25 June 2015

Why Skiing This Summer Is Going To Be The Worst

It's been warm - and we got no snow this winter. The snowpack in the Olympics was7% of normal this year, and the Cascades barely fared better with 18% of average (source). This means conditions on the mountains already look like late August, and it's only mid-June. Two weeks ago I would have said it feels like we're 6-weeks ahead of schedule with the snow situation, and now I would say it's more like 8-weeks. It's gotten so bad that even Whistler Mountain is making snow this summer to save the Horstman Glacier.

For practical application, a story: a few weeks ago I took a Wednesday off to "ski" on Inter Glacier. Theresa and I were looking to "enjoy" some of the "spring corn" we've been reading so much about.

We left Seattle and drove to White River Trailhead and were hiking by 8:30am. Two years ago in June I had skis on my feet for skinning after 20 minutes of walking. Last year it was 40 minutes. This year we made it to Glacier Basin Camp by 9:45am with zero snow on the trial, then continued past the camp to about 6800' on the summer trail where we hit snow and could finally skin. That was 2+ hours this year vs. 20 minutes two years ago.

How to become a kick-turn expert.

Theresa forgot her poles, so we both had one and learned quickly that kick-turns are difficult - although not impossible - with only one pole. She was much more graceful than I, and I ended up face down in the snow on more than one occasion.

Due to the whole pole debacle and needing to get back in town for evening plans, we decided to head right above St. Elmo's Pass towards the Russell Cliffs and have lunch. In all it took 4 hours to get to about 8500'. Just three weeks before it took 4 hours to get to 9700'.

Heading toward Russell Cliffs. I've never seen so many rocks here before.
Lunch with a view of the lower Winthrop glacier.

We had some lunch and enjoyed killer views before the skiing. We looked for a long time at the lower portions of the Winthrop Glacier, which were just completely chewed up. We could see tracks much lower on the glacier than you'd normally see this time of year, leading the way to the base of the Liberty Ridge climb.

Th Upper Winthrop Glacier.

Then it was time to ski! I'm not going to lie you - it was terrible: crabby, gloppy, sticky. Schmoo. I don't know if you can even really call it skiing, but we did get  about 1500' of turns and that's good enough for me to count 44-months of Turns All Year. Even though we hiked 6 hours (4 hours up, 2 hours down) to ski for 10 minutes, it was a damn good day. #TeamTutu is always stoked to get outside.

But I don't recommend starting TAY this summer if you're hoping to do "skiing". It's going to be rough.

On a sad but related note, KIRO TV came to my work two days later looking for information on climbing Rainier. A climber had gone missing on the Liberty Ridge route, and his body was later recovered. It's really rough out there right now friends - please be careful. Full news story here.

03 June 2015

Dear Climbing: I Quit

"In climbing we have a unique tradition of quitting our jobs, moving into our vans and tents and living on next to nothing so that we can climb every day. Climbing is not a sport that can be excelled at by training in your spare time. It requires an immersive lifestyle, absolute commitment." - Cedar Wright, in a Time Magazine article celebrating the life of Dean Potter.

I call myself a climber. It's part of my identity - both in how I view myself personally and in how I present myself to the world. My Facebook is full of rock climbing photos. My Twitter and Instgram list me as a "climber, skier, runner, and LIFE enthusiast."

Bogert Park
In my mind, I've always been a climber. I had a tree house as a kid and loved nothing more than scrambling the branches to my personal outdoor sanctuary. In Bozeman - the town where I grew up - a very old and very tall evergreen tree sits in the heart of Bogert Park. The local kids know it's the best tree to climb in the whole world. I've been back to visit it as an adult too. I can say with confidence it's still the best tree ever.

Climbing existed in my life before I knew about rocks or pulling plastic at climbing gyms. I always sought opportunities to be outside, and when I was feeling troubled by something I would ride my bike along the trail by my house to the gas station corner store to buy way-too-much candy, which I would eat in the park and think about life before I knew what it meant to think about life.

I left my idyllic Montana childhood where adventure was always out the back door and I moved to a new adventure in the big city of Seattle. At the University of Washington, I spent little time outside other than walking to class and marching band practice (yes, I was in marching band). My first five years in Pacific Northwest were pretty wasted.

Patagonia is incredible.
It wasn't until a 2007 trip to Patagonia that rock climbing became this thing I wanted to do. On that trip I got to know this awesome chick Kristi, and we became regular climbing partners. She had been climbing for a while and slowly taught me all her tricks: high-steps and heel-hooks, using opposing force rather than brute force, focusing on breathing and not over-gripping, finding the flow in each climb, enjoying the movement. Over the course of a casual two-years, Kristi took me from a 5.6 newbie to a confident 5.9 top-rope climber.

In early 2010, I went through a break-up and reassessed what I wanted from life. I prioritized losing weight and, 20lbs lighter, I no longer just liked climbing, I like liked climbing. Quickly I jumped into a serious-climbing-relationship and became a 10b lead-climber. I couldn't get enough. I knew I'd found something special.

Climbing and I enjoyed many long weekends together in local favorites like Smith and Mazama, and traveled near and far together to Red Rocks, El Potrero Chico, and Croatia. I tried to give back to climbing by spreading my knowledge and teaching others to climb safely to grow my coalition of climbing friends. It wasn't enough that I loved climbing, everyone I knew needed to love climbing too. I surrounded myself with like-minded people and we formed The Group, a rotating crew of truly exceptional people who have brought so much richness to my life.

The Group in Red Rocks

This blog does not have adequate space for me to communicate what this community means to me. From fitting eight people into a tiny sedan in Mexico to discovering an over-ground drug smuggling ring adjacent to a Croatian crag, I've made enough memories chasing my climbing dreams to last a lifetime. For me, climbing will always represent some of the happiest times in my life spent with the most supportive community around.

And yet, lately I feel only emptiness when it comes to climbing.

Like any relationship, climbing and I have our ups and downs. You have to take the good with the bad. Working full time I spent the better part of three years to immersing myself in climbing. I wasn't quite living in my car, but I visited the gym twice-a-week religiously and spent most of my weekends climbing. Since I started tracking in January 2012, I've made 231 visits to the gym or crag. My life has revolved around a 9.8mm, 70metre rope.

My style on any given weekend.
Now I've found myself feeling differently and it is so, so hard to admit. I've been feeling this way for years actually, and I have struggled with the reality that is staring me in the face: I do not love climbing anymore. In fact, I don't even like it.

This change has been slow. First, I met Backcountry Skiing. Then I landed an awesome job where I am constantly challenged mentally, leaving too few brain cells in the 'mental reserve' to focus on climbing at the end of the day. Then I went to Norway and discovered Turns All Year and found out how much I love skiing in a tutu on big volcanoes.

As a result, I made choices to do things other than climbing while telling myself, "I'm still a climber." I even planned a trip to Thailand to prove it. I trained but it was too little too late, and as a result the trip was a disappointment. I was frustrated that my on-site ability had fallen, that I got stumped on easy-for-me climbs, that my endurance was down. I only have myself to blame for not acknowledging my own reality.

I came home from Thailand and struggled with health issues for months - which I used to cover up for the fact that I didn't want to climb. It was relieved to discover I had a parasite causing my physical and mental distress, but, even though my recovery is still ongoing (apparently one can suffer from Post Traumatic Digestive Syndrome), I still don't want to climb. It's just not fun anymore.

Confronting this reality is hard. I shared three amazing years with climbing (then two not-as-amazing years) and it used to bring me so much happiness and personal satisfaction. It challenged me physically and mentally. It provided some of my highest highs and my lowest lows. Chasing climbing opportunities took me to seven countries on four continents. Climbing gave me my first outdoor community and chosen family. It gave me you.

And now I have to look at climbing and say, "I quit." It's not that it's too hard or that I'm out of shape or that I have other things I like more. I believe humans are capable of having more than one passion in their lives. It doesn't make me happy anymore and I'm done trying to force myself to love it again.

Quitting climbing isn't like bailing on a fad workout. It means leaving behind a community of people and risking that I won't be an important piece of their lives anymore. That they won't be part of mine. It means missing out on experiences and memories and this immersive lifestyle that I know should bring me so much joy.

But sometimes humans are faced with hard choices, and right now I have to admit that climbing isn't what it used to be for me.

So I quit - I'm done climbing. Probably not forever, maybe not even for long, but I feel grounded enough in this decision that I've taken my climbing harness out of my trunk and cancelled my gym membership. I don't have any plans to climb this summer and there are no trips to climbing destinations on the horizon.

I'm sharing this with you because it's been a real internal struggle for me, and I think it's important to recognize when something is no longer working for you - when it no longer brings value and richness to your life. There's strength in knowing your limits. Power in being true to yourself.

I do not view this as a personal failure. Climbing and I had five good years together and now we're parting ways. I am not sure if this is a passing feeling or if I'll always feel this way, but I hope that I can continue to look back on my time climbing with fond memories. Perhaps someday I will find myself once again clinging tightly to tiny holds on the side of a rock face, but until then, I'm excited to see what happens next.