I Love Climbers!

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I didn’t know the visitors chart went to the thousands place, let alone the TEN THOUSANDS place.

Over this last weekend, my article I Hate Climbers… went viral (ish)!

I usually average 3-4 visitors to my site per day. I had 13,000+ on Monday alone. Over the last few days, I’ve had over 40,000 visitors.

I’m completely blown away by the response and traffic this piece that I wrote a year ago has received. Thanks everyone!

For the record:
Yes, I love climbing! Yes, I love climbers.

Well, mostly.

I catch myself sometimes saying exactly the types of things I complain about in my article. And I laugh at my hypocritical ass. Because as much as I deny it, I’m a climber too.

For all the climbers out there reading this, I want to send you on a mission:

GET CHRIS SHARMA TO READ THE ARTICLE!!!

He owns the damn gym I climb at (Sender One in Orange County, CA). It can’t be that hard to have him look it over. My life would be complete if he commented here.

Anyways, thanks for everything and I’ll have some more stories and updates coming soon!

-Outside Ed

8000m Challenge, Winter Edition

Baldy Bowl.

Baldy Bowl.

We woke up in the sub-freezing alpine hours, when the sun was still asleep below the dark line of the horizon and the glow from my headlamp illuminated only the warm puffs of my breath. Our group was nestled in the trees by Dry Lake on Mt. San Gorgonio around 8000’ and we were getting ready to push for the summit.

“Why are we doing this again?” Sean asked in the dark.

As I fumbled around in my sleeping bag, my head brushed against the low, nylon ceiling of the single-walled mountaineering tent and condensation rained down on us. I shivered in the cold.

“Because we want to live full lives,” I muttered.

Grumbling and stumbling, we hastily threw on soft shells and goose down jackets over our softer, goose bump skin. Outside, I started jumping up and down trying to warm up. I repeated the mantra in my head, “Live a full life. Live a full life. Live a full life.” I was trying to convince myself that this was a good idea.

Mark Fulton 8000m Challenge.

Mark Fulton 8000m Challenge.

This was the Mark Fulton 8000m Challenge. Outdoor retailers like REI, Adventure 16, Sport Chalet, Zappos, Gear Co-op, and others send small teams of gullible hikers and ultra runners to race up the three tallest peaks in Southern California: Mt. San Antonio (10,064’), Mt. San Gorgonio (11,499’), and Mt. San Jacinto (10,835’). They were the three saints of the Southern California skies and the three devils in our hearts. In a single day, we do thirty eight trail miles and over 10,000’ of elevation gain.

I’m a bad hiker and a poor runner. On weekends, instead of training, I smoke Parliament cigarettes and drink too much beer with my friends. Somehow, I’ve stumbled my way through the race three times. And I have no idea why I keep signing up. It’s long and painful and hard and no fun at all. Every year I tell myself I’m never doing it again. And every year, when they post that sign-up sheet in the break room at the REI I work at, I put my stupid name on that stupid list and curse my stupid self. This year, for the 25th Anniversary, they decided to host a winter version. Same three peaks, in winter, with mountaineering gear and guides. And again, I found myself signing up.

Sean looking epic.

Sean looking epic.

I wasn’t like my tent mate Sean. He once did the 8000m Challenge by riding his bike between the peaks instead of driving. 100+ miles of road cycling in the desert with heat and headwinds and hill climbs between the 38 miles of hiking. All done within 24 hours. He belonged here.

Or like my fellow REI teammate Cyndi. She was an ultramarathon runner with long hair and long legs who has got to be in her mid forties, but looks like she’s in her mid twenties.

Mark climbing on Gorgonio.

Mark climbing on Gorgonio.

Or Mark, a middle-aged Brit who worked for Zappos and had just qualified for the Boston Marathon. He confesses to me that he’s never slept in a sleeping bag.

“This is so far out of my comfort zone,” he said.
“You qualified for Boston! You ran a seven-minute mile the whole way!” I replied.
“That’s different.”
“I’m happy if I can run a seven-minute mile for a mile!”

I think he’s got a pretty big comfort zone. He’s in shape and he’ll be fine.

Our guide, Amy.

Our guide, Amy.

I had no question about our guides. Like Amy, a strong looking blonde girl in her late twenties who had just spent a month in Patagonia putting up a first ascent with her boyfriend.

“What did you name it?” I asked.
“Plate Tectonics.”
“How hard was it?”
“5.12 C1, 20 pitches.”

Just like that. A 5.12 first ascent of a big wall in alpine conditions in Patagonia. No big deal.

Kurt Wedberg.

Kurt Wedberg.

And then there was Kurt. Kurt Wedberg was our lead guide and the owner of Sierra Mountaineering International. He was a tall, imposing man who was very much in charge. Everest, Aconcagua, Denali, Kilimanjaro, he’d done it all.

The day before, we were taking break in the shade of some trees at South Fork Meadows when a boy scout had walked up to Kurt.

“You guys going to the summit?” he asked.
“Yeah.” Kurt replied.
“There’s a lot of snow. We didn’t have any snow gear so we’re heading back. If you have crampons and stuff, you should be ok. Are you taking the trail?” The kid is trying to be helpful.

We look over at Kurt. We were all thinking the same thing: “This teenager has no idea who he’s talking to.” Kurt looks at the kid a second before replying. We can see him trying to keep a straight face.

“We’re going straight up. Direttissima. Right up the throat of it…” he breaks off as he starts choking on his laughter.

We all laughed at this poor kid until he had left.

Headlamp start.

Headlamp start.

The moon was high and bright and threw thin shadows off the black trees as we hiked in the headlamp darkness toward the base of our snow climb. The dozen of us snaked in a single line of shivering determination and arriving at our climb, we pulled our ice axes and crampons out.

“Wait, how do we size this thing again?”
“Which way does the strap go?”
“Um, I don’t think this is right.”

We were new to this. We bent low, fumbling around with the nylon straps on our steel-toothed crampons, trying to attach them to our newly bought and not yet broken-in boots. The sun rose over us as we climbed in small rope teams. Our guides led us, switch backing across the low-angled snow, firm in the early morning cold. I could feel a little anxiety in my team as we moved higher and the slope got a little steeper.

Climbing by headlamp.

Climbing by headlamp.

To calm our nerves, I started singing. I am a terrible singer. I like to say that what I lack in talent, I make up for in volume. So I sang, loudly and badly, “Should’ve been a cowboy, should’ve learned to rope and ride!” Country music with its cowboys and truckers and the wide open spaces always seemed appropriate to the outdoors. So I sang Toby Keith in the rising morning sun on the side of this waking giant of a mountain.

Gorgonio summit.

Gorgonio summit.

I could feel my blood warming and my adrenaline rising with my off-key voice. We climbed steadily, kick-stepping our crampon points and planting our axes. “In-balance, out-of-balance, in-balance, out-of-balance…” I kept the mantra in my head. Looking down the slope, our camp seemed so far away and only grew smaller and smaller in the distance. Upward, the summit grew larger and larger until, suddenly, we were on top.

pointing

We stood together for a moment and zipped up our jackets against the whipping wind. The clear blue Southern California sky seemed to go on forever in every direction and only the other peaks broke the skyline. I could see San Antonio to the northwest where we had come from. To the southeast, San Jacinto rose up from the desert floor where windmill turbines spun in white circles. We’d be climbing it next. We had to hurry, so we snapped a quick summit photo and started down.

On the long hike down, I kept seeing that same tired smile on the faces of my teammates. It’s that familiar look I see at every 8000m Challenge I’ve been at. Somewhere between the pain and misery and cold and heat and dehydration and painful, embarrassing chafing, we find something to smile about.

I was blistered and burnt and dried out. My quads were sore and my calves were tight. My head hurt from the altitude and strangers laughed at my sunburnt, raccoon face. But the beauty of this event was that there are no pros. There’s no glory, no press, no spectators. We all suffered together. The mountain didn’t care who you were. Triathlete, ultra-marathoner, rock climber, or cigarette-smoking me.

I did this event because it was hard. Because it was a massive challenge with three towering mountains. Because I hate climbing San Gorgonio and love climbing San Gorgonio and have lived and loved and died so many times in my freezing-cold sleeping bag and my hypoxic altitude sickness there. Because I wanted to be able to come back and say that I did do it. Because of my blistered feet at the end of a headlamp finish atop a 10,000 ft peak with other blistered children of the mountain, of freezing in the beginning of hypothermic misery with others who are frozen in body, but burning in spirit.

Because it is hard. Because it is there. Because I’m trying to live a full life and because I’m going to go straight up the throat of it. Direttissima.

So when that sign-up sheet shows up in my break room at work, I’m going to put my stupid name on that stupid line. One more time. Because I want to live a full life.

But mostly because I’m gullible and have a poor memory.

Starting up Baldy.

Starting up Baldy.

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.

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.

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.

image001

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.

IMG_2949

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.

IMG_2993

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.