Tag Archives: Australia

2013 In Review

Photo: Amy O'Toole.

Photo: Amy O’Toole.

I’m grateful to say that if nothing else, the sorrows and successes of 2013 have been real. A quick review of everything:

Went to Australia. Saw family. Deepened old friendships, made new ones. Climbed. Played. Smiled.

John, Otto, and Manly Beach, NSW.

John, Otto, and Manly Beach, NSW.

Traveled back to Missoula, and liked that I came back here. Found love. Finished some great projects. Wrote a website. Loved winter.

Sceptre is in fat...

Winter. Winter. Winter.

Climbed. Skied. Hurt. Worked until I couldn’t anymore. Fought for an engineering license and lost. Lost some clients. Lost love. Lost myself.

Get it... in a boot.

Get it… in a boot.

Had foot surgery. Learned about love, and myself. Waited.

We are enough.

We are enough.

Celebrated summer. Celebrated this place. Celebrated climbing again, and better. Celebrated my profession.

Getting back into it.

Getting back into it.

Found Wyoming. Found the roots, and the crown, of my experience in the wilderness. Found the perfection in imperfection.

Huge shout to Bryan and the Feather Buttress.

Huge shout to Bryan and the Feather Buttress.

Got older. Got more honest. Got excited about winter. Got back to Chicago.

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Also, can’t talk about this year without credit to the soundtrack for it. 2013- it’s been real. To 2014, I say “yes!”

2014 is the question. Yes is the answer.

2014 is the question. Yes is the answer.

Short Trip Home

One ocean, two countries, three states, and four days- I’m back in Missoula tonight, and grateful to be here.  Despite a few detours, the trip home has felt short- perhaps as it should.  I had a fantastic few days in Sydney – visiting old friends, ping pong, cricket, and lots of brilliant food.

Morgan, for the 6!

Morgan, for the 6!

Brotherly death match.

Brotherly death match (photo: Morgan Wagner).

Old friends and new friends (photo: Jill Brigden)

Old friends and new friends (photo: Jill Brigden)

Thursday was a doozy- 7am run. 12pm rock gym session.  5pm “Sunday dinner”. 9pm flight to Honolulu (landed at 10am on Thursday morning, again). 4 hour layover. 6 hour flight to Seattle.  I was very thankful for a few extra seats on the long flight, so I had relatively little jetlag to fight.

In the sunlight.

In the sunlight.

Goodbye.

Goodbye.

I spent Friday in Tacoma with Pat, who graciously stored my car while I was traveling.  I enjoyed seeing his life there, and a fantastic concert by a cellist I didn’t know.  Saturday I split for Bellingham to catch up with Ky and Amanda in their new digs and check out a city I’ve always wanted to see (worth the trip).

Tropics + 36 hours.

Tropics + 36 hours.

Bellingham winter.

Bellingham winter.

I left early this morning to catch breakfast with my friends Bob and Nancy in Stanwood, WA- they’ve been a huge support to me over the years, and I’ve been overdue to check in with them.  Sometimes the smallest visits can be the most supportive.  I got in the car and fired the last 540 miles home this afternoon- Montana welcomed me appropriately.

Winter welcome.

Winter welcome.

I need to express thanks to a tremendous number of people for making this trip possible.  In no particular order: Bob (+family), Alan, Amy, Pat, Andy L, Jane, Marten, Andy G, Dustin, Justin, Micah, Ky, Amanda, Jill&John (+family), and probably at least a few more.  Thank you. I am deeply grateful to the universe for many miles of safe travel and indelible experience.  Cheers.

Skander and Andy Go to the Beach and Break Shit

This trip has been in the making for a long time- I’ve never spent this much time with my brother and his family, and it’s been nothing but good.  Beyond that though, I’ve spent the last week with another wonderful friend, mentor, and human being.  I haven’t written about Andy Lemann very much, but he’s probably been one of the most important people in my life in the last year.

On the way down from the Blue Mountains.

On the way down from the Blue Mountains.

He got me the job that I work and love at Energetechs.
He showed me around Missoula when I didn’t know anyone else.
He’s taught me more than anyone else about architecture, dancing with beautiful women, and simplifying my life.

This is Andy's country, and he knows all the best parts- Kangaroo Valley.

This is Andy’s country, and he knows all the best parts- Kangaroo Valley.

And in September, he taught me quite a bit about family when he left Missoula and moved back to Bowral, New South Wales, to take care of his aging parents and reconnect with the community he left almost 25 years ago.

Apparently, a big deal.

Apparently, a big deal.

Delicious.

Delicious.

Rural towns are eager to have something to be proud of.  In Robertson, that's a giant concrete potatoe...

Rural towns are eager to have something to be proud of. In Robertson, that’s a giant concrete potatoe…

Bowral sunsets from the kitchen sink are not to be missed.

Bowral sunsets from the kitchen sink are not to be missed.

Andy picked me up in the Blue Mountains last Tuesday, and we celebrated his father’s birthday on Wednesday in Bowral.  I found a cello, cranked out a performance of a Bach Suite and Andy and I quickly re-arranged a bunch of the tunes that we had performed together last summer- his father couldn’t be more pleased.  More than anything though, Andy loves the beach, so Thursday afternoon we hitched a dinghy to the truck and headed for Shell Harbor- at which point we started breaking shit.

Surf! For a little bit.

Surf! For a little bit.

Andy gave me an awesome surfing lesson, until I got washing machined on some rocks and cracked a fin off his brand new surfboard (but not before I finally, finally got to stand up on top of a wave).  Friday morning we went sailing, until we jibed south, and the mainsail boom snapped in half like a toothpick.

Sail! For a little bit.

Sail! For a little bit. (Photo – Andy Lemann)

The cockpit cover tore, the bilge pump gave out (momentarily), and we managed to almost overload the dinghy (twice).  I only narrowly avoided driving on the wrong side of the road… twice.

"Bloody hell the boom broke!"  It's a unique feeling that...

“Bloody hell the boom broke!” It’s a unique feeling that…

We had hoped to sail and surf more, but with our toys in disarray we got a box of wine and hopped a train to Sydney.  Andy’s grandmother owns a place in Double Bay, one of the most desirable parts of Sydney Harbour and Andy was eager to share their little slice of heaven with me.  While it was truly a rare opportunity, my body had the last laugh because I spent the one night we had at the house writhing in pain from the wisdom tooth that decided to erupt through my gumline.  Andy naturally, took care of me with utmost compassion, and sent me on the way with family Sunday afternoon.  Thank you my friend, for amazing times here, and wonderful friendship always.

Two men, each more than worth traveling 16,000 miles to see.

Well worth 16,000 miles of traveling. (Photo- Lynley Wagner)

I’m back in Turramurra (north of Sydney) for the last few days of holiday, eating liquid food, and sorting out what other fun I can have while clutching an ice pack to my jaw.  I’ll be trying to get some larger photo albums posted on my Picasa site, and will post links shortly.

Debris

Hard climbing, easy climbing, beautiful climbing- it’s all here in the Blue Mountains. Huge thanks to my hosts Alan and Amy, I’ve had a truly unreal week of climbing, camping, and general horsing around. This past Monday started with an upset as rainy conditions scared us off of “Hotel California” (10p, 5.11b), but after a long walk to the Hanging Rock formation, we went back to Pierce’s Pass to tick “Debris”- the largest, most exposed pitch of climbing I’ve ever seen.

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(Top blue dot= Alan at halfway, bottom blue dot= Skander at hanging belay)

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(Alan is all- “no big deal…”)
This was all Alan. It was his vision to do it, and it was his perfect, onsite lead. The pitch is 52m of sustained 5.11c- major respect. I had nothing to do but support him, I belayed, climbed second, and did most of the being scared. I completed the moves,but not without resting on the rope a number of times- mostly to get my head sorted out against the wild, wild exposure. The movement was mostly straightforward, powerful, and sustained, but the position on the very edge of the arête, overhanging in two directions, was totally stunning.

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(Skander on second… Alan at top)
I have often struggled with big exposure in my climbing, but I wanted to have the experience and get a little further out of my comfort zone. Doing this leaves me feeling like I have some solid tools for feeling less gripped on the big stone. It also made a perfect memory for one of my last days of climbing here with a partner that I have sincerely enjoyed re-connecting with. Do the things that scare you- and when you do, don’t be afraid to realize that those things are awesome.

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(Pierce’s Pass, just above Debris)
Plenty of other less serious fun has also been had. Since my last post, the three of us shared “Sweet Dreams” (5p, 5.9) on Saturday morning (we finished the route by 1030am to beat ridiculously hot temperatures), and spent Sunday climbing piles of very short, very fun problems at the Dam Cliffs (key note, don’t forget to jump the dam!)

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(Long enough to hurt your feet)

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(Climb all the things!)
Camping with hippies, good Indian food, and amazing scenery rounded out the experience. I mentioned hanging rock above, yeah that’s worth a few photos as well. I’m starting to think I need a better camera again:

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(Amy peaks over the edge)

Katoomba

Australian place names are just cooler than American ones- Katoomba is a bit of a tourist trap, but it’s also ground zero for outdoor recreation in the Blue Mountains National Park. As I’ve noticed in the past, climbing makes me feel more at home where-ever I am than almost any other thing I do. Even better, I met Alan two years ago in Squamish, B.C., and he and his leading lady Amy were in town for full on climbing holidays. We’ve been having a very good time.

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(good to see an old friend)

I took the train up Wednesday morning, and after a trip to the post office and grocery, Alan says “how about a quick 5 pitches this evening.”
In a word- “yes.”

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(more exposure please!)

While not the climbing wasn’t particularly beyond me, I’ve never climbed anything so exposed, and Alan’s mate Paul joined us for the fun while Amy rummaged for dinner. We had a good time- more on the phenomenon of “carrot bolts” in another post.

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(top out stoke with Paul)

I got an unlucky finish with rope drag topping out the second crux pitch and felt a muscle tear in my back while yarding up the rope for the seconds. Despite the exceptional climb, it wasn’t the best way to start the trip.

Thursday morning was surprisingly misty and cool, but Amy and Alan were up for some adventure so we headed for another stellar multipitch at Pulpit Rock. Amy lead off, I got the gymnastic overhanging crux, and Alan (who climbs 5.13) stuck the 5.7 outward facing roof chimney pitch (yes, you read that right).

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(misty, but pretty)

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(outward facing roof chimney crack….)
Late afternoon found us racked up at a short sport crag, and despite best best effort at the 5.10d warmup, my back wasn’t up for steep sport climbing. Alan, and his friend Rhys however- proved the moniker that the Blue Mountains are “all about steep, hard, sport climbing.”

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(pull hard, Skander, its steep)

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(whipped)

I took today very easy, still on-siting 5.10c though and feeling my back badly. The scenery and company can’t be beat, and my friends seem to know everyone, so even just hanging out at the crags is a really good time. The Blue Mountains are one of the most unique areas I’ve been in and I’m truly loving my (very relaxed) time here.
I’m blogging from the phone, so posts might be limited and with typos, thanks for following! More soon!

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(Amy, loving it)

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(more steeps!)

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(brilliant views from climbs, photo by Amy O’Toole)

Sydney, New South Wales

“On holiday” it’s a phrase that has a meaning that most Americans don’t really understand- but after 6 days in Sydney with my half-brother and his family- I’ve got a pretty good read on things.  “On Holiday” is about eating, lounging, doing all the fun things we don’t usually let ourselves go at and most importantly, not doing anything in particular at all.

On the other side of the Pacific.

On the other side of the Pacific.

Given my stop in Hawaii, I had almost zero trouble with jetlag, even though I left on Monday morning and showed up 10 hours later on Tuesday night.  Sydney is one of the great cities of the world, and even rolling home from the airport I was eager for a detour through the city streets.  Wednesday we hopped a ferry across the harbor, under the harbor bridge, and into the heart of things.  Photos to tell-

I love these kids- the background is nice too.

These guys are worth travelling 8,000 miles for- oh yeah, the background is nice too.

Top down view of the harbor from Sydney Tower.

Top down view of the harbor from Sydney Tower.

Getting a feel for old town in The Rocks district.

Getting a feel for old town in The Rocks district.

We’ve had a solid day on/day off pattern, with plenty of lounging around home.  The Cricket thing is big here, so my nephews made sure I had a complete experience.

Fully kitted up.

Fully kitted up.

In American baseball you "pitch," in cricket- you "bowl"- the difference is signficant.

In American baseball you “pitch,” in cricket- you “bowl”- the difference is signficant.

Most importantly though, it’s been over a year since I swam in the ocean, and Sydney beaches are truly world class.  Friday in Kilkare was nothing short of perfect.

Salt water.

Salt water.

Family beach day.

Family beach day.

Solar powered hot tub.

Solar powered hot tub.

My brother’s house is on the north side of Sydney, and perched close to Ku Ring Gai National Park, which means I’ve had a great opportunity to meet some of the locals.

They said hello first (literally).

They said hello first (literally).

Backyard entertainment.

Backyard entertainment.

Questioning my choice of flip flops for my hike.

Questionable choice of flip flops for a hike.

Names here are hilarious.

Say it as fast as possible.

Say it as fast as possible.

Really?  Bong bong?

Really? Bong bong?

I’ve spent the last day catching up on some professional commitments before I leave my computer and head out climbing, but this first week with the family has been worth the whole trip.  Even though he is my brother, we’ve (obviously) not spent much time together, and I’m looking forward to having some more time with him and his family after their vacation and some of my other adventures.

My nephew Morgan on the left, my brother Bob on the right- Sydney Harbor, January 2013.

My nephew Morgan on the left, my brother Bob on the right- Sydney Harbor, January 2013.

HNL

Like the title, my time on Oahu was abbreviated.  That said, it didn’t lack substance.  Given that December 30st started with this:

"Going to Hawaii, right..."

“Going to Hawaii, right…”

… it took most of the 6 hour flight from Seattle to convince myself I was going to sleep on a beach in Hawaii without a sleeping bag for the night.

I felt pretty good getting off the plane, and somehow managed to talk the rental car guy into a substantial upgrade from my originally reserved Ford Focus.

Rollin', like I do...

Rollin’, like I do…

My first stop might have been my most important.  I’ve wanted to visit the Pearl Harbor Valor in the Pacific war memorial for quite some time, and it was the only thing I had really planned to do on Oahu.  I visit war memorials a lot.  I think honoring the dead is important.   The Pearl Harbor memorial is well done, and powerful- and I particularly appreciated the fact that it clearly laid out the primarily economic drivers that coerced the Japanese into attacking Pearl Harbor (and entering WWII) in the first place- they are not dissimilar from our own current circumstances.  I couldn’t hold back the tears while I was there.  Our culture has a problem, more specifically- an addiction, to violence that I find entirely unacceptable.  Maybe, with time and luck, humanity will figure out how to meet it’s needs without killing one another.

Tribute to the 4,560 men KIA, just in the Pacific Submarine Service alone.

Tribute to the 4,560 men KIA, just in the Pacific Submarine Service alone.

Collecting myself, I took an obligatory pass to gawk and the absurdity of Waikiki beach, but followed some beta from the guy I sat next to on the plane and headed to Oahu’s east shore for a more down to earth scene.

Despite a thorough investigation via Yelp, Sunday night is a bad time to try to experience Hawaiian cuisine on the cheap.  That said, fish tacos, an acoustic bass guitar, and a gorgeous beach all to myself were a perfect way to spend the night.  With the time change, I was up plenty early on Monday morning, and around sunrise, I headed for the tallest point I could see.  Makapuu Point was the perfect spot for a healthy little run and some great photos.

East side- love.

East side- love.

The last sunrise of 2012.

The last sunrise of 2012.

After a dip in the ocean, and a few wrong turns, I headed up the Pali Hwy and back to the airport.  I can’t say much for Honolulu as a city- cluttered, dirty, and mostly ugly, but the rest of the place is pretty okay- and I’m certainly glad I poked around a bit before heading south.

Kaneohe, from the Pali Highway.  Worth the drive.

Kaneohe, from the Pali Highway. Worth the drive.