I don’t even know how to start this article. I have worked so hard for so long at an array of different sports. I picked up climbing fairly late in life(my mid twenties) but my experience with this unique sport has been some of the most powerful in my entire life. Most people don’t realize this about me but I have performed many sports at an elite level including downhill mountain biking and skiing. I don’t consider myself a natural athlete either. In every sport that I have excelled, I had to work my ass off to get there. For every athletic accomplishment I have ever achieved in my life, I had to work year after year after year to achieve a goal. Perhaps, this is what has made my pursuit of rock climbing at the highest level so gratifying. In downhill mountain biking, I lived in Whistler, British Columbia and was proud to call myself a bike-park local. I tore it up for many eventful summers, both good and bad(injuries). Many people would be stoked just to get down a trail like Whistler’s famous A-line, which is one of the most famous jump trails in the world with over 200 hundred GIANT man-made jumps in a trail that took about 5 minutes to ride. The jumps were so big that they would boost you a solid 6 feet in the air, basically enough height to clear a normal size adult, not to mention doing it all fed on gravity at speeds approaching 40 miles per hour or more. This was the essence of downhill mountain biking.
I was good, really good. Riding A-Line, a trail most people just struggle to get to the bottom of in one piece, was quite a wild ride for me. I could not only boost enormous heights off some of the most pristine mountain bike jumps that the world had to offer(Whistler is ranked the #1 Mountain Bike Destination in the World) but I could also throw tricks into the mix. There is nothing like shredding down a trail on a $5,000 bike with the skills to match, twisting and turning your bike in any position I saw fit. That is of course, until you crash. In all honesty, I didn’t crash very much, but when I did, it was epic. Epic to the point of broken bikes, broken bones, broken teeth and completely flattened seven hundred and fifty dollar wheel-sets. You name it; I did it. I remember the first time I busted my teeth out(Yes, as in I have done it more than once) hitting a 40 foot step up gap in a remote part of Nevada outside of Las Vegas in an area called Bootleg Canyon. Come to find out, finding emergency dentistry at 5 pm outside Las Vegas was like finding gold treasure buried in your front yard.
Skiing was another sport I pushed the limits of for many many years.. Fully sponsored and living in Jackson Hole, I lived to go fast and get big air. Skiing was something I was really good at and in reality, it’s where my fuel for adrenaline all started. At the age of 16, I threw my first helicopter(360 degree rotation in the air). At age 21, I was ripping mogul lines at Winter Park faster than most ski racers could ski down a groomed run. By my mid twenties, I was throwing backflips off 50 foot cliffs in the Jackson Hole back country representing the Liberty Ski’s Pro Team. I had some pretty epic experiences to to say the least; that is until stuff started going wrong. And when your pushing the limits of a sport, things do go wrong. In a single ski season, I manged to fly off a 40 foot cliff and break a full face moto helmet in 2 pieces. In that same crash, I lost both my ski’s, both my poles, a glove and the carnage path down the side of the mountain looked like something out of a Quentin Tarantino film. I don’t know how else to say it, I got fucked up. That toboggan ride by ski patrol was one of many I had in my life. That same winter, my friend Ben that worked with me at the Snake River Lodge was ripping down a snow filled powder run when he struck a stump underneath the snow, shattering his femur into a dozen pieces. He was out of skiing for many seasons to come. Another friend, Trevor Hiatt, was pushing the limits of aerials up in Alaska and managed to come up short on a 100 foot blackflip only to break virtually every bone in his face. All this happened in a single span of a few months time. But it really didn’t hit me until my close friend Justin Kautz was killed in the Jackson Hole back country on a day I was supposed to be with him. Funny how the loss of such a close friend will change your perspectives on things. Justin was amazing and a person I will always have respect for. This guy would point his ski’s towards some of the biggest cliffs in the United States and just send it. Pretty damn impressive!
Close to the time I ended my skiing career before I was killed, I picked up climbing. A new gym called Enclosure had just opened in Jackson Hole and I started spending more time in the gym than I did on the ski slopes. Honestly, it was an easy transition into a sport I was unfamiliar with. I was light and strong and very determined, a recipe that would result in climbing at a very high level many years down the road. Only for climbing, it wasn’t just about being strong and fit. Like most sports I have competed in, it took a lot of years to hone my skills. Now, nearly 5 years after dedicating my entire life to the sport of climbing, I can say that I have “somewhat” succeeded. Climbing is a sport unlike any other I have ever done. It can be so frustrating and so gratifying all in the same breath. With the grading designation given to climbing(called the Yosemite Decimal System), which is a peculiar way of grading each route, it is easy to measure progress. Years and years have gone by and my progression has been nothing short of pure excitement. I remember every step along the way like it was just yesterday.
I remember top-roping a glassy 5.9 at Ralph Stover State Park in Pennsylvania in my Reebok Pump’s, which is one of my first climbing experiences in life. I can remember people yelling over from the party next to us that they needed to “Get that kid in climbing shoes!”, referring to me and yelling over to my father. I can remember leading my very first route outside, a 5.10c at the Sport Park, a place notorious for being super soft on the grades. My friend Josh who took me climbing for my first outdoor/lead experience, was blown away by the fact that I casually sent my first lead outside, a 5.10 at that. Josh is now a fully certified Canadian rock climbing and skiing guide in British Columbia. I remember my first 5.11a, first 5.11c, first 5.12a. etc. The progression has been memorable, and perhaps that what’s make climbing and grades so significant. It’s not about what other people climb, its what YOU climb. Consistently climbing harder and harder grades is nothing short of lighting a fire under your own ass, to try harder and train more. And light a fire it did…
And than there is the training. And lots of it. LOTS! I have calculated that in the past 7 years, I have spent 36,400 hours either climbing or training for climbing, to the non-math wizard including myself, that’s an average of 5 hours a day 5 days a week for 7 straight years. I wouldn’t be surprised if the number was higher. 36,400 hours of training over the last 7 years has allowed me to progress at a level I couldn’t even comprehend just a few years back; and let me tell you, the ride has been absolutely unforgettable. I have shed blood, sweat and tears for the last 7 years. I have climbed all over North American in Mexico, Canada and the United States. I have spent thousands of days cragging from sunrise to sunset. I have climbed in the coldest of conditions that were virtually unbearable to some of the hottest days in the United States. Climbing at the New River Gorge in 105 degree heat in the thick of summer will always stand out. I have trained until my fingers bled, and then trained more. I have climbed straight through the shoe rubber on my expensive climbing shoes, to the point of needing resoles or new shoes every 30 days. I can remember having an epic on Time Wave Zero down in Mexico, which is the longest sport climb in the world at 2,300 feet. We started too late, didn’t pack enough food or water and decided to do it on a day that was way too hot. We made it about 1,800 feet before giving up. We were no where near the summit and it was completely dark. 5 hours and the “Rappel from Hell” ensued. I still laugh about that one. I have climbed limestone, sandstone, granite, gneiss and all combinations there of. I have spent thousands of hours sleeping in the dirt, taping tweaked tendons, and tying the beloved climbers “figure eight” knot. I have gone from projecting routes for months and months and months to sending that same route 10 times in a row with relative ease.
5.14, the ever elusive grade of the elite. Funny thing is, if your not a climber, understanding this grade is like trying to read Japanese. Most will never understand. But to a climber, 5.14 probably means a little more to them. All I can say is I now know what it takes to get to this level. Years and years of dedication. The route, called Thunder Muscle 5.14a, after the U.K. energy drink, seemed to fit its name quite well. From the second you leave the ground to the second you clip chains, power defines this route. The moves are very difficult and for about 60 feet of the route, it’s just totally in your face. Your body position has to be impeccable. Your footwork has to be flawless. Your finger strength has to be iron clad. The clips are extremely difficult. The moves are even harder. You have to be able to boulder really hard(cruxes are probably in the v8 range) and the bulk of the boulder problems are back to back, meaning you can’t rest. Other than a slopey jug at half height, most holds on the route just plain suck. In a nutshell, climbing the meat of Thunder Muscle is like doing a 60 foot V7 boulder problem with some 5.12- section to start and a 5.12c sequence gaurding the chains. Thunder Muscle is nothing short of BURLY. I have watched some of Colorado’s strongest climbers get a total beat down on it.
Climbing Thunder Muscle(5.14a) on the South Face of Seal Rock is about as hard as the climbing will get for the smallest percentage of overall worldwide climbers. For me, it’s not just a number, or a name of a route for that matter. Its about a journey that has taken me many years to achieve, a level of difficulty I NEVER thought I would reach. And, for the record, it has been a memorable one. I have fought so hard, trained so hard, bled so hard, and shed so many tears to get to where I am at today. I have worked my ass off since day one to get to this level.
Wow, climbing has been an unforgettable experience, climb after climb and memory after memory. It has been an unforgettable ride and one that if it were over tomorrow, I would be completely satisfied with what I have accomplished. I am so proud to have sent my first 5.14 and to enter into what many would call the “elite”. I can only wonder whats next…