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The Big Year – Part 1 (casting off)

What would you do with a full year off of work?

A few years back a friend of mine proposed that question.  Hmmm.  Like school kids we sat around and day dreamed.  Patagonia, Pakistan, Nepal, Italy, Spain…. the list went on.  About a year after this conversation, I decided to start saving my money and make this dream a reality.  Eighteen months after that, I finished up my last work stint in Western Africa and moved what I needed into a 94 Chevy van.  Late December, with music blaring and sunglasses on, I headed towards a year of adventure!   Here is a recap of 2015, my big year:

I have always had an affinity with the east side of the Sierra in California.  With countless seasons spent in Yosemite Valley, many of my friends reside in the small high desert town of Bishop.  I spent my first three weeks here, clipping bolts in the Owens River Gorge and bouldering in the Happy’s and the Buttermilks.  Rest days usually involved hanging at the Black Sheep coffee house and soaking in the local hot springs.  Amazing how easy I found it to fill days even though I didn’t have a job!

The author climbing in the Gorge, Photo credit Jean Tucky.

The author climbing in the Gorge, Photo credit Jean Tucky.

In the third week of January, I made a last minute decision to attend the OR trade show in Utah.  Expecting to be away from Bishop for only a week, I even made climbing plans for my return.  But after a great trade show I received a call from the inventor of the big year, Justin Griffin.  “Its going off up here in Bozeman,” he said, “come on up.”

Well I thought I am already half way there.  The stars are pointing me towards the north! 

About a week later, I found myself bouncing and bumping on a Montana back road with a PBR in hand, riding shotgun with Bozeman hard man Justin Griffin.  “Its going off in Cook City, stuff that hasn’t come in in years is in shape,” Justin said.  “I have my eye on a three pitch unclimbed line.”  That night we slept in his beater old tow behind travel camper just minutes from the climbing.  We were up early and stepping outside the cold bit my face hard, my eyelashes freezing together.  That day we established a new line: Thunder Bird, 600 feet M7 WI6.  It was a spectacular day out with a good friend.  As luck would have it, I would forget my ice tools below the last pitch hanging perfectly off a stone.  The second ascent (which still awaits) will receive a nice little prize!

Thunder Bird

Thunder Bird

Feeling confident after our ascent of Thunder Bird, I asked Justin for the beta for Winter Dance, a cult classic in Hyalite Canyon.  I had been dreaming about this climb for the last 15 years.  A monstrous four hour approach is required for this gem established by Alex Lowe and Jim Earl in 1998.  It’s a beautiful four pitch climb rated M8 WI6, that starts a dizzying 3,000 feet off the valley floor.   To my good fortune, a good friend of mine, Ken Kreis happened to be in Bozeman looking for a climbing partner for his first ever trip to climb in Hyalite.  “I have the perfect climb for us, Ken,” I deviously said!  The climbing proved steep and exhilarating, this combined with the interment snow flurries, gave it a big mountain feel.  Fun day in the hills, and Ken did great!

Winter Dance pitch 2

Winter Dance pitch 2

Ken Kreis atop pitch three Winter Dance

Ken Kreis atop pitch three Winter Dance

When I finally arrived back into cell reception, I got a voice message from Justin, “Get some chow on your way home.  We are climbing with Jack Tackle tomorrow.  4:30am wake up call.”  I looked at my watch.  11:30pm.  Oh man, this is gonna hurt, I thought to myself.  But, I had never met Jack before, and being a long time hero of mine, I knew I had to go!  We climbed Petrified Dreams, a climb in Yellowstone National Park that Jack had put up back in the 90’s.

Jack Tackle, Justin Griffin, and I, Petrified Dreams in the background

Jack Tackle, Justin Griffin, and I, Petrified Dreams in the background

Sadly this would be the last time I would climb ice with Justin in his home territory. Justin tragically passed away in Nepal nine months later pursing his dreams as an alpinist.

Stay tuned for my five part blog series the big year.

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