Thursday, September 26, 2013


The average person’s stride is roughly 2.5 feet long.  For the average person the FDA recommends 10,000 steps a day.  Right now I can’t take one.  For three months I struggled to take one. There are 2,000 steps in a mile.  Last summer I took 40,000 in a day, and felt good.  So this is what I’ll aim for; 40,000.  A step seems insignificant until you can’t take one at all.  There are a lot of things I’ve taken for granted in life, and if there is one primary (there are many more) things I’ve learned from my injury it is to appreciate the small victories; to take life one step at a time. I remember the day I could take a shower without sitting down, the day that I went to PT and could put weight on it, and the day the doctor told me to ditch the air boot and start walking again.   This was just the beginning.  I’ve now hiked the Elden Slabs, been climbing a bunch, started to run and jump again, and in two weeks I will get to crack climb.  Throughout this process I have appreciated all of the small victories, but I’ve also been holding out for the sweetest one of all; crack climbing by Sedona season.

About a month ago after work I just took off and headed south.  I found myself winding down the road to Sedona.  I made the decision on an impulse and headed out into the blanketing rain with a dog and a cluttered mind.  I had no idea where I was headed but stopped at the creek about halfway down, take a swim, and think. 

With clouds on either side of me, the sun shining through a hole in the clouds I sat on a rock and thought.   I began to ponder the usual suspects, balance, happiness, and motivation.  Emotions of climbing in Sedona easily floated to the top, and so I dug deeper. 

There have been two places in my life that seem to pull me in and draw on my heart strings, the mountains and the desert.  Climbing in Sedona requires elements of both. I started to reflect on how my past 4 years in Flagstaff have been completely shaped by this.

When I first moved to Flagstaff I was unsure what to expect. I’d heard about paradise forks and that was it.  My first few months found me venturing to the Forks every chance I could get, and then in November my life changed.  I’d made a few friends, and convinced one of them, a strong sport climber, with little trad experience to join me on the Mace.   

We groveled our way up and had trouble finding the words to explain the climbing we’d just experienced.  Luckily the summit register was a bit more articulate with one ascentionist stating, “Climbing the mace is like wrestling a greased pig with sandpaper.”  During this climb I formed two strong bonds, one that will forever draw me back to the sandy spires in Sedona, and the other with a good friend and amazing climbing partner.

Thinking about time spent in Sedona is not only a connection to place, but a connection to people.  I have vivid memories of making new friends, unsure sometimes scary situations with old ones, and the joy I get from taking someone who’s never been.  I’ve enjoyed shoving my body in cracks and wriggling up until the point of dry heaving, sharing hot coffee at the base, a cold beer afterwards, and talking about each aspect of the experience on the drive back to Flagstaff.

In times that I feel ungrateful for what I have I need not look farther than the fact that I am just simply able to go climb in Sedona and share those experience with good people.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

A broken perspective and new begining...

“If I’d only stuck the hold,” the thought finds its way into my consciousness more often than I’d like.  The events replay themselves inside my head like low budget short film.  I move my feet up, eye the hold, and lunge towards it.  I grab the edge, but then I start to fall.  Time slows down and I feel like I am floating through the air.   I know this is bad.  I land off of the pads but my leg doesn’t stop the fall it just crumples.  After I roll down a small hillside I look at my leg and realize the foot is turned about 30 degrees to the right and that my fibula is protruding.  My deep breaths aren’t nearly powerful enough to fight away the blanket of nausea creeping in.  Somehow I come back to.  My skin is pale, my heart rate pounding, and I’m suddenly faced with the reality that will soon change everything in my life.  These words are desperately hard to write as they bring me back into the moment which fuels the dark fire of depression I have been fighting.

I’d secretly felt like my luck had been running out for quite some time so when I looked at my leg I was alarmingly unsurprised.  After a brief and adrenaline filled inspection I found no further damage.  I sat and looked up at the sky through the tree’s shaking in the wind trying to breathe. I checked my capillary refill, how much blood goes into my feet, and saw that the dislocation was cutting off the bloodstream to my foot.  With this horrifying realization I realized I had to get out, and quick.

 It all started last spring break with one foot slip.  I was feeling strong and decided to get on an end of the day finger crack to warm down.  After cruising through 40 feet of perfect fingers and feeling quite solid my foot popped off of a smear, my cam pulled, my belayer tripped, and I ended up back on the ground with the loud thump.   I walked away from this, and after a few months of pain and chiropractic appointments it was back to climbing.  Looking back now I did not properly reflect on this situation. I just kept going.  I narrowly escaped a large refrigerator sized death block ready to fall in Sedona, in desperation rapped off of a bad piton in the middle of nowhere Utah, and took numerous bouldering falls that should have left me in much worse shape. 

My confidence never fully came back after this string of incidents, nor did my judgment.  Most climbers know the feeling of being completely solid and fluid in their movement and losing track of time. I did not have it anymore. This is the mental state that has always drawn me to climbing, and in the past year it has been increasingly hard to drift into.  This should have been my first big red flag. I should have listened.

The bouldering accident happened about two miles in and 500 feet up a scree field in the Kachina wilderness.  After a few quick phone calls to friends more medically inclined we realize there would be no reduction of the ankle, and getting to the ER as fast as possible was the only answer.  I start scooting down the scree on my butt.  I occasionally catch my foot on a tree branch or plant, and an excruciating scream follows.  Even with the adrenaline the pain still rules.  Eventually we make it to the trail.  Jason quickly says he will carry me.  The going is quick this way, but with every step the leg bounces and the pain is too much.  We alternate between him carrying me and crawling.  This exchange seems to go on forever until eventually we see the road.  Jason makes a great decision, tells me to crawl to it, and runs to go get the car at the parking area. 

There have been many moments where I have searched for that feeling of mental freedom and exhilaration that come from climbing where instead my mind drifted into worse case scenarios.  In retrospect I think that I didn’t ever fully recover from my ground fall and that instead of re-building my confidence slowly I just jumped back in full speed.  At the time it seemed like a great idea, but I think I’ve been half present for quite some time. 

In fact the only time I can remember being truly present was on the 2,500 foot N. Ridge of Mt. Stuart.  It seemed as if everything but alpine failed to draw me into the addictive state I was so desperately yearning. The curse of an addict is seeking what destroys him/her the most and that is exactly what I was stuck in.   

I ended up breaking my ankle in three places and the fibula in one.  I fight everyday with depression and the temptation to sink into alcohol for comfort. I'm proud to be winning this battle and to be staying as positive as possible. I know it could be worse, but alas everything is relative.  The experience has been hard, and has forced me to think real hard about the question we often take so simply: Why do I climb?  Right after the accident I thought about selling my climbing gear, I wanted nothing to do with the activity that threw me into the darkness.  Luckily I’m slowly creeping closer to a far off light, and my motivation is coming back.  It has made me think about why I do any of this.  I ended up with the following unorganized ramble. 

I climb because...
The clarity… of the air, the mind, and the focus
The view from the top of a desert tower, an alpine ridge, into a canyon, or a over a meadow
The smile of my partner after a hard lead or a great pitch
The high fives and hugs
The feeling of being absolutely wrecked while drinking a victory beer at the trail head
Only hearing my heartbeat as I slowly move upwards
The calculation of placing gear and moving towards the next piece
The overwhelming sense of accomplishment and purpose
The beautiful places that climbing takes me
The humility of getting shut down
The morning espresso, so strong you can feel it creep into your veins
The sunsets and sunrises that so many don’t ever bother to see
The adventure
Being runout, but knowing I have the experience to be okay
The friendships
Drinking water from a glacier
The smell of the desert at night.
The perspective
Bailing off in a storm than eating pizza and drinking beer
The sharp contrast to the rest of life in society
The psyche
Hands that have so many scabs from crack climbing they stick to my sleeping bag at night
Days so long my brain is that of a 5 year old by the end and my muscles filled with lactic acid
The teaching and the learning
The campfires and stories
There are simply too many reasons to write…

These are the things I keep close to my heart, the things that keep me fighting and motivated, and the things that bring balance to my normal life.  These are things that once one has had; they could never go without.  

I don't know how yet, but I feel as if this experience has entirely shifted my perspective, renewed my psyche, made more thankful, and will ultimately change the way I climb into something much more sustainable than it's ever been before.

I can only hope that is is anew begining for me.  A re-birth of my climb aspirations, and the start to just simply being more happy in day to day life.  

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Back to training

My eyes struggle to focus as my head becomes increasingly light.  I'm literally crawling up a 45 degree slab of volcanic dacite, searching for the summit, and prepping my body for summer.  Yesterday marked the second journey up the elden slabs, and means that I have started training a full month and half earlier this year for summer alpine climbing.  Hopefully this will mean faster safer ascents. I'm going to try to keep a better blog of training stuff as well as nutrition.  I realize that I am getting older and this means better nutrition, recovery, and training are necessary to reach my ever growing goals.  That is all for now, but more to come....

Monday, March 11, 2013

Winter Bouldering!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

We live our lives in sharp contrast.  As I sit outside this morning watching the rain it is evoking all kinds of unexpected emotion.  I close my eyes and imagine that I am sipping this coffee watching the rain under the shelter of my tent looking out at a mountain range.  I dream that yesterday I have climbed a peak and today is a rest day.  A day to patch torn gear, to eat lots of food, to read, write, and refresh.  I come back to and realize that I am indeed in the city and that we live with too many damn comforts.  My life is too fucking complicated.

 We live in a noncommittal world with risks taken away and replaced with corporate induced fear.
Think about the beautiful state of mind we are delicately thrown into when we climb just a bit to far above our last piece, enter the no fall zone on a highball boulder problem, or get to the point on an alpine climb or big wall where retreat would be just as complicated as the summit.

Could we ever enter the same state of mind in everyday life?  Would we want to?  These are questions that I wrestle with daily; both held in tension with the yearning to just simply live and in the present.  I often ponder how I can live my life in a way that fulfills both sides of my own coin.  On one side sits the intense desire to give back to the world.  On the other the call to nature, to be outside, and to live simply.  The two sides can absolutely be present at the same time, something I've been working on for a long time, but have not found the answer to.  I invite anyone reading this who has it figured out to please shoot me some tips.

The rain for some reason makes me think, "what were some of the best memories of my life?"  I then think about the complexity of the human brain and the relativity of feelings to who I was at  a certain point in time vs. who I am now.  Why was I so present at certain periods in my life, and how can I untangle myself from the complexities of now to fall back into that clarity?

To be honest and vulnerable I haven't been writing as much due to insecurities in my own writing, but it is a new year and I'm going to start writing more, because as with any craft one must practice.  I hope everyone is off to a great start in 2013! 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Daily Checklist

Daily checklist:
Smile at someone I don’t know
Be the first to say to someone that I recognize but don’t know
Ask someone how their day is going and truly listen
Make really good coffee
Listen to good music
Never be afraid to ask someone if everything is going alright
Give someone a compliment
Tell someone thank you
When I get mentally overwhelmed go to the gym
Train hard and rest when needed
Eat good quality food and prepare it myself
Sit down and enjoy eating it
Create and allow spaces for open dialogue
Create free spaces for my students and build leadership

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Mt. Hayden

The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail.
-John Wesley Powell-

I'd never climbed in the Grand Canyon before although wanting to for the past 4 years.  The guilt of living so close, and being to lazy to go for it finally won its battle and Friday afternoon I hurriedly packed for a journey into the unknown.

It'd been a good busy week, and I was excited to get out of town.  The simple act of camping can make it seem like one is on vacation, and bring a certain sense of newness to the soul.  We headed out of town around 5pm leaving just enough time to catch the sunset at the Vermillion Cliffs!




Another hour and a half of driving brought to the North rim in the dark.  We decided to pull over on a forest road and set up camp for the night.  After a few pbr's, some spicy mac (One of my new favorites for camping... any tasty bite Indian food packet mixed with mac and cheese! Thanks Alonzo!) We headed to bed.  Anytime I step into a new environment, especially one I've heard is super burly, I have trouble sleeping.   After finally drifting off the alarm came all to soon at 6am.

                                           Jason doing a late night patch job on his theramarest

We woke to find where we camped was a beautiful area that was booming with succession after the big north rim fire.  Aspens were beginning to come back in a very lush field of Arizona Fescue with the black charred skeletons of Ponderosa pines patiently watching over the process awaiting their return.

 A quick drive to Imperial Point brought us to the start of our day.  The directions were simply to hop the guard rail go down a 1,000 foot gully of loose dirt and rock, bushwack through about an hour of New Mexican Locus,and find the ridge of shale than connect Mt. Hayden to the North Rim. We couldn't find much information on the climb, but saw quite a few trip reports claiming horrible knifey locust, and 11 hour car to car days.  Many people said the approach took them 2.5 hours and the return hike another 3.5.  These comments had us all expecting a long day.

photo credit: Jason Lowry

photo credit: Jason Lowry

 After leaving a not on the lookout with our emails in case any tourist took photos of us on the summit Nate took the lead, and somehow almost flawlessly led us right to the climb in 1:15 with minimal bushwhacking.  The approach in itself is a brilliant hike! 

One very important thing in the Grand Canyon is to bring plenty of hydration...a little beer also helps with the bushwhacking.

We quickly got ready for the climb, which turned out to be super fun adventure climbing.  I tunneled through, climbed over, and slung many weird bushes guarding the cracks in the reasonably solid Coconino sandstone.  The climb had great belay ledges, and each pitch was super enjoyable.  The summit, perhaps one of the best of my life, was the biggest treat of the day.  It was perfectly flat and large enough to walk around on unroped.  The summit register read like a history book with climbing legends lining the pages.

                                                    photo credit: Jason Lowry

photo credit: Jason Lowry

After spending an amazing, wind free, perfect hour on the summit we decided it was time to head down.  The rappels went great except for one easily solved snag on the last one, and we started hiking back to the rim.  I'd planned for this to be the worst part of the day, but to our surprise we found an even better route back, with nearly no locust, and made it back to the rim in about 1.5 hours.  Stoked to be back we hung out at the overlook, drank some water, and then headed back to Flagstaff!

After making it back to Flagstaff around 8 we finished off the day with NiMarcos pizza and pints!  It was a great day with good friends in an unforgettable setting.  Can't wait to go back and climb in the canyon again.