The First Foray: Climbing the Chadwick-Bowman on Granite Peak, Part IV

The north face of Granite Peak in August 2008. The Chadwick-Bowman Route goes directly up the face, just left of the main pillar.

The north face of Granite Peak in August 2008. The Chadwick-Bowman Route goes directly up the face, just left of the main pillar.

Procrastination isn’t usually my thing, but it’s been a rough first half of the year on a couple different fronts and I haven’t been too stoked to finish the story. Here it is though – the final chapter, and the conclusion of one of the defining adventures of my life. I’ll move it to the “Stories” tab in a few weeks, but you can find the earlier chapters there now if you haven’t read them already.

Loren traversing on the first roped pitch.

Loren traversing on the first roped pitch.

0740 on August 26, 2008

A faint shout reached my ears, but the words were torn away by the gusting wind. I looked down, my eyes following the gentle arc of the rope to where my partner was climbing almost sixty meters below me. We had been simul-climbing the moderately technical rock face to save time and stay warm, but now I could faintly make out the word “belay” as he continued moving towards me. I shrugged. The terrain ahead didn’t seem difficult enough to merit the safety of belayed climbing, but Loren was more experienced and maybe he knew something I didn’t.

I placed two solid cams in a hand-sized crack to my right and used a pair of clove hitches on our twin climbing ropes to anchor myself safely to the wall. Loren seemed to be almost running up the pitch, and it was all I could do to keep up with him as I pulled the slack rope through my belay device. He reached me just a couple minutes later, breathing hard.

“Give me the gear,” he said in a flat voice between breaths.

I started to unclip the remaining pieces of protection from my gear loops, handing them over to him one at a time as he arranged the nuts and cams on his harness.

“Are we belaying from here?” I asked. “It doesn’t look that hard for the next bit.”

Loren didn’t look up. “You’re moving too fucking slow, Bambi,” he said as he continued clipping gear around his waist. “I want to get up and off this thing before a storm rolls in. Slings?”

I ducked my head and pulled the tangle of slings off my shoulder without saying a word. I was embarrassed, furious, and surprised. I thought that I had been moving quickly and confidently, running it out between pieces as much as I dared and placing just enough gear to keep us from going to the ground in the event of a fall. I kept my mouth shut and focused on rearranging the anchor to account for an upward pull if Loren peeled off the rock above me.

Following Loren's lead two pitches below the ridge.

Following Loren’s lead two pitches below the ridge.

“You’re on belay,” I said through clenched teeth as he looked at me. I huddled into the rock as he moved swiftly up the blocky terrain above us. The sun’s rays had not yet kissed the wind-blown north wall, and I couldn’t feel my feet anymore.

1035

“Ok, climb!” came the shout from the ridge forty meters above me. I couldn’t see Loren, but I was eager to get off this shadowy face and into the warmth of the sunlight. I disassembled the anchor with numb fingers and made a few tentative moves upwards. After a moment’s pause, the two ropes snapped tight against my harness, and I knew my partner was paying attention. I jammed bloodied fists into the wide crack above me and worked my feet upwards, hating the weight of my pack and craving a hot drink.

1120

We stood together on the tiny summit block, arms thrown around each other’s shoulders. The sun had disappeared behind clouds that had materialized seemingly out of nowhere, but at least the wind had died. I was filled with a contentment unlike any I had ever experienced, and I felt closer to Loren at that moment than I had ever felt with anyone else in my life. Thoughts of the descent lingered at the edge of my mind, but I was determined to be fully present in the moment at hand. I looked over at my partner.

On the summit block of Granite Peak after a seven hour ascent of the Chadwick-Bowman.

On the summit block of Granite Peak after a seven hour ascent of the Chadwick-Bowman.

A final summit shot before starting the descent.

A final summit shot before starting the descent.

“We did pretty good, huh?”

Loren grinned. “Yeah, Bambi, that wasn’t too bad. Still gotta get down, but I’ve done the east ridge descent before and it’s not hard.”

I nodded, feeling physically drained but emotionally charged. I gazed out at the view of mountains and glaciers for a minute before glancing over at him once more.

“Again sometime? And soon?”

He looked back at me for a moment before a slow smile spread across his face.

“Yeah. Yeah, I think we could do that.”

Worth Dying For

Loren simul-soloing on one of the purest alpine climbs I've ever done. We went light, fast, and with a minimum of technology; we truly met the mountain.

Loren simul-soloing on one of the purest alpine climbs I have ever done. We went light, fast, and with a minimum of technology; we truly met the mountain.

I have been called a purist, old-fashioned, and an idealist. Those terms I usually take as a complement if I have any respect at all for the person labeling me. I have also been told that I am stuck in the past, hindering the progress of our sport, and afraid of change. The first is true, the second debatable depending on your definition of our sport, and the third patently false. I have never put a drill bit to rock, and I know for a fact I never will. I usually wear that distinction among my peers quietly, but always with pride.

Mark Twight once wrote an essay about bolting entitled “Barbarians at the Gate.” I first saw it nine years ago, and the proud, angry words resonated strongly with my impressionable young mind. Some primitive, righteous entity was birthed inside me as I worked my way through his discourse, and I felt the nervous thrill of encountering some great pearl of truth. Having not lived the words the way Twight had, I couldn’t grasp the full weight of what he wrote, but the concepts fit together with my desired evolved self like a puzzle piece. I have read it scores of times since, and the idealistic phrases and uncompromising lines are now permanently imprinted on my heart.

Perhaps that obsession with his words is why I now find myself unable to write anything worth reading on the same subject. Anything I pen either sounds like plagiarism or weakness; I’ve torn up or erased several attempts over the last three months. Quitting is not my usual modus operandi, but I am of the opinion that Twight’s words were complete, lacking nothing. Since I’m not interested in producing an inferior product solely for the sake of autonomy, I have posted a link below to his original piece. If you read it carefully, you will understand – although perhaps not agree with – my title for this post.

“Barbarians at the Gate” – by Mark Twight

As a final note…I was texting my brother yesterday, telling him what I had decided to do with this piece. I remarked that Twight had said everything there was to say on the subject of bolting ethics, and in my opinion he had said it perfectly. Matt’s response was thought-provoking:

“…[John] Muir said it all. Twight only needed to say anything because people forgot Muir…you didn’t need climbers to talk about climbing ethics at all until climbers forgot to appreciate the mountains and just treated them as a big gym for their personal use.”

Truer words were never spoken.

 

Credo

On Friday morning, I’ll board a plane headed for Europe where I am meeting three Polish climbers for two weeks of ice and alpine climbing in Switzerland. Packing and prepping for the trip has left me with little time or mental energy to write a quality, original piece, so I thought I’d re-post this entry from June 17, 2014 (originally written in my journal about a month earlier). It’s a bit wordy; an open bottle of Jack Daniels was keeping me company as I wrote. At the time, however, it accurately and completely summarized my heart toward climbing. Nine months and a thousand life-changing experiences later, the words still ring true.

Krzysztof and I ice climbing in the Slovakian Tatras eight years ago on my first climbing trip overseas. It will be sweet indeed to rope up with him again!

Krzysztof and I in the Slovakian Tatras eight years ago on my first climbing trip overseas.

I fully intended to try to puzzle on paper about climbing grades and ratings, better climbers, harder routes, and my strange and somewhat disgusting, immature loathing of every climber who is better, faster, stronger, or gifted with more opportunity than me. But now that I sit here with time, privacy, and plenty of blank paper, the puzzle pieces no longer seem to fit together with the same ease they did just hours earlier.

If history is any indication, even the hardest, most cutting-edge routes of today will eventually become tomorrow’s warm-up climbs, beaten into submission with superior fitness, techniques, tactics, or technological advantage. In one way, this strikes me as sad – depressing even, in a nostalgic sense. Of course, I recognize this as an inevitability in such a rapidly-evolving sport. It also certainly has its advantages; cams, modern ice tools and crampons, and woven nylon ropes have been integral and essential components in some of the experiences of my greatest joy and self-discovery.

If, however, once accepts the unstoppable consequences of such rapid evolution as fact, then the logical progression of thought journeys down a somewhat fatalistic highway until one arrives at the conclusion that climbing can only ever be fully enjoyed when viewed and truly accepted as the following:

  • An anarchical endeavor, where no man has the right to impose laws, boundaries, or ethics on another so long as the first does not engage in behavior that would hinder, impede, or in any way be detrimental to the experience of those who will come after him.
  • A purely selfish pursuit, where the sole purpose is self-satisfaction and personal evolution. Sadly, a spirit of competition and egotism, so intrinsic to human beings, can be justified under this point. Such petty emotions do have their place in accelerating progress and standards; the purist, however, is able to (largely) overcome or at least circumvent these childish notions with a proper sense of perspective.
  • A pastime that is really no better or worse than any other, except in the hearts and souls of those who hear and answer the siren’s call, knowing that only the vertical realm holds the antidote to the poison of this horizontal landscape in which we live.

To a non-climber, or maybe (probably) to everyone except a very tiny minority, the words above represent nothing more than a cryptic waste of ink. Meaningless drivel about a selfish, dangerous past-time. To me though, those words are the heartbeat pounding in my chest, my very soul and the credo by which I strive to exist. It doesn’t fucking matter that most people will never truly understand it; in some ways, it makes it so much better.

Your Greatest Responsibility

This composition has a similar heartbeat to one I posted recently titled “The Fight Of Your Life.” There is a good reason for that, as this post was never supposed to make it onto my blog. I wrote “Your Greatest Responsibility” at the request of a fellow climber named Chris for his excellent blog Fringe’s Folly. If you haven’t checked out his work before, you should; Chris has been published in many climbing publications including Alpinist, Rock and Ice, Ascent, and Climbing Magazine. Quite honestly, he is a much better and more experienced writer and editor than I am. In the end, however, I was unwilling to make certain changes to the piece to make it mesh with the vibe and intent of his blog. I just couldn’t attach my name to something that I didn’t believe sounded like my voice. Personally, I am thrilled with the way it turned out, and the writing and editing process sparked a lot of introspection and personal growth. Enjoy!

Happiness. It’s an elusive concept that serves as the driving motivation for the majority of our daily decisions. This sought-after state of being can be infuriatingly difficult to attain, yet once within grasp, so easy to lose. I wrote once that that happiness really is an inside job, and that in many ways it is a person’s chief responsibility to themselves. I believe those words now even more than when I wrote them, so I thought that writing an expansion of that phrase would be simple. Frankly, I’ve never wrestled with a topic so much as I have on this piece. Writing this has challenged and deepened some foundational concepts in my life, and I’m grateful for the experience. I hope these words will have a similar effect on some of you.

My first technical alpine climb was a two-day blitz in the Beartooth Mountains of Montana with Loren Rausch: the Chadwick-Bowman Route on the north face of Granite Peak.

My first technical alpine climb was a two-day blitz in the Beartooth Mountains of Montana with Loren Rausch: the Chadwick-Bowman Route on the north face of Granite Peak.

I’m an alpinist, and my love of high places and hard, cold routes runs deep. Seven years ago, I laid down my ice tools to pursue a romantic relationship and run a time-intensive business. When I did that, one of the most central components of who I am shriveled and died. I was told I was doing the responsible thing by adhering to the formula that is commonly held up as the societal ideal: go to school, throw yourself into a career, get married, buy a house in the burbs, have kids, go to Disneyland, and retire at sixty-five. There’s nothing innately wrong with any of those things. For many of you, a rewarding career, marriage to your soul mate, and a family of your own will be celebrated milestones on your road to personal fulfillment.  I started down that path too, but with each halting step I doubted more and more the validity of the public opinion that I needed to grow up and stop chasing the one thing that had ever made me truly happy.

Still, my progress on the road to maturity was being met with approval, so I tried what was essentially replacement therapy. I filled the gaping void in my heart with work, friendships, and love, pouring myself out in an attempt to simultaneously excel at something and distract myself from the mountains. Predictably, it all failed. My marriage began to unravel after barely two years, as unrealistic expectations for ourselves and each other eroded what little foundation we had. She walked out two days after Thanksgiving 2013 and never came back. Friendships were the next to go, as I realized that the vast majority of people that I associated with didn’t even know the real me. They knew well-dressed Jimmy, the guy who was making big strides in business and always had his shit together. When my facade crumbled and it became clear that we had nothing left in common, there was no reason for either them or me to maintain a pretense of interest.

I spent the first few lonely weeks of 2014 in a dark place. My ritual of coming home from work, scribbling depressed thoughts in a leather-bound journal, and drinking whiskey until I passed out continued unbroken until I got a call from my brother at the end of January. I had sent him a message to let him know the divorce paperwork had been finished and filed, and he was calling to offer a plane ticket to come visit him and his fiancé in Washington. A weekend on the coast sounded more appealing than one spent answering questions and dodging criticism in Minneapolis, so I packed a bag and flew out a few days later.

I want to tell you about what happened in Washington that weekend. Matt and I drank, talked, and commiserated our way through the first night; he had been divorced a few years earlier, so he knew what I was going through. The next morning, the two of us headed up into the Olympic Mountains to climb Middle Peak. The route wasn’t difficult – snowy fourth class at the hardest point – and the whole thing only took us six hours car to car. But during those few brief moments when the wind was gusting on the ridge, the holds were sketchy and insecure, the exposure was enough to make me test every foot and hand placement before committing to it…in those moments, I found my happiness again. I remembered and rediscovered the only pursuit that has ever given me a genuine and lasting feeling of peace and fulfillment. As soon as I got home, I pulled my ice tools and crampons out of the plastic bin in the closet and began to sharpen the dulled points, vowing with each rasping stroke of the file to never again suppress that most important part of who I am.

Back in the mountains! On the gusty summit of Middle Peak.

Back in the mountains! On the gusty summit of Middle Peak in the Olympic Mountains.

My version of happiness doesn’t require a large bank account balance, a big house, or a long list of things. I am still paying off debt accumulated in my divorce, and all of my material possessions fit comfortably in my tiny car or the equally diminutive bedroom I rent from a climbing buddy. Happiness for me is also not necessarily synonymous with comfort or security. Being cold, terrified, and exhausted on an alpine route is often just part of the game. What is it about climbing then, you ask, that brings me such joy?

I have seen early morning alpenglow transform cold, austere granite walls into fiery canvases that no photo could ever capture. I’ve been so overjoyed to feel the kiss of the first rays of sunlight on my shivering body that I could have cried. I have felt the joy of discovery as my partner and I became the first humans to ascend a new route, and I’ve worked my crampon-clad feet up vertical, icy tendrils in mountainous settings so beautiful that I felt as though we were trespassing in the realm of the gods. I have put my life completely in the care of my climbing partner, and I’ve watched him reciprocate that trust until the relationship became something more akin to love than simple partnership. Because of these experiences and a thousand more, I turn again and again to climbing to find happiness and peace.

blah blah blah

Finding peace on the stellar M7 Off Road in Casket Quarry, Duluth.

Happiness is a journey, not a destination. Your journey will differ greatly from mine; that’s the beautiful and fascinating thing about our uniqueness and individuality. What satisfies the deepest longings of my soul would make some of you shudder, and vice versa. The thing we have in common is our shared responsibility to work on that inside job. If you haven’t already, I beg you – search and question until you find what makes you truly happy and fulfilled; chase it down; and never, ever let it go.

Stripping Away the Bullshit

There’s a pervasive and patently false philosophy out there among climbers of every discipline. I hear it whether I am crimping plastic, stacking pads, smashing ice, plugging gear, or clipping bolts. It’s talked about inside and outside, on short roadside choss heaps and on long alpine routes in the mountains. If you climb long enough and listen closely enough, you’ll catch some version of it from the young and old, male and female, newbies with shiny gear and crusty old veterans sporting tattered harnesses and straight-shafted ice tools. And if you’re not careful, you’ll start to believe it. It’s the belief that the best way to become the best climber you can be is simply to climb more. Advocates of this mentality decry the use of free weights and running shoes, scorning those who frequent a gym and staunchly maintaining that training for climbing by any other means than climbing is a waste of time.

A lot of people call that mindset practical, efficient, or even progressive; I call it bullshit.

Before you start looking for rocks to throw and sending me links to the websites of famous climbers who avoid gyms like the plague, hear me out. I’ll concede the point that logging a lot of hours in a harness over consecutive days, weeks, months, and seasons is likely going to result in dramatic improvements in climbing ability. You’ll learn how to move properly, you’ll build and enhance sport-specific muscle groups, and you’ll become much more comfortable in the vertical realm. I will also agree that having six pack abs or the ability to crank out thirty consecutive pull-ups doesn’t mean you’ll be a natural on the rock. While a high degree of all-around fitness generally gives beginners an edge, I’ve take muscle-bound gym junkies out for their first ride on a top rope and watched them tire themselves out in the first twenty meters. Meanwhile, the timid, scrawny girl on the next rope over sends her first route with half the effort because she’s willing to listen and apply technique and proper footwork.

However, I’m not writing this for beginners or climbers who are happy as long as they are climbing one grade harder than the masses. This diatribe isn’t intended to motivate the weekend warriors lapping familiar routes at the local crag, or those lucky individuals who are truly satisfied to climb just for fun. I am penning these words for those who climb as a means of personal evolution. There are a few of us who really don’t care what anyone else is doing unless it further illuminates the corridor of our own potential. We seek to compete with ourselves, and for those looking to maximize their personal potential, simply getting in more laps at the local crag will eventually result in a plateauing of your progression.

In a recent conversation, my brother cited elite athletes such as Ueli Steck and Steve House to point out that using weights, resistance training, and other implements and techniques originating in the gym to train for hard climbs has recently become the trend. My opinion and response to him was that it has always been the trend amongst those looking to see just how close to the line of personal perfection they could tread.

Messner carefully observed and recorded his times as he all but ran up steep hills with heavily loaded packs to train for his Himalayan climbs. Twight used free weights and the Stairmaster to make himself as indestructible as possible when he was climbing hard new alpine routes all over the world. Bachar actually invented a fitness device – the Bachar Ladder – to push the limits of his free solo rock climbing.

You don't need expensive equipment or a fancy facility to get strong; throwing figure 4's and 9's on holes drilled into a ceiling beam is a good way to get build strength for dry tooling and mixed routes.

You don’t need expensive equipment or a fancy facility to get strong; throwing figure 4’s and 9’s on holes drilled into a ceiling beam is a good way to get build strength for dry tooling and mixed routes.

The benefits of non-climbing training for climbing are of course partially physical. Increase core strength and your power-to-weight ratio and you’ll go faster in the mountains for longer and have a shorter recovery time after the ascent. You’ll also decrease the time spent exposed to objective hazards like rockfall and avalanches, and therefore lower the odds of coming home in a body bag. Not an alpinist? Those same improvements will result in a greater number of daily burns on your sport climbing or bouldering project, and of course the same bit about shorter recovery time applies. Climbing also tends to stress and strengthen very specific muscle groups; if you do a lot of climbing and don’t find a way to work the other muscles and tendons, you will typically be much more susceptible to injury.

Personally though, I think the greatest benefit of cross training is mental. Day after day of early morning runs while the rest of the world hits snooze and rolls over…workout stacked upon workout of planks, curls, pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, deadlifts, squats, leg lifts, and finger-boarding…hour after hour of sweat rolling down your face and soaking your shirt. All of these things combine to build a massive reserve of psychological strength rooted firmly on the knowledge that your lifestyle of discipline has rooted out any mental weakness – weakness that could otherwise sabotage your attempts at the route you now stand looking up at.

The philosophy isn’t new, but I believe the world we live in is softer and lazier than the world even thirty years ago. For all our increases in the technology of our gear, we have gone backwards in the measure of our discipline. By simple generational inclusion, I’m as guilty as the rest, but I am willing to do something about it.

Are you?

Training

I have found it beneficial to take some time off training after a big climbing trip – if you climbed hard, your body is probably beat to shit. The trick is taking off enough time that you’re jonesin’ to start cranking pullups and punishing the resistance bike again, but not so much that you start to get mentally and physically soft. I don’t think there’s any formula to figure it out; I just sit on my ass and get fat until I can’t stand it anymore. After this last trip to Montana, seven days of drinking beer, watching old Mighty Boosh episodes, and eating unnecessary amounts of fattening food was enough to start the craving for discipline again.

Whether it’s a training day, a rest day, or a climbing day, every morning begins the same way: a shrieking alarm at 0455 and a reluctant roll out of bed to start the daily 100/100/100. The numbers denote 100 pushups, 100 pullups, and 100 situps. Method is irrelevant; some days I do 10 sets of 10, and other days I’ll start with 15 of each exercise and do a decreasing pyramid count until I clear 100. I can’t claim originality on the concept – I stumbled on the idea reading another climber’s blog post, and he said that the daily 100/100/100 regimen (beyond his regular training schedule) had greatly increased both his climbing endurance and ability. I’ve only been adhering to the routine for about 3 months, and there’s already an appreciable increase in my fitness.

Because I currently work a 9-5, I do the bulk of my training in the evening when I get home. I converted my apartment into a little training gym with the following equipment:

  • Schwinn Airdyne resistance bike
  • Plyometrics box (adjustable from 14-22″)
  • 2x 30# kettle bells
  • 2x 20# dumbbells
  • 2x 35# dumbbells
  • 3x fingerboards (2 Metolius Simulators and 1 BeastMaker 2000)
  • 1x exercise ball

It’s pretty minimalist, but it’s everything I need for my current training plan. That’s one of the great things about body-weight exercises – you don’t need a fancy gym (and all of the accompanying drama, ego, expense, and spandex). If you’re pursuing a high level of functional fitness specifically for climbing, most of the machines and weights at your local over-priced facility are good for looking pretty and collecting dust.

After six years on the sidelines, I’ve been whipping my ass back into climbing shape with a combination of circuit training and low-impact cardio workouts. I won’t bore you with my calendar of which days are what workouts; that’s dictated by my physiology, recovery rate, and current fitness level so it wouldn’t be applicable to another person anyway. However, I think the circuits themselves are fairly well-designed to meet the goal of increasing climbing fitness and endurance.

Circuit 1:

  • 20x pushups
  • 2x French pullups
  • 10x box jumps @ 22″, unweighted
  • 15x pushups
  • 10x goblet squats w/ 30# kettle bell
  • 15 sec. L-hang on 2-finger pockets
  • 10x lunges, unweighted
  • 25x situps
  • 10x bicep curls w/ 35# dumbbells
  • 10x V-sit/full extensions w/ exercise ball

Circuit 2:

  • 3x French pullups (any holds)
  • 8x V-sit/full extensions w/ exercise ball
  • 20x pushups
  • 30 sec. L-hang on 2-finger pockets
  • 50x flutter kicks
  • 3x man-makers w/ 20# dumbbells
  • 5x V-sit/full extensions w/ exercise ball
  • 2x French pullups (any holds)
  • 20x situps
  • 10x pushups
  • 15 sec. L-hang on sloper holds
  • 8x bicep curls w/ 35# dumbbells

A typical training session is a combination of 4-7 circuits and a 10-minute fingerboard session. I also integrate a variety of sprints and long-distance rides on the resistance bike for cardiovascular fitness; if you’ve never been on an Airdyne till you puked, you don’t know what you’re missing! In my opinion, that (torture) machine is the best low-impact cardio workout you can get. For a reference point, try for the following distances/times:

  • 1 mile sprints in 2:30 (between each circuit)
  • 5 miles in 15 minutes (pre or post circuit training)

There are Airdyne fanatics out there that can absolutely crush those times, but I have found those benchmarks to be indicative of a solid level of fitness for alpine climbing. Again, the goal is functionality. Bragging rights and six-pack abs are just for fun. Now get off your ass and go train.

Supernova

1840 on June 13, 2014 

“I don’t care about what I climb, only how it affects me. Success merely punctuates the experience.” – Mark Twight

If that isn’t a perfect summary of my heart towards alpinism, then I don’t know how to improve it. Those words – and that desire to be so purist in my motives – cries out to me, screams for my attention, and loudly proclaims the truth and validity of such lofty ideals. I read those two sentences and I hate myself for not being that strong. How easy and continually tempting it is to climb with and for lesser reasons and motivations! Someday I will be that strong…

I will continue to cut and burn away those parts of me – and everyone and everything around me – that drag me from the pursuit of my ideal self. Not a look or visible image; nothing so fleeting or banal. No, the “me” I so earnestly strive for can be barely glimpsed in the physical. Alpinism and training for it will be my fire, my furnace where I will melt away all that is weak and shameful and emerge time after time an evolved and purified man. Introspection, discipline, and honesty with myself will be my only ways. I will not hold onto that which gives me pleasure but detracts from progress.

This is war.

The strong survive and watch with pitiless eyes as the weak perish. Personally, I don’t give a fuck if I live or die. Dying just means I was playing the game on and with the edge, and the edge won. At least I was a participant. Living means the cycle can continue; evolution can continue internally and externally. Pain, shit, and blood will drive and lubricate the gears of the machine called life. There is no great personal gain or loss either way; why be so arrogant to presume that my flickering life-light really represents any significant social consequence?

My responsibility is to flare up and burn brightly while I remain on this ugly ball of mud – but for me, not for anyone else. And when it’s time to snuff that light out, I hope I’m fully cognizant and aware of every last second. I hope it hurts. And I fucking hope I go supernova.

The knife

Perhaps the rawest of the past entries that I’ll post; there were some long nights filled with a lot of cynicism and introspection. There’s worse (or better, depending on your viewpoint), but those get a little too personal to put up here. 

1930 on May 9, 2014 

Ha…my most cynical “ha.” So much for the bold words of this morning, predicting my triumphant, terrible wrath and resulting victory in the arena of exercise and training, no matter the pain or potential adversity. A bouldering session so short and weak so as to not even be worthy of the title was not what I boldly predicted would occupy my time tonight. To be honest though, today I really don’t give a fuck. After following up months (years really) or shitty eating, false starts, and revolting laziness with a week of discipline and real training, my body is feeling beat to shit. It’s a good feeling…but it was also undeniably clear that a rest day was needed, mentally and physically.

So now a Surly Hell while I sit and write. Also on the to-do list for the night: pack for climbing tomorrow morning (5am departure) and drink with Nathan. Pretty chill night…

I finally looked up some of Twight’s recommended punk/post-punk playlist today at work. I truly almost laughed; I was expecting much more anger and intensity from his descriptions. Another myth in my mind shattered for the better…it may have done the job for you, Mark, but I will will take the drive and intensity of Disturbed or Avenged Sevenfold any day of the week. To each his own, and I suppose that at some level, music, like high-level alpinism, is anarchy anyway. So fuck it all. Ha, and here I was thinking that by neglecting to adopt someone else’s unique taste in music, I was holding back my climbing and personal development at some level. “No chalk? I’ll smear their fucking routes with jelly if I want to…”

30 Seconds To Mars’ “From Yesterday” plays loudly in my ears, over and over. “On a mountain he sits, not of gold but of shit.” Yeah, that about sums up life here in Minnesota. I should never have come back…and when I finally leave again, I’ll never return to this state. A failed marriage and broken promises to hundreds haunt me, stalk me while I sleep, torment my dreams. I see what could have been with Kristi, and I both loathe it and long for it. Thoughts and memories, both good and bad, come rushing through the floodgates if I relax the stranglehold on my emotions for even a second.

For all my talk and blustering about my willingness to use the knife to cut away obstacles between me and climbing, I still miss and hurt and grieve. God, it hurts like hell sometimes, when will the bleeding stop? The morphine of adrenaline, sex, or alcohol could never be enough to heal, just mask. At the end of the day, it still fucking hurts.

But isn’t it supposed to? Isn’t pain and suffering and scarring intrinsic to the use of the knife? Only one question remains then: was it worth it? Were the cuts worth the pain? Do the results justify the costs of the operation? My answer would shock some, alienate others, and convince still others that I am living in a state of denial…but yes, it was worth it. The shit and blood and pain was worth it all. If I die on my next climb, it was worth it all, for I died living out my ideal.

Not the popular or accepted viewpoint in the circles I was running in over the last six years; I get that. I also don’t give a shit.

With my freedom now comes the heavy weight of my responsibility to personal evolution, I understand and accept that. My life will be filled with more self-induced pain than I can currently imagine if I am going to approach the limits of my potential…it’s going to hurt, badly. But it has got to be better than living a lie of happiness, stuck inside a life away from the only thing I really love – the one thing that makes me feel truly alive.

To my brother

I really hesitated posting this for public viewing for a couple of reasons. It’s not written in the best style; I had a lot on my mind that night and it could be rewritten so much better. It’s extremely vulnerable, and reading it touches nerves in places I’ve worked hard to wall off. I also never planned on making any of this public when I wrote that last paragraph. However, it provides an accurate (if somewhat abbreviated) snapshot and timeline of the last eight years, as well as a glimpse at my daily training as I started to gain strength again after so many years on the sidelines.

1723 on May 8, 2014

Another note on the futility and senselessness of letting ego get involved with climbing in regards to comparisons and inferiority complexes based on route grades. At least in hard alpine climbing, route grades are, at best, general indicators of the first ascentionist’s experience. Climbs in the mountains are so susceptible to changing conditions by the very nature of being alpine routes; one party could report 300 meters of straightforward 5.10 rock climbing, while two weeks later, a party on the same route could encounter verglass-coated M7 and WI5 under cloudy skies and high winds…obviously they would experience a radically different climb.

It all comes back to the fact that, in order to find true satisfaction and contentment in the alpine realm, an alpinist must turn his gaze fully inward…not to be ignorant of evolving standards and the progress of the sport as a whole, but to ensure that the process remains purely for the purposes of personal growth, evolution, and joy. Only then can true peace be attained.

Enough waxing eloquent about abstract conceptual bullshit; here are facts:

CARDIO: 10 miles resistance bike 32:49

CIRCUITS x3:

  • 15x pushups
  • 1 French pullup
  • 5x box steps w/ 30# each arm
  • 15x pushups
  • 8x 30# goblet squats
  • 15 second L-hang, any holds
  • 10x lunges
  • 75x flutter kicks
  • 8x curls each arm w/ 35# dumbbells

STRETCHING: full body

And so the streak of winning or surviving (depends on your perspective and your definition of each of those words; “living” and/or “existing” could probably also be substituted or added) continues, much to the chagrin of that pathetic, weak little bastard part of me that tried to get me to skip my workout and go piss away money watching a movie. Motherfucking asshole…I showed him.

Tomorrow will be even better and more productive: 100/100/100 in the morning, climbing at Vertical Endeavors after work, and then a run after climbing to close out the day. If I’m lucky, the shitty forecast is wrong (currently calling for rain, rain, and more rain) and I’ll get two days up at Taylor’s Falls (plus circuit training and cardio both days of course) before a rest day Monday. Then train hard Tuesday and Wednesday and fly out Thursday. Fuck yeah.

I am super stoked to finally be hopping on a serious route with my bro. We have been talking and dreaming of this since before he graduated high school. I’m not sure either of us truly believed it would ever happen…backpacking trips, sure, but I was dead-set on a career as a SEAL and Matt was climbing the ladder in the massive cluster-fuck of a system that is the Chicago city government. By the time I was out of the Navy and fixated on climbing everything I could see at Taylor’s Falls (sans ropes in the beginning), Matt was too out of shape and locked into a marriage and the accompanying compressive lifestyle to do much more than offer encouragement and financial help in obtaining gear…a rope, two Black Diamond Alpine Bod harnesses, and a handful of nuts and ‘biners. Actually, this latter contribution likely saved my life, so its significance should not be at all underestimated.

I climbed that summer in Taylor’s Falls, as well as taking a trip to Montana where I met up with Skew (thank you rockclimbing.com). After meeting Krzysztof while bouldering in T.F. one August day, I moved to Montana for seven months to learn how to ice climb…all to take “Kris” up on his offer to climbing with him in the Tatras the next March. This I did, and after a brief two month stint back in Minnesota, I moved back to Bozeman for seven more months. That August, Loren and I climbed the North Face Direct Route on Granite Peak, the pinnacle of my climbing career at the time. God, it was amazing.

Only four months later, I lost my job and fled back home to Minnesota…partially to chase a girl I would end up marrying and then divorcing. But now I wonder if a part of me knew I was pushing too hard, too fast to survive my self-induced learning curve. I was soloing hard ice routes at a desperate pace, trying so hard to prove I was worthy of something. Through it all, my brother watched, encouraged, loved, and in some ways probably envied. But he always believed in me.

The next six years saw a flurry of activity very unlike the preceding twenty. Desperate to achieve in some venue and lacking the mountains I had abandoned, I centered my attention and efforts on Amway and Kristi. Ultimately, I failed at both…willingly at one of them. But while the full weight of my failure and its accompanying shame was crashing down on and around me, a curious thing happened. My brother packed up his life, said ‘bye to the city, and moved to the mountains. And he started to get strong.

Matt, if you’re reading this, I’m dead and gone. I suppose I should have had the guts to tell you more often while I was alive, but I love you…for so many reasons, many more than are listed in the paragraphs above. I hope we climbed a shit-ton of hard routes together. Hell, I hope you never get a chance to read this. But if you do…I love you, bro. Live long and climb the fuck on.

A good thing

This is one of a few selected “backdated posts” I’m going to post at the beginning of this blog…other than the correction of a few grammatical and spelling errors, I am posting them in their original format even though it’s very tempting to re-write or omit portions of them. I was deeply depressed when I wrote some of them, extremely angry during others, and slightly drunk while penning several of them. Enjoy.

April 29, 2014

“We are using physical effort as a means of self-discovery.” I think those words by Mark Twight (summing up the philosophy of Gym Jones) describe about 50% of my reason for climbing…the personal evolution and development that come through putting one’s self through the physical, mental, and emotional crucibles that are found in the complete package of alpinism. That’s why my psyche immediately bristled when I read on [a respected climber’s] blog that “the whole point of climbing is to stand on top of the mountain.” Really? The hell it is…

The value in these mad, meaningless heaps of rock, snow, and ice is not found in their physical apex – reaching the summit is merely an indication that the really valuable part of the climb is over. Exception to this rule in two radically different cases:

1) When the descent is an unknown, and will be an equal or greater challenge than the climb itself.

2) That the climber made reaching the summit the principle goal of the climb and therefore took the easiest route there, requiring little or none of the transformative experience for which I go to the mountains.

No, the value of these great massifs is found in the process, in the struggle…and in how it changes a man willing to undertake the fight. This is why the common alpinist (if there is such a thing) is no better or worse than any other athlete who continually crucifies themselves with and upon their torture device of choice in the pursuit of personal and spiritual development. We are all of us pitiful beings, so weak and frail in the face of such huge, uncaring masses of stone and ice…and yet in some small way we are beautiful to dash our tiny selves against such obstacles in so futile but noble a pursuit.

Does climbing make me better? Maybe not directly. But it changes me, makes me different. It helps me fight stagnation and sameness, and this cannot be considered anything but a good thing.