Evening Sends http://eveningsends.com inspired climbing stories Mon, 13 Nov 2017 15:28:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.3 http://eveningsends.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/ES1-58b0d451v1_site_icon-32x32.png Evening Sends http://eveningsends.com 32 32 Five Minute Fingers http://eveningsends.com/five-minute-fingers/ http://eveningsends.com/five-minute-fingers/#comments Sun, 12 Nov 2017 14:39:05 +0000 http://eveningsends.com/?p=8637

Years ago as a gumby in my very first year of climbing, I was looking through guidebooks in Rock and Snow in New Paltz, New York, when a random old-schooler started spouting off about how he had attained his current level of strength and fitness. It took me a moment to realize that this Verve-clad […]

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Years ago as a gumby in my very first year of climbing, I was looking through guidebooks in Rock and Snow in New Paltz, New York, when a random old-schooler started spouting off about how he had attained his current level of strength and fitness. It took me a moment to realize that this Verve-clad dude, whom I assumed to be a human relic of the Vulgarian era, was, for some reason, talking to me.

“If you want to get really strong, here’s what I do,” he said. As entirely odd as this unsolicited advice may have been —even for a New Yorker—I was also suddenly quite curious to hear the forthcoming wisdom.

“Anytime I walk through a door, I stop and hang on the door trim for as long as I can,” he said. “I’ve been doing it for 20 years. It’s my secret to success. It’s that fuckin’ simple!”

“Um, thanks!?” I said and awkwardly shuffled over to a discounted rack of prAna leggings beneath a Sharma poster.

It was perhaps the first piece of climbing-training advice I was ever given. Shockingly, it was actually a fundamentally decent recommendation. There was something almost brilliantly intuitive about what this guy had devised. Gymnasts are often taught to spend as much time walking on their hands as possible. Why wouldn’t climbers also want to take every opportunity to hang from their fingertips?

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Years later, armed with my own wisdom and years of experimentation, I’ve devised my own routine that, coincidentally, contains some similar physiological parallels to the door trick. Obvi it’s totes more sophisticated tho.

It’s quick, it’s simple, and it gets you strong/fit quickly.

I’m calling it “5 Minute Fingers” (hashtag #5MF). I devised this program with desk-bound weekend warriors in mind—i.e., folks like me.

The basic gist of the program—which I will describe in more detail below—is doing two or three very short workouts throughout the day, a few days per week. Each workout includes just three sets of easy hangboard repeaters interspersed with three sets of moderately taxing kettlebell swings.

That’s it. It’s that fuckin’ simple.

I developed this program for myself for a few reasons, the primary ones being time, schedule, and my own personal disposition. Motivating for a hangboard workout can be enervating. When attempting to tag a hangboard workout on top of a 2-hour Moon Board or weight-training session, almost as an afterthought, I’d often find a way to convince myself of something, anything, better to do.

Originally, I reasoned that if I could break up a 20-minute hangboard workout up into two or three smaller work-outs spread out throughout the day, I could achieve the same volume of work and stand a better shot at actually getting through the workout without getting bored.

It turns out there’s research that suggests this approach is just as effective—and potentially even more effective than one longer workout.

The key is doing something the Russian lifting guru Pavel Tsatsouline dubbed “Greasing the Groove,” which essentially means doing more shorter workouts well below points of failure. “Everyone says you can’t get stronger this way,” said Pavel. “But it turns out, you can.”

Kettlebell swings are part of this program because they are good for you and because squeezing them into a 90-second hangboard set rest is more efficient. Doing 100 kettlebell swings a day has been shown to have hormonal benefits, including an increase free testosterone and HGH. Same with deadlifts. The thing that makes the kettlebell swing superior to the deadlift—at least for this exercise—is that it only requires one relatively small piece of equipment as opposed to an Olympic bar and tons of weights.

Kettlebell swings are a fairly technical exercise demanding proper form. It’s easy enough to learn—but make sure you do learn. Pavel’s company Strong First is the best resource for all things kettlebell related. This video is a great place to start.

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My favorite aspect of Five Minute Fingers, however, is that it breaks up a formidable hangboard workout into bite-sized pieces. It’s digestible and easy to accomplish. It’s also a great excuse to take a break from staring at a computer screen and get the body moving.

I ran my idea past the Salt Lake City-based hangboard guru Steve Maisch, by the way. I asked him if it was the dumbest idea he’s ever heard, or the most brilliant. “I’m going to go with possibly the most brilliant thing I’ve ever heard,” he said. So, there you have it.

Maisch also helped me tweak a few parts of this routine based on his own expertise. Unfortunately, one of his suggestions made the routine a little longer than just five minutes. But since “Seven Minute Fingers” sounds fucking stupid, I’m sticking with “Five Minute Fingers” and hoping you don’t need to be so gosh darn literal about everything in life.

With all that said … if you want to get strong, here’s what I do:

Equipment

There are a few things #5MF has going for it. It’s quick, it’s effective, it’ll leave you panting like a dog on a hot summer day, and it can be done almost anywhere.

Here’s what you need:

1 hangboard

1 (heavy) kettlebell

An interval timer app

For an interval timer app, I suggest Seconds Pro, though I haven’t done too much research into what other options are out there. Seconds Pro works great, comes with pre-set timers, and is fully programmable.

For the kettlebell, any generic brand will do, though I’m partial to ones made by Rogue since they’re so well made and have a nice grip. You’ll want to select a heavy weight such that you’ll be able to complete 15 kettlebell swings and it’s relatively difficult though not really really hard. If I were to make a general recommendation, I would suggest that most men might want to choose a kettlebell in the 45- to 75-pound range, and most women might want to select a kettlebell in the 25- to 50-pound range.

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For a hangboard, I’d recommend either a Beastmaker or Tension hangboard. If you are doing this workout at work, and you can’t drill a hangboard into the wall above the office water cooler, you might consider building a foldable metal tripod to create a portable hangboard station. Otherwise, you could use the Tension Flashboard or an equivalent product.

Secret-Stuff-FrontLastly, I’d recommend using liquid chalk instead of regular loose chalk, which is cleaner if you are in fact doing this workout at work. Also, you can do an entire workout with just one coat. For liquid chalk, I highly recommend Friction Labs Secret Stuff.

Full disclosure, Friction Labs partnered up with me this month to sponsor a training post. They didn’t pay me to make this recommendation, however, and I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t believe it.

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Warming Up

The toughest part of #5MF is warming up because you’re not going to be climbing on V0s for 20 minutes in the gym. We don’t have 20 minutes! This is Five Minute fingers, fool!

A good warm-up means slightly raising your heart rate, active stretching, and taking your body through all ranges of motion. You can achieve this by doing 10 jumping jacks, or 10 air squats, or a minute of jumping rope, or a few burpees—or some combination thereof. Maybe finish it with a few pull-ups and some light stretching or band work.

My approach is to actually begin my warm-up as soon as I wake up. Instead of just drowning myself in coffee while slumped into my couch, I have found it’s optimal to start my day with 15 minutes of yoga, active movement, air squats. I feel ready to go on days when I get my body moving first thing.

And now, for the routine:

Five-Minute Fingers

Workout structure:

2-3 workouts per day.

2-3 days per week.

The Workout

Each workout consists of three sets of 5-rep hangboard repeaters, where one “rep” equals a 10-second hang. It’s important that you choose edge sizes that aren’t all that difficult for you. You are NOT supposed to go to failure!

In between each rep is a five-second rest. According to Maisch, five seconds is better than three and allows for significantly better ATP-CP regeneration.

This set is immediately followed by 15-rep kettlebell swings during a 90-second “rest” window. It should take you around 30 seconds to do 15 kettlebell swings, which leaves you around 60 seconds to catch your breath before the next repeaters set begins.

In terms of selecting an edge size, it would be best to start with a large edge/jug. From there, work down in size over the next two sets. Again, choose edges that you can succeed on. Do not go to failure with this workout.

For your convenience, I created an online Five Minute Fingers interval timer, which you can download or just use online.

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Score some Secret Stuff

Here’s an added bonus for you guys. The first 10 people who post a photo or video of themselves performing a #5MF workout on Insta, and use these four tags—#5MF #chalkmatters @EveningSends @FrictionLabs—will get a FREE full-sized tube of Secret Stuff courtesy of Friction Labs! Thanks, Friction Labs.

Let me know if you try this workout. I’d love to hear how it goes!

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Hayden http://eveningsends.com/hayden-2/ http://eveningsends.com/hayden-2/#comments Fri, 20 Oct 2017 10:27:55 +0000 http://eveningsends.com/?p=8616

Hayden, I am just so sad that you’re gone. The news struck me like a train. It literally knocked me off my feet. Since then I have felt waves of sadness and spasms of tears that continue to bring me to my knees. The circumstances of your death still seem utterly impossible to me. I […]

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Hayden,

I am just so sad that you’re gone. The news struck me like a train. It literally knocked me off my feet. Since then I have felt waves of sadness and spasms of tears that continue to bring me to my knees.

The circumstances of your death still seem utterly impossible to me. I never thought this day would come. I certainly never imagined it would have come under these circumstances. But it turns out, the circumstances of this devastating tragedy are everything.

Upon learning that you were no longer a part of this world, I spent the following 24 hours under the erroneous impression that you and your sweet Inge had been lost to that white wave of snow together. The dissemination of information in the aftermath of tragedy is often fraught with innocent error, and so it was here. As doubly painful as it was to know that you and Inge were both gone, I was in part comforted by the fact that neither of you had to bear each other’s loss. Over those 24 hours, I sobbed uncontrollably and hoped that you had experienced no conscious moments under that cold, heavy blanket of snow. Jen, Piper, Kalous, and I hiked up Red Hill and looked down at your house, and then across the valley at a freshly coated Sopris, and we thought about you and spent the afternoon tromping around in the mud and sobbing. That night, I prayed that your death had been quick and painless.

As I learned the following morning, those were not the circumstances of your death. In fact, the circumstances that I had prayed you’d been spared—the anguish of consciousness, and the unbearable sadness that would bring—were far more prolonged, and far more terrible, than anything I could’ve imagined.

The image of you buried under snow now turned to one of you searching and thrashing across a gentle slope in a fit of rage and denial, digging through the debris as if it could turn back time. Hayden, you must have felt so guilty and so sad. You must’ve felt as if you’d committed the ultimate sin and therefore had to pay the ultimate price yourself. I just wish I could’ve been there to hug you and somehow help you carry a little bit of this unbearable load. There are just so many of us who share this wish.

I’ll admit that learning that you had ended your own life in some ways made me sadder. In other ways, I felt less sad but a little angrier. Indeed, the circumstances changed everything and yet, of course, they also ultimately changed nothing.

Things were going so well for you until this tragedy struck. Last summer, Jen and I routinely spoke about how happy we were for you that your life was heading in a bright new direction—one that you’d been secretly wanting for so long. You’d just signed your first lease on an apartment and had moved in with a woman you loved. Over the last decade, we spent so many hours discussing what it means to lead a meaningful life. I think you sometimes struggled with the fact that you were just so fucking talented at climbing and so some part of you felt almost obligated to do it. You’d just turned a corner toward something far more meaningful: love. I know that this, more than any summit, is what you wanted. Boy, you are so lucky to have met and loved Inge. She was as talented and humble and sweet as you. You guys were perfect. I’m so happy you got to experience a profound connection to someone you loved and who loved you back.

Again, it’s the circumstances—that everything seemed to be headed in the right direction for you and Inge—that makes this sadder still. It changes everything and nothing all at once.

You made the decision to end your life with the same fierce conviction with which you lived—always with such dedication and forthright intention. You were never afraid to do what you believed was right. I’ve never met anyone with as much integrity as you. Michael and Julie raised you that way—not only as a kind person but as a wonderful climbing and skiing partner, too. They took so much care to show you what it means to be good, to do things the right way, to make good decisions, and to stay true to who you are. You always, always rose up to be that person. This integrity is what endeared us to you. It’s the reason you have so many friends in so many places, across one of the most impressive spectrums of age and background that I know of.

Over the last three months of your life, I was fortunate enough to get to work with you on your Day I Sent story, though now this story feels strangely haunting. The editing process is one I will always cherish because it produced so many deep and memorable conversations, on the phone and in person. Days before your death, I got an email from you saying that you were so psyched on your story’s reception. You said that the process of writing this story had brought you a sense of peace over the loss of your friends Kyle and Justin. I feel happy that this writing process gave you some kind of clarity and resolution.

In that story, you wrote that you were unsure whether climbing is a beautiful gift or a curse. Your death has helped me figure out an answer to this question, so I want you to listen up because what I’m about to say, I’m going to say with all of my being.

How could climbing be a curse, Hayden, when climbing is how you became my dear friend—maybe my best friend? How could climbing be a curse when climbing is how so many of us got to spend some of the best days of our life in your company? Climbing isn’t a curse, Hayden. It’s a gift. And just because a gift is lost, or breaks, or doesn’t work out the way we wish it had, doesn’t mean we should stop feeling gratitude for being given the gift in the first place.

I am grasping to find much meaning in the inconceivable reality of yours and Inge’s deaths. Instead, the only thing I can cling to is gratitude. Let me finish this letter by saying thank you.

First, thank you, Hayden, for being you and no one else. You followed your heart and lived by a righteous code.

Thank you for being my rope gun so many times. I got to follow you up pitches of rock that I would’ve never otherwise climbed. I got to see what true grace and poise looks like on leads that would’ve had me and anyone else shaking with fear. And you belayed me on some of the hardest redpoints of my life. You always believed in my abilities more than I ever did.

Thank you for all the Bowl laps, and for never once commenting on how much slower I always was, both on the way up as well as down. Thank you for never judging me, whether we were on skis or in rock shoes. You approached climbing partnerships with such respect, and always empowered those who were slower, weaker, or just less talented than you to feel like they were your equals.

Thank you for going with me to that Wu Tang concert when you were just 15 years old—that was probably the first time we really hung out as friends. I’ll never forget buying you a drink, then turning around to see you dancing with some girl on the dance floor. With your gawky teenage frame, you looked like a Doberman puppy humping a couch. Nor will I forget what happened next: that girl took your drink right out of your hands and left you with the saddest little puppy eyes before we both just laughed it off and kept bobbing our heads to a glorious RZA track. WU TANG!

Thank you for climbing 30 pitches with me on my 30th birthday. I’m so sad that you didn’t make it to your 30s. You had just set yourself up to receive so many amazing gifts and surprises and adventures in this next decade of life.

Thank you for all of the actual gifts. You always brought me and Jen something back from every single one of your big climbing trips. Spices from India. Prayer flags from Nepal. Some kind of vile homemade bathtub swill from Slovenia that we drank after our garage training sessions. You came over three times a week after Piper was born to climb with me and hear what life was now like for me as a dad.

Thank you for all the books you’ve given me over the years. You read voraciously and were always more interested in telling stories and talking about literature than spraying beta. Same with music. You were always seeking out new artists and enthusiastically sharing their songs with those around you.

Thank you for the reminder to turn off my phone, to seek out the small, intimate, meaningful connections over the bigger, more vapid ones. To avoid too much of the “tasty talk,” as your friend Marko Prezlj calls it.

Thank you for the inspiration to live with integrity, to be humble, and to be true to myself. I’ve never met someone so much younger than me who has taught me so much about what it means to live. You were a young guy but you had an old soul. You’ve been a great gift to me, Hayden. I’m just so sad you’re gone but my heart is filled with gratitude for the honor of having been your friend. I hope I can lead a life worthy of your memory.

Much love and respect,

Andrew

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The Day We Sent Logical Progression http://eveningsends.com/the-day-we-sent-logical-progression/ http://eveningsends.com/the-day-we-sent-logical-progression/#comments Tue, 26 Sep 2017 12:46:48 +0000 http://eveningsends.com/?p=8544

I’ve never been a goal-oriented climber so I don’t really see the point in recording my climbs or hyping them up. I don’t really care that much about “sending” routes and I definitely don’t give a fuck if anyone knows when I do send something. I don’t have an 8a.nu scorecard. I don’t hashtag on […]

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I’ve never been a goal-oriented climber so I don’t really see the point in recording my climbs or hyping them up. I don’t really care that much about “sending” routes and I definitely don’t give a fuck if anyone knows when I do send something. I don’t have an 8a.nu scorecard. I don’t hashtag on Instagram. And I’m not on Facebook. I guess that makes me a shitty Millennial …

I do, however, enjoy reading the “Day I Sent” series on Evening Sends. I’ve noticed many of these stories follow a similar storyline. It’s the classic “Hero’s Journey,” only with bolts and kneepads. The main climber finds the perfect project, battles both physical and psychological hurdles, comes to some kind of internal peace with the whole process, and eventually sends the motherfucker. End of story.

Part of what makes these stories enjoyable to read is that hard routes can bring out some really important, but not always obvious lessons. Routes ticked, cruxes overcome, and summits achieved can be super meaningful, but they’re also not the most important things in life.

The true, lasting meaning, we like to say, is found in the friendships and partnerships that we build while pursuing our climbing goals.

Over the last few years, however, as I’ve watched too many friends go to the mountains only to never return, I’ve realized something painful. It’s not just the memorable summits and crux moves that are fleeting. Friends and climbing partners are fleeting, too. This is the painful reality of our sport, and I’m unsure what to make of it. Climbing is either a beautiful gift or a curse.

Team Gigante

Hayden Kennedy, Chris Kalous, Kyle Dempster, Justin Griffin.

This is a story about the day we sent Logical Progression, a big-wall route in Mexico. The route was amazing, but it wasn’t all that hard. The experience was incredible because I was with three good friends: Chris Kalous, Kyle Dempster, and Justin Griffin.

There’s no easy way to say this, but half that team is now dead.

Justin died in Nepal in 2015. And Kyle, along with his partner, Scott Adamson, vanished while climbing on a remote peak in north Pakistan a year later.

I think about Kyle and Justin all the time. Their absence from this world is felt by so many who are left in a wake of confusion, anger, and frustration.

In many ways, I am still processing what has happened to my dear friends. Waves of sadness overwhelm me at times, making it hard to stand up or focus. At other times I am able to think only of the enchanting adventures, contemplative conversations, and the simple yet enriching moments we shared as friends. These pendulum shifts between various emotions will never go away, as I am starting to learn.

I see both light and dark in climbing. Through this recognition, true learning begins and a full awareness of the brevity of our time becomes clearer. It’s difficult to accept the fact that we cannot control everything in life, yet we still try, and maybe our path changes to something totally unexpected.

I am still in the process of finding my own path, and I’d be lying if I said these deaths haven’t affected its direction. How does climbing fit into “real life”? If we only take the surface level experience—endlessly chasing the next hardest project, the next most futuristic alpine objective—then, in my opinion, climbing becomes too much of a selfish pursuit.

Maybe the most genuine aspects of any tale are the sputterings and the silences, the acknowledgments of failure, the glimmerings in the dark. And maybe one genuine reason to try to share our stories about days we actually send something, when we are alive and at the height of our powers, is to try to bring back what’s past, lost, or gone.

Perhaps by doing so, we might find some light illuminating a new way forward.

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It’s night, and Kalous and I are driving somewhere in the foothills of the Sierra Madre mountains of Sonora, Mexico. Maps, candy wrappers, and rollies are scattershot across the dashboard. We have been pushing the pedal with relentless enthusiasm since the Nogales border crossing just south of Tucson.

“Melissa,” my van, has already suffered some road injuries with several cracks to the front windshield and a dented rear bumper. The road is so dark that even the yellow median lines seem to fade in and out of the headlights. Massive potholes devastate my shocks and jostle my entire body, adding to the paranoia I feel about driving at night through narco country. After 17 hours on the road, I am starting to feel like I’m on drugs, and not the good kind. My head buzzes, and my eyes are having a hard time distinguishing between the shadow-life and reality.

Looping around a large switchback, we are suddenly confronted with the blinding floodlights of a military roadblock dead ahead.

“This is so fucked, this is deeply fucked,” Kalous whispers as I slow down and start to pull over.

Just behind us are Kyle and Justin, who are in Kyle’s van, “Pegasus.” I hear them hit the brakes, and their headlights disappear as they pull right up behind me.

A wooden officer’s shack is illuminated by candlelight. Bottles of tequila and Carta Blanca lay on the ground around the entrance. Five armed police pour out of the shack, and quickly approach our vans, rifles in hand. The men circle our caravan, establishing a perimeter of space. One comes over to my window.

“Gringos!” he says, seeming surprised. There is a strong scent of tequila on his breath. “A donde vas, gringos?”

Just as I was about to offer up an answer in my own piss-poor Spanish, I see that Kyle and Justin are already out of their van. They are walking among the guards, calm as cucumbers, handing out packs of Marlboro Reds and porno magazines.

The guards look pleased with the offering.

I follow suit and step out of the van. Kalous, perhaps being a couple decades wiser than the rest of us, seems hesitant. He lingers for a few moments then joins the party.

Kyle lights a cigarette. He takes a long drag, then blows a set of impressive smoke rings that get the policemen to loosen up.

“We are from Utah and Colorado and have come a long ways to see your beautiful country,” Kyle casually says in Spanglish.

“And for the cheap beer!” Justin adds.

We see a few smiles crack across the hardened faces of the policemen. Some of the men are wearing black ski masks because they don’t want potential enemies who are driving through to see their faces. Some of the masks come off and Kyle continues to converse with the policemen as if they were long-lost friends. He gives a few of the most curious policemen a tour of his built-out Sprinter. Meanwhile, Kalous, Justin, and I explain our reasons for traveling to this remote part of Mexico to several of the clearly inebriated guards, who are swaying drunkenly while cradling their guns in their arms.

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Jewell Lund and Kyle Dempster. Photo Forest Woodward.

Thanks to Kyle’s gifts and his smooth confidence, we reach a surface level understanding with the police that we are good people. The police are actually quite impressed that a group of Americans was driving at night through one of Mexico’s most notorious drug-trafficking regions. They are also concerned about our safety and recommend that we stay in the next town, ten miles down the twisty mountain road.

“Vaya con dios,” the head policeman says, and shoos us away with a rolled up porno mag.

Engulfed in darkness once again, we drive toward the small town of Tecorpia, unaware of what lay ahead.

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Three months prior, I was in the middle of my annual Christmas light-installation grind in the suburban hell-scape called the Front Range of Colorado. Every November my friend and climbing/business partner Jesse Huey and I would drop everything to “cash in on the joy” by adorning suburban mansions with Christmas lights. It was the exact kind of brutal, dangerous work that would suit an alpine climber, so long as we could ignore the fact that we were contributing to one of the most obscene spectacles of American consumerism ever invented.

From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Jesse and I dangled off roofs and tresses with a clusterfuck of C9-LED light stringers hanging from every part of our bodies. One time, when I couldn’t find a solid roofing anchor, I filled my Grade VI haul-bag with bottles of water to create a counterweight on the opposite side of the house while I traversed a 40-degree slope of glaciated shingles. We worked 12-hour days nonstop, ate like shit, and drank most nights. Occasionally, we’d find time to flail in one of the many Front Range climbing gyms.

I once spent eight hours in a cherry picker with a homeowner named Rocky Bliss. We strung lights all over his 45-foot cottonwood trees, a spectacle that was sure to put all of his neighbors’ Christmas lights to shame. Mr. Bliss could hardly contain himself.

“It’s you and me up here, Hayden, getting closer to God!” he said without a hint of irony.

Jesus Christ, get me out of here! I was so ready for a climbing trip when all this “joy-spreading” was done.

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HK swinging leads with Kalous on Logical Progression (5.13a), Mexico.

Tough as it was, I knew this work would soon be rewarded with the ultimate amount of freedom. I could grind hard for three months and make enough cash to fund my climbing “fix” for the rest of the year. I used Christmas light money to get me abroad, from Patagonia to the Himalayas to the Canadian Rockies, as well as the interim road-trips all over Europe and North America.

Over the actual holidays—a reprieve for us Christmas-light elves, meaning, the time between the actual light installation and the subsequent retrieval of those lights—we hatched a plan for a Mexican adventure.

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I was visiting my family and friends in my hometown of Carbondale, Colorado, and linked up with Chris Kalous. You may know Kalous as the voice of the Enormocast, but to me, he was actually first my high-school English teacher. He subsequently became one of my closest friends and climbing partners.

Earlier that week, I’d received an email from my best friend and longtime alpine climbing partner, Kyle Dempster. The email was characteristically sparse; it simply said, “Mexican road trip … you in?”

Over some beers, I casually mentioned the idea to Kalous.

“Where would you wanna go?” he asked. Well, I hadn’t actually thought much about that part. After a season of Christmas lights anywhere sounded good.

With Kyle and Kalous both on board, we just needed a fourth climber, so Kyle invited our mutual friend from Bozeman, Justin Griffin. This was a sweet crew!

Now, all we needed was an actual climbing objective, which was in some ways the least important part of the equation.

Ultimately, we decided on a 1,000-meter rhyolite big-wall known as El Gigante, located in the heart of the Copper Canyon in northern Mexico. Certainly, El Gigante’s best-known route is Logical Progression (VI 5.13a), which Peter Baumeister, Luke Laeser, and Bert van Lint established in February 2002.

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Kalous following a lead on Logical Progression.

At the time, the American/German team received a rash of criticism for the style in which they opened their route. They rap bolted all 3,000 feet of the limestone wall using power drills. Never before had such a prominent feature been subjected to such egregious sport-climbing tactics. Alex Huber vowed to chop the route, and a “debate-piece” was published in the American Alpine Journal in 2003 shortly after the first ascent.

In 2007, the wildly talented French team of Arnaud Petit, Stéphanie Bodet, Titi Gentet, and Sylvain Millet made a near onsight of the route. They called it, ”Chef d’oeuvre.” A masterpiece.

Alex Honnold and Sonnie Trotter made an impressive one-day free ascent of the route in 2010 and raved about the route. With such high praise and even a healthy bit of ethical controversy—a part of this sport with which I am all too familiar—Logical Progression became our main objective.

EveningSends_HK_DIS-3

Jason Kruk coming up on his and Hayden Kennedy’s “fair means” ascent of Cerro Torre’s “Compressor Route” in 2012.

Many climbers associate my name with the clouded controversy that surrounds Cerro Torre. In 2012, Jason Kruk and I climbed the Southeast Ridge of Cerro Torre without using any of Cesare Maestre’s infamous, ladder-like bolts, which he installed in 1970 using a 500-pound gas-powered compressor. Maestri drilled his way to the top, without any regard to the natural features of the mountain. Climbers have debated Maestri’s bolts for decades. Over the years, as alpine climbers’ skills, vision, and talent increased, so did the call to restore the natural challenges of this special mountain. After climbing Cerro Torre without the bolts, and seeing firsthand the outrageous nature of their placements—and understanding the history of the debate—Jason and I decided to remove a majority of the bolts on our way down.

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Maestri’s Compressor remains a controversial alpine monument.

You might think a guy like me is some kind of crazy anti-bolt zealot. If so, you might also think that I’m a hypocrite for choosing an objective like Logical Progression, which sports nearly 1,000 bolts that were placed on rappel.

I don’t think bolts are inherently evil; they’re just little pieces of metal. More specifically, Cerro Torre, an ice-covered alpine climb, is very different than El Gigante, a jungle big-wall. The bolts that were installed on Cerro Torre were completely unnecessary, while the bolts on El Gigante are appropriate.

I spent my entire youth reading everything about our sport’s history that I could get my hands on, not to mention discussing the nuances of climbing’s ethics with my dad, a former world-class alpinist, and all of his fellow world-class alpinist buddies when they’d come through town.

More importantly, I’ve tried to make opinions about climbing ethics based on first-hand experiences—not through Internet forums. That seems to be a rare thing these days. Most climbers my age seem to care more about checking their 8a scorecards and being addicted to social media than they do about learning our sport’s history. Many climbers my age couldn’t tell you who Walter Bonatti, Joe Tasker, Jerzy Kukuczka, and Bernd Arnold are, but they do know the latest hashtag marketing campaign.

Mostly, I was interested in checking out Logical Progression to see if it lived up to the hype, or if it was another “murder of the impossible” type of situation. I think it’s important to keep an open mind, get off the internet, and just go climbing.

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We arrive in the dusty main drag of Tecorpia at 2 a.m. and, of course, as gringos, we thought it would be a great idea to stop for some tacos and cervezas. As we creep down the main street looking for some kind of late night snack, an armored truck full of masked policemen passes and stops at a nearby house. All of the police jump out from the cab of the truck, guns pointed at the house as they approach. I immediately flip Melissa around and speed out of town. Tacos at 2 a.m.? Tremendous fucking idea!

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We bivy in the parking lot of a well-lit gas station in Tecorpia. By morning, we are rolling cigarettes and sipping coffee, debating the night’s close calls. Between the police-checkpoint fiasco and our encounter with the masked gunman later the night, we all needed to blow off some steam.

“I honestly can’t believe we were driving that late at night!” Kalous says sternly, looking at the rest of us. “Pure ignorance and stupidity!”

Kyle starts to laugh while Justin and I gaze into the morning light pretending we didn’t hear Kalous.

“You’re right,” I finally say quietly. “At least we off-loaded those packs of Reds and porno-magazines. I was starting to feel uncomfortable with all that in the van!” Justin smirked. We laughed. Back to the basics.

We start driving and soon reach the signs for Basaseachi National Park and Copper Canyon. Thank god, we made it. We pull into a deserted parking lot with a single taco stand. From the parking lot, we can only see into one aspect of the canyon but the relief of the walls is obvious and impressive. Quickly we gather our bearings and locate the Rancho San Lorenzo, which we heard was the best spot to camp.

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As our caravan enters the ranch, we see an older Mexican leaning against a fence. His name is Fernando, and he is wearing a cowboy hat and a tucked-in, baby-blue button-snap shirt that reveals his beer belly quite well, which protrudes over an enormous belt buckle.

“Que pasa, gringos,” he says, lighting a cigarette and adjusting himself in his well-worn blue jeans.

In painful, broken Spanish, Chris attempts to describe our goals, wants, and needs as plumes of smoke are billowing out from under the brim of Fernando’s cowboy hat.

“Ha-ha! No problem, gringos!” says Fernando, laughing. “I speak English and of course you can stay at my ranchero. Your vans will not make the road to El Gigante so I can arrange a driver for you, if you would like?”

Perfecto! That evening we sit around a campfire and share stories of our travels with our new friend over tequila.

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“In Mexico, you must take responsibility for yourself and your family because the law doesn’t exist,” Fernando says, lifting his shirt, revealing a pistol.

“We live in completely different worlds,” Justin remarks and sips a beer.

We fall into silence and just enjoy each other’s company and the remoteness of our position.

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Four days later, we have adjusted to the tropical climate, acquired a week’s worth of supplies, and are now bouncing in the back of a ruby-red 1987 Chevrolet pickup truck into the jungle. After nearly two hours the road finally ends in a densely forested pullout, with not a wall or canyon in sight.

Our friend Andrew Burr had drawn us a map on a napkin of the complex approach, which is actually a descent from the canyon’s rim down jungle-choked gullies to the base of the wall. Kyle turns the map several times in an effort to orient our location.

“We don’t need this stupid thing,” he says, crimping the napkin and throwing it into the woods. “It’s more confusing than it is helpful.”

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I first met Kyle on top of El Cap in Yosemite in the spring of 2009. Kyle had just topped out some massive aid solo and resembled a dried-up sponge. Wolfmother blared out of his speakers and his energy was pulsing. Kyle’s pronounced chest made him seem almost un-human-like, or at least un-climber-like. I started to call him the Silverback not only for his strength but also for his attitude. The silverback gorilla walks independent and silent.

Kyle often spoke about the power of solitude, the importance of self-reliance, the impact of third-world travel, and the significance of Black Sabbath. He told hair-raising tales from a trip to Pakistan, where he nearly completed an audacious solo of the West Face of Tahu Rutum. He had spent over 20 days on the wall, alone, before retreating in a storm.

Kyle and I climbed a bit in Yosemite as well as in his home mountains, the Wasatch, just outside of Salt Lake City. Our first international trip was to Pakistan’s Charakusa Valley in 2011, where we attempted the unclimbed East Face of K7. We returned the following year with the Slovenian power-house, Urban Novak, to finish what we had started. Our line up the East Face of K7 offered everything you would ever want or expect on a big, alpine climb, from waist-deep snowing slogging, to scrappy granite mixed climbing with poor protection, ice funnels that dripped like candle wax down the mountain, spindrift avalanches, belly aches from dehydration, extremely long periods of movement without sleep or pause, and a bond that only comes from traveling through this terrain with your partners. All three of us connected in a big way on K7. In retrospect, this climb represents everything that I love and aspire to within climbing. It was a success beyond our new route and summit, and Kyle was a major reason why.

Urban Novak, Hayden Kennedy and Kyle Dempster on K7.

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I roll off my thin foam pad into the dirt and pine needles. My head throbs with a Tecate hangover. Justin is already awake, making coffee and scrambling eggs.

“This will make you feel better,” he says, handing me a cup of coffee. “If you are gonna be dumb, you better be tough.”

We pump ourselves with enough caffeine to trounce our hangovers or at least keep them at bay. Our plan was fairly straightforward; Kyle and Justin would climb together as a team one full day ahead of Kalous and me.

Kyle and Justin are packing “disaster-style,” which basically means they are blindly throwing stuff into a haul-bag with no concept of what they actually have for the climb. Justin is a master of the “No Plan” plan.

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Kyle introduced me to Justin on a bitterly cold day while ice climbing in Hyalite Canyon just outside of Bozeman, Montana, in 2011. Justin’s lanky frame even gave my awkward stature a run for my money.

As the day grew colder, our laughter got stronger. That evening, Justin’s southern-drawl crept out as the beers went down. Justin had lightness to his step, a calm demeanor and a jovial smile that pierced the room.

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In 2013, Kyle, Justin, and I established a new free variation to an old Jeff Lowe aid line on Haystack Peak in the Deep Lake area of the Wind Rivers. We spent ten days living in the mountains, eating bacon straight off the cast iron and shooting whisky over truths and lies. We climbed our brains out. Our route that we later dubbed, Lowe-Spark, had several very techy 5.13 pitches and a stack of 5.12. More importantly, we felt a certain spirit, a palatable connection that transcended the climbing.

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A day after Kyle and Justin left, Chris and I are stumbling down the convoluted, loose gully, with sketchy down climbing and heavy bushwhacking. We discover that there is a small-scale marijuana grow-op at the base of the wall. As we cautiously approach the grow-op I happen to notice that Kalous—dressed in army-green pants, a black long-sleeve shirt, and a dirty trucker’s hat—looks like a DEA agent.

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“Fuck man! You are going to get us shot looking like that!” I say, joking as we thrash our way to the base of the wall. We had planned for two nights on the wall. Kalous had packed our bags like a mother sending her firstborn off to grade school. Everything was in order. Even the crusts had been cut off our sandwiches.

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Kalous is a modern renaissance man. His repertoire of skills, passions, and jobs include podcasting, rebuilding car engines, playing music, teaching high school, guiding in Estes Park, painting houses, and climbing every kind of stone, in all styles. He’s one of the best crack climbers I’ve ever seen.

I really got to know Kalous through listening to Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, the Temptations, Herbie Hancock, Soulive and Miles Davis. I was probably thirteen when I joined his after-school Blues/R&B band. I played the saxophone and was obsessed. Our little group would get together two days a week for rehearsals and we even won the annual battle of the bands several years in a row.

Kalous spoke to us like we were adults, which ultimately bridged the gap between the student and the teacher. We started hanging outside of the band and with my fresh interest in climbing, Kalous became one of my first climbing partners. Our early trips to Indian Creek were mind-blowing for me as I watched him dispatch pitch after pitch like a knife cutting through butter.

He has most recently added a new skill to his repertoire: parenting. He’s a proud father of his son, Miles.

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The first few pitches of the Logical Progression feel awkward. We need to adjust to the rhythm of the wall. We swap leads and gradually fall into an enjoyable pace. One of the most attractive attributes of Logical Progression is the fact you don’t need a single piece of traditional gear for the entire 1,000 meters; a 60-meter rope, 20 draws and a few slings will do. The first nine pitches are relatively easy. There are a few 5.11+ sections, but mostly it’s consistent 5.10 terrain to gain the “Tower of Power” bivy on top of pitch nine.

I cast off on pitch ten, the first hard pitch of the route. A steep corner and thin flakes add pump-value as I gain the crimpy 5.12+ cruxes. My fingers feel strong, my mind is at ease, and I climb with a looseness that allows me to relax on the small holds. El Gigante casts an impressive shadow as the afternoon light fades into dusk. Kalous follows the pitch clean.

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Below pitch eleven, I take a few deep breaths before attempting the first 5.13 pitch of the route. My arms feel slightly more tired than I would like so I climb faster and faster. The blocky rhyolite has the shape and texture of a Rubik’s Cube, yet the movement is perfect. I let out a scream as I pull the steep crux, skipping the clip. I look down and see the rope snaking into the void. I clip the anchor and fall into my harness. We fixed our ropes and rappelled back to the Tower of Power bivy for the night.

Morning comes all too soon and a cold wind shakes us awake. Back at it! I love wall climbing! Swinging leads and with a dialed-in system, we can just relax and enjoy the climbing exposure. Each pitch is more stunning than the last.

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Every so often we come across Kyle and Justin’s chalk. I wonder what kind of experience are they having? We reach a short band of rotten rock with a supposed 5.12 pitch. I leave the belay with a hint of a too-cool-for-school attitude. I am promptly put into my place as I whip all over the pitch.

“You’re no Sharma, buddy!” Kalous ribs. Finally, I manage to send the pitch in one clean go. Here’s what I know: you can’t sell sand to Arabs and you can’t tell me that that pitch is only 5.12! Nails!

We reach the top of pitch eighteen as the sun sets. We crawl into the infamous “Critter Bivy” for the night. Cracking beers hurt my fingertips but the luxury of a few coldish beers in the vertical word is unmatched. We jam out to a new Daft Punk album under a clear night. Our conversation drifts in and out but the tunes stay constant until we lay our heads down.

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I wake up at 6 a.m. to find a spider the size of child’s hand crawling on my sleeping bag. I have a mild case of arachnophobia, by the way. I try to stay calm as I flick the eight-legged devil off my sleeping bag. Perhaps it is an ominous sign sent from the Tarahumara—the indigenous people of this region, whose legendary reputation as endurance runners has been recently romanticized in a number of books and articles.

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Rock-paper-scissors determines that I will lead the first pitch of the day, which is a stunning 5.12 on immaculate stone. Each pitch on this route would be a 5-star classic were they at any other crag. We start motoring through pitches, and Kalous is climbing better than the day before. As we reach the last pitch of the route, I’m somewhat sad that the experience is almost over. There is a sense of invincibility on these kinds of climbs, the feeling that you could do this for the rest of your life without any question.

Above us, we hear the laughter of our friends whispering in the late afternoon breeze.

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Justin had to get back to work and his family in Bozeman. Kalous also had “real-life” obligations back in Colorado. Kyle was busy planning for a summer full of mountain adventures while also running his coffee shop, Higher Ground, in Salt Lake City.

As for me, I kept driving north, grasping for the next climb, the next adventure, the next mission and purpose. Pushing harder and harder, with only the bleak reprieve of hanging Christmas lights to refill the bank account.

I have watched too many friends head into hills without thought or reason just because that’s what they have always known. I have been guilty of this approach, too. Why do some of us survive and others don’t?

I look back at this trip and find memories, feelings, and moments that seem obscured deep within the Copper Canyon below the walls and far away from my life now. Kyle and Justin are gone, Kalous is a full-time father and I am still trying to find my path with purpose and balance. I am a little closer than I was then, but in many ways only because of the pain and loss of my dear friends.

So much of Kyle and Justin remain alive within me, in these thoughts and memories that return as I write this story. I think about Kyle’s ability to connect with so many people and to find peace while in such intense situations. I think about Justin’s discreet yet very obvious sense of humor; his one-liners that still make my sides ache with laughter; his simple way of enjoying life.

Kalous was in danger of becoming a grumpy, bitter-old climber until he became a father. Now he is sweet and salty. And he’s renewed with this newfound passion.

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I resent that my friends are gone, and I also hate that I have those feelings. I don’t want to be the guy who judges or resents my friends for their choices in the mountains because I know how it feels to be judged for decisions I’ve made in the mountains. Somehow death makes these feelings inescapable.

Clichés like “they were just following their passion” are what we all say in moments of loss and tragedy. Of course, that is just bullshit.

There is this dual nature of sublime meaning and utter absurdity in climbing mountains. Sending harder, bigger, more badass routes won’t make you a better, more humble, more gracious or happier human—yet we often approach those mountains like they can. There is no glory, no real answers, in sending and summits, yet we organize our entire lives around the myth that there are.

On the other hand, I’ve also experienced how mountains strip us down to our true selves. We see who we are, and we see who are partners really are, and they see us back. Kyle was one of those people who I got to see. This is the stuff that could never be conveyed on Instagram. It’s one reason why alpinism yields such complexity beyond summits.

Climbing can be an incredible catalyst for our growth. But I am beginning to realize that there’s a certain danger in making climbing the singular focus of your life because it can actually limit the opportunity for growth and reflection if you don’t stop, pause, breathe, and reflect.

El Gigante remains an important part of my life, not because of the climbing or the send, but because of the connection the four of us made on that wall. What I struggle with most is that I didn’t see the importance of this route till now.

 

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Hayden KennedyHayden Kennedy is one of the foremost climbers of his generation. His resume belies his 27 years, and he has established some of the more significant alpine climbs of the decade, including a new route on the south face of the Ogre in Pakistan (and third ascent total of the infamous peak) with Kyle Dempster and Josh Wharton; a new route on the east face of K7 (with Urban Novak and Kyle Dempster); the first “fair means” ascent of Cerro Torre’s Southeast Ridge with Jason Kruk; and the first ascent of “Light Before Wisdom” on the east face of Cerro Kishtwar (6,173m) in northern India with Urban Novak, Manu Pellessier, and Marko Prezelj. He’s also climbed 5.14 trad and 5.14c sport. He grew up in Carbondale, Colorado, and currently lives in Bozeman, Montana. You can’t find him on Instagram or Facebook.

update:

It’s with great sadness that we must report that Hayden Kennedy and his incredible girlfriend Inge Perkins died on October 7.

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Pretty Strong http://eveningsends.com/pretty-strong/ http://eveningsends.com/pretty-strong/#comments Tue, 29 Aug 2017 18:31:07 +0000 http://eveningsends.com/?p=8510

Several years ago, my old buddy Colette McInerney was going through a bit of a tough period, wondering what to do with her life. We were having a heart-to-heart about life, relationships, creativity, freelancing, climbing—all the things that we love and that we consider being our core passions in life … But also they’re sometimes […]

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Several years ago, my old buddy Colette McInerney was going through a bit of a tough period, wondering what to do with her life. We were having a heart-to-heart about life, relationships, creativity, freelancing, climbing—all the things that we love and that we consider being our core passions in life … But also they’re sometimes the very things that cause us the greatest sources of frustration and anxiety.

Finally, I just asked her directly, “What DO you want to DO with your life?”

Colette thought for a split second, then said: “I just want to travel around the world, go climbing, and make photos and videos.”

Sure enough, that’s exactly what she did.

And it’s what she continues to do.

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Colette is a true visual artist who has a unique eye for beauty, patterns, and all the really cool tiny details that often just go unnoticed. Like tens of thousands of others, I enjoy following Colette’s work and travels on Instagram. “Where is Colette now?” I often find myself wondering before opening Instagram. Sure enough, I’m usually surprised to see her in some new location–climbing, traveling, shooting photos and videos. Exactly like she said she would.

Colette and her three creative partners at Never Not Collective are working on a film about “all your favorite climbing chicks in one place.” They’re calling it “Pretty Strong.” And they’re looking for help to  Kickstart the film and make it a reality.

 

I’m truly looking forward to this film for several reasons. First, there are a ton of great women out there climbing really hard, and to see them all in one video, crushing routes and boulders, is going to be super inspiring. It’s especially cool that this film is being made by women themselves. There has been a notable lack of female filmmakers in the adventure realm. “Pretty Strong” is going to be a welcome and long-awaited addition to the genre of climbing and adventure filmmaking.

Mostly, though, I’m hyped to see my friend Colette finding her voice, and directing her immeasurable talents into something that has been a passion of hers for as long as I’ve known her. If you have some extra dollars lying around, please consider supporting this project.

All photos by Colette

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Outdoor Brands Cautiously Wading into Politics http://eveningsends.com/outdoor-brands-cautiously-wading-into-politics/ http://eveningsends.com/outdoor-brands-cautiously-wading-into-politics/#comments Thu, 24 Aug 2017 17:39:52 +0000 http://eveningsends.com/?p=8503

Like some liberal arts grads, I don’t technically use my degree in my so-called career. I have a BA in politics, but I’m a writer, dammit, and I write about rock climbing. I spend my days making to-do lists, drinking way too much coffee, and procrastinating doing any kind of meaningful work by hang-boarding and […]

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Like some liberal arts grads, I don’t technically use my degree in my so-called career. I have a BA in politics, but I’m a writer, dammit, and I write about rock climbing. I spend my days making to-do lists, drinking way too much coffee, and procrastinating doing any kind of meaningful work by hang-boarding and making loaves of sourdough bread. The good days are the ones in which I manage to stay off Twitter for an hour or two to punch out few hundred shitty, inadequate words.

Over the years that I’ve been penning climbing commentary, anytime I’ve drifted down a political tangent, inevitably the first comment my story receives is:

PLEASE JUST STICK TO CLIMBING, NOT POLITICS!

(All caps, all the time, of course.)

I get that sometimes you just want to enjoy your climbing media the way you’d enjoy a romantic dip in a natural hot spring, and that bringing up politics can be akin to finding a turd floating in your pool.

Unfortunately, life isn’t turd-free and the turds certainly aren’t cleaning up after themselves.

Only the privileged have the luxury of not considering the political aspects of a discussion, any discussion, even about climbing. Politics are responsible for the roads you drive to reach the crags you enjoy. Politics are responsible for protecting the parks and public lands you visit for climbing. Politics are responsible for the air you breathe, the water you drink, and the freedoms you enjoy that allow you to while away months of your life in the frivolous pursuit of ticking routes.

Now, with a government that is actively working to dismantle all environmental protections, reduce access to our public lands, exploit natural resources with virtually all of the spoils going to an entrenched aristocratic class of families and monopolies hell-bent on turning our democracy into an oligarchy, and reduce the freedoms of those who have less privilege, wealth, and are of a different (non-white) heritage, talking about politics in climbing is, in some ways, all we should be talking about.

It has been encouraging to see many companies in the Outdoor Industry begin to slowly, tepidly wade into the proverbial turd-filled morass and begin to flex their political might on important environmental issues.

The most notable example of our industry getting political was when the Outdoor Industry Association pulled its bi-annual trade show (and $45 million in direct annual spending) out of Salt Lake City over Utah’s Republican-led government’s opposition to the newly minted Bear Ear’s National Monument, an Obama declaration in the waning days of his administration.

This past week, both Patagonia and The North Face also entered the political discussion.

The North Face launched a campaign titled “Walls are Meant for Climbing,” which is clearly, though not explicitly, a reference to Donald Trump’s campaign promise to build a “magnificent” wall along the U.S.-Mexico border that Mexico would pay for—except for the fact that Trump has stated this week that if Congress can’t figure out a way to secure the funds from tax payers for this $20+ billion racist monument, then he would shut the government down.

The press release for the TNF initiative states that the “campaign aims to spark conversation about building trust and community around—and beyond—climbing walls.” TNF is making a $1M donation to The Trust for Public Land to support public climbing walls in more communities, with a focus on underserved areas and making the sport more accessible to all.

Also this week, Patagonia, in a $700K ad buy, released a new radio and television ad that targets Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who is currently reviewing all national monuments to determine whether parcels of these publicly-owned and protected properties ought to remain publicly-owned and protected or if they would, in fact, be better utilized by private interests.

Today, he announced that several of these monuments do indeed need to be downsized, though what that means is currently unclear.

Patagonia, of course, is no stranger to getting political thanks to its founder Yvon Chouinard, who really pioneered a business model that proved that a company can be socially and environmentally responsible—and profitable.

As I wrote earlier this year, as most celebrated the Bear’s Ears designation, “If you think that Bear Ears, or our oceans, or any of our National Parks are ‘forever protected,’ it’s time to think again. These are all just proclamations on pieces of paper. They mean nothing. The real power is found in our collective vigilance. This is a responsibility we can’t ignore. It’s time to get motivated and carve off a little bit of that legendary climber stoke that we all have, and dedicate to fighting battles in a never-ending war.”

Let it be said: the opinion that a piece of climbing commentary should be entirely apolitical is a weak and indefensible argument reserved for chuckleheads wishing to drift through life easily, comfortably, and without being reminded that their silence, inaction, and willful blindness is a form of laziness (at best) and irresponsibility that inevitably empowers the forces antithetical to their existences in the long term.

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel said, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

It’s good to see companies in the outdoor industry bringing politics to the forefront. It’s also good to see climbers like Alex Honnold not shy away from taking firm positions on important issues. I hope that everyone goes even further. After all, saying that we should try to keep lands public, and the environment clean are softball positions to take. It’s like saying “racism, in general, is bad” in the aftermath of Charlottesville without assigning blame to the true oppressors. Strong language gets “political,” but strong language is sorely needed. Selling “Walls are Meant for Climbing” t-shirts and totes are totally fine, but it dances around an issue in order to not be too offensive. To not get too political.

Not getting political is a luxury I believe we no longer can afford—not the climbing industry (public lands), not the skiing industry (climate change), not the kayaking industry (clean protected waters).

I’m encouraged by what I already see taking place, and I hope to see companies and star athletes who are willing to the voices of strong, political messages continue to speak up, and receive our strong support in return.

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Fear and Judgement in Risk and Death http://eveningsends.com/fear-and-judgement-in-risk-and-death/ http://eveningsends.com/fear-and-judgement-in-risk-and-death/#comments Fri, 11 Aug 2017 20:09:04 +0000 http://eveningsends.com/?p=8492

Death visits Mount Everest each season with the reliability of a monsoon, and this year was no different. What was different was the ironic nature of the deaths on Everest in 2017. On a mountain where inexperienced climbers routinely die, it was actually the mountaineer with the most experience, skill, and talent who died first. […]

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Death visits Mount Everest each season with the reliability of a monsoon, and this year was no different. What was different was the ironic nature of the deaths on Everest in 2017. On a mountain where inexperienced climbers routinely die, it was actually the mountaineer with the most experience, skill, and talent who died first.

Ueli Steck, perhaps the best mountaineer in the world, fell on April 30 during solo acclimatization run up Nuptse, a 7,800-meter peak near Everest. Steck had originally planned on acclimatizing on the normal Everest route, but for whatever reason, he changed his plans last minute and headed to Nuptse, leaving at 4:30 a.m. Steck climbed to an altitude of 300 meters below the summit. Various climbers in the area reportedly saw Steck fall from this position, ultimately tumbling around 1,000 meters down the mountain.

The exact cause of his fall remains unknown, although the circumstances of his fall do seem odd. How could this have happened to someone like Ueli Steck?

The response to his death was largely one of deferential shock. “I had not expected that, at age 40 and with his enormous level of mountaineering experience, he would fall at this point in his career,” said Reinhold Messner in an interview. “He was someone who knew exactly what he was doing.”

It’s a haunting thing to consider that even the best among us aren’t protected from bad luck or, worse, human error. Still … luck (both good and bad) is pretty rare. And as Messner seems to be pointing out, for someone of Steck’s caliber and experience, human error seems even less likely.

We may never know what happened to Ueli Steck, high on Nuptse, but I do find it interesting to consider the disparate and often dishonest narratives that emerge in the wake of a climbing tragedy. When it comes to making sense of senseless death—and really, aren’t all climbing-related deaths “senseless” in hindsight?—what we’re “allowed” to say publicly is often very different from what we tell ourselves privately or whisper in confidence to those whom we trust.

A few weeks after Steck’s death, a strange report emerged about how a group of guided climbers, apparently on a budget commercial trip, were found dead in their tents during a period of good weather.

Before any further details had emerged, various climbers, guides, and pundits preyed on this story as if it were delicious carrion, using it to launch the usual salvos of criticism against Everest culture that date back to Into Thin Air. Mostly, folks attacked the unregulated commercialism on the mountain, as well as the inability of the climbers themselves to to honestly balance their ambitions with their skills.

The problem was, the story turned out to be bullshit. No one died that week on Everest, and it’s still unclear how this story made its way onto the international news wire. The story began to change. First, bodies in a tent were found, but they were subsequently presumed to be unidentified remnants of a past season. Then, it turned out maybe no bodies were found and the whole thing was perhaps just a morbid oxygen-starved hallucination.

Yet, it could have happened, which certainly helps explain the reaction to the fake news story.

“Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.” Haruki Murakami, one of my favorite authors, wrote that beautiful sentence.

Indeed … just as there is ugliness in life there is ugliness in death, too. Just as we hold people to double standards in life, so too do we in death. “Celebrity” climbers we revere often are excused from the kind of postmortem autopsy of ambitions, skills, and decisions that others receive when they die doing the exact same sport, albeit at a lower level.

I wonder why?

Maybe that’s the wrong question, though. Maybe the question isn’t why the double-standard, but why do we feel the need to weigh in on any fellow climber’s death? Perhaps the answer is that we seem to want to give outsized meaning to someone’s life, especially when that someone is an idol. On the other hand, we also seem prone to turning the deaths of those who we don’t feel particularly connected to into opportunities to make ourselves feel better or more secure about our own life.

Who knows? I’m as guilty of all of this as everyone else. But I will say that the canonizations that take place for our best and most beloved fallen climbers often feel as dishonest as the judgments and criticisms that befall those are held to different standards.

So, with that, I leave everyone with this poem from Langston Hughes:

Life is for the living.

Death is for the dead.

Let life be like music.

And death a note unsaid.

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The Life and Climbs of Voytek Kurtyka http://eveningsends.com/voytek-kurtyka/ http://eveningsends.com/voytek-kurtyka/#comments Thu, 10 Aug 2017 15:05:42 +0000 http://eveningsends.com/?p=8470

“Alpinism is the art of freedom,” wrote Voytek Kurtyka, the great Polish alpinist who redefined the limits of Himalayan climbing and exploration in the 1980s. Voytek is perhaps best known for his alpine-style first ascent of the Shining Wall on Gasherbrum IV with Robert Schauer in 1985. Their harrowing ascent had them climbing right at […]

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“Alpinism is the art of freedom,” wrote Voytek Kurtyka, the great Polish alpinist who redefined the limits of Himalayan climbing and exploration in the 1980s.

Voytek is perhaps best known for his alpine-style first ascent of the Shining Wall on Gasherbrum IV with Robert Schauer in 1985. Their harrowing ascent had them climbing right at the edge of life and death over days. As details of their experience slowly emerged, the mountaineering community collectively gasped. Their ascent has since been dubbed the “climb of the century.” Over 30 years later, the route itself remains unrepeated. Voytek called the Shining Wall “the most beautiful, mysterious ascent of my career.”

BookMysterious is indeed a good word to describe the rather private Voytek. Which is why I was so interested to hear that the acclaimed author Bernadette McDonald had scored a beautiful, mysterious prize of her own: the definitive biography of Voytek Kurtyka. “Art of Freedom: The life and climbs of Voytek Kurtkya” has just been released by Rocky Mountain Books in the USA and Canada and Vertebrate Publishing in the UK.

I reached out to Bernadette to hear more about how her book came to fruition. She also agreed to share a couple of excerpts from her book, which in part tells the story of Voytek Kurtyka and Jurek Kukuczka’s first ascent of the southwest face of Gasherbrum 1 (aka Hidden Peak).

Jurek was Voytek’s exclusive partner during the years of 1982-1984, a productive period in which the two climbers climbed Broad Peak’s west face, the southwest face of Hidden Peak, a traverse of Gasherburm East to Gasherbrum II, and a first complete traverse of Broad Peak.

Jurek and Voytek, as we see in McDonald’s excerpt below, had somewhat opposite personalities that seemed to contribute to both their success as well as create occasional conflict. Jurek was aggressive and driven; Voytek prudent and flexible.

They often left Poland without even having enough money to reach their final destination, resorting to clever solutions to reach the Himalaya, where they spent weeks at a time in utter solitude and exultant ascent.

Please enjoy, and be sure to pick up a copy of “Art of Freedom” here.

Why were you drawn to write a book about Voytek?

Bernadette-McDonaldBernadette McDonald: During my research for “Freedom Climbers”, my book about Polish climbers, I interviewed a lot of accomplished alpinists. Polish alpinists from that generation were the best in the world. Voytek was one of the most renowned of that group, and his climbs in the Himalaya and the Karakoram were certainly reason enough to focus on him. But a much greater motivation than his climbing achievements was his way of thinking. Voytek is a highly intelligent, constantly searching, endlessly curious individual, and his thoughts and attitudes about climbing, life, love, spirituality, and friendship were intriguing. He is also an extremely private person, so the effort of trying to understand him was an appealing challenge. All of these were contributing factors.

During this process, what did you learn about Voytek that was surprising?

BM: There were a number of surprises. Although I knew that he wasn’t a religious person, I was surprised at the vehemence of his disdain for traditional religious practices and, in contrast, his deeply spiritual nature. And although I also knew that he was an extremely creative person, I was astonished at the complexity of his ruminations on creativity and the importance of it to his life—and in his view, all life. Finally, the depth of his feelings for his climbing partners, the joy and the pain of those relationships, was quite revealing.

Why is Voytek’s biography important to read now, in 2017?

Voytek’s story is unique because it’s about Voytek, but the struggles and challenges and life-changing decisions that he has had to make, based on what life’s circumstances placed in front of him, are relevant to all of us. He grew up in challenging political times, in difficult financial situations, with complex personal relationships. He experienced both failure and success; he felt sorrow and joy; he made some great life choices and some that brought him pain. But he never lost his appreciation for the beauty that can be found everywhere; even, as he puts it, in the weeds by the side of the road. There is something hopeful about that.

Voytek_portrait

***

“Lost and Found on Hidden Peak”

An excerpt from Bernadette McDonald’s new book “Art of Freedom

Voytek’s plan for the Gasherbrums wasn’t turning out as he had intended.

The 1983 trip was meant to be with both Alex MacIntyre and Jurek Kukuczka, to create a remarkable trio of complementary characters. Voytek had always marveled at Alex’s imagination in the mountains, as well as his pre-climb strategy: drink heavily the night before. Alex seemed to approach all the great events in his life with a hangover, reasoning that the mass destruction of brain cells prior to climbing at altitude left fewer of them to be destroyed by the absence of oxygen during the climb. Voytek took such delight in Alex and his crazy ideas.

They had shared a lot in the mountains. “For Alex and me, alpine style meant a way of life and a state of consciousness that allowed us to fall in love with the mountain and, in consequence, to trust our destiny to it—unconditionally.”

Voytek had even written about Alex’s unique qualities in Mountain magazine: “Will I ever see you again? Oh yes, in a week I’ll see Alex with all his dominating tranquility and confidence, which, when I look back through my mountains and even more through my anxious returns to the plains, I was always so lacking and longing for. I’ll see him again and he’ll make me believe for a while that I can seize this tranquility again.”

When Alex was killed on Annapurna, struck by a falling stone, the expedition dwindled to two: Jurek and Voytek. But this unlikely pair was a formidable team. They had already proven themselves on Makalu and Broad Peak. They managed to coexist for weeks in the Himalaya, like an “old, comfortable couple”, as other climbers observed. They shared small tents on their airy bivouacs, cooked and ate together, and managed the stress of altitude and risk. Voytek was the “idea guy”, whereas Jurek brought confidence and strength. They never seemed to talk but always seemed to be in touch.

Voytek laughed as he reflected on their differences. “When I was in pain all over, I would notice Jurek showing some small signs of suffering. When I was already deeply afraid, Jurek still did not feel any fear for a long time. When I experienced dreadful fear, Jurek was only slightly worried.” Voytek’s meticulous planning and strategy balanced Jurek’s more spontaneous and aggressive approach. Voytek’s slender frame and his technical climbing skills complemented Jurek’s remarkable strength and endurance. “Jurek was the greatest psychological rhinoceros I’ve ever met among alpinists, unequaled in his ability to suffer and his lack of responsiveness to danger,” Voytek said. “At the same time, he possessed that quality most characteristic to anyone born under Aries—a blind inner compulsion to press ahead. Characters like that, when they meet an obstacle, strike against it until they either crush it or break their own necks.” Those who observed them in the mountains called their partnership “magical.”

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Gasherbrum II, 8,034 meters, Karakoram, Pakistan. New route on the South-East Ridge, alpine style, by Voytek Kurtyka and Jerzy Kukucka in 1983. Voytek Kurtyka collection; route outline by Piotr Drozdz

The Gasherbrum group comprises six peaks encircling the South Gasherbrum Glacier in Pakistan’s Karakoram mountains. Gasherbrum I, sometimes known as Hidden Peak, is the highest of the six peaks, at 8,080 meters. It was first climbed in 1958 when Nick Clinch led an American team to the summit. Afterwards, border disputes between India and Pakistan closed the area to expeditions for many years. Then, in 1975, Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler made an alpine-style ascent of Gasherbrum I, without supplemental oxygen, and established a new standard in Himalayan climbing. The same year, Wanda Rutkiewicz led a team up 7,946-meter Gasherbrum III, making a first ascent of the highest unclimbed peak in the world at that time.

Gasherbrum II, the second highest in the Gasherbrum group, at 8,034 meters, is an even more angular piece of geometric perfection than Gasherbrum I and was first climbed in 1956 by an Austrian team. Voytek and Jurek were going to the Karakoram for both Gasherbrum I and Gasherbrum II. And they intended to climb them both by new routes.

They arrived at the India–Pakistan border, their truck fully loaded with barrels of food and climbing equipment. Hidden among all this was an illicit cargo of thirty-six bottles of whisky, which they planned to sell. They knew the routine: roll up to the border, breeze through Indian customs, drive through a 200-meter no man’s land, unload the trucks, reload the barrels into a Pakistani truck and, finally, pass through Pakistan customs.

Voytek had spent long, tedious hours packing the hidden contraband in the barrels. “We were in a cheap hotel and the temperatures were high,” he said. “There was no air conditioning, only a fan. We were sweating like wild dogs. Really horrible. So it wasn’t easy to pack them. I painstakingly put every bottle either in a sleeping bag or in a bag stuffed with socks and soft clothing. Then I placed them at the bottom of the barrels.” Most of the barrels were “clean,” but three contained twelve bottles each. Jurek had watched in amusement (and with some impatience) while Voytek swaddled the precious bottles and distributed them among the three barrels, all carefully marked for easy identification and placed at the back of the load, should there be any problems at the border. They weren’t concerned about getting out of India; it was entering Pakistan that might be tricky.

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Voytek Kurtyka and Jerzy Kukuczka Gasherbrum 1 base camp in 1983. Voytek Kurtyka collection.

Their truck crawled up to the Indian border crossing. It was a sultry day; the sun hung heavy in the muted sky. The Indian customs agent was suspicious and surly. They were stunned when he ordered them to unload the truck for inspection. Voytek protested. “Come on. We are leaving your country, not entering it.” The agent mumbled something about just following orders. After a somewhat cursory glance into the top of each barrel, he ambled over to his commanding officer and reported that all seemed okay. The officer snapped at him, accused him of shoddy work and insisted he do it all over again.

Voytek and Jurek had already reloaded the barrels but now realized that the inspection was not over. Voytek’s hands were sweating, and Jurek felt queasy. Whisky was not considered “necessary food provisions”, and it certainly didn’t qualify as climbing equipment. Jurek walked around the front of the truck, sat down on the ground and lit a cigarette. Traveling with them to base camp was a trekker; the man walked off in terror, convinced he would spend the rest of his life in an Indian jail. To calm himself, he had some tea.

Voytek refused to help the border agent. “I was thinking, no, I will not help them. ‘Sorry, sir, it is very hot. It is too much for us. Open them yourself.’” The forty-something, balding agent opened each barrel in the first row and inspected the contents piece by piece. “He was ruining my packing job,” Voytek remembered. “I thought he would give up after a couple of barrels. It was more than 40 °C and he was sweating like crazy.” When the inspector finished the first row, Voytek began to repack the entire mess, confident that the ordeal was done.

“Next row, please,” announced the inspector.

Trying to hide his impatience, Voytek remained calm and answered,

“Of course. Please, enjoy.” He described the scene: “I noticed that Jurek was now on cigarette number three. The trekker was on his third cup of tea. I was sweating and the customs guy was dripping.”

“Next row,” demanded the agent.

“Really? If you want it, go ahead,” Voytek gasped, throwing up his hands in frustration. Piece by piece, the customs agent examined the barrels in row three. Then he demanded row four.

Directly behind row four was guilty row five. “I knew what was in it,” Voytek recounted. “What to do?” He came up with a risky scheme to surreptitiously exchange the row-five barrels with the already-inspected barrels sitting outside the truck. He became helpful again, hoping to confuse the agent with his eager co-operation and to bury him in senseless details. “I began explaining things to him. These are shoes, this is a stove, a sleeping bag, these heavy tins are meat.” During all this, Voytek managed to slip one of the “dirty” barrels to Jurek to place outside. Incredibly nervous, Jurek returned to the front of the truck to smoke. He knew there were only two barrels left in the truck and they were both dirty. Puff. Puff. Puff.

Voytek turned back to help the customs agent. “I was taking out the sleeping bag wrapped around the whisky. I carefully placed it down on the truck so it didn’t clink like glass. I explained to him that this was my clothing; this was my equipment.” The agent nodded in approval and moved on to the last barrel. Voytek was so tense he felt ready to explode. The veins on his forehead bulged as he lifted each sleeping bag packed with whisky as if it were a newborn child wrapped in swaddling clothes. Gently, almost tenderly, he removed the sacks of heavy socks and climbing pants, all hiding whisky.

Miraculously, the bundles remained intact.

He glanced around at Jurek and saw that his package of cigarettes was finished and his face looked slightly green. The trekker, his face flushed, was completely out of tea. The weary customs agent declared the inspection over and staggered off.

***

They reached base camp at 4 p.m. on 3 July 1983, having completed the first traverse of Gasherbrum II, and the first traverse of multiple peaks at that altitude—all done in alpine style. Voytek explained why it had been so appealing: “A high-altitude traverse is the essence of adventure. You can hardly invent a more unpredictable kind of venture in alpinism.” They felt in top form to tackle Gasherbrum I.

Voytek and Jurek settled in to wait for good weather. They waited some more. Twenty days of snow and cloud. Their only entertainment was the purple-black ravens circling overhead and begging for food. Voytek was eager to maintain good relations with the ravens, and they were swimming in extra food, thanks to the Swiss. So he fed them. The ravens seemed particularly fond of noodles and ham, but they waddled away in disgust from any offerings of porridge or cornflakes. As the good news spread, ravens arrived in flocks, hopping around camp with their ungainly stagger, squawking to each other and waiting for their daily treats. Voytek would take out a three-kilogram tin of Polish ham, cut it into pieces and toss them out to the ravens, who would swoop in and grab them. The birds were so greedy for the ham that they almost choked on it. It was a great diversion and helped pass the time. Voytek felt a strong connection to those beautiful and intelligent birds.

But Jurek wasn’t happy. “Voytek, I know you are not listening to me, but I can’t watch what you are doing,” he complained. “I know we don’t need this ham, but to treat the food like this, to throw it to the birds, this is not the proper way. This is wasting food.”

“But Jurek, we have so much food. There is no better way,” Voytek responded. “Do you want to leave it here to rot? The Pakistanis won’t take this ham. You know they won’t. It’s against their religion.” Jurek understood the logic, but he was troubled by Voytek’s lack of respect for the food. Particularly the ham. Voytek relented and stopped throwing ham. The ravens waited, staring at him. The boredom grew. Eventually, the two climbers retreated into their respective tents. Voytek read. Jurek slept. They emerged for meals together and waited for the weather to turn.

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Porters on the way to the Gasherbrums in the Baltoro, 1983. Voytek Kurtyka.

One day British climbers Doug Scott and Roger Baxter-Jones arrived for a visit. They were climbing over on K2 and needed some company while they waited out the storms. Voytek and Jurek were happy to accommodate them, whipping up fine meals of odd combinations from the Swiss and Polish food supplies: sardines with cheese sauce, chocolate fondue, bacon with potatoes. When the British guests left, Voytek and Jurek were left to themselves again. They took turns preparing meals, and the increasingly complex and bizarre menus became the focal point of each day. Despite all the good food, Jurek was losing weight. In contrast, Voytek was gaining weight, losing his edge. He felt as heavy as a sack. He would need a few hunger days once the climb was over to regain his desired strength-to-weight ratio. “Spending a lot of hours in the kitchen,” Voytek wrote in his journal.

The snow and rain continued.

When Voytek first wrote about those long weeks in camp, his words sometimes expressed deep despair. “Totally alone and isolated on our moraine we suffered twenty days … empty and dreary days.” But there is a flip side to bad weather that most climbers, including Voytek, will acknowledge: meditative days spent relaxing with little stress. “Learning a language, reading, trying to think about writing, literature, but not a single beautiful sentence comes to my head … thinking about home … ” he wrote.

When they could no longer tolerate the inaction, Voytek and Jurek carried supplies over to the base of the face of Gasherbrum I. They had just dropped their loads and were about to turn back to base camp when a horrifying, muffled sound emerged from the mountain. They watched as two enormous ice avalanches swept down the entire length of the face and across the cwm to the foot of their intended route. Clouds of snow billowed up like an atomic explosion. Then the mountain lay silent, dusted in white. Shaken, they trundled back to camp, where the memory of the avalanches conjured up alarming visions of suffocation, falling, burial, death. Voytek’s journal revealed his dark thoughts: “Air pressure falling. Today I’m thinking more about descending than climbing. Fearing the wall. I’m afraid of the lower cwm. Giving up.”

On 17 July the air pressure soared, the temperature dropped and the sky cleared. Their optimism soared, too, but despite the good weather, they were on high alert, psychologically and physically. Voytek and Jurek spent the next day fretting. There was so much to consider: the deadly cwm, the treacherous snow conditions, the avalanche hazard and the summit rock barrier. On 19 July they woke at 2 a.m. The stars were obscured by cloud, and it was warm (–3 °C) and a bit windy. They gave up and returned to their tents. When they woke up later that morning, the sky was bright and clear, with perfect visibility. The temperature had cooled and the air pressure had risen. In other words, the conditions for climbing were perfect. To ease their guilt at not having started earlier that morning, they broke trail through the snow to the foot of the wall, saving time for the next day.

Voytek_Kurtyka_Evening_Sends-3

Voytek Kurtyka approaching the rock barrier on Gasherbrum I on the first day of the climb. Jerzy Kukuczka, Voytek Kurtyka collection.

Excited and anxious, they considered their options. In only two days the porters would arrive to break camp and carry their equipment down. Could they climb Gasherbrum I by a new route and descend to base in two days? Definitely not. Leaving their camp unattended was risky; they both knew that. And if the porters arrived at an empty camp, they would likely assume the climbers had been killed on the mountain. They would leave, and Jurek and Voytek would be stuck with all their gear, or worse, without any gear at all, depending on the porters’ moral compasses.

Voytek hustled over to his tent and hunted among his books and papers.

He grabbed the largest piece of blank paper he could find, marched away from the tent and studied the face. He sketched a rough drawing of the mountain and then placed two stick climbers on the face with arrows pointing to the summit. Surely the porters would understand this. No, he shook his head in frustration; it wasn’t clear enough. He added five more stick figures at base camp with arrows pointing to the kitchen tent. Now they would understand that they were supposed to stay and wait, using the kitchen tent for shelter. Confident that the message would be clear, Jurek and Voytek placed a large rock on the drawing, carefully buried their passports and money, and loaded their packs.

They set out at 3.15 a.m. on 20 July. At 5.30 they arrived at the base of the cwm. No ice avalanches, no snow avalanches, not a breath of wind. The silence felt ominous. They stared up at the ice cliffs and towering séracs leaning above the cwm that they needed to traverse. Voytek later described their decision: “We switched off our brains and moved steadily into danger. Ten minutes later we emerged.”

Starting up on steep snow and ice, they soon encountered a rock barrier that blocked access to the upper mixed ground of the summit wall. They called it the Fork. Up until now they had made good progress, but this pitch of grade V slowed them down. The next morning they emerged into a dazzling scene of snowfields and towering ice séracs. The sun hammered down. The silence deafened. They tested the snowpack with one foot, then another. It was inconsistent, collapsing in places, holding firm in others. To avoid the huge, unstable wall of snow, they moved closer to the left-hand pillar, where their crampons scratched against the rock. It was impossible to develop a rhythm on this awkward terrain. Still, their spirits were high, and Voytek felt as free as the ravens playing in the thermals overhead. He felt encouraged by the ravens – almost protected. Voytek and Jurek tunneled and navigated a route up through the sérac barrier until they reached around 7,200 meters, where they found a reasonable spot for a bivouac. Tomorrow would be summit day.

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Voytek Kurtyka on the summit of Gasherbrum II East, 1983. Photo: Jerzy Kukuczka.

They arose at 2 a.m. on 22 July, cooked two pots of tea and crawled out of the tent at 5.30. The miraculously calm weather was holding. A pastel dawn crept across the upper slopes of the mountain while the valleys below remained cloaked in darkness. After crossing the upper snowfield, they reached the greatest unknown of the entire climb: the highest rock barrier. They opted for a line slightly right of center but neither felt confident it would go. After just one pitch of climbing, they knew they wouldn’t finish before nightfall. Frustrated, they stopped and set up a rappel to return to their last bivouac. Jurek went first. When he was down and off the first rappel, Voytek began. Suddenly he heard Jurek cursing loudly. Voytek glanced down and, out of the corner of his eye, spied one of his own crampons tumbling down the slope. Disaster! They limped back to the bivouac, Jurek belaying Voytek most of the time and Voytek relying on a single crampon for security.

Once at the bivouac, the severity of their situation set in. They were high on the South-West Face of an 8,000-meter peak. Steep, complex terrain lay between them and the base of the mountain, and downclimbing it with one crampon was a terrifying prospect. The summit was within reach, but that would require even more finesse. And to add to the stress, they knew the porters were probably already at base camp, waiting for them. Unexpectedly, Jurek offered a solution that seemed to completely ignore their precarious situation but that appeared reasonable enough to him. “We can get to the top tomorrow by traversing to the right to the South Ridge,” he assured Voytek.

“With one crampon? I don’t think so.”

“Hmmm, that’s a problem, all right. Well, I’ll go to the summit alone. You can stay here and wait for me. No problem. I’ll take the rope with me to the summit and then tomorrow we can go down. I’ll help you with the descent.”

Voytek couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Jurek was going to leave him at 7,200 meters on the South-West Face of Gasherbrum I with one crampon and no rope. What if Jurek fell? He would be abandoned on the mountain with no way of escaping. As the hours passed in their little tent, Voytek’s emotions vacillated from annoyance to bitterness to a sense of total abandonment. Finally, feelings of anger emerged to help him make the final decision. If he was going to be abandoned here, he would rather die in an even more dangerous situation, but at least together with his partner. He calmed himself and announced, “No way, Jurek. I’m not staying here alone. Okay, if you want the summit so badly, I’m coming with you.” Jurek shrugged his agreement.

They rose early the next morning and began traversing much lower than their previous line. Jurek was out front. Suddenly Voytek heard an alarming scream. He yelled up. “What?! What happened, Jurek?”

“I found it. Your crampon. It’s here.” Jubilant cursing followed as Voytek caught up to him and reattached the precious crampon. It had fallen around 500 meters but had miraculously caught in the snow. Fully cramponed now, they angled over to the South Ridge and continued up the steep, rocky and confusing terrain, which was partially covered with loose, unconsolidated snow. They reached the summit at 2.30 p.m.

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Daily Stoke: Chris Parker’s Cliff Notes http://eveningsends.com/daily-stoke-chris-parkers-cliff-notes/ http://eveningsends.com/daily-stoke-chris-parkers-cliff-notes/#comments Fri, 21 Jul 2017 08:15:44 +0000 http://eveningsends.com/?p=8443

Music is the partner we all need, in climbing, road tripping, and life. And I couldn’t imagine a better partner to take with me on the road this summer than “Cliff Notes,” a new album from my good friend Chris Parker, a singer-songwriter who also currently works at Black Diamond Equipment.     “Cliff Notes” […]

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Music is the partner we all need, in climbing, road tripping, and life. And I couldn’t imagine a better partner to take with me on the road this summer than “Cliff Notes,” a new album from my good friend Chris Parker, a singer-songwriter who also currently works at Black Diamond Equipment.

 

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“Cliff Notes” is at once soul-searching and soul-satisfying music, rooted in passion and the vertical west. These songs will most likely speak to a time and place in every climber’s life that will stir the heart—hopefully, for you, that time and place are now.

cliff notes cover artThe album officially drops on iTunes and Spotify on July 26, but it should be up already. Check out the embedded link for a sample, and follow Chris on Spotify and Instagram.

Also, if you’re going to be at the OR Trade Show next week, Chris is doing a live performance on July 26 at the BD happy hour.

Make sure you support an incredible musician and member of the climbing tribe!

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Is Alex Honnold’s El Cap Free-Solo the Greatest Sports Achievement—Ever? http://eveningsends.com/is-alex-honnolds-el-cap-free-solo-the-greatest-individual-sports-achievementever/ http://eveningsends.com/is-alex-honnolds-el-cap-free-solo-the-greatest-individual-sports-achievementever/#comments Sun, 04 Jun 2017 20:46:54 +0000 http://eveningsends.com/?p=8410

Alex Honnold’s plans were no secret. We all knew free soloing El Capitan had been on his mind since the beginning of his climbing career; we just never knew when or even if this crazy idea might ever become a reality. At 9:28 a.m., Saturday, June 3, 2017, Honnold succeeded in free soloing El Capitan, […]

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Alex Honnold’s plans were no secret. We all knew free soloing El Capitan had been on his mind since the beginning of his climbing career; we just never knew when or even if this crazy idea might ever become a reality.

At 9:28 a.m., Saturday, June 3, 2017, Honnold succeeded in free soloing El Capitan, becoming the first person ever to do so. His ascent of the 3,000-foot Yosemite monolith via Free Rider (5.13a) took 3 hours 56 minutes, but the actual feat itself was over a decade in the making. It involved thousands of hours of soloing on easier terrain. Thousands of hours of training and pushing himself sport climbing. And countless hours of visualizing what it might actually be like to head up on El Capitan with nothing more than a pair of shoes and a chalk bag.

 

A post shared by Jimmy Chin (@jimmy_chin) on

For many climbers, particularly Honnold’s closest friends, the news of his audacious feat was met with a breath of relief that Honnold had actually survived. That quickly gave way to complete and utter astonishment. Already, I’ve seen climbers anoint this El Cap solo as the greatest achievement in sports—ever. But is it?

The answer, probably, is yes. Though to limit it as an achievement only within the world of “sports,” I think, is far too restrictive. First, it’s hard to even to call free soloing a “sport.” There are no other sports in which the penalty for even the most modest of errors is certain death.

Honnold’s progression to this point is as much a part of the story as the ascent itself. Now, in retrospect, it all seems premeditated in a sort of genius way. In 2007, a quiet kid from Sacremento, his face always partly shrouded by a hoody, burst onto the climbing scene by repeating the greatest free-solo of the 1980s: Peter Croft’s link-up of Astroman and the Rostrum. In 2008, Honnold free-soloed the Moonlight Buttress in Zion National Park, a feat that by itself would’ve cemented his legacy as the greatest free soloist of all time. Later that year, he soloed Half Dome. Then there was Sendero Luminoso in El Potrero.

Each of these ascents was a milestone. What’s most incredible is to now view them not only as milestones but stepping stones.

“For me, free soloing is all about preparation,” Honnold wrote in his book Alone on the Wall.

Indeed. How many times did Honnold climb Free Rider in preparation for this solo? Unlike Moonlight Buttress, a route that Honnold has never fallen on, the Boulder Problem pitch of Free Rider has spit off Honnold repeatedly. It’s an insecure V7 crux, 1,700 feet up the wall.

What was the moment that made him realize he could climb through these moves with enough certainty to justify the risk? After how many times of rehearsing the route?

And how many hours did Honnold spend thinking about free soloing El Capitan over the last 10 years? Visualizing each and every move.

The answers to these questions would be as utterly glib as asking Michael Jordan how he knew he’d hit a game-winning shot. Some things can’t be described. In fact, this interview with Honnold more or less proves this point.

The idea of being ropeless 2,000 feet up El Capitan is something many climbers have pondered while resting in El Cap meadow, smoking weed, and staring transfixed up at the granite monster towering over them. For most, those moments were nothing more than ass-puckering fantasies that would spur uncomfortable fits of laughter. For Honnold, it was a serious project to be tackled.

Most climbers might describe the idea of free-soloing El Capitan as being a matter of tackling over 3,000 feet of insecure climbing. I can almost guarantee that Honnold looked at it much differently. He most likely saw just three insecure moves on the Boulder Problem pitch—the rest of it, meanwhile, was far more confidence-inducing climbing. This may explain why these ascents are, in Honnold’s mind, “no big deal.” He meticulously breaks them down in such a way that they aren’t (for him).

One way to measure the greatness of any sporting achievement might be to consider the amount of time that passes before it’s achieved again. New world records are set in virtually every single Olympics. Every year brings new sports stars who stand on the shoulders of those who came before them. Look at someone like Usain Bolt, who has a dominant record in the 100-meter dash that might last for generations. The difference is, lots of people can run the 100 meters (albeit not quite as fast as Bolt).

Honnold, meanwhile, is performing in an event that no one else is even qualified, much less willing, to participate.

I can’t be sure, but I have a hunch that Honnold’s legacy will stand for a very, very long time. Which is one reason that I personally hope he now takes a step back from free soloing in the way that Peter Croft did—if only to reexamine any motivations for continuing. That Honnold has never struck me as particularly attached to outcomes or driven by ego inspires confidence that he’ll enjoy the next 80 years of adventure.

Above all, what I’m left with, like most climbers, is a sense of complete and utter astonishment. I find it remarkable to experience such genuine astonishment in 2017, a dark year by many accounts but also an era in which it sometimes feels like we’ve seen it all. I’m taking this weekend to appreciate the fact that we just lived through history and witnessed one of the most incredible performances of all time.

We’ve all stared up at stars, and wondered what’s out there in the universe. It takes a once-in-a-generation visionary to figure out how to actually go there.

Honnold’s El Cap free solo transcends all sports. It suffuses a higher, more ancient realm in which our greatest virtues as human beings are often contained by our oldest and deepest fears. This solo was a moment in which those virtues triumphed. As a result, to witness this moment, to be a part of this community, and to feel deeply inspired by what Honnold achieved, somehow, it feels like we all triumphed, too.

Check out the exclusive story in National Geographic, and stay tuned for a feature film from Jimmy Chin.

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Joe Kinder’s Hardest Route Yet http://eveningsends.com/joe-kinders-hardest-route-yet/ http://eveningsends.com/joe-kinders-hardest-route-yet/#comments Fri, 19 May 2017 21:38:37 +0000 http://eveningsends.com/?p=8395

I loved this video about my good buddy Joe’s efforts to take down Bone Tomahawk in the Finn Cave somewhere out in the middle of the Utah desert. It’s always interesting to me how the process of climbing a project is circular and repetitive, like a hallucinogenic fractal that we live in and find ourselves […]

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I loved this video about my good buddy Joe’s efforts to take down Bone Tomahawk in the Finn Cave somewhere out in the middle of the Utah desert. It’s always interesting to me how the process of climbing a project is circular and repetitive, like a hallucinogenic fractal that we live in and find ourselves somehow unable to ever escape. Yet, each time, it’s somehow different and special.

At the very least, hope this video gets you psyched to climb this weekend. It’s hard to believe this rock isn’t in Europe …

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