Monday, December 8, 2014

After I'm Gone


As I write this the date is December 8th, 2014.  I’m 16 days away from getting into my car and making the 1,000 mile pilgrimage to a high desert environment containing some of the world’s most aesthetic climbing test pieces.  The scale of bouldering in this environment is massive; not only in its historic content, but in its real time immovable presence.  The boulders are, well, massive!  And they are everywhere.  Huge granitic dinosaur eggs scattered all over the litter box of the Sierra Nevada Mt. Range and the subsequent valleys it frames.  To say that this place is ‘special’ would be a gross disservice to not only the written word and its capabilities to accurately describe a place of this magnitude and beauty but also to our imaginations and the fodder of original thought therein.  Bishop is unique; it’s seasonal perfection reaches a high point in the coldest of our north American seasons in which the mountains are draped in the finest of white linens, the sky sports a Stellar’s Jay cardigan, and this phantasmagorical arena is filled with wayward participants all enacting a script that intertwines even the most loneliest of wolves, the most star struck of lovers, the most spiritual of high plains desert philosophers, prophetic beta shamans, open minded youngsters seeking didactic encounters of holism, and the purest of experiences brought to cathartic clarity through a filter of physiologically engineered pharmacological bliss.  


It is fitting then to describe our migration to such a place with all of its animalistic gravity as a true ‘pilgrimage’.  Its magnetism not withstanding Bishop withholds its secrets like any good mystic.  The release of its profundity comes in small doses which tickle the spine and cause the brain to percolate in a surge of its own viscous enlightenment.  Neuronally-transmitted your third eye needs no corrective lenses when cradled by a cacophony of serotonin, oxytocin, and dopamine.  But these boulders are quick to remind us of the significance of fear and its role as a teacher in our lives.  And many will come face to face with this lesson; some choosing to run from it while others choose to embrace it and sit with it, become friends with it, occasionally invite it to dinner.  There is grace and elegance even within the dankest of disembodied chasms.  Existing only in darkness and dusty compliance with the nature of volcanic organization these chaotic jumbled labyrinths provide a home to our inverted inclinations articulated through prowess and compression.  As we squeeze into these rabbit holes there is no denying our sense of freedom within and between communities; to wander unmolested between a time-filled reality saturated with obligation and our own sense of self entitlement and one in which we are fully aware of the connection and ubiquity of the discourse between the part and the whole.  


We visit these places for that remembrance.  The character of these places and the characters that inhabit these places stitch the fabric of our reckoning and reformation, of realization and recognition and serve to remind us of the permanence that is lost in the ebb and flow. 


So when you arrive please ask yourself why you are here, and try to sit down wearing your Hemingway hat when you respond.  Because, you can lie to yourself and to your friends, but Bishop; this dusty pocketed lonely amalgam of crystalline cartography that has seen the desperate dance of predator and prey, which has been drunk on scorpion skins and rabbit tears and digested the afterbirth of thousands of steaming foals, its mouth open wide to evaporating rains in April and its face bruised and beaten by its bi-polar lover and all of her windy inclinations, knows you and your name.  And it is no coincidence that you are here.  It is no lucky happenstance that you find yourself cowering in the shadows one minute and then sneering with unbridled confidence the next.   It has given us life through a purpose we never stop struggling to define.  To pretend otherwise is to deny yourself a voice in this conversation or a place around the pallet fire of our star wrapped afghan gathering, waiting to watch a universal dynasty disrobe before our galloping, jigging, vibrating group of inebriated primates all collapsing in on each other, buried in good cheer and merriment's curiosity.  We eventually, all of us, become a part of that dynasty anyway, we came from the jewels it wears and the black ether it drinks.  We pollute its martini glass and slip about the side of the funneled goblet it guzzles from, giggling as we are swirled by a cosmic swizzle stick holding our toes and tumbling down the throat of a translucent lion belched back from the brink only to rehearse again a scene, a line, a look in which we will always attain an unexpected perfection.  


So wipe your face clean of worry with the rags of chagrin and mischief.  Stumble about the streets and see past the motel lit sidewalks screaming from the weight of artificial coloring, grease, greed, and suffocating small town desperation.  Throw two balls down that bowling alley, high five the Dirt Burger, wrap your dinner in a tortilla, get bombed on torpedo’s, dodge fuzzy eyeballs filled with hippy hate at Rusty’s, and seek nighttime solace in sprinters searching for dance parties on sleeping dogs.  And forget that you take yourself seriously amidst peers and probing prognosticators abeam the ship of academia and professionalism.  For you are finally here!  Where you were always meant to be; it was told in the stars by an erudite avatar and written by a nameless author, a ghostly prophecy, a nocturnal bedtime story, the unspoken heard whispered on the lips of a mother gold mantel ground squirrel.   Bury your face in its apron of dried sage and greet the iron man in your birthday suit.  Shake a dirty mane of hair at the sight of pink tips and join in the barrage of an encouraging verbal entourage as we all send a problem together.






Friday, November 21, 2014

Lay Off Me I'm Starving!





The worst people in the world are the ones with no sense of humor.  They are the ones who talk over you when you are in the midst of telling a funny story in order to provide their own anecdote.  They are the ones who interrupt you at work to tell you a joke that only they will laugh at.  They are horrible time-sucking-me-monsters who are so self-involved they fail to see or empathize with the struggles and beauty of others’ lives.  They suffer from a drastic condition known as ‘insecurity’ and the only way to stop them is to smack them across the nose with a rolled up newspaper every time they try to speak to you.  For in their world, the population is 1; and if you do not smack them back into the harsh realities of the actual world-which in all of its grace and meandering justice fails to provide even a modicum of self-restraint in the teaching of lessons through violence-they continue to spread this disease to others like a cancerous STD ridden pack of hyenas.


Stepping off the plane I was just glad to see that all my belongings were intact.  One misplaced bag, one lazy porter, or one disdainful baggage claim attendant and the entire trip would have been ruined.  I was filled with ambivalence.  I was filled with hunger.  I saw my good friend Steven and I knew everything would be okay from there; even though neither of us had smart phones and we had just flown 3,000 miles away from any recognizable landmarks.  I sat dumbfounded and starving in the passenger seat of our rental car as we spilled out enthusiasm, nervous excitement, and bemused looks of antipathy at a map we struggled to comprehend.


It made me think back to all the work I had done in preparation for the trip and how I was trying to maintain a calm resolution NOT to place unwanted pressure upon the outcomes of said trip.  It was hard not to promulgate my fears about accomplishing goals.  I had already overcome a few immense mental hurdles and was feeling the warm embrace of confidence; but also a sort of nonchalance that immediately evaporated the minute I started to fail on even the smallest of goals I felt would/should have been easily achieved.


I dangled at the end of the rope engulfed by the Darkside(fitting name for a crag that helped me to become so in touch with that side of myself) having failed yet again to onsight the warm up.  Enraged I was lowered to the ground and began fuming and throwing a silent tantrum.  It was then that climbing is put into an ethereal perspective.  Thoughts you would never have while on a sending-spree aid climb their way into your mind and set up a bivy; urinating and defecating in bottles just below the summit of your enlightenment.  It is at that point that a humble readjustment needs to be made at fantasies expense.  A re-tooling of the ego, a desiccation of the watered down hopes and dreams of your imaginations ambition; tightening up your belt and figuring out why you are engaged in ‘this’ activity with ‘these’ people in the first place.


Despite my recent achievements (on routes I had ruthlessly wired) it was a brutal ‘come to jesus moment’ when a local ostensibly patted me on the head and pointed me to where the gumbies play.  It was a good call and one in which my hubris stewed for days.  But I eventually succumbed and decided that big numbers, breakthroughs, and cathartic, everlasting feats of strength were not written in this trips manifesto.


I sat at the covered area at Miguels night after night swallowing my pride with heavy doses of Wayne-supplied bourbon and whiskey and enjoyed the scene.  The pizza became more and more plush with delicious tasting toppings, the weather became more and more emblazoned by the scarcity of clouds and the appearance of the sun, and each approach to a crag was enlivened by color and invigorated with a loss of crippling expectation.  I fell in love with a new idea, a different goal of just climbing and trying to learn something about this place and rock and style.  Letting go of an ego I had developed and replacing it with a reason to enjoy my surroundings and time.  The great achievement of the trip was satisfying yet completely unfulfilling, and really what I learned was that one week in the red (unless you are a mutant or have a better mentality than I) is just not enough for little ‘ole me.
Despite all the failed goals of onsighting every 12+ I got on and sending 13’s galore the true achievement was being able to lose myself in the time I spent with my friends.  Because, while I sporadically lost control to anger and frustration over not fulfilling this completely ego-driven identity I had created; the reality was that amazing shit was happening all around me all the time.  Laughing my ass off at the sight of Kevin’s meal in Lexington.  Destroying our rental car after following heinously bad advice (and being able to laugh about it, eventually).  Pseudo-dance parties in Jesses’ Sprinter; quiet mornings in Miguel’s spent reading and eating delicious but simple breakfast wraps, meeting Anna Stohr and Killian Fischuber, watching a local PNW’er onsight every hard route in the Red, meeting a plethora of locals who acted as if we had been friends for years, and waking up every day knowing that I was at the Red ‘motherfucking’ River Gorge and that potential is always there waiting for you to drop your heavy bags of ‘anger’, ‘ego’, and ‘expectation’ and float effortlessly up its golden glowing channel of light.


Ultimately, it was an amazing trip.  I had so much fun that when I returned I started suffering from that post-trip-malaise that seems so prevalent in anyone who is plucked from an environment that makes their soul sing and plopped back into a watercolor greyscale themed scenario involving computers and phones. 


I am so pumped up to go back next year and spend at least two weeks there.  I’ve spent the last three weeks pining after the enormous overhanging paddle-fests, the beautiful Fall colors, and the escape into a world and community that knows my name.  I’ve been chasing that feeling since my return by going to little si every single weekend for the last three weekends.  The climbing season seems to have taken pity on me by extending itself thus far, but I am almost crippled with the fear that last weekend may have been the last time out.  First the rain moved in, then we swapped the rain for the cold, and now it looks as if both might be ganging up to drive me away from my beautiful overhanging behemoth of grey rhino rock. 




Smith Rock for Thanksgiving, Bishop for New Year’s and then…nothing planned.  I guess it will be time to dig out the snowboard, and start planning trips to the hot springs.  Could be worse though. 



Sunday, June 15, 2014

Potential

The obligatory Equinox post. 

Me flashing Artifact (5.12d), making the crux clip before the last boulder problem.
 
Well, I guess I had to do it, or felt obliged to do it anyway.  I have been spending a lot of my time at this ‘new’ (to me anyways) crag called Equinox.  I know the history surrounding the crag so I won’t go into access details and you will be hard pressed to find any beta on how to get there on this blog.  Instead I’ll just spray mercilessly about how incredibly good it is. 
I was lucky enough to be good friends with some of the locals and thus was introduced to this incredible black/white/grey/green/brown striped overhanging chunk of sport climbing goodness by experienced hands. 
Projecting The Magic Machine (5.12d).  A variation of Green Machinist that climbs the bulk of GM before linking into the last boulder problem on Black Magic.
 
Equinox is a small paradise.  Its a stunning piece of overhanging rock that is absolutely stacked with intermediate to hard lines.  You can get an idea of the crag from this well done video segment documenting Jonathan Siegrist's short crushing FA spree during his time in the PNW.

 
The crag is not just an overhanging bouldery power circuit but it also has quite the variety of climbs, from gently overhanging technical crimp master pieces to varied powerful tech-slabs on highly textured black rock, to aesthetic head walls and arêtes that loom above the popular single pitch routes. 
There is a nice deck to hang out on and belay from below, a perfect viewing/beta spray station that meets the main arena at mid height so you can rehearse the moves on your project or make fun of your friends as they struggle to the top on any number of the 5.13+ extensions. 

Steven climbs through SuperDrMega (5.12b) to give the extension Fight Club (5.13c) a go.
 
Its constantly cool down below where the majority of the routes start and the rock stays pretty dry because of the overhanging nature of the entire crag.  The only downside is all of the stagnant pools of water left over from the rainy season that are also guarded from the sun because they lurk in dark corridors formed by the giant stacked boulders and slabs of rock that form the viewing platform.  These pools of water are perfect mosquito nurseries, so its nice to have a citronella candle at the ready.

Jamie Chong climbs the Green Machinist (5.12c)
 
The climbs are strictly power endurance oriented affairs.  You're hard pressed to find anything easier than 5.12a/b in the main arena of the crag, and all of the 5.12's basically have extensions that all go at 5.13a or above. 
Of course there are other easier routes but I get the impression that they aren't quite as stunning or as classic as the harder lines in the main arena.  However, I have only been four times so far and since there isn't a guide book I can only vouch for the lines that I've been shown or have tried.

Forest climbs the ultra classic crimpy test piece Clip it or Skip it (5.12a).  A magnificent slightly overhung face climb on seams and good crimps.  Bomb proof rock and a very delicate and fun sequence make this a stellar line.
 

Jimmy climbing through the technical boulder problem crux of Black Magic (5.13a).  Blakc Magic has to be one of Equinox's flagship lines.  It's a crazy roller coaster of a route that starts off climbing out of a small cave type of feature on a V.6/7 boulder problem!  It follows a very neat black water streak up and out of an overhang and onto a small vert section before one last overhanging boulder problem.  A must for the grade and area.

Jimmy on an impressive flash of Green Machinist (5.12c).  Right off the deck you have to tackle a V.5 boulder problem with high quality movement, afterwards you get to climb a pumpy 5.11c.  This is such a good line!!


Forest makes a tough clip on SuperDrMega (5.12b)

Me on a difficult rest before climbing the extension to Skip it or Clip it that I decided to name Stick With It (5.12c). 

Shaking out on the last rest before the final crux boulder problem on Stick With It (5.12c).  This extension is one of my favorites, amazingly straightforward climbing on relatively good holds, the pump is manageable and the length of the climb is very attractive. 

Jimmy hanging out before one more boulder on Black Magic.

Will gets his warm up on.

Kevin celebrating his birthday on a good burn of Fight Club (5.13c).


This is Will climbing the very neat crux section boulder problem of Groove Tube (5.12b/13a depending on the variation.)

 







Welcome to Equinox!

The viewing platform and the main arena.

Groove Tube

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

Pictured above are two of Bishop's finest super locals.  Zach West and Josh Vale.  Zach has been living in Bishop for 7 years now and is one of the most dedicated dudes I've met.  He has sent 90% of the problems in Bishop graded V.10 and below and still manages to find new ones and crank the psyche levels up.  I will miss climbing with this guy.
Josh has been living in or around the city of Bishop for the past eight seasons and has amassed an equally impressive tick list, besides also being a phenomenal skier.  Each season he sets his sights on a handful of hard boulders and does them.  He's also one of the nicest people I've met and one of the easiest people to hang out with and climb with.  I hope he moves to the PNW soon! 
 
My brotha' from anotha' motha'!  Jaryd Block!!  I was able to stay with Jaryd and RJ for the last few weeks I lived in Bishop and since RJ was suffering from a finger injury the next logical step was to start following Jaryd around all of the super classic trad climbing areas Bishop has to offer.  Here he is at the top of Sheila (5.10c, trad) a historical route, the first 5.10 trad climb in the Sierra's!  And a stout one at that.  It has Everything you could ask for in a trad climb.  Stemming, jamming, lie-backing, offwidths, hands, fingers, shoulders, knees and toes goddamnit!!
 
The beautiful corner section on Sheila.

 
Jaryd utilizing the double crack system on Sheila.

 

The Tungstar Bowls, a popular back country skiing spot for obvious reasons.

So...which line should we do first??

Jackson Adair, this fucking guy...what to say?  Funniest human being...EVER?!  Just checking it off the list bro, just checking it off the list. Sorry dog, almost took your girl.  Ahhh, the inside jokes abound. 
Above Mr. Adair attempts (that's right I said ATTEMPTS) Acid Wash (V.10).  He crushed the start but this low percentage bump move proved to be a little too cheeky for JA.  Miss this guy, look out for him Hollywood!

A random Asian person on Acid Wash Right (V.7)

The stunning East Couloir on Mt. Basin.  I talked and talked and talked about doing this thing for months and never sacked up and did it.  I'm such a punter.  I'll just have to come back (hopefully during a better snow year) and crush it.  Supposed to be one of the most classic ski descents in the entire range.

RJ philosophizing.  I hope I get to see this filthy little monkey again soon.  RJ kind of took over as one of my best climbing partners after the hordes of visitors left.  Not only did we work together but we also worked the same problems together, we lived together, and we had constant conversations about climbing, society, food, music, women, relationships, and friends and family.  Its hard to spend so much time around someone and then have them completely removed from your life.  I definitely miss RJ and I know this won't be the last or only time I get to climb with him.  RJ is a rare person so don't let the chain smoking or overall monkey-ish appearance scare you away, because he is also one of the nicest people you will meet and always willing to tell you the truth. 

The Sheila Proj!!!  Heavy hitters get your asses up here!  Not sure if the stand has been done yet, it felt around V.9ish, but the sit start is going to be quite the ordeal.  From the looks of it it adds a V.10 boulder into the V.9 stand, so maybe V.12??  hard to say, crimpy and dynamic, and very powerful. 

Working the stand to Sheila on a very nice day.

The massive Shock Therapy boulder.  Unknown climber on the boulder's namesake Shock therapy (V.8).

The crux snag of Shock Therapy.

Last day at the Druids.  A little send off couch session as the sun goes down. 

Church of the Lost and Found (V.3), a MUST MUST MUST do!  Laser cut arête, slippery little feet, amazing pinches and crimps, a beautiful line.

The Catacombs, just a crazy random set of corridor cut orange blocs with features that were made to climb on.  The camping is easy and the view is spectacular of course. 

How can you not love this place?  I kind of felt like I was in the middle of a John Steinbeck novel every time I gazed down across the wide expanses of the valleys and basins, hugged by the protruding ranges of light.

Jenny says 'I have to go all the way up THERE?!!'

Hard to put words to this one. 

Daniel on Fall Guy (V.9), he came back and sent and I am soooo jealous!  Fall Guy is one of the most perfect highballs in the Milks.  I was able to do the crux moves but I never had a chance to get back on it after the heat set in (which is a total punter of an excuse).

The Full Moon, anything can happen.  ANY-thing.

Milks sesh done!

Thought I'd throw a pic in there for the ladies.  Your welcome.  Totally photo-shopped.  I did a ton of running while I was in the high Sierra's and to this day remains one of my most favorite places to lose yourself in the rhythm of rubber on sun-baked soil. 
 

RJ climbing up the beautiful orange patina-ed wall of the Sleipnir boulder at the Druids. 
 
 
Fucking Tahoe.  This brilliant boulder is perched on a sandy hillside a half mile or so up from the Tahoe valley.  Pimp Juice (V.9), perfect?  Yes.  Another tough boulder that just got away from me.  Came down to the very last move which, after eight moves, turned out to be pretty damn tough.  Amazing boulder, amazing setting.  Kind of sums up Tahoe. 
 
This dude flew all the way out here from North Carolina just to get on one of the nicest V.7's out there, Wild Pack of Family Dogs (V.7) at the Beaver boulders.

I just had to climb at Lover's Leap.  Doing Bear's Reach (5.7, trad, 3p) was a sublime experience.  Meagan follows me up the first pitch of this super classic hand swallowing flake system.  The second pitch was absolutely the best pitch and as I started the ascent of the third a torrential down pour hit with conviction.  Soaking wet, scared, and cold (wearing nothing but a Super Sonics jersey) I shakily pulled over the tough mantle top out.  That's what I call a 'rest day'. 
 
RJ coming so close to destroying Red Vines (V.9) on his first go at the Freak Boulders.
 
Dave O embracing his quiet side on Pistachio Eater Low (V.9).  The one that got away!  The problem, not the guy.  PE Low is for lack of a better word, SICK.  Making powerful pulls out of a horizontal roof onto an overhanging bulge with small ticky tacky crimps is the embodiement of the climb.  I put it together with some key heel hook beta from Dave but kept powering out at the very last move!!  This was truly heartbreaking especially because I didn't know when I would be back again.  But, that's life sometimes.  At least I have some more incentive to return. 
 
 
The view from the start of the third pitch of the West Face of Cardinal Pinnacle (5.10a, trad, 3p).

The Cardinal Pinnacle.  Home of perfect granite, badass Peter Croft lines, amazing views, and a deliciously good time.

Jaryd rounds the bend at the end of the second pitch.  I had the pleasure of leading the second pitch of the West Face and it was quite the pitch.  Starting with some intense hands I finally came to a nice slab finger crack and then the crux, a big move out of a short overhang to a sweet highstep mantle around a corner.  Exposed and powerful, it was a great pitch.

Jaryd starts the third pitch which I thought was nails hard!  Heinous little finger crack with painful jams but the real treat was getting out of the finger crack and stepping into a lovely splitter hand crack that was just a joy to climb. 

Perfect day.

That's it.  That's all.
 
I’ve been back in Washington for a month now.  Thank god the weather has been nice.  If it had just been raining this entire time I think I would be suffering from some form of weather induced transitional PTSD.  I’m actually looking outside my window right now and the sun is out; it’s a comforting sight. 
I’m trying to think about how to approach writing about my last few months in Bishop.  I would like to write something profound and life changing for the people who waste their time reading this blog but I’m constantly doubting myself and wondering whether or not it’s worth it.  Providing you with a list of my accomplishments and extrapolating on the excuses behind my failures seems like a colossal waste of time for both of us. 
In the end, I look back on my time spent in Bishop this past season as one of the highlights of my life so far.  It was filled with disappointment, precariousness, and questionable choices; on the other hand it was also filled with beauty, laughter, and a concentrated intensity focused on living in the here and now that I have not felt for quite some time if ever.  I also had a very interesting realization about my love for climbing.  It’s got me, I don’t think I will ever stop and I have noticed that I make a lot of decisions from a climbing based approach.  It’s definitely a strange addiction; or rather a relationship. 
I initially moved to Bishop to get my life in order.  The job I accepted seemed to pay well and it looked like a good opportunity to save some money AND live in a place I love.  I was coming straight off of a very emotional situation in Alaska that only compounded and intensified itself when I had to leave a very special person in Seattle to move to Bishop.  My head was spinning.  I spent a lot of time (time that seemed to present itself in very odd ways over the course of the season) really focusing on what it is I want to do.  What can I be proud of?  What really matters to me in my life?  So in a sense I prioritized my life while I was in Bishop, but I don’t think I can say fully and honestly that I believe I have my shit together. 
I passed on some very attractive offers to guide in Alaska and in Africa in order to move back to Seattle.  For once I made a choice that is not completely selfish. 
While I would love to make a living this way it doesn’t seem plausible given the amount of things I would need to sacrifice in order to fully engage in and pursue this lifestyle.  Things I’m not willing to sacrifice.  I’m very happy and satisfied with my decision to move back ‘home’.  I have a little nephew and niece whose lives I really need to be a part of (hello, can you say future World Cup Climbing champions?? lead and bouldering of course), as well as a brother and a mother who I love endlessly.  I have no doubt that I could have made a career out of guiding but it would have meant cutting a large chunk of my family out of my life and I’m not willing to do that.  Besides, there are plenty of adventures to be had right here in my own backyard as well as a lot of traveling still to come. 
For now I’m searching feverishly for a job in Seattle (me and like five million other people).  My hope is to find a solid ‘well-paying’ job and to set up a home base in Seattle before eventually returning to school to pursue a degree in Nursing or to become a PA.  Just writing these things down gives me the willies.  I usually don’t like to proclaim my hopes and ambitions for the future, especially in writing.  It seems to me a tad arrogant, and at the same time opens a door for those things to fail.  However, lately, all I have to say about that is, fuck it.  I’ve got nothing to lose.