My final day in Font unfolded as quite the storybook ending to a dream-realized trip: I decided to rest one day in order to give my best effort on the boulders I would attempt during my final siege. In addition, I convinced myself that getting up for sunrise at the boulders would be my best opportunity for good temps to send one of the final elusive boulders of my trip: Big Golden. I filmed the uber-strong Ludo Laurence sending this area classic early in the trip (the video is posted here), but half-ass attempts, exhaustion, weak fingers, and the fact that the entire boulder bakes in the sun, had delayed my summit. Not for long… Read More…
Finding beauty in a city of half a million seemed difficult at first. With all of the extra traffic, city politics, and the universal challenges that humanity creates in tight living conditions, some days just aren’t as bright as the sunrise. But humanity is designed in duality: where there is evil there is good, and where there is sad there is happy. Even in the dirtiest dreariest places, it is possible to find vibrant life.
A city is not beautiful naturally, so we tend to hire structural playwrights: architects, designers, and artists to help offset the drab of the drive. Their job, besides functionality, is essentially to design a practical piece of art that appeals to the masses, does the city proud, and brings life to an otherwise bereft area. Obviously this is not an easy task.
As was the case with the prominent art structure pictured here, which was built to pacify rush hour traffic along I25 into downtown Denver
A.H.S.L. (Adam Henry Southeast Legend) has released THE Alabama guidebook. In it, he published insight from a variety of hands that helped shape the style of southern climbing. He did an amazing job bringing together their voices and spirit of the South, even though it is a guide 🙂
The thing that stood out to me the most (you can stop reading now if you don’t like sappy childhood stories or delusions of grandeur) is that I actually had a mention in ‘A Brief History’ of bouldering in the southeast. I remember reading a similar intro ‘History’ in my very first guidebook (The Dixie Cragger’s Atlas). Noted inside that guide’s testament to those who had come before, it referenced an unknown super strong mofo coming along and sneaking away with the last few plumbs of the area where I learned to climb. That ended up being Jeff Wales, a well deserved climbing partner of mine growing up. What I’m trying to say here is that seeing my name in print listed among those who have created so much happiness for the climbing world was rather rewarding.
In addition, Adam requested a few words from myself to include in the guidebook as a ‘perspective’ piece. After writing it, I half thought it would get left out of the final printing, but sure enough, it was in there directly after ‘perspectives’ from a few rather prolific southern gentleman–Bob Cormany, Jake Slaney and Brad Mcleod. As a teaser, because you should all go out and purchase the guidebook, I have posted my story below. Enjoy…
I have had more fun wrestling the pebbles of Alabama than doing anything else in my life. What’s key is the spirit of the climbers in the Deep South—that spirit truly holds the grit of the stone together. A healthy dose of passion, positive attitude, and respect keeps the heartbeat of Southern grappling in good rhythm…
Passion is most evident at the lip of a hilltop mushroom boulder, where beta hasn’t been gleaned any further, and you’ve out-climbed your energy and spotter. Your buddy is standing on top pointing at dimpled grips you should use, but willpower is the only real motivator. Here, you try harder than you’ve ever tried before, because, despite better reasoning, this summit is the most important thing in the world. The rock is grateful your instincts care so much!
A sincerely jovial attitude will be the key to the first ascent of the Consumption Challenge–Horse Pens 40’s hardest project: Climb all day at the Pens. Don’t just dillydally, if you aren’t sending your project, then circuit hard. When you’re completely exhausted, head to the restaurant and order some chicken tenders. Eat them with you fingers. Then, when you’re fatigued and your stomach is weighted, go directly to Consumption, and give it your best! With as much purpose as a blindfolded dyno, savor the moment, and forget about the summit. The rock is grateful you enjoy its creative nature!
Southern humble can be defined as talking mad shit while holding respect for whomever and whatever is the manure on trial. Respect and tradition are an ingrained part of good Southern style. Years of blood, sweat, and tears have gone into the routes in this guidebook. Because of that dedication, no good sixth sense about what will be possible in the future can be trusted until it has been well cultured on the grit of the South. So respect Alabama’s summated boulders as well as those who have summated before you. The rock is grateful you appreciate its depth of character!
…The stone of the South will continue to reward its wrestlers as long as a good attitude, passion, and respect are among the chosen sequence for scaling. Getcha some!
The following article was published a few years back in Urban Climber Magazine. I am posting it now to foreshadow a bit of a road trip i’ll be taking…
Road Trip Reminisce
*Reads easier if you watch these classics first.
My last road trip took me to 8 different climbing areas in 7 days, up 30 different three star problems, and ended with a very sun burnt left arm. It was an amazing ride that reminded me there is nothing more that I like to do than put my car into park at a new climbing area…And so, when under the thumb of work, my second choice is watching someone else doing just that.
The ‘road trip’ video is certainly the classic climbing film genre, encompassing the climbing bum standards of cheap food, little sleep, and lots of action. By the very nature of cities not typically being covered with rocks, the sport of climbing has always revolved around the road trip. These factors have given us the plethora of ‘road trip’ style videos we relish today. But to really get a feel for what makes a good road trip or even a good video, we need to look a few of the classics: Rampage, The Real Thing, and Frequent Flyers all embody the qualities of a classic bouldering trip.
Who wouldn’t want a one-way ticket around the world or an RV full of psyched climbers to explore the North American west coast with? I mean really, Ben Moon and Jerry Moffat are my heroes! These videos characterize the ideals of the perfect road trip. When Chris Sharma had his challenging day at the Tramway, overcoming his “ripped” shoes, he perseveres to continue climbing for the sake of passion. When Boone Speed classifies his past few days of travel with a recount of what time it is in each country they climbed at during their whirlwind trip, he reminds us sleep is secondary to the amazing limestone boulders of Castle Hill. And finally, When Ben and Jerry take their renowned rest day in the snowy never-never-land of Fontainebleau, they remind us that if you are not having fun, then you may as well go home!
If these videos have taught us anything, it’s that you will not send everything you want to, unless you’re Ben Moon or Chris Sharma, but mostly, it is that the strongest memories of a trip are the fun times spent with friends at the climbing area. Jerry Moffat, reaching for the stars with his arms and exclaiming, “Streeeaatch,” followed by an enjoyable string of climbing cuts on perfect forested sandstone and hilarious improvised fighting scenes between the crew. Boone Speed proclaiming, “I just didn’t want to fall off,” as he grits his teeth and power slabs his way up a New Zealand test piece to join his buddies on top. Obe Carrion remarking about the unheard of strength of Garth Miller, ”How much can you know reading a magazine, you know, but he is naaasty strong!” and the unrivaled smiles of the Japanese climbers, “They’re all just laughing and giggling, and just having such a rad time.” But my favorite quote of any road trip video is from the king himself making sure he gets to climb on everything he sees: “What happens if we see some rad looking boulders on the side of the road…we’re gonna stop…and go climb on ‘em.”
Snow can be a lonely expanse, but in a time of need, snow possesses the guiding potential to expose a motivating path. For me, the daunting snowfields on the backside of Longs Peak tempted my will to succeed.
About once every full moon I am compelled to challenge myself. This insatiable drive for adventure is fueled by my quest to hopefully experience new levels of strength that I didn’t previously know I had. The inspiration, instinctively embedded in my mind, is to pick a goal that will force me to focus both mentally and physically at an intensity level which tests my stamina, but through inexhaustible perseverance, permits me to bathe in the realization that my eyes are not yet bigger than my heart.
After three days of RV touring in Wyoming and Montana with my family, and three days with very little tangible rock relief, we finally arrived at Canyon Village, Yellowstone. One more left turn, and a minute down the one-way loop road; we are there!
Not inspiration point, one of the most prominent pullouts in Yellowstone park. Nope. That was still waiting 100 yards down the road. We had arrived at the ‘Glacial Boulder’. This erratic was brought to its resting point by glaciers during some freakishly cold winter umpteen million years ago. This was all the inspiration I needed for the day.
I bolted out of the RV in such a rush that I did not hear what time my dad said he’d be back to pick me up. I must have circled the boulder 10 times before the pad hit the ground. When it did, my shoes were on with no thought or attention paid to the task; my entire conscious mind was confounded by the boulder. I could not believe it, this boulder had nothing on it. Zero holds. It was egg shaped just like many of the sandstone boulders I climbed back in Alabama, but this thing was granite! Where was the friction?
As I tried to warm up on an easy arete I was reminded of the vicinity in which I was bouldering, literally roadside. I topped out and was both interrupted by the uncomfortable looks of the adult drivers and reassured by the smiling faces of the children riding in the back seat. I decided to move to the backside of the boulder in order to acclimatize to the exposed atmosphere.
A nearly 25 foot slightly overhanging face stared right at me. Although the crimps up the most direct line looked hopeless to send in one day, there was a great layback on the right side that slithered its way to the top. Working this problem did not turn out to be a major physical problem, only mental. When I made it farther than I expected up and left, I decided to climb on past my pad. All that was left ahead was a flat, hard, dirt landing or easy climbing above. I kept my feet thinking and my hands pinching the layback extra hard. I gained the summit overjoyed by the thrills of high bouldering, and this time I was greeted with the smiling faces of stunned accomplishment from the onlookers in the cars.
Now I was confident. I moved to the front side of the boulder, where each car could see every move and every mistake I would make. I settled on a nice little boulder problem with a freakish lock off to a micro pocket and then a sketchy slab to the summit. Obviously interested, a man emerged from the woods wearing camouflaged clothing and a longtime beard. My mind flashed back to Eric Robert Rudolph, had they found him? Had I found him? I was scared only for a moment until I realized I must have looked just as ridiculous, sitting on a mattress with slippers and chalky white hands. His warm smile and first words solidified our connection.
“I am a climber too.”
Awesome. I asked for more. Although he was very interested in free climbing, and especially the problem I was on, he made it clear that his true occupation was a lineman; he climbed telephone poles. We began talking about his backpacking trip, the sport of climbing, and his family that was coming to pick him up soon; throughout, I was taking a number of falls on the project. Gaining a solid grip on the single-digit pocket and pulling off it was the crux. Right when our confidence in the climb started falling with me, he left to wait on his family by the road. The very next go I topped out to the sound of my new friend applauding from across the street.
Then, out of nowhere, his family showed up. I guess I didn’t understand fully what he meant by the extent of his backcountry adventure and what the arrival of his family would entail. Three cars carried five adults and at least six kids. They parked and got out right in front of the climb. Every one of the curious kids followed me around to the back of the boulder. The youngest started throwing pebbles at the rock as soon as he left his mother’s grip. The older kids were testing out the base of the boulder to see if they could scramble to the top and scare their moms. One kid, around 11 years old, just watched me as I put on my shoes back on, chalked up, and took my first long look at a new problem.
It started on small holds that were spaced far apart. I could imagine that with my feet smearing, I could complete a big throw to a small hold above. It was not going to be easy to stick. I hadn’t fallen but two times when the kid realized he could help. I chalked up and without any warning I heard a voice.
“C’mon, you can do it.”
It was then that I knew just that. When I stuck the move with the friction only a spotter can provide, the little dude kept pushing me on as I inched up to match the hold. Even on the slab to the top he congratulated my summit push to assure me the end was in sight. I sent that problem much earlier than expected with the help from a stranger who had no idea what to expect.
On the top I realized everyone had been watching us, even the little kid throwing rocks. When I got down, I thanked the kid for motivating me as if he was my regular climbing partner. Soon to follow were numerous questions about the sport. I answered quickly, trying to inspire future boulderers, as I always do. The one young spotter was really impressed. I couldn’t help but think that we may hear more about him climbing to new heights in the future.
By this point one of the older boys was getting annoyed and asked the little one why he was throwing pebbles at the boulder. He simply responded, “I’m trying to move it,” and then he ran full speed at the boulder and started pushing with all his might. Thinking back to what I read earlier in the Park guide (‘a 500-ton boulder’), I wasn’t worried about him actually pushing it onto the street. Maybe soon he too will learn to enjoy climbing along with, instead of pushing against the flow of nature.
Then, as quickly as they came, the whole family said their good-byes and were on their way.
Next on the agenda for surprise meetings probably scared me the most. I was looking at the impossible arete on the road side of the boulder, when a voice from behind screeched.
“What are you doing?”
A police car confirmed my worst fear.
“Climbing,” I responded.
As all Yellowstone officers have but one annoying yet important mandate, he asked, “You aren’t damaging the rock are you?” Using programmed responses my head had made up before I even heard the question I reassured him that I was in no way going to damage anything. The officer left tentatively, not sure whether he could make me stop or not. I felt better though. I knew for sure that he wouldn’t come back after deciding to let me continue once already.
A couple more classic problems, including a harsh mantle and a little overhang throw pushed me to the last plausible line of the day. I pulled onto the first couple of holds. Drop. It wasn’t hard, but I fell off anyway just as a clan bikers came by. They each looked at me as if I’d failed. I knew I hadn’t. After a quick water break I was back. I sent the problem and sat down on top of the boulder realizing this great day may be nearly over. Then with no warning the same bikers came back around the corner with smiling faces as they too realized I had made it to the summit. Each one gave me their classic biker-style acceptance wave and went roaring on as well.
With perfect timing to the end of a perfect day, my family’s RV was back to pick me up just as I was downclimbing. My dad stepped out and helped me pack. I threw my pad inside and found the meal they had gotten for me. It was while eating that food that I realized exactly how hungry I was and exactly what I had just experienced.
Coming into the day I just wanted to climb, but through numerous chance encounters I experienced something more. An epic epoch. A distillation and exaltation of what climbing has to offer. A truly exceptional sample from the lifetime of boulderer.
Today was not just a day. Today was classic.