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adventure

The Risks We Take

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The Risks We Take

“I’m not going to go.”  My stomach flip flopped as Paul finished his sentence.  “The last couple days helped me decide. I’m going to stay here.” Paul had just gotten down from multiple days and nights on El Capitan, and he was telling me that he had decided to nuke his plans to go on a climbing expedition in Pakistan in the summer.  It was a gorgeous May morning in Yosemite.  Our friend Jess Roskelley had died in an avalanche on Howse Peak less than a month ago.  

Paul and I in El Cap meadow after a (for Paul) sleep deprived night on the Captain.

Us not climbing, or running, but blissful.

Fast-forward to July 11.  Paul and I both have tears in our eyes as we embrace tightly at the airport in Denver.  The luggage cart next to us is overloaded with two oversized duffel bags and smaller carry-on. “This is going to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” says Paul. He isn’t talking about the climbing he’ll be doing in Pakistan, but about leaving me for seven week. I pull him closer. 

Life is a risk.  You never end up regretting the things you do but the things you don’t do. Decisions should be based on love not on fear.  So many platitudes to go around.  

The real question is: how do you decide between pursuing a potentially risky trip to a place you’ve wanted to see for decades - the type of trip that is woven into the very fabric of your identity - on one hand and on the other hand having found bliss in low-commitment adventures and daily life with the partner you love? It’s a question that Paul and I debated a lot: each of us individually, consulting friends and in conversations with one another. 

We found an answer: Paul is on his way to basecamp in Pakistan as I am writing this.  To have an incredible alpine climbing adventure, I hope; even though deep down I know that a big part of his decision to go was so he could give me space to pursue my own big mountain running projects. The decision to go was anything but clear cut.  

Long runs = big time.

Doing hard things is character building.  Suffering is privilege.  Time apart makes time together that much more valuable. More platitudes. 

We’re independent.  We both charge hard, and we’ve spent longer chunks of time than this apart.  Hell, I left Paul ten days after we got married to walk across the Colorado Plateau for a month all by myself. And yet… this feels different.  

Maybe it’s because this time I’m the one who is staying ‘at home’ (though not really - I’m going to run the Ultra Gobi in China while Paul is in Pakistan… but I’m not leaving for a few more weeks). Or maybe it’s because Paul was on the fence on whether he really wanted to go or not, and the risks involved in remote alpine climbing are all too real.

Me on the Hayduke shortly after Paul and I got married

Paul on recent day of carefree alpine cragging in Chamonix

I do know one thing: as excited as I am for Paul to finally get to climb in the Karakoram, and for me to run far in amazing places… I am even more excited at the thought of Paul’s return to Colorado in late August. Happiness is only real when shared!

If you want to see where Paul is and/or exchange (free) messages with him via his Garmin GPS, you can use this link: https://www.clmbrlifr.com/gps.

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Waaah!

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Waaah!

Sometimes, life is beautiful.  Actually - scratch that.  Most of the time life is beautiful!  But sometimes it's just particularly perfect.  For me, and for my better half, that particular kind of perfect is something we most often go to seek (and find) in the Utah desert.  But little did I know that the 2018 desert season opener was going to have a special surprise in store.  

Sun, sandstone and awesome car camping - happiness

A short six hour drive across the Rockies is all that separates Paul and me from what sometimes feels like our second home, the vast expanse and beautiful towers and cliffs and mesas of the desert that sprawl for miles - hundreds of miles, depending on which direction you're going - around Moab. We love the desert so much that we made the long drive on eleven different weekends last spring; not great for our carbon footprint (though at least Paul had a hybrid Toyota Prius for most of the season) but splendid for the soul and for adventure climbing, too.

It's no surprise then that, once I returned from my latest multi-month high altitude stint, the desert was #1 on Paul's and my weekend wish list.  It took us a few weeks to make schedules work but one early Friday afternoon in March finally had us westbound on I-70, ready to cross over snowy Vail Pass in order to chase sunshine and warm rock in the Utah desert. 

It was long dark by the time we reached camp on Friday evening, and we made quick work of setting up the tent and seeking warmth in our sleeping bags.  Saturday morning rolled around in exactly the way that we had hoped for: sunny with pleasant temperatures, and not another soul in sight.  Paul and I have a tradition for desert camping by now: start with coffee, add bacon and eggs and top it all off with camp mimosas.  It's both decadent and dangerous, because by the time we're done feasting it's often a challenge to rally for the transition from comfortable camp chairs to steep trails and sorta-heavy packs. 

Paul aka @clmbrlifr - always strong, always stoked for climbing <3

Well.  This time wasn't much different, but the weather was splitter and so were the cracks. Long story short: we did rally and started the thirty minute approach to our familiar crag.  A gentle trail gradually steepens into an unpleasant scree scramble which leads straight to a ten-foot vertical cliff band that is surmounted with the help of a fixed rope.  Right above the fixed rope, the terrain flattens out onto a beautiful terrace before the final steep ascent up to the base of the crag.  I was a minute or two ahead of Paul, who was carrying a quadruple rack (the joys of desert crack climbing), all the way to the top of the fixed rope where I waited briefly so we would finish up the approach together. 

It seemed to me that Paul was having to work harder for the approach than he typically does, and I couldn't quite tell if I had simply gotten faster from my high altitude work or if Paul had slowed down from prioritizing bouldering over cardio exercise while I was gone.  Once he caught up to me at the top of the fixed rope we started hiking across the flat terrace, me still in front; just a few steps later Paul veered off the trail towards the edge off the terrace and said "Hang on - I want to take a break. I need to take my pack off for a minute." I was confused; the crag was just another five minute climb up the hill.  Why wasn't he continuing on? I was starting to worry; maybe Paul's fifty-seven years were finally starting to catch up with him... but could he really have lost all of his endurance over the course of those few short months that I was gone? 

I followed Paul off the trail and to the edge of the terrace.  The views were beautiful, yet I was preoccupied thinking about my boyfriend's condition as he proceeded to take his pack off to take a rest.  What was going on?  I too dropped my pack and turned around, looking at Paul quizzically.  He was breathing hard. I put my hands on his chest and felt his rapid heartbeat. 'Oh boy' I thought to myself. 'Getting up here really isn't that strenuous. This is not good.' My face was close to Paul's, and he pulled me in for a kiss; a second later, he dropped to the floor.  'Ah crap, is he having a heart attack?!' was the immediate thought that entered my mind as he grabbed my hand.  An instant later, I realized that he was kneeling and looking up at me with tears in his eyes. "Suz, you mean so much to me. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want you to marry me." A beautiful, one-of-a-kind silver ring in the palm of his hand. "Will you marry me?" 

And the rest is history.  HELL YES!!

We're engaged!

My super strong rope gun.  No, he was NOT having a heart attack when he took a knee ;) 

Yes, yes we do. 

 

 

 

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Kili #adventuremom (Gallery)

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Kili #adventuremom (Gallery)

Ever thought about going on a crazy adventure with your mom/dad/son/daughter?  There are plenty of horror stories about what can go wrong when you take non-outdoorsy loved ones into the mountains. Ignoring the stories, my mom (65) and I (31) decided to climb Kilimanjaro together - and we had a blast. Just take a look through the gallery below :)

PS... case in point: our trip leader Gavin, who runs the Colorado-based guide service Summit Xperience, brought along his fourteen year old son Max who also did wonderfully well.  
How many Kili summit teams can boast an age spread of 51 years!


Thinking about your own Kilimanjaro climb?  
There are many possible routes and many different outfitters. 
Be aware that any climb of less than 6-7 days is highly likely to produce altitude sickness - fast ascent attempts are the reason that the summit success rate on Kili is only ~40%, even though mountain is easy from a technical perspective.  The Machame route, best done in seven days, covers ~78 kilometers and is considered the most scenic way up the mountain. 

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 Dwarf Tosses and Caked Mud Fireworks

Dwarf Tosses and Caked Mud Fireworks

I love being on the road.  What I love most about it is that #vanlife means I am not keeping a schedule; I have the capacity for spontaneity, and it’s this spontaneity that turns serendipitous encounters into open-ended adventures.  Case in point: a Facebook message from Paul Gagner on a random Thursday in April, inviting me to come climbing (and by that I really mean hump loads and shoot the breeze) with him and his climbing partner Jeremy in the Mystery Towers the following weekend.  Here’s the fun part: I don’t know Paul.  Well, I do, I ran into him once while soloing the Flatirons in Boulder, and I’ve seen him pop up on my Facebook timeline a few times since.  But I really have no idea who he is other than that he likes to put up ridiculously hard, bold aid lines.  So of course when he suggests that I come hang out in the Mystery Towers while he and Jeremy scope a new route, I don’t think twice.  The instructions are simple: “Bring beer and a big pack.” 

In the days leading up to the outing I read up on the Mystery Towers a bit more.  The laconic final paragraph of the area’s Mountain Project description maybe should have warned me: Expect mud or dry mud, advanced and innovative aid, including but not limited to: bat hooks, ring angle claws, beaks and peckers, fishhooks, bugaboos, warthogs, ice axe tosses, dwarf tosses, and general lassoing skills.  Enjoy! I chuckle as I read through the beta and think to myself those timeless, famous last words: “How bad can it be…” 

A few days later I am sitting on one of Eddie the Van's rails at the Fisher Towers Parking lot, a PBR cracked open, monitoring the approaching cloud of dust that marks Paul’s arrival.  The campground is full, the weather forecast looks dismal, Jeremy won’t be showing up for at least another 24 hours, and Paul announces that the objective he wants to go after is a formation called Gothic Nightmare; he thinks that there’s new route potential there. For reference, the Mountain Project description of Gothic Nightmare reads …from the south it looks like a long haired hippie who stuck their finger in a light socket and from the west it looks like a bad, bad tower. 

Gothic Nightmare, with Paul and Jeremy nearing the top of pitch 1. 

Turns out that not only the climbing is dicey; the approach is a bit on the tricky side as well, particularly if you decide to ignore the obvious trail and instead scramble up the decomposing, steep and exposed flanks of the wash that leads into the Mysteries; or if you stubbornly complete a - beer - supply run through flash flood territory in the middle of a rather substantial downpour (thankfully both beer and porter completed the journey mostly unharmed).  

In the end, the weekend comes together as a grand adventure with lots of laughter, improbable placements and new friendships - as well as wonderful inspiration for my own aid and big wall ambitions.  Lessons learned: 

  • Caked mud is an actual thing. It can be climbed. 
  • You can never carry in enough beer.  You might assume a supply of two thirty packs for 36hrs is enough for three people, but really - think again.
  • If you stash supplies because you keep returning to the same project over and over for a number of months, your cache may get looted in-sesason.  If you stash supplies and forget about them, they’ll likely still be there seven (!!) years later… nice work, Jeremy.
  • Fireworks are essential equipment any time you’re sleeping on the wall.
  • You may think ice axe tosses are a joke; they’re not. If you don’t believe me, get your hands on a copy of Eric Bjornstad’s Desert Rock III and take a look at the beta for Wondermonger VI 5.9R A3 on Atlas. The jury is still out on dwarf tosses.
  • Don’t trust any Paul Gagner route that’s said to go at A1+ 5.9+.
  • Bounce-testing is so last year.  Just ease onto it.

No rock was harmed in the making of this climb, as Paul and Jeremy didn’t like thediscontinuity of features on their potential new lines and instead decided to repeat a 650ft A4 route called Nightmare on Onion Creek.  As for myself… I went from the Mysteries straight to Zion to try my hands at a bit of ultra-classic C2 5.7 big wall soloing, decided that bounce-testing was overrated, and promptly went for a massive ride a few hundred feet off the deck that sent me back to Moab with my tail between my legs to rest up for another go at the route. Aid climbers sure know how to have fun!

Sunny's Story

Hi!  I’m Sunny.  I am 30 years old; I am a climber, mountaineer and ultra runner, and I live on the road full-time in search of sunshine and adventure.   

All that is true, but it’s not really my story.  Up until the end of 2015, I wasn’t Sunny; my colleagues and friends knew me as Suzanne (or Suz if we were close).  I was living and working in Houston, Texas, right in the middle of the take-off of a high-octane strategy consulting career.  I have an MBA from a terribly prestigious school; until a few months ago I used to crush it on all the “right” dimensions: acing those tests, landing that job, working my way up the ladder.  Now my home is ~150cft of space on wheels, stuffed to the brim with sandy, muddy gear; I am constantly thinking twice before I spend $5 on a Starbucks coffee or even $1.50 on a truckstop cup of joe - and then usually end up deciding against it. How did all of this happen?

In a way it all goes back to when I was 12 years old and my parents took me to theGrand Canyon for the first time - but that’s going back way too far. Let’s start in my early twenties instead: they consisted mostly of work, bar nights and being a couch potato.  A dear friend and mentor encouraged me to take time off to go traveling before grad school, so I did; with a budget of $5k I covered ten countries in five months.  Coming back from the trip my appetite for adventure had been awakened. I was still mostly a couch potato but learned to climb at the local rock gym during my first semester in business school and quickly fell in love with it.  Mountaineering and ultra running were the result of another extended backpacking trip right after graduation - my first ultra trail was essentially ‘off the couch’ (not something I would recommend), and I somehow even managed to like it enough to come back for more afterwards. 

Fast forward to the last four years - I was working long hours based out of Houston, and gradually came to realize that my true passion has very little to do with business and a lot with being outside, pushing myself and exploring.  On many Fridays and Mondays you’d find me at the airport in shift dress and high heels, still feverishly typing on my laptop, trad rack and climbing shoes slung over my shoulder; I occasionally pulled up to the Red Rocks campground in business attire with a consultant carry-on spilling out of the car - you get the idea. In 2015 I came to the realization that the main reason for why I needed a big paycheck was that I lived in a big apartment in a big city that I didn’t appreciate, and spent lots of money on plane tickets and rental cars to get into the mountains for rushed getaways: once I was out there, I wasn’t spending very much.  I also knew that I would be in a position to pay off my remaining student loans by December 2015, and with that my path was as clear as a yellow brick road - or rather a red dirt trail: save up as much as I could, dare to quit the promising job, downsize, get rid of the expensive apartment, buy a dirtbag mobile, and instead of spending lots of money on plane tickets to quickly get to the places that I cherish… just never leave them. 

That’s where I am today, it’s who I am.  The big question is what’s up next and for now, the answer is simple: the open road, until it stops being fun or my money runs out.  Judging by my first couple months of vanlife I have a feeling that it’ll be the latter!