El Cap is Big and Cars Suck

By | Climbing, Food for thought, Musings | No Comments

El Capitan is big. I am qualified to say this, as I’ve spent countless hours standing about a half-mile from the base of this greater-than-half-mile tall sheet of granite. To look up and see the top, you must look past 45° above the horizontal. It feels unnecessarily big, almost rudely big. It’s like a shark, or love, or a drug trip: all the documentaries, books, and TED talks in the world will leave you no better prepared to experience it firsthand. A part of you is upset because no one told you it’d be this big. El Capitan is so big that our problems become equally small; they nearly disappear. It’s as though we’re all unified by the challenge of understanding the absurdly big thing in front of us. Tourists will approach and ask one or two of the “standard questions*,” and more often than not we will wind up standing next to each other in silence. Had the inventors of our language, the Shakespeares and the Websters and the like, visited Yosemite Valley, we might have the lexicon to discuss it properly. Or not…its bigness may have overwhelmed our wordsmiths as well. I don’t, however, hold the English language responsible for our inability to come to grips with El Capitan’s size. The fault lies with our culture, and its mandate to categorize and value anything that can be named. El Capitan has no value and defies categorization. It is art, it is love, it is the solar eclipse, it…

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Oh, the Fun You’ll Have

By | Adventure, Birthday Challenges, Climbing | No Comments

My favorite book is, unquestionably, The Phantom Tollbooth. In it, the Whether Man wisely suggests that Milo “hope for the best, expect the worst, and be unsurprised by anything in between,” or something to that effect. This year, my Birthday Challenge was an absolutely perfect illustration of this. Actually, it wasn’t a proper challenge, just a Birthday Pretty Hard. Life’s been busy and unpredictable enough that I didn’t have the time or inclination to concoct a massive challenge, but I knew I wanted to do something memorable. Since we’re living in Yosemite, doing the Tenaya-Matthes-Cathedral linkup seemed perfect. The day before my birthday, I drove up to check the snow on Tenaya. It looked like the route was still climbable despite two patches sitting on the buttress, but I wasn’t sure, which made me suddenly very anxious. On top of that, I didn’t know who would be joining me for the day, I hadn’t been training much, I hadn’t been living at altitude, and I planned to do the whole day in my approach shoes, and without a rope. A few friends were driving up from the Bay Area, but would be moving more slowly because they weren’t soloing, and it seemed I might be doing most of day by myself. That would’ve been fine, basically a scaled-down version of my challenge last year, the WURL, however I was hoping to be able to share the stoke (and the route-finding) with someone. I’d attempted the linkup 7 years ago or so,…

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Yosemite’s Newest Climbing Stewards

By | Ethics, Trip Journal | No Comments

Greetings from the village formerly known as Curry in the majestic Yosemite Valley (not to be confused with the Majestic Yosemite Hotel©, which in turn is often confused with the Yosemite Valley Lodge©). The signs now say Half Dome Village, though I’ve yet to meet a park resident who calls it anything but Curry. Why am I here? I’m tempted to answer in glib, flippant, twisted Cartesian logic–because I think I’m here–but the informative answer is that we are Yosemite’s newest Climbing Stewards, volunteers working as para-rangers under the tutelage and supervision of the unsung granite ninja, Eric Bissell. We’re 3 weeks into a 15-week stint in the Park. Bridge shifts are our main responsibility. Every day from 12:30-4:30pm, we set up telescopes and informational boards at the El Capitan Bridge, and invite tourists to “Ask a Climber.” Truth is, I enjoy these shifts. We stand in the shade and talk about our favorite activity, punctuated by dips in the Merced river. Sometimes, climbing celebrities show up, or climbers who’ve just returned from a big wall. The other day I watched someone lead the Great Roof through a telescope. We naturally get the same several questions several times a day – How long does it take? Do you need a permit? Is this the one that free climber did in 4 hours? How do I get back to my car? – and trying to describe where on the wall the telescope is actually pointed can get tiresome, but these are the only…

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A Jumbo Passion Project

By | Bolt Clipping, Climbing, Film, Food for thought | 3 Comments

The climber, facing away from the wall, gingerly peers over his toes to watch his sky-blue T-shirt flutter to the ground. He takes a deep breath, then turns in place on the 4-inch ledge on which he’s been standing. Now facing the wall, he unclips from the anchor and begins a precarious rightward traverse. 15 delicate feet later, he clips the rope into a quickdraw more in line with the rest of the bolts. He draws another deep breath, and pulls into the start of a 110-foot long roof. So begins my absolute favorite segment of climbing footage. It doesn’t evoke the adrenalized, finger-tingling, animalistic urge to grab something overhead and freakin’ pull down like most videos of hard climbers climbing hard. It’s more like a good surf film, in which a fragile human is calm and poised amidst the violence and chaos of forces we can’t comprehend. It’s simultaneously serene and exciting, and I can’t look away. He’s nearly horizontal, but his face is completely relaxed. He doesn’t seem to be climbing so much as gliding between ripples in gravity’s field, now relaxing and taking a breath as the next hold makes its way to his hand. He is a virtuoso and the rock is his sheet music. We don’t listen to the notes, we feel the movement swell. The camera follows the climber, uninterrupted, for about 30 minutes. I’ve watched it countless times, and on every occasion I feel transported by the rapture of a perfected performance. It features a…

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The CIA, Affirmative Action, and a #&@% Video Shop

By | Adventure, Film, Musings | No Comments

Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, there was a video shop in Isla Vista, CA that catered to the students at UC Santa Barbara. It was called @*&# Video Shop and Climbing Boutique, was owned and managed by Steve Edwards, and served as the de facto epicenter of a nascent Santa Barbara climbing community. It was a time before the ubiquity of cameras, which presents a challenge: Steve’s video shop is a central element in the story, but we have almost no footage or photos from the interior. It will be difficult, even with several people’s descriptions, to get the special quirkiness of the place across. In our interviews, several people have mentioned the ads that Steve put in the Daily Nexus, UCSB’s student newspaper. I popped over to the Nexus archives yesterday to look for these ads, of which I found a couple, and I had a somewhat mind-bending experience, leafing through yellowed, ancient copies of a paper that I used to read daily. I found that, in some ways, nothing’s changed. In some ways, the world is a very different place. Mostly, I found that flipping through 8 months of newspaper headlines in 2 hours is a very disorienting experience. This was all before the internet delivered everything. It’s pretty wild to think about the ways in which the classic video shops of the 80s and 90s are obsolete. VHS tapes, the “adult” section behind the curtains, underemployed young people discussing cinema. Instead, we now have streaming…

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Do We Even Climb, Bro?

By | Adventure, Climbing, Trip Journal | No Comments

I could’ve sworn this was going to be a climbing blog… Way back when, it was all we wanted to do. Now it feels like, when we write, it’s about bullshit, injuries, or not climbing in world-class destinations. We still live on the road (mostly) and we still climb, it’s just different now. I’d say we’re transitioning into a more mature relationship with climbing. For one, the injury thing is a big thing. I don’t mind a fun run up an easy route, but I have trouble staying motivated if I’m not feeling continuous improvements in strength or technique. To paraphrase Wolfgang Gullich, the trouble with getting strong is that it’s easy. Getting strong and staying healthy is, as they say in Spain, the dura dura. What this means is, our shoulders are niggling, so I’m taking it back to the basics and doing a round of the Workout From Hell. Vikki’s doing PT, and she wrote a great series of blog posts for Touchstone’s blog detailing her shoulder-journey, soon to be published. We feel much better, although it sucks to think that we’ll always be “injured.” For two, the month of March was total madness. Las Vegas > Bay > Eugene > Portland > Bay > Santa Barbara > Las Vegas > Salt Lake City > Ketchum, ID > Bay > Santa Barbara. All by car (thanks, mom, for letting us borrow the Prius, saving tons of monies! Incidentally, I can’t wait to drive the F-250 right up to the Keystone…

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A Dispatch From I-15N

By | Adventure, Birthday Challenges, Film, Trip Journal | No Comments

It’s spring, but it feels like summer. I’m in the passenger seat, Vikki’s keeping the white lines on either side of us, Salt Lake City is in the distance and getting closer while Las Vegas recedes in the rearview. I’m thinking about how complex and multifaceted people are, and how simple we are as well. We’re so befuddling that we don’t even really understand ourselves. But on the whole, we are a predictable species with buttons that, when pushed, create pretty standard reactions. When pricked, we bleed. One person who was simply befuddling, was Steve Edwards. The dude’s been on the mind lately. That’s because we’re putting miles on my mom’s Prius, chasing down the last few interviews for the project. At some point, we’re going to have to condense some 40 hours of interviews, plus a mélange of archives and recently produced footage from a couple of Big Days in the Wasatch. When we finish condensing, we should have a portrait of a man who would navigate the line between light and dark like a möbius strip, who traveled through life like it was a bike park. To Steve, pain was something to take pleasure in, failure was to be celebrated, and obstacles like conflict and contradiction were nothing more than enjoyable, technical terrain, more opportunities for fun. Steve simply saw the good in everyone and found enjoyment and humor in any situation. Seems easy, but it ain’t. If it were, we wouldn’t need so many interview subjects. Wicked. And I…

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The Proudest Peaks

By | Adventure, Photo, Trip Journal | 4 Comments

We just got back from Patagonia, where we spent a week trekking around with my rather badass family. The trip actually centered around my dad’s 70th birthday, and it’s fair to say that the hiking docket would be impressive for most people, especially someone who learned how to walk back in the late 1940s. I mean, he’s no Jack Lalanne, although, I suppose he would probably stand a decent chance at doing some part of Jack’s 70th birthday feat. My father’s an obsessed masters swimmer as well. It’s weird that, aside from a few highly scenic, unnamed moderate boulder problems, The RV Project’s first visit to Patagonia didn’t involve any climbing (or climbing photography) to speak of. Also, I’m sure most readers of this blog will relate when I say I chuckled a bit when my mom, during the planning phase, asked if I had ever heard of El Chaltén… “no mum, is that in Spain?” Anyway, I probably don’t have to tell you that the vistas around Torres del Paine and the Fitzroy Massif are incredible. Yosemite has big granite, but it’s also in California. That’s not a knock on California per se (although we could discuss at length the Disneyification of national parks until the walls fall down), except to say that there’s something even more special about a place it takes 36 hours to get to. The final tallies of the trip included roughly 50 miles of hiking, gaining a solid 12,000 feet of elevation. The legendary Patagonian…

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I Don’t Write Enough for Myself And I Bet You Don’t Either

By | Adventure, Film, Musings, Trip Journal | No Comments

One of the RV Project’s favorite people, Flannery Shay-Nemirow, had a blog called Recounted Experience, and she used the following quote from Jean-Paul Sartre as a tagline: “For an occurrence to become an adventure, it is necessary and sufficient for one to recount it.” I liked that quote, although I didn’t think about it much. It just sounded good. The quote reminds me of the famous declaration, attributed to Socrates, that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” This is another series of words that sounds like a truism, though, again, I don’t think I ever knew exactly why it struck a chord. The following quote from an article in The New Philosopher addresses the extreme position Socrates is taking: In a world of abiding uncertainty and complexity one can recognize a certain attraction in not examining too much, for too long in life. Thus the allure of those who offer to provide clear answers, simple directions, precise instructions (whatever) so that you may set aside examination and merely comply, or unthinkingly follow custom and practice – perhaps living a conventionally moral life rather than an examined ethical life. One can easily imagine how pleasant an unexamined life might be. And it is for this reason that I think Socrates makes his claim so uncompromising. Flannery doesn’t update her blog anymore, sadly, but the aforementioned quote often pops into my mind when I feel the need to process some happenings, and recount them properly. Recounting 4 years ago, I put painful abrasions in my armpits by…

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Be Careful with Your Bullshit in the New Year

By | Ethics, Musings | One Comment

I confess that, despite it being a significant part of my job, I strongly dislike social media. I don’t think it’s all bad, of course, but I do believe social media companies profit handsomely by exploiting the fallout of humanity’s less desirable tendencies. High on that list is the tendency of people to create and engage with hyperbolic, irresponsible, and unimaginative bullshit. Don’t get me wrong. Bullshit can be awesome. Many of my strongest friendships were forged in the flames of rapid-fire bullshit that happened to be clever. Most movie plots are utter bullshit, and great fun as well. Bullshit pairs well with bourbon. And it is still the preferred method of dealing with awkward interactions at forced gatherings such as weddings and holiday parties.  I’m protesting the type of hyperbolic, irresponsible bullshit that leads otherwise caring people to throw up their hands during election seasons. This is weaponized bullshit, bullshit with an agenda, bullshit dragged kicking and screaming into the public discourse, bullshit dragged from the bar, dressed as substance, and shoved on stage in a serious role. The type of bullshit that springs from a dull imagination and robs us of words like “literally,” because a large number of unimaginative assholes couldn’t figure out any sexy ways to exaggerate their stories. Or “epic.” If you had to fix a flat tire on the way back from Bishop last weekend, you did not “have an epic.” The Donner Party epic’d. You dealt with a minor inconvenience. Similarly, can we please not…

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