Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Healing, wide cracks, espresso, and beer…

As I stepped out of the car and gazed at the countless sandstone cracks towering above the green meadow in rounded plateaus. The cracks which came in all sizes, shapes, and lengths beckoned me to climb them, and toyed with me to really delve into my own spiritual healing, to return to who I used to be.

The stars rose that night shining viciously through the dark blanket of the night sky. Constellations lit up the valley floor and the sliver of a moon reluctantly joined. Stoked on seeing many of my friends from Idaho, and slightly buzzed from a long day driving combined with a few too many beers I settled into my sleeping bag, letting the heat encompass me, and starting to slowly drift back into my own head.

A full day of climbing at the original meat wall met me the next day added to the therapy of the Indian Creek experience. Sinestra, a climb I’d been looking at for quite some time was the big lead for me that day. While it is a hand crack, it is long, has three roofs, and a no hands traverse in the middle. With my last piece of protection, a really solid cam, being about three feet below me I started tippy toeing onto the dime sized edge on a dead vertical wall. I searched for handholds only to find none. With my hand in the crack on the right I was still three feet shy of reaching the crack on the left, and this miniscule plank was the only way over. After timidly committing to the traverse, I hooked my toe into the crack on the right got my left foot out as far as possible, and dynoed over to the other crack. My core tightened and the fear of taking a 20 foot swinging fall held me onto the rock. As I came to a stop I let out a huge yell and put another cam in! I pulled over the first roof only to realize, that due to my timidness, I didn’t have nearly enough #3 camalots to top the climb out.

I lowered collecting those that I had placed early thinking about the sharp focus I’d just had climbing. Thinking of this focus or flow makes me think of work, and those of us who are lucky enough to be passionate about what they do. It makes me feel sorry for those who kind of float through life only experiencing quasi flow/ escapism through substance abuse, tv, and shitty food. Life is too short to live in this sort of mediocrity. This is also one of my greatest fears, falling victim to false comfort, and failing to achieve more.

I fought my way through the second roof and onto the third. Sitting at the hanging belay and looking at out the valley really turned a switch in my head and started the healing that the trip continued to provide. I spent the remainder of the day taking special enjoyment in reminiscing about old memories, drinking warm beers, climbing easier cracks, and watching the vivid orange and red sunset behind the black varnished cliff.

That evening while taking pictures and talking with a friend she made a comment that has stuck with me. She said that her biggest fear is watching someone fall out of love with her and having no control over the situation no matter how hard you try. I immediately connected and feel this will be my own crux in recovering from my recent bashed and broken heart. This feeling is so mind numbing that it psychologically screws with one in ways you never see clearly until years later. It rips into one’s inner fabric like a well sharpened knife. It slices morals, hopeless romanticism, motivations, and makes one truly question their own self worth. It changed the way I viewed the world, and changed who I am as a person. As I slowly regain self worth, and my own identity I also need to overcome the fear of losing love. The solitude and openness of the wilderness made me once again realize that it is better to have loved, than to have been too guarded to take this all encompassing leap of emotion. This will be critical in regaining the emotional energy that anyone I’m with in the future will demand and deserve. That night I thought not only about my own emotional health, but also my mind opened up to deeper thoughts about the area I’d spent the last few days in.

Indian Creek, has a long history. The area exudes the feeling of lawlessness, the wild west, and of searching in one’s inner depths. The landscape is rugged, the climbs unforgiving, and the regulations minimal. There is no cell phone reception, and many of the roads are the same ranching roads that have been there for over 100 years. The same roads that were once paths used by the original inhabitants, the Anasazi’s. Their stories are carved into the stone, and have been dated to over 2,000 years ago. It is not hard to imagine the way this land must have looked that long ago, and easy to understand how this beautiful valley with a creek running through it would be such a nice place to live. Some of the petroglyphs are mysterious and even portray the six toed giant that has been drawn by many indigenous peoples all over the world.

Post the awful and unjust transplantation of the Anasazi, and until the 1970’s with the discovery of the area for rock climbing, and with Earl Wiggin’s ascent of Super Crack/ Luxery Liner, with hexes, the area was used for cattle ranching, and still is today. This collaboration between climbers and the cattle ranch and nature conservancy there is a great example of mutual respect, reciprocity, and good land use…I thought back to my original career ambitions of working in conservation advocacy, and to how my paradigm has shifted now to a much deeper and critical stance of my place in the world.

The next morning we decided to climb some wide cracks, which are my favorite. These climbs, called offwidths, are generally too wide for a fist jam, but to narrow to fit your whole body in. This weird size of climbing requires the most creativity, and outside of the box thinking of any kind of climbing, it also requires a high tolerance for pain. I got to climb with my good friend Earl, and believe that climbing with him is mutually beneficial for both of us. We both tend to sell ourselves short on what we can or can’t lead. I’d hopped on Sinestra the day before, so without hesitation he took the sharp end for the climb Big Guy. This gorgeous crack starts with hands, goes to fingers, and then for over 80 feet stays between 4-7 inches splitting an otherwise blank face of perfect rock.

Getting on lead for an onsight attempt of a climb is a feeling unlike much else. There is a beautiful relationship between risk, reward, and your own skill. Reinhold Messner once said, "Today's climber...carries his courage in his rucksack...Faith in equipment has replaced faith in oneself.” I believe the same is metaphorically true of many afraid to think beyond the system that they grew up in. We must think critically and have true confidence in ourselves, and not always wait for the hierarchal structure to go through the same processes that slow down social change.

You start up into the unknown. You have a skill set that you have developed from each experience before, but it is never enough and there is always unknown. This unknown is present in life, and is a great fear that plagues many people who are trying to do good work. We must step outside of our comfort zones, take the tools that we have gained through experience and research, and head into the unknown. Sometimes you get pretty far above your protection, and this is when the consequences of the unknown become much more severe, but this is also where one gets to truly test their own mental limits, and has the most potential for inner growth. As advocates of just sustainable democratic society we must push ourselves further out of our comfort zones, and away from the commonplace “well this is how we have to do it,” tactics that so many rely on. Fuck the chain of command or the fear of leading into the unknown, trust in yourself, your skill set, get on that lead, or start the revolution, NOW! Stand up for what is right, and push yourself both mentally and physically, humans are not meant to be complacent.

It is easy to get ingrained into an energy sucking system working and dealing with many elements every day to I walk away from feeling negative. Wild places like Indian Creek provide solace, and provoke a deep soul searching that I believe is the best way to heal from these metaphysical society inflicted wounds. Out there it is you, the rock, and your partners. You eat when you are hungry, and sleep when you are tired, and are accountable to nature’s harsh and romantic reality. It is entirely selfish and selfless at the same time. While the healing and solace is vital, this is the balance needed to go back to our calling as humans, more energized and enthused than before. We must seek this equilibrium if we are to ever last in the work of creating just and sustainable communities, but we must never become entirely selfish and just recreate.

Thanksgiving at the Creek Pastures campground was amazing, but also pushed me into some deep thoughts. Over 40 people from all over came together to celebrate a holiday that is actually based off of a colonial tragedy. There was lots of good food and energy, and also lots of lost souls. It seemed that myself and a few others were the ones out of place Of course everyone deserves the time to find themselves, and a place to heal from whatever sufferings they have occurred, there is a point where one must go back into the world and contribute. I’ve often struggled with this yearning to only climb and dirtbag, and the calling to give back to society. I wonder what it is inside of me that won’t allow me to just separate from all of the wrongs of society, instead of becoming emotionally fueled by the suffering of others. The dinner continued with blurs of campfire, stories, flame throwers, beers, whiskey, and finally my sleeping bag.

The next day was a slow morning and we’d decided to do the South Six Shooter. Billed as a 3 pitch 5.7 it seemed like it would be an easy outing. Little did we know the off roading road to the trailhead, and then the 1,000 foot scree field elevation gain on what could barley be called a trail. We ascended through a beautiful capstone layer and could see the full needles district of Canyonlands National Park. Our party of four moved faster than I thought, and my dog lead the way. The climb itself while easy, and ledgy, gave way to an incredible dinner table sized summit with 360 degree views. It is these times spent being truly human with others, sharing vulnerability, views, and experiences, that are some of the riches, most meaningful experiences of my life. This is why I climb. On top of the movement and the exposure, which are big parts also, it is the camaraderie and lifetime bonds of shared experience that inspire me to keep pushing myself further, but also my climbing partners. It is seeing someone else experience the same inner jubilation and renewal, that I find my own balance.

One thing is for certain, I left Moab refreshed, with new vision, motivation, and energy to continue trying to make social change. The big realization and take away for me is to savor the moments with good friends and situations where I leave with positive energy. It is what I gain from this that can give me the strength to deal with the situations where I leave with less. It is from the insight of good friends that I can make sense of the bad, and turn it into good. I’m excited for the next trip and excited to be back at work. Here’s a bunch of photos! Thanks for reading the long and wandering post of my somewhat scattered thoughts.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tenacious Calculus

Great write up on our Friday night climb from Jason Lowry!

I left NAU campus yesterday tired and angry. Tired from too much work and angry from too little vision in the university. People sat in my final meeting content with their little piece they convinced themselves was making a difference and refused to look outside of their comfort zone. Their willingness to only live within their comfort zone and never look beyond the power structures that be angered me. They let their lives be formed by the forces that press them yet refused to push back.

The longer I'm at NAU the more I realize it's a haven for those tired of fighting; tired of trying to change. Instead they accommodate their perceived feelings of disempowerment and frustration by aligning whatever energy they have with a slightly better status quo. Because they feel it's a 'better reality' they appoint themselves the vanguards of their little section of that which they originally fought and rigor mortis sets in. Any perceived threat or minor change to their bubble of power and influence becomes not only a threat to their bubble, but a direct affront to them personally.

I left this feeling vindicated from the anxiety and fear expressed by them because I chase my dreams. I chase them because I see them sometimes; I chase them because some are always out of sight. I chased them home and in the car as Jake and I sped through Oak Creek Canyon, sometimes chasing shadows and other times chasing light as the sun fell below the towering canyon walls. As we wound through the serpentine curves in the road, scratching Roscoe (our puppy) and listening to punk-rock country, we excitedly talked about our next climb: Tenacious Calculus.

We drove through the mediocre downtown and observed people relishing in mediocre art and spirituality. The other drivers on the road fell shy, way shy, of mediocrity as we narrowly avoided one accident after another. Then we missed the turn. Thank God for round-abouts...

Our waist belts tightened and back packs heavy we hit the trail: hard. We huffed, half running with my lungs burning from a nasty cold, up and up. Then our climb became visible. Marge's Draw leapt from the junipine Sedona forest with streaked red and cream spires. There was the presence of something spiritual; maybe that which inspires so much of the Phonecian 'soft' spirituality that is sold so freely in Sedona's main strip. But we weren't in a soft place. Whatever spirituality we were witnessing, this was different. It was cold, sharp, hard. It left us without breath yet bursting with desire. It pulled and pounded us through rocky gullies and spiny plants (all the more angry from lack of water, too alone due to their very armor). We climbed the gullies. At times it hurt. Our legs were afire with the lactic acid I've become so addicted to. Sometimes it hurt because of the agave and cactus that stung with their spines or the rocks that peeled freely from their precarious places to crush our feet and legs.

We climbed towards the climb; our cautious puppy scrambled with us. He struggled to make it over rocks and forced us to think about someone other than ourselves. Sometimes we push ourselves so hard that other lives fall from our vision. We too suffer from the myopia of greed and self-importance.

When we got to Tenacious Calculus the cool autumnal sun was setting behind Mingus and Thunder mountains. The unforgiving wind hurled rocks from the spires and stole the warmth we'd won from the short but hard approach. The cold turned us inward. We zipped up our jackets and laced our harnesses with the gear that would protect us from falling to the ground from the climb. Jake got on the rope, what climbers call the 'sharp end', and worked, sometimes fighting, others dancing, up the spire.

Immediately, my focus was jarred from my internal struggles to Jake whose life I was responsible for. He placed two cams into a tinny crack, one that was made by a loose block stuck in the rock. The first moves were hard. He started with small holds and large reaches over an agave that would only have broken his fall with its spines briefly before sending him, with me, down the rocky and spiny gully.

We had heard about this climb multiple times from some people at the local gym. They talked about it as one of the best single pitches in Sedona. They boasted its superior rock quality; its movement. They rated it four stars online and gave perfect descriptions of the approach and rack. The climb wasn't what they'd hyped up at all.

After the hard moves off the deck the crux shuts you down. It was a splitter crack that was too narrow to put your hands in and too wide to lock your fingers into it. After pulling through the crux Jake climbed hoping for some reprieve with a good rest or stance, but never found it. Each move he made, the rock crumbled beneath his feet and around his hands. Small pebbles and rocks cascaded from the climb onto me belaying at the base. Roscoe ran around, king of the mound, fighting bushes and patrolling our little ledge. Jake fought, hard, up and up until he reached the top. He clipped in and I took him off belay. I got my shoes on and tethered Roscoe to a dead juniper that twisted its way from a sandstone ledge to overlook the spectacular valley and rock formations below. Jake commented that it was hard; way harder than he'd anticipated.

I tied into the other end of the rope and Jake called, “You're on. Climb on and enjoy it...” I took out the gear from the placements in the loose block and did the first couple of moves. They went but weren't easy. As I left the deck Roscoe lost his cool. He started barking and attacking anything that would suffer his fierce little teeth and puppy barks and yips. As he tore out with rage I pulled on the gear unable to climb the rock, through the crux. As I moved up I almost pulled off a huge block onto me. When the block shifted towards my chest when I pulled on it, I almost freaked out. But I was off the deck and had to make it to the top. I changed my grip and called to Jake about the dangerous choss block that threatened to take me out with it.

The crack was unrelenting and awkward. The moves never got easier—only more bizarre. The cold wind drowned out all other sounds and created a feeling of solitude and adventure. As I moved up the spire I felt like I was in the mountains. Falling rocks, cold wind, and weird climbing gave the sensation of being on a remote mountain. Even with the town of Sedona in plain view, the sense that we were somewhere remote was overwhelming. Because we were. I was somewhere remote, removed form the people and institutions I'd left three hours before. Instead of dwelling on the frustrations of working with people that claim to care but perpetuate that which they declare hate for, my energy was focused on the next move. My focus was on my cold hands and the small rocks that fell from above.

Instead of climbing, I fought up the rock. It wasn't graceful or pretty, but I've never laid claim to being either. The moves got more insecure and desperate. The rock got flakier and nastier. And I got to the top.

The sun lit the sky on fire. Pastel purples, pinks, and reds streaked the skies and silhouetted the dramatic Sedona landscape. The wind screamed at us and Roscoe barked loud; he'd long lost his cool. Down in Oak Creek Canyon and Sedona the leaves were still turning. Fall was still alive and well. Yellows and reds painted the valley floor and embraced the creek as it wove through the red rock formations. It was a surreal moment. The temperature was dropping and the wind didn't subside so we rapped off the top immediately. The ropes flew sideways with the winds and lost themselves in the cats claw and mesquite.

The rappel was hard with the ropes tangled below. Bit by bit I lowered down and observed the interesting climb that we'd just done. I saw the block that I almost pulled on top of myself still perched precariously where I left it. And Roscoe was excited that I was nearing the ground.

I got untied from the rope, the ground solid beneath my feet. I moved way back from the crumbling tower with Roscoe and waited for Jake to get to the bottom. We pulled the rope, packed the packs, and booked it down, again helping Roscoe over the sections his puppy body and mind were unable to scramble alone. The fire in the sky illuminated the paths and gullies just enough to help us avoid cacti and yuccas. We ran back to the car and drove back to Flag through the dark and windy canyon. We came back to what we'd left a little more tired and maybe a little more ready to work hard again.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Castles in the Sand

I'd looked at it the first time I heard of climbing in Sedona. Two roof cracks...good rock...exquisite exposure...Looked great, but I've never been strong enough to even think about actually climbing it.

Following a very slow morning Jason and I rolled out of town around noon, we'd casually decided to get on Castles in the Sand a 5.11+ located in the Church Spires area of Sedona. I'd only done one climb in this area, Streaker Spire, and it was total choss. I tried to call friends the night before who'd done the route to get some beta, but to no avail. So after quickly tossing a rack together with emphasis on small hands and fists I was know actually hiking up to the base of the route. I guess mentally I figured that since the route was rap bolted that I'd struggle my way up the first pitch, then we'd decide to bail with the ominous roof above teasing my desire.

After a strangely quick approach with a surprisingly short section of Sedona 4th class scrambling we arrived at a perfect 5 by 5 foot ledge at the base of the climb. Upon touching the rock I was shocked at the quality and gazed up at the amazing changing corners first pitch and the huge roof guarding the rest of the route. The first pitch went well and I only hung once. While waiting for Jason to climb at the hanging belay I thought of excuses of a way to get out of leading this roof. Half of me stoked out of my mind to lead it, and the other half worried about the shit show that could possibly ensue. Without and excuse to bail I took the gear from Jason, and set off.

To my extreme surprise I easily pulled through the perfect hands roof, around the lip, and to a pretty good rest clean. I thought the pitch would be over after this, but another 80 feet of offwidth, fingers, and thin hands were left to the anchors. As I started moving up, the rope failed to follow me. Unfortunately blowing my onsight I set two pieces and lowerd back to the roof to remove the piece the rope was stuck behind. I then surprised myself be climbing the rest of the pitch clean. The exposure at the roof with the scenery against a dark grey sky, fresh air, and the calm of being in an area alone have since stayed imprinted in my mind. By the time we got to the top of the second belay we both decided it would be good to save the third roof for another time where we could redpoint the whole route. This will happen soon, and I'm stoked.

Breaking the 5.11 barrier in Sedona has opened the world of routes, and I feel so excited and lucky to live so close. Sedona will always be a place close to my heart, and central to my current psyche. We didn't take a camera because we had no idea of what to expect, but here is a famous photo of the roof out of an old Patagonia ad!

I believe the photo credit is John Burcham...

Short thoughts drinking espresso on a Wednesday evening.

One of the most vital elements of life is love. Love for self, love for children, love for the world, and most importantly reciprocal love from another. Reciprocal love from a partner, a best friend and a lover is beautifully and inherently inseparable from happiness and mental health. I believe that we are fools if we do not chase after the strongest and most amazing emotion, quite possibly the driving force of all on earth.