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Category Archives: Be a Climber

Stoke(less)tember: What to do when you’re broke on stoke

Sunset over Vedauwoo

Sunset over Vedauwoo by Alton Richardson

It’s finally September. You’ve spent the summer thumbing through your guidebook in search of the perfect route. You know every movement by heart and have rehearsed each one over and over during those long hangboard sessions. You’ve visualized the perfect sequence of micro movements that will unlock the crux. The 10-day forecast has finally let up and you’re daydreaming of redpoint burns. Then it hits you. The motivation wanes, the approach seems longer than usual, and gravity seems a bit heavier than normal. You’re broke on stoke.

It’s a rite of passage. If you have climbed for any amount of time, you have inevitably experienced this phenomenon. The preparation is done, you’re strong enough, you know the route, and for whatever reason, you are not into it. Keep heart, climber friends – we have 3 quick ways to regain your stoke.

Relax

Breath, pause, and take a step back.

Drew Ruana Smith Rock

“Take breaks. I don’t climb when I’m not “psyched” or interested in it. Forcing psyche is like forcing patriotism-you should WANT to do it, not be forced to. Then resentment starts.” – Alex Johnson

 

Recharge

Smile a little. Remember what got you stoked in the first place. That perfect sequence that fits your style, the incredibly aesthetic line you’ve been eyeing all summer, and inevitable breakthrough you’re hoping to experience during the send. Think about the process – how far you’ve come and how much growth has come from the struggle.

Sharing beta

Sharing beta by Nate Gerhardt

“Talk to friends, look at photos, guidebooks, youtube videos of great climbs you want to do.” – Mike Anderson

 

Re-Frame

Sharing the rope is about more than a lifeline – it’s about shared passion and a new perspective. The best partners know when you’re struggling and when to crack the perfect joke to lighten the mood and re-frame the experience. Pick your partner wisely.

Bouldering

High fives all around by Nate Gerhardt

“Partners. You need to have partners that are there for you. They make you laugh, encourage you when you’re struggling, don’t judge you when you are climbing poorly, and can be a good person to just simply have a conversation with. If you go into your climbing day with the idea of just getting outside with a good friend when your motivation is low, you can’t have a bad day. Talk about your life – decompress about your job, relationship, whatever. Listen about their life and just enjoy each other’s company. I’ve had plenty of terrible climbing pitches/attempts but very few bad climbing days. I’m careful about who I climb with and cherish those people dearly. After two decades of climbing, I remember the people more than the routes. Plus when your stoke is high – it’s contagious so you motivate your partner and visa versa. If you only climb when you’re stoked or sending at your best, you’re really limiting yourself to some great experiences.” – Jason Haas

“I motivate myself in many different ways but I think the best was is having partners you love spending time with and who can push you.” – Ari Novak

 

Bonus: Re-Caffeinate

When all else fails, re-caffeinate 🙂

Pamela Shanti Pack

Pamela Shanti Pack sips coffee before redpoint burns

“Drink a lot of coffee” – Drew Ruana

Climbing back from Cancer

June 2017

I slowly awake out of a deep anesthesia-induced slumber. I have a massive tube shoved down my throat emptying my stomach contents. My mom is there.

“What happened?” I ask her. I’m still hopeful that when they did the exploratory surgery that they wouldn’t find anything. “They found a tumor on your appendix. They removed it as well as 6 inches of your large intestine. They hot soaked all of your organs with chemo.”

I can’t control it. I start crying. Tears and emotion are flooding out of me. I’m angry, sad, afraid that my body has failed me. I hold my mom’s hand as the reality sets in. I have cancer.

Just a few months before

I’m at the top of my game, projecting hard rock climbs above the Andaman Sea in Thailand. The world is my oyster, as I traipse around the planet, only pausing for a part time job in Western Africa. I feel strong, lean, and fit.  I’m beginning to mentally heal from some recent accidents in the mountains, so am very excited when Bruce Normand asks me to attempt a new line with him in Pakistan on Gasherbrum 4 that spring.

I have a little discomfort in my abdomen, but chalk it up as a muscle strain. Over time, the pain increases. Thinking it’s due to a recently diagnosed hernia, I opt to get it fixed before considering a trip to the Himalaya. How quickly things can change in our lives. After the hernia operation, I’m dumbfounded when my surgeon says, “We found something off during the surgery. It looks like cancer.”

Three weeks later.  June 2.

D-Day.I’m on the operating table for what doctors call the MOAS (Mother Of All Surgeries). I spend a week in the hospital and then five more bedridden. My climbing muscles atrophy away day by day. The combination of coming to terms with having cancer and not being able to exercise leads me into dark depression and anxiety. With the pain, I also find perspective. By chance, I befriend a Tibetan monk. He teaches me that the suffering is all in my mind. He teaches me internal peace is possible through meditation and mindfulness.

I think the worst is over by week six, and I’ll be able to start slowly climbing again. Boy, am I mistaken. Next up is oral and IV chemotherapy. For the next few months I feel like I am dying.  Fatigue, exhaustion, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramping. It’s pure and utter hell.

August 14th

A few of my good friends rally with me to the City of Rocks for my birthday. I am struggling something fierce on a 5.8.  But the beautiful, high desert rocky landscape inspires me.  I look at the guidebook and decide, against the wishes of all my friends, to attempt Terror of Tiny Towna beautiful 5.11 technical corner.

“To hell with cancer,” I say. I want to prove to myself that I am still strong.  I slowly make upwards progress using every trick in the book. Side pull, smear, edge, lock off. For a moment, it feels incredible to be free of the nightmare I’m living and be completely lost in the movement. My heart is racing and my breathing is out of control.  For 25 minutes, I battle tooth and nail to total and complete exhaustion. I lower down, pulsating with endorphins and euphoria.

Then I get dizzy. Then I start to dry heave. By the time I get back to camp, I am running a fever. I lie in the fetal position, moaning like an animal just hit by a car.

Once I get home, I proudly recount the story to my doctor with a big smile on my face!  She promptly scolds me!

“Look Skiy, this is life and death. You need to take it easy!”

Finally accepting that it’s all real, I start taking my health very seriouslyeating right and resting daily. It’s a few long and slow months, but finally the doctors say I’d had enough chemo and I am cleared to slowly start rebuilding.

Thirty days post chemo.

I go visit my good buddy Dave Allfrey in Las Vegas.  Dave is a bona fide hard man and all-around crusher.
“’I’m pretty under the weather” I tell him. “Oh, no problem,” he says.  “I have the perfect climb for us. A three pitch 5.6 with a short 20 min approach.” His enthusiasm is contagious and for a moment I have forgotten how low my blood counts are.  “Heck ya, perfect!” I say. I jump out of his Sprinter and for five minutes I feel like a million bucks!  Then I start to slow, and pretty soon the uphill feels like the Hillary step on Everest.

“Dave,” I say, trying my best to hold back the tears, “it’s too far.” So humbling to have to bail on the approach to a 5.6!  Dave is a trooper though, and sets up a top rope on a 5.8 nearby.  After my fourth take we are laughing hysterically at the ridiculousness of the situation!  “You’re making that look like 5.14” he says. “Trust me, I know!” I reply.

But I don’t care. It feels so good to touch the stone and to move on it.  To be tied in with a good friend.  It’s a reminder of how healing climbing can be.  But still, I am terrified with thoughts that I would be weak and frail for many years to come.  Will I ever get my life back?

A few more months go by.

Finally, I start feeling strong, exuberant, full of energy, but also restlessness. Ignoring the advice of friends and family, I buy a one-way ticket to Thailand. I need the sun. I need the ocean. I need my climbing community to help heal my mind. I land in Bangkok and promptly head for Tonsai. I spend 5 weeks clipping bolts and making new friends from around the world.

It’s strange to brush your own mortality. As scary as it is, it’s also awesome and powerful. Every time I make it through to the other side, whether in the mountains or in life, I strangely feel more alive. More in touch with my true self. More able to appreciate the simple things and not take stuff for granted. I’m always amazed how much each new experience teaches me.

It’s hard to emotionally digest what has happened, but I move forward each day with optimism and stoke. What else can I do?  I continue to follow my passion as a climber and continue to set goals. I feel lucky to live in Bishop CA, where I am able to look to the mountains that color the skyline and find continual inspiration and joy.

Today is a new day, and I will enjoy every second!

Be a Climber: Quitting (and re-creating) Your Day Job

The juxtaposition of my life does not go unnoticed by my closest friends and family. On one hand I love order, control, routine. Type A personality stuff. On the other hand, the well-defined and fully explored bores me to death and I crave adventure, the unknown, something new and ever-changing where the outcome is uncertain.

While those seem to be at great odds with each other, they come together in perfect harmony for me in the form of calculated risk. It’s the best of both worlds really. Let me give you a few examples. Before children, I free soloed and did X-rated routes up to 5.12. I can’t actually think of a single case when the route wasn’t an onsight. It had adventure, the terrain was unknown (to me) and the route was new (again, to me). But anyone who has done much of that kind of climbing also knows if it’s too adventurous, too unknown, and the outcome is too uncertain, well then, you can’t do it for very long and live to tell about it. Free soloing for me was equally about control and order. I was intimately familiar with the rock type and the climbing area. I felt, tested, and retested every hold before committing. I never climbed up something I couldn’t climb down. In fact I’ve backed off 5.7s as many times as I’ve backed off 5.11s. Yes there was risk. Yes I could have fallen. But those odds were slim. They were calculated risks.

Here’s another example. I received my Master’s degree in Special Education and found a knack for working with students with emotional disabilities in impoverished neighborhoods (the “ghetto” to you layman folk). Real-deal gangbangers with rap sheets and weapons charges that were known for violence. Most had given up on them so in turn, these types of students were quick to dismiss others (often violently). Calculated risk. I had the educational training – the strategies to diffuse the situation. I also have the personality to relate to them on their level, gain their trust, and push them toward a more positive direction. But it’s not without challenges and sometimes real dangers. I’ve had students get extremely angry – try to punch me, throw chairs at me, and worse. But I had the tools and mindset to get out of those situations (mostly) unscathed. The flip side is that teaching in a public school offers security and routine on some levels, yet every day was different. What worked with a kid yesterday won’t work with that same kid tomorrow. You must always adapt, constantly learn and improve. It kept me on my toes and was a good balance for me for a long time.

Fast forward and here I am, smack-dab in the middle of my thirties. I crave a change – a massive life shake up. Perhaps just ahead of the curve on a mid-life crisis. My mom always said I was advanced for my age. Anyway, teaching has given me so much and I hope that in return I have given something back to the kids I’ve worked with over the last 12 years. But it is too routine now, too “safe”, too familiar. My adult obligation of financial security I owe my family pulls me in one direction while the desire to take a risk and choose a new career path pulls me in another. I could not find balance between the two.

But I’m not a risk taker. While what I wrote above would seem to contradict that to some – what I mean is I’m not an “unknown outcome” kind of risk taker. Imagine this scenario for a minute: You flip a coin. Heads I win a dollar, tails you win a dollar. I do not see it as a 50/50 chance of winning a dollar. I see it as me losing a dollar. The odds are too unfavorable – there is too much risk. I would never agree to flip the coin. The risk must be low. I’ve built too much of a life to gamble any of it. Yet to some degree, there needs to be a little risk to entice me. Where is the balance? It’s different for each of us and it’s taken me a long time to finally find it.

I’ve been a rock climber for more years of my life than not. I’ve worked in gear shops, climbing gyms, for gear manufacturers, and even own a climbing publishing company called Fixed Pin. I have no formal education in “climbing business” but I know it better than anything else, perhaps better than I even know teaching. Climbing is my religion. I’m not a zealot but it is how I decompress, how I commune with nature, and how I rebalance myself. When I’m out of whack, my wife tells me to go climbing and I come home happier, more patient, and a better life partner and father overall. Some drink, some pray. I climb. Climbing is all I want to be around. I want to talk about it, write about it, and well, just do it. Enter Gravity One Climbing + Fitness.

I had always thought starting a climbing gym would be incredible but it seemed a bit too unrealistic for me. They cost millions of dollars to start up after all. But I have found that, perhaps through happenstance, I have been building up to this moment my entire adult life. I have the right experience (work and personal), the right connections, the right motivation, and the right amount of risk tolerance to venture off into the unknown – quit my government job as a public-school teacher that I virtually could never be fired or downsized from and start my own business where I am my own boss. All decisions directly affect me, good and bad. I could win big or I could lose it all. But it’s calculated. And isn’t that what being a climber means? Taking calculated risks. Isn’t that the lesson we all experience every time we go out to the crags? We leave the safety of the ground, where yes, we could fall back down to it. But we have ropes and protection and a trusted belayer to catch us. Things could go wrong – a piece could pull, a clip could be botched, a belayer could give too much slack. But rarely do we experience any of those things. We fall but only a little bit. We take comfort in both the risk itself as well as knowing that those risks have been greatly mitigated. Our partner has us. Our rope and gear will catch us. We push ourselves sometimes to places that are uncomfortable but we revel in that feeling once back on the ground, sometimes hours, days, or even weeks later. We retell those events over beers and around campfires trying to recapture that feeling. To me, that’s what it means to be a climber. Leave yourself exposed just enough to feel uncomfortable but not be in danger. I just feel so fortunate that I’ve finally learned how to carry that over into my professional life and to be able to experience a feeling of balance of calculated risk outside of climbing itself.

VIDEO: What does it mean to Be a Climber?

What does it mean to Be a Climber?

Everyone approaches climbing differently. To some, it’s a driving force – a passion that can’t be satiated. It’s what gets them out of bed for alpine starts, first ascents, and finding that one little piece of micro-beta that unlocks their project. To others, it’s a release – a departure from the problems of day. Climbing becomes meditation in motion for them. It’s focusing on a series of interconnected movements and voiding the mind of all distractions. There are infinite ways to approach climbing and we believe that however you approach climbing, no matter the grade or discipline, you are a climber. We are passionate about seeing climbers, old and new, experience climbing in whatever way is most meaningful to them. Will you join us?

See more at www.BeaClimber.com

The vision for the Trango athlete team is to find climbers who embody our brand’s values and support them in their climbing endeavors. We focus on the character of the climber, their passion for the sport, and their desire to contribute to the community.

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