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Reflections and Projections

If you only do what you can do, you will never be more than you are now.

-Master Shifu

 

New Year, New Beginnings, right?  HA!

Maybe it’s just me, but in this closing quarter of my 28th year I can’t see anything that’s really beginning except maybe beginning of the end (I promise, this won’t be all pessimistic but feel free to skip to the end if you want).  Yes, that’s an obvious reference to the lying ball of hateful toxic Cheetos waste, but that’s not what I want to talk about today.

There’s been a lot of talk about how terrible 2016 was.  I agree, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but for me, I would say it was a pretty damn good year.  Obviously there was a lot of chaos in the world, but it was also our final year with the best president we’ve had in the first 32 years of my life.  We saw people standing up for their rights and the rights of others.  We saw that despite the power of oppression there is hope when we stand together.

Credit: Mathias Deming

On my route “Pursuit of Happiness” 13a (or maybe b) Credit: Mathias Deming

Thinking about resolutions and change, I just don’t see any major ones coming for me.  I’m no closer to getting a “real” job, by any interpretation of the word, than I was when I graduated 2059 days ago, but I also still plan to enjoy my life instead of spending it doing something that makes me unhappy.  I’m not happy that my yearly salary right now is barely $5000, but if it’s enough to keep climbing, that’s the important part to me.  If I can manage to get an engineering job that I like, that would be amazing, but it hasn’t happened yet.

I feel like I’ve come to know myself better over the last year and maybe that’s why I’m not set on new beginnings or concerned about not starting over new.  I don’t think I’ll begin to actually keep this blog updated (sorry), I don’t think I’ll begin a new job, I don’t think I’ll begin to learn how to design websites (though I would love to learn and still want to fix this one, even if it’s not world class, but I’m not going to wait to write until I get it done as I have in the past), I don’t think I’ll finally learn to play the guitar, I don’t know if I’ll stay in one place for any longer than I usually do.  On the other hand, I might be ready to let go of a lot of stress about wanting to be better at all those things and struggling with the stress of not doing them.

It’s not all bad that there is no influx of beginnings.  The natural, and obvious, continuation will be climbing.  Despite being in a funk right now (taking submissions for recommended projects and applications for consistent climbing partners, these will help tremendously), I know that I will continue climbing. Climbing has become the driving force in my life that drives me and I understand the most.  It’s why I want to have some money and it’s why I don’t want much.  It’s even why I want to learn to build websites and speak Spanish.  It’s why I wake up, it’s why I go to sleep, it’s why I take care of myself, and it’s why I want to improve.  Some have work, kids, or a partner, I have climbing.

This year I’m looking forward to climbing more, training more, climbing harder, bolting more, bouldering more, and hopefully staying healthy.  I’m also excited to continue to take photos, continue to learn Spanish, continue to travel, and most of all continue to see old friends and make new ones.

Anyway, enough BS about next year.  It hasn’t happened yet, so that’s future Dylan’s problem.  Let’s talk about what has happened this year.  2016 was a whirlwind year.  I’ve managed to meet several goals that I’ve had for years, and on top of it all moved to Spain!

I needed something to do while procrastinating recently so I did some stats for 2016.  I’m not trying to spray, just like nerdy stats so skip if you want…

 

 

I climbed 206 days on rock (plus a bunch in the gym in the last few months)

At 23 different crags

In 5 countries (and 5 states in the US)

I sent 108 new (not counting ones I’ve sent before) routes 12a or harder.

I sent 22 13’s at 11 crags in 4 countries

I bolted 9 routes

I did 5 FA’s

I was part of the FFA of El Son del Viento (12d…very stout 12d crux), which was the first ever FFA of El Diente.

And some more details of my sends…

12a’s = 36 (17 onsight, 13 flash, 6 in two or three tries)

12b’s = 19 (8 onsight, 6 flash, 5 in two or three tries)

12c’s = 17 (2 onsight, 2 flash, 2-3 in two or three tries)

12d’s = 13 (1 onsight, 10 in two or three tries, 2 in four to ten tries)

13a’s = 14 (3 onsight, 1 flash, 5 in two or three tries, 4 in four to ten tries, 1 in over 10 tries)

13b’s = 6 (1 in two or three tries, 2 in four to ten tries, 3 in over 10 tries)

13c’s = 2 (1 in two or three tries, 1 in over 10 tries)

The analysis…

First of all, I was super happy this year to finally meet two of my goals that I have not been able to make before.  I’ve been trying to do 20 13’s in a year ever since 2013, and this year I not only did it, but had time to spare and started working on harder routes.  I think a large part of that is a result of hitting my other goal; climbing over half the year.  I actually hit both goals within a couple days of each other back in Early November.  I’ve been plagued by injuries and breakdowns (my car not me thankfully) getting in the way of both of those goals for three years in a row, but finally managed them both and I don’t think that’s a coincidence that they happened together.

A couple huge highlights of this year were 8a’s and FA’s.  Specifically two 8a (13b) dream routes: Couleur de Vent in Céüse and Predator in Rumney.  Couleur de Vent is a beautiful streak of cobalt blue framed in gold; powerful, sustained, and technical, the route is not only one of the most beautiful routes I’ve seen, but also has some of the best movement.  I fell in love with this climb on my trip to Céüse last year and this spring had to head back with the primary goal of climbing this gem.  Predator is just as amazing, but also completely the opposite.  Predator is a striking prow that juts out over the Orange Crush wall like the tooth of some ancient beast, angular and aggressive.  The climbing is similar.  Steep, burly moves up the sharp arête until you’re hucking for the lip yelling in triumph or despair.  Once I returned to the states, this monster was my next goal and the second of my all time dream routes I managed this year.

 

As for new-routes, I got a few good ones bolted and a few sent too.  Unfortunately access is an issue for many, so I don’t see anyone repeating most of those any time soon and most of the unsent ones I won’t be able to go back to either.  I guess it’s a lesson on the ephemeral nature of the things we cling to.

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Climbing my route “A World of Evil” 13a

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Doing the FA of my route “Nunca Suficiente” 11d before I had even finished adding all the bolts. Credit: Mark Grundon

The other real standout was doing the FFA of an entire feature with Zak Roper.  It was absolutely unexpected and amazing.  I was slack jawed when I heard that Gaz, Tiny, and Ocho had done the route, but hadn’t managed the free the crux pitch.  For days I stayed back, not wanting to step on toes despite hearing from multiple sources that they were happy with the FA and were headed in different directions.  It wasn’t until after another pair of friends tried the route, but again didn’t free the crux pitch, that I finally felt like it was legit to try.  This story could easily be a post of its own, but I’ll just say it was a mega adventure: freezing cold, tiny crimps, forgotten headlamps, unable to link pitches, insufficient food and water, stuck ropes, and really stout grades that all resulted in a mega 12 hours of climbing and 3 more of rappels.  It was an amazing experience, and I was so happy to have Roper with me to crush.

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El Diente

It was, without a doubt, one of my best years of climbing; filled with travel, great new people, and crazy adventures.  I’m grateful that friends didn’t get turned back at customs, that nether I or my friends ended up in a Mexican prison, that the Odyssey held on for the whole journey despite all the bumps in the road and lack of brakes, and that for the most part I avoided injury (only a dislocated fibula, but that’s no big deal, right? Only kept me off climbing for a 3 extra days).

I want to thank everyone who shared a day climbing, a belay, a rope, let me climb on their draws, crash on their couch (or let me live in their spare room for a bit) or even shared a story that motivated me.  This year and this life wouldn’t be the same without all of you, thank you!  Here’s to 2017 being even better for us all!

It was the best of Rock, it was the worst of times

Cherish sunsets, wild creatures and wild places. Have a love affair with all the beauty of the earth.

-Stewart Udall

 

I imagine nobody, with the possible the exception of my mom, realizes that it’s been a while since I posted; 8 or 9 months by my count.  I’ve been lazy about writing before, but never experienced this.  Some part of me still wanted to pretend that the world outside my little bubble of travel didn’t turn.  The thought of how or what to write was difficult enough let alone actually accepting reality.  My skill in procrastination brought me to great questions like “do I write a separate post or combine all of the events, as disconnected as they are, into one big one?”  I still haven’t figured that out, but upon my return to the US I attempted to accept reality and hoped to find an answer by the time I finish this rambling story. Of course, it was months since I got back, and the words still eluded me.  With constant convenient excuses I have put off any writing, but this is my final desperate attempt to jumble some words together. With the said, I’ll continue into what I had started to write about my time in France.

I walked toward the tiny climbing gym in Millau uncertain if it would be open or if my friend, Layla would still be there two hours after she said she planned on going.  I was lucky on both counts and found her sitting on the mats as soon as I walked in.  I was relieved that after an entire day hitchhiking from Spain things worked out in the end.  For the next few days I climbed in Gorge du Tarn, met a bunch of new people, and had the best nights of sleep I could remember.  Seriously, it’s amazing how good it feels to sleep on a real bed in a dark room without sun baking your tent, bells waking you up, or the bed sagging to the floor.  I felt like I barely got a taste for the climbing in the two days in Tarn, but the rock was really fun with smoothed pockets and edges.  We had a day attempting to climb in Boffi, another local crag, but got rained on and weren’t able to do much.  After a couple days hanging out for the weekend, I headed to the promised land: Ceuse.

Ceuse is amazing.  There’s no other way to put it.  You can spot the cliff line from anywhere around.  The blue, grey, black, white, and gold streaks give it a unique and amazing look that screams to be climbed.  I indulged.

When I arrived at Les Guerins Camping there was only one other person staying there.  It worked nicely that he was a cool Aussi since neither of us spoke much French.  Duncan only arrived a couple days before me so we started climbing and exploring Ceuse, neither knowing much about any of it besides that we wanted to climb it all.  That’s actually a rather poor description, it was much more like we tried a few routes, then I fell in love with Berlin wall and got Duncan hooked on a project too.

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The first two routes I tried on Berlin were Queue de Rat and Makesh Walou.  When I got on each of them it felt like they hadn’t been climbed yet this season.  That is a possibility, or it could just be that the 40mm of rain a few days before had replaced every bit of chalk with dirt on the holds.  Either way, every sloped crimp and pocket was not only the perfectly smooth Ceuse rock, but coated in a friction destroying dust.  A couple attempts and some serious brushing later, both routes had a bit of chalk, I found a nice sequence on Makesh Walou (the route I liked more), and the moves seemed possible.  Despite not having any fitness on steeper rock and wanting to sample the bounty of Ceuse classics, I had managed to find a project on day 2.

Pretty soon things were going nicely and I had a nice routine.  Relax in the morning while the rock was in the sun, have lunch, hike up, climb until I was spent or dark (usually I was trashed well before dark), eat, sleep, repeat.  Hitch into Gap for internet and groceries every other rest day.  The downside to the routine is that the hour hike up never got easier.  I thought it might feel better as time went on, especially since I left every possible thing I could at the crag; even to the point of leaving a water bottle to collect under a drip so I didn’t have to hike up with as much.  It didn’t get easier and when the weather warmed up, it just felt even longer.

After a couple weeks of nearly nobody else around, people started appearing all over the place.  It was awesome to meet up with friends I met in Turkey, the Red, and make some new ones.  Soon we had a fun crew to hang out and climb.

Makesh was amazing climbing: varied enough to never be boring including a variety of difficult moves, a couple powerful moves, a bit of a crux, and potential for nice long whips of you blow some moves (naturally I blew the move several times making for some fun rides). When I realized how much endurance was needed compared to how much I had I spent a few days trying to sprint the climb.  I climbed as quickly as I could, not even bothering to shake at the rests because they didn’t seem to help.  Unfortunately after doing this and falling at the redpoint crux, I knew I needed to use them.  I went through the full cycle of getting close, then farther, getting frustrated, and was elated when I finished off the cycle with a send.

I didn’t have much time after that so I finally turned my attention back to trying to onsight and flash routes, which I did to a couple, but tried just as many that I didn’t send.  To be fair though, The climbing at Ceuse so fun, that I rarely cared that I didn’t send something, usually just being psyched to have been up the route.  A couple favorites were Petite Illusion and Angel Dust.  Both super classics.  Another favorite was the less traveled Casse Noisette, on which I blew my flash going to the clipping hold at the anchor.  The entire climb is fairly desperate feeling slab involving mantling crimps, nonexistent holds, and one leg squats.  My near miss at the top sent me flying for a long whip on the upper slab and I bashed my knees into the wall. I still loved the route.

All of a sudden that was it and May was coming to a close.  I had spent nearly a month in Ceuse and felt like I needed another 6 before I could leave.  There are very few places I’ve ever been that really feel like they fit and become home as well as Ceuse did.  The only other place I could really say that about is Ten Sleep.  The combination of amazing climbing, beautiful views, great people, and complete simplicity made it a truly magical place.

I climbed until nearly dark my last day, then ran up the via-feratta to watch sunset from on top of Ceuse.  I made it to the top just in time to watch the giant red sun sink behind hazy grey-blue spiked mountains while a couple clouds played nearby.  I sat soaking in the last rays of light and thought about how lucky I am to live whatever life I choose.

The next morning I finished packing up my backpack and began to hitch.  My goal was to make it all the way to Sheffield, UK.  No idea how I would do that, but I figured it was worth a try.  The first day was frustrating with lots of rides a couple miles down the road until I was picked up by a kid going up toward Grenoble.  That was the most terrifying ride of my life.  We flew down the road and breakneck speeds, tires squealing around every corner, and came inches from hitting the side of a tunnel under a railroad track.  After that I made sure to tell him that my statement saying the initial driving wasn’t bothering me wasn’t meant as a challenge.  Thankfully he didn’t nearly kill us again.  When he dropped me by the side of the road I was actually a ways past the turn I needed to make so I had to get another two rides just to get back to the highway I needed.  I made it a bit farther, but got stuck at a gas station outside of Lyon.  I spent hours trying to hitch from there without any luck then tried scouring blablacar to find a ride share that might work.  There were several potentials so I stayed up until 1am trying to coordinate a ride and ultimately failing.  Defeated and frustrated I hauled my bags to the darkest spot I could find around the rest stop and went to sleep for a few hours.

Despite being at an absolutely unremarkable rest stop, I don’t think I’ll forget waking up at 4am to check blablacar, sitting on the curved metal stool at the bone white counter, or staring blankly out the window into the still dark morning, trying to convince myself that what I had just read was a joke or somehow wasn’t real; that Tyler Gordon wasn’t really gone. I feel self conscious for taking it as hard as I did.  I wasn’t by any means one of Tyler’s long time friends and certainly not family, I feel like I should be sad but shrug it off as another tragic climbing accident.  I haven’t been able to do that. It was a long time before I could even think about it without the world getting a bit blurry. While I know that I might not have been any significant part of his life, only having known each other for three months in Turkey, that actually put him high on my list of time spent with friends.  Three months was more time than I had spent with all of my immediate family put together in the last year. That is to say, by my standards, I spent a lot of time with Tyler, so whether I affected his life at all, I know he had already influenced mine.

On that particular day, combine with my poor luck hitching and general lack of sleep, it hit me hard.  I spent the day failing to get rides, fighting the inevitable existential crisis, and at one point walking into a corn field and yelling at the top of my lungs in frustration.  It’s common to try to find meaning in death, especially when it hits so close to home (at this point you should just go read what Phil wrote, it was well written, much better than anything here, and something I definitely agree with).  I did just that.  No matter how I reasoned and raged, I couldn’t find any; for what reason is there for someone so young, so loved, and so full of life to have his snuffed out so early? There isn’t one. If the world worked on reason and fairness kids wouldn’t be starving on the streets, there wouldn’t be war, and Tyler Gordon would still be alive. Obviously that’s not how things work; kids starve, wars are abundant, and Tyler is gone.

I had a terrible day that seemed to drag on in a haze of walking with my heavy packs and sitting beside roads.  Eventually I got a ride on blabla car to northern France, but didn’t make it in time for the last train to Calais for the ferry.  I hung out in the train station while it rained, tried to find rides, walked to the edge of town, tried hitch for a couple hours, then returned to find even the train station closed.  Eventually I just slept beside a planter box in front of the train station and hoped that it wouldn’t rain anymore.  The next day I was sick of hitching and navigated the train to the ferry.  After spending the entire ferry ride wandering around with a sign for London/Sheffield, I got a ride as we were debarking; straight to Sheffield.  One thing finally worked out.

 

So many people fade into the background of life, but Tyler stood out vividly; whether it was his mountain-man beard, impish grin, dance moves, insatiable psyche, or constant comedy. It’s not enough to say that he died doing what he loved because a force like Tyler can only be understood through experience. He brightened rooms and lives. Without him the world is a little bit darker. Tyler seemed to be more alive than most people and it’s my hope that he felt it too. He’s on the endless climb now and some day we will both reach the bivy and share cinnamon bun recipes that we never got to.

(More photos here)

Tyler, you will always be missed.

 

The Cornudella Vortex

You pick a goal, you work towards it, makes you feel better, just keep moving, that’s my motto.

-Edward, Hector & the Search for Happiness

 

Trapped between the oppressive sun and scorching pavement, I shuffled along the side of the E-90 highway while cars blazed passed ignoring my outstretched arm and raised thumb.  My luck had not been good.

I started my journey on the side of the road in Cornudella later than I had hoped, but still with what I thought was plenty of time to hitch the 2.5 hours of driving to Rodellar.  My first ride took a while to get and only dropped me off in Prades, 15km away.  The Spanish man had insisted it would be much easier to get rides from there, but as each hour ticked away one after another, I grew more skeptical.  The bells in the local church rang out 5pm and I began considering a retreat to Cornudella for another night and setting out again in the morning.  Before I had decided to bail a guy finally stopped and waved me in.

He was actually a climber too and we chatted in Spanglish about climbing in the US and Spain.  Unfortunately he said he was not going to Lleida, the large town on the way to Rodellar, but could drop me on the highway leading to it, where I should be able to get a ride.  I got out on the side of the road, swinging my heavy pack onto my back and looked around.  It was a tiny highway exit with nothing around but the small road toward smaller towns that I had just come from.  He suggested I walk 10 minutes up the road to a town so I headed down the road as he pulled away.

No more possibility to bail and make it back to Cornudella de Montsant, only onward to Rodellar or sleeping on the side of some highway on the way there.

I trudged down the highway, hoping that a car would stop for me.  The supposed town never came in 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or even 90.  My grueling march continued as cars zipped by, broken up by occasional stops to prop my pack on the guard rail and relieve the hip strap digging into my skin.  After almost two hours a little black VW Golf pulled over 100 feet down the road from me.  A young guy with dreads down his back jumped out of the car waving and yelling, cheering me to run.  I broke into a waddling run, as much as I could manage with two heavy packs sandwiching me.  We loaded my stuff into the trunk and took off down the road.

The three guys spoke mostly Catalan with a bit of Spanish that I could barely understand over the blasting Spanish music.  We tried to communicate as the car careened down the road at 180 km/hr.  A beer and a joint were passed between the two passengers while I wondered how messed up the driver might be and what I might have gotten myself into.  Thankfully everything turned out alright and they dropped me on the far side of Lleida so it would be easier to get a ride.

This time it wasn’t long before two ladies picked me up who actually were headed to near Rodellar.  One actually worked at Kalandraka, but wasn’t going up there until the following day.  They were really nice and even stopped when one saw her daughter to see if the daughter might be going to Rodellar.  Alas, she was not.  The ladies dropped me right at the beginning of the road to Rodellar at 8:30.

I sat on the side of the road wondering if I would get a ride before it got dark.  I was weighing my options for which nearby field I might sleep in when I car drove past.  The driver gave me the all too common shrug and gesture to a passengers as his way of saying “sorry bud, you’re screwed tonight.”  I sat back down and continued cracking hazel nuts that sufficed as my dinner.  A minute later the same car drove back by, pulled a U-turn in the intersection and pulled over.  I threw my bags in the back and joined the other two passengers in the back seat.  They felt bad leaving me since it was almost dark and decided there was room after all.  Neco, as I found out his name was, had come with full accompaniment of girlfriend and parents for the weekend of climbing.  We talked about Rodellar, and climbing as we wound our way down the tiny road.

Finally I was there.  Where there was, I didn’t really know, but I had made it to Rodellar.  Being me, I hadn’t really thought much about where to stay.  I considered a cave bivy, but after hauling my heavy backpacks around all day, I was not interested in moving them around the next day or worrying about stuff getting stolen.  I headed to Kalandraka, the refugie, to get a good night of sleep and maybe figure out free camping the next day.  Before I had even finished checking in I somehow, really I’m not sure how since I only saw the back of his head, spotted my friend Jon who lives in Zaragosa.  We chatted and made plans to climb the next day.  I schlepped my stuff one more time down some steps, into my new shared room, and collapsed to sleep.

I realize this is a 900 word way of saying “I hitched to Rodellar,” but it gives you a bit more of an idea how I was feeling, how long the day felt, and the relief when I arrived.

After a friend had recently told me that Rodellar was empty I was happy to see plenty of people in the parking lot and a good handful around Kalandraka.  Even with it being a weekend, some of those people had to be sticking around, right?
I climbed with Jon and a couple of his friends my first day.  The crag we went to wasn’t the most popular, but had some amazing long vertical routes with fun moves and of course some tufas.  I spent the day trying to onsight and get used to pinching tufas again.  Throughout the day a few more people showed up at the crag, all of whom Jon knew so by the end of the day I had met several people who would be around the next couple days.

I made plans to climb with a few of Neco’s friends, but in the morning when I showed up 10 minutes late they had already left.  I was stunned that anyone in Spain had actually been on time and left that quickly.  Luckily the great ladies I had met through Jon had also invited me to climb with them so I headed off toward El Delfin and spent a fun day climbing with them.

As I rested on Monday I watched nearly every person in Rodellar leave.  By late morning it was down to one other guy and I left in the refugie; apparently my friend was right about Rodellar being really slow still.  Mark, as I discovered his name was, turned out to be from England.  For the next few days we hung out and climbed together.  We checked out some of the amazing crags in Rodellar, drank beer, and played pool.  Essentially we did everything available to amuse ourselves.  I spent a solid day falling off at the anchor of climbs, even when it wasn’t hard anymore, and we darted from one overhang to another as it began to rain.

After a couple more days of climbing the weather wasn’t looking good: it called for 50mm of rain over the next couple days then cloudy and damp weather for a week.  Mark decided to head to Margalef and not wanting to be stuck at a wet crag with no partners I decided to join even though I had barely got a taste of Rodellar.

I was sad to leave Rodellar already.  It was a very different feel from my time in Siurana and Cornudella, but not unlike my first two days where the campground was desolate.  Similarly, I hoped that if I gave it a little time I would find people and things would fall in like as they had in Siurana.  In many ways Rodellar is the exact opposite as Siurana.  Siurana offers vast sweeping views of the landscape, while Rodellar is tucked down into the canyon and everything feels much closer together.  Of course, the climbing style goes from vertical crimping in Siurana to notoriously steep tufas in Rodellar.  I found Rodellar to be much more polished as well where only a couple routes in Siurana felt polished and most leaned toward sharp texture.

Nonetheless I left, hoping to get a chance to come back with better weather.  Mark and I spent a couple days in Margalef and for the first time I found myself enjoying the climbing there; in particular the climbing at Finestra.  One route, Montgronyeta, really felt like the gateway for me.  It had fun moves, great tufa holds, and for the first time in Margalef, nothing that hurt.

Mark got a message from a friend saying that he was in Cornudella, so we packed up tents and headed over there.  Like magic, I found the Cornudella vortex had pulled me back in and I was not terribly unhappy about it.  We set up shop at the free camping and soon I met a new crew of climbers.

For the next week I hung out with new friends, tried to figure out life, and struggled to get motivated to climb in uncomfortably hot conditions.  Again, I struggled to leave, not knowing if I should head to Rodellar, Gorge du Tarn, or Ceuse or knowing how to get to any of them.  I planned my exit according to the weather and went for one last morning of climbing at El Pati.  I packed my stuff and was ready to head to town when I noticed the wall of rain over Cornudella and moving closer.  I spent the day hiding under an overhang as it poured with most of the folks from camp and by the time I made it to town it was far too late to try to leave.  Again, I found myself staying longer in Cornudella, but this time it really was the last.

Heroes and Dark Wizards Never Die

Entranced by the flight of a raven, I watch its shadow move effortlessly against golden, shimmering granite. I long to be that free, flying above the cluttered world of normalcy, where so many are half alive.

-Dean Potter

 

 

A masked “unknown” climber decked out in Adidas gear pulls up over a roof, presses down the rail and extends up for a crimp at the edge of his reach.  The camera cuts to a close up of calloused, cracked finger tips touching a granite crimp and sliding off.  The man jumps away from the wall as begins to plummet to the ground hundreds, if not thousands, of feet below.  A plume of chalk trails him as he waves his arms and legs to stabilize himself.  He gains composure and flies for several more seconds before deploying the BASE rig on his back.  The last words of Valley Uprising still resounded in my mind: “but in an era of increasing good will, there remains at the heart of Yosemite climbing, a spirit that’s not so easily tamed.”

I never met Dean Potter.  But that’s far from saying he never affected me.  I may be naïve and I may attribute qualities based on media representation, but I don’t think that’s important.  To me, Dean wasn’t a person; he was a hero and heroes don’t need to be real.

Dean captured the essence of what I considered climbing and did so in a larger than life way.  He was never just out there climbing hard, he was the one out there climbing bigger, scarier, faster and then maybe soloing those routes and hucking himself off the top.  Dean challenged the world to keep up as he pushed climbing to explore new possibilities and new concepts.  He pushed soloing and speed climbing harder and was ok with “no gear, don’t fall” when it came to pushing the limits.  Limits are broken when someone challenges the way they approach them and that’s exactly what Dean did.  When climbing wasn’t enough he took on highlining, BASE jumping, and wingsuit flying.  Whatever the discipline, he pushed the boundaries of imagination, literally flew in the face of danger, and embraced it all with the mentality that “with everything I’m doing, I’m trying to become more free.”

Dean took risks, pushed boundaries, and stepped on toes of those who got in the way.  Whether it was speed climbing, BASE jumping or climbing, Dean’s approach was: “it’s just about doing my art and being free.  And unfortunately that means that I need to evade the law.”  This is exactly what’s lacking in today’s world.  In our gym-breed climbing culture, where kids can climb V10 before they have ever set foot outside a gym, it’s easy to forget or bypass the heritage that brought us to where we are today.  Climbing was forged in dirt and grit.  While popularity and mainstream attention is making climbing into a polished, viewer friendly sport, we need to remember that our tribe came from the outlaws and outcasts.

In a world moving toward luxury, excess, and soft, Dean stood fast as a hard man.  From living under a boulder in Yosemite to honing his skills while on a diet of free crackers and ketchup packs and embraced the true meaning of the word dirtbag.  He came off as a wild man, a bit coarse, and never false.  He always seemed to me to be the new type of cowboy.  Not all about spurs and show, but wild, free, and uncaring about how society judged him; willing to go where few else dared, and live by personal ethics not by the dictates of others.  He described living in camp 4, saying “It was just all about now.  Enter into the freak show and be free.”

Late Thrill Seeker Dean Potter…, Dean Potter’s Final Flight: One Risk Too Many, In Defense of Thrill Seekers like Dean Potter.  The names of the articles alone are enough to annoy the hell out of anyone with an inclination toward sports more active than watching golf.  The slew of articles and comments after Dean’s death questioning or justifying “thrill seekers” fail to grasp the very heart of why climbing and BASE jumping are so integral to the lives of some people.  In every video I’ve ever seen, Dean mentions his pursuits, not as the next thrill, but the drive to be free.  I imagine the ideas of freedom, moving unhindered up rock, and flying back down are equally indescribable as to the pains of child birth or loss of a loved one.  If you haven’t experienced it, you really can’t understand the feeling.  I think we all, or at least most climbers I know, have the same pull toward beautiful, pure movement on rock and in the air.  The difference is that Dean was the one bold enough to act out his dreams, while the rest of us cower in our mediocrity.  I guess in the end, Dean was acting out the truest life anyone from New Hampshire could: “live free or die.”  He did both.

I don’t think that everyone should be just like Dean, frankly most people don’t have the commitment and care too much about norms to even come close, but I do think that as with any great person, there are a lot of good things to take away.  I just hope that when people see that a climber or BASE jumper died, they don’t just shake their heads and say “there’s another pointless death,” but take the time to think about the legacy build by lives in pursuit of passion.  We live in a dangerous world and you could die any day.  I for one would much rather die doing something I love than exist without it.  William Wallace said “Every man dies.  Not every many really lives.” By any measure I use, Dean lived more than anyone else I can find.  Today, his bio on the Five Ten website still reads “Claim to fame: I haven’t died yet.”  That must be because heroes and Dark Wizards never die.