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DP

“They found Alex. We should dawn patrol.”

Alex Lowe was a titan of climbing, and he was humble enough to insist that “the best climber in the world is the one having the most fun.” He has left a mark on literally every place I’ve ever climbed, and I’ve been lucky enough to learn a few things from people that knew and climbed with him. Any further association with me would be an ugly lie. Two amazing European climbers found his body with another partner last week after 16 years in Himalayan ice. Respect.

I’ve had a few recent adventures though with a new friend who also spent a lot of time in Bozeman- and in who I see the passion I imagine Mr. Lowe was talking about.

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Doing the work.

Devon and I headed to ski “The Fly” couloir on Lane Peak in Mt. Rainier National Park the first week of April.It didn’t freeze overnight, we watched an adjacent peak avalanche, and the next morning, called off our ski from half-way up due to funky snow and warm temps. I think we made the right call. A lightweight bivy, fun ski tour, and good conversation were more than a consolation prize.

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See you again soon.

This week, Devon mentioned getting one last ski tour before things (quickly) dry up. Mr. Lowe pioneered a style of “dawn patrolling” to meet his family and professional commitments while also satiating his thirst for adventure. Wake up obscenely early, combine a couple adventure sports, and be back at your desk at a reasonable hour. We picked a Thursday to ski and climb “The Tooth,” a short summit behind the Alpental Ski Resort.

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Some people will say that our style was less pure because we slept at the trailhead the night before. Whatever.

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Simul-climbing at first light.

What matters is that we got the goods and got to our desks by 10am.  The DP with Mr. DP was a real pleasure, and the first of what I hope will be many.

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Not bad for 715am on a Thursday morning.

 

 

To Share

A few days before Thanksgiving, I was walking to an appointment feeling stressed. Despite nearly doubling my salary from my last job to this one, I’ve still felt tight for money since I’ve been in Seattle. Walking past a group of homeless folks, I realized something interesting about my life:

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No matter where I have lived, how much I have made, or what I have done for work, I have always had enough to meet all of my really essential needs, and had enough to share with others.

My relationship to money has varied over time. Despite usually being better off than most of my friends, money has stressed me out for my entire adult life. Like many, I am quick to peg my self worth on my material worth. I awake easily in the night convinced that only a redoubled focus on thrift will afford me the means to address future uncertainty.

My observation though points to the fact that life, like a mountain lake, fills the container you put it in. When I made less, I lived differently, but life was no less full.

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I am extremely privileged in many ways. I am deeply thankful to have many friends who unquestioningly share their abundance with me. I am equally thankful for friends who show me how to live fully on far less than I have (and with whom I can share what I am able). There is much to be thankful for.

Fear less, do more, take responsibility for the choices you make along the way.

“All fear comes from trying to see the future.” (Wally Lamb)

Sage

I got out of the car, and the familiar smell of sage in the crisp Autumn night hit my nose. It’s the thing I remember most about climbing at one of my favorite places. As the rain settles into Seattle, it’s nice to have this last blast of sunlight and dry to brace against the winter.

Smith Rock, Oregon, central Oregon, climbing, Crooked River

No place like this place.

On Halloween weekend, Abigail and I tore out of work on Friday and made fast time to Smith Rock State Park. It’s been almost four years since my last trip to Smith. I’ve climbed a lot since then, and more experience makes me appreciate Smith even more. Even better, my good friend Pat (of many, many past Smith adventures), his girlfriend Caitlyn, my old roommate Paul and his girlfriend Genevieve joined us. It was a very good time in amazing weather.

belaying, dogs of climbing, Smith Rock

When it’s rainy in Seattle…

We warmed up on some regular favorites in the Shipwreck Gully, and Abigail got the full experience leading a properly run out, nubby Smith 5.9.

lead climbing, nubbins, pink tights

Feeling the sharpness

Sunday was warm in the sun, but freezing in the wind. We headed to the Marsupials to avoid crowds and found some excellent lines in the sun. Easily, my climbing highlight was an on-site of Ryan’s Arete. After not really doing any challenging sport climbing all summer, this felt proud. As always, time with old friends was grounding and I’m excited to see Abigail discover this crazy sport for herself.

Koala Rock, Smith Rock, Central Oregon, Ryan's Arete

Ryan’s Arete, just after dispatching the first crux. Steep.

After a typically stellar dinner at the Terrebonne Depot, Pat and Caitlyn headed for Portland. Monday dawned crisp and clear – we climbed the ultra-classics at Morning Glory Wall and snuck in a run over Misery Ridge and around the Southern Tip before headed back to Seattle.

Smith delivers. It will not be another four years.

Weekending

(wrote this a few weeks ago and didn’t get to post it)

backcountry ski gear, trad climbing, climbing gear, shovel beacon probe,

The full kit. Going to Utah in 2015.

I was tired on Thursday night {two weeks ago}, but came home from a run and put dinner together. I didn’t want to do the dishes, but they were necessary before the next step. My brain hit autopilot- I dried the knives from dinner, and starting pulling food out of the cabinet. Packing is a special meditation on simplicity, adventure, and putting yourself in the position to have some silly fun outside.

camping food, dehydrated food

Packing food is the least fun and most effort. Montana backpacking with Dustin in 2012.

I spent the next hour, there, in the state when you are thinking, but not really thinking. Moving gear, food, clothing, remembering your headlamp, your toothbrush. Combing my brain for the thing I might forget.

From my bike tour in Colombia. I am thinking I have too much gear.

Headed to Colombia in 2011. I am thinking I have too much gear.

I still almost always forget something- the coffee filter in Squamish, my favorite spoon in Utah. I don’t even really mind, sometimes it’s more fun to do without. I realize that most of my co-workers don’t think about weekends the same way. I was out of town for 2 of 4 weekends in August, 3 of 4 weekends in September, and 3 of 4 weekends in October. I still don’t think I get out as much as a I would like. On Thursday nights though, packing, I’m already on the adventure.

rubbermaid, duffle bags, fruit leather

Organize by bins. Going to Las Vegas in 2014.

I’m in my happiest place, getting ready to go someplace. My ideal weekend doesn’t involve football, or recliners, or mowing the grass. It is about living out of my car, climbing, running, and skiing. Eating at dive bars and staring at campfires. Simpler, wilder, better.

dirtbag van, messy climbing gear

Having a van isn’t always a good thing. In the North Cascades with Andy in 2009

I don’t really care that I’m a driven 31 year old professional that aspires to live out of his car. That my passion for career and world-changing may never truly allow a full transition to vagabond also doesn’t matter. A tireless schedule of travel is about having more experiences with the things I already have. About good food, warm clothes, beautiful places. Friday nights are meant to be spent driving someplace cool with a partner and a car-full of gear. I hope I never loose track of that priority.

Laps

The best birthday present? Perfect weather in Squamish with this lady.

The best birthday present? Perfect weather in Squamish with this lady.

Thinking strictly back through this year-

The last day of year 30 (age 29), I spent with three good friends working on a new rock climbing route in a remote Montana canyon. After the party, I woke up to to spend a 13 hour shift cleaning furnaces and ventilation units.

I spent last fall in a cloud of stress and professional work that obscured my real gifts, and my real goals.

Just before Thanksgiving, I got earned my Certified Passive House Consultants certificate. The cloud lifted enough to glimpse the next evolution of my passion for buildings.

Ky, setting off for new things.

Ky, setting off for new things.

Over Christmas, I relished some time with my family, welcomed this rad lady into my life, and had the clarity to reach out to old friends about new opportunities.

Moving to Washington felt abrupt despite the nearly 3 months it took to execute. The desert was the place to begin again. My heart still hurts for the deep friends I could not spend enough time with before I left.

Sometimes the straight-forward things are still confusing.

Sometimes the straight-forward things are still confusing.

I started work, started running, and stopped worrying about the decisions I had made. I drank in sunny spring days in Seattle to fill myself with an old love for the Cascades.

It feels good to step up (photo by Ky Nayfield).

It feels good to step up (photo by Ky Nayfield).

I saw old friends, made new ones, and made another trip to the sacred Brooks Range. I thought I might push a little farther in my first ultra-marathon, only to find it was much, much more than I thought.

That seems like plenty of living in a year for me. While this transition may have been even bigger than the one I made in 2011, it feels more natural. On my birthday I woke up in Leavenworth, Washington to climb with Ky before heading back to an amazing dinner and dessert. Ky asked me: “so- what will make this coming year just as big as the past?”  It is a question that is worth the year it will take to answer it.

Tired boy, dirty car. Let's go for another lap around the sun?

Tired boy, dirty car. Let’s go for another lap around the sun?

250,000:1

(ed. note: click on the panoramas for larger versions)

250,000:1 was the scale of the map I spent most of last week looking at. It’s how I feel trying to write about it- I need 250,000 words to describe just one: Alaska

ANWR, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Gates of the Arctic National Park

Only this place.

This trip, I went to celebrate one of my favorite couples tying the knot. I got to introduce my special lady friend to my special friendly place. I got to see a pile of other wonderful people and places that have shaped the scale of my mental universe.

Margaret and Michael- your partnership is a blessing to all of us.

Margaret and Michael- your partnership is a blessing to all of us.

After celebrating in Palmer, and having the honor of playing my cello as my good friend Margaret walked down the aisle, Abigail and I took the rare chance to get into the Brooks Range in Gates of the Arctic National Park. One extremely generous friend loaned us an appropriate vehicle, another collected our soggy selves on the return.

Getting soggy.

Getting soggy.

A few notes about visiting the Gates of the Arctic National Park:

  • There are no trails.
  • There are no trailheads
  • There are no roads that actually cross inside the park boundary
  • There are no medical or rescue services
  • There are no other visitors
  • There is a gift shop

The Brooks Range is the most pure, wild place I have ever been. I love it for the unique depth of its wilderness. For the steep price of commitment and effort it requires to visit. For the singular vibrancy that only tracing the edge of the unknown can reveal.

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Into the wild.

Maid of the mist.

Maid of the mist.

We also had a pile of fun. Since there are no trailheads, we started our trip based on identifying major topographic features from the road, crossing a major river, and walking into the woods. On our second afternoon we discovered we had, yet again, underestimated the scale of our map, and started our trip 15 miles south of our original itinerary.

caribou, antlers, caribou shed, gates of the arctic national park

Signs of the locals.

The mistake allowed us to let go of the arbitrary goal we had picked on the map and accept the spectacular place we had found ourselves.

Full grown bull moose at 300 yds.

Full grown bull moose at 300 yds.

Hammond River Valley, Alaska

Hammond River Valley

Just after snow, smile.

Just after snow, smile.

Our mistake also allowed us to play our hand against typically Alaskan weather. We set up base camp, drank coffee while it rained and dashed out when the clouds broke. Thanks to Abigail for her wisdom in making the most of the alternate path. Intermittent rain followed us down the road home, but broke up south of the Alaska range, just in time to see Denali before we met friends and flew back to Seattle.

The Great One, Denali National Park, Alaska

The Great One, Denali National Park, Alaska

Zero or Two for Two

“I just want you both to know that I did not really think that was fun.

Mt Rainier, weather, whiteout, Mt Rainier National Park.

Rainier summit #2.

12 hours prior I had loudly exclaimed “I love mountaineering,” after 6 hours of hauling a heavy pack up to the Ingraham glacier on Mt. Rainier. I was psyched for the adventure of tying into the rope, showing new friends a beautiful mountain, and sleeping on snow. After a beautiful sunset and a few hours rest, Abigail, Paul, and me summited in a 40mph, freezing rain whiteout. It was the second time I’ve summited Rainier, and my second time being totally shut out of the view. On the way up, we had been led to believe otherwise.

Splitter.

Splitter from the car.

At the beach.

Paul at the beach.

Baja, Washington. A' rocking her brand new AT setup.

Baja, Washington. Pink tights aren’t just for running.

We got started under clear skies and warm weather. The forecast looked in our favor, and we got some of the last un-reserved permits to get up high on the mountain. While we regretted the longer walk, I was happy to camp away from the crowds at Camp Muir, and show Abigail a proper snow camping experience. The view from camp didn’t hurt my case:

Mt Rainier National Park, Little Tahoma, climbing Rainier, mountaineering, Ingraham Flats

Little Tahoma from camp.

Makin' water.

Makin’ water.

Mt Rainier, like the rest of Washington (and the west coast) is way below average snowpack this year. The route is much more in late July conditions and made for scrappy climbing. We were more than happy to follow the guide service flags up the long walk to the summit. We left much earlier than I expected, at 1am, and I made a point of watching for stars against the black sky. All seemed well.

Seattle traffic.

Seattle traffic.

We passed and got passed by various parties, and started the last 1000 vertical feet around 445am. The wind was picking up and the high grey cloudband caught my attention- and I didn’t choose to bail. So we walked, and the guided parties walked, and we all ended up at the top around the same time, and it was whiteout. Whiteout like a golf-ball, and windy like the inside of the ductwork I design. Paul ran off for a quick trip to the true summit and Abigail and I hunkered down to try and stay warm. It was not a fun summit experience.

Huh, my water doesn't want to come out of there...

Huh, my water bottle doesn’t perform in these conditions…

We raced for lower elevations, only to find the storm chasing us down the mountain. Just above the Cleaver, the clouds flattened their descent and we rested to take in what little view we got.

Respite from maelstrom.

Respite from maelstrom.

Further down, we found loose slush and snuck past enormous cracks we hadn’t noticed in the predawn black. We collected our camp and despite dreams of hot drinks while up top, the impetus to beat the heat on the way down prevailed. Travelling downward, your pack gets heavier as the crampons, then rope, then skins get piled on, but once we picked up our skis at Muir we made good time.

Driving back, the satisfaction of hard work and sweat mixed with the simple dejection of a bitter summit. Kudos to Abigail for absorbing a huge amount of new information, gear, and harsh conditions. I can’t honestly say that it gets easier with time, but I want to believe that it does. Kudos to Paul for charging into the next phase of his outdoor skillset and making all the water for our crew. There’s more to be done on this particular bump, but that can wait for next year.