winter.  I dumbed it down to probably V4.  I made it to the big throw that afternoon matching my highpoint.  For the first time in probably 10 days of working on the route I looked forward the next day here.

The next weekend one of my best friends Kevin came up to climb and I got on the route.  I sat on the ledge and tried to relax.  I had heard another Logan climber had gotten on Myoptic Vision (the Rad Race variation) and I wondered if he had left any tick marks that might confuse me.  I was pretty sure it wouldn't be a problem as I felt closer to an underpowered robot than a human at this point on the moves.  I stood up grabbed the first two holds went for the third and "FUCK!"  Broken hold.  Broken dreams.  Not only could I no longer do my new easy beta, but I couldn't return to my old beta either.  It was pretty devastating.  The nightmare continues I thought.  The dread, lack of psyche, the failure, I wanted to end it.  Melissa would say "don't do it if you aren't having fun."  But I felt like I needed to close this chapter to move on in life; feel like I had progressed and not accepted failure.  I figured out a new way to do the first boulder problem, which now involved holding a nasty barn-door, and made the boulder problem much more taxing than either of my previous two methods.

Back to work.  The next week I was at work exchanging emails with Chuck and he was telling me about how his wife had just sent her hardest route.  It was completely unrelated to the epic I was having, but Chuck said he is proud of his wife because few people could stick with something so long, and in the end what is the worst thing that can happen if you keep trying?  Not red pointing, nothing else.  I thought about this a lot the next few days and after a rainy week away from the project we returned last Thursday.  I didn't have much heart, didn’t have many expectations, but felt like I had control of my emotions for once.  
The sidepull/undercling leading to the throw that eluded me for so long.
First go went well, but I felt so far from success.  I remarked that it was funny how there was this physical limit, how I could do the same 18 moves over and over, but never 19.  Then I roped up for my second go.  My mind was drifting around during the start of the route.  I thought about how the heat was coming and how this might be one of the last good goes of the spring.  Maybe in the fall I'll be stronger I thought.  I made it to the rest, tried to focus on how beautiful this place was, and how silly my obsession was, even though I knew that I was addicted and would surely be in this situation again.  I executed the first two cruxes perfectly, got to the undercling and locked it down.  This was it I thought, this was the moment.  I got my feet up and went for the crimp that had eluded me for a year.  Latch, the pump was building but I kept focused, precise smear after smear up the finishing moves, slapping holds, and the final rockover to the jug.  It was a crazy feeling, relief and happiness.  I clipped the chains and just laughed.  This is the greatest way to live, all the pain and obsession and blindness, I wouldn't rather be doing anything else.

I am ashamed to admit how dramatic and stupid I was at points leading through this saga.  My girlfriend Melissa was this constant pillar of support, and at times I surely didn't deserve her kindness and optimism.  I love this girl; she stood by me during my ugliest and most helpless times.  Thank you.  And thank you to the rest of the climbing community.  So many people played little parts to make this happen, with their advice or support, or heckling to try to remind me of how silly we can be.  Thank you everyone!

Friday, March 30, 2012


It has been about 4 months since this roadtrip started and it has been the best. In sharp contrast to last year, we've been doing a lot more driving, but as a result we've managed to see a lot of the western country. Melissa has put up with me everyday, and I love this girl. Huge thank you for putting up with my 'mantrums', sub-par cooking, donut addiction and patient belays.

We are currently stationed at Smith Rock in Oregon, and besides the weather being subpar it has been great. However, I think the best way to recap the journey so far, is to highlight the best thus far.

1. William.
We've named our faithful van William. So far, he has performed without a hiccup and been a fantastic home. He carried us twice over 11k feet, once through snow, when traversing through Coloroado, handled the dirt roads to get us to our crags and campings, and kept us comfy through all sorts of weather. Thank you William. Please carry us through our closing month and then I promise I'll love on you a lot.

Home sweet home.
2. Kings of Rap.
I hadn't tried Kings of Rap in over three years, but the last time I did I'd fallen on the closing moves, for about the tenth time. This trip I returned, and was intimidated to get on the climb again. The moves down low were powerful, leading to an insecure roof section and finally the pumpy headwall I'd never been able to link. One of our first days here I got on the route and hung my way to the roof. It was cool to remember the moves, and look at the foot holds that terrified me before; the moves felt easier than I expected and the dreaded smears looked decent. The next day I decided to give it a go, and taking Melissa's suggestion of "just try and see how it goes" I found myself pulling the crux, getting through the roof and suddenly on the headwall with no real beta. I remembered a hard high step lurked somewhere, and something about a cross move, but other than that I was clueless. I surprised myself when I clipped the anchors. This route was perhaps the biggest unfinished chapter in my climbing life, and to have closed it so easily was a huge relief. It is nice to see progress.

On Kings of Rap over three years ago; past the roof and milking the rest at the start of the headwall.
3. Nevada desert.
I love the desert. This year, when traveling between the VRG, Saint George, Las Vegas and Red Rocks I feel I got to see a lot of it. Camping in the desert and waking up to the perfect panoramas is something that will always bring me back. After our stint at the Promised Land we also took the Extraterrestrial Highway over to Bishop. Such a desolate part of the country seems an impossible contrast to the bustling Las Vegas that lies less than two hours away.

The view from one of my favorite camp-spots. The cows get to wake up to this everyday!

Entering the extraterrestrial highway.
4. Melissa sending Erotic Jesus.
This year's VRG season was fantastic. First we visited the sunny side, which was nice in January when everyone was freezing in the shade, and then when we returned in February, we were treated with the warmest February anyone could remember. Some days were slimy, but the good conditions were there when needed and both Melissa and I managed to put down our projects. Melissa chose to try Erotic Jesus, a beautiful line on the right side of the Blashpemy Wall that has a reputation of being a major sandbag. The route took a few days, and early on there was a move that was shutting her down but I tried to convince her that eventually it'd come together. A few days later Melissa styled the thing and even 'man'd up' and skipped a clip when she found herself linking the crux. She got to the marginal rest, and kept her cool to finish the remaining 30ish feet of tricky, insecure climbing. I am so proud of her, she didn't take nearly enough credit and tried to brush it off as no big deal.
5. Family get-together.
My whole family got together about a week ago in Smith Rock, Oregon. This usually only happens once a year at Christmas, so this was a nice treat. Smith holds a special place in my heart, and I think this is partially because my dad took me here when I was young. At the time my dad did some climbing as part of the WSU Alpine Club, and I remember swinging around on a rope at Granite Point with my dad and some of his friends. We went on a trip to Smith and did some hiking, but I remember seeing the huge faces towering everywhere and being mystified by them. To now be able to spend time here to just climb and get to know all these faces is incredible. I believe my dad loves this place too and it was uplifting for him to return as well. Thank you dad for the early memories. The rest of the family, my mom, sister and two dogs seemed to enjoy the trip as well, maybe we can make this a tradition... I love my family, we have our issues but as a whole I think we are the only family I'd ever want.

The family.

Entering the irrigation tunnel at Smith during one of our hikes.

Rude Boys.
Just yesterday I managed to redpoint Rude Boys at Smith Rock. Much like I was mystified by Smith Rock as a kid, I was mystified by this route when I first climbed here. I never imagined I'd be able to climb this thing, and remember being on Dreamin' to the right and thinking it looked deadly difficult and scary. This trip I unlocked the cruxes low, and only needed 9 tries to find myself at the chains. The windstorm and threatening rain added to the excitement. One off the lifetime list...
7. Visiting the Freese's.
Back in Colorado when we were climbing at Shelf Road we took a break from the rocks, escaped a major snow storm and visited Jarred and Hannah Freese, along with their new additions Noah and June. I hadn't seen Jarred in a couple years, but when he lived back in Pullman he was a bit of a big brother to me. As always it was nice to talk to him and Hannah about life, how it changes, and how it goes. As an extra bonus we also had a fantastic snowball fight in the 14 inches of snow that fell, and we were introduced to Carcassonne, potentially the best board-game ever for two people.

Noah, Jarred and I face-off in a snow ball show down.
8. Promised Land.
High above Red Rock's sandstone sits a little chunk of perfect limestone known as The Promised Land. This area is seldom visited, and those who do usually come for one route: Confrontation, a superb pitch with perfect rock and wild moves. This crag also involves hiking over an hour to get to it and little in the way of easy mileage pitches. Huge thank you to Melissa for hiking up there with me so I could take Confrontation off the lifetime list as well. In the end, I don't know who was more excited when I managed to do it my second day, and didn't need to hike up there again.

The Promised Land. Beautiful rock...Confrontation takes the fat light blue streak on the left side.
9. Community.
The climbing community is fantastic. First, huge thank you to Greg for letting us crash in his driveway right now.

Melissa has made friends at Greg's place.
Everywhere we go we see faces we know. Sometimes we plan to cross paths, sometimes we are equally surprised to see each other. Just this year, I saw Conrad, an old friend from Pullman at Shelf Road, and Josh from Moscow at Owens. We've crossed paths with Clay and Rosie at the VRG, then Clay, Daniel, Luke and the Canadians in Bishop, Mark Rohr at Shelf Road and then Vegas, Lindsay in Vegas, Ben and Tiffany in Smith, Django at the VRG, at countless other faces. Sometimes it is like seeing old friends, and sometimes neither of us can remember where we've met before, but continually we are reminded that the community is small, but thankfully it is a great community. These people help to keep us psyched and it has been great seeing all of you.
10. Bouldering.
And lastly, Melissa and I went bouldering in Bishop. Usually the transition between sport climbing and pebble wrestling is difficult, but with the amount of amazing problems in Bishop we had a bunch of fun doing the easy classics. Melissa did manage to put down 'Bachar left' at the Buttermilks, and problem so heinously crimpy that I swore it off along with Clay and others. Maybe sometimes we'll return for a proper bouldering trip. Bishop is beautiful and we loved our time there.

Melissa with a crashpad, a rare sight!

And this about covers all the highlights. Pictures coming next rainy day...

My sister lowering at Smith! Yeah sis!!!!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Workin' Man!

Looking down at the Wailing Wall and surrounding desertscape.

Well it's true...time to return to work. After almost 8 months of climbing, traveling and loving life it's time to once again return to the world of alarm clocks, regular showers and uniforms. Yes, the reality is daunting, and I'm hoping to make the most of my last week and a half of freedom and put down my project: The Cross at the Wailing Wall.

Since last post Melissa and I have finished off our Red Rocks streak, went to Washington, returned to do a couple weeks of projecting at the Virgin River Gorge, and now become psyched on the Cathedral/Wailing Wall area. There is so much amazing climbing in this small little area I can't believe it. If the temps could be like they are now year-round I don't think I'd ever leave.

As for work, Melissa and I both ended up getting jobs at the Zion Lodge and as a result will be living the summer in Zion National Park (since both of us are working at the Lodge we'll get to stay in the employee housing). Originally things were a bit uncertain because Melissa had been offered a job but I needed to find some sort of employment and then we needed to find housing. I managed to land a job my first day, but housing turned out to be difficult. What we could find was usually somewhat inconvenient based on location or layout, and cost upwards of $800 a month. One day a phone call came and Melissa needed to commit to taking the position or not; she ended up telling them our situation and that as a result things were up in the air. One thing led to the next and suddenly I was being offered a job too. So now I find myself also a Lodge employee, scheduled to work the coffee bar two days a week, the beer garden two days a week, and the full service bar one day a week. Thanks Mel:)

Other recent highlights include watching Melissa send High Flames Drifter at the VRG and Sound of Power in Red Rocks, two of the hardest 12c's I can remember, having my sister come out for a visit from Ohio, and finally putting down Monster Skank, surely the hardest route I've done in my life.

Thank you for reading. Looks like I've been taking mostly non-climbing shots recently so please try to enjoy.

Beautiful sunsets at the Wailing Wall courtesy the Utah/Nevada desert.

Beautiful desert colors...

Be free tumble weed, be free! What else can you do in a windstorm?

Watching the Joshua Trees go by while exploring the Nevada desert with my sister and Melissa.

Swamp Cave in Arrow Canyon. Lisa on the far left, and Eric on the far right. The winds that day were horrendous and we all bailed after one route. Hopefully returning soon because this place is magical.

Action photography courtesy Ula, my favorite sister ever;)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The New Year

First day in Red Rocks. Didn't climb but did admire the views. Since then I've seen zero snow and managed to get a good tan going.

Winter is here! December came and went, January ran along too quickly, and I now find myself surprised to realize it is already February! I've managed to score the most fantastic accommodations here in Vegas, and can actually say I'm 'living' here without having to add the small print that I'm living in a van. Yes, local climber Heather has graciously let me rent out her other house and Melissa and I have been living the dream there since the start of January. Currently (the real) J-Starr and Kristen are enjoying the luxurious life too. With features like a shower, electric fireplace, 5 burner stove and hot-tub, we find ourselves sad to have to move on here shortly. Yes, it truly is a miracle, and for the price I've now earned the distinction of dirtbag guru according to some people. Haha!

My landlord Heather on Nothing Shocking at the Gallery.

Not too much to complain about in life. I ended up taking December off due to a bumming elbow but it still hasn't healed and as a result I'm only climbing every other, or every third day. I'm trying to send a route named Monster Skank here in Red Rocks and it is hard! Everyday of work has ended in me feeling beat up and destroyed. Small links are coming along, but all-in-all my hopes are a bit low. I think I summed it up best after one of my goes: "The Skank has fucked me silly." All worth the effort as it is one of the best routes I've ever tried.

In other climbing news Melissa has been crushing! Everyday has been sweet, and I'm constantly getting super psyched watching her figure things out and then progress. So far due to sickness and an unfortunate scrambling incident that left me gimpin' for a week we've only managed to do one long route together. We're trying to get everything on track though and tick at least a couple more long things before our days are out.

Melissa on-sighting Running Man at Red Rocks. Made it look easy!

And Kevin has been here bouldering on the weekends and wowing all of us. Climbing with Kevin is like watching a climbing video: hard problem, lanky skinny guy, show progression, send. And it's been taking Kevin sub 15minutes to send some testpiece boulder problems; most impressive feats include sub 30minute send of Stand And Deliver (V11), sub 10minute send of Progressive Guy (V10) and second go effort on Fear of a Black Hat (highball V9). This last weekend we did burn out a bit on bouldering and decided to embark on a mission to do Rock Warrior, a route that is supposed to be bold and 'only' 5.10b. Long story short we started up incorrectly, Kevin linked Rock Warrior into Sandstone Samurai, creating a 5.11 slab crux about 50 feet up with no gear, and then linked back into Rock Warrior creating another exciting, insecure 30 foot traverse from a bolt. And all the effort led to me getting half way up the second pitch, about 30 feet up and 20 feet left of the last bolt, only to get get hit by hail and snow and have to make a ball-shrinking downclimb on wet rock. We bailed, but it was a sweet adventure, and hopefully we can return soon to finish it up.

Besides that there is not much else to report. Life is pretty simple. Climb, eat, drink, sleep, repeat. Soon I'll have to work though I think, so maybe the next post will have something to do with that. Whats next? Probably a little Bishop and Owens River Gorge, and then maybe Smith, maybe the Red, maybe Washington...? Life is sweet. Thank you for reading.

The life! Crashpad sofa, camping furniture! Big screen plasma TV and surround sound!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Still in Kentucky. A bunch of thoughts are bouncing through my head but they are all rather abstract and hard to explain. Life has been both moving forward and staying still. I'm not sure if I'm really making progress and this has been a bit draining. The fall has been amazing, and it seems I've escaped the winter up to this point here in Kentucky. Tomorrow brings December and fittingly for the first time we might get some snow.

Returned to Logan for a little bit. Still pretty and still doesn't feel like home.

Since last post: went to Utah and did a little work, and got to climb some amazing pitches. Unfortunately I didn't get any photos of climbing but I did manage to log many days at my one of my favorite places, Blacksmith Fork. I even logged one day of bouldering with one of the best people I know, Kevin Todd. Kevin graciously supplied the most premium beta and spotted me during a headlamp session on Matt's Roof up Little Cottonwood Canyon. This boulder problem is itself amazing, but something about piecing it together at night was magical. After many layers of skin and being so close to folding the pads up I managed to stick everything and found myself pressing out the last move. A spectacular evening.

Melissa hiking into Zion.

Zion. Beautiful.

Also made it out to Zion to finally do Huecos Rancheros, a route that has been on my lifetime list for quite a while. It was an unforgettable day up the canyon with Melissa to do this route and unfortunately I don't have the words to do the day justice. It was an incredible day; one of the best I can remember.

Bolting the beauty...

I bolted the line I'd been dreaming of and after a little work I'm guessing it will land in the mid 5.13 range. It was the only thing left in Utah I was hoping to do this year, so even though I was hesitant I left it behind and headed to Kentucky.

Andrew on Hot For Teacher at the Motherlode.

I haven't been climbing especially strong since I got here, but I have had the chance to do some of the greatest climbs I've ever encountered: Swahili Slang, Soul Ram and The Legend to name a few. The season is almost over here, but I have to tough it out until the 15th because I'll be roadtripping back to Washington with my sister who is up in Columbus, Ohio going to school. Most of my favorite people have now left; huge thank you to Elliot and Andrew for all the laughs and times over this season here at the Red. The number of people left at Miguel's is below 10 and with that comes a bit of relief from the crowds, but its also a bit depressing: maybe its time I should move on too. My elbow is currently bumming and it would probably be healthy to stop climbing for a little. Life is good though, and I'll end this with four thoughts that remind me how much I love it: 1) There is an endless supply of amazing music in this world if you look for it. 2) I have no clue what I'm doing with my life. 3) Today I ran on the most supreme trails through the most amazing forest in a most premium rain storm. 4) I met the most beautiful girl I ever have, and got to cuddle with her.

How many different kinds of Stouts can you buy at the Party Source? Andrew and I found this many.

Thanks for reading.

Fall at the good as it was made out to be.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Returned from Alaska being very sure I was not born to be a fisherman. Although the money was nice, I just didn’t enjoy it one bit; felt like I sold my soul and happiness. It wasn’t that the work was hard, it was just extremely boring. I didn’t understand what drove people to do it, and the best reasons I could come up with (the drive to kill, the notch on the belt, the feeling of being manly…) just aren’t things I need to prove to anyone. Or maybe it is because unlike most people I met there, my ‘regular life’ back home is actually my dream life, so why would I want to leave it and do something ‘extreme’ like fishing?

My view for 31 days.

"...and I caught a fish this big..."

I returned, and immediately returned to climbing (literally got off the plane, got in the car, and went to the crag). The frustration of being out of shape was painful, and besides not climbing for 6 weeks, I also managed to gain 15 lbs on the boat. Ouch. I soon got back on Russian Arete, a spectacular line in Deep Creek that I had fallen off from the last hold about 90minutes before my plane left for Alaska. A few days of work and I managed to put the line down. Felt great to have it done, even though it was a route where every go was a blast as the route is aesthetic and the movement flawless.

This whole time in Pullman I was building my mom a patio, and this one week project ended taking up almost four, but I managed to escape in under a month. Next destination: Canmore and the climbing in Acephale.

Living the dream. Jai's house is the red one, I have the gold one.

I showed up in Canada to climb with Jai who I’d met at the Red. The first few days were perfect, and I managed to tick the few 11’s and 12’s at the upper crag, so it was time to move onto a real project. The crag is stacked with hard routes, but watching my friend Axel on ‘Army Ants’ sold me on it and the project was chosen. The movement on the route is phenomenal and rare; moves I likely won’t find on another route again.

It took 5 days to just do every move, and it seems every day involved some improvement in places, but an equal amount of decline in others. I soon realized that a couple extra inches of reach would have helped me on three moves on the route, the three that happened to be the hardest for me. Linkage was happening sometimes, but sometimes it wasn’t. The most frustrating part was that the top of the route, which wasn’t supposed to be that hard, involved a stab to a pocket that no matter how many times I practiced always felt desperate, and on link was only happening about half the time. Missing this hold would mean falling one move short of the anchor.

The temperatures were getting cold and it was starting to rain periodically making things muggy and friction terrible. I started having a lot of doubts about the route. Should I bail for better weather? If I stay, can I even do the route, maybe it is just over my head? Jai was equally frustrated with the conditions and after climbing with him on a Saturday he decided to head back east. That night a fairly strong storm came through, and waking up Sunday morning showed snow in the mountains just a few hundred feet above town. The day was drizzly, and that evening I decided to hike up to the crag to see if all hopes were lost. Things looked bad: the upper half of the route was completely soaked.

Woke up Monday and met up with Ben Gilkison (who is roadtripping with his wife, Tiffany, for a year so I’m guessing we’ll be crossing paths again soon here, he’s got an excellent blog at to go climb. I was ready to bail; I brought up my stickclip thinking I wouldn’t be able to get to the anchors to pull my draws. Ben tried to make me optimistic but I wasn’t having it, and after almost two weeks falling off the same route, I wasn’t really psyched to try something new (and dry); I was ready to go south, and not have to light fires at the crag to stay warm.

We arrived at the crag and much to my surprise the route looked mostly dry. It is hard to try to get repsyched after having accepted defeat, so my first go felt very half-hearted. Before the day was out I had managed to stick the first crux three times, something I’d never managed to link even once from the ground. First time I stuck the crux I popped a foot making the next clip, so a big thank you to Ben for keeping me off the ground as I wasn’t very high up and had a big armful of rope pulled up; the next two times I stuck the first crux I peeled off the upper crux. I decided to stop trying because I found the top of the route to be filled with wet pockets and I couldn’t get through. I thought about it, and decided to return for one more day.

So Tuesday rolled around and I came armed with a blow-torch. The pockets were still wet but with a little prepping I managed to make it climbable. My first goes of the day did not feel good, things weren’t as cold as the previous day, but the humidity was depressing. I felt like I was climbing poorly and the optimism left me.

When I was tying in for my last set of attempts and I was more focused on whether I should pull my draws and bail or try to cross my fingers for more good weather. So tired of being cold, and so close to sending, but close isn’t doing the route. This was a mental cluster for me because Army Ants was the first 13c I’d put much work into, and even though I try to not focus on grades as they are very personal, this “13c wall” had stood in front of me for a long time and not taking it down would have definitely caused doubt down the road. First go I fell on the first crux which is probably only 20 feet up, lowered, and as a joke put on my Polish Rocket shirt that I’ve decided to unretired. Next go was terrible, grabbed everything wrong and generally felt so bad I think I actually said the forbidden word, “take.” Lowered, was about to call it a day, but what the hell, one more go I decided. Suddenly things flowed, I stuck the first crux, remembered to squeeze with my left hand on the second crux (my left hand had blown off the previous three times I’d gotten to this point) and made it to the rest. The top had still been a bit wet and definitely harder than usual early in the day, but thankfully everything came together and I found myself clipping the anchors.

First crux; squeezing with the left for the second; the upper portion.

End of the first crux, amazing sequence of holds.

What a relief, man I was happy, this huge weight off my shoulders. Ben is definitely the most supportive climbing partner I’ve ever had, and his mentoring along the way was crucial. This is the second time Ben has helped me with a breakthrough in my climbing, as the same happened at Smith last year. I feel like he’s gone through what I go through, and now is wise enough to know how to transcend it and look at it from outside, while I still get obsessive, hasty, greedy and impatient. Maybe one day I’ll be wise too.

Canada is beautiful.

Left Canada now and after a quick trip to West Washington to spend time with my friend Aly I’m heading to Utah; almost there, just spending a couple days with some great people here in Boise. We’re going bouldering in an hour, so I’m getting ready to get destroyed. Bouldering is hard when you climb routes, and routes are hard when you boulder…

Thank you for reading.