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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.

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

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.

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 but suddenly 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.

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.

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.

2015

 

The first sunrise of 2015. SF Bay Bridge, California

The first sunrise of 2015. SF Bay Bridge, California

New Years has always been a really special one for me. I love the way the calendar resets, and the fresh feeling on life that I get around this time of year. More daylight and good skiing don’t hurt either. This blog will be a less active project this year as I focus on other things. Follow me on instagram (skanderspies) or facebook for more casual followings. I will update with adventures as I’m able. Best wishes for all big things!

San Luis Obispo, California

The airport code is SLO and it’s been a good place to be after a decided manic December. My grandmother was a really special woman- but our family is really spread out and it wasn’t possible to be together after she passed away last February. My family has been blessed with more than enough resources to have a beautiful time together.

Real slow.

Real slow.

Conveniently provided at our accommodation...

Conveniently provided at our accommodation…

Aussie relatives note the entirely different night sky.

Aussie relatives note the entirely different night sky.

Going to get dinner.

Going to get dinner.

Hearst Castle library. Absurd, but amazing.

Hearst Castle library. Absurd, but amazing.

Living fully often means filling every moment, but having some downtime is just as important. My family is as different as the geography that we inhabit, but a shared love for each other, and great food makes time together easy. Workouts with my nephews, talking business with my uncle and brothers, and music together with everyone are a perfect way to recharge for 2015 adventures.

Perfect weather.

Perfect weather.

Lots of eating. Lots.

Lots of eating. Lots.

Start them early!

Start them early!

Brothers. Strong.

Brothers. Strong.

Many thanks to Dustin for facilitating my Red Eye connection in Portland.

4am in PDX.

4am in PDX.

Liminal

One of my favorite writer/climbers uses this term to describe “the state of being in between.” For me, liminal describes the delicate line that exists between having fun and pushing myself through fear, or pain, or stress to have deeply transformative experiences. Liminal is the feeling of walking the perfect, terrifying line between hanging on and falling off- and it’s really surprisingly fun.

I wasn’t feeling like climbing that hard in Squamish. I just couldn’t seem to find the extra mental fortitude to get on climbs with harder numbers on them. This blog started with a mantra “Let go of the baggage, and get the feeling to stick,” but I’ve been carrying some baggage for most of this summer. Before we left Washington, Dustin ran me into the ground before dinner one night, but we couldn’t leave it behind. Long days of driving, and time with some of the most amazing people in my life hasn’t been able to lift it. I won’t make excuses, I need to make some corrections, but pretending it isn’t there doesn’t serve anything. Climbing though has it’s own way of stripping it all away like nothing else can. I knew I wouldn’t feel right if I left Squamish without walking the liminal line.

Squamish Buttress, Rock Climbing

First glance at the Buttress.

I spent 10 days in Squamish in 2010 and loved every minute of it, but at the end of a long day that June, I stood at the base of the crux pitch of “Squamish Buttress” (5.10c, 5 pitches) and handed over the lead to my friend Hans- only because I was scared to walk the line. This year, Ky drove up from Bellingham after work on Friday just as Dustin and Gaio had to head south again. We grabbed a few warm up pitches, and planned an epic Saturday.

Squamish, Rock On, Rock Climbing

Mr. Nayfield leads us up the start.

The Buttress is one of the last pitches on the way to the summit, so getting there means picking one of several other excellent routes to combine into a full day of climbing. One of the most vertical and direct preliminary routes is “Rock On” (5.10a, 5 pitches). All of the pitches are dead vertical, and the 50m pitch 4 crux features an exciting overhang on amazing jams. Frequently included as a top 100 route in Squamish, we had a very good time.

Working the pitch 4

Working the pitch 4 crux.

Squamish, Rock On, Rock Climbing

Rad overhanging corners on the lower route.

There is a magical thing in climbing, when you and your partner simply “click”. It’s kinda always felt that way with Ky, and the pitches flowed by, each more fun than the next. From the top of Rock On, we hiked through the trees and found the alternate 5.9 slab+arete start to the Buttress route. Ky led brilliantly while my butterflies started to flutter as we worked our way up to the crux.

Me, getting into the business (photo: Ky Nayfield).

Me, getting into the business (photo: Ky Nayfield).

We took a minute at the base. No one else was in line at the crux, and I needed to clear my head before I got down to business. The climbing is thin, cerebral, and sustained- you can’t just muscle it. I tightened my shoes and headed up. It’s hard from the get go, and just gets harder. Once I committed to the second half of the route, I was in it to win. I took my time thinking through each move and each piece of protection. When you are right on the line between falling off and flowing onwards, there is nothing else to think about. It is one of the most perfect feelings in life.

IMG_2197

Blue shirts, red helmets, and tan pants, I swear we didn’t plan it that way.

I did send the route cleanly, and was more than happy to put the old fears away. Ky and I made it back to Bellingham in ample time for dinner and rest before my long drive to Montana the next day. No doubt one of my best days climbing with one of my favorite partners on a perfect link-up of terrain. The clarity and stoke stuck in my system for days. It only happens when you are willing to step in the arena and try- when you walk the liminal line. Pick something hard and chase it- it’s worth it.

Until next time.

Until next time.

Disneyland

"Look mom...!"

“Look mom…!”

“This place is climbing Disneyland.” In his first few minutes, Dustin had perfectly identified a very important fact. I can think of no other place with amazing granite trad multipitch lines, easy cragging, and outstanding bouldering just 10 minutes walk from your tent. Your tent, which is pitched under a perfect canopy of large conifers, perched on a spectacular bluff overlooking Howe Sound. You eat dinner with an international cast of generally friendly, well-behaved climbers of every skill level, as well as a few kayakers, cycle tourists, and wing-suit flyers to boot. The stoke is typically through the roof, and if by chance someone happens to be on your route when you get to the base of it in the morning, they are more than likely psyched to either let you pass, or direct you to a similar or better route in the immediate vicinity. I do not spend enough time here.

The weather for the first few days of my trip had been less than ideal in Squamish, hence climbing in Mazama, and a quick stop to do some work on the Moon family cabin.

On  my vacation from construction work... (photo by Dustin)

On my vacation from construction work… (photo by Dustin)

I had always talked up trad climbing, and the wonders of granite cracks, but my many past adventures hadn’t taken that particular form. Being willing, available, and proximate, crack climbing 101 was suddenly inevitable. His lovely lady Gaio, had never been climbing outside and was even still willing after watching the entire “Wide Boys Crack School“, so north we went on a clearing Wednesday morning.

Garibaldy and the Chief welcome us.

Garibaldy and the Chief welcome us.

We started on some easy cracks at the ever beautiful Burgers and Fries area in the Smoke Bluffs. It took Dustin about 3 hours to get itch to lead (the hard scary part of climbing). He is one of the most natural athletes I’ve ever met, so I gave the rack and a few tips, and he clipped the anchors in short order. We were off to the races.

"What is this 'jamming' thing you speak of...?"

“What is this ‘jamming’ thing you speak of…?”

Clipping the chains on his first lead.

Clipping the chains on his first lead (photo by Gaio)

We spent day 2 cragging away from the crowds on the incredible Malamute. 10 minutes walk from camp, the 400′ cliff boasts a wide variety of amazing cracks- with no road noise, few other people, and spectacular views of the sea. Ideal.

"High Mountain Woody" (5.9 45m) - I could see why you might get one...

“High Mountain Woody” (5.9 45m) – I could see why you might get one…

'Paul's Crack' on the Malamute. Unbelievable.

‘Paul’s Crack’ on the Malamute. Unbelievable.

Getting the feel for leading past the funny things that are not bolts.

Getting the feel for leading past the funny things that are not bolts.

Like kids in Disneyland...

Like kids in Disneyland…

Dustin and Gaio were headed home for more work on the roof on Friday night, and I knew they needed to experience a multipitch line before they left. We accounted for being a team of 3 and our relative skill levels, picking our way through the forest to “Cream of White Mice” (II, 5.9, 4 pitches). It was the perfect outing- some finger cracks, a dyke, a nice 5.8 slab traverse and a tricky ending, with 4 rappels back to camp for a perfect outing. Disneyland sure is fun.

4 pitches and still smiling!

4 pitches and still smiling!

I probably wouldn’t encourage most beginners to dive straight into a climbing trip to Squamish. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in the last 10 years of climbing, and am thankful that very few of them have resulted in anything more than a couple hours of being cold and some lost gear. Dustin and Gaio were vocally grateful to have a dedicated guide to show them the literal ropes, and I realized that even as much as I enjoy climbing hard things and challenging myself, teaching climbing is one of the most fulfilling and rewarding things that I know how to do. It is of course far easier with fit, willing, and smart students. The experience of sharing this passion of mine with one of my closest friends is a reward that is exceedingly rare. I hadn’t planned on having that experience this trip, but it would have been far less rich without it.

View from camp.

View from dinner.