Room with a View

Sunset on the Olympics

Sunset on the Olympics

So I’m here now.  The project I had hinted towards at New Years is largely complete. New job, new house, new city, same girl (thankfully). From the skylight in my bedroom I have a view of Mt. Rainier and the Space Needle, the window opposite frames a skyline of the Olympic Mountains. It’s a good place to keep perspective on how substantially life has changed in the past few months. My instruments are neatly at the ready in one corner, and my gear is stacked waiting for the next adventure.

In the city now.

In the city now.

Being official.

Being official.

I stand behind saying my employment in Missoula was a worthwhile time that has served my career well. I also say that the folks at McKinstry & Co. are as smart, hardworking, and innovative as any group of engineers and contractors I’ve found anywhere. I’m working hard, learning a lot, and pretty damn happy about it. They have a commitment to their people, and their community, that I’ve seen rarely in the private sector. We “design, build, operate, & maintain” company, and they do it for both their buildings and their people. I’m already looking forward to being here for a while.

A company-wide day of service got us re-landscaping a low income neighborhood.

A company-wide day of service got us re-landscaping a low income neighborhood.

The local recreation is more than adequate, people are largely friendly and unpretentious, and I am regularly blown away by how beautiful the city is. My house on the hill is a wonderful place to come home to, and the two friends I’m living with seem like an ideal fit. While I miss Missoula (and my incredible friends there most of all), the landing here hasn’t been nearly as hard as I feared.

One last day of a season that didn't happen.

One last day of a season that didn’t happen.

The local hill ain't too shabby.

The local hill ain’t too shabby (@Mt. Rainier).

I came for my career. I expected it to be hard, to grit my teeth and bare it. Now that I’ve made the leap, it doesn’t seem nearly so harsh as I had feared. The options seem wider, the opportunities deeper, and there is nothing so refreshing as breaking all of your habits and reforming your life one more time. Live it to the fullest, because it only gets better.

Not So Red

“It’s totally beautiful, but they aren’t that red.” Abigail said to me.

Greg- crushing. It is kinda more brown than red...

Greg- crushing. It is kinda more brown than red…

I had no retort. We were hiking back to Brownstone Wall, deep in the Red Rocks National Conservation area. You can see the massive, completely brown wall, almost as soon as you leave the car. Given the name, I could understand her surprise, especially after the Wingate sandstone I had just been climbing in Utah.

Tess, crushing. It gets more red in the evening light.

Tess, crushing. It gets more red in the evening light.

I left Indian Creek on a Wednesday morning and took slow roads down to Flagstaff, AZ to spend the night with Jody, Deb, and their amazing baby Elston. It had been a few years since I had seen them, and I was glad to catch up. They are full on masters of balance careers, parenting, and adventures. Hopefully I can tempt them north.

Me.  I don't know... I think it's pretty red.

Me. I don’t know… I think it’s pretty red.

Thursday I poked around Flag, then boogied to Vegas to meet Tess and Greg. After the severity of the Creek, I was excited to enjoy the relatively mellow climbing in Red Rocks and enjoy the company of close friends. That said the sport climbing flexed an entirely different set of muscles. We got after it pretty well.

Lovely lady in the desert!

Lovely lady in the desert!

I had invited Abigail to join us as soon as the dates were solid, and she flew in Friday night. I couldn’t have been more excited to see her, and share climbing in such a fantastic place. We got after some sport climbing on Saturday (many crowds), and hiked back to “Armitron” (III, 5.9 5p) on the Brownstone on Sunday.

Abigail, not looking down like a pro.

Abigail, not looking down like a pro.

Getting a good moderate route to yourself on a weekend day in Red Rocks is no small feat, and I was relieved to find the wall empty after the 90 minute walk. The climbing was excellent, but I did a poor job of managing exposure while leading a beginner. Abigail did a wonderful job of facing her fears and trusting my leads while we dispatched the 500′ face. Once we were on the walk-off though, her running legs kicked in, and she led all of us back to the car.

Psyched to know these two.

Psyched to know these two.

Tower top out. Worth the hike.

Tower top out. Worth the hike.

I’ve done bigger, longer climbs, but after climbing 11 out of 14 days, I work up on Monday completely worked. We shared a leisurely breakfast and a quick tour of the absurdities of the Vegas strip before we said goodbye to Tess and Greg, and I dropped Abigail at the airport. She had work on Tuesday, and I was suddenly thrown into the mission of moving to Seattle.  After the trip last year, and this short stay, I’m really starting to like Red Rocks, red enough or not.

Amazing walk off.

Amazing walk off.

Hiko, NV. Worth taking the backroads home.

Hiko, NV. Worth taking the backroads home.

Indian Creek – The Breath

Creek Life is the best life.

Creek Life is the best life.

"Green Eggs and Ham" (5.10) at Second Meat Wall. A nice wide workout.

“Green Eggs and Ham” (5.10)

“Breathe Skander, breathe. Then fight.” Damian called up to me for seemingly the fifteenth time. His words had inspired me up the route, so I didn’t mind the repeated commands. Earlier on the climb I was sitting on a #5 Camelot fighting to catch my breath, having just violated the first rule of offwidth climbing: it’s an endurance game of endless small movements that each add up to something beautiful.

Offwidths have long been strangely attractive to me, and despite being tired late on my sixth day of climbing in the Creek, “Green Eggs and Ham” is a beautiful, short 5.10 off-width crack that inspired me for the lead.

Rest day art shot.

Rest day art shot.

My rest day and the arrival of Damian and Darcy on Saturday, March 14 bolstered my confidence to get back into the teeth of Indian Creek climbing. More on the two of them later, but they know me from climbing and working in Montana, and were not going to let me get away with anything less than giving my best to this incredible place. We went back tot he cliffs, and I got on the lead end of the rope. I got scared, I fell on my gear, and I bled. It was awesome, and it changed my entire experience of the place. My technique improved, I started having more fun, and suddenly being in the place just clicked. It is some of the most spectacular climbing I have ever done.

Dave and I, cracking the whip at Pistol Whipped wall.

Dave and I, cracking the whip at Pistol Whipped wall.

The evening lights were spectacular.

The evening lights were spectacular.

Vicki, another Missoula friend and newbie to Indian Creek also showed up on Sunday, and with Dave, Damian, and Darcy, we continued to sample a variety of spectacular cliffs. After a few more days, I could tell my body was spent. I had just a little bit more, and I had always wanted to do the Easter Island tower in the Bridger Jack formation- it is short, classic, and fun.  The spine of towers boasts a huge variety of routes, and Easter Island is the easiest of them all.

It's up there!

It’s up there!

We met Ben and Mark from Grand Junction at the bottom, and they followed us up to make the rappel easier. I led both pitches and despite some very sporty climbing on the second pitch, we all had a pile of fun. It was Vicki’s first tower, and fun to have another party on top with us.

Strangely, the crux is on face holds with bolts...

Strangely, the crux is on face holds with bolts…

Easter Island summit party.

Easter Island summit party.

So much fun in fact, that Mark and Ben trailed a rope up Sparkling Touch Tower to let us draft off their lead. I didn’t have the lead in me, but was happy to follow and look forward to repeating the route- it’s burly.

Sparkling Touch summit party.

Sparkling Touch summit party.

Sitting in Seattle the desert feels far away but the lessons are close at hand. Grab the things that scare you and hang on for the ride. Many thanks to Dave, Damian, Darcy, Vicki, Mark, and Ben for being exceptional and inspiring partners.

Goodnight Indian Creek. See you again soon.

Goodnight Indian Creek. See you again soon.

Indian Creek, UT – The Squeeze

(Before all the house-moving madness started I went on a sweet little climbing trip. The posts are past dated to get them in the right order on the blog. Enjoy.)

View from tent. Not bad for finding camp in the dark.

View from tent. Not bad for finding camp in the dark.

I’d like to say I am basically competent at traditionally protected rock climbing. After my first few days in Indian Creek, Utah, I was not so sure. “The Creek” is popular for demanding excellent technique, harder than reported climbing, and a style that is painful and physical. Vertical wrestling might be more appropriate. I wanted to visit exactly because it was hard- it’s hard to get to, hard to learn, and hard to succeed. That is to say, I wanted the beatdown. My first few days felt like a real squeeze.

The Gash, Indian Creek Utah Climbing, rock climbing, Nice and Tight, Offwidth climbing, Squeeze chimney

Leon from Ouray feels the squeeze as well on “Nice & Tight” at The Gash.

By luck alone, I didn’t get into the Creek until after dark, but managed to wander into a little backcountry campsite with a couple of great people and one absolutely climbing legend. Not sure if it helped or hurt but I spent by first day at the Creek sharing a rope with Jim Donini (probably one of the best, most legendary, most old-school badass alpine rock climbers on the planet), and his 17 yr old mentee, Mickey (who has 7 El Cap routes under his belt). It takes some time, technique, and practice to get the style of hand and foot jamming dialed- I was deeply sore and deeply humble after the first day. I walked it off up on the mesa in the evening and resolved to try again.

The master and apprentice. I am neither.

The master and apprentice. I am neither. Note the approach shoes on both, and the splitter behind.

indian creek utah, desert light, wingate sandstone,

Mesa top out.

I am very grateful for the variety of camping and climbing partners I had over the next few days. They led. I followed, and struggled. Things came together. On day 3 I knocked on the window of Dave, who was reading his guidebook at one of the main parking lots. Asking someone to climb is a little like asking someone out on a date, except that going on the date means putting your life in the hands of someone you just met. I guess that makes it more fun?

Dave, fortunately, was an ideal partner and fast friend. Encouraging and insightful, but very humble and very strong, he hung the rope on many hard pitches and belayed patiently while I slowly started to figure things out.

Dave firing the upper section of SuperCrack (5.10c). Nice lead, sir.

Dave firing the upper section of SuperCrack (5.10c). Nice lead, sir.

I only climbed 3 or 4 pitches per day those first days, and that was enough to leave me completely humbled. Even my first few beatdowns in Yosemite seemed gentle compared to Indian Creek. Friday, March 13, I headed back to Moab to lick my wounds and re-think things.

If You Loved Me

Sometimes you have to leave the things you love the most.

It’s my last night in Missoula. The house is cleaned, the truck is packed. I’m tired from driving back from my climbing trip, but have a few more miles to go. I don’t have the energy to type out all of the emotion coursing through my veins.

I’m grateful to be with some of my closest friends as I cast off, but leaving them is a double edged sword. I’m excited to work again, to explore a new place, to embrace the hustle and bustle of the city. And I’m scared. Of the bigness. Of losing the familiarity of the smallness, of forging new friends, and of breaking all my patterns.

Scared of leaving this place that has felt more like home than any place I’ve yet been.

Four years ago, I was in a very similar place. In the cycles of life, revolving past the noon-hour and into a new era will never be comfortable. And it is always necessary.

Uhaul truck, loaded truck, moving truck,

Keeping growing. Especially when it hurts.

Border Affair

Take roads that you know not where they lead.

Take roads that you know not where they lead.

The edge of the map has always held a certain allure. In the old days, “there be dragons” denoted the unknown- inspiring visions of adventure and disaster lurking just beyond the edge. The edges still inspire me. The transitory regions between geography, or politics, or culture. For a bit, I played some music with a group calling ourselves “Border Affair”- we bent the edges of folk and country and acoustic jam. It’s an appropriate description for my affinity with the edges.

I’m in canyon country now. The journey here was varied, and for other reasons, stressful. Life in transition rarely goes according to plan. I enjoyed traveling off the beaten path some. Bear Lake sits well off the highway, half in Idaho, half in Utah. It was on my radar a few years ago for different reasons. I enjoyed a lovely vista and healthy run before continuing south.

First light at Yuba.

First light at Yuba.

Yuba Lake State Park was unremarkable except for the fact that it sits on the southern edge of the Salt Lake City metropolis. A night there marked my transition from careful urban car camping to a more wild sense of living. Sparse country, not yet blistered with bands of red sandstone, but void of the evergreen Northwest I am accustomed to, this border marked more than just the urban/wild interface- it marked the transition of breathing, of hoping, of entering the awaited wilderness.

La Sal Mountains, Utah. Mountains + Canyons.

La Sal Mountains, Utah. Mountains + Canyons.

The Next Big Thing

Slowly, the word has spread and I’d like to get ahead of it here. It’s time that Skander started getting after the next big thing.

Well. This is unusual.

Well. This is unusual.

It’s been a while since I’ve worn my suit for anything serious. I like to think I still look pretty good in it. On January 15th I tendered my resignation and drove to Seattle for back to back job interviews. It was the sort of affair that you would want to look good in a suit for.

I’ve limited some of the details that I have shared on this blog, but it became clear at the end of 2014 that my professional life needed to move in a different direction. Over the holidays, my family gave me another good nudge. I’m very grateful for the experience I’ve had working in Missoula, and hope to depart without burning any bridges.

I’ve wanted a Professional Engineers license for over 10 years. Since becoming a contractor, I’ve developed a much better sense of where I want to take my career, and the time-honored craft of professional engineering. I’ve also learned that the most fundamental tenant in all of business is trust- at the end of the day, when the client experiences what they thought they bought from you, you’ve built trust. That’s the key to success. I’m eager to fill out the holes in my professional skill set, and take my game to the next level.

The immediate hole is design. Design gives me the power and confidence that I can deliver on the vision of how I think buildings should work. I have a long term plan to make a big impact on the sustainability of our built environment- the sales and analysis work I’ve done in the past are only parts of the whole. I’m past the point now where I’m debating switching careers or “exploring”. It’s time to  plug the rest of the holes and get moving in a big way. That means letting go of the comfortable things. It means chasing the skills I don’t have, and finding next set of smart people to work with and learn from.

It was a rough drive to those first few interviews. Ellensburg, WA, 01.15.15.

It was not a comfortable trip to those first few interviews. Ellensburg, WA, 01.15.15.

Specifically, that means I am moving to Seattle. This past weekend I felt fortunate to accept an offer of employment from a firm that seems to value who I am, my somewhat non-traditional experience, and my intense drive towards sustainable design. The position is in mechanical design and I’m genuinely excited to get after it. I’ll have more to say once I actually start work on April 6.

I will miss the ever-loving shit out of Missoula, and Montana as a whole. While that won’t be fun, it is also worth mentioning that that my landing in Seattle will be significantly softer due to a really incredible woman I’ve gotten to know in the past few months. More on both of these items later.

The best cheap date in Seattle is on a ferry.

The best cheap date in Seattle is on a ferry.