Friday, December 19, 2014

Remembering how to believe.

My life is now unmistakably entwined in the rhythms of grad school; work ebbs and flows, and when it flows it’s high tide. The work is engaging, so much so that boredom never really happens anymore…but of course the flip-side of that coin is the lack of quiet spaces. In the fast pace of academic life, if you want stillness you need to create it; it doesn’t just happen. It takes willpower. This is the trade-off, of course, between physical jobs and mental jobs: boredom vs space. As a grad student studying mountain hydrology with geophysics, I think a lot about math and earth systems and I learn to see the world distilled through equations. Structures and patterns emerge out of chaotic complexity before my calculating mind. There is always something more to do, and I am never, ever bored.

In contrast, a couple winters back I was an apprentice electrician. I rose before dawn and drove home at sunset and learned simple tactile skills. I was often bored. And I thought about life a lot, or just generally pondered, or went long hours not even thinking at all. I read good books during my lunch break and thought about them all afternoon, and I knew the stories so intimately I felt their rhythms in my own life. I worked hard, and I loved books, and every weekend was mine to explore red deserts and snowy mountains.

In this new chapter of incessant busyness and cerebral pursuits, getting out to climb in the wild, un-digital world has become more important than ever. I spend so much time inside the world governed by mathematical precision, depending on logical constructs…it can be hard to depend on more organic, un-measurable quantities, like stamina and intuition and touch. It’s strange for me to realize; accustomed to being so rigorously analytical, it can be hard to simply…believe.

Belief is the soul of climbing and adventure. A calculated ascent is only worth the paper it was planned on. An inspired ascent, no matter the outcome…that is what takes us beyond the pitiful constraints of our self and allows us to connect to the larger reality. I’m finding now that the only way to balance the analytical rigor of school is to subvert (or transcend?) my churning analytical brain and get out in situations that appear, to the analysis, to be…simply fucked. This is the moment that you try, in planning, to avoid: a headlamp dies, you don’t have the right size piece, you run out of water, the ice isn’t thick enough…This is where belief starts: the facts predict failure, but the silly monkey decides to succeed anyway, because deep down he knows something: within his oversized brain and primate skeleton resides an overwhelming well-spring of potent, tenacious possibility that we call will-power.

On Saturday I battled up an ice-free granite corner with ice tools and crampons. Did it make any sense? Does smearing on featureless granite with crampons work? Is falling wearing crampons a good idea? None of these! Calculating mind would have promptly bailed…but after a day of hard effort in that spacious arena, I’d succeeded in leaving the analyst behind, and found space for belief again. I believed I could climb the corner, so I did. And for five minutes, the world was sweet, blissful silence. And THAT is freedom.  

Friday, September 5, 2014

Mental shifts in the dark canyon: how perspectives change when we Tague our Time

(contributed by Rowan Hill, partner in silly things and purveyor of fine cheeses)

Most of our thoughts are not based strictly in reality. I work in wilderness therapy with young adults whose minds are constantly sabotaging them. Through this experience I have become more adept at noticing when my own thoughts start to lift off from the grounded 2+2=4 level, to the wild and fantastical realms where climbing a little harder equates to being more loving and more valuable as a person. I was relatively grounded when I set the long term goal that I would some day climb Tague Yer Time in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. “Some day” meaning in a few years when I was regularly sending 5.12 on gear and had a few more grade V climbs under my belt. It was from that grounded mindscape that things started to twist and evolve into the un-grounded state of expanding possibility, and suddenly Drew Thayer and I had concrete plans to climb the route this two months...I still had never actually sent a 5.12 pitch on gear, and the route had 5 of them, and 5 more that checked in at 5.11...and the gear is really thin, which I also don’t have a ton of experience with. But as I said, this is a mindset not based in reality, a place that creates greatness and kills people who say things like, “dude, dude, check this out” before doing something excessively stupid.

With Drew in Rhode Island and myself in Durango we planned in bits and spurts and began to work out the logistics. We would climb the line in two days, spending the night on the comfy “two boulder bivy.” When the day came my stomach churned with anticipation. We had a lot going for us, we felt strong, we knew that we can climb efficiently when necessary and we were familiar with that section of wall, having climbed both The Flakes and Astrodog together in good style.

We rappelled to the bottom of the canyon, leaving our haul bag with sleeping bags, plenty of water, and even some cinnamon buns waiting for us on the bivy. I took the first lead up a pitch of fun .11 face climbing past 3 bolts and some small gear to the base of a beautiful tips corner. Drew came up to me and jumped right into the meat of it, falling at the crux of the pitch several times and popping two nuts before finding just the right placement to hold him on his next attempt. He battled his way to the top of the pitch and I followed, falling and resting my way up the corner. It was hard, but we were doing it, and the climbing was soooo good. Another short .11 pitch for me and another .12 pitch for Drew, but this time something happened that neither of us had ever done before; we went for the redpoint.

Drew fell at the crux and asked to be lowered. He pulled the rope and tried again...and fell again, and then asked me if I wanted to try. This concept was so new it felt like cheating. We’re allowed to take our time and work the moves? I thought multipitch climbing was all about just getting to the top. I know that Tommy Caldwell works pitches half way up El Cap, but I honestly don’t compare myself to him, ever. I tied into the sharp end and headed up for the tricky looking sequence that had shaken Drew off. I clipped his highest piece and went for it, delicately smearing and palming my way through the thin corner until the crack opened up. The rest of the pitch was fun and secure climbing and soon I was at the anchor. Holy shit, I just sent my first pitch of 5.12 trad on the middle of South Chasm View wall, what a trip. I brought Drew up and using the key palm move he climbed the pitch smoothly without falling. The rest of the climbing up to the bivy was fun and varied. We sat on the big ledge in our underwear and marveled at our success thus far.

The next morning we awoke on the ledge and saw that our friends who were joining us for breakfast were only two rappels away from us. Nick Chambers and Tucker Hancock were going to climb The Flakes that day. We bustled about to get the stove going for some cinnamon buns, which we had already decided will become a staple on future climbing trips. This time it didn’t work out very well, we ended up melting the plastic on the Jetboil stove and were left with warmed dough. Tucker and Nick still appreciated the gesture and moved on with their rappels, leaving us alone again with another full day of hard climbing ahead of us. The first pitch off the ledge was another unlikely looking corner, similar to the two hard pitches the day before. Drew lead it, getting through it with rests in between several tough sections and then braving some runout and very thin face climbing to get to the anchor. We decided that this was the hardest pitch so far. At this point we started regretting that we had forgotten the topo in the car and looked up unsure which of a few potential systems held the most promise. I lead up some face and found a bolt, and kept going, encouraged that this must be the right way, only to come to a corner that didn’t protect and looked hard. I turned around and tried going the other way from the bolt, and sure enough, this system was good and took me to an established anchor, just in time to bring Drew up before it started to rain.

We decided it would be best to continue, so Drew pulled the ladders out of his bag and began to aid the next pitch in rain, hail and thunder. Some small portable speakers helped to keep our spirits high. By the time Drew had finished the pitch it had stopped raining and the rock was relatively dry. I tried to follow it free, but ended up pulling on some gear to get through a damp lichen-encrusted crux. Drew was excited to lead free again now that it had stopped raining, so I gave him the next pitch, which involved some crack switches, nut-tool gardening, and classic runout mank that he braved beautifully up to the base of the crux.

The crux of the whole route is an overhanging seam with a few small fingerlocks and I couldn’t even get off the ledge initially. I decided to aid the short crack and work it on toprope. Thus I embarked on my first bit of aid climbing. I loved it, as a means to an end, which was working what amounted to a boulder problem 1500 feet over the Gunnison River. I worked the moves on toprope and figured out a sequence that seemed possible. Drew got on too and refined the sequence a bit. We switched back and I climbed the pitch without falling on toprope and then so did Drew. We marveled at how things were working out.  We had just had a proper session, with music and everything, working out some awesome moves in the middle of the most intimidating playground in the state.

Suddenly this place infamous for forcing people to find out what they are made of felt friendly; we had found a climb that was just plain fun…but it wasn’t quite over yet. It started to rain again and the sun left us. Grabbing onto loose, wet blocks in the dark, using hands that threatened to go on strike, I remembered that it was still the Black after all. Tired and scared I clawed myself to the rim and onto horizontal terrain. Drew cruised up to me, unfazed by the wet night; the ever-intrepid rascal of adventure gave me a big hug and I realized how grateful I was for our friendship. By now it was 10 pm and we were ravenous. This time, with a cast iron skillet in the car, we could make the rest of our cinnamon buns in the fashion they deserved. We both agreed they were the best cinnamon buns we had ever tasted, and that Tague Yer Time was one of the best, and definitely the hardest, climbs we had ever done...Maybe we can come back and free it at some point in the distant future…

-Rowan Hill a.k.a "the Rogue" is one of my best buddies and steadfast climbing partners. He's always been strong as a Swiss hay-baler, but was more of a pebble wrestler when we met. When I convinced him to climb The Flakes (V 5.10+ X) with me as his first grade V climb ever and we topped out 2000 ft of arduous cracks before dark, I knew he had grit too. I try to keep him around because he always shows me better beta, he usually has quality aged cheese on his person, and he gives the best hugs in the four corners region. For a hairy swissman.

Turns out you need the "frying pan attachment". Result: hole in glove, melted stove, warm dough.

It's nice when friends drop in for breakfast halfway up a 2000 ft wall

Nick and Tucker preparing to drop back into the chasm

Cinnamon rolls done right

Dreaming, Waking, and Remembering what Matters

The Dream

In May 2012 I leaned against the rail of the overlook on the North Chasm View Wall on a balmy afternoon, staring into the dizzying expanse of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The view from the overlook is dramatic enough to inspire vertigo in the stoutest of hearts; overhanging rock drops away from sight and the wall comes back into view some thousand feet below, then continues near-vertically to the jumbled chaos of boulders and scree bisected by the raging Gunnison River.

I had just climbed The Cruise with two new friends, and we had found the classic route pretty cruiser, topping out casually in the early afternoon. Staring into the wild gulf of air carved by the river over eons, I felt a mixture of pride and humility tinged with the dark shades of fear. Pride because we’d rallied a grade four route up a steep wall in good time and generally enjoyed ourselves; humility because I knew The Cruise didn’t even ascend the tallest part of the North Chasm View Wall; and fear of unknown possibilities: there were routes directly beneath us of an entirely different character, routes that I knew would require much more than I could give. I couldn’t know it then, but I would venture closer to the edge of that unknown horizon, and seven months later the airy steeps of Stoned Oven would force me to take a harder look at myself than I’d bargained for.

We looked across to the attractive South Chasm View Wall and I could make out the salient features of Astrodog, which I’d climbed the year before. (Who climbs Astrodog as their first Black Canyon route? Coming out of college, we were so full of hubris.) To our surprise, we watched a climber move right from the two-boulder bivy—away from the obvious crack systems of Astrodog—and begin ascending a seemingly blank face. Where was that guy even going? We tried to see his line, but couldn’t make out any features. Someone had binoculars and we passed them around, trying to spot a crack system, but from that distance all we could see was a man moving upward into a shield of blank, smooth granite. I imagined we were witnessing some ridiculous aid ascent, a steely-eyed fiend hooking his way up intermittent nubbins.

Some research revealed the existence of a route up that clean face, a hard FREE route in fact called Tague Yer Time, which involves sustained 5.12 climbing up thin seams. I poured over the description on Mountain Project and remembered the chilling awe I felt watching that climber across the canyon. It was a ludicrous quantum leap beyond my abilities, but a seed had been planted; when I day-dreamed about the canyon, the name of the route drifted around the edges of my thoughts like quivering pine needles at the periphery of vision. I heard the whisper but focused on the world in front of me: life and love and trying to redpoint 5.12 on bolts.


Upon returning to the Colorado western slope this spring, I was beyond excited to join my good friend and fellow adventurer Rowan Hill in driving over Red Mountain pass through gorgeous mountains toward the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. During the midst of a New England March, while I was worn down by differential equations, incessant rain, and no way to scratch my itch for climbing rock, Rowan sent me a few topos of routes in the Black; among them was Tague Yer Time. Of course I knew about the route and had drooled over the description on Mountain Project, but I had calmly set that book on the upper shelf of “in a few years.” After all, the Donahue-Ogden masterpiece sports 5 pitches with 5.12 climbing, two of them sustained tips-crack dihedrals. I hadn’t yet redpointed the .11+ routes I’d attempted in the canyon, so solid 5.12? Out of the question.

I’m a collector of maps and guidebooks. I think there’s something to be said for holding a topo in your hands. If you want to summit a peak, buy the map and hang it on your wall; if your goal is a climb, pin photos above your bed and pin the topo in the kitchen. There is magic unleashed when we give our dreams more substance by pushing them into the tangible world as intentions.

That topo, which represented the idea of climbing a route as hard as Tague yer Time, spearheaded a new motivation to train. I did my coursework efficiently so I could hit the climbing gym three times every week; I started climbing routes twice without rest to build endurance; I worked four-by-fours on the tweaky boulder problems until my fingertips stung. In bad weather I would enter the Lysol-spandex-top-40 aura of the university gym and submit myself to punishing workouts with weights and a ludicrous device called the elliptical trainer, with no other rationale than believing the ability to keep pushing while my lungs burned and my body wanted to collapse would be a good card to have in my back pocket. An inspiring British climber Dave Macleod says you have to be willing to train the capacity to try hard.  He climbs E11, so I figure his advice is worth something.


We trained hard, we made our preparations, and on a warm morning in May I tossed ropes from the Astro-Slog rappel anchor and began rapping into the canyon with a haul-bag dangling from my waist, something I never really envisioned doing. We were amped to spend two days giving our best effort on a beautiful route in the wild canyon, and even more psyched to be joined by our buddies Nick and Tucker, who planned to drop in for breakfast the next morning on their way down to climb The Flakes. After a day of hard, fun climbing we settled into our spacious ledge bivy and watched the Chasm View Wall turn golden in the sunset. We woke to a glorious morning, stretched on our mid-cliff perch, and served up coffee and cinnamon rolls (a bit soggy, unfortunately, due to technical stove failure) just in time for Tucker and Nick to drop in for a bite. As he’d promised, Tucker reached inside his pack and pulled out a ripe juicy grapefruit. Luxury in the middle of Colorado’s scariest canyon! We were stoked beyond belief, and our energy carried me straight into a punishing encounter with the crux corner pitch, which involved much desperate groping and multiple whips on RPs.

I could reminisce about how rad it was, how awesome it was to spend such a focused time in sync with a good friend, how it was to transcend my personal limits in such an inspiring arena. And although we didn’t send the crux pitches, it was transcendent for us. We each lead hard pitches at our limit, and for the first time ever I lowered off, pulled the rope, and tied in for a redpoint burn in the middle of a wall.  On the sustained crux corner, stemming at my limit long enough to precisely place a tiny micro-nut and then launching into another 5.12 boulder problem forced me to dig deep into my mental and physical reserves and represented the culmination of 5 years of dedication to the art of climbing. But all that was just fun and games, what really mattered was late that night, staring down into the darkness of the canyon searching for lights, then waking the next morning at dawn to frost on my pillow and thinking immediately of those guys. We threw our sleeping kit into the car and raced off to the rim, ready to rap down and fix lines, ready to do anything to find our friends. The boys hadn’t made it up that evening, and The Flakes is a long, serious route, and it was a cold night.

Pulling my sore body over the canyon rim has been a cathartic experience on every climb I’ve completed in the Black, but despite all the terror and doubt I’ve felt on my own journeys, the relief was far greater as we ran through the bushes and saw our friends topping out just after dawn. Their faces were flat and their eyes set in the thousand-yard stare, the sign of true and utter exhaustion. Slowed by the afternoon rain, they’d done what they had to do, moving slowly and safely through many of the route’s difficulties in total darkness. It wasn’t pretty, but sometimes success isn’t. And in the Black, success is often simply grabbing the soil on the rim and belly flopping on sweet flat ground.

It’s so good to remember what really matters: the people we share the journey with. Send or dangle, crush or epic, style only matters to a limited extent. We can set external standards to measure our exploits by, but what is it that actually endures in our hearts? Soon all memory of the climb will wax to a rosy hue with the inexhaustible march of time; it is the people we share our stories with who will always matter the most.

Breakfast on the Two Boulder Bivy

Dude! Cinnamon Rolls!

Thunder rolls, rain falls down, time to pull out the ladders and push the rope higher the old-fashioned way.

So tired we had to wake him up for second breakfast. There's no place like Kate's Place in Ridgeway to begin your recovery after an all-nighter on the wall. 

"I'm starting to feel a little more human," he said after we devoured our eggs and hash in reverent silence.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The sound I never want to hear again

The other day I heard a sound that I never want to hear again in my life. I had only heard vague rumors of this sound, but the instant I heard it I know exactly what it was, and it made my blood run cold. It was the sound of ice axes buzzing, four inches from my ears.

Friday evening, and I was driving down I-25 again toward Estes Park, this time with a warmer forecast than the weekend before. Tucker and settled into our bivy at the trailhead watching heat lightning ignite the sky above Denver, then woke at 2AM, made some quick chow and hiked off into the dark forest. Being the solstice, the sky turned grey before we even made Chasm Lake, and we entered the upper cirque beholding the Diamond aloft in full morning light. More familiar with the terrain this time, we quickly ascended the icy North Chimney and were roped up at the base of Ariana on a brilliant warm morning. Tucker dispatched the devious thin starting sequence and before long we were high up the wall contemplating the formidable crux. Ariana proved to be as exquisite and beautiful as we had hoped—and as difficult as we expected. The powerful, thin crux took us both a few tries to figure out, and the gorgeous 5.11 endurance pitch was everything I hoped it to be and more. I tried like hell to onsight it but at 14,000 feet the pump adds up faster than usual, and I ended up sailing off the final bulge. Regardless, I would be hard-pressed to pick a more fun pitch of rock climbing in the mountains. We topped out the technical terrain with big grins and began scrambling toward the summit under a calm sky.

We were working up the last technical step, probably only 30 vertical meters below the summit of Longs Peak, when our blue sky was suddenly blotted out by dark clouds and cold hail pelted our faces. We’d been ambushed. A mere minute later I heard an electric buzz behind each ear, and the instant understanding of what that sound meant pulsed through my veins like a shot of icewater: Longs Peak was becoming a giant lightning rod, and we were almost at the very worst place to be.

By necessity, alpinism teaches us to be decisive under pressure. In some situations there is simply no room for hesitation; when immediate action is needed, the only wrong choice is no choice. In this case, we had just climbed a third to forth-class ridge and we had comparatively mellow terrain in front of us that lead down from the summit. Dude, we need to run. Now. In a way, serious situations in the mountains are actually really simple; you know what you need to do and you do it, that’s it. Hustling over the snow and talus, I cast a quick glace up at the summit blocks, so close I could have scrambled up in a quick minute and tagged the summit. Maybe a younger man would have gone for it, but I was content to make a quick bow, acquiesce the mountain’s unfathomable power, and scurry on down the ridge towards the safety of lower elevation.

Twenty minutes later we were standing in bright sunshine grinning again and watching the storm rumble over the Indian Peaks. We couldn’t help laughing. In a day of bomber T-shirt weather, the twenty minutes of precipitation and threat of lightning were literally the twenty minutes we were closest to the summit of the peak. Now, with the storm rolling on towards the plains and none other in sight, we could have easily hiked back up to stand on the summit, but neither of us even suggested it. I think we both understood that today, the mountains had made their power clear to us. I believe that as silly monkeys stomping around this planet with our inflated egos, one of the most important things we can do is acknowledge that something is bigger than us and simply observe with respect. We spent some time digging the awesome view, then continued down towards the rappels.

So I still haven’t stood on the summit of the Front Range’s most iconic mountain, but maybe it’s better that way, because I still wonder every time I see it, maybe this time, and I start brewing plans for starting another pre-dawn adventure.

high country cloudburst

Chasm View

A thirsty Tucker grateful to find a small trickle in the moss

The reward for a 2 AM wakeup

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Sanctity of High Places

Dawn over Chasm Lake

The clean smell of wet granite brings me to my senses like nothing else does. (Except maybe coffee…yeah, let’s all say it: thank god for coffee). Lately, it seems I’ve been basing my whole lifestyle around chasing that scent. I dream about it, in my nights, in my foggy mornings, in my information-choked days, during my after-work pain fests on the local trails. I can smell it, on the gear in my closet, in my clothes, on my skin. One whiff and I’m gone, transported to a high perch where the thin air warms lovingly with the sun and cools just as quickly with a gust of wind.

June 2014: The change of seasons and the inevitable forward march of time has brought me to Laramie, Wyoming, a town I drove through once and didn’t think much else about and a place I will call home for the next two years as I explore the nuances of hydro-geophysics in grad school. I’m getting to know a new town and a new region, and among the unexpected benefits of my new situation are good bike trails, violent hailstorms that blossom into gorgeous sunsets, a couple good breweries, and close proximity to Rocky Mountain National Park and the iconic East Face of Longs Peak, the Diamond.

The last few weeks my Friday routine has been: drag myself home from work, throw my mud-spattered field clothes in the corner, sit down for one beautiful minute, throw implements of ascension and whimsy in a duffel bag, pack the cooler, make a mug of tea and turn the Brave Little Toaster south toward Colorado.  The bustle of the workweek fades away with the soft curves of highway 287 on the way to Fort Collins. I set cruise control, put on an album, and follow the sinuous curves of lithified Cretaceous beaches though a lush pastoral landscape. By the time I emerge and join the Interstate-25, I am a clean slate, and I spend the next hour staring west at the beautiful massif of Longs Peak rearing above the Front Range, dreaming. The Diamond beckons across the foothills, and in good light I can make out distinct features from the road: the Dagger… Table Ledge… snow on Broadway, remember to bring crampons…

crossing Chasm Lake toward a chilly bivy at dusk

There is nothing I like more than waking up in the mountains. Sometimes I think the real reason I get involved in all these alpine shenanigans, the reason I own all this fancy-pants gear and put out these massive physical efforts, is just so I can savor those crystal mornings waking up in the frosty heights and sipping coffee while watching the sun greet the clean silent world.

A bivy above Chasm Lake is perhaps the most wonderful place to wake up in the whole world. You wake and start the stove as the sky turns light grey, and just as you pull a steaming mug to your lips the sun rises above the flat eastern horizon and shoots its rays across unfathomable space and our fragile atmosphere and the whole flat state of Kansas straight into the Longs Peak cirque, igniting the Diamond with promethean fire. To rise in the frigid dawn air and behold the sheer wall glowing in the light of a distant star, there is no question that the high places hold something sacred, and we were meant to venture upwards to chase it.

Of course, the uncommonly cold morning we awoke to did not magically thaw, and after ascending snow and ice up the North Chimney we arrived at the base of the wall happily wrapped in our puffy jackets. We had our sights set on Ariana, but we quickly realized we wouldn’t be climbing 5.12 with frozen fingers. Tucker won the rock-paper-scissors and began the first pitch of Pervertical Sanctuary. The climbing was excellent, and luckily I could climb the easier pitches in gloves, but at the crux it was clear the gloves needed to come off. We climbed through the steep finger locks with wooden fingers and endured the screaming barfies as warm blood pumped back in. Ominous cloud streamers were coursing over the bulk of Longs Peak, threatening weather. We took stock of our situation; getting dumped on at this temperature would be pretty grim, and I think we were both looking for an excuse to avoid freezing our hands again, so we rapped off.

It never rained, but on the hike out we ran into an impromptu rescue underway and dropped our packs to join the effort. A hiker had lost her footing on a snowfield and slid down to a harsh impact in the talus; she was getting hypothermic, wearing what little extra clothes other hikers had, and we were able to wrap her in our sleeping bags and give her some comfort while we all waited for the Park Service SAR team to arrive. Five strong guys arrived with neon shirts and radios and organized us to package the woman on a stretcher and haul her up and across a couple hundred meters of soft snow, then carry her to a clearing where a helicopter could land. Pushing the laden stretcher across the snow was probably more physically exhausting than the hardest offwidth struggle, but we had a narrow time window before dusk, so we pushed all-out with our best Chris Sharma redpoint grunts and got the patient to the LZ with just minutes to spare.

It was quite rewarding and awe-inspiring to watch the whimsical contraption fly up into the narrow cirque and nimbly hover down on a small gravel bar, blasting us with the gale force of its rotors as we sheltered behind boulders. The NPS team loaded the patient and the chopper took off into the darkening sky, bearing the grateful woman towards the hospital. We all high-fived and stumbled down the trail more tired than if we’d climbed the peak, but satisfied after a well-rounded day in the mountains. The day's events were a good reminder that success can be defined by much more than a send, and that in our quest to experience the sanctity of high places, helping others through their day of darkness is just as important as our own pursuit of the light.

Morning glory on the Diamond

Whoops. We find our room at the Hilton, and one bed is still occupied by Old Man Winter. And man does he snore.

cold yet buddy?

Tucker gets into the goodness

Why didn't I bring a bigger jacket?

Can't beat the exposure up there

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The good kind of soggy. Reminiscing on a wet season in New England.

"Uhh, dude. You realize you're going at the worst possible time."

So said my right-hand-man Tucker last winter as I returned haggard from a season chasing dreams and battling wind in Patagonia and detonated another gear explosion in his living room in Denver, frantically sorting things into piles for my impending drive east to Rhode Island the next day. Tucker grew up in New England, so he knows about the long winters followed by luscious "mud season", but I had a special lady arriving that afternoon to accompany me on the long drive to my winter residence; I was committed. Under the influence of love, the heart convinces the mind and body to do funny things.

My sole knowledge of the state of Rhode Island at that point had been bequeathed to me by a fellow geology nerd during college: "Rhode Island only exists to be used in size comparisons, like when a textbook will say 'the lava covered an area three times the size of Rhode Island' or 'a lake formed, six times larger than Rhode Island.' " This fact has since been verified in a John McPhee book and two recent incidents on NPR (I swear I'm not making this up), but the point is I drove 2500 miles from the land I consider Mecca to live in a place I knew next to nothing about, and through its twists and turns I'm grateful for the experience. It is good to make sacrifices for people we care about. It is good to change rhythms and see how other people walk their day-to-day. It expanded my appreciation of culture and the vastness of our country, and it forced me to find new points of beauty and rituals to take solace in. It also honed my gratitude for the blessings of living in the Rockies.

Of course, my appetite for adventure never subsides, and since I've learned to suck it up and wake up at 5AM on Saturday if that's what it takes, I was able to explore many of the amazing landscapes of New England with my special lady and new friends. Here's a tribute in photos to a season spent in New England. I may have gone a bit crazy-pants at times, but all things considered it was a good time, and I'm excited to explore more. In the autumn, when the leaves are a million colors and it's not rain/sleet/snowing every day.

Somehow the alpine schedule didn't stop in Patagonia. 30 hours into a 48-hour push from Colorado to Rhode Island, exhausted from swinging leads across the four-letter states, we pulled into a quick bivy behind a gas station. Caught a few zzzs and brewed up, Lilly takes the sharp end for the next pitch.

We wasted no time in heading up to the Mt Washington Valley Ice Festival, got to see some inspiring slideshows and sample some really fat ice. Photo Zac Hansen

30 degrees and one-sticks, what a treat. Photo Zan Hansen

Somehow convinced my lady to try ice climbing and she didn't hate it, even admitted kinda liking it! I made many thanks to the weather gods.

Rhode Island winter diversions. The first time I've paddled a canoe with snow on the banks. It was an incredibly pretty and peaceful experience.

The locals' beta: take a break off the river for a beer around the fire and warm your toes.

Back at Cathedral Ledge with a guy I met in the climbing gym parking lot. Craig starting up the classic Repentance.

The funky exit moves of Repentance require a hand jam I found quite rattly, even in gloves.

Craig stylin it.


photo Craig Muderlak

photo Craig Muderlak

A visit to one of Lilly's favorite beaches on the Maine coast

In Portland, even the graffiti is clever.

Ice in Maine

The amount of easily accessible waterfall ice in New Hampshire is stunning. Craig and I took a ramble around some cliffs across the river from a popular crag and found some gorgeous little gems.

The fruits of fermentation.

It's a big country, there are some things you don't really get in the Rockies. St. Paddy's, served up proper.

Unfortunately I was unable to dodge the objective hazards of crowded city life. First-world problems meet third-world traffic, and the Brave Little Toaster goes to the body shop again.

Approaching Cannon Cliff through some lovely morning sleet.

Craig scoping the line.

Craig starts up the Black Dike through spindrift.

Photo Craig Muderlak

Beginning the rock traverse. Photo Craig Muderlak.

Photo Craig Muderlak

Good times!

photo Craig Muderlak

Mmm, tasty post-holing. Photo Craig Muderlak

Just when I thought winter was going to last forever, the sun emerged. Finally, a chance to wake the jorts from hibernation.

Greeting the sun at a New Hampshire farmhouse

Sport whippin' on the amazing stone of Waimea, Rumney NH. Photo Craig Muderlak

The Gunks

Lilly feels High Exposure, the funnest 5.6 in the world.

My favorite view of Providence.

A nice spot for breakfast. The Prow, Cathedral Ledge.

Where is this guy even going? I was so confused. Turns out there be handholds on that there face.

Recompense, an old classic, and a good reminder that 5.9 is a grade you have to work for.

Lilly remembers how to layback.

Lilly styling the last pitch of the Prow.

Beautiful crag, beautiful stone.

How did I meet a woman who likes rock climbing and will put up with my antics? Am I still dreaming?

April showers finally brought May flowers

The Red River Gorge

Lush springtime in Kentucky

Gettin' stoked on a sweet tree.