This one, now, forever.
On October 21, I asked Abigail to marry me and she said yes.
As an engineer, I like to plan, I like to know how things are going to go. I like to understand and reason out the effort. The theme of this blog has always been about getting the feeling of something that I can’t reason with to stick well enough to do something special.
Abigail was committed before I was- and in these matters, she trusts that feeling more than I do. Her certainty in us made asking the big question much easier. A quick review of a feeling worth trusting:
From a more recent note to a friend, discussing the corollary of climbing commitment:
“Marriage remains a leap, truly of faith… …That climbing helps me realize this is an obvious corollary- the difference between testing the crux moves, and the moment of full bore irreversible action, while may only appear to involve a slight change in physical position- is dramatically different in mental position. That is the leap. That is the commitment.”
That real love though, the stuff that scares you with it’s durability and it’s repose, that love isn’t going to wait. It isn’t going to let you “slide into it” because it’s convenient. That real love, demands a leap. A lot like climbing, it is worth getting out of your comfort zone for, and you can’t just hang out under the crux forever. I popped the question when I accepted the joyful inevitability of her partnership with me. When I accepted that I was never going to be perfect for this relationship, and that perfection wasn’t necessary for it to be right for us.
Every crux that has demanded my full commitment, has been scary and hard. Every crux has required humility and the right partner. And every single one, has been worth it. I’ve been climbing with the right partner for a while now, and it is nothing short of glorious to pull through this crux together.
“Are we in the flow state?”
“Then we must be doing fine.”
Last Saturday I took a long walk with my friend Webster and climbed the Bergner-Stanley route on Prusik Peak. We discovered that the hyperbole often used to describe that mountain and route was in fact true. Considering my last car-to-car (mis)adventure and with the chill air of autumn settling in, this trip was the perfect cap to a summer full of adventures.
Webster wanted to push himself, and while I wasn’t sure I had another big summer adventure in the tank, his stoke goaded me to the trailhead- from there, I was all in. We left the car at 4:25am, made it to the base of the climb by 9am, and started climbing at 9:30. We got to the base of the route just as another party was leaving the ground, and caught them again at the top of pitch 2.
I quickly made the acquaintance of Mr. Ben Boldt, and didn’t complain when he started taking photos of us as we followed them up the route. Ben and his partner had tried the route before, but gotten stymied by the challenging squeeze chimney on pitch 5 (or 6 depending how you do it). We waited for a bit while they fought their way thru, and Ben hung out to shoot my own battle. Webster was relieved to follow this one. Check out more of Ben’s photos here, and only use with permission. Thanks again man.
The last pitch is the money pitch, and I was happy for Webster to fire it. Despite some melting snow on the final crux section, he sent with aplomb. Following the pitch, I was surprised to find it steeper and more technical than it appears. Strong work Webster!
We summited at 3pm, made 5 rappels and walked around a snowy north face to collect our packs at 515pm, and started the walk home at 530pm. We stayed focused and positive despite the many miles, and moved well, tagging the car at 9:15pm. We stayed in the flow state for almost the entire day, feeding off each others energy and enjoying every aspect of the experience. Not much time for photos, but we did hike past an amazing hydrologic feature- this drain pipe throws water between lakes:
As usual, the full effort in the mountains cleared my head in a way that nothing else does. It cemented another friendship that has been growing for a long time, and for which I am deeply grateful. It bolstered my self-confidence and increases the gratitude I feel for so many things in life, including my lovely lady (even though she doesn’t necessarily want to do these things with me). This piece by Hayden Kennedy says it better than I can. I love this stuff.
Copyright Skander Spies, 2017
Working hard up Headwaters Ridge, the wind pushed through my T-shirt and I thought to myself “enjoy this, it will be the last time today that you are cold.” Being right is over-rated.The 2016 Rut 50km race got cut short due to snow. The 2017 race was about performing in the heat. I am in no way a hot weather animal, and September 3rd was a warm one. With some experience though, I picked an appropriate motto for the race and shared it eagerly with spectators and other racers- “today is still the best day.” After a long summer of training, race day was both a joy and a relief.
I was lucky to have a deep bench of support this year. Devon ran the 28km on Saturday, his wife Katie ran the 11km on Sunday, and both Michael and Abigail lined up for the 50km with me. Our little crew shared a house just down the valley from the mountain, and the stoke was high all weekend. Bonus stoke from seeing Missoula peeps like Evan, Brink, Nick, and Damian.
I had a clear training plan throughout the summer, and a detailed spreadsheet that paced me to my goal of breaking 7 hours, but once it got hot, that just didn’t seem as important as running smart and strong. I did a good job eating and drinking early, and made the wise decision to put a hydration pack in my drop bag at mile 18, before the big push over Lone Peak and Andesite Mtn. I felt great and stayed on pace out to approximately mile 22, but after a pounding descent and a little route finding, the heat caught me off-guard. I fought desperate cramping in my quads and hamstrings for the rest of the race- many others faced the same demons.I’m not sure I would have done anything differently. I never ran out of water, my head was clear for the whole race, and my heartrate average was below 150bpm. I started taking salt tabs early in the race (and ended up taking 12 in total), and stayed on a disciplined slow pace early on. Other than the cramping, my legs felt strong all the way through, but the warm temperatures and full sun exposure on many parts of the course simply took it out of me. I finished as the 51st male- 15 places and 22 minutes better than my previous bests, and I feel pretty good about that.
I also absolutely must call out Abigail. It was her first 50km race, and her goals were simply to have finish and have fun. She was the 13th woman and probably ran the best race of all of us. She even had enough left in the tank to play with a puppy as soon as she crossed the finish line. Holy smokes. The photos just after the finish line tell all:
Once again, The Rut delivers a superb racing experience, community, and sense of accomplishment in the face of adversity. Doubly cool to work with Devon and Michael, people you want to run something hard with.I love this stuff.
Copyright: Skander Spies, 2017
For a small tribe of rock climbers in the Cascades, climbing the complete North Ridge of Mt. Stuart, in less than 24 hours, without sleeping (“car to car in a day”), represents something of “a standard”. Certainly not a noteworthy climbing achievement, but enough effort to warrant a little respect. 8 miles and 3,000ft of gain on the hike in, 3,000ft of rock climbing up to 5.9, some scrambling and route-finding down a steep snow couloir on the way out. For most recreational climbers, it’s a pretty full day. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, just ride along for the photos.
I climbed Mt. Stuart via a different route in 2010. Our “car to car in a day” took 23hr30min, and was an eye opening experience in alpine snow and mixed climbing. I was grateful for strong partners, but was mostly just along for the ride with more experienced people.
Last year, Pat and I climbed the upper North Ridge, approaching via an overnight camp at Ingalls Lake, the Stuart glacier, and a snow gully that cut off a bunch of more technical rock climbing. We had a blast, and after a punishing descent, made it back to camp in 15hrs. The position of the route, the quality of the rock climbing, and the reputation amongst my friends made me think that doing the Complete North Ridge was fully warranted. Sometimes it’s fun to bite off a little more than you can chew.
(First look at the whole shebang)
Between weather and other commitments, I usually only get to partner with Ky one weekend a summer – so when we lined up for the July 8th weekend, I wasn’t going to waste the chance. Reliable beta indicated that the descent was in good condition.
We left the car at 315am and somehow managed to nail the approach- I was leading in my rock shoes at 715am. We let another party (Nick and Austin) pass us at the crux 3rd pitch because I wanted to take my time on the lead. I don’t regret it, but did cost us 45min. After the crux we lost a little more time with some route-finding, reaching the “halfway” notch at 11am. We were already low on water and while we rested and nursed a snowfield, the hoards caught up to us from below. I think there were 6 or 7 parties on the route that day. There are fewer possible variations higher on the route- so traffic management slowed us further.
(Ky follows the crux)
It gets real at the Great Gendarme, and suddenly folks were more orderly in letting faster parties go. I blitzed the layback pitch (which I had followed in 2016), and Ky made excellent grunting noises while sending the off-width pitch on-sight. Both pitches are amazing climbing, but we were tired and I was really glad I didn’t have to lead the off-width. We raced for the summit, topping out at 645pm. I wish I could have enjoyed it without dreading the time of day on our descent.
(The only non-blurry summit photo I got of Ky. Instagram PC – Ky)
We gratefully followed Nick and Austin (because they knew where they were going), and found a legit snowfield water source just before really getting onto the snow downclimbing. Conditions were good, but I was very grateful to have aluminum crampons and approach shoes- we had to front point all the way down. We approached the bergschrund (where the glacier pulls away from the mountain) around 915pm, just as daylight started to fade in earnest. Steep snow was hardening, and our brains were fried from effort and dehydration. A safe path was not obvious, and it was not the time to be bold. We opted to give up on completing the sub24 hr standard, sit out for the night (with no bivy gear), and make a better decision in the morning. Nick and Austin agreed and we collectively found a nice little rock ledge to hang out on.
(Starting down the snow. PC Ky.)
After 5 hours of shivering, it was glorious to see the sun-rise. We warmed up for an hour, and left around 6am. Breakfast was a peanut butter packet and a fruit leather, the very last of our food. With daylight, the bergschrund crossing was more obvious and we were soon cruising towards the car.
(Ky finds salvation below the bergschrund)
I love mountains, even when it doesn’t all go according to plan. Thanks for following.
Copyright Skander Spies, 2017
I admit- I smile when people ask me where I went to college. Northwestern University. The pedigree, the reputation, my ego swells. Ask me though, how I really felt about it and I’ll get smug and tell you I hated it. My professors came in two groups- conservative, arrogant, and unconcerned for the world, or perhaps liberal, arrogant, and willing to see me for the washed out music major wannabe that I was rather than who I would eventually become. I needed more hand holding than they were willing to offer, and I was too proud to get help or cheat like other struggling classmates. I wasn’t smart enough to cut it there, and I still might not be. The raw math and fundamental concepts never came that easily to me. Instead of stepping up to the challenge, I cursed and complained. I graduated half out of spite, with bold aspirations to earn my living in the mountains, or some other way. To forget my pedigree, to forsake my intellectual inheritance.
Showing Abigail and Michael around campus today though, I have a deep connection to this place. I’m proud of my time here, and the deep marks on my hide that remain from the struggle. Ask me now and I have an unbridled passion for engineering. The more technical, the better. Northwestern may have put the chip on my shoulder, but now I’m willing to consider that was exactly what it was supposed to do. I’m a better engineer because the experience was so damn harsh. This place has evolved too, and I see more of what I hoped it had evolved into. The friendships I built because of this place still stand- the wedding I’m in town for is proof. The projects I did then still feel cool, the lessons I learned still serve.
Maybe it’s time to bury the hatchet.