Sunday, December 16, 2012

Men, Monsters, Myths and Whitesides

Alpine Start
    The alarm went off at 5:00 am. My bed, a mat on the floor in the corner of a living room, was warm and the air was heavy and dark. Bennett and I tiptoed around the creaky hardwood floors, trying not to wake up our sleeping roommates as we loaded our packs and made breakfast. We ate oatmeal and drank coffee in silence under the buzzing of the dim fluorescent lights in our kitchen. It was time to go, we had to move fast all day. As we went down the dark stairwell that leads to the street I ran my hands over the Tibetan prayer flags that hang overhead. It wasn't an empty gesture, it was a big day and I wanted everything to go like clock work. I needed the mountain's blessing, even if it was only a figment of my imagination.We stepped out into the cold air of the dark morning. We were welcomed by empty roads and buzzing street lamps. The predawn  air was crisp  in our lungs. Off into the dark we drove, to go see about a monster from the storybooks.
    Just the word WHITESIDES carries a heavy tone. At 700 vertical feet of bold climbing it is as respected as a wall can be. Reading the guidebook descriptions alone will turn most away. The climbing is steep, exposed and run-out. You could fill a hard drive with the numerous accounts of epics and giant whippers from the history of this mountain. The men that established this cliff were masters of the mind so the routes will test you physically, but the mind is in the most pain on a Whitesides ascent. It is not uncommon to be 600 feet off the ground, 30 feet above your last piece of protection, trying to decide whether or not you're going the wrong way as you hang from your finger tips and stand on questionable footholds. All this lore made for grand images in my curious imagination and the Monster from the stories began to pull at me.
    My love in this world, that which drives me and makes me feel whole is.... "on-sight, ground up,Traditional climbing". One go, one chance to understand a line perfectly, get the gear right, and keep the chatter of your mind silent as you wonder up the path of another's imagination. Whitesides seemed like a great place to be perfect and I wanted to be just that, perfect. To be perfect on a cliff like this would mean having to make 1,000's of correct decisions for hours upon of hours.
    I decided that the OR should be my first route on Whitesides, and coincidentally mine and Bennett's first multi-pitch together. An 800 foot 5.11a R Grade III with  a 140 foot 5.8 free solo for the the first pitch seemed like a fine test for my gumption. As we hiked down the trail the darkness began to give way and the sun peaked over a silky layer of clouds and turned the cold night sky into a warm ambient light capable of inspiring men to great things. We turned a corner and there it was, the monster from the stories. As I looked in amazement at the wall for the first time I felt something unexpected. I did not feel like I was standing at the feet of a monster at all but rather at the door of a welcoming mother eager to have me home. I knew at that moment that I would spend many days of my life on this wall.
    At 8:00am I started up the first pitch. I chose a line with a single bolt, 70 ft off the ground and began to climb. The first pitch of the OR could reward one missed foot or one lapse in concentration with serious injury but more likely, death. At least in regards to the first pitch, all the lore was spot on. My mind was in a quiet room for 20 minutes. After 50 feet of moderate slab climbing I clipped my first and only piece of protection. The lack of comfort this bolt offered was almost humorous because just a few minutes later I was right back into the no fall zone with no chance of gear. I topped out the pitch and let out a deep breathe of satisfaction and relief. We climbed a pitch of 5.8 and 5.7 before arriving at the first difficult pitch of the day, a 5.10c corner that is oddly polished compared to the entire cliff. I was pressed into a gastone and lie back, fully dependent on the pressure provided by my feet, when both my feet cut. My shoulders fired into overdrive as I held an awkward iron cross and drove my feet back into the wall. Another pitch of run out 5.8 led us to the crux of the route, a pitch I had built up in my mind for years, trying to imagine what it would be like to pull on edges with nothing but air below and then run it to the anchors.
Top of the crux pitch
    Three bolts on a 75 foot 5.11 stood between us and a perfect first day on Whitesides. We were moving at a great pace and making no mistakes, so I just had to fire this quickly and it would basically be over with just a few pitches of 5.9 and 5.10 to the top. I laced up my shoes and did a few big moves off the belay and it was all over, except for the remaining 40 feet of the pitch with no gear. At this point in the day it was just understood that an entire pitch my  have 3 pieces of protection total and that's OK. Bennett and I swung leads to the top. At one point I laid down on a grassy belay ledge as Bennett built the anchor for the next pitch. The sun warmed my body under a perfectly blue sky and the cool wind kissed my skin and rattled the stalks of grass all the while 500 feet of air lay below me. I almost peacefully fell asleep while belaying until the roar of a near by diving Peregrine woke me,  I told Bennett later on the car ride home.

    Once at the top we briefly celebrated, took some photos and answered a few questions from a couple hiking to the top. I can only imagine how we looked to them as we crawled out of the void and over the fence to the overlook where they stood. We began our hike back to the car satisfied and proud of our perfection. I was excited about the future. I have my hopes wrapped around the harder lines on the headwall... the Arno lines especially. Lines with stacked 5.11 and 5.12+ pitches. As my mind raced I made my one and only mistake of the day. In my haste I placed all my weight onto a wet step on the hike down. I was shot into the air and my full weight came down on my lower back with a carabiner to break my fall. I laughed and groaned wondering if my back was broken. I stood up and hobbled down the trail with a firm reminder that I'm not invincible. A good thing to keep in my mind as I venture into more difficult terrain on my new favorite cliff.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The End is the Beginning

   It is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to this wonderful place. I have accepted an amazing position for an Outdoor Retailer in Atlanta that will allow me to take my climbing and role as an ambassador for my sport to the next level. In just a few short weeks I will sadly have to put Brevard in my rear view mirror. I can not convey how hard it was for me to decide to leave this beautiful forest and all the amazing people that make up this small mountain community; but one must forever be pushing forward, deeper into the zephyr of Life. 
   I'm sure many people have seen the title of my blog and thought " Well that's a bit arrogant.", but you must remember the story from which this clever title was derived. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was a young and confused boy that needed a new start in a place with more possibilities for prosperity and happiness than his home, which he left behind at a turbulent time in his life. He needed an escape from the world he knew and he needed the guidance of his new family to help him reach his full potential as a person. The Fresh Prince also brought a new perspective to his new home, not better nor worse, just something different...something fresh. In the end he walked away a better and wiser man. In so many ways I care not to expound upon this story is my story. I came to Brevard in need of healing, guidance, direction, peace, and strength. I came here to find myself in the silence of the forest.  I hope that in my short time here I too brought something new, something fresh to this community and the paths that I crossed. 
   It has been over a year now and I can say that while I have not yet reached my full potential as a climber and more importantly as a person, I am on the cusp of something grand in my timeline. It is because of my time in this majestic corner of the world that I can now go on this new journey with a clear mind and a renewed energy. 
   The granite walls of North Carolina have made my mind strong and taught me that in moments of fear and chaos it is best to just breath and move forward slowly and deliberately...and that Death should be the least of our fears. The cold water of the Davidson River has cleansed my soul and taught me that if something takes your breath away, it's more than likely good for you and that you shouldn't fight it but rather let it wash over you. The trails have taught me that in life you have to react fast and stay balanced or you may come crashing to the ground; but you can't let the uncertainty hold you back from experiencing something great. The forest has taught me to be still and listen to my heart. 
   I want to thank all the amazing people I have met in my short time here. I have never seen such a happy place full of so much wisdom and unique perspectives. But there are a few people that have been pivotal in my reconstruction of the spirit.        

Julia Tellman, Dan Ennis, Tyler Crotts, and Chuck Carlson: Thank you for reminding me to dance and that four drunk friends in a living room is better than a 400 person party any day. Julia: good luck on your walk-about. Dan: Kill it this season! I will be at the Clemson and home races for sure! Keep me posted.

Bennet Anderson and Davis King: Thanks for sharing Cathey's Creek with me. We've had some pretty amazing times... I can't remember them for some odd reason, but I know they happened and that they were awesome. Come see me in ATL. Keep climbing and be safe.

John Carpenter, Josh Baggett and Dan Horne: You're my boys! I've enjoyed every minute of your company and I hope you stay in touch! See you at Triple Crown!

Jeremy Whitworth: Thank you for believing in me and trusting me with your gym. I've enjoyed every moment with you and the Brevard Rock Gym family. You've shown me that a smile and the right words go a long way in life. Pardon my French but... you've really got your shit together man! You're going to go far in this life.

Wes Dickson: Thank you for reminding me that "Its all or Nothing" in this life and if you want something you can't wait on it but you just have to take it.....and thank you for the GALLONS of free coffee.

Carlos, Art, Joey, and the Sycamore Crew: It has been a pleasure joking, talking and working with you. Stay in touch. I wish you all the best  Art: You owe me a game of chess!

Phillip Hoffman: What can I say man.... I wouldn't be here if it were not for you and I would not be stepping into this great opportunity without your guidance. You taught me to take the time to think hard before speaking. I think I may have developed a filter between my brain and mouth in our time together. The world will thank you. It has been a real pleasure working, climbing and talking with you over the last 15 months. I wish you the best and hope to see you frequently throughout this life * Jess: You have the most beautiful baby girl in the world and I can't wait to see her grow up! Thanks for being a great boss and for all the delicious baked goods :) 

BREVARD: I see a bright future for you! Embrace that future and always adapt but never change what you are. Keep it simple and protect your forest! I am saying goodbye but I will be back. I will always come back to you. I first set foot in your forest as a young boy mountain biking with his dad and one day I hope to be an old man climbing here with his son. No matter where I go I now know that this will always be my home.

"You'll see one day when you move on, it just sort of happens one day and it's gone. You feel like you can never get it back. It's like you feel homesick for a place that doesn't even exist. Maybe it's like this rite of passage. You won't ever have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself for your kids, for the family you start, it's like a cycle. I don't know, but I miss the idea of it.. Maybe that's all family really is, A group of people that miss the same imaginary place." 

Goodbye Brevard and in case I don't see you.... good morning , good afternoon, good evening and GOOD NIGHT! 

- Eric Matthew Singleton
"The Fresh Prince of Brevard" 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Gear Review: La Sportiva Ganda

      There have been many great accomplishments in design and function over the centuries. Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel, Bugatti created the luxurious 1001hp Veyron and then La Sportiva created the Ganda. This shoe will simply leave you speechless and smiling. La Sportiva made a bold claim when they said this shoe would allow you to carry a 30 pound pack on the approach then also have the ability to climb 5.12! I was skeptical until I put them on. WOW!!! I didn't climb 5.12 in them (  Honnold certainly could) but I did easily lead gently overhanging 10c trad in them! Throughout the hike in and the climb there wasn't a moment where I felt the shoe had any notion of a short coming in either discipline. On the hike it was supportive and gripped the mud well and on the climb it edged and smeared better than a lot of climbing shoes on market. It really is the best of both worlds. Simply put... the Ganda is a climbing shoe that you can hike in.
     These shoes are not magical nor divine, they are just engineered to perfection with every detail accounted for. Slip lasted in the forefoot and board lasted in the back, the Ganda is built around a 3D sculpted anatomical PU Lite mid-sole that molds to your foot over the life of the shoe. The upper is a combination of leather, Vibram rubber, and synthetic leather giving you comfort where you need it yet durability and friction in the areas of the shoe that take abuse. $250 dollars may sound steep for an approach shoe but you are really getting an approach shoe and climbing shoe in the same package (the Ganda's are designed to be repeatedly resoled). That's $125 a pair if you do the math, not a bad deal if you ask me!
     These shoes can make every climbers experience more efficient and enjoyable but the demographic that truly benefits from this amazing design is the professional guiding community. I work at a gear shop and moonlight as a guide and I honestly think that behind the Gri-Gri, the Ganda is the second most important tool in a guide's arsenal. The Ganda eliminates the need for a second shoe and they are sleek and professional in appearance. La Sportiva never fails to amaze me with their attention to detail and ground breaking designs. The Ganda is just one more piece of evidence in the testament to this company's passion for innovation.

     " I choose the Ganda because of its comfort and versatility. From guiding clients on North Carolinian slab to running them up the Grand Teton, the Gandas edge and smear perfectly. They are so comfortable, when I get back to the car after a long day in the mountains, that I routinely forget to change into my sandals!" - Karsten Delap- AMGA Rock Guide- La Sportiva Athlete

Thursday, June 21, 2012

GEAR REVIEW: BlueWaterRopes Dominator 9.4

BLUE WATER 9.4mm Dominator
    Surgeons don't use dull scalpels, cyclists don't ride heavy bikes, and soldiers don't use BB guns. If you're going to do a job you need the proper tools in order to get the absolute best results. Climbing is no exception to this rule. You need the right shoes, the right harness but more importantly... you need the right rope; a rope that doesn't just catch your fall but moves effortlessly with you. A good rope is like a guardian angel; you don't even notice it's presence until you REALLY need it to be there. A good rope should  move over the rock with the elegance of a viper over the forest floor, it should feel like an extension of your hand when clipping, and it shouldn't be the heaviest part of your rack.
My Dominator and I sending Waverly Waster 5.12  @ Looking Glass,NC
     Enter the BlueWater 9.4 Dominator.  This rope is amazingly strong and at 55 grams per meter, one of the most lightweight ropes on the market. The core and sheath diameter are only separated by (.1 mm) giving the rope a tight and organic feel in your hands. It is available in 60m and 70m with the options for bi-pattern and dry treatment for a few extra dollars. This is my go to rope when I'm attempting on-sights and red-points of both trad and sport lines near my limit. The best part is when I'm hiking out and I'm completely wrecked; I barely notice this low profile and feather-light rope in my pack. And this is no wimpy skinny. The Dominator is rated for 7 UIAA falls. Even climbing almost every day I'm amazed at the durability of this rope. One Dominator can last me through 2 or 3 active seasons. Not bad for a skinny 9.4mm, right? Pair the Dominator with the BlueWater 8.4mm Excellence and you'll have the best multi-pitch set-up on the block
TC and his 9.4
    Cedar Wright flat out calls it "The best rope in the world." ( He would know). Don't believe Cedar? Well pay attention to the rope Tommy Caldwell uses on almost every route for the past 5 years. If its good enough for  Tommy on The Captain, its just fine with me! Pro or not, everyone likes a durable, lightweight  rope with all the bells and whistles that catches you like pool of feathers. Needless to say, I give the BlueWater Dominator 10 out of 10 stars and I confidently trust my life to it daily. Thanks BlueWaterRopes for going above and beyond to help us perform at our best and... stay off the ground!

+++ Click the link to Blue Water Ropes on the right hands side of the page to see more amazing products made by the great American rope company.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Shattered Glass and a White Room

     It was a quiet summer afternoon at Rocks and Ropes when only a handful of the committed gym rats were there, because we had nothing else to do. We had set some routes, slack lined, and performed one or two stupid acts that ended with a few mild injuries. Occasionally a family would pop their heads in but immediately leave at the sight of our pack of shirtless, long haired hooligans taking top rope whippers to see how close we could get to the ground. Eventually we all settled in to the back room which we called the "climber's lounge" to chill and watch a video for the 100th time. Our lounge was really just an vacant, dusty room in the far back of the building with industrial beams and stone walls . There was a TV that only had 8 channels to choose from, a VHS player, a stack of climbing videos and a raggedy old couch that I can only imagine was abandoned on the side of the road at some point before its arrival in our little " lounge".
Just a few of the Rocks and Ropes gang out climbing. ( Cecil Foster, Eric Singleton, Doug Ianaurio and Collin Tice)
     I can't remember which climbing video we watched that day, maybe Dosage 1, but what I heard in that video had an enormous impact on my climbing. It was in a dose of Klem Loskot bouldering somewhere in Europe, Klem was our hero and a master of the mind. We all imitated his psyche and we would scream loud and passionately for each other when we were mid crux and on the line between success and failure, afraid to commit to the next move. Sometimes we would frighten customers because our words of encouragement to our friends could easily be mistaken by an outsider as pure rage. We would grunt and scream, like Klem, as we clawed through a crux as if we were charging straight through a battle towards the gates of Valhalla, committed to seeing our actions through to the end. There was an interview with Klem in which he spoke, in his monk-like Austrian accent, of this specific moment in time he experienced working a hard route, when everything in the world disappears from your mind except you and the rock, a "white room". I loved this allusion of his mind being suspended in time, purely focused on one single objective. The world could be ending behind you at this moment and you wouldn't know it because the mind is in some far away place playing chess with your soul.
Klem Loskot in the zone high above the water.
     Fast forward 9 years. I'm still screaming wildly for my friends and now I have new lines of my own, unclimbed projects that I'm obsessing over, like Klem. The line that sets the stage for my experience is called "Shattered Glass". It is a line I found and admired for months. It goes up an overhanging face with streaks of quartz that resemble the scars of a dramatic lightning strike long ago. I teamed up with my good friend Dan Horne to equip this route and see if it were possible. Dan paid for the bolts and I borrowed a drill and we spent a stormy afternoon establishing "Shattered Glass". Dan bagged the first ascent on his first lead burn of the day; I don't think my drill bit had even cooled when he clipped the chains. I then gave it 2 goes falling at the upper crux each time. I was psyched because now I had a real project! The lines I had established earlier that month went in a day, which upset me a little. I like to work routes for weeks if not months. I love going through the process of failing over and over before realizing success. Shattered Glass would be a route that could provide me with this experience and more.
    Two days after establishing Shattered I destroyed my big toe on a curb in a gas station parking lot. I'm constantly amazed how graceful I can be on an overhanging rock face but yet so clumsy walking on flat ground. As the blood poured from my throbbing toe all I could do was laugh, but deep down I was heart broken. I had waited so long to work this line and two days after getting that opportunity I couldn't even get my foot into a pair of street shoes much less tight climbing shoes. I spent the next week training in the gym on hang boards, H.I.T systems, and anything else I could do to alleviate the chaos in my mind. If I couldn't work my project I sure as hell was going to be ready for the day that I could. One week later my toe had not fully healed but if I taped it enough I could get it in loose climbing shoes.
    I spent the next six days in a frenzy trying to find partners to belay me after work. I would run to the cliff and do a warm up line, hang the draws and give Shattered one pumped go before the daylight would escape into the night. I was making no progress at all, falling at the desperate final crux each time. Most days the holds after the crux were soaking wet but I'd desperately lunge for them anyways. I was basically in my twisted version of heaven! After six days and six failed attempts my friend Nathan suggested I go to the North Side of Looking Glass to clear my mind on some familiar routes and since I felt that I may be developing a mental block, it sounded like a great idea. I spent that Friday evening climbing fun 5.10's that I had done countless times well into the night with my friends. Hanging off the enormous wall of  the North Side with the stars and black sky surrounding me really cleared my head. I was psyched to wake up Saturday and work my project all day with some good friends from Clemson, with a refreshed state of mind.
    I went into the day with high hopes and I was sure I would send because in my mind I did everything right. I hydrated, loaded up on carbs and didn't go out at all so I could get 8 hours of sober sleep. I packed my food (2000 calories), my Katana Laces (my sending shoe), my chaos harness and my super supple 9.4mm Dominator ( my "project" rope). I gave Shattered two great burns that day but failed to keep it together when I was pumped and stabbing at the desperate slopers and edges of the final crux. It wasn't that I didn't know what to do or that I didn't want it bad enough, I just wasn't focused or maybe I was too focused. I was starting to get upset with myself. Physically I could crush every move but mentally I was somewhere else. My mind was lost in the dark and haunted by the whispers of my ego, the distant footsteps of my insecurities, and the quiet breathing of my selfish desires. I vowed that Sunday would be a much need rest day and I would put Shattered Glass out of my mind for the day.
    I woke up the following morning at 8:30 and felt like I had been run over by a train, repeatedly. Six straight days of projecting had taken its toll on my body. My shoulders felt like knotted cables, my fingers throbbed and my elbows were on fire. I got up, had some coffee and packed my bag with my worn out shoes, a harness and a belay device, leaving my draws and rope behind. I packed a little food but nothing to support a high performance day. I  met my friend, Josh Baggett at Brevard Rock Gym and I immediately told him that he had a belay slave for the day and that I would not be climbing. Josh had several lines he wanted to work and I was happy to offer a catch and encouragement as he had done for me many times before.
   We arrived at the crag and began warming up. Throughout the day several people asked me if I was going to give "it" a burn  and I would reply, " No, I'm wrecked and its probably wet again. I'm here for Josh today." Josh set about making quick work of Crown Royal, bagging his first 5.12 and I like to think my "Klem-like" screams of encouragement helped. Riding the high of his send Josh set out to climb Cathy's Corner, a bouldery 5.11 mixed line, just a few feet right of Shattered Glass. Josh fired Cathy's in one go and lowered down happy and accomplished. I agreed to clean the gear from the route and maybe take a look at the hold in question on my route when I got to the top. I felt surprisingly light on Cathy's Corner and when I reached the top I realized the holds of Shattered were bone dry! The voice of my "dark passenger" immediately began to whisper into my mind, " Just give it one go! You need this, WE need this!" I always listen to my "dark passenger", so I called down to Josh that I was going to brush it, hang the draws and give it one burn.
Briefly resting after the initial crux
    So there I was doing exactly what I said I wouldn't do just hours earlier. I was standing below my project for the 8th time, shoes on, bowline tied. Typically I spend a few minutes with my eye's closed, imagining my beta for each move. I try to calm my mind and slow my breathing. I try and try and try to do all these things so that I may be calm and peaceful during the stress of the cruxes, but not this time. Something in me snapped and my mind went to a place it only goes when my back is against the wall and I have to fight my way out. This is a dark but powerful room in my mind where nothing but my most primal rage exists. The walls are painted with images of war, lust and chaos. In the center of this room is my monster chained to the floor, foaming at the mouth and breathing heavily, waiting to be unleashed on the world. I came to and my eyes focused, I began to breath  heavily as goosebumps covered my body. I charged toward the rock and asked Josh if he had me. I was simply hungry for a war, I wanted to be perfect or be ripped apart in the process.
   I moved through the lower V7 crux, turning to stone on each delicate hold. I clipped quickly, without pause on my way to the next move. In seconds I was at the black roof that lies mid route. I hung only briefly to catch my breath then pressed on to the crux. I was not just grabbing the holds I was trying to crush them under the weight of my quiet rage. I made the final clip before the crux and the world vanished. I was in the "white room", the place that Klem spoke of years ago in Dosage. I could hear sounds but they seemed to be universes away. The wind slowed as it kissed my skin and I could feel the granules of rock being pressed into the pours of my finger tips. My monster was gnarling and thrashing at his cage and I happily unlocked his door. I began to squeeze and compress the slopers of the upper V8 crux and before I knew it I was lunging through the air for the final  hold and as I hit it my skin bonded to the rock. I was not coming off. I clipped the anchors slowly and deliberately, savoring what I had waited so long for.
     I didn't make a sound and dropped into the quiet, still air. I sat suspended 60 feet off the ground and took in the moment, trying to absorb every detail  and remember how many times I had been humbled by this beautiful route. Moments later my world came crashing back and all the sounds of the forest flooded into my ears. I looked down at Josh and he was smiling and my friends across the crag were yelling "YEH! Way to go!". It hit me all at once and I let out a scream and kicked my feet in the air in pure, uncontrollable joy. My two month journey was over.
Entering the final crux of Shattered Glass 5.13b
    Days later I was able to reflect on the entire process that was Shattered Glass. The wonder that surrounded it, the creation of the line, the realization that it could go, the injury that kept me away, the countless evenings of training, the frustrating failed attempts and the final realization of the dream. This is why I climb, to be tested and pushed, not just physically but mentally as well. To run head first in to the storm of impossibility and continue forward when rain and lightning crash into the mind. Sadly this experience is gone now and I have to find a new route that will once again provide me with a window into my white room, that will satisfy my monster's appetite. This is the endless cycle of a climber's life and it is a beautiful process.      
   Yesterday I established "Napoleon", a route I  named for its short stature but powerful movement. The moves of this route are stunning and very low percentage. While much shorter than Shattered Glass, Napoleon is leaps and bounds harder in terms of pure difficulty. It will require even more of myself, more training, more sacrifices, more blood, more sweat and more tenacity. The process has started all over. I'll be forced once more to try and find my way back to that place in my mind where peace and power dance together.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

My so called life.....

High off the ground in Georgia
       Climbers have been trying to explain what we do and why we do it since the very beginning. I am not about to try and explain why I do what I do, because I can't. None of us can. We can give generic responses like: "It's so peaceful.", "I want to see where my limit is.", or " Its my way of expressing myself in nature." etc etc. I believe George Mallory said it best when asked why he wanted to climb Everest. His answer was "Because it is there!". I don't think he was talking about Everest itself though. I think he was describing that urge we all feel. That knot in the chest. That gravitational pull down a phantom path. He was describing what every climber that has ever existed feels, the presence of our "dark passenger". We climb because IT is there, always there, telling us to go harder, higher, faster, longer.
   Since I walked into Rocks and Ropes in Greenville, SC at age 17 my life has been on a course; I have had an objective. That objective has been to make climbing my path in life. It is a most arbitrary path I will admit. Essentially I try and find the hardest, not easiest, way up a rock face, for no reason other than, because that's what I like to do. Some of these faces are 10ft tall and some are 1000's of feet tall. And get this... I don't like doing things that I know I can do. I look for the faces I may NOT be able to do. That is just insane if you really think about it. But I spend my days reading books about, watching videos of, talking about, training for, resting after, hydrating for, dreaming about and thinking of climbing.
Getting the first ascent of "Crown Royal"
       I've made a lot of sacrifices in the pursuit of my dreams. Relationships have suffered and blown up in my face because a lot of the times climbing seemingly came first. Loved ones worry about me constantly because to them I'm on deaths door everyday, which is not the case, but try telling your Mother that climbing  400 feet up a vertical face or whipping 40 feet into the void isn't that dangerous. Sometimes I can't go out to the bar with my friends because I'm working a hard route the following morning and I don't want to be out late drinking. I work jobs that allow me to climb as much as possible, sometimes I leave for 2 months at a time. So I'm not really building a retirement fund working for a big corporation but instead I'm guiding and working at a gear shop. But then again I don't want to be working some career I care nothing about. I'm content making just enough money to be comfortable while not cutting into my climbing. Its a simple life. I have set my life up so that I don't really have anything to fall back on but I can also pick up and go as I please, to a certain extent. I've seen the older, weather worn climbers. There's no end game in this life. You do it until you can't. Then you die. To me that is beautifully simple and honorable! To give all of one's self to a single pursuit. So yes, sometimes I eat tuna and ramen for days on end and I get really depressed on rainy days. And so most of the times my bank account is lower than my IQ, and I'm no genius FYI. And yes the only women in my life are usually my climbing partners and you can't date your climbing partners just so you know. You don't want your belayer pissed off at you because you didn't do the laundry.
Looking for new unclimbed routes
       There is a lighter side to this lifestyle. That's a drastic understatement actually. There is a GOLDEN side to this life I lead. When most people are out at bars on a Friday night I'm usually hiking out of the woods with one of my best friends under the stars of a dark, crisp night sky with a mountain we just climbed far behind us. When the average person is at work I'm deep in the backwoods climbing in remote and beautiful settings, surrounded by pristine, natural wonders. My vacations are frequent and cheap and can be up to a month or more in length. I never question my fortitude because I get to test my mental and physical limits daily. I have friends all over the country that I can crash with for free, unannounced. I'm part of a community of brave, humble, tough and unique characters from every walk of life. My best friends are people I trust with my LIFE on a daily basis. When I go to work I'm either teaching people how to climb outside in the places I would be if I were not working or I'm at Looking Glass Outfitters, talking to people about the climbing and helping them find the right gear or pick the best place to climb for the day. My boss calls me to ask if I can cover for him so he can go climbing and I do the same to him. I don't even wear shoes to work most days! Climbing pays my bills, but I'm not getting rich. Its just enough and not too much. Essentially I'm living my dream, a simple dream but the dream nonetheless.
Showing off my sponsors' gear
     From my passion and training and a little luck I've managed to get sponsored by two prominent companies in the international climbing marketplace, making me in a way, a "pro" climber. La Sportiva, an Italian climbing shoe company and BlueWater Ropes, an American climbing rope company, have selected me as one of their athletes. Being sponsored basically means that these companies recognize my passion and abilities and therefore give me their products to use when I climb ( I'm bound by contract to use only their products and not a competing companies') and in exchange I promote their products through word of mouth, pictures, articles, BLOGS, events and other marketing mediums. Now let me say this... I am not some super elite athlete. I'll give you an analogy using other pro athletes to put things in perspective. If Chris Sharma (one of the top climbers in the world) is playing at the NBA All-Star level, I'm playing for a respectable college team who occasionally makes Sport Center's Top 10. I'm a relatively strong climber but not at the cutting edge of my sport. I read somewhere that the grades of difficulty I climb put me in the top 1% percent of climbers in the world but there are still 10 year old girls and 40 year old men that climb harder than I do. Climbing is like golf, it is a lifetime in pursuit of perfection and is a unique but similar journey for everyone involved.
This is why its important to have your trusted friends as partners.
   While climbing is my job, I haven't sold out to THE MAN. The climbing community is a family of like minded people. I can call my "corporate" sponsors anytime if I need help in life. I've done shots with CEO's of marketing at the crag and I call them on their birthdays. 90% percent of the time people have no idea what I'm climbing or "projecting" ( the art of working one route that is at your limit for long periods of time). Every so often I hire a photographer or put out a video promoting my sponsors but most of the time I'm out there, just climbing. But if my sponsors decided to drop me today, nothing would really change in my life except my ropes and shoes wouldn't be as shiny and new all the time. I'd still go climbing everyday and I'd still be madly in love with my sport/art. I don't do it for the glory or attention and it is still as pure to me as it was the day Jason and Sara Heath took me under their wings as a clueless newbie. If anything it means more to me now  than it did then.
     I'm 26 now. My hair is thinning, rapidly. Hangovers hurt a lot more as do workouts. I have to actually stretch before climbing. I'm maturing as a climber and slowly stepping into a position with more responsibility to my community rather than the "loud, naive gumby" I once was. I still have a lot to learn and I also try to pass on my knowledge to younger climbers as my friends did to me when I was starting out. I still have the mindset of an 18 year old with severe A.D.H.D. but I'm growing up nevertheless. I've started to take a step back and look at my life as I am forced to become more and more aware of my fleeting youth but I must say I'm pretty content. I think I still have my best climbing in front of me and I'm happy with the past climbing has laid behind me. I've met amazing people and seen amazing things from perspectives most people can only dream about. I like to think I have a better grasp on why I do what I do after all these years and I'll do my best to convey what I've learned about myself, but this is like trying to describe to someone what love feels like. All I can think to tell you is that I love climbing the way a mother loves her only child, that I need climbing like a lover needs the warm skin of their partner, that without climbing I would be lost in a world of consumption and  greed. Climbing is the first thought on my mind in the morning and the last thing I think about before I fall asleep. To add to George Mallory's answer to an old question, I climb because it is there, I climb because I can not imagine a life without climbing..
Bouldering at 13,00ft in Colorado

Thanks for reading and please pursue your passions at whatever the cost.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

"Winter" Recap

   Well Winter didn't really happen, did it? I'm not complaining by any means. Last year heavy snow and ice kept me off Looking Glass for the better part of Fall and Winter. I think my relationship at the time suffered greatly due to my inability to climb on my projects. So this year I got to experience 6 months of Fall ( single) and I took full advantage of it! The sharp end had my full attention. I went bouldering a grand total of 5 times. I did manage to bag the first ascent of "The Sabbath" V8 at the North-side boulders and that is about the height of my bouldering pursuits for 2012.
FA of "The Sabbath" V8

   I went to the SunWall for the first time ever this season. I immediately fell in love after my first day! I decided that my intro to the Sun Wall should be Le Pump 5.11.  A classic overhanging mixed line with wonderful slopers and crimps. I walked away with an on-sight and from that point i was hooked. I met up with my friend Camden Clements to do a 3 day crash course on the SunWall. I wanted to walk in the footsteps of  Looking Glass legend Jeep Gaskin and all his bold friends who climbed these routes when I was still in diapers. We opened the 3 days with an easy but classic line, "Tits and Beer" 5.9 aka "the world's hardest 5.8", which has been known to cause more than  a few epics. The route climbs a great hand crack into trade mark Sun Wall bulges. The route went quickly and was really fun. We topped out the 3rd pitch psyched to get another classic in as we still had plenty of time left in the day. We spent the next 2 hours simul-climbing around 5.5 slab trying to locate the rap station to take us back to the ground. Camden was shirt-less since it had be nearly 70 degrees while we were climbing but as is typical in Pisgah, the temperature had dropped nearly 30 degrees in the matter of a few hours. Neither of us had headlamps so we made the call to bail from our own gear. I left two bomber cams and we headed for the ground.
Le Pump 5.11

      We came back the next day to get my cams and continue our exploration of the Sun Wall. We got a late start and after our "ordeal" the previous day we decided to just tackle one easy objective, " Climb Nick Danger and find those damn rap anchors". We had a great rhythm and cruised through "Nick Danger" 5.10. What a great route! It starts with exposed run out face climbing into overhanging jugs and then finishes in a great water groove system. We topped out and found the anchors with ease. It was a crisp, blue sky day and the sun was setting on us as we listened to music and yelled hello to our friends on the South Side. We both realized that its times like this that made us fall in love with climbing in the first place. It was also a stark contrast to my bitching and moaning the day before as I scrambled around wet rock, unprotected looking for anchors in chilling wind and darkness.

SunWall base camp

     We ended the day with a session of bouldering at Brevard Rock Gym followed by beer and pizza. The next day would be Camden's last day with me in Brevard before he headed to Charleston for some R and R. We woke up early, by the way early for us is around 10am, and headed back to tackle our main objective, "The Odyssey". The Odyssey is 120 feet of splitter 5.9 hand crack and the top is guarded by a delicate yet physical 5.11 crux pitch and 5.10 water groove. We were psyched and felt confident.... until we got to the wall and realized the wind was clocking in around 30 mph on the exposed face above. Like I said before, the weather here is....interesting to say the least.
Camden fighting the 30mph winds.

 We opted to stay low to the ground and do some single pitch classics. My friend Sarah Gaskin ( daughter of the legendary Jeep Gaskin) and Harrison Shull ( author of Selected Climbs of North Carolina) were just leaving the crag area as we arrived.We stopped and chatted a bit. I joked with Harrison about his description of the anchor location and admitted it was just my poor route finding and not his description that led to our "epic". They told us the wind gusts almost knocked them off the wall a few times so we felt great about deciding not to climb 3 pitches up into high winds. They left to work "Mainline Express" and we set about cragging on the Sun Wall. We spent the majority of the day chasing our gear around the apron slabs as the wind would just pick it up and throw it 100 yards without warning. We did manage to get 3 pitches in and  I walked away with on-sights of "Out to Lunch" 5.10d and "Black Out"5.10+ and Camden decided to skip 5.10 trad all together and go for a burn on "Le Pump" 5.11. He fell once at the crux and immediately pulled back to his high point and fired to the top. I was stoked and proud to say the least. We ended the day with a little simul-climbing on easy terrain, took in one last sunset and then said our goodbyes over a beer.

Camden and I topping out our last pitch of the day.

         The rest of my so called Winter was full of climbing and promoting my awesome sponsors. I spent time getting humbled at the Hanging Chain Wall of Rumbling Bald, on-sighted some hard trad lines, helped promote Brevard Rock Gym's biggest comp to date, did a photo shoot with Dan Brayack and......started developing Pisgah's first overhanging crag with my friends Nathan Brown, Davis King and Bennet Anderson!!! My projects and life in general have been put on hold since I found this new area. I've become completely obsessed. With my friend Nathan Brown's guidance, I've been learning the art of establishing lines ground up and top down. Its been amazing to be able to express my art on a blank canvas. I've never been so tired in all my life. "Sending is the easy part", Nathan tells me, referring to the hours of hard physical labor required to establish a new line. I've waited my entire life for an opportunity like this and I'm so excited to develop this area and present it as a gift to the local climbing community. I think it will bring balance to the climbing in Pisgah. We will have overhanging power endurance, mind control trad, steep cracks, hard aid, hard bouldering and moderate to scary slabs. But I've said too much. Its still a secret at the moment. The public debut  will be soon, I promise. I'm not one that believes in hoarding awesome climbing all to myself. I'll have videos and articles to tell the whole story and showcase this little gift very soon but until then this is all you get! :)
FA of "Crown Royal" 5.12+
After a long day of HARD work.