‘Al Descanso!’ Spanish for ‘Offwidth’

Max, getting all froggy on the lower crux.

I learned how to crack climb in the land of the off-width: Vedauwoo. I can still remember taping up for the first time, and sinking those first painful but thrilling jams into Edward’s Crack. I still have my tape gloves that my climbing partner gave to me that day (thanks, David!). On some autumn weekends during a particularly car-less fall semester at CSU I’d stand on the side of 287 by Ted’s Place with a sign: “Going Climbing.,” and I’d hitch my way up to Laramie to grunt in the Woo with a Wyoming friend.

Since moving out of FoCo I haven’t climbed much off-width stuff, but I was inspired by off-width fiend friends the other day in Moab and we made the 15-minute, .8-second approach to some 5.10 splitter offwidth on Wall Street above the Potash Road. Vedauwoo gets a bad rap (you know, bring tape, advil, and plenty of thrift store clothes to shred). But after chicken-winging and road-runneering on slick sandstone, I realized that I’d been a little bit spoiled by the Woo. At least there the crystals are so big that if you can’t hang onto [Read More]

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 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 [Read More]

Aiding Up The King Fisher Tower

Adam, enjoying the view from the top. Snowy LaSalle's in the back ground, and the Titan presiding.

Last week I got my first taste of desert tower climbing and aid climbing. Let me tell you, they taste sandy and sour. Sandy because the rock – that material in which we put so much trust when we climb – was crumbling before my eyes. And sour, well, because standing in the top rung of my aiders on a rattly cam with 300 feet of exposure below me just put that funny adrenaline taste in my mouth. But you know what they say – sour grapes lemonade does not make (they say that, don’t they?). And sure enough, when the fear subsided, I took in the beauty of our bird’s eye view, I marveled at the smooth technical geekery aiding requires, and I felt pretty damn euphoric.

My friend and climbing partner, Adam, convinced me to have a go at the King Fisher Tower’s Colorado Northeast Ridge route (III, 5.8, C2) in Utah’s Fisher Towers (home of such classics as Ancient Art). After cragging outside Moab on Wall Street, we picked up some groceries, drove out to Castle Valley, drank [Read More]

Rio Redux

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 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 [Read More]

Out of The Harbor, Into The Blizzard

Bundled up and preparing to reap the rewards of ascent.

“A ship is safe in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are built for. And there is more in you than you know.” That’s what I told the group of nine aspiring backcountry snowboarders and skiers last week during their first dinner circle on the 8-day Outward Bound course that I instructed.

With those essentially Outward Bound concepts in mind, we headed out of our comfort zones for a week of backcountry riding and learning. Throughout the week I was reminded of how fast and deep humans connect to each other through shared adversity, struggle, and resilience. We spent the first part of the week preparing for a four-day overnight base-camp expedition: we prepped enough gear and calorie-rich food for 11 people, acclimated to the Rocky Mountain altitude, and got used to western-style snow and riding (most of the students were from somewhere pretty darn close to sea level east of the Mississippi). On the second day we rode in t-shirts and plenty of sunscreen at Ski Cooper to practice tree and powder riding, and on the third day we toured up Mayflower Gulch, between Leadville and [Read More]