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On the Occassion You Misssed

For the Class of 2020- 

You will not get to sign yearbooks, walk the halls with the confidence you’ve earned in surviving their trials, or enjoy a graduation party under beautiful June skies. Your high school experience has been a critical time of hard work, coming of age experience, and (hopefully) a lot of fun.  To miss celebrating with the people essential to that time is a true loss, a real sacrifice. 

Instead, you have been thrust into a situation more serious and more complex than we wish any of our loved ones should face. A situation that your government, and all voting citizens, could have and should have done more to prevent. 

That will never be made right for you. 

My only hope is that you find some solace that your sacrifice is for something greater than yourself. It is for the health of our communities, for our medical professionals, for your friends and your neighbors. It is in concert with the many sacrifices of people across the world. It makes you a part of a movement that is teaching us, like many past catastrophes, to be more compassionate, generous, humble, and curious. A movement that reminds us to care more actively for our loved ones, and take interest in the affairs of the world. Our connection to each other, for better or worse, has been laid plainly in the fragility of our humanity.

In the next steps of your life, this shared sacrifice will give you something in common with every other 2020 graduate you meet. You will all have a story to tell and a similar shared sacrifice.  You’ll know, better than I do now, to celebrate small victories quickly but also play a long game, and to cheer more loudly for others than for yourself. I’m confident this shared experience will pay reliable dividends.

The future is bright- have confidence that you are strong and resilient. I cannot wait to hear about the things you achieve.

2019 Book List

I’ve finally started to make recreational reading part of my life again. Pleased to have chewed through these titles this year:

Born to Run, Chris McDougal*****
Flash Boys, Michael Lewis*****
MoneyBall, Michael Lewis
Fire and Brimstone, Michael Punke
Getting Green Done, Auden Schendler (re-read)
Rock Warriors Way, Arno Ilgner
Farsighted, Steven Johnson
Maid, Stephanie Land
The Impossible Climb, Mark Synnott
Breaking & Entering, Jeremy Smith
Refuge, Mark F. Twight
How To, Randall Munroe

(because I haven’t done one of these before, I included some favorites from 2018 also)


How Not to Be Wrong, Jordan Ellenberg
Barbarian Days, William Finnegan*****
The Push, Tommy Caldwell
Alone on the Wall, Alex Honnold

Winter Break

Tomorrow, we are getting on a big jet plane to Patagonia. Stayed tuned for photos and details. Me being me though, if I’m taking 5 weeks off in the winter, it’s best to start this party with a little *powder*:


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.


“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.


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.


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.



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


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.


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:


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.


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)


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.


(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.


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?


(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.

alaska river crossing

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