Monday, July 27, 2015

A Slice of What's to Come

It's so cold I'm slipping into deep contemplation....

I’m not sure why, but driving out in the rain, literally surrounded by low lying clouds and feeling as if I’m flying through one of them, just to go climbing, it feels good to me.  It’s exciting.  Maybe it’s all of the memories I have surrounding climbing at little si in the middle of a nice Fall rain storm.  And yet, it doesn’t really have to be a rainstorm, it can just be a nice Fall day AFTER a rainstorm, but in any event, these kinds of days; the ones that are filled with the smell of damp vegetation and decomposing wood, the ones with a bite in the air, make your hands cold on the hike in but still manage to drench you in sweat.  The ones that make your rubber stick like pine resin to the cold surface of the otherwise marble-slick rock, and have you scampering to pull your puffy on before a belay.  When the trail is littered with dead leaves of all shapes and sizes and colors.  When you know that this could be the day that you’ve been waiting for, after pouring an entire month of effort into one single pitch of climbing, this drop in temperature could spell victory.  What it really harkens back too for me, is that first time I paid a visit to World Wall.  It was October, it was a beautiful blue bird day, and my god I remember it being so cold.  I numbed out several times on my warm up, which was of Jug or Not (a terrible 5.10b that I did NOT send).  Despite my poor performance on the rock it was something more than all of that, it was the true beginning for me.  So when I think of where it all started, where I really fell in love with climbing, it was on one of these days, one of these perfect Fall days with a damp trail, shivering Alders, colors, cold, friends, and massively overwhelming walls of potential and introspection.  It is this memory that provides the foundation for my giddiness on these kinds of days, and yet there are also recent memories I have that fill me with this kind of joy as well.  Memories of sending Chronic in a downpour with mist literally hitting the wall as I was climbing; crunching up the trail in a sea of dead big leaf Maple fodder; drinking cold beer in freezing temps under a blue bird sky and having to climb a route twice (once to get warm, and a second time to go for the send); and knowing that at the end of the day surrounded by laughter and friends we would all retreat to the warmth of the NBBG and lament over good food about the shrinking of the days and extoll our plans for the Spring. 

Summer swells our experience like a bag of energy gels left in a hot car.  Everything slows down.  Even your climbing style seems to inadvertently change in speed and grace to resemble that of a constipated hippo.  Projects get put on hold (or sent, there is no in between), projecting sounds tedious and boring, and after the warm up the increasing sound of beers being opened can be heard all around.  The reigns are loosed, and everyone kind of goes into chill mode, as if we all suddenly inhabit the isles of ‘who gives a fuck’.  It’s harder to get this kind of excited about a summer day because the energy changes.  But when October rolls around, the days get shorter and the rock gets colder there is this primal rush to sew your oats.  You can feel the pressure and weight of the window slowly closing and all of a sudden shit gets serious (in a maddeningly playful way).  I keep coming back to that first memory, though.  Of being scared to death on Rainy Day.  To trying False Idol over and over and over again to no avail.  To the time where I wouldn’t even think of leaving the small Rainy Day corner.  To possibility, to newness, to the sheer unbridled camaraderie of life at the crag.  It is in all of these things that I find solace and euphoria. 

Bustin' a lap on Psycho(5.12d)
It was no surprise to me then, that this past weekend when I awoke in Seattle to clouds and rain and found myself driving out to Little si after a two week break that I couldn’t help but smile periodically throughout the day.  The air was thick with the smell of plant life opening up to receive there moist gift and expel the pheromones of life.  My hands were cold but my body was swimming in the humid temperance of the valley.  Julie trailed behind with an umbrella, I just took my shirt off and let the rain kiss me.  In the back of my mind I knew that the wall would be dry but there is always a small bit of paranoia that maybe your day out will turn into a day in.  We stumbled upon a completely dry wall (well, pretty much completely dry) and had a lovely time repeating the classics.  My big project for the day was getting a gauge on where my finger was (injury-wise) and where my fitness was (chuffer-wise).  It was mentally taxing to take so much time off after feeling like I was finally hitting my stride, and even more so having to wonder whether or not taking that time off did my finger any good.  But, it was all for the best because after I warmed up and started to get on progressively harder and crimpier lines I noticed there was no pain or soreness in my knuckle, and soon I wasn’t worrying about it and I was able to really just enjoy being outside on a cold and rainy day doing what I love to do.  The highlights of the day were repeating Chronic first go of the day and pulling into the gaston of Flatliner after not resting nearly as long as I usually do at the ledge or triple jugs.  We also came out Sunday and it was just as magical as the day before and cold.  I loved it!  I had a very similar day to the one before with the real victory coming in the form of zero pain in my finger and hopping on Gerbil Killer and day flashing it to the psycho crux before getting pumped stupid.  Gerbil Killer is awesome, I love that line and I’m actually really psyched to do the Gerbil Rising link on top of getting back on Extended Illness.  However, I’m also not naïve to the fact that I need to take it slow coming off of my recent injury and ease back into project mode instead of violently crimping my way back in.  I wish I had been in better shape to take advantage of this little Autumnal vortex that came whirring through over the weekend but it served as a good reminder that taking time to rest now will pay huge dividends when the temps, leaves, and projects start to drop. 

What do you bring to the crag?

My main focus now is to hangboard (A LOT), start mixing in some bouldering to my training regiment, and make a few trips to Squamish, Newhalem, and maybe get back to Equinox and try to sort out Fight Club.  I also have to keep in mind that it’s roughly four weeks out until the Cutthroat Classic and I have to start training for that as well.  August already seems to be packed with things to do and objectives to accomplish and in a way, it’s enjoyable, in another way it makes the time pass in an uncomfortably quixotic fashion. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Transitive Down Time

Uh oh, the cat's drunk again.

I started this blog on April 13th, 2008. 

I have been blogging for roughly 2,645 days.  My blog has received about 50,000 views over that period of time.  That’s equivalent to an average of 224.21 views per post, and on average 18.9 views a day since I started my blog. 

I’ve never tried to sell anything, force my beliefs on anyone, or use it for personal gain in any way. 

In the end, it’s true; nobody does care about my blog.  But maybe, just maybe, someone does.  In any event I continue to write and post pictures here because it makes me happy and that’s all that really matters.  I’ve noticed a drastic decline (something that has been pointed out by other bloggers) in the use of personal blogs over the last four years.  I’ve found so many dead end blogs as of late that the internet is starting to resemble the closet of some narcoleptic author who started a great thought and was able to jot down half a ground breaking novel before uncontrollably nodding off and waking up to a blank slate and tossing the half-finished manuscript into the broom closet.  But really this misguided diatribe is all about my selfish needs and wanton laziness when it comes to intelligently entertaining myself at work, no less. 

It was a perfect day.  Well, almost perfect.  But what’s perfect anyway?  Define perfect for me please.

It was hotter than it has been all year and when you time an event like this that perfectly it’s only some kind of cosmic force that pushes the perfection of these events into a homogenous mix.  Somehow I thought it would be a good idea to participate in an event called the Cutthroat Classic.  An 11 mile trail run just outside of Mazama touted as one of the States purdiest trail runs.  I like running, I like trails, and I even like purdy!  It was so far off in the distance when I originally had this idea that I was excited.  Now it’s about 5 weeks away and I’m already thinking up excuses not to participate.  But I will.  So, during my short stint of no climbing I decided to do a little fitness training to gauge exactly where I am in the whole ‘trail-running-fitness-spectrum’.  It was going to be hot as ballz with high’s predicted to be in the mid to late 90’s so I manufactured a run that would end at a sweet ass lake.  Enter Lake Serene.  A microcosm of utopian grandeur so close to home yet so isolated and remote feeling as to draw all sorts of characters up there in the last few years.  Seriously, the trail is buzzing with visitors on a hot weekend, a phenomenon I feel that has increased over the last five years.  So ‘On your left!’ became part of my vernacular for the day as I passed several groups (about 16) on my way up to this alpine lake.  I made it to the lake in a whopping 45 minutes (the trail is approx. 3.6 miles in length with about 2 miles of that on steep switch backs with an overall elevation gain of roughly 2,400 feet).  So I was feeling good, I wasn’t able to run the switch back section because I’m not the Swiss machine Uli Stoeck, but I didn’t stop once and when I got to the top I felt like I could have kept going.  I made my way around the lake to the Anvil boulder perfectly perched on the water’s edge and boasting an amazing 20foot jump into the pristine snow melt below.  The water is so clear that you can see every detail of every granitic house-sized boulder that litters the lake’s floor.  With the towering peaks of Mt. Index behind you, the lake spread out in front of you, good tunes, tasty beer, dark chocolate, good company, and the sun’s heat and natures breeze readying you for the next plunge, life doesn’t get any better than this.  A little perk of this place is also the fact that you are surrounded by climbing.  Mt. Index boasts several amazing looking big wall alpine trad climbs, the talus field in front of it is host to boulder problems on bullet hard rock and lazer cut features from V.easy to V.double-digit-fuck-me-that’s-hard.  If you were in the right mind state to trek up a camp and a few crash pads you could have this paradise all to yourself on the weekdays and climb and chill and lose yourself in deep contemplation for as long as you wanted.  I can’t spray, I mean say enough about Lake Serene and all it has to offer. 

I couldn’t drink enough of this place in for a lifetime so I knew prolonging my stay wouldn’t help me feel any better or deter my sunburn so I said goodbye to the lake and headed down at a furious clip.  I managed to make it down to my car in just under 30 minutes.  I swung my small running pack off my shoulders and noticed the zipper of the main pocket had come unzipped to about halfway.  I thought nothing of it and threw it in the back of the car and headed for Seattle.  When I got home I realized my camera was gone.  Well, that explains why my back pack was halfway unzipped.  It must have jostled its way to freedom.  I was so bummed, I almost thought the day had not been worth it but I knew that wasn’t true.

Out of sheer frustration and semi-rage which led ultimately to feelings of helplessness I turned to my only point of hope: Cragslist.  I posted in the lost and found section that I had lost my camera on the lake serene trail thinking this was a HUGE shot in the dark.  Published my post, and then started looking for deals on digital point and shoots online.  The next day at work I received a message from someone who had been on the trail and claimed to have found my camera.  WHAT???!!!  I got up from my desk and did a couple high kicks even the Rockettes would have been proud of.  NOT only did they find my camera, they happened to work FIVE MINUTES from where I work.  DOUBLE WTF??!!!  Karma?  Luck?  Coincidence?  Magic?  Who knows, but I have my camera back and it’s all thanks to…, Asian day hikers, and a very small world assembled by virtual relationships that allow us to connect with people who find our lost shit.  HUGE HUGE HUGE thank you to Ashley and her mom for being good people and checking cragslist.  I still can’t believe it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Waiting for the World to End

Goodbye little si.  See you in two weeks.
Riding the coattails of victory I suddenly felt a need to rest.  Albeit forced rest, I could have kept climbing but figured it was probably wise to take a step back and revisit the soreness that had manifested itself over the last month in the middle knuckle on my middle finger of my left hand.  I had climbed all day Sunday, the day after my Flatliner victory, and crimped rather hard without pain, BUT, how long could I sustain this?  And do I want to keep climbing with a sore finger?  Hell no, I decided.  I’m tired of constantly patching leaks, administering temporary welds, and placing band-aids on increasingly gaping wounds.  It was time to take a breather and reel it all in.  Although, I didn’t want to.  I don’t think anybody given the choice would want to.  And even though it is a seemingly easy decision, for fanatical climbers this comes down to bartering life for time and death for another day. 

The guardian of the bay.

Shilshole bay with Rainier in the background

Leaning with it.

Prostration to your body’s own mortality is humbling when riding upon the wings of the belief that you are somehow a demi-god immune to the peevish creaks and groans of the fragile humanness none of us will end up escaping.  But there it is.  And in this regard it forced me to accept an invitation to go sailing instead of hanging from a hangboard; struggling up a rocky trail instead of sprinting up a warm up; calming the spikes of forced-rest-induced malaise by swinging  a pick to loosen up the dark rich dry earth beneath me.  As I have slowly reduced my life to a planar existence revolving around one sun in a stark and foreboding universe that may have the casual explosion of a star here and there, I realized it was up to me to pull myself from the shadowy depths of obscurity.  Floating in space and detached from the world, from the life giving conquests of physical and mental warfare.  But these battles rage all around us and we don’t see them because we are simply the center of our own universe. 

A Crowley tug pushing a US Navy barge.

Capt. Brent, my roommate.

God bless America.

It’s funny then, to feel out of place and not important anymore.  The potent sting of ineptitude is also a gift, however we have to be ready to receive it as such or it may turn into a true Trojan horse.  Putting yourself at odds with the world is a better way to understand your place within it. 
All of this just to convey the fact that I want to crimp really hard again and laugh like a child being tickled by the parental tendrils of fading light that wake us all from our dreams and steal us away to the comfort of understanding.  Or just crimp really hard again, that would be good to. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Incomplete Perfection

Wow. It’s hard to explain how happy I am.  Adam Ondra made this statement after he sent the hardest route in the world La Dura Dura.  I say it now after sending the hardest route of my climbing career.  I didn’t really know what was going on when I made that final pull around the bulge and established myself on the victory jugs.  I just remember breathing very hard and being more focused than I ever have.  I reached quickly for the rope and brought it up to the chains clipping the draws and yelling “The impossible is possible!!!”, followed shortly by a lot of yelling and high pitched screaming.  I don’t really expect everyone at the crag to understand this reaction, but for me it was appropriate.  I can’t keep these feelings on the inside and so my outlet is to celebrate in a somewhat cathartic display of emotional diarrhea.  It came pouring out of me, I couldn’t help it.  I couldn’t believe it.  When you have been working on something for a seemingly incalculable amount of time, and when that something finally comes to a logical end point in the light of success, there is an overwhelming amount of conflicting emotions.  I felt extremely happy, relieved, scared, proud, euphoric, sad, prideful, and somewhat alone.  This route had become a part of me.  I had dedicated so much of my time, energy, essence, and self into this route, this path, this challenge.  Having finally put it all together in a seamless fashion was a bit jarring.  I kind of feel like an appropriate analogy would be to compare it to when your children (if you have children) grow up and finally leave the nest.  I was finally leaving the comfort of this paternal process I had undergone during my time working this route.  It had turned into my teacher; I loved it at times, was bored with it a times, I hated it at times, but I kept coming back to it because I had developed this intricate relationship with it, and I would hope, if I could be so bold as to romanticize this relationship even further, that maybe the climb developed a love for me as well.  Of course the rock is inanimate but the interaction between us has to be imbued with some kind of life, the story of my battle, of my growth through this route has to evoke some kind of energy and essence of its own.  Or so I would like to believe. 

This past season has been one of true success and obstinate progress.  In the last ten months I’ve been able to clamp down on my goals and follow through with them.  After a long summer spent chasing a job, and learning how to train for climbing I was met with the challenge of elevating my game.  I had been stuck in the mediocre goodness of 5.12 for my entire climbing career.  Every time I seemed to be closing in on my first 5.13a something happened, an injury maybe, a change in the weather, a social shift, a life change, etc.  For one reason or another it just never happened and as my life twisted and straightened, ebbed and flowed, I forgot about it. 

At the close of last summer I found myself at an all too familiar haunt, Little si.  This time I wasn’t going to divert my attention, let my motivation wane, or get distracted by social obligations.  I made up my mind that I was going to send my first 5.13a.  I learned how to invest, implode, explode, and then finally calm my mind and execute.  When I sent my first 5.13a route I had also set another goal.  It didn’t have anything to do with grades necessarily, but more to do with learning how to stay motivated.  My new goal was to never be completely satiated.  I wanted to develop an unquenchable thirst for climbing, for progressing (no matter how small), and for learning from and immersing myself in this art.  It has been 10 months now since I sent my first 5.13a route, and in that time I have managed to send 7 5.13a’s, 4 5.13b’s, and as of this past weekend, my very first 5.13c. 

For now, as of this moment, I feel happy, I feel accomplished, I feel like I have at least temporarily, validated my commitment to climbing.  There are times when maybe things don’t go the way you thought they would, you fail repeatedly on a route that you feel should be attainable or below your limit, you get shut down in the gym, or maybe you get injured, but it’s at these moments when you call into question whether or not the investments you make are worth it.  These moments are when you become vulnerable, and learning how to embrace this vulnerability and integrate into the fabric of this beautiful and complicated process is key to sustaining yourself and your motivation within climbing.  And ultimately it is these low points in which you struggle, in which you don’t see the point, in which you question yourself that define who you really are and what you really want in and from climbing.  So, in hindsight, I realize that it’s easy to be motivated and psyched all the time when you’re riding a send high, but the really integral piece that makes climbing lucid, that expands the realm of climbing and ultimately the spirit of climbing is the cultivation of an attitude of exultation in the face of failure.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Solemnity in Twilight

Tex and his faithful steed Nook.
It is such a bizarre feeling when all of a sudden things change in the blink of an eye.  In climbing you can literally go from completely failing to undeniable success in a matter of milliseconds.  I guess that’s another complex aspect of climbing that I enjoy (and hate at times) so much.  The mental warfare that we all go through when - deciding whether or not we are ready and willing to complete a climb, commit to a move, chance a sketchy fall, or take on a difficult belay - is stressful to say the least but ultimately, if one is willing, it can become an introspective journey. 


Andrew Itkonen working the beautifully sustained Fight Club (5.13c).
You can be physically able to take on anything that climbing has to throw at you, but the deciding factor can sometimes (or most of the time in my case) be the mental aspect.  Nothing exposed this glaring defect more than a route I did this past weekend called Johnny Rocket.  The fall you take if you miss the crux V.6/7 dyno is slightly sketchy/dangerous and requires your belayer to be dialed in.  It is, in a sense, as if you are both doing the move; while success is up to the climber ensuring safety (sometimes for both parties) is up to the belayer.  It’s quite a stressful route for everyone involved, even the spectators.  I never would have tried this route if it hadn’t been for good friend and visiting climber Steven Dimitt, who showed up for the fourth of July holiday weekend with a lot of energy and skin to burn.  Besides destroying two 5.13’s in a day Steven also casually and quickly polished off Johnny Rocket in a mere four tries(??).  He slapped the jug with confidence and sailed the enjoyable 5.11 section to the chains. 

Visiting Canadian Nate Hall flashing Green Machinist (5.12c)

A UK transplant visiting from Canada making a good onsight attempt of Debate Club (5.12b)

The Fourth of July holiday holds no relative significance for me in my life.  I understand the importance of it for our history as a country and a culture but I don’t buy into the misguided patriotic chest thumping that it this holiday seems to represent lately.  But with a paid holiday to burn and the Nox buzzing with good temps, I couldn’t help but get all tingly in my balls when I started packing for an actual multi-day trip out climbing.  It has been a while.  I think the last trip I went on was back in April, and there is just something magical that goes on when I start planning for a multiple day trip that will inevitably involve good friends, sleeping in my car, and of course climbing.  These trips have historically represented a return to that childlike care-free attitude towards time, work, play, and life.  Stress seems to melt away and I find myself becoming a happier, more content version of myself. 

Jodie Itkonen working her project Groove Tube (5.13a)

A wild beast.

James Fillman (yet another visiting Canadian) working the extremely powerful Baby Onboard (5.13c)

This is likely the last trip to the Nox for me for a while.  I miss my ledge at little si and I’m increasingly eager and motivated to get back to my projects there.  This nasty heat wave that has settled like a weird funk over our usually temperate and mild PNW is finally taking its’ leave.  The summer is flying by and if I don’t stop and really soak it in, it will be Autumn before I know it and time to really get focused.  I don’t have much planned in the way of trips, but I am very excited to get out to places like The Rat Cave, New Halem, and Squamish.   I’ve already made my plans for this Fall and in a couple of months I’ll be buying my ticket to SPAIN!!!  I’ve been really lack-luster in my approach to training lately so I’m hoping that once I pay for that ticket I’ll get super focused again and prepare myself for the trip of a lifetime. 

A random climber resting before the crux dyno on Johnny Rocket (5.13a)

Forest climbing in and out of the shadows while attempting Magic Trick(5.12d)