Better

I came to Smith with the intention of hanging out through October, peak season, when the desert temperature drops and crimpacity (crimp-capacity) rises dramatically. I was told that there would be work for me and that I’d have my hands full.

As I’ve written in previous posts, I chose to stay because of the community that I’ve found here. But I don’t think I’ve said much beyond gushing about how happy I am to be here. Well, let’s fix that.

In each of my endeavors, whether it’s climbing, writing, taking photos or working toward my dream of becoming a mountain guide, I get support from my community. It happens in little ways, like when people tell me “That’s rad!” in passing. And more direct ways, like my friends belaying and cheering me up a challenging line. Or even more importantly, like when people cite my flaws and tell me that they expect more of me. That I can. I can write better, I can climb better, I can dream bigger, I can do better.

Slowly but surely, I’m working toward 10,000 hours in climbing, photography, writing. But it’s no solo endeavor. I’m better off because of the people around me.

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FA & FU

I have a lot of disparate thoughts rolling around in my head right now. However, I can nail down two pretty simply:

1.) I got my first, first ascent.

2.) Fuck Donald Trump.

I cannot ignore the state of my backward country, the state of my disheartened community and the significance of the times. America just collectively decided that Donald Trump — a racist, lying, misogynistic animal of a man — will best represent our domestic and international interests for four years to come. Despite my love for the Pacific Northwest and my modern heritage — the brave, opinionated, conscientious and compassionate people that have nurtured me into the adult I am today — I am ashamed to identify as an American.

However, it does little to complain to Facebook about how fucked up it all is. It’s not enough to apathetically watch from the sidelines. I’m no political activist, but I can certainly evoke some of the change I wish to see in the world. It begins with the small decisions I make each day: am I kind to those around me? Do I participate in building community? Do I take pride in the things that I do? Do I dedicate myself to doing things that benefit others? Yes. As much as I possibly can, I do.

I’ve learned a lot from the climbing community in Smith. Here, I feel supported and encouraged. People want to see me succeed. And it’s contagious, because I feel all of the same sentiment. Together we’re stronger. I believe the same holds true of political affairs.

About a month and a half ago, my friend Alan introduced me to the idea of developing routes in high, obscure corners of the park. Alan, only 24 years old, has dedicated countless hours and a considerable chunk of his own change into developing new climbs, trails and terraces to ensure ease of access.

For most climbers, nabbing a first ascent is appealing. It’s gratifying to know that you were the first person to spot a line, work out the moves and then see it through. It certainly appeals to the ego. But it takes a lot of work: cleaning loose rock with a hammer and crowbar, puzzling out a safe distance between future bolts, drilling the bolt holes, hammering the bolts in and placing the hangers.

For many, just climbing someone else’s established line begets the fix they’re after. But as my friend Chris says, development is a creative endeavor. Actually, it’s more than that. It’s a labor of love. It’s seeing beyond your own climbing and giving back to the broader climbing community.

With Alan’s oversight and willingness to show me the ways, I bolted my first line in the Marsupials. Atop a scree gully, my sweet little line sits high above anything else in the park. The view is spectacular. The climb follows an arete, utilizing negligible features in the rock to a pumpy finish. After completing the first ascent, I named it Your Highness and believe it to be a hard 11a, bordering on 11b.

I am extremely grateful to Alan, Chris and everyone else in the climbing community (local and beyond.) Without the support of numerous people in my life, I wouldn’t be able to experience the rich happiness of accomplishing my first, first ascent.

I hope that people will climb my line and find as much joy as I did in cleaning, projecting and later sending.

In sum, I’d like to acknowledge the tumultuous state and disturbing trends of current events, especially pertaining to the election. But don’t let it distract you from the beauty and possibility of your immediate surroundings. Be good to yourself and to your community. Be kind. Be compassionate. Do well for yourself and for others.

Be excellent to each other and everything will be okay.

F-falling!

Yesterday, I reluctantly pulled myself from my cozy bed and gathered my things to go climbing. The weather was slightly overcast and gauzy clouds draped themselves over the rocks. It seemed like conditions were going to be so-so, but we pushed forward with our plans.

We started on a damp 10- climb that’s spooked me in the past. Given the conditions, I decided not to lead it. Normally, Alan (one of my constant partners at Smith) will pull the rope and laugh at me when I tell him that I’m scared. With him, I’ve consistently onsighted and attempted harder climbs than with any other partner. Each time I climb with Alan, I feel like I get a little stronger. It also helps that he’s a solid 12 climber and projects 13s and 14s.

Fast forward a few climbs and I’m leading a 10c, feet above my last bolt and a small ledge. Fear creeps into my mind and down into my now shaking foot.

I call down to my belayer, “Chris, I think I’m gonna fall.”

Immediately, both of the guys start cheering me on, telling me to stick with it, find my feet, move up, you got this, etc.

But my mind isn’t having any of that positivity nonsense. Instead, I’m fixated on the fact that when I inevitably fall, it’s going to be a long whip given the distance between me and my last bolt. And it happens.

And – surprise – I’m totally fine.

I’m shaking, laughing nervously and finding myself temporarily unable to make eye contact with the guys because I’m embarrassed. I hate falling on lead not for the fear that caused me to fall, but for the way it messes with my headgame.

If lead climbing – especially onsight climbing – is a blank canvas open to your creative interpretation; falling is a disjunctive ink splatter that disrupts the flow.

But it’s not the end of the world. You can incorporate the splatter and then later use your experience to make better art, climb harder, etc. But it still gets to me and the guys knew it.

I start to try to talk my way out of the climb, “I don’t know guys… I just got really scared.” I’m still smiling and laughing, but shaking like a leaf. The adrenaline jolt has woken me up and the part of my brain that handles fear is galvanized. But, being good climbing partners, they tell me that they’re not going to let me down that easy.

I take a moment. Gather my thoughts. And prepare myself to continue up. They’re right, I shouldn’t give up that easy. They also give me good pointers about using my feet, focusing my attention and shifting my weight to better grip the rock. It becomes obvious to me that these guys have been climbing longer and harder than I have; and I’m grateful for it.

Yesterday, I realized the length of the road ahead in my climbing career. I’m going to have to struggle my way up many more climbs, finesse others and fall from time to time. And  you know what? I’m psyched.

This Must Be the Place

Do me a favor, blast this song while you read this post.

I was driving Highway 97 by myself, windows down, some garbage pop song playing loud on the radio and I just knew: I can’t leave Terrebonne.

I’d just come down from climbing in the Marsupials — an obscure crag by Smith-classics standards — and was on my way to meet a friend to climb boulders outside of Bend when it became absolutely clear to me. Between my job, the climbing that I’m doing, the progress that I’m making, the people that I’m meeting, the life that I’m loving, I know this must be the place for me. This is home for now.

Falling

I have this project. It’s haunting me. I think about it most every day.

From the beginning, the climb is committing. I reach around a corner to two thin, downward-angled rails and trust my fingertips alone to hold my entire body weight. Then, I lift my right foot high and hope that the friction between the rubber of my shoe and steep, featureless rock will allow me to stand and reach a high hold for my left hand. In this move, my right knee starts near my ribs and slowly, powerfully extends to improve my reach.

I can confidently pull the moves through the first two bolts. It’s the third bolt that I think about daily.

My left hand latches onto a feature vaguely reminiscent of a mushroom — I can’t think of a better way to describe it. It’s flat on the top — about the width of two quarters stacked on top of each other — connected to the wall by a short and stout stem as wide as a whiteboard marker, but only protruding about a half-inch from the face. As I’m writing this, I feel adrenaline spill from my forearms, through my wrists and into my fingers. My body knows the move but also knows how it feels to repeatedly fall from this feature. On a good go, I support my entire bodyweight — again — from the fingertips of my left hand, stand on negligible feet and throw for a blind right-hand sidepull.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fallen here. Each time, my friend Alan cheers me on right when I need it — right when the rational part of my brain starts panting, freaking out, “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!” — and then dutifully catches me when I fall. He’s patient. Tells me to try it again. Tells me I’ve got this; which we both know I do, it’s just a matter of combining physically challenging moves with mental commitment.

What I’ve learned from this line, project and even partnership is that it’s ok to fall. In whatever you do, commitment is what makes failure more formidable, success sweeter, friendship richer, life worth living.