OMG! Shooz!

For someone who professes to hate climbing and climbers, I do a lot of climbing. I’ve been using my Five Ten Anasazi Mocs for about a year and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of destroying them.

Fantastic shoes, so I decided to get another pair. Check out the difference…

I hope this counts as climber cred.

Mocs - New and Old 2

Old on the left, New on the right.

Mocs - Worn Toe

Check out the hole!

Mocs - Toe

Top: Sharp and clean edge. Bottom: What rubber?

Mocs - New and Old

Well loved.

Sharing the Love!

Wilderness Survival! Cover yourself in leaves!

Wilderness Survival! Cover yourself in leaves!

I like to say that there is only one thing better than DOING something you love, and that is SHARING that love.

I teach a wilderness survival class on some weekends. We focus on basic skills like shelter building and fire starting. But the biggest component I try to teach is the mental aspect of survival. Constantly evaluating your situation and avoiding problems before they become serious are the key to safety in the backcountry.

I recently got this email from one of my participants. It’s really rewarding to see that what I do has real and very positive impacts on people’s lives.

Eddy,

Thank you for a great class! And please do share my email with the other attendees.

This past Saturday, I went on my first solo night hike. I hiked Mt. Lukens from the south side starting at 1pm. Then I descended the north side and turned around, at dusk, and hiked back up.

Your teaching and STOP methodology served me well. When I realized how tired I was getting, and before I got into any trouble, I made a decision about what I would do when I got the summit the second time.

Because I was tired and I knew the south side trail was gravely and narrow in places, I decided to take the fire road down. I didn’t feel sure footed enough to descend as I’d come up.

Again, thanks to you and the survival class, I had all my emergency gear and I knew that if I got too tired I could hunker down and survive the night on the mountain.

Fortunately, I made it down safely and had a friend get me and drive me back to my car.

All told, it was a 9.5 hour, 26-mile hike.

While there were challenging moments, I never felt scared or even worried, because I knew what to do to take care of myself. I owe that to you and your fine teaching.

Thank you!

All the best,
Andrea

Where I Am

Tyndall

Mt. Tyndall in the High Sierra.

You were dancing by yourself in that bar in Big Prairie just down from Mt. Goliath when we first met. It’s the one with the black and white photos of long-ago Western stars and the posters of their forgotten movies pinned to the wood-paneled walls. It was almost empty and only a couple of German tourists were shooting pool at a table in the back. I sat down on one of the dusty stools, ordered from the bored bartender, and watched you from across the room. I was exhausted and dirty from climbing all day and it was beer, not love, I was looking for. But the neon lights of the jukebox lit up your face with bright yellows and warm oranges and I knew I had to have you.

“All your life you’ve never seen a woman so taken by the wind…” the jukebox sang. You twirled in small circles, smiling to yourself and softly humming along with Fleetwood Mac. Your hair swirled down around the curves of your hips. They were long strands of blue and green and purples, brightly dyed and free-flowing, colored like the swishing peasant skirt you wore. Your wrists were encircled with small jeweled bands of rose quartz and beads. You were a bright rainbow of hippie color splashed against the drab walls.

I drank my beer, stood, and walked over.

“Are you dancing by yourself?” I asked.
“I don’t have to be,” you replied.
“Can I join you?”
“I was hoping you would.”

You smiled and the dark bar seemed to brighten a bit. Your eyes were brown pools of expectation and your freckles flaked your cheeks with youth. I pulled you close to me, and we slow danced alone in that empty bar until the bored bartender kicked us out. We shared a smoke outside and watched the stars rise in the mountain sky. The moon was high and bright and our moon shadows flirted with each other in the parking lot.

“You traveling?” I asked you.
“Yeah. I’m on the road,” you replied.
“Me too.”
“I thought as much.”
“Where are you staying? Can I walk you back?”

You leaned in close me.

“You can walk me to your place,” you said as that slow, sly smile I would come to love most about you spread across your face.

I took your hand and took you home. Home was a tiny tent pitched next to my truck on public land among the boulders of the foothills, below the jagged peaks of the rising mountains. We made love there, atop my flimsy foam pad and under the duck down sleeping bag, hidden from the real world by the millimeter nylon of my tent. We lay there, tangled in each other, and you nestled your head against my chest and curled your naked leg around mine.

“How long have you been on the road?” I asked as my fingers traced the outline of your bare shoulder.
“Just a couple weeks. You?” you replied.
“Every summer for the last ten years. Been doing this a long time.”
“How old are you?”
“Older.”
“You don’t look older.”
“Thanks.”

We climbed together all through that summer. We scrambled over scree and trudged through talus. We marched up peaceful peaks and down mountain passes. I’d stop to catch my breath and you’d take it away with a kiss. We’d tire through the day and exhaust ourselves on each other through the night, zipping our sleeping bags and sewing our bodies together. On Ascension Peak, you smiled that devilish smile again and beckoned me with a finger as you took your top off and the bare, white skin of your breasts gleamed like the treeless, granite landscape around us.

We roamed the highway together. Up the road to Mt. Stoney, where I watched from below as your long legs and full hips climbed up a sheer rock face. That night, we stopped at a cheap motel outside town, and I watched from below as your long legs and full hips climbed onto me. You held me tight at night, but, somehow, I knew you wouldn’t hold me forever.

We were up north, past White Wolf, when the first snows of winter fell and we got my truck stuck in a bank of fresh powder. We steamed up my truck, trying to keep our bodies and our hearts warm while we waited for the snowplow to rescue us. But as winter set in, the cold mountain air, the shivering frost that started covering our sleeping bags and our tent, it seeped into everything.

“It’s getting cold,” I said.
“I know,” you replied.
“I’m thinking about heading home.”
“Where’s home?”
“Greenton. Why don’t you come with me?”

I had climbed enough and roamed enough. I wanted to go back to a warm bed and a warm kitchen and hot chocolate around a fireplace. I looked over at you in the passenger seat. You were looking out the window and at the passing evergreens, laden with the first, fresh powder of the season.

“It’s cold there too,” you replied.
“I can keep you warm,” I said.
“I don’t know.”

We drove on in silence and light, fluffy flakes of falling snow rhythmically tapped against the windshield like a ticking clock.

I dropped you off in Mountain Ridge, where you found a job working ski lifts and busing tables. You got out of my truck, waved at me through the frosty passenger-side window, turned, and walked away. I hoped you’d look back, but you just walked across the street and disappeared into the ski shop.

As I drove the long miles back to Greenton, I thought of you and me and the space between us, growing with every turn on the highway. You were just starting your journey, just beginning to fall in love with the road. For you, winter’s whiteness was carving turns and deep powder. It was a wonderland of endless adventure. For me, the months and years I’d spent on the road had worn me down. My truck tires and my heart were bald and bleeding. Another freezing winter, sleeping in the back of my truck, bundled up in all my blankets and my gear, it wasn’t adventure anymore. It was tiring and cold and miserable. The road had taught me, in the blurring lines of the lanes, to cherish the fleeting warmth of love. But you, you haven’t learned that yet. Someday, you will. Someday, you’ll be where I am. And maybe, somehow, I’ll be there too.

A Fall Climb

Fall Climb

Crack climbing in Joshua Tree.

I am sitting at the base of Youthful Indiscretion, a hard 5.11b climb in the heart of Joshua Tree National Park. It is November and the desert is cool and cooling. The roaring, impossible-to-breathe heat of summer has simmered past and the wildflowers of youthful spring are a long-faded memory. Mild daytime temperatures draw climbers out from their hiding places and we scramble, like the kangaroo rats and jackrabbits, over the exposed granite of bulging boulders and monstrous monoliths. In a month or two, winter will be here; bringing frost and a heavy, frozen silence over the high desert. But for now, there is only a clear blue sky and the sublime sun. In the desert, fall is a perfection.

George is somewhere near halfway when he yells down a warning.

“Watch me!”

I immediately tighten my hands on the rope and shove my foot against the rock face expecting to brace a fall. I look up the length of the route and strain to spot him. Up the curving left-hand crack, across the step-around, past the overhanging roof, and I finally see him on the exposed face. Wearing a bright red shirt, he’s a solitary spot of color silhouetted against the brown, lifeless rock. He’s a hundred feet up and on the crux: the hardest part of the climb. He is in trouble.

“Watching!” I yell back.

The crux is a series of hard holds, pea-sized pinches set in a featureless face, where the rock turns from granite to glass and courageous climbers lose their grip and their nerve. His left arm is stretched out wide, tightly gripping a precarious hold. Even from this distance, I can see his sinewy forearm outlined with tendons and strain. He reaches out with his right, searching for something to grasp. Nothing. There’s nothing there.

“I might go!” he yells.

His left leg, perched on a toehold chip begins to pulse uncontrollably up and down. It is the tell-tale sign of a climber too full of adrenaline and exhaustion to control their muscles. He could fall at any second. I look down to check my belay device. It’s a small, hollow ring of metal the size of a fist. Designed to stop a falling climber through the friction of the rope running through it, it is worn rough with use. The once bright orange finish is rubbed off; showing only bare aluminum from the hundreds of climbs we’d been on. It is old, but it is functional and solid. I check the carabiner and ensure it is locked. Everything looks good and I tighten my grip on the rope a little more. A second later, he goes.

“Falling!” he yells.

Everything happens in slow motion. His fingers fail and his hand opens. His weight drops onto his feet and the sudden force rips his rubber-soled climbing shoes off the tiny flake he is standing on. He peels backward and drops into empty space. His body falls.

Five feet. Then ten. Then twenty. With a hard slam, the rope finally catches him in midair.

The sudden weight on the rope yanks me off my feet despite my efforts to brace and I am thrown against the rock with a smashing thud. I am momentarily stunned and my shoulder throbs a protest where it hit the wall, but I am otherwise unhurt. I look up to check on George. He is dangling awkwardly in midair, but he fell cleanly without hitting the wall. The rope had stretched to dissipate the fall force and the spring-loaded cam he set into the crack for protection held firm. Only his ego is bruised.

“You OK?” I yell up.
“I’m OK!” he yells back.
“Try again?”
“No, I can’t pull the move!”
“You want to come down?”

There is a pause as he thinks about it. A few seconds pass, then he commands, “Yeah, lower me!”
“Lowering!”

I ease my grip on the rope. It feeds cleanly, and he is soon back on the ground.

We take a few steps away from the climb, away from possible rock fall, and George takes his helmet off. He claps his hands together and a small cloud of powdery white chalk explodes out from between them. He wipes his hands on his thighs, leaving fingertip streaks of white on his favorite faded green climbing pants. His t-shirt is dirty with dusty grime. Sweat covers his wrinkled forehead and drips down into the crow’s feet corner of his left eye. Reaching up, he wipes his head and runs his hand through his graying hair.

Concerned about the fall, I examine him closely. For a man in his fifties, he is in exceptional shape. Years of running hills built his lean legs and decades of climbing mountains built his powerful arms. His skin is covered in sunspots and lacquered in time. He stands with the easy grace of an athlete and the quiet confidence of a veteran. He looks back at me with tired eyes. There seems to be a knowing sadness in them.

“What happened?” I ask.

He shakes his head. “I can’t pull the move. I don’t have any power anymore.”

He goes on. There’s only a small edge big enough for a couple fingers of one hand to stack onto and the foot placements are non-existent. Two feet above is a solid handhold. Between the two lies only empty space and the raw, visceral strength of the climber. The solution is straightforward: a one-handed, two-fingered pull up.

He looks down at the palms of his weathered hands. He rubs his right palm with his left thumb and examines it closely. The angle of his slightly cocked head and the intensity of his gaze reminds me of a fortune teller. I can almost see him reading his future in the criss-cross lines etched there. He traces the long crease, the line of life, with a slow, methodical motion and stops near the end of the line.

A long moment goes by and he shakes his head a little.

“I’m getting old,” he says.

I lean over to peer at his hands and he holds them out to me. I strain to see what he sees. I try to conjure up an image of the future, but it eludes me. I can only see his past in those hands.

I see his skin, wrinkled with weather and wear, but hardened by the holds and heights. Calluses cover the joints of his fingers and the flesh of his fingertips is peeling. I see a mottled mish-mash of scars. Some are familiar: like the long, angry gash that runs along the knife-edge of his palm, where he had abraded the skin jamming his hand into crack after crack on the east buttress of Mt. Emerson last season, when he bled so much his chalk had turned red. Or the deep circle near the center of his palm, where a sharp missile of rockfall had homed in from some unseen height and nailed him while he belayed me on Desolation Mountain a few years before that. I know the back of his hands tell the same story: the knuckles of his fists are black and dense where the scars have torn and healed and torn and healed again. I know one of those knuckles juts out farther than the others after being broken on some climb in Yosemite a decade ago.

But many other scars were a mystery to me: there was a ragged bite of something in the web of his left thumb, a crooked lightning bolt slash across his right middle finger, a slightly misshapen bend in his pinkie where a bone had broken and reset. They were the relics of a mysterious past, like the ancient petroglyphs etched into the rocks around us. They were the stories he only hinted at in the half-asleep car rides: Lightning Peak’s North Couloir, or Cerro Blanco’s West Ridge, or Austrian Direct on Mt. Fairweather. Sometimes, I would see his name in guidebooks: First Free Ascent: George Leigh, 1988, 5.11d. I’d ask him about it, and he’d just shrug his shoulders and say, “I was young and foolish.” Where he sees a falling future, I see an ever-climbing past.

I wasn’t having any of that quitter talk. I look at him squarely.

“Bullshit! Get your broken-down geezer ass back on the climb.”

George shoots angry eyes at me. A long second passes. I almost regret what I said. Then, he suddenly laughs.

“Fine! But if I get it, you owe me a beer.”

Laughing, we walk back over to the climb. We banter for a bit as we tie back into the rope dangling down from the climb.

“I thought you only drink Ensure.”
“When you get to my age, Ensure is like beer.”
“Then I’ll buy you a six-pack of Ensure.”
“Deal!”

George looks relaxed as he climbs. His tendons are drawn into tight tension, but there is a loose lightness about him. I marvel at the beauty of his technique. It’s effortless and masterful. Every toehold is placed perfectly, every finger slots solidly. His arms are an ancient alchemy. His legs dance some dark devilry. And soon, he is back at the crux.

“Watch me!” he yells down.

The command is the same, but the voice is different. It’s steady. Confident. It’s the voice of experience and wisdom. I brace, but I know he won’t fall. He won’t ever fall. I look up and watch. I’m not watching for a fall, but watching a master at work.

“Watching!”

His black, rubber-soled climbing shoes stick to some flawed flake and he stands upright. Without hesitation this time, he places the two fingers of his right hand on the problem hold and locks his thumb over them. With the deft grace of a ballerina and a sudden burst of some hidden, ageless power, he pulls. He launches upward, and he’s suddenly on top.

“Got it!” he yells down.
“Hell yeah!” I yell up.

*****

Later, after I had flailed and failed, after I had given up, and after he had hauled me hand-over-hand past the move, we stood on top of the climb together.

Preparing to descend, I take the long loops of our rope between my outstretched arms and start to wind them into a backpack coil. The bright blue and white sheath has withered under the ageless sun and the slick newness has worn itself over the rough edges of craggy cliffs. Short strands of the outer nylon stick out in a fuzzy haze along its length. George walks over and picks up the other end. He squeezes the rope between his fingers testing for any weaknesses; looking for any dead spots.

“Problems?” I ask.
“Nothing,” he says as he works his way through the coil toward me. “But maybe we should be retire it anyways. I fell pretty hard on it.”

I look down over the edge of the climb. From the top, the rock seems like slick, slippery death. I can see the blank emptiness of the crux. It is intimidating and it is impossible. At the bottom, a hundred and fifty feet down among the ragged rocks, I see our packs. They are far away memories: small in space and tiny in time. Without George, I couldn’t imagine trying something this hard.

I look over and he is gazing off toward the horizon, lost in his thoughts. He is squinting and the lines of his face seem a little deeper, but there’s a sage strength in his eyes and a relaxed sureness in his stance.

I shake my head. “It’s got another season or two left.”
“You think so?” he asks.

He looks over at me and smiles a broad, satisfied smile. The grin pulls back his weary wrinkles, and the crow’s feet disappear from the edges of his eyes. The years seem to fall away from his face. For a moment, he looks young and strong and happy. Under the clear blue desert sky, lit by the sublime soon-setting sun, he is a perfection.

“Damn sure, Old Man,” I reply.

Pretty damn sure.

Zombie Weekend!

Zombies! Zombies everywhere!

Spent the weekend teaching a bunch of Girl/Boy Scouts wilderness survival skills at a Zombie-themed survival fair.

Let me repeat that: ZOMBIE. SURVIVAL. FAIR.

Yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds.

The last couple years, the Scouts have run a series of disaster preparedness seminars in the guise of fun, zombie-filled events. How would you fare in the Zombie Apocalypse? Are you prepared? I think if you’re ready for the Zomb-pocalypse, then you are probably pretty prepared for an ordinary earthquake or wildfire.

It’s actually pretty informative. The Red Cross shows up with a bunch of CPR dummies and does First Aid/CPR classes. Independent vendors set up other booths. I saw a solar panel vendor, a duct tape lady, a primitive skills expert (rub two sticks together until you make fire), and a bunch of guys selling foam swords.

The foam weapons vendor was the most entertaining display to walk by. They had set up a small “demonstration” area for kids to “try out” their weapons. By “demonstration,” we mean dozens of 5-10 year old kids running around and bashing each other as hard as possible while screaming war cries.

As much as the responsible adult in me thought that area was a terrible idea, the child in me wanted to jump in and start whaling away on the nearest kid.

I think I’d win pretty handily.

Or not, some of those kids were pretty vicious.

As for me, I had a basic survival skills booth set up. Vicki, the organizer of the event, wanted me to teach water purification and storage, so I brought a bunch of filters and purifiers for the kids to play with.

With kids, I definitely believe in hands-on and sensory methods of teaching. We pumped dirty water through filters, smelled/tasted iodine treated water, and looked at UV purifiers. They got to flash signal mirrors, try some fire starters, and build some quick lean-to shelters. It’s all pretty basic outdoors skills, and I really hope some of it stuck with them.

As for me, six hours of trying to keep up with excited kids was totally draining. Coming back from the event, I downed a quick dinner and crashed into bed. It’s amazing how much energy they had, and how much energy it takes to be engaging and informative in a fun way. I don’t know how elementary and middle-school teachers do it. I certainly don’t think I could do this day-in and day-out.

But, I do see how rewarding teaching is. Especially when it is something that you are personally excited about. I like to say that there’s only one thing better than doing what you love, and that’s sharing what you love.

Not a bad weekend.

Ortega Climbing

A hundred degrees in the shade and I spent the weekend climbing a little and teaching climbing a little. Went to Ortega, off the side of the road and past the small sweltering game trails in the sun, up to the small rock formation, slick with the memory of water over it, and we set top ropes and rappelled down. Five short climbs in the shade of the afternoon after the sun had fallen behind the hill. A couple moderate chimneys, a couple hard face climbs, and a very hard feeling 5.9 finger crack. A single slip on the 5.9, but pulled the very hard 5.11 face move past the overhang where I thought I’d fall for sure. And my hand is healing after the light abrasions peeled the skin on the back of my hand.

Back from the TRT

One hundred and sixty plus miles over the course of eight days and I have completed the Tahoe Rim Trail. It was an amazing run of time, miles flew under my feet and the pack seemed light and my legs seemed to go on and on. Moderate up and down across forests of pine and fir and the wide open meadows of windblown grasses and the small brown grasshoppers that fly up, clicking and swarming, as I walked by.

I planned on ten hiking days, with a day off halfway through. But getting out there and energized by the sun, the trees, the joy of moving quickly with my pack, I decided to make a run of it and shoot for a fast thru-hike. I averaged just over twenty miles a day, and my final day was a twenty-eight mile push to a headlamp finish at my endpoint.

I met a dog and a bear. And coyotes yipped and howled by my tent at night. I watched small brown trout, only slightly bigger than the tadpoles, dart around in the small clear lakes, and chipmunks and ground squirrels fled from my footsteps at every turn. Woodpeckers and jays filled the day with sound, and the solitary dark filled the night with silence. I walked alone mostly, but mountain bikers and day hikers abounded. I met another group of thru-hikers and spent a few days with them, leap-frogging back and forth on the trail as I stopped for lunch or they stopped to rest, and camping with them at night. I gobbled down a pizza and beer at Tahoe City, and watched the sun fall down behind the darkening skies from a ridgeline above the Granite Chief Wilderness. Mule’s ears and wildflowers bloomed in the open hills above the great Tahoe Lake, and I could see civilization, with its buildings and boats and cars and the promise of cold beer nestled against the shoreline. And smoking cigarettes at my camp at night, sitting on my sleeping pad and leaning against a convenient downed tree, I would rest my aching, dirty feet and be filled with the satisfaction of life lived in the fullness of the outdoors, and the unending promise of adventure.

It was a pretty damned good trip.

Leaving for the TRT

I’m leaving for the Tahoe Rim Trail. I’m taking my backpack, food, a map, and a unbroken sense of adventure. I’m driving up by myself, listening to a CD I’ve burned with bluegrass and classic rock, sitting in my driver’s seat with Old Crow Medicine Show and Fleetwood Mac in my ears. I’ll be hoping my beat-up two door Toyota coupe doesn’t break down, crossing my fingers that the oil leak I have doesn’t get worse, or that it doesn’t overheat somewhere between LA and San Fran.

There’s life out there. Somewhere between home and the end of summer, I’ll find it. Somewhere on the trail, between water points and lunch and dinner breaks, it’s there. In the crunch-crunch of my trail runners on the dirt, over the rocks and scree, past the fat marmots begging for a piece of a Clif bar, beyond the curious black bears sniffing at my bear can. I’m hiking alone, moving fast, light, without the amenities of civilization, without the cares of the day-to-day. There’s no rent to pay out there, no credit card bills, no student loans. The only payment to make is the one that the trail takes on your muscles and your knees. It’s one I pay gladly.

I’ll be alone. And I’ll be happy. It’s the way I do things. My friends ask me if I’m scared to be alone out there. Or if I get lonely. The answer is yes. The nights are dark and quiet and eerie. Behind every bush is a mountain lion looking for a meal. Every shadow is a big mama bear. And I am alone. But I’m ok in this. I’m ok being scared a little. Being lonely a little. Because I know the pay-off is greater.

The solitude and quiet are mine and mine alone. The distractions of life are gone. It’s just me and the trees and the mountains and the wild. And it’s life in the embrace of the wilderness and knowing your small place in it. There’s a truth there. Being alone and scared and lonely in the mountains, it’s like looking at a picture of the universe from the Hubble telescope. All the little swirls are galaxies with billions upon billions of stars. And you’re just one man in it. Only a picture doesn’t make you feel the visceral truth of things. Only the wilderness does that, make the truth live in your butterfly stomach and hungry heart.

I haven’t had this kind of trip in a few years. Not since I left for the Lost Coast Trail a few years ago, after my mom died. That trip was different. And I was different. I was exhausted of life and the too-much-in-your-face realness that an experience with death brings. I’m driving over many of the same roads, looking for many of the same things, but this is a different place I’m going, literally and figuratively. Like the proverbial river, the no man steps onto the same road twice.

I plan on moving quickly, doing about twenty miles a day. I’m hanging small boxes of food in the trees where the trail meets the road and stopping every day or two to retrieve my caches. With only a couple days of food on me at any time, I’ll be pushed by athleticism and hunger. Starting near Incline Village on the Northeast corner of Lake Tahoe, I’ll be moving clockwise. Spooner Summit, Kingsbury North, Barker Pass, Tahoe City, Brockway, and back to my starting point. Something in the neighborhood of 180 miles in ten days. I might take a day off halfway. We’ll see how I feel.

It almost feels like a series of day trips instead of a long backpack trip. The longest I plan on going without a resupply is a simple overnight. Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray. The food hangs might be raided by raccoons or marmots or bears or curious tourists. And I am carrying extra food for that contingency, but let’s hope my hangs are stealthy and high enough.

I haven’t done this distance before. But it doesn’t intimidate me. I’m happy and home in the mountains and the forests and the high up alpine air. I’m used to the day-to-day pounding of miles down the trail, the clack-clack of my trekking pole against the rocks, and the occasional lizard scurrying off the path. I’ll yell at the bears, shoo away the marmots, and whistle at the birds. I’ll walk and walk and walk and stop for a granola bar and walk some more. And at night, I’ll pitch my tent under the stars and the mountains and I will talk in long silent conversations. I’ll have the joy of outside and the beauty of the wide-open spaces to keep me company and the small heat of my camp stove to keep me warm.

So I’m leaving for the Tahoe Rim Trail. I’m taking my strength and my independence and all of the freedom I can find under the clear blue skies of the Sierra summer. I’ll be back in a couple weeks, a little tanner, a little leaner, maybe a little wiser. I’ll probably smell. I’m definitely going to need a beer. And maybe I’ll have some stories to tell.

The only way to find out is to hit the road.

I really hope my car doesn’t break down.

I Hate Climbers…

I hate climbers.

I tell my friends this and they seem surprised. They ask me, “You hate climbers? But aren’t you a climber? You rock climb right? Doesn’t that make you a climber?”

Yes, I climb. And no, I’m not a fucking climber. Fuck those guys.

Ever talk with a climber? None of it ever makes sense. They’re full of slang and jargon and gear and I always feel like I need a dictionary to talk with them.

What the hell is a redpoint? How’s that different from an on-sight? Trad versus sport versus bouldering versus alpine? Mixed? What’s free-soloing? What about aid climbing? What’s the V scale? Or the Yosemite Decimal System? What’s an overhang? How about a dihedrals? Cracks? Slab? Liebacks? Stemming? Fist jams. Stacking. Highballs. Whippers. Decking. Jugs. Pinches. Underclings. Beta. Chossy. Sandbagged.

No clue? Don’t worry, once you figure out the vocabulary, you realize every friggin’ conversation is the same. All that climbers talk about is climbing.

Not a climber? Tough luck buddy. You’re not going to be able to hold a conversation.

Something like:
“Man, I was totally pumped out on the roof, but then I got my foot over and heel hooked the shit out of it, and when I got over the overhang, there was this fat thank-god jug, so I grabbed it and mantled over and put in a cam and just hung there for a while. I didn’t think I was going to make it, but man, it was sweet.”

Or the route beta:
“It’s got a pretty awkward off-width start, but if you go to the right, you can just climb the slab and get back into a bomber hand crack.”

Or:
“It’s got great fist jams and takes pro pretty good, but then there’s a steep crux with a bouldery move near the top.”

And they’ll do this for hours. Back and forth. This climb, or that climb. It’s J-Tree or Yosemite or Tahquitz or the Buttermilks or Red Rocks or the Alabama Hills or wherever. They’ll rattle off climbs with names like White Lightning or Traitor Horn or Overhang Bypass. In areas like The Old Woman or The Blob or Intersection Rock. It’s like this for hour after hour, night after night. The same shit around the campfire.

Then, when they’re done talking about climbs, they start talking about gear. So much damn gear. Their cams, their nuts, harnesses, rope, crash pads. Bolt hangers, anchor chains, shoulder length slings, keylock noses, wire gates, ovals, HMS, and lockers. Reverso versus ATCs. Dyneema versus nylon. Tricams and hexes. A full rack of Bee Dee cams with doubles of certain sizes for this or that crack. How tri-cams are a pain in the ass to get out, especially after a fall. How dyneema doesn’t take a knot well, or what size cordage to use for a trad anchor. Or how this stopper doesn’t slot well because of the ridges, or how this cam has a better range, or whatever.

I hate that after you climb a bit, that gear talk actually becomes useful. Tricams really ARE a pain in the ass to get out after a climb. And #1 and #.75 BD C4’s really ARE nice to have doubles of.

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Tricams are great!

I hate the legends. I hate looking at a guidebook and there’s a first ascent set by Chouinard or Robbins or Long or Bachar or some other name that I recognize and have no idea why I recognize it. I don’t know why I know who the Stonemasters are. I don’t know why I see those climbs and immediately want to climb them.

I hate that there are places like Salathe Wall, or Astroman, and that I know what they are. I hate that I’ll never be able to climb them. I hate that I know who Lynn Hill is. I hate that she’ll always be a better climber than me. Even when she’s 90.

I hate Alex Honnold. I hate that he gets on the cover of National Geographic. I hate that he climbs harder without a rope than I will ever climb with one. I hate that it kinda makes me want to try free-soloing. I hate that he, too, talks about being scared. Except he’s scared free-soloing up the face of Half Dome, and I’m scared on some 5.5 J-tree trad lead.

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Me getting scared on a 5.5 lead in J-Tree.

I hate that he talks about trying to achieve and maintain certain mental flow states, like some sort of zen master. I hate that on certain climbs, I get glimpses into similar thoughts, only on a much, much lesser level.

I hate Chris Sharma. I hate that he’s the best damn climber in the world and makes it look so easy. I hate that he’s basically a laid-back pothead with superhuman climbing ability. I hate that I’m not a laid-back pothead with superhuman climbing ability. I hate that every climbing girl I know has a huge crush on him. Fuck that guy.

I hate being scared. I hate looking out across a slab traverse with no protection, knowing that if I slip, I’ll take a whipper fall into the rock. I hate looking out across that traverse and cursing it loudly. I hate doing all that and STILL stepping out onto the granite slab, looking the world like a polished piece of slick death, and somehow finding small chips for my feet to go on, and I gingerly place my feet, one at a time, until I look up and suddenly I’m across without any incident and I can slot in a nice nut placement into a convenient crack.

I hate the lead falls. You’re hanging there with fear building up in your chest, and lactic acid building up in your forearms and knowing, just knowing, that you can’t make this move and that you’re going to fall, and ah-shit you lose your grip and suddenly there’s nothing between you and the hard ground, but then you’re suddenly yanked to a stop by the rope gods and maybe your balls get pinched by your leg loops and everything hurts like a mutha-fucker, but you’re thanking whoever it was that invented kernmantle construction and dynamic rope stretch. Then your belayer asks you if you’re ok, and even if you just crapped your pants a little, you don’t want to seem scared, so you yell, “yeah, I’m good, just lower me a bit so I can get back on the climb.” When, really, all you want to do is get back on the ground and pack your shit and go home because that was terrifying, but for some stupid reason, you swing your dangling ass back onto the route and start working the problem again.

And you fall at the crux again, and maybe again, and maybe a few more times. And you curse yourself for picking a hard-as-hell sport and you curse the rock for being smoother than a baby’s ass, and the lack of holds, and the thin flakes that pass for toeholds, and your puny forearms.

Climbers are fearless thrill-seekers. Or completely controlled zen masters. Strong, lean muscles and the grace of countless climbs under their nylon harnesses. Long arms and long climbs and the inexorable progress upward on the rock without a hitch. Guys and girls like Chris Sharma or Lynn Hill, blonde beasts held to the face with iron pinches and smoothly slotted crack jamming fists. And laid-back post-climb beer drinkers, easy on the eyes and easy on the road.

Definitely not me, I who curse the rock out loud as I climb. Not the joyful silence of sheer confidence, but the thinly held-together cracking-up of my holding-my-shit-togetherness.

I hate looking at a long, curving crack and thinking to myself, ”You gotta be fucking kidding me. People climb this shit?” I hate that I stand there at the base and start racking gear to myself, as if I knew what the hell I was doing. Sure, I’ll take some cams, and some nuts, and some quickdraws and a few alpine draws. No, I don’t think I’ll need the tri-cams. I strap on my helmet, check my tie-in, tighten my leg loops (protect my balls). Then, to my partner: “Climbing.” And he answers, “Climb on.” I place my hand on the rock and step on. And I immediately wonder what the fuck I’m doing.

Slowly upward, upward, slotting in a piece here and there, wondering who the hell thought sticking little metal bits the size of my thumbnail constituted “protection.”

When I go climbing, I spend the entire time pretending. I’m lying to myself and to my friends. I lie to gravity. I tell all of them, yes, I know what I’m doing. I’m in control here. Yes, I am a climber, I can make it up this impossible pitch. I say shit like, “oh that was a beautiful climb.” That usually means I need to go home and change my underwear. Or the climber’s version of an admission of fear, “yeah, that was a little spicy.” As if airy exposure and hard moves were akin to a pinch of habanero spice in your hot sauce. Hot sauce might make my eyes water, but exposure makes me cry like a little bitch.

I’m not a climber because I’m scared. I’m scared all the time. I’m scared of falling. I’m scared of my pro ripping out. I’m scared of rockfall. I’m scared that something will happen and my rope will get cut. I’m scared of flailing on a hard section. I’m scared of looking stupid in front of my climbing partner.

My non-climbing friends (you know, normal, sane people) say things to me when I tell them that I climb. Like, “Oh, I could never rock climb. I’m afraid of heights.” And I think to myself, “are you kidding me? You think I’m NOT afraid of fucking heights?”

But, of course, I play the badass card and just shrug it off like it’s no big deal. I’ll reply with, “oh, you get used to it.” As if you really do. You just get really good at not looking down, at focusing on your moves, on not thinking that you’re dangling on some wall a couple hundred feet above jagged rocks and if your little 10mm rope were cut, you’d be dead, dead, dead.

I try to remind myself of Lynn Hill’s words: “It doesn’t matter how tall the mountain is, all that matters is how strong you are.”

But despite all the fears, all the good and rational reasons to be scared, I’m most scared of living a life where I didn’t try something amazing because I was too afraid. I’m scared of going to my safe grave in my safe bed after living a safe life and wondering if I should have taken more risks. If I should have pushed my fear down deep inside. If I should have tied that rethreaded figure-eight onto my harness and put my hands on a hopeful hold and stepped up to try something impossible. I’m scared that I would have never known that feeling of standing on top a tall tower of gorgeous granite with the sunset sky over J-Tree and looking down at something I ascended with nothing but a skinny shoestring rope and tired muscles and audacity.

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On top of Bussonier (5.7) in J-Tree.

I’m scared that I would never had known what adrenaline and fear mixed with the euphoria of topping out on some pitch you never thought you’d be able to climb felt like. Like you were some sort of superman full of courage and undaunted strength and that you just did something that so many only dream of. That feeling of superiority over your non-climbing friends, lying at home in front of their TVs with their cats and their boring nine-to-five jobs could never hope to achieve. For a few brief moments, I am greatness.

But then, I get back to camp and hang out with my climbing friends and it’s just talk of route after route after route around the campfire. And I know I’m not a badass. I’m just a pretender. They swap stories about this crack or that slab or this face and it’s 5.11d or 5.12a or V7 and it’s back and forth like gaining the anchor and getting on lead for the next pitch. I come out and have a beer and sit with climbers and listen to them talk and try my best to throw some slang in there and hope that they can’t see through me, that they won’t recognize that I’m just a poser, a fake, a phony, that I’m talking like I climb, I’m just pretending.

I’m telling you man, I fucking hate climbers.

But, god damn, I wish I were a climber.

And seriously, fuck Chris Sharma. I hate that guy.

Sort of.