Category Archives: Training


We watched the 14th Reel Rock film tonight. It was an awesome film, and totally inspiring. A woman that loves to highball, disparate communities conjoined by climbing, and two of the best in the world chasing an arbitrary mark because it was fun.

Tommy and Alex climbed the Nose on El Cap every single day for weeks. They did it every day. Before noon. Sometimes before 9am. Unreal. What stood out across the films was the steady and absolute dedication to craft.
Looking at my recreation, it’s easy to be spread thin:
Climbing is fun
Running is fun
Skiing is fun
Ice climbing is fun
Bouldering is fun
Playing cello is fun
Cooking is fun
Writing is fun

Even work, sometimes, is fun- but when I just dabble none of it is actually satisfying. With less time I’ve kept the same palate of activity but rounded the fine edge into a comfortable flavor of mediocre. I want to explore the depths again. I need a project. An arbitrary standard that I can really hew towards.

To feel sharp at something. It’s been a while since I’ve been honed up. 

Crack Machine

A few weeks ago I was desperate to climb outside, but didn’t plan for it and needed to spend most of my day taking care of things around town. It was gorgeous out, and I was unwilling to head to the gym. I’m trying to focus on training like I hope to climb, and had had one idea kicking around for a while.

Trad climbing almost always entails some form of crack climbing, and I am not terribly good at either.  The rock gym is relatively useless for training towards crack climbing, so I took a lead from one of my favorite climbers and built a little tool for the specific exercise of  learning to cram my fingers into rock fissures.  Welcome to the crack machine:


(2) 2×8’s, sanded smooth on one side and one edge.

Using carriage bolts and PVC pipe for spacers makes this set up adjustable.

Using carriage bolts and PVC pipe for spacers makes this set up adjustable.

I used 2x8s, carriage bolts, and pvc pipe as spacers to make the system adjustable- meaning I can work any size crack. The size of lumber matters quite a bit- I would have like to use 2×10 or 2×12 so that I can practice armbarring and chickenwinging but they would have been too heavy to lift.

Clearance holes required.

Clearance holes required.

One big note on the building side- the holes in the board on the left, above, need to be ~1/8″ to 1/4″ larger than the holes on the right.  Carriage bolts don’t tend to sit perfectly straight, so you want some clearance to get things to fit together nicely.  Using carriage bolts and nuts allows you to crank the boards apart to any width crack- mine is currently set to “rattly fingers” or “BD 0.75.”  You don’t actually need the PVC spacers, I just thought they would add some rigidity which really wasn’t necessary with six carriage bolts in 8′

Ready to hurt?

Ready to hurt?

For the record- these guys crush it, and they trained almost exclusively in a basement. Look forward to updates on how training is going.

Boulder, Colorado

My mind is not on getting this posted tonight, but more on that towards the bottom.  Participating in the PassiveHouse conference last week left no time for writing.  My trip was sponsored by the fine folks at Zola European Windows, and I had a very good time both at the conference (in downtown Denver), and romping around more colorful places, like Boulder.

Zola- the only folks I know that can make a R-10, triple pane, 19′ wide sliding glass door (thanks to my boss for modeling).

Surprisingly, I’ve never spent much time there, but Boulder is kinda hilarious.  The outskirts feel more like most little western mountain towns- copious outdoor recreation, lots of very fit people and fancy bicycles, and a Walmart here and there.   But downtown is more unique- trust fund hippies play guitar next to the Gucci storefront, and the smell of gourmet, organic, fresh ground coffee is overwhelming.  There is public bike sharing, and an amazing vintage theater.  Half of me wants to move there, and the rest of me knows to stay away- but probably just because I wouldn’t feel unique anymore.

Classic (damn street lamp ruins my photo).

The theater architecture was nice, but the line-up was unbelievable…

There is something about being in an unfamiliar place that allows me to step away from myself.  My view of things around me becomes more detached, and more objective- my normal introspective investments drop away in pursuit of new-ness.  Seeing new people in new places, reminds me that we are just people- doing whatever it is that we do.  Our individual heartbreak or triumph becomes far less important in a crowd of strangers.  Part of this blog is about the search for the most authentic version of ourselves, and when no one around you knows (or particularly cares) who you are- its fun to take the opportunity to be exactly who you want.

In between professional responsibilities, I enjoyed a session with some like minded outdoor folk at the Alpine Training Center, and caught dinner with my friend Jen, who drove all the way from Greeley just to make it happen.

Home away from home.

The conference was certainly valuable- lots of practice talking about what I do, seeing some really cool projects (the Marshall project), learning new stuff, and making new connections.  It was also hilarious to realize my own cousin was also presenting- we had a very good time catching up on the past 5 or 6 years since I’ve seen him, and I really appreciated his presentation on the Thousand Homes Challenge.  It always takes a while to see what shakes out of these sort of things, but the vibes were good, and some of the interactions were… unique.

5 people debating the merits of a window detail. Only at a PassiveHouse conference.

Stand and deliver. My cousin gets it done.

By Sunday afternoon I had as much PassiveHouse as I could actively take-on and was grateful to meet a good friend and former co-worker from Portland for dinner and a local jazz jam.  It’s been a while since I put my name on a list and sat in on bebop tunes, but it’s amazing how the changes still come back.

The previous commentary about feeling detached is at odds with my mood tonight.  I went to invite some friends together for this weekend on facebook, only to notice that one of them seemed to evaporate.  Just like anything else, the social utility is just as good at taking people apart as putting them back together.  With all the traveling and dedication to task at hand, it’s pretty obvious I’ve got a fair amount of work to do at home as well.

Stay Inspired

I came home tonight hoping to write something and failed.  My heart has had a lot of emotion lately, but somehow the words aren’t happening.  I ended up staring blankly at my computer for the better part of two hours, until I finally saw something that really snapped my attention back to the present.  Thanks John, for all the lessons, the trips, the inspiration, the knowledge, and making a really cool video about some of your experience.  It helps me stay inspired:

Smash and Grab Ascent on Burkett Needle.


I’ve been training for most of the winter.  After putting on a few pounds of tasty and cheap Colombian food last fall, I’m back to feeling fitter and lighter than I have in a long time.  Knees to elbows, kettlebell squats, and deadhanging on my ice tools- long garage sessions have made me sweat.  I’m feeling strong ice climbing, and am excited to get even stronger rock climbing.  That said, one of the things I love most about the mountain sports is that there is always, always, someone stronger than you.  People who are just on the next level, and it seems like I’ve been running into those people a lot lately.

Friday, I enjoyed a long session at the rock gym getting to know more of my local community.  Good times, and my hands still hurt on Saturday morning.  Fortunately, I spent Saturday skiing instead of climbing.  We had thick mashed potato snow that made for hard skiing.  My friend Emily, despite being raised on a diet of 3% Utah powder, proceeded to tear it up with high style while I cartwheeled down behind her… (no photos as it was too wet for the camera).  I’m going to have to step my game up if I want to continue to ski with Emily, and I am looking forward to that.

Boldly we go...

I originally had more mellow plans for Sunday, but my buddy Steve and few other locals were headed out to Kootenai Canyon and I figured a day out was better than a day inside, so I tagged along- not really knowing what I was in for.  I had mt some of Steve’s friends before- skinny college kids that flash the boulder problems I project.  With some precipitation in the air, we headed for “The Sick Bay” and proceeded to work a bunch of sport climbs that were easily four or five grades harder than anything I have ever done.

Working the crux- hands crimped, heel hooked, and throwing to a huge pocket.

Yes, it was a little cold, but Cole solved that problem by climbing 5.12 in his puffy coat...

Keeping cool despite the puffy coat, just before a huge whipper.

By and large, I was rested and psyched to climb- and I spent most of my day thruching from bolt to bolt.  My friends, by and large, were hungover from St. Patricks Day celebrations and proceeded to link large sections of each climb before taking sizable lead falls.  The only way to climb hard is to get on hard climbs, and my lackluster performance leaves me itching to work at the task.  I am very grateful to have friends that are stronger than me, and sincerely appreciate their patience.  It’s good to get humbled by people you like.

I'll figure this out one of these days...

“Your real friends will make sure that next week’s you is better than this week’s you.”  (attribution withheld by request)


This is the third draft of this post, but I was sitting by myself at lunch and finally realized what I wanted to say.

(Sunset my first night in San Agustin)
As I biked into Neiva I wanted to quit. As I biked out of Neiva, I wanted to quit. 200km later, after getting chased by a guy with a machete and sleeping in a ditch (without a tent, in the rain, not actually sleeping), and pedaling another 60km STFU, I wanted to quit. But here I am, I’ve been on the road 650km and eight days. I am now convinced that I can do this. I have no doubts that if I needed to bike to Patagonia, I could do it.

I’ve been honest to admitting my doubts on this blog, but after a conversation with my brother and a close friend in Portland this morning, I realized that my doubts are not about the challenge or logistical problems. I realize that a while back I made a plan and that the plan said “travel abroad, alone, somewhere new, and love it.” When it came time to execute that part of the plan, I never allowed myself to ask the question- “what do I really want to do next?” “Do I have the energy to do what the original plan says?” “If this is the last time I have to be unemployed for a while, is this how I want to spend it?”. Of course, some of these questions cannot be answered without trying, but in the course of action, ignoring these questions aren’t the same as answering them.

I realized too that it is unreasonable to think that traveling here will simply “make me happy,” but that it is more important that traveling here will resonate with my inherent happiness in a new way. If it’s not, then there is nothing that says I must do this. The failure would be in “shoulding” myself (not my own phrase) to do something that isn’t the thing that resonates with me most strongly. I will need to find employment before I run out of money, and the only failure would be to get to that point and look back only to be unsatisfied with how I’ve spent my time (oh I “should” have done this).
What is failure? What is success? I pedaled up this monster hill without stopping but now my knee hurts. Failure or success? As with most things it depends on how you define it, but in the most objective light- so far I’ve covered road miles quickly, learned a lot, and had quality interactions. If I got on a plane to San Francisco tomorrow, it would be unfair to call my time here a failure.

I got to Mocoa yesterday, which is the end of civilized country in southern Colombia. The next two days will likely be some of the hardest riding on the continent if I am to believe what I’m told. 5,000 vertical feet of climbing in about 80km, mostly on dirt roads. Yesterday I got to town early and went for a very relaxed hike along a beautiful river. I noticed that today was the first time I’ve been hiking or swimming since I’ve been here. Today I opted to rest as its pouring rain and if I’m going to climb 5,000ft I want to see the view, so perhaps tomorrow will bring better weather. I’m riding through this place, but I’m not really exploring it- frankly I don’t have the energy. I find familiarity in the intensity of the riding, of fighting the hills, of racing the daylight, but on my hike I asked myself the question: am I having fun yet (does this resonate with my happiness)? And maybe so far it hasn’t.

Am I doing this for the wrong reasons, or is it that I just don’t know what my reasons really are? For now, I suspect I need the patience to see if the right reasons unfold, or if some of those questions about the plan need to get re-visited (and that’s okay!).

(Giving it some thought in the rooftop hammock).

The Tatacoa Desert

I’ll admit, I had given up on a small portion of my trip. One of the first things I had been looking forward to seeing seemed to be just out of reach. Life was still good, the flip flops were out, I had a beautiful camp next to a river, and the day was finally cooling off. The fact remained however that I was not going to find the ferry that would take me across the river to see the Tatacoa Desert- the maze of barbed wire and cattle ranches was confusing and I was exhausted.
Then I heard a voice, far away and in Spanish that I didn’t understand but the meaning was obvious. Antonio (it pains me that i don’t remember his actual name, but i couldn’t pronounce it anyway) wanted to take me to his town and show me his desert. I mustered just a bit more energy and followed him up river.

(First light on the last day of September)
He helped me load the bike, unload the bike, negotiate a cheaper fare and pointed me in the right direction on the other side. His face was genuine and caring and while I don’t know why he wanted to help me, I’m simply so glad he did.
I’m in a city called Neiva now, and I’ve chewed off my first bit of elephant (173 miles to be exact). This first portion of the trip was a perfect collage of what to expect for the rest of the elephant- some really crappy riding, some great riding, some weird camping, some great camping, lots and lots and lots of sweat, and an unbelievable excitement about cold drinks.
The two lane highway south from Bogota as good until it got to one lane in each direction of wall to wall trucks all struggling with the intense road grade. I was thrilled to be headed downhill, but the riding was terrifying and the diesel fumes coated onto my skin. I made good time and felt strong but the lowlands have been unbearably hot- I drip sweat while doing nothing.
I’m ending this blog on a short note due to the lack of internet here, not sure when I’ll have connectivity again but my awesome host Perly has been having trouble with the Internet and I’m scamming someone’s slow but free wifi.
Thanks for reading!



Cracks, part 1

(from May 30th, 2011)

My ego was swelling  and I could feel my frustration rising.  We were practicing cravasse rescue and I was supposed to be demonstrating, but mostly I couldn’t stop noticing the things I missed.  Chris was making me feel like a fool 16 minutes into the rescue  and I was already mad at him, and more angry with myself.  We stopped the exercise early to debrief but the mistakes continued through the afternoon.  And then, I recognized how badly I needed the humility that seemed illusive.

It should have been obvious- until 3 days ago, I hadn’t traveled on a glacier in 2 years.  Chris is a professional mountain ranger with hundreds of field days and some of the best training available.   We all make mistakes- especially in the hot seat when our buddy is in the crack.  We talked.  I learned, energy and joy returned.  We sweated together under the blazing Alaska sun and watched the avalanches cascades off the flanks of Mt. Francis.  It was a great day.  Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.  Humility trumps ego every time– and don’t forget rule #6.

Mt. Francis, just above Basecamp.

Don’t Bullshit Yourself

And, perhaps more importantly, don’t bullshit the people who have entrusted their life to your hands.  It sounds harsh, but the title is a phrase we use in the gym a lot.  Usually it is said in relation to the integrity of the training done, or when it becomes tempting to believe that you cannot accomplish a task that is well within your capabilities.  Sometimes, I think of it in relation to things that I want to do, yet deep in my heart I realize are not yet possible.

I arrived in Yosemite valley on Sunday night, just in time for a spectacular sunset and my first glimpses of this amazing granite playground.

Optimistic on arrival.

I felt fortunate to reconnect with my friend Barry whom I met in Moab, UT a few weeks ago, and we quickly made plans to climb the Kor-Beck route on Middle Cathedral on Thursday.  The route went well, and I felt confident on my first few leads in the valley (yes, this is the same Layton Kor that put up the route on Castleton Tower from a few weeks ago).  Despite our success on the route, my foot still commanded enough attention that I wasn’t able to complete the 6 pitches without painkillers.

Not a bad view off the belay.

Barry, on the way down.

Friday I linked up with another Australian named Kim for a round of harder single pitch climbing.  I was actually more pleased with falling off the crux of “Stone Groove” well above my last nut, and taking 3 whippers before giving the lead up to Kim.  Traditionally I’ve had trouble falling on my gear- I have trouble trusting it, but recently I’ve felt much more confident in my placements.  That said, I was a bit rattled at the hard start to the day, and Kim was psyched to lead several more hard pitches, so I enjoyed following and working on my crack technique.  Still, by the fifth pitch, my left foot was so painful I was unable to jam it into the right facing crack (which typically demands left foot jams), and I suspect Kim was a little bewildered at the trouble I had climbing 3 grades below my limit.  I wasn’t interested in more painkillers, and Kim wasn’t interested in watching me suffer.  He and I discussed the situation, and took a rest while I soaked my feet in the Merced River.  Late in the day Kim and I found one more irresistable 5.11a at Cookie Cliff, which Kim lead brilliantly, and didn’t require more than scant use of my left foot.

Getting after it by any means necessary, thanks for the rope Kim.

This morning Barry, Aaron (a new friend from Bishop, CA), and I went out to a practice crag just next to the campground.  My foot was still swollen from the previous exploits, and my hands were cut and bruised from two days of jamming without tape (the best way to build callouses).  We top roped a flaring handcrack, and on my second insecure lap, I accidentally dropped in a solid left foot jam.  The pain was excruciating and the end of climbing today was obvious.

My friends at least, know how to have fun.

And so, when Steve-O arrived full of psyche and energy, I knew I could not bullshit myself- or him.  I cannot offer any level of reasonable partnership to my friend in going up the Salathe route on El Cap.  Were my foot in good health, I would, but as it stands it’s a liability to me, and to Steve-O.  It’s been 2 months and 3 days since my surgery, and when he first invited me on the route, I had hoped it would be healed by now.  It’s not and despite the tremendous commitment and energy I have put into being here right now, that forces me to reconsider my agenda.  It would be irresponsible to myself and my friend to try to “make it happen.”  Thanks to my brother for some excellent advice in thinking this through, and to Steve-O for being an incredibly understanding partner.  Suddenly, doing the Salathe route becomes a much higher priority for another time in my life.

Staring down the fact that I'm not as put together as I'd like.

Some part of me regrets not making this call earlier, regrets not being more honest with myself and my friend, not being more careful about my recovery and about having arranged my trip to this point to be able to be here, now for this event that will not be happening.  I’m still squaring with this change in plans, but it feels good to be honest with myself, and to allow Steve-O the option of greater success.  I’m resting today, and may climb the next few as I’m able.  Stay tuned for more plans.

Stripped Away/Going to Yosemite

3389-1 is the file name of the first photo I took after returning to Talkeetna, Alaska after climbing Denali in 2009.

3389-1. After 17 days on Denali, everything was stripped away.

My friend Pat took one look at this photo, and inadvertently described something that I had not been previously able to  identify. He identified the reason that some of us climb, run, cycle, ski, or otherwise push our bodies to the brink of failure and minds to the brink of breakdown.  Why we are, ‘here for the hard‘.  It doesn’t matter if I’m not climbing the hardest or scariest lines in the world- I do the things that challenge me because they strip away the baggage that prevents me from feeling at peace.  I know when I have done something meaningful because the baggage is gone- and consequently, I know when I have cheated myself, when I have failed to do something meaningful, because afterwards the baggage remains.  As this blog, and this journey is about letting go of the baggage, this is why I look forward to the physical challenges that lie ahead.

Although the past few weeks have been both fun and challenging- by in large they have failed to strip away some of the baggage I’ve been holding on to.  Standing on Castleton Tower last Friday reminded me of this process, and released a touch of the feeling I’m trying to stick.  It’s time to look for more.

Shortly after arriving in Bishop, California a few weeks ago I received a text message from a friend in Portland looking for a climbing partner. The Salathe Wall on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park has been called ‘the greatest rock climbing route in the world.”  It is orders of magnitude more serious than anything I have ever attempted.  My partner is aware of my limited abilities with respect to an objective like this and accepts my limitations.  It’s an opportunity not to be missed.  We’re planning to take the 3,100 vertical foot route between May 10-14.  I’m headed to Yosemite Valley tomorrow morning to start getting used to the flaring granite cracks that have shaped the sport of rock climbing for the last 50 years.

Courtesy of supertopo.

Truth be told I’m scared.  This might be more than I can chew.  This might be beyond what I am looking for.  I may not be ready to let go of the baggage that the Salathe will strip away from me.  I made a commitment to my partner and friend to support him, and in leaving my comfortable life in Portland, I made a commitment to myself to challenge the notion of what baggage I was willing to let go of.  I don’t feel prepared.  The climbing I’ve been doing the past few weeks hasn’t been particularly applicable to the climbing I am about to do other than acclimating my body to climbing as the primary activity of my life, rather than say sitting at a desk.  I’ve been concerned about my preparation for this, and concerned about the consequences of failure.  At this point, I’ve committed to my partner, and committed to myself, even if there are still lingering doubts in my head.  At the moment, I’m planning to be solo for the 8 hour drive north tomorrow, which should give me some good time to reflect on what and why I’m going to do this climb.  I’ll get back to you all once I hopefully have a little more clarity on the issue.

Often, we climbers get fairly caught up in what grade we are climbing.  It’s a number that we use to describe our level of skill (“oh what grade do you onsite?”), judge the difficulty of other’s accomplishments, or use to simply describe a route (it was grade IV, 5.10c, 15 pitches). Today I was able to on-site more pitches of 5.10d and 5.11a in a single session of climbing than ever before in my climbing experience.  I had an awesome and fun day of pushing myself with a great partner, and yes, certain baggage was stripped away.  I left the crag feeling stronger and more confident in my climbing than I have in a long time.  Yet yesterday I did something that was just as meaningful to me.  We were climbing in a new single pitch area, and I climbed a route originally put up by John Bachar, which he rated 5.8.  The current guidebook says 5.10a.  There were no bolts on the route and no anchors at the top, the climb was 100% traditional, and provided a “full value” adventure.  When John joined me at the belay, we both agreed it was one of the hardest pitches of 5.10 either of us had ever climbed.

The point is, the grade doesn’t matter, the experience does.  I feel as proud of that lead as I do of the many technically “harder” leads I have completed thus far, even though it was a single 100′ pitch on a crag 10 minutes from the road.  My experiences on this climbing experience thus far (included my roadtrip, past climbing seasons, and many gym sessions) have all served a single purpose- to strip away that baggage, and to practice doing so on a regular basis.  I need this lesson now more than ever.  I respect the value in what I have done to date, and I expect that will sustain me as my own horizons broaden.  I sincerely appreciate the readership of this blog as it supports my mission.

Letting go of the baggage, and getting airborne at Red Rocks, NV. Photo by Jordan Siemens Photography LLC

“Often, the most important thing we can do, is simply ‘recognize that we are all in love with our own suffering’ (Andrew Given)… …We should take care to utilize our own mental suffering to strip away our unnecessary thoughts as well.”

A Picture of My Life – 12.15.2010

To suffer is to allow the unimportant baggage to be stripped away.  I expect I will suffer in the coming experience, and it will be invaluable.  Thanks for the lesson Mr. Given.