Snow

It’s frozen water and air. There is a clarity that comes from all simple things. In the waxing complexity of my life, the simple things speak the loudest.

St Mary's road bitterroot, mt

Another good season begins.

Last weekend, Martin and I opened our the ski seasons on St. Mary’s (in the Bitterroot). Our bodies quickly remembered the easy rhythm of pushing skis uphill. Step, breath, step, breath. The closest common feeling is sitting in church. It’s a meditation. Quiet snow under foot, the smell of deep evergreen freezing deep in our nostrils. Perfect. Simple.

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avalanche pit, st. marys bitterroot, 11-23-14

Nov. 23, 2014 Avalanche pit. South aspect at 8000′ on St. Marys ridge. Numerous weak layers between 60-90cm from surface.

It is tempting to get caught in the drama of this world. The simple things cut it away.

For so long, I’ve defined myself by what I do. I have to change the way I think about myself in relation to the way I think about what I do to pay the bills. Some of the most put together people I have ever met have been unemployed or underemployed. I fear for them- and I know that my fear does nothing for them. In light of how I let my job both define me and consume me, their grace in that particular regard has always impressed me.

I should be grateful for having a job- but a lot of days I dread going to work because I feel like there is no way to win. There is no way for me to find peace with my career. There will always been more work than I can do. I will never ask the right questions, do the right things, or plan far enough ahead. I let the mistakes I make eat me alive, or at the very least, they crush my morale. You know all those quotes about all the great innovators failing a lot before they struck it big? I’m starting to wonder if I’ve got the guts for that. More often than not, my career has always been this evil nemesis in my life. I’ve never been able to master it, or even balance it. I’ve missed bluebird days, real friends in places of real need, and probably a relationship or two because I was more dedicated to my desk than my heart. Yet, paying the bills and “being a responsible adult” (e.g. saving for retirement,  compiling “professional experience”, etc.) can seemingly only be avoided for so long. There’s a balance there, and I’ve never even gotten close.

Seen at Costco.

Seen at Costco.

I spent most of this weekend stressed out and worried about how to make a major mistake at work come out right. I’m embarrassed to say that I also spent most of this weekend with 20 totally wonderful people that I feel deeply connected to. People that inspire the best in me. What did I accomplish in my worrying? Not much. What did I miss out on? Probably more than I will ever know.

Thanksgiving feast

So much to be thankful for- and this was less than half of it.. Don’t miss a morsel..

It is easy to think we have it hard, but the real fact is that most of the junk we deal with at the office is contrived. I know that it starts with me. It starts with remembering that I am not my work. That there is more to all of us than how we pay our bills. Indeed for most of us, the everything else is often the part that matters the most.

friends, sky, landscape, montana

These men matter.

I’ve said it before- the only real limits are the ones we create in our own minds. This time around- the only real problems are the ones we make in our own minds. Don’t let anyone, or anything, live inside your head for free.

No-Vember

(This post is about activism. First and foremost, please vote on Tuesday- it is the most important and functional form of activism. I really don’t care how you vote, just make sure you do it.)

The crisp air smelled of sage and yellow like the larches that rolled past the windshield of the work truck. I had spent the day working with a new employee, and the 3 hours in the car together left ample time for a deeply meaningful conversation that spanned religion, environmentalism, social justice, and fatherhood. One more sign that we are not your average construction company.

Something worth standing for.

Something worth standing for.

I joked about a stop at the local brewery on our way home, and Sam* politely offered to join me, but that he didn’t drink. We didn’t stop. After years of alcoholism, he’s been sober for a year and loving it. He pointed out that alcohol in America is a tragically powerful, chronically unrecognized drug that our culture is disturbingly casual about. I couldn’t agree more.

Thursday I posted a link on Facebook about Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly acknowledging his sexual orientation- a move that I applaud and that supports our cultural evolution away from institutionalized bigotry. One line in his statement stood out in particular though – “I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifices of others.” In the age of the “self-made millionaire” it’s unfortunately rare to hear one of the titans of business acknowledge the unknowable and invaluable contributions of others to their success. We all, even the titans, need each other. Secondly, he recognizes that we have a cultural aversion to activism.

The greatest blow our culture has suffered from the conservative movement is that activism has become a dirty word. That Mr. Cook’s statement has been heralded (even as I herald it) as admirable belies an assumption about speaking out. That making our most authentic and passionate desires known is an act of boldness, rather than an act of normalcy, is sad to me. We all have things that mean something to us. Our actions will always stand for something. In the pursuit of living fully, the greatest tragedy might be that we might let our lives slip away without being honest about what we stand for.

Sam’s commitment to sobriety reminded me of a commitment I made last year. No-booze No-vember. Some people prefer to celebrate “Movember” by growing mustaches, but I’ll re-up my commitment this year to stand for something a little bigger. I’m all for moderation. I also regularly enjoy good craft beer or locally produced wine. Alcohol warrants serious respect and taking a month off of drinking seems like a fitting way to check the casual cultural attitude that tends to prevail.

Join me. Or not, but think about what you stand for, and don’t be quiet about it. Our lives are too amazing not to stand for something.

*name changed out of respect for privacy.

Canyon Peak, Bitterroot, USA

This isn’t a post about philosophy, politics, or even really pushing the limit of anything. It’s about climbing and autumn. No question about it- fall is my favorite season. A few months ago I went on a lovely walk with some technical gear and got surprised by how far back our goal was. While we didn’t summit, we had a beautiful day out, and I got fully hooked for the objective.

The obvious right skyline beckons us. For another time.

The obvious right skyline beckons us. For another time.

I knew this would be one of the last weekends to tick Canyon Peak, and suspected the colors would be pretty spectacular too. Based on what we found, I was right on both counts.

Mr. Smithicus charging off the start.

Mr. Smithicus charging off the start.

The approach is long, and somewhat steep for a single day adventure. Evan and I left the car in trail runners and jogged to the base of the steep hiking. We each carried layers, food, and a climbing harness. We took (7) nuts, (1) hex, (5) runners, (1) 30m dynamic rope, (1) 25m static line, and bail tat. Evan had approach shoes and tights, I chose proper rock shoes and no pants. Evan is a wiser man than me.

Canyon Peak basin in fall. Worth the hike.

Canyon Peak basin in fall. Worth the hike.

A leisurely start meant leaving the car at 11:15am- we made the lakes in 2 hours, refilled water, and made the col at 2:30p. The north ridge is obvious, but there isn’t really a clear line- I stayed back from the edge to mitigate issues with loose blocks. We stuck to the ridge and kept eyes out for rappel slings- the summitpost description is about as good as it gets. Class 4 might be fitting, but there are many variations – e.g. ways to make it harder on yourself.

On belay.

On belay.

Livin' the dream.

Livin’ the dream.

The rock had started its winter transition- frozen lichen, thin ice in cracks, and snow on most of the ledges made all of the climbing pretty “heads up.” If you caught this on a hot day in mid-summer, the climbing would be substantially easier. We found moves up to 5.7 on solid but dirty rock. We mostly simul-climbed, with a few belayed bits around hard moves for the leader. Wind, ice/snow, and my choice of running shorts as my only leg-wear made for cold climbing, but I couldn’t have been more stoked to be on the sharp end pulling the ridge. We made it to a small ledge just below the true summit plateau at 4:45pm and realized we had both gotten what we came for- it was time to head home without the true summit.

Calling it here. The wind was howling.

Calling it here. The wind was howling.

The rappels are perfectly set for a 60m rope, but we made due being 5m short. We were walking again at 5:45pm after 4 rappels and some downclimbing. We refilled water again at the lake, and dropped most of our elevation before dark. I was embarrassed to not find a headlamp in my bag, but I kept on Evan’s heels and we made the car just before 9pm. A full day out, with a perfect partner and weather. This is what fall is about.

Pink shoes, shorts, and 3 layers on top. Makin' a statement.

Pink shoes, Patagonia “technical softshell” shorts, and 3 layers on top. Makin’ a statement.

Liminal

One of my favorite writer/climbers uses this term to describe “the state of being in between.” For me, liminal describes the delicate line that exists between having fun and pushing myself through fear, or pain, or stress to have deeply transformative experiences. Liminal is the feeling of walking the perfect, terrifying line between hanging on and falling off- and it’s really surprisingly fun.

I wasn’t feeling like climbing that hard in Squamish. I just couldn’t seem to find the extra mental fortitude to get on climbs with harder numbers on them. This blog started with a mantra “Let go of the baggage, and get the feeling to stick,” but I’ve been carrying some baggage for most of this summer. Before we left Washington, Dustin ran me into the ground before dinner one night, but we couldn’t leave it behind. Long days of driving, and time with some of the most amazing people in my life hasn’t been able to lift it. I won’t make excuses, I need to make some corrections, but pretending it isn’t there doesn’t serve anything. Climbing though has it’s own way of stripping it all away like nothing else can. I knew I wouldn’t feel right if I left Squamish without walking the liminal line.

Squamish Buttress, Rock Climbing

First glance at the Buttress.

I spent 10 days in Squamish in 2010 and loved every minute of it, but at the end of a long day that June, I stood at the base of the crux pitch of “Squamish Buttress” (5.10c, 5 pitches) and handed over the lead to my friend Hans- only because I was scared to walk the line. This year, Ky drove up from Bellingham after work on Friday just as Dustin and Gaio had to head south again. We grabbed a few warm up pitches, and planned an epic Saturday.

Squamish, Rock On, Rock Climbing

Mr. Nayfield leads us up the start.

The Buttress is one of the last pitches on the way to the summit, so getting there means picking one of several other excellent routes to combine into a full day of climbing. One of the most vertical and direct preliminary routes is “Rock On” (5.10a, 5 pitches). All of the pitches are dead vertical, and the 50m pitch 4 crux features an exciting overhang on amazing jams. Frequently included as a top 100 route in Squamish, we had a very good time.

Working the pitch 4

Working the pitch 4 crux.

Squamish, Rock On, Rock Climbing

Rad overhanging corners on the lower route.

There is a magical thing in climbing, when you and your partner simply “click”. It’s kinda always felt that way with Ky, and the pitches flowed by, each more fun than the next. From the top of Rock On, we hiked through the trees and found the alternate 5.9 slab+arete start to the Buttress route. Ky led brilliantly while my butterflies started to flutter as we worked our way up to the crux.

Me, getting into the business (photo: Ky Nayfield).

Me, getting into the business (photo: Ky Nayfield).

We took a minute at the base. No one else was in line at the crux, and I needed to clear my head before I got down to business. The climbing is thin, cerebral, and sustained- you can’t just muscle it. I tightened my shoes and headed up. It’s hard from the get go, and just gets harder. Once I committed to the second half of the route, I was in it to win. I took my time thinking through each move and each piece of protection. When you are right on the line between falling off and flowing onwards, there is nothing else to think about. It is one of the most perfect feelings in life.

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Blue shirts, red helmets, and tan pants, I swear we didn’t plan it that way.

I did send the route cleanly, and was more than happy to put the old fears away. Ky and I made it back to Bellingham in ample time for dinner and rest before my long drive to Montana the next day. No doubt one of my best days climbing with one of my favorite partners on a perfect link-up of terrain. The clarity and stoke stuck in my system for days. It only happens when you are willing to step in the arena and try- when you walk the liminal line. Pick something hard and chase it- it’s worth it.

Until next time.

Until next time.

Disneyland

"Look mom...!"

“Look mom…!”

“This place is climbing Disneyland.” In his first few minutes, Dustin had perfectly identified a very important fact. I can think of no other place with amazing granite trad multipitch lines, easy cragging, and outstanding bouldering just 10 minutes walk from your tent. Your tent, which is pitched under a perfect canopy of large conifers, perched on a spectacular bluff overlooking Howe Sound. You eat dinner with an international cast of generally friendly, well-behaved climbers of every skill level, as well as a few kayakers, cycle tourists, and wing-suit flyers to boot. The stoke is typically through the roof, and if by chance someone happens to be on your route when you get to the base of it in the morning, they are more than likely psyched to either let you pass, or direct you to a similar or better route in the immediate vicinity. I do not spend enough time here.

The weather for the first few days of my trip had been less than ideal in Squamish, hence climbing in Mazama, and a quick stop to do some work on the Moon family cabin.

On  my vacation from construction work... (photo by Dustin)

On my vacation from construction work… (photo by Dustin)

I had always talked up trad climbing, and the wonders of granite cracks, but my many past adventures hadn’t taken that particular form. Being willing, available, and proximate, crack climbing 101 was suddenly inevitable. His lovely lady Gaio, had never been climbing outside and was even still willing after watching the entire “Wide Boys Crack School“, so north we went on a clearing Wednesday morning.

Garibaldy and the Chief welcome us.

Garibaldy and the Chief welcome us.

We started on some easy cracks at the ever beautiful Burgers and Fries area in the Smoke Bluffs. It took Dustin about 3 hours to get itch to lead (the hard scary part of climbing). He is one of the most natural athletes I’ve ever met, so I gave the rack and a few tips, and he clipped the anchors in short order. We were off to the races.

"What is this 'jamming' thing you speak of...?"

“What is this ‘jamming’ thing you speak of…?”

Clipping the chains on his first lead.

Clipping the chains on his first lead (photo by Gaio)

We spent day 2 cragging away from the crowds on the incredible Malamute. 10 minutes walk from camp, the 400′ cliff boasts a wide variety of amazing cracks- with no road noise, few other people, and spectacular views of the sea. Ideal.

"High Mountain Woody" (5.9 45m) - I could see why you might get one...

“High Mountain Woody” (5.9 45m) – I could see why you might get one…

'Paul's Crack' on the Malamute. Unbelievable.

‘Paul’s Crack’ on the Malamute. Unbelievable.

Getting the feel for leading past the funny things that are not bolts.

Getting the feel for leading past the funny things that are not bolts.

Like kids in Disneyland...

Like kids in Disneyland…

Dustin and Gaio were headed home for more work on the roof on Friday night, and I knew they needed to experience a multipitch line before they left. We accounted for being a team of 3 and our relative skill levels, picking our way through the forest to “Cream of White Mice” (II, 5.9, 4 pitches). It was the perfect outing- some finger cracks, a dyke, a nice 5.8 slab traverse and a tricky ending, with 4 rappels back to camp for a perfect outing. Disneyland sure is fun.

4 pitches and still smiling!

4 pitches and still smiling!

I probably wouldn’t encourage most beginners to dive straight into a climbing trip to Squamish. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in the last 10 years of climbing, and am thankful that very few of them have resulted in anything more than a couple hours of being cold and some lost gear. Dustin and Gaio were vocally grateful to have a dedicated guide to show them the literal ropes, and I realized that even as much as I enjoy climbing hard things and challenging myself, teaching climbing is one of the most fulfilling and rewarding things that I know how to do. It is of course far easier with fit, willing, and smart students. The experience of sharing this passion of mine with one of my closest friends is a reward that is exceedingly rare. I hadn’t planned on having that experience this trip, but it would have been far less rich without it.

View from camp.

View from dinner.

Sisyphus

The gas station/tourist trap smelled like sugar and people wearing too many personal hygiene products. My head was pounding, but I was falling asleep at the wheel anyway. 45 minutes into a 9 hour drive, I was not feeling psyched on the trip.

Columbia River

Columbia River

I was stressed about work, frustrated with bad weather, and leaving town feeling underprepared. I was deeply afraid of not having a “good enough” time on my vacation. I woke up on Saturday morning at Dustin’s parents house in Stanwood, WA. Their spot on a bluff above Puget sound has been a regular refuge over the years.

Bob and Nancy, and Puget Sound. Doing together right for over 40 years.

Bob and Nancy, and Puget Sound. Doing together right for over 40 years.

Dustin was more than willing to be an impromptu climbing partner, but I spent the first day of my vacation resting. Sunday we headed for Washington Pass- fittingly, we got rained off after the first pitch on Concord Tower…

Strangely my first visit to this particular climbing icon...

Strangely my first visit to this particular climbing icon…

For his many wonderful qualities, Dustin has reynouds syndrome, and enduring cold and wet is not a good vacation activity. To be fair, I usually like an equally willing partner to suffer with if I’m going alpine climbing. We headed down valley for warmer temps and bolted multi-pitch outside of Mazama. Dustin had never been on a multi-pitch climb, so I figured we would start “easy.”

Heavy weather

Heavy weather

 

Sisyphus is a super fun, fully bolted 10 pitch climb with a 5.11a crux in the middle. The line isn’t particularly aesthetic, but the position is great, and the bolts are generous. If you don’t fire the grade, the first 5 pitches take you to a lovely ledge for lunch!

Getting a taste of the big air.

Getting a taste of the big air.

Stoke

Stoke

Many rappels down- pitch by pitch beta to follow shortly. More about this fun little tool later.

Many rappels down- pitch by pitch beta to follow shortly. More about this fun little tool later.

Tech Notes: 
Huge props to North Cascades Mountain Guides for establishing the route and making a topo readily available for free. We climbed with a 70m rope. You can link pitches 1&2, 7&8, and 9&10 (recommended), and simul climb from the top of P3 to the base of P5 if you are strong at the grade. You can also link the rappel from the base of Pitch 4 to the intermediate tree rap in the middle of pitch 3. Otherwise, 11 rappels is a lot of rappels…

Another Go

Small but vicious. A quick end to the day.

Small but vicious. A quick end to the day.

I’ve been climbing for nearly 10 years, and am very thankful to have never had a serious injury while rock climbing. A few weeks ago Tess and I were in Blodgett Canyon and I led off on the first pitch of “Cornlier Ridge.” The opening moves were much harder than I expected. I fell hard just off the deck, and through various circumstances burned and lacerated my right pinky. I recovered my gear and we headed back down. The experience rattled me badly, and suddenly this thing that I have loved so much didn’t really seem so great.

My hand has healed quickly. I’m not sure if it was the bill from ER, or wanting to clear my head before my upcoming trip to Squamish, but Sunday felt like the right time to give it another go. I didn’t sleep well Saturday night. I’ve never asked myself to go back to the site of an accident and try again. 

Climb the right facing dihedral in the center left of the face.

Climb the right facing dihedral in the center left of the face.

To progress, we have to be willing to look deeply at our mistakes. I’ve run away or given up on plenty of things, but it’s never felt comfortable. This didn’t have to be one of those things. Sarah and I hiked up to the route on Sunday afternoon. I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen, but felt pretty sure it would go well if I just gave it another go.

Blodgett is one of those places that inspires growth.

Blodgett is one of those places that inspires growth.

The lower crux pitch took me a while to lead, and still scared me. I sent with good style, but could feel myself grunting and gripping harder than I have on most other, harder climbs lately. I pulled to the anchors in good style, and sent the upper crux without issue. We agreed that the climbing is probably only 5.10b. I’ll have to do it a few more times before it really feels comfortable. The accomplishment felt strangely empty. Perhaps because the climbing is well within my capacities, maybe more likely because fear is such an empty enemy. 

Summit notch. Unknown pitches beckon another trip.

Summit notch. Unknown pitches beckon another trip (photo: Sarah Zugar)

I owe this one to Sarah's excellent stoke, and faith in my send.

I owe this one to Sarah’s excellent stoke, and faith in my send.