Learning to Be

Yellowstone traffic jam.  In addition to the ever-present bison, we saw herds of elk and pronghorn, a coyote, and, according to the ranger, the season's first black bear.

Yellowstone traffic jam. In addition to the ever-present bison, we saw herds of elk and pronghorn, a coyote, and, according to a ranger, the season's first black bear.

It’s a recent and welcome development that I’m able to derive a legitimate enjoyment from things like animals, waterfalls, sunsets, and wildflowers.  This progression comes on the heels of a prolonged period where I mostly faked caring about all of it; I could intellectualize the reasons people provided when they talked appreciatively of nature’s simple gifts, and I parroted them appropriately.  I just didn’t much find much inspiration in it myself.  Nature was basically a peripheral concern – if the approach trail happened to wander through a pristine rhododendron grove on the way to the crag, awesome; if not, you know, whatever.  The joy was always in the doing, not the being.

Because of this, I’ve long had a dismissive attitude toward most of our national parks.  I considered them to be, on the whole, places where people went when they didn’t really want to do anything; rather, they just wanted to be.  They wanted to be near animals, they wanted to be near waterfalls, they wanted to be near sunsets and wildflowers.  Because the officials knew this to be the case, they made it pretty easy to visit most of the parks’ major attractions without having to do anything other than drive.  If I had a free week to spend somewhere, that’s precisely the opposite of the experience I was after.

The preternatural blue of Glacier's McDonald Creek.

The preternatural blue of Glacier's McDonald Creek.

Certainly, there are exceptions – Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Grand Teton, Denali, Grand Canyon, Zion – all of these are places where it’s very easy to do; but, for every one of those, there’s a place like Acadia or the Everglades or the Great Smoky Mountains where being is, as far as I can tell, the dominant activity.  Again, I have no trouble understanding these parks’ places among America’s jewels (the Everglades is clearly a unique and remarkable environment, and GSMNP boasts more than ten thousand species of plants and animals), and there’s no doubt that a measure of action-sport elitism is an ingredient here.  I recognize that the point of the national park system is not to collect the country’s best climbing and rafting spots, even if it often succeeds in doing so.  Still, those are the experiences I was looking for when I went into the wild, and I wanted to do them in places that felt more like parks and less like museums.

Michelle and me in snowy Yellowstone.  Only one of the major roads was open, but we had plenty to explore for one day.

Michelle and me in snowy Yellowstone. Only one of the major roads was open, but we had plenty to explore for one day.

Lately, though, I’ve found myself more satisfied with the being, and I attribute that, in large part, to the amount of doing I’ve been, well, doing for the past few years.  The majority of days I spend outside are either at the end of a rope or at the back of a raft.  The same things that make these activities so fun and attractive for me also guarantee a high-stress experience.  Practice and diligence can lessen the stress to an acceptable level, but there’s nothing I can do to get rid of it completely (and I wouldn’t want to even if I could).  Over time, though, all that stress takes a toll, and it’s refreshing to grab a light pack and a camera and not have to worry whether or not this will be the day I come home with a broken ankle.  I’m not even close to ready to bury my climbing rack for good, but, for the first time, I can imagine a situation where I might be.

Given all that, I was eager to test out this new-found fondness for being when Ben and Rachel, two of my best hometown friends, flew out to help Michelle and me celebrate our last week in Montana.  The high points on our agenda (other than the NCAA championship/Braves opening day/Masters trifecta) were trips to Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks – places that I had heretofore placed squarely in the museum category.

Ben and Rachel at Mammoth Hot Springs.

Ben and Rachel at Mammoth Hot Springs.

I’m sorry to report that the results of the experiment are, as yet, inconclusive.  I had a blast at both parks, but it’s hard to say how much my expanding interests really contributed.  There’s a certain population of people that can make most any situation fun for me, and my companions on this particular trip more than qualify.  For instance, we walked five miles of closed-off park road in Glacier, only to be diverted by a prohibiting sign a quarter-mile shy of our destination.  We walked the same five miles back in the rain and laughed the whole way to the car; no amount of maturity and quiet meditation will bring me to a place where I can enjoy that scene on my own.  On the other hand, the young black bear who chose Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hot Springs as the ideal spot to spend a lazy Friday afternoon was thoroughly entertaining and exciting, and I can think of no qualification that might detract from how much I enjoyed watching him play around in such a setting.  By contrast, the dominant emotion during my last encounter with a black bear was annoyance at the mother and two cubs whose trail occupancy cut short one of my fall training runs.  That seems like progress.

Rio Redux

My Vanderbilt crew came out over spring their break.  This is what the cool kids at divinity school look like.

My Vanderbilt crew came out during spring break. This is what the cool kids at divinity school look like.

Well, I didn’t get the job on Rainier.  It’s disappointing, but that’s the chance you take when you try.  There are plenty of compelling reasons to go back to the river, and I’m already looking forward to being closer to home for a few months.  I’m sure there will be a time or two when I’ll wonder what it looks like on the Rainier summit at that moment, but there are worse places to daydream than a sun-drenched riverbank.  If any of you have whitewater wishes, contact the NOC and come see me this summer – good times guaranteed.

Matt raps off Genesis I.  He thought this picture was cooler than all the rest; I think it looks about the same.

Matt raps off Genesis I. He thought this picture was better than all the rest; I think it looks about the same.

Before I go anywhere, though, I have to pack up and say my goodbyes to Bozeman.  There’s a decent chance that I’ll find myself back in Montana come August, but that’d be three hours away in Missoula; weekend trips to Hyalite notwithstanding, my time here has likely come to an end.  I’ll miss it.  Life’s great out here.  When I left Atlanta last October, I was looking forward to endless ice pitches, relaxing book pages, daily mountain views, and a different kind of country; I found it all.

I climbed more than sixty days this winter – some of those, like the Sphinx epic and the Cody trips, rank among my most memorable days in the mountains; most were the standard crag sessions that make the others possible.  I finished several books that have been on my shelf for years and augmented my collection with several more that will keep me busy this summer and beyond.  I’m ashamed to say that it often required the exclamations of my visiting friends to remind me of the simple beauty of the ambient mountains that had, in the months that I spent here, faded into the background.

Jason shows off his (small) rainbow trout.

Jason shows off his (small) rainbow trout.

The most lasting effect of my time here may be a simple reinforcement of the fact that I’m at my happiest when I put myself into situations where access to great climbing, great running, and the great outdoors comes easy and often.  Big trips will always be motivators and rewards, but I don’t want to be in a place where the greater part of my climbing days requires any more planning than “right on, see you then.”  I’m proud to say I’ll be living that lesson for the foreseeable future as climbing access was the common denominator among my school applications.  When I leave the river at the end of this next summer, my destination expectations will be pretty much the same as they were when I pointed toward Bozeman eight months ago.  Granted, the books in front of me will be less relaxing, but the rest – the mountains, the new horizons, the climbing – will change only in style and location.

We’ll be leaving Bozeman a week from yesterday and driving the hours upon miles back toward homes and rivers and Braves games and Chick-fil-A.  But this is no time for lazy reminiscence; we’ve got more friends in town this week, and the roads are just starting to clear up at Glacier.  Adventure awaits; home will have to.

Rob ascends the Moose Knuckle variation on G1.

Rob ascends the Moose Knuckle variation on G1.

Fitness Assessment

Clocks are changing, sun is shining, snow is melting, and Francisco is cranking.  Spring has officially sprung.

Last week, one of the head guides from the NOC sent out the annual “who’s coming back this year?” e-mail.  A righteous landslide that buried road and river has pushed back the start of the season, but Ocoee guides will have been styling the Middle section for a few weekends by the time I leave Montana.  That means that the clock is ticking on my summer-plan deliberation.  I informed the managers there that I had to check out another option before I could commit, and Michelle and I summarily headed west toward Washington and the alpine big leagues of Mt. Rainier.

Mt. Rainier, as seen from Tacoma.

Mt. Rainier, as seen from Tacoma.

I’ve been interested in guiding big mountain trips for a while.  I love working on the river, but I’m not really a boater (to be honest, kayaking scares me a lot; I’m not sure I can explain why I have such trouble rolling a kayak in class III whitewater and very little running it out forty feet on an ice lead, but, in the immortal words of Joe Dirt, “that’s what’s goin’ on”).  Climbing is and will remain my foremost love, and I think I’ll be better and, ultimately, more satisfied as a climbing guide than as a river guide.  With that goal in mind, I finished my WFR requirements last fall and sent an application to Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. (RMI) for this summer’s season.  They invited me to interview for a guide position, and I accepted happily.  The last few months of anchor-building and “M”-hiking were largely in preparation for that one day at Rainier.

These are the things I knew about the interview as I drove from my aunt’s and uncle’s house in Tacoma toward Rainier’s snow-covered silhouette: it would last most of one day; required personal gear included a pack, crampons, boots, ice axe, harness, and crevasse rescue items; there were nine other e-mail addresses in the correspondences I’d received from RMI.  Other than that, I was flying blind.  The only other real guiding interview I’d completed was the one for NOC, and that lasted a full week at river guide school.  There, I wasn’t expected to know anything about rafting prior to day one; I figured I’d need to learn how to steer a boat and make sure to be places on time, and my disarming charm and natural alpha-ness would take care of the rest.

Michelle stands next to a muddy creek in Mt. Rainier National Park.

In lieu of pictures on the interview day, I'll give you pictures we took at Rainier NP a few days later. Michelle stands next to a muddy creek. Breathtaking.

The RMI interview was a little more desperate.  The initial application required an extensive climbing resume, and the skills expected of me a priori were not the kind you can master in a week.  The parking lot scene reminded me of a crisp fall day at Miguel’s or springtime at Joshua Tree: climbing stickers adorning roof-top boxes, make-shift bivy shacks in truck beds, fit climbers in worn puffy jackets and mountain boots brewing tailgate coffee.  I stepped out of Michelle’s Kia Sportage in khakis and boat shoes, and the other applicants eyed me with the easy dismissal usually reserved for a “Jersey Shore” alum on Oscar night.

We milled about the parking lot until 9:00 when the RMI guides summoned us inside.  A quick round of introductions revealed a bit of good news: two of the applicants scheduled for our interview day had dropped out, so our chances had already increased by a fraction.  The guides took quick and great care to congratulate us on making it even this far in the interview process as an invitation to this stage was, in and of itself, a validation of our skills and qualifications; the other hopefuls – accomplished climbers, all – boasted mountain guide stints, ski patrol experience, advanced medical certs, and, in at least one case, multilingualism.  Given RMI’s reputation and the reported number of applications received, the quality of eventual interviewees was no surprise.  As trite as it may sound, I’m truly honored to have been asked, but I digress…

We spent some time inside talking and answering general interview questions – the details of which I will spare you here – before we headed outside for the “fitness assessment.”  Sensing the evident stress among the group, Alex, one of the RMI guides, joked that they could “tell [we] were all already quite fit, so [we didn’t] need to push [ourselves] to the limit…just don’t be last.”  Duly noted.

The test went as follows: we started with a pack-laden hike/run up a steady-but-not-super-steep hill (I’d guess a mile or a little less); at the top of the hill, we met Paul, the other guide, at a simple wooden structure (imagine a swing-set with cross-ties) onto which we were instructed to build a one-piece anchor (for those who care, I girth-hitched a 24-inch runner to a cross-tie and set up a Reverso on auto-block); we then had to remove rope and harness from our packs, put on the harness, and flake the rope; the next step was to feed the entire length of rope (50-meter, 9.5 diameter, brand new and predictably kinked) through the belay device (some people did this off their harnesses; I did it off the anchor).  Once the end of the rope came through, we coiled it, broke down the anchor, put it all in the pack, and ran back down the hill.

At the bottom of the hill, Alex gave us these further instructions: remove the rope and stack it on the ground; tie four distinct and separate knots (again, for those who care, I tied a butterfly, a figure-8, an overhand, and an overhand-on-a-bight); display the knots to Alex who will verify their legitimacy; untie knots, recoil rope, and toss it in a bucket, at which point our times are recorded.  Breathless – and, due to an excessive sock combination, numb-toed – I deposited my rope in the bucket in a shade over twenty-two minutes; this was not last (or second).

Shorty got that puffy blue vest and the Crocs with the fur.

I got that puffy blue vest and the Crocs with the fur.

After a short break to re-energize, we split into two groups of four for a round of skill tests.  My group started on a climbing pinnacle – one side drilled with standard rock climbing holds and the other covered with a thick foam that mimics an ice pitch.  Paul watched as we, in pairs, ran through a basic top-rope scenario, making sure to double-check harnesses, knots, and locking ‘biners and deliver clearly our climbing commands.  After each of us ran a lap or two on both sides of the pinnacle, we conducted a simulated-lead scenario.  We tied in to the ropes as we would at the bottom of a pitch, and a “leader” was belayed out to a picnic table; the leader then built an anchor on the table (I hitched a runner to the bench and a doubled 20-foot cordelette to the inside supports and auto-blocked the Reverso) and brought up the second.  The second then led out from this intermediate belay to another table, from which we both eventually rappelled – all pretty straight-forward and easy enough.

It really is pretty impressive.  I wish it had been sunny enough to see the mountain, but I can't complain.

All jokes aside, it really is pretty impressive. I wish it had been sunny enough to see the mountain, but I can't complain.

Once that portion was through, the groups swapped stations, and my foursome ran through a crevasse rescue scenario.  Alex sent us out onto the glacier (lawn) under the premise that a rope-team had fallen and swept two other teams into a crevasse.  I led out with one of the other applicants behind me.  Alex had him simulate a fall, and the exercise began from there in earnest.  I arrested the fall, buried my ax in the grass, and anchored the rope with a prussik.  A half-hammered picket simulated the other anchor device, and I started construction of a 3:1 pulley system.  At that point, the other pair came upon us and began to help me.  One of those two ended up in the crevasse when he attempted to deliver a pulley to my ill-fated partner, and the remaining topside guide and I worked to haul both of them out.  Alex eventually provided a deus ex machina (I like Latin today, apparently) and removed my partner from the crevasse, whereby the three of us extracted its remaining inhabitant.  We then ran through a debrief scenario, so Alex could get a sense of what we might say to clients in the aftermath of a rescue.  I suspect (or hope, at least) such a speech is pretty uniform whether delivered on a river or a mountain.

The rest of the day was spent back indoors.  We gave speeches to the group, endured one-on-two interviews alone with the guides, and took a short written exam that asked us to detail our reactions to various situations that might arise on the mountain.  I was driving back toward Tacoma at 5:15.

So, we’ll see.  My interview day was the first of four.  An employment invitation would be a huge honor, and I’m excited at the prospect of it.  If one doesn’t arrive, I’ll be grateful for a cool experience in Washington and look forward to another river season in the Tennessee sunshine.  I’ll keep you posted.

Take It On the Run, Baby

A.M. top-rope training session on "Genesis I"

A.M. top-rope training session on "Genesis I"

If you climb for any reasonable amount of time, you’re bound to build a list of past and present partners with whom you’ve tied in to the rope.  These partners will fall somewhere on a friendship plane, and each one you collect can be placed into one of three major categories.  For the sake of personal intimacy, I’ve named each of these categories after bands that, for reasons I’ll explain, correspond to the type of climbing partner signified.  Feel free to offer your own additional category titles in the comment box.

The REO Speedwagon: This first level of climbing partner is a one-trick pony.  This is a partner in the strictest sense of the term – basically a coworker.  You’re there to do a job that requires two people, and the REO Speedwagon is there to help you do it.  Sure, if pressed, you’d say you like this person just fine, but you wouldn’t consider the REO a friend, really.  You’ll look back fondly on your time with REO – some of your best work may have even come on REO days – but if you hear from a friend who’s heard from a friend who’s heard from another that REO partnered up with somebody else for a one-day ascent of The Nose, are you really going to care?

REO Speedwagon exists to help me rock out 80s theme parties.  We have a long-standing partnership with a history of success, and, like in any good partnership, our roles are clearly defined and mutually understood: REO’s job is to bring the noise, and my job is to bring the pain.  We’re good at what we do.  There’s no desire on my end to deepen the relationship, and I’m not expecting REO to come crashin’ through the door any time soon, either.  When I’m in the mood for neon headbands and power ballads (which, as with climbing, is not infrequently), REO will be on my short list.  Any other time, there are more satisfying places to turn.  For instance…

Blake climbs up to test a questionable tree at my favorite belay station -- "Silken Falls," Hyalite

Blake climbs up to test a questionable tree at my favorite belay station -- "Silken Falls," Hyalite

The Jimmy Buffett: Here, we’ve transitioned into legitimate friend territory.  This level of partner is someone you know well, someone whose company you enjoy, and someone with whom you share things in common other than climbing.  You can manage a four-hour car ride, weekend climbing trip, and two-JBC victory celebration without any trouble, and you’ll have created enough inside jokes on your last trip together to carry you through the first two days of the next.  Even still, climbing has been and will always be the driving force in this relationship; almost all of your time together has been spent climbing, planning to go climbing, or talking about climbing.  Sure, you’ll learn more about each other in the process, and this level of partnership can absolutely produce long-standing friendships; but, if one of you ever decides to stop climbing altogether, the relationship will prove ultimately unsustainable.

Enjoying the lot scene before a Buffett show in 2007.  Good times had by all.

Enjoying the lot scene before a Buffett show in 2007. Good times had by all.

Jimmy and I have a lot in common: we’re both from the South, we were both frat stars in college, we both like to travel, and we both appreciate cheap beer and expensive boat shoes.  More often than not, that’s plenty to keep me happy with the partnership.  When it’s all over, I’ll have a volume of great memories that include Jimmy, and I may even have gotten some good advice along the way (in retrospect, probably some bad advice, as well – my pencil-thin moustache period was regrettable).  With all that said, I can’t ignore some lingering concerns I have about Jimmy: most notably, would we remain close if I ever abandoned margaritas and the beach?  Probably not, but will I ever abandon margaritas and the beach?  Probably not, and that’s the essence of the Jimmy Buffett partner: the relationship depends on one keystone commonality, but that keystone is pretty secure.  I’d say most of my climbing partners over the years have fallen into this category, though there remain a few that transcend the Jimmy Buffett label.  I’ll call them…

Blake makes it happen on his first ice lead -- "Switchback Falls," Hyalite

Blake makes it happen on his first ice lead -- "Switchback Falls," Hyalite

The Allman Brothers: These are lifelong friends, plain and simple.  You’ve seen each other through high times, low times, close calls, lucky streaks, and solo endeavors.  You climb together because climbing just happens to be one of many shared activities, but the relationship wouldn’t suffer at all if one of you gave it up.  Even when you’re actually climbing, the conversation rarely dwells there, and you’ll discover that some of the moments you appreciate the most take place when nobody says a word.  A handful of these partners is the best you can hope for (not that you’ll want any more than that, anyway).

In related news, Blake (Allman Brothers-level partner) came out for a few days in Hyalite last week.  Blake and I have climbed plenty of eventful rock pitches together, but he had never swung into an ice climb prior to last week.  We climbed four days out of the six he was here, and I’m proud to say he enjoyed the last pitch of the week on the sharp end.  We spent the two other days at the “M” and the ski hill, respectively, when my college buddy, Jonathan, stopped in town on the way to Beaver Creek.

There’s plenty of winter action left in Montana, but recent temps in the 50s are heralding spring-time.  Thankfully, I’ve spent enough nights in neon to know there’s only one thing left to do when you’re under the gun…

Gear: An Ode

Oh, joy of joys!  Oh, magical marvel of marvels!  What fortune has entered my life!  What life has replaced that which I thought to be life before…

My new crampons got here last week, and they sure are pretty rad.

The rope goes on forever, and the party never ends.

The rope goes on forever, and the party never ends.

Some of you may remember that I left a pair on the painful descent from the Sphinx at the beginning of the season.  All things considered, it wasn’t a huge loss; they were broken, anyway – functional yet frustrating – and I was forced from then on to climb in my mountaineering crampons which, in turn, forced me to focus more intently on my footwork.  Without a doubt, this has made me a better climber, and I’m grateful for the improvement.  Still, it was only a matter of time before my capacity to appreciate the extra challenge gave way to lust, and I made sure to point out the newest, shiniest, baddest vertical ice ‘pons on the market when Michelle inquired about potential Christmas gifts.  I think she was a little frightened when I hugged the spiky steel plates like a teddy bear upon receipt, but there was no doubt about my excitement.

They're like sparkling unicorns: beautiful but deadly.

They're like sparkling unicorns: beautiful but deadly.

And, man, have they ever delivered…  The few pitches I’ve climbed in them so far have felt a half- to a full-grade easier than they did earlier in the season, and the drastic difference is due to more than just my gradual gains as a climber.  The simple fact is that I’ve traded equipment that’s marginally suited to an activity for equipment that’s built for it, and the difference has been immediate and substantial.  It’s like I’ve skied a full powder season on cross country skis and finally upgraded to the latest composite-core fatties: yeah, I was getting the job done before, but now I’m getting it done with style.

The new crampons make my climbing more efficient, and that’s really the highest compliment you can give a piece of gear.  Energy is precious in the mountains, and every decision I make regarding my gear is (hopefully) in effort to better conserve that commodity.  These new crampons are outfitted with a single vertical point in the front, and the efficiency gains from this monopoint (industry term) are several: the single point displaces less ice than the dual points on mountaineering crampons; the vertical point corresponds to the vertically-oriented ice formation, so the ice is less likely to shear out beneath me; and I can slot the single point into the placements I’ve already made with my ice tools instead of having to kick new steps each time.  Make no mistake, there are people who climb way harder than I do on dual horizontal points, so it’s not like these new crampons will instantly transform me into the climber I want to be.  What they do, though, is make every move on the ice a noticeable fraction more efficient, and that adds up over the course of a climb.

The ice is still abundant in Montana -- from right, "Mummy Cooler II" (WI 3+) and "The Scepter" (WI 5)

The ice is still abundant in Montana -- from right, "Mummy Cooler II" (WI 3+) and "The Scepter" (WI 5)

Gear’s fun.  It’s fun to buy, it’s fun to play with, it’s fun to master, and, eventually, it’s fun to replace.  I’ve got plenty of it, and, to the untrained eye, a lot of it probably looks redundant.  Why do I need three puffy jackets?  Why do I need three pairs of crampons?  Why do I need eight backpacks and four belay devices?  The obvious answer is that I don’t need all of that stuff.  It’s just that, over time, I begin to notice places were my gear options are compromising my efficiency potential, and I fill in the gaps.  When I started climbing longer routes that required several rappels, my standard single rope became a liability; I got a pair of double ropes to facilitate full-length raps.  When I started climbing a lot of ice and alpine routes that put my ultralight down puffy in regular danger of getting wet, I got a synthetic-fill jacket to guarantee warm belays.  Now, I can take into account variables like weather, route conditions, and overall objective and tailor my gear choices for optimal efficiency.

There are very few things in the mountains that we can truly control, but gear selection is one of them.  Take the time to do it right.  Style is serious business.

The Other Side of the Fence

Joshua Tree sunset -- have to see it to believe it.

Joshua Tree sunset -- have to see it to believe it.

In the comment section for my last post, Kevin called me out on my end-of-the-season lamentation.  He’s absolutely right, of course; I’m thrilled about the prospect of warm Red Rocks weather and sun-baked crag sessions.  This winter has been great – exactly what I was after – and I’m excited to maximize my ice time over the next several weeks; but I sure am looking forward to feeling real rock again and working on my tan.  As I’ve written before, there’s always another adventure on the horizon and always more being added to the queue.

You’ll hear people dismiss this desire for new places and new experiences.  “Well, the grass is always greener…” they’ll wryly offer, as if that somehow diminishes the possibility that the grass may very well be greener.  Of course, relative greenness is rarely the point, anyway.  There’s a vital distinction between the quest for something better and the quest for something different.  When I leave the stark, snowy beauty of the Bozeman winter, I won’t be in search of a place I prefer; rather, I’ll be in search of yet another example of the richness of the natural world and, especially, the outdoor pursuits that are my passions.

From the high desert to the Rocky Mountain high -- Jurrasic Park, CO

From the high desert to the Rocky Mountain high -- Jurassic Park, CO

The seemingly endless “where to next?” possibility is one of my favorite things about climbing (and the outdoors, in general).  The skills I gain back home on Foster Falls face climbs are applicable enough to J-Tree cracks to allow me to scrape up some moderate classics, and a few weeks spent shredding my hands on the high desert monzonite gives me just enough crack climbing competence to scare myself on Indian Creek splitters.  All the while, I’m honing the protection placements, anchor building and rope work that will be indispensable when I’m eight pitches up a Valley big wall, and every moment spent on the sharp end will translate into added confidence when ice season rolls around again.  Just the specter of these places is enough to keep me climbing hard and often for the foreseeable future, and I’m not sure I could say that if I were limited to one of them.

The ability to find satisfaction in and among your surroundings is invaluable, and a restlessness of spirit that borders on the insatiable is not what I am advocating.  There are literally dozens of places in this country alone where you could spend a lifetime climbing, and, if you happen to find one that feels like home, by all means make it official.  Just remember: while home is where the heart is, it may not be where the weather is.  Will you be happier on the other side of the fence?  Maybe not, but there’s only one way to know for sure.

Still America -- Chugach National Forest, AK

Still America -- Chugach National Forest, AK