Monday, July 1, 2013

Close Call on Venusian Blind

"Oh no...Loose rock"  Reed shouted.

"Jared, quickly move out the way...move quick to your right, there is a giant loose block that's about to blow."

I nervously looked up and saw Reed stemmed across the dihedral with his chest pressing and holding a television sized rock.

I anxiously shifted five feet to the right, which was as much as my tether would allow.

"Its slipping" Reed says.  "Are you clear?"  "I'm going to let it go."

Reed opened up his body and a giant rock came plummeting down.  It crushed atop the ledge where I had just been standing.  It shattered into several pieces and thundered down the gully.

I wiped the sweat form my forehead and took a deep breath.  Once Reed was secured, I continued climbing.

We were high up in the Sierras on a route called Venusian Blind.  It was a long route and the guidebook had recommend a full day, but for our skill level and experience we thought we could cruise it.  We had strayed off route and were in some challenging and loose terrain, where a single slip could or miscalculation could lead to serious consequences.

It is crazy how a single event could alter or even end your life.  I think back on so many close calls that I have had in my life and think what would have happened if something went wrong.

1.  Slipping on a thin icy ridge on Mount Baldy and sliding into the only patch of snow before a drop off.

2.  Being the passenger in a car going 55mph that flipped three times and landed into oncoming traffic

3.  Getting off route and having to down climb slabs while free soloing Tenya Peak

4.  Free climbing a difficult loose pitch on Mount Watkins in Yosemite with 20 pounds of aid gear on my waist and placing only one camalot

5.  Climbing dangerous avalanche prone mountains in the Cordillera Blanca in Peru

6.  Soloing an 18,800 foot glaciated peak

7.  Penduluming on a rope on Spaceshot that became frayed from the friction and impact.

8.  Rope jumping 100 feet off the Monkey Face in Smith Rock

9.  Sky diving over the swiss alps and Bungee jumping off the Bridge to Nowhere

The list goes on...

You wonder if you have nine lives.  If you are invincible.  Or if you are just getting lucky.  And there is a stage when you have to be realistic and realize that you are playing a numbers game.  You ask yourself if it is only a matter of time until you have a true accident.

Climbing has taken a lot away from me.  It has stolen time, crushed relationships and taken friends from this earth.  Although climbing has taken from me, it has also given so much back.  It has filled my life with passion, taught me valuable lessons and has fostered amazing connections with people, the mountains and myself.  It has taught me the power of living in the moment and I wouldn't trade the experience for anything in the world. 

I topped out Venusian Blind with Reed, snapped a photo and began our descent down the back side.   It was one of those rare times that I was fully present.  I wasn't thinking about pressures from work or stresses from life. All I knew was that when it came down to it; the moment was all that I had.

I looked at the beautiful sky with the sun setting on the summer solstice and the deep blue lakes that contrasted color against the towering granite cliffs.  I curled up in my sleeping bag stared into the stars and thought how lucky I am to be on this earth.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Walking Away

I was up until midnight packing and repacking for my first solo big wall in over 9 months. I knew the system as I had done it so many times before. But this time it felt different. I didn't have the excitement of picking the perfect set of cams or of meticulously reviewing the beta to make sure I knew it by heart. I felt like I was just going through the motions. But I tossed those ideas aside and felt like once I was in the Valley and in front of the route that I would get the excitement back.

I drove up to Yosemite with my friend Joven after work and we opened bivied at a random campsite in the pines.

We packed up the next morning before the rangers could bust us and we drove to the trailhead. I packed up my haulbag to the brim with 80+ pounds worth of wall gear and I hobbled off to the base of the route with Joven accompanying me for support. I had forgotten how much work soloing was. We got to the base of the leaning tower and I threw my bag off my shoulders in exhaustion. I sat down and I looked up at the route.

I had climbed leaning tower before with a partner and I had the route dialed. I knew all of the crux moves, the rope beta and the descent. But as I sat staring at the route, I found myself in an unfamiliar situation. I wasnt motivated at all to climb it.

Soloing walls takes a lot of motivation and it is a lot of work. It carries extra risk because of the belay systems and the fact that if you get hurt, there is nobody there to help you. You need to be able to get yourself out of any situation that you get into.

For the other two big walls that I had soloed, I had more motivation than you could ever believe. For both climbs, I was sick and coughing, only had three hours of sleep and felt like total shit. But it was willpower that propelled me up the routes climbing at almost the same speed as the partner teams.

But this time was different. I questioned why I was there and what was motivating me to climb. I have always been passionate about climbing and always striving for the next big goal. I can't remember the last time I walked away from a climb for no reason except that I didn't feel like climbing it. This was definitely a first.

But I walked away without regrets. I knew I had made the right decision. And it wasn't difficult to turn around. Sure, it hurt my ego and planted questions in my head as to whether I would ever solo El Capitan. But I think that the decision showed a lot of growth and maturity in my life and in my climbing. It was new for me to have the ability to make big decisions and to walk away instead of pushing through it when something didn't feel right.

I spent the day drinking beer and napping in the meadow with El Capitan looming over me. It was an odd feeling just relaxing in the valley. I was always climbing and I never really took the chance to slow things down and look around. I couldn't believe how much I was missing. I sat motionless and in awe staring at the massive chunk of rock before me.

The next day I took a quick hike up to the top of half dome. As I pulled over the cables a huge smile came across my face. I realized that I still love climbing and being in nature. It was just that I had been so goal oriented before that I had missed the real reason why I climb; freedom and adventure.

Leaning tower had felt more like a chore than a climb. Something that I needed to complete. I lacked the freedom to choose another climb and lacked the adventure because I had already climbed it with a partner.

It finally all made sense. As I sat atop half dome, I looked around at all of the towering walls in the valley that I had climbed and wondered if my climbing career had just started or was coming to an end. Either way, it didn't matter. I was happy. For the first time in a long time, I was free to just sit with an empty mind and admire the beauty of nature.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Holstee Testomonial

A testimonial that I wrote for Holstee Company:
Click here to see the linked page

This is my life:
I tore down the posters from my wall, moved out of a beautiful apartment four blocks from the beach, quit an amazing job that I had enjoyed for three years, packed up all of my belongings, put them into storage and traveled down to South America for six months. 

I realized that life is short and I needed to live my passion.

I had been climbing for the past eight years but I never was able to fully immerse myself in the sport because of other obligations.  I had an amazing life but for some reason it didn’t seem real to me; something was missing. 

I had become too comfortable.  I needed something fresh and something different.  There were parts of my life that I didn’t like and that I wanted to change.  I knew the only way to change was to restart.   So I decided to commit first and figure out everything else later.  I said goodbye to beautiful sunny Santa Monica and I booked a flight to South America.  

The plan was simple: 
Pack up all of my mountaineering gear and spend six months traveling and climbing throughout South America.  I knew the only way to find myself was to get lost.  I had no structure and no obligation; I cut the cord and took off.

I had a life changing trip.  It was filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.   I spent an entire weeks worth of time vomiting out of both ends, I lost 15 pounds of weight from my already skinny body, I failed trying to climb my first two objectives, I was stuck in my tent in a horrific storm of -40 degrees and 100km winds.  Most tragically, I had two friends die while climbing in the same mountain range.

But the tragedy pushed me to dig deep inside.  It forced me to reflect on my own life and see how ephemeral and precious it is.  It made me realize that life is about living now.  I knew that some opportunities would only come once.  So I seized the moment.  

The remainder of the trip was filled with dreams to last a lifetime.  Climbing 20,000 foot peaks in alpine style, technical ascents of 2,000 foot big walls high in the Andes, soloing an 18,500 glaciated mountain and journeying back to the US to climb the 3,000 foot granite monolith known as El Capitan- just to name a few.


I climbed all over the country stopping in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil.  Over the next six months I realized that life is about the people you meet and the things you create with them I created life-long friendships and sacred bonds along the way.  I didn’t know what I was missing until I started doing the things that I loved.  

In the end, I realized that Life is simple

When I arrived back, small things began to confuse me like: What month is it again, why are people going to work, why can I not relate to my friends' Facebook status updates, how is it possible to have one stick of toothpaste last six months, how do you say that in Spanish, why are stores closed on Sunday, what's a siesta, what is that cow doing in the middle of the road and many other unanswered questions.

But I realized that continued travel opened my mind and heart to so many differing cultures. With every realization comes remarkable insight into my life and others as well as amazing friendships and experiences.

If I never took the chance, I also would have never found love:  she was sitting right across from me at my local cafe and I was inspired to tell her that she was beautiful.  We are still together to this day.

I came back a changed man.  I tossed my smart phone in the trash, stopped watching TV and movies, vowed to check email only twice per day, made sure not to work more than 40 hours each weak.  And always saved time to live life with passion.

What's your passion?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Spaceshot 2013-3-15 to 16

It had been over four months since I last rock climbed outside and over six months since my last big wall, so I felt like it was time to get back on the rock. My time away from rock climbing was a purposeful sabbatical. I had previously spent six months traveling through South America climbing all the time and always being on the go. My friends in the states would tell me how they craved adventure and anything to take them out of their monotonous nine to five. I craved some type of structure to my life and was actually excited to start working again. I just wanted my life to slow down and be "normal." But after four months of normalcy, I was itching to get back on the rock. I talked with Tara and we agreed to head over to Zion and attempt Spaceshot.

The night before:
I didn't sleep well the night before, spent 11 hours at work and then did a lecture at rei on big wall climbing. Tara had just got back from Yosemite, couldn't find her car keys the night before and only had two hours of sleep during the ordeal. Somehow we thought that driving through the night was a good idea and we both met at Rei and were exhausted even before our seven hour car ride. We took turns driving and arrived at 6:45 in the morning. Crashed for three hours and then started fixing pitches.

The ghost van:
Tara had just bought a Sportsmobile and has been obsessed with living in it these days. We decided to take it out to Zion. We loaded it up with gear and food and set off. There was so much room. It had a sink, fridge, two beds, an upstairs and downstairs, stove, gear storage in the back, a swivel captain seat, an inverter, reading lights, a grill for storage, solar panels, and an awning. It was a total dude magnet. If you call sixty something overweight balding men as your prime demographic.

Day 1:
After a lazy morning, we hiked five minutes to the base of the route and started climbing around 2pm. We only had to fix four pitches and most of them went free, so we were okay on time. After a minor miscommunication, we ended up not taking any food or water, but it worked out okay.

Pitch 2:
This was a cool looking chimney that Tara lead. Good pro and some creative footwork made this memorable.

Pitch 3:
I scrambled into a loose blocky vertical ramp that lead to a chimney. I free climbed this section then made my way up to the belay.

Pitch 4:
This pitch involved a bolt ladder with some C2 above it. The second bolt was about ten feet above the first. I tried top stepping on my tip toes with a carabeaner above my head and was just unable to reach it. So I resorted to the often placed cliffhanger hook move in a bomber placement. Once I got to the C2 section, I was stuck. There was an obvious tricam placement but we had none, so in some frustration I lowered down to have Tara aid past it. An umbrellad number five offset cam and two shitty micro nuts later got her past the section.

We were able to fix the first four pitches with only two ropes. We bought a 70 meter rope for P3 and 4 and an 8 mil 60 meter rope for P1 and 2.

Day 2:
After the shenanigans of the previous day, we decided to bring an entire rack of tricams to ensure we would have success on the route. We ended up using none; so they were good training weight. But we felt they were essential to have just in case because it is very difficult to bail past pitch 5. We took three liters of water, a few bars and goos and a sandwich. We set off. We jugged the lines and I racked up for pitch five, which was the crux pitch.

Pitch 5:
The pitch started off cruiser C1 then got into some thin C2 with blown out pods. I tried placing tricams but had no success (I am terrible at placing them) so I resorted to placing three offset micros in a row. My third overhead placement blew while weighing it and my second one blew from the fall sending me soaring over 15 feet down the route. It was quite exciting. I batmaned back up the rope and placed an umbrellad offset cam and I was good to go.
Pitch 6:
I arrived at pitch 6 and started short fixing. I was cautiously making progress up the route gaining about 20 feet when Tara reached the belay. I had rigged the short fix just like I would while solo aiding but we couldn't figure out how to put me back on belay since I was leading with the other end of the rope. So I clipped the top three pieces, lowered down on my original lead end and unclipped the rope from my lower solo pieces. I then re lead the pitch. Looking down while short fixing p6
Pitch 7:
Tara took over on pitch seven leading some chill C1. We arrived at the belay ledge and started flaking the rope. As we flaked it through, we noticed a huge sheath/core shot. We had no idea how it happened. So just to be safe, we belayed with both ropes on the final pitch.
Pitch 8:
Tara lead the final pitch. There was a bolt ladder missing a bolt that had previously turned someone around, so we were interested how it would go. She was able to place a purple C3 in a horizontal crack that lead to a bomber nut. This allowed her to access the next bolt and then finish the pitch. It was a cool pitch with wild exposure.
I followed with backup clove hitches on each rope. I had read that some people run off the ledge and jump into space, but I was skeptical about the core shot rope, so I walked over and then jumped. It was an awesome pendulum and I spun wildly 1000 feet in the air. Once my excitement settled, I began jugging. I looked up at the rope and there was a new sheath shot from friction of the pendulum. Tara had placed a cam before the bolt which caused the rope to rub. I was glad I had the backup rope. I juggled to the top and we finished the class 4 pitch to the summit.
We arrived at the summit, sorter gear, ductaped the rope and took about five minutes to eat some fruit cups and take in the view. We wanted to get down in time before dark. It had taken us a little longer than anticipated but we still had three hours of daylight to rappel. The rappels are supposed to be sketchy and we were a little anxious because of rope situation.
We cruised through the rappels with no rope issues and made it down to the car before sunset.
After not climbing for a while, it felt good to get on a wall. While plenty of things went well, there were some things that didn't go so well. We brought too many cams, went slowly and had some rope issues. But in the end we were safe and climbed smartly. It was cool to get back out there!
The ride back:
We slept in and hiked around emerald pools the next day. We had some snacks and then headed back to Los Angeles. On the way home, Tara's car started making some funny noise and then started to smell like smoke. We pulled over in Saint George and looked under the hood. Her serpentine belt had snapped. We called a tow truck and made it to the only shop open on a Sunday thirty minutes before close. He told us that it would be ready the next day. So we walked around Saint George, caught an awesome sunset, scrambled up Dixie rock and spent the night in the Chevron parking lot. It was kinda cool to have a lay over in a small town. It was a little extra mini adventure built into a great trip.