Sunday, January 8, 2017

Going to Indian Creek

We were on our way to Indian Creek. Excitement was high with Mark and he was so familiar with the place. Where to climb in the beginning and to get in shape for "Tha Creek". 

We were arriving relatively early. Late February and this was good in the sense that we would get a good campsite for our tenure. We were able to get a fairly big campsite in Super Bowl under a gigantic tree that was magnificent to look at. The tree would serve as a great landmark for our stay in Super Bowl and I always found the presence of the tree to be very magical. There weren't many people in Super Bowl campground at that point. There was a guy across the road who had a very long slack line set up with a truck and camper, a couple other people to the west in their lot, and then other transient climbers who would rotate through the other lot. The campsite we had gave us magnificent views of the North and South Six Shooter every day in clear view and if you sit on the little hill by the tree you were rewarded with a beautiful sunrise hitting the six shooters. I felt privileged to be in such a place at that time. 
Being in Indian Creek this early meant we had most of the crags to ourselves and there would be occasionally one or two other parties at a crag. It's been months since Mark had been to Indian Creek and felt like he needed some good warm-ups. So we did the typical warm-ups that everyone does. Binous Crack, Wavy Gravy, and whatever other 5.9 and 10 minus we could do. 
But, I wasn't feeling a lot of confidence. I was feeling physically weak just like my headspace. Thankfully, I had a partner like Mark there to help me and encourage me to keep going. Mark and I had almost a week to climb in Indian Creek on our own and after that we were going to take a break for for five days before we had friends showing up from New England. 
We climbed for about five days till we got exhausted but by the end something else was wrong with Mark. The day before Mark decided to go for a swim in one of the creeks and I opted not to. The next morning we woke up and Mark was complaining that his stomach was hurting really bad. He said he was up most the night with diarrhea and throwing up. I saw him in the morning and he looked like death warmed over. He decided that he was gonna roll out earlier than he had planned to go to town to get some supplies from the pharmacy and then head out to Aspen to see his girlfriend, Jenny. He assured me he would be fine. He left Indian Creek and I followed suit about an hour and a half later. Once I was almost in town I began to wonder how Mark actually was and I gave him a call. He told me he hadn't left Moab yet and said he wasn't going to make the drive to Aspen that night and his Jenny got him a hotel room for the night and was waiting in the parking lot to check in. 
When I met up with him in the parking lot he was very sick. He was sweating and complaining his stomach hurt and just wanted the comforts of a bed and a bathroom. I took his temperature and he had a burning fever of 103 or 104. 
"You should be here be OK for another 20 minutes" and I went to the gear store to get some NUUN tablets for water and to City Market for crackers and cookies. When I got back I prepared him some water, gave him crackers and a few cookies to hopefully try and make him feel a little bit better but there was still about another hour and a half till he can get into the hotel room. I went to the front desk and asked if we could get in a little bit early as my friend was not feeling that good and thankfully the front desk staff was sympathetic enough, we got in earlier than expected. 
I got Mark settled into the hotel room with enough electrolyte tablets crackers and cookies to tide them over for the evening and told him that I'll be around town and close if he needed anything and I check on him in a few hours. He just wanted some sleep and to be alone for a while in the bathroom. 
I went and checked out the town of Moab for a couple hours and came back to the hotel room to check on him. He said he was feeling a tiny bit better but still really couldn't keep anything down. It was better than being in the van suffering and that's probably what you feel better from. I told him I give him another couple hours till I checked on him again. 
When I checked on him the next time we had both decided to make the call that he needed to go to the hospital. He wasn't feeling any better and just wanted to feel good again. We went to the emergency in Moab and waited probably about half an hour and Mark was admitted. I was already keeping in touch with Jenny at this point as her concern was high and she was already thinking about driving to Moab from Aspen. I assured her that I can take care of things from here and if it got really bad then she could come. 
By the end of it all they didn't really know what was wrong with Mark. Mark figured maybe some kind of food poisoning from a jar of Ragu sauce. I said swimming in the creek. 
We left the hospital after he was on an IV for about an hour being rehydrated I took him back to the hotel set him up for the night and I parked behind a Chinese food restaurant to sleep in Moab. When I went to see Mark in the morning he said he was feeling a little bit better good and enough to drive to Aspen to see Jenny. Where he  can be comfortable. I told him to message me when he was in Aspen
I don't know if he'll ever be certain if he got sick from bad food or from swimming in the Creek but when he was in Aspen, he had to see a doctor again there they determined it was Astro virus. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Leaving Las Vegas

"I see Sam's Town now"
Sam's Town
The Killers

Leaving Las Vegas

It was official. I was done with climbing in Red Rock. I was about to leave and I had bittersweet feelings about it. Vegas had been my home now for nearly three months of living in casino parking lots, Target, Whole Foods and wherever else I parked the van was about to end. I was going to move on to new scenery and I was excited the next stop with a short trip trip in Zion before we were headed to Utah. 

I hadn't really decided what I wanted to do with the rest of my trip till later on. Adam was heading out to Montana and Mark didn't have a partner after that. I wanted to keep climbing I wanted to feel prepared for my course and I decided to go to Zion with Mark and after we would head to Indian Creek together. I wanted to learn to crack climb. 

It was the end of February and it's been about eight weeks since I'd seen Toby since I had felt her next to me when she visited me in January around my birthday. The separation was difficult for both of us. More so for Toby. 

Toby was back in Calgary resuming her regular life of going to work, climbing in the evenings, going to the gym and doing what normal people do. I was out running around living in the van, sleeping in parking lots, and climbing tell my fingers bled. 
I was able to keep my mind occupied that way even though it was the nighttime that was always the hardest and that was when I missed her the most. 

Adam and I made our way to Zion to meet up with Mark. Mark had been climbing with a couple of guys from Red Rock we had all met in the campground and he had someone to climb with that knew Zion. 

Zion is a beautiful park. It's big walls. It's beautiful colouring. It's remote feeling. It's wild nature is very appealing. But we had other things on our mind. Mark and I were really excited about going to Indian Creek and returning to finish his projects. I had never been there and knew that the first 10 days are an ass whipping. 

We made the deal to stay one night in Zion and then climb the next day. Adam would be heading to Montana that day as well and since we didn't want to spend a whole day in Zion we selected a route called "The Headache". A 5.10 classic and a good warm-up for what we would face in Indian Creek in the coming days. For Mark the climb was uneventful but for me it was a style that I was not used to and found difficult and physical and was already wondering about what my time at Indian Creek would be like.

Thursday, January 5, 2017


Adam and I had been discussing what to do for the classic Red Rock multi pitch "Epinephrine". Mark had done it already so we got some beta from him, but we also don't want to rely on him for everything. 

Adam and I had enough gear to do the climb comfortably. Some people do it with number 5 cams, some people don't. We were those people who had two number three cams, a number four and everything else we needed below that size. 
You can't fall out of a squeeze chimney, right? 
We figured since both of us were in a weird headspace at the time that going out to do an ultra classic would be good for us. Adam was set on leading the second chimney and didn't really care about much else on the climb. I was fine with doing what ever he didn't want to do. 
Our rough plan was that I would do chimneys one and three and we would figure out the rest after that for the face climbing pitches and the exit pitches. I haven't really done much chimney climbing other than "Grilmair Chimney's"on Yamnuska which in comparison to me is hardly chimney climbing.
The chimneys we would face would be real chimney climbing at the 5.9 grade. After we soloed the approach pitches, we stood at the base of chimney one and looked up at what was ahead of us. There was fear and amazement running through me as I thought of the foresight and courage of the first ascentionists to me was admirable. 
The first chimney to me looked like it was going to be easy. It was tight and I could get in there snuggly and I wasn't about to fall out. I just wasn't sure how is going to protect it. Knowing that we had a big day ahead of us I didn't waste much time. I got the gear, I got in the chimney and it was time to go to work. That's what it was. An arduous process of suffering and strategy. What way would I face my head because once I was in I couldn't turn it I asked myself. 
I remember frogging up the chimney and how tight it was and breathing really heavily fighting myself because of the tightness, but it was a good feeling because I knew I wouldn't fall out. I worked my way up to the pitch to the belay happy to make it up. I belayed Adam up and watched him endure his frustration. At one point he just took his helmet off because he couldn't turn his head anymore. He got to the belay breathing heavily and was happy that the tightest chimney was past us as was I. 
Adam took what I had left of the gear and began up the second chimney and what most people call the crux chimney. Adam had some fear but was ready to face it. He continued up the chimney to the crux section and I could still see him. He said he was nervous and wasn't sure and I encouraged him to just go for it. 
After looking at the sequence for a minute or two he began up and successfully getting through it no problem. He was happy to get to the belay and I was happy for him. I knew how hard he had been on himself and how much finishing that meant to him. We high-fived and bumped fists once I got to the belay. 
As I stood below chimney three and looked at the gaping and huge opening I was getting nervous. In the book it said chimney three had two bolts in it and very little protection but if you look deep in the chimney you can see where people have placed gear and it's gotten stuck. My first instinct was to follow the path of people before me, get deep in the chimney and hopefully be able to protect it. 
I went up deep in the chimney and the climbing was awkward and very difficult. It didn't feel right to me so I down climbed back to the belay and thought of a different strategy. This strategy was to face the valley and to climb on the outer part of the chimney and at the time this seemed horrifying to me. I would see the whole valley and I would see all the way down to the valley floor. I would conquer a lot of fear on this pitch fear of a new style of climbing, facing the opposite direction of what I'm used to and the run out between bolts. Thankfully the climbing went really well and when I got the belay I felt a huge relief and I had inspired confidence in myself. But, the day wasn't over and we still had many pitches in front of us and a walk off. A walk off known to get lost on. 
The climbing in front of us was straightforward at this point route finding was easy, the pitches were not convoluted and the chimney pitches seemed like price of admission for the upper face climbing pitches. The face climbing was beautiful with minimal run out and good gear. We were happy to be climbing together. We were happy to be on the road feeling confident and excited together. 
Things were pretty uneventful on the climb but we did seem to take our time maybe because we were just happy to be out or because we were being cautious. I could tell Adam was getting tired by the end of the day. His sense of direction and motivation we're not what they were at the beginning of the day and I ended up taking the reins and getting us down the walk off safely, but in the dark. It was a long day for us. It was one of those days and those climbs that I was happy to be walking off and be back to the vehicle. 
Once I was back to cell reception and in my van I called Toby to tell her about my day and tell her I was safe. 
I was happy to hear her voice

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Back Home

Things back home between Toby and I were difficult and I had no end date insight. The separation between the two of us was beginning to take its toll. Toby is the president of a company in Calgary in the oil and gas sector and hard times were beginning to come down. 
One of the things I love about Toby is that she is a sensitive, introverted, and empathetic person. Not something you find in many people. She was starting to face the reality that she would have to lay off a portion of the company, which for her or anybody else would not be so easy. The toll of letting people go would be harder on her than other people. 
I remember one day she called me and needed to talk. She was in tears with the thought of having to lay people off. People with families, responsibilities, and had known for a long time. I remember she was crying more than I've heard anyone cry before and was very distraught. I didn't know how to handle her in that state unfortunately. I remember thinking I just didn't know what to do or to say to her. 
I felt like a horrible partner for her. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree was a nice change of scenery for all of us. We had been getting tired of the same parking lots in Las Vegas and needed new parking lots to call home and our new parking lot was the west side of Walmart in Yucca Valley. We were all trying to save some money and staying at Walmart, commuting J-Tree every day made sense. Mark and I also wanted Adam to hang around longer and did what we could to help him stretch every dollar. 
The reason we came to J-Tree was to climb real gritty awful off-widths and in preparation for this, we had bought clothes from Goodwill that we were willing to trash. Not that our regular clothes were that good anyway. Adam and I were still low on our psych so it was good to have Mark around as the guy willing to lead the charge on pretty well everything and put up a top rope. I figured by top roping I could get back to where I wanted to be mentally. Being low on psych also made me want to stay in the US longer as I figured my chances of getting into the program were high and didn't want to have to rebuild myself in Canada in a short period of time. 
Observing Mark every day during climbing and outside of climbing was very interesting. He had a confidence about himself that wasn't arrogant or offensive. Confident but humble all the time. Mark had experienced triumph and defeat many times in his life. He would share stories with me from his youth and high school about his brother about his mom. It was good to hear the stories and I felt like I was really getting to know Mark quite well. 
Adam was different. Adam reminded me a lot of Alex Honnold, a very shy introverted vegetarian who was a walking guide book. He could remember anything about a certain wall that he had read about. Early on, Adam was turning out to be a very strong confident climber from when I found out back in New England. Adam was climbing harder and harder and pushing his limit and beginning to free solo. One day Adam fell free soloing breaking his back and as a result he now has 6 inch rods in his lower spine. This doesn't really have an effect on his climbing ability but he definitely can't bend like he used to. 
The three of us would alternate days of rope climbing and bouldering, doing what we thought would be fun that day. We knew we only had a short period in Joshua tree and only Mark was really concerned with trying certain climbs to test his ability. We were happy to go along and do what he wanted. We would go from crag crag picking off whatever off width we could find for nearly 2 weeks. The highlight of the trip to J-Tree for Mark would be a climb called "Grit Roof". A Joshua tree 11 minus that he flashed. We were all really proud and had what we now we're calling "happy pizza" quite often. 
The funniest part of being in J-Tree was the inverted off-width climbing we were attempting. Getting beta from Joe at Nomad Ventures, we found out about "Man Eater". A J-Tree "10d" that is an inverted start. We didn't have gear big enough to protect the lead but we could access the top to climb it on top rope. An afternoon of yelling at each other to get our asses up in the crack and climb it in the middle of the desert was a hilarious experience. 
The lowest part of the trip was with Adam unfortunately. I felt bad that his psych was so low as he struggled on his objectives. 
But, my psych was still kind of low and I was determined to get it back slowly but surely. I ended my trip in J tree on a "10 minus" finger crack called "Exorcist" which I was proud to send at that point. 
Adam and his time in J-Tree was over and had to go back to Las Vegas for therapy on his leg. Mark and I would meet him there the day after even though Mark had his fill of Vegas and Red Rock and was ready to move on. 
Adam and I on the other hand still wanted to do the Red Rock classic "Epinephrine" We figured it would be a good way to end our trip in Vegas and a good way to finish a climbing partnership since he would be going to Montana to begin his life there and I wasn't sure when we would climb together again. 
Mark would go to Zion since he had friends there to meet up with and I would meet up with him after epinephrine with Adam.
At this time, Toby and I seemed to be talking less frequent. She was busy with work and her life. I was busy with climbing and dealing with low psych and confidence. I was finding it harder and harder to connect with people outside the close circle of friends I had made. I was on a trip and usually you're supposed to be excited on your trip. Often I wasn't. I was feeling forced to climb at times and I was exhausted and I also didn't want to seem ungrateful to people that I was on a trip some people will only dream about. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Going to J Tree

"I feel the heat of your desert heart, taking me down a road that leads back to you"
29 Palms, Robert Plant
I had pretty well been climbing in red rock exclusively since I come to the US and was starting to feel the need for a change of scenery. My friends Mark and Adam were also wanting a change even if it was just for two weeks. 
We decided that Joshua tree would be a good change as the weather was good, there was a Walmart parking lot to sleep in, and a Home Depot you can get coffee at in the morning. This would work out well since Adam was starting to run low on funds and was already thinking about his exit to Montana. 
I was really starting to relate with Adam at this point in the trip since we had both been suffering from headspace issues while climbing, low on confidence, doubting ability, getting scared. We thought going to J-tree could be good for our headspace problems. 
The main goal in Joshua tree was to climb off width since Mark had hurt his finger and could not crimp anything and we figured climbing off width would be a good strategy to ease his finger pain. This was also preparation for Mark in Indian Creek. We had already been doing a lot of off width bouldering in red rock with the occasional invert which was Mark's idea. 
Getting inverted on climbs was still new to all of us and bouldering seemed like a good way to get into it as you weren't too far from the ground and could escape fairly easily if needed. Inverted off width bouldering is exactly what it sounds like. In the beginning not much fun, but once you start to really understand what to do it can be a lot of fun. Off with climbing is not for everyone and is what I like to call "blue-collar climbing".  You need to work really hard to get to the top. 
And in J tree that's what we did. We did some off with bouldering with occasional invert but we decided to start out easy on the off with climbing. The Joshua tree entry-level classic called "Dolphin", a 5.7 that requires fives and sixes. Mark had just picked up a 6 inch cam at Nomad Ventures in J Tree and we were excited to try it.  The dolphin is what would scratch the cam up first. Mark was filled with excitement on the way to dolphin. I really admire Mark and his confidence and ability always astound me. He is filled with drive and passion. Mark seemed like he could climb anything he set his mind to and the dolphin would be an easy warm up for him and us. 

Monday, December 26, 2016


We were climbing two days on and one day off at this point almost all the time. Sometimes three maybe four days but it would depend on what we were doing and who we were with. If we were climbing maximum ability two days, anything less than max we could go for more. 
We were still at the campground most of the time and at this point friends from Maine we're coming and going throughout the early part of the year at different times and it made sense just to be at the campground. Even though there is no cell service and you can begin to feel very disconnected quickly with people back home. 
Also, at this point we had to beta on how to get free donuts or nearly free donuts. By doing the typical dirt bag approach and rummaging through the trash at Dunkin' Donuts, sometimes the donuts had coffee grinds on them and what you couldn't sweep off added more flavour. 
Being at the campground had the benefit of meeting other climbers, new friends and having campfires every night. 
The disadvantage was that I was starting to become disconnected from Toby because of it. I was starting to get caught up in the lifestyle of the American dirt bag but saying Canadian phrases all the time and converting the temperature. Still at this point there was no definite return date anymore. I had ideas of when I may come back to Canada but wasn't sure. I had already submitted the resume and wasn't going to hear if I was accepted to the program till March. 
I did know that I wanted to keep climbing and hang out with my new friends and that I missed Toby.