In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on the shore of Lake Superior is the town of Munising and the Pictured Rocks National Park and Lakeshore. It is the setting place for the 20+ year old Michigan Ice Festival. I spent the weekend there to give a presentation and teach clinics. As I was born and raised in the state, it was a special event for me, and I felt welcomed as such. I was really impressed by the beauty of the landscape. It’s a hilly snow covered scene with the ever present expanse of the lake commanding attention. Due to the abundance and porousness of the sandstone cliffs and the northerly latitude and climate, there are literally ice climbs everywhere. People traveled from near and far, and all levels of experience and preparedness were represented, from people climbing in jeans and cotton hoodies to people carrying packs that looked loaded with gear for month long expeditions.
An Illinois license plate
There was one person in particular that I will never forget. He was older and was alone, but obviously experienced as a climber. He had all of his own gear, and wore it comfortably as he did a constant smile. I was informed before we went out on Sunday that he had lung cancer, and might be slow on the approach. He arrived at the crag and his breath was foreign. It was mechanical and slow and deep. It sounded as though a breathing machine was inside of him. Throughout the course of the day, I observed him and spent some individual time with him. I watched him on the first climb, and he only went up about 10 feet before he got winded and the ‘machine breathing’ ensued. I thought to myself, “he’s just warming up.”
The same thing happened on his second climb. And then, on the third climb…Just 10 feet up, just a few moves, just a few moments. I went over to him as he was untying from the rope. He took his gloves off, and the sight of his wedding band allowed me a relief. I was happy to think that he was not alone; that he had someone who cared for him, someone that would be there when he got home. He said, “I have some , uhhhh, pulmonary issues,” and “I’ve started taking this new medicine that has really fucked my endurance.” I stood there for a moment just watching and listening. His breath slowly settled as he untied. He was looking down, and said with a simple honesty, it was almost contentment, “My days are done doing stuff like this.” I was caught off guard and confused, and it took me a moment to understand his words. It seemed like a long moment. Finally, I thought, “No. No way. He couldn’t…He didn’t just say that.” I had a strong and immediate emotional response, and fought hard to stay composed as tears welled up in my eyes. I thought, “You’ll get it next time.” He tried another time, and got less high and did less moves. I lowered him and went over. He said, “For this stuff, I’m used up.” He’s voice was so calm and his words were clear and candid. The realness of the situation weighed heavy on me. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to say. I just stood there. He asked if I wanted to climb, and I did…I always do. I just responded by instinct. I tied in, and he belayed me up. As I climbed, he asked me detailed questions about my movements, about my tactics, about my swing, about my kicks… His genuine enthusiasm and desire to learn despite his condition affected me deeply.
I came down and he was psyched to try again. As he prepared, he said, “I may only make it half way, but I’m gonna enjoy it immensely.” Again, it was so real. I truly believed him. There was no glamor, no superlatives for emphasis, nothing cool to be done, no personal ‘bests’ to be had. All that was there was a little bit of ice, and the courage to make a little bit of effort. It was the endpoint in a process of subtleties that seemed like the true gems of the experience for him; just getting to be outside and walk for a few moments in the woods, just getting to pack up the pack and carry it, just getting to lace up the boots, just getting to hold and swing the axes a few times, just getting to tie into the rope, just getting to try. These things, which most of us often overlook and take for granted on the way to something else, were really all that he had left. We would be wise to learn this lesson. On the last attempt, his feet didn’t even leave the ground, no joke. He just swung his his tools into the ice a few times. He tried to bring his foot up once, but set it down and then removed the tools from the ice. He looked back with a smile, and asked if we could get his camera out and take a picture of him “posing” with the ice. Maybe for his wife, maybe just for himself to remember. He said, “This may be the last time I get to do something like this.” He was not upset or sad. He seemed happy and comfortable. It was probably because, he didn’t come out that day to make it to the top of an icefall, only to tie into the rope, and stand beneath it, and look up at it and smile. Thank you for this lesson old man.
I returned from China to change; changing seasons, schedule, priorities. Winter, work, skiing, ice climbing and indoor gym climbing. I work for Black Diamond as the Rocky Mountain Ski Tech Rep. I enjoy it for the balance that it brings to my life; the balance of play with work, and climbing with skiing. It also allows me to understand the outdoor industry from different angles by experiencing real inner business workings, as well as having close contact and interactions with many levels of people in the industry, from company owners to other athletes to sales and marketing people to retailers and to general consumers.
Aspen trees in Vail, CO
Burdens of the season
- My winter ride full of skis and boots
Copper Mountain, CO
On the road in SW Colorado
Skiing in Jackson
Mile Long Chute in Granite Canyon. Jackson, WY
Spiral Staircase in Vail, CO
Ice climbing in Vail, CO
The Rigid Designator in Vail, CO
Ice climbing in Coal Creek, Redstone, CO
Basically, I’ve had damn good days with friends and family; 2 Thanksgiving holidays and dinners, a Christmas holiday and dinner and company party, a birthday or 2, and a couple other special events and random nights out. I feel really fortunate for all of the good people in my life, in the communities of which I am a part. I’ve also had some solid ski, ice climbing, and gym climbing days. I got to shred the resort with my little bro over Xmas, as well as untracked, waist deep Jackson side country. I climbed outside at Vail and indoors in gyms to prepare for the Ouray Ice Competition and Festival. I taught a clinic and gave a media presentation and competed there this year. I made an early mistake in the comp, took a huge fall (supposedly the biggest fall in the Ouray Comp ever), slammed into the wall causing an explosion of sparks from metal crampons on rock, and put a crampon into my ankle. So for my performance, I took last place. It was difficult to swallow, still is, but through the experience some heavy lessons were revealed. I am trying to understand them now to gain a fresh view of things. See the video by clicking on the pic directly below.
Ice in Vail, CO
Chillin after climbing in Redstone, CO
My roomies birthday dinner
Skiing in Jackson, WY
Skiing in Jackson, WY with a good crew
January is a busy month that started with Ouray. After that, I was supposed to take a brief jaunt to Italy to compete in an Ice Climbing World Cup event in Val Daone. But, an organizer got tragically crushed by a bulldozer during the set up of the wall structure, and died. The organizing committee called the event off out of respect and mourning, so I obviously didn’t go over there. The Outdoor Retailer (OR) trade show in Salt Lake City, UT was last week. And currently, the SnowSports Industries America (SIA) trade show is taking place in Denver. Immediately following SIA, I am traveling to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for the Michigan Ice Festival, and then down to Detroit to check in with the family and home team.
Here’s some shenanagins from the OR show
A couple months ago, Emily (Harrington) and I were invited to attend a very exclusive and secretive live art performance in Detroit by the American artist Matthew Barney. Though we certainly respect and appreciate art, and find many parallels between art and sport/climbing, we are not art fanatics, nor are we very knowledgeable about the art world. I’d like to think that he invited us as friends and colleagues, based on the work that we did with him in Basel, Switzerland in June. Whatever the case, getting to know him and his crew has been enlightening and is a distinguished blessing. They exist in a realm of pure and raw passion and creativity, and they work tirelessly as well. I value all of these things, and so when this opportunity arose, Emily and I decided that we HAD to go. Thus, we booked our tickets for Sept 30 – Oct 5. The only information we were provided is that there would be a dinner reception on the evening of the Oct 1st, and the performance would be all day long on the 2nd. Since my family lives in Detroit, and some dear friends, we allotted a couple days before and after the deal to chill with everyone. A few weeks after booking these initial tickets, Emily and I were asked to attend the Rocktoberfest on behalf of The North Face, Oct 8 – 10 in the Red River Gorge, KY. We eagerly agreed and changed our tickets accordingly (Sept 28 – Oct 13) to allow the time in Michigan, and also extra time in Kentucky to climb, with the plan being to borrow a car from my folks and drive the 6 hours from Detroit to the Red. Thus, on the whole, making for a wildly varied little trip…and so it was.
In the days before the Barney performance, Em and I chilled with my family and close friends. We climbed a day in my home gym, Planet Rock in Pontiac…where it all began for me. I have the deepest respect and admiration for this place, and it’s people, past and present. As well, the Detroit Rock Climbing Company (DRCC) is held with my utmost regard.
We went to the Barney performance opening dinner on the night of Oct 1st at the Guardian building in downtown Detroit, which was a totally badass venue. The following morning we were to be at the Detroit Institute of Arts by 11 am. From this place and time, what we did was complicated to depths of which I am uncertain. Rather than trying to communicate everything I saw, or trying to describe any of the numerous back-stories, or try to incorporate “meaning”, via how I or anyone else may have interpreted the events; Let me just say that we were among only about 200 hand selected esteemed people from the global art community for what some said was one of the most elaborate and important live art performances in history. See HERE for the details. Needless to say it was fucking badass, and Matthew is an absolute genius. He asked me after the performance was over, “We did Detroit proud, right?” I say, “God damn right dude, and so much more.”
The very next morning, Sun the 3rd, we packed the car, and departed to Kentucky. We arrived at the Lexington, KY airport in perfect timing to retrieve our good friend Andrew (Bisharat). After some grocery shopping and a stop at the lick-lick, lick-lick, Liquor Barn, we proceeded to Miguel’s in the town of Slade for dinner. It is the climbers’ haven, serving as a pizza restaurant, a climbing retail shop, and a campground all in one. This place is very special to me. I lived and worked here for the season in 2005, and it is where I had my first experiences of the climbing ‘lifestyle’. Eating, sleeping, breathing, working, resting…all for climbing. There is really nothing else to do down there. I was a lost college graduate not making use of my degrees, not willing to go back to school, had tried and rejected the 5 day/40+ hour a week job, and was merely wanting to unravel the ball of yarn that I felt my life had become. Sure, I climbed and I moved there to climb, but I wasn’t a climber. I was just someone that needed a place to simplify and slow down. The seasoned veterans and long time residents of the area showed me real and pure and proper devotion. They inspired me to live a deliberate and committed life, and helped me to make sense of my path. I try to carry these lessons with me now. But, I often loose sight of them; so returning to this place always helps me to remember.
All in all we had awesome weather, and climbed 6 days. I saw so many of my friends/mentors from near and far. One of my best friends, Beck (Kloss), came in from Minneapolis, MN to stay and climb with us. He lived and worked down here in 2004, and again in 2005 when I first came around. Em and I had a few formal obligations. We did 2 different slide shows and poster signings; one at Phillip Gall’s, a retailer in Lexington on Thursday, and one at the Rocktoberfest main event venue on Saturday night. On Sunday, we taught a clinic about climbing technique and footwork.
It was all damn good fun, but as with all things both good and fun, they never seem to last quite long enough. On Tues Oct 12, we packed up and went to Lexington for lunch and to drop Beck and Andrew at the airport. Em and I then drove back to Michigan, and flew back to Colorado the next day, which was yesterday. It is now Thursday, Oct 14, and we have only today to spend here, unpacking and repacking, because tomorrow we leave for China. Hot damn, here we go again.
The big trip to Turkey and Europe made me realize the balance and value of having a ‘home’, and of being stationary. Upon my return, I intended to stay put in Colorado for a bit, to enter into some sort of routine, and to do small trips here and there within the US. I was excited to see close friends that I had been without, and to rely for a time on familiar surroundings and objects. I was excited to climb in Rifle, trying routes that I haven’t done, repeating my favorite routes, and potentially putting up some new routes of my own.
Promptly after returning, my Subaru of many years and many miles died. Apparently the timing belt broke and trashed the engine. The last journey was from Boulder to Glenwood Springs. It almost made it to the destination of Carbondale, only 15 miles away, where I was travelling to see, stay, and climb in Rifle with one of my closest friends Andrew Bisharat. See a funny recount here. I sold it to a Midas grease monkey for $50, Andrew came and we emptied it out, he put a hammer through one of the taillights, and I said my last goodbye. Fuck it.
I began scouring the Internet and classifieds for a new rig. I found many, but since my credit is fucked because I defaulted on an insanely large condo mortgage, no one was going to offer me financing or an auto loan. I paid an overinflated amount at the highest point in the market before the decline, I should’ve listened to my pop on this one…It ultimately resulted in a short sale…for 55% of what I paid for the 400 square foot piece of shit…Oh yeah, and the dude got the $8000 ‘first time home buyer’ tax credit to help ‘boost home sales’ and ‘stimulate the economy.’ Lucky him…like I said, I just got fucked. Anyways, even the wicked (me) get lucky…
Craigslist brought my dream vehicle; The one that I have wanted since before I could drive, an all wheel drive Astro van. I saw the post about it, called the dude up, rallied the roomies, drove to where it was, test drove it, went to an ATM, paid the $1500, got the title, and drove it home all in about and hour. BOOM, DONE! I win. Ha haaaaaaa……
This became ‘home 2’, and I have lived in it all summer long in Rifle canyon with my special lady and climbing partner, Emily Harrington. We’d spend anywhere from a few days to a couple weeks out there in it. After purchasing the van, I outfitted it with a custom futon style bed, table to cook on with drawers for storage, a cooler and food, and all my climbing stuff. In between trips, we would return to Boulder to rest, sleep in a real room and bed, cook in a real kitchen, basically, justify the rent that I pay to have a room (aka ‘home 1’) in that town. This became an enjoyable rhythm that floated us through the remainder of June, and July through September.
As I explained earlier, there were some small side trips that I did to mix things up. June 21-24, I went to Salt Lake City, Utah for Black Diamond’s summer sales meeting. July 7-10, I went to New Orleans, Louisiana to see my family…and might have gotten loose on Bourbon St with my lil bro. August 1-5, I was back in Salt Lake City for Black Diamond’s summer research and design meeting, as well as the Outdoor Retailer summer trade show. Then, August 10-14, I went down to Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa, Mexico to stay with 2 close friends, Chris Grover and Boone Speed, at their home in Truncones.
We did only a few things; Slept, surfed, ate and drank, and chilled/meditated. Oh yeah, and I got some heinous Mexican food or water poisoning to round out the experience…It was worth it. August 30–September 1, Emily and I went to Chicago on behalf of The North Face for an America’s Great Outdoors listening session. I made a quick stop at The Code of Conduct tattoo shop as well. September 21-22, Emily and I attended The Telluride Photo Festival on behalf of The North Face to work with Tim Kemple in his workshop, ‘The Commecial Shoot’.
When I wasn’t in Boulder or on one of the side trips listed above, I was in Rifle. Ooooohhhhhh yes, Rifle. My Rifle canyon; where the crisp, cool, and clean air fills my lungs and makes me feel lighter and stronger, where the canyon walls envelope and comfort me like my favorite blanket, where the wind whispers and makes me believe in magic, possibilities unseen, potential unreached. The canyon was kind to me this season, allowing me success on a number of levels. I was fortunate to complete some of the most difficult routes in the canyon, to establish a few new routes of my own, and to make repeats of other hard new routes. The list is under the photos below with some notes.
The Crew 5.14c
-The hardest route in the canyon. I came painstakingly close last season, one hanging many times and from very low. I was shut down due to cold; on my last day, it was in the 20’s in the shade, and after climbing through the bottom crux to the first rest, my arms went numb to the elbow. I returned in June/July this year with a vendetta that required 5 am tactics for the best conditions, which weren’t really that good…This one was a difficult physical and mental battle for me.
-The most mystical route in the canyon. It embodies everything that is Rifle climbing; hard, cryptic, awkward, and intimidating. I have tried it a couple times a year for 4 years, and it always seemed desperately impossible. This year, on one of my attempts, I had an epiphany in which I discovered a method that worked for me.
Waka Flocka 14b, 2nd ascent
-An abandoned, partially bolted line on the Project Wall that Joe Kinder retro bolted, cleaned, and brought into magnificent existence by sending. A supreme new area test piece.
Rorschach Test 14b, equipped, 1st ascent
-A line that I spied in the Nappy Dugout, and wondered about. I sank the bolts, cleaned it all up dropping a few mini-fridge sized blocks in the process, and began attempting. There was a moment I thought some of the moves might not be possible for me. Speculative grade.
Planet X 14a, 2nd ascent
-A product of Steve Hong’s tireless extended cleaning effort in the Wicked Cave. It is a great new addition. I had a very memorable experience on this one, a true ‘floating in the moment’ event that I won’t forget, and will always try to recreate.
Caddywhompus 14a, 2nd ascent
-Another abandoned, partially bolted line on the Project Wall that Joe Kinder made real through his belief and vision and effort. It is a new gem for the canyon.
Living the Dream 14a, equipped, 2nd ascent
-An open and abandoned bolting permit led me to this; my first route in Rifle. A right finish/extension to the notorious ‘Living in Fear’, which has always been a very special route to me. It was a bit of an emotional roller coaster up through its completion, but well worth it all.
Class Act 14a, 1st ascent
-It is a mega pitch some 45-50 meters long that was only made possible by Chris Weidner’s effort in the creation of the ‘Simply Read’ extension, and openness to me climbing it via a different route. It climbs ‘Present Tense’ to the last bolt and then moves right and climbs to the very top of the Project wall.
Let it Burn 13d, equipped, 1st ascent
-It is a logical and obvious and very quality alternate finish to ‘Sometimes Always’ that climbs into ‘Living the Dream’.
Oh, and…we made this too in Rifle this summer…
And now, my season has come to a close, and these successes are locked in the past. They are cherished tests and creations, but ultimately just pieces of rock that are not so special or unlike any other. What is more important for me to realize and remember is the heart of my experience; who I was in those moments, how I had to conform and adapt to each unique situation, and the parts of myself that I normally don’t get to see.
I have bid adieu to my beloved canyon for a time. It was in a beautiful state on my last day. A hefty frost and subfreezing temps greeted us upon awakening from our slumber, but the sun warmed things up quickly. The trees were in their fall prime, bright golden yellow. The wind had a cold bite to it, and carried random leaves through the air and scattered them on the ground. The day was noticeably shorter, and the sun more orange than hot white, as in the middle of summer. As shade overcame the canyon, we departed. Onward to different places…
Immediately after the slow, steady, and stationary month of climbing in Turkey, I spent 6 fast paced weeks touring around central Europe, starting in the beginning of May. It was a completely different style of travel and life. We were constantly moving and we saw and did so much.
On March 30, Emily (Harrington) and I flew from Antalya, Turkey to Istanbul to spend a couple days. It is a large, old, and important city; half in Asia, and half in Europe. It is where the eastern world collides with the western world. We spent our days walking through the city, getting properly lost, stopping often to take chai (tea) in the mornings and Arak (anise liquer) in the afternoons. After a couple days of touring and sight seeing, on Apr 3, we flew from Istanbul to Zurich, Switzerland, rented a car, and drove it to Innsbruck, Austria. James (Pearson), who had accompanied us in Turkey, had invited us to visit. He is a kind and strong Brit, and had recently moved to there. Also, Boone (Speed) and his special lady friend, Jill (Daniel), rendezvoused with us here. We stayed a few days, and James showed us around. Innsbruck is a really cool, active, outdoorsy mountain town. The weather was poor; mostly cold, lots of rain, with only small breaks of no precipitation. It had been this way throughout Europe for a few weeks, and much to our disappointment, it would remain like this for our entire stay. Because of the weather, we climbed inside at the famous gym called Tivoli, but a couple breaks allowed us to visit the granite in the Zillertal and limestone at Schleierwasserfall. Both are amazing crags in beautiful settings.
From Innsbruck we drove to Val di Mello, Italy for a very large bouldering festival called Melloblocco. It takes place at the very end of a narrow, winding, pristine valley of granite where there are blocs littered everywhere beneath big sheer walls. We were invited to attend and participate on behalf of The North Face, with TNF European team members James (Pearson), Iker and Eneko Pou. We hung out and bouldered (Video) for a couple days with them and some of the TNF Europe employees, and then went back to Innsbruck with James for a couple more days. We then drove to Asolo/Montebelluna, Italy for about 5 days. We visited the TNF European office and the Scarpa global headquarters. We climbed outside 2 days at the limestone crags of Erto and Lumignano. Both are pretty historical Italian areas. Erto was “futuristic” in its time due to its steep overhanging walls, and Lumignano is classic vertical to slightly overhanging sheer walls with big pulls between small pockets. We hiked (soloed the via feratta) up Mt. Grappa another day, and spent 1 rainy day losing our way in the labyrinth that is Venice.
From there, we went to Osp, Slovenia to climb outside for a day at Misja Pec. It is an impressive zone, and a worthy modern area. We will undoubtedly return to for an extended stay to climb on the abundant featured overhanging limestone. We then drove to visit the capital of Ljubljana. It’s a hip, young, slightly grungy city with a warm feel. We then drove north to visit Vienna, Austria, and then onward to Prague, Czech Republic for a couple days. Both are beautiful classical European cities, with their own unique feels and flavors, sights and smells.
We then went to Decin, Czech Rep and climbed outside for 2 days with Adam Ondra in one of his home areas. He is an impressive individual; young, quiet, humble, strong and passionate. We bouldered and went tower climbing on very high quality sandstone. The route climbing is old school. 20 to 40 ft run outs between huge rusted out ring bolts. The ethics of the area are strict due to the softer nature of sandstone. They use knotted cord and rope to place in cracks for protection, and they only barely allowed the use of chalk a couple years ago. Adam was actually banned from the area for a couple years, because he was in a photo that showed him using chalk on a hard route in the area. Everyone else was using chalk at that time, but he was acted against as an example to the community, because of his status and media publicity. It is all just fine now that they have revoked the ban on chalk.
After, we went back to Innsbruck for a few days, and from there we went to Basel, Switzerland for 2 weeks. We visited the BD European offices and met the all the great people that work there. They showed us around the city, and took us out climbing, and had many great days with them. While in Turkey, Emily was cast for a role in a short film that would take place serendipitously in Basel. It was for an American artist by the name of Matthew Barney for an ongoing project of his called Drawing Restraint. He needed a blond, fair skinned, female to free solo the 90 ft inside wall of a museum in Basel called the Schaulager. So, she pretty much filled the requirements immediately, and in addition to hanging out and climbing with the people of BD Europe, we were hanging out with very significant figures in the modern art world. It was a crazy, yet special, way to spend the last couple weeks of our trip. There are many parallels between art and climbing, most importantly passion, creativity, and effort. There was a bond that I felt happen there between us, as climbers, and the art people, a mutual respect that grew into admiration. I thought I could read their minds, “You mean you really just climb? That’s it? You care so much about climbing? It’s so abstract, different, pointless in a way.” Likewise, in our minds, we were like, “You really just make or buy or sell art? That’s all? Even this super weird stuff? For what? Why?” It wasn’t that we were able to answer these questions about each other, but that our places in the world seemed the same. Art and climbing are about the internal individual experience, the feeling of being totally immersed in something from that is motivated from within. There are no answers, only more questions. There are only the feelings, the drive, to move and create and explore. It was a deep and thoughtful and inspiring way to end this grand trip, and when were finally finished and departed, I was filled with a renewed purpose, surer of my path and place.
See the whole trip on a map: HERE.
Ljubljana, Slovenia to Vienna, Austria to Prague, Czech Republic