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Welcome.. This is my story of exploring the philosophic link between self discovery, spiritual awakening, friendship and rock climbing in the powerful realm of Mother Nature.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Snake, Rattle & Roll

Flashback to November 2013;

We stride in the fading light through this familiar labyrinth that we have come to love but happen to be lost in. This place goes by the name 'The Wonderland' for the reason none other than to describe the feeling you possess when you're playing in this maze, climbing over gigantic sugar cubes like a victorious ant or walking up enormous slabs of granite the size of London's 'Millenium Dome' or maybe you're a giant looking upon a vista of breadcrumbs...either way it's a pretty nutty landscape. Precious and beautiful. One of a kind. That being said, Diana and I weren't focused on this aspect as we trampled through the tenements of orange rock, dodging spikes of cactus and other such plants that grow out of inconceivable crevices.

The reason for this excursion in the dimming daylight? We were looking for a climb. A rather famous one actually but one with a reputation for it's seemingly immense exposure or sense of...well, a massive fall should your fingers peel off the match box edges, dotted all over this intimidating shield of rock. I have to admit at this stage, that it was largely to do with my crusade to climb all the best 5.10's* in the area. With the ecstatic onsight* of 'Clean & Jerk', 'Run for your Life' (Yes, kinda scary too) and the redpoint* of 'O'Kelley's Crack' in my arsenal, I felt that this would be the proverbial icing on the cake to end our session in Joshua Tree, California before heading to Asia for the winter. I agreed when Diana suggested we climb it. We were in for quite the climax. (I say, with an element of sarcasm).

  Approaching the bottom of the formation known as Astrodome which hosts the climb, we take off our packs to cool down. Another couple is just finishing the first pitch* of three, about 250ft. (We did it in two). It's nice to catch our breath but when it's time to climb we note that we have an hour or so until the sun sets. "Let's get on it then"

To be honest, I love in particular climbs that require complete focus or shall we say, presence but this just looked plain scary to me at the time. I knew it had a big reputation and my hard man friends say the old line of "Oh you'll be fine, it's not that bad"..Well, that was not helpful to me...Derek! (I laugh in hindsight). Since the wall is north facing it's almost always in the shade, so in the gathering darkness it was hard to locate the bolts*, adding to my already brimming apprehension but the first one is seen. Let's start with that. Off we go!

From the base, the first twenty feet it completely blank so you walk up a slope to the left and traverse straight right on a ledge, half the width of your foot, sometimes larger. The exposure feels pretty immediate.I was already scared of 'that fall' looming up ahead. Funny how we have such fearful thoughts for something that hasn't even appeared yet. I reach up on my tippie toes to clip the rope into the first bolt, 25 ft of open rope leading all the way to the bone crushing ground and I'm in. Only, my adrenaline is juiced already. Where's that run out* again?, Where's the next bolt? I can't see it!
The futility of minds quest for security in such times. That's why we are here though isn't it, to focus on Now.

Ok let's climb! Upward upon the shield of orange rock there really is a trail of positive edges to latch your fingers around and stick your big toes onto. (Thanks be to my 'Indian big toe and my climbing shoes) The dance is quite spectacular! Stretching up one delicious, athletic move after another until I'm four spacious bolts up the vertical. My heart, mind you is still beating ferociously as I force my shallow breathes to delve deeper into my lungs, my tense muscles drinking in oxygen with relief as I rest on a 'bucket hold'.

Now, the climb traverses straight right, on good holds, but still, a good fifteen - twenty feet. Waaa, maybe this is the exposed part. Not so bad then...Diana's words of encouragement waft upward into whispers that barely permeate my frightened and exhilarated brain. Next, is another good rest by the bolt. I can see the anchor! Don't look down too long and don't think it's over yet, the couple before us made it sound like it's exciting at the end...


A friend, Derek Bloomstadt on the traverse. Great photo from Miramontes Photography.


Scanning over the last section, there looks to be a round dish, smooth but impressed into the rock like a depressed disk. Not much for feet but to press and pray for friction. Ugh, tired. After some hesitant and increasingly frantic glances later, I realise that an amazing hidden hold will not show up, there's only time for action. Right hand goes in the left side of the disk, left hand crossed over to the other side..Transfer of balance and my right hand flies out to the round bulbous ledge below the anchor. Oh God, I can't feel my right hand..it's sliding!..Must be this solidified bird crap that littered and pressed into the rock. Not helping my swollen arms at all...

In this moment, I fear that I will fall and take the big whip into the yawning abyss. You'll be fine, people have taken the air time plenty of times and lived. Go for it! Focusing on where my left hand has got to go I let go and slap the hold with all the precision I can muster. Got it! Mantle! Still nothing for feet at this point, so it's time to climb out of that swimming pool like you've never done before. Heaving upward, I try to move, abs trembling, triceps failing. A mental image of the void wrapping around my legs and dragging me downward becomes more and more vivid. Still can't feel my hands. Heave! No thoughts anymore though, gone like a switch just pure presence and focus. Do It. Slowly, face to the rock, my gasping breath blowing microscopic pebbles into the back of my throat, I slowly rock over the point of balance required. Nice!

Feet follow afterwards as I stand up gingerly on the ledge, carefully rigging the anchor, feeling tender as hell, like a feather could knock me off balance, sending me into space like a catapult. Anchor set, clipped in. 'Oooffff'. A sunken slouch of relief allows the residual adrenaline to surge and explode into a 'Yeeewww!' against the canyon walls that echo my screams of triumph for miles around. Poor Diana, witnessing this display of complete terror from me probably did not fill her with the kind of stoke a more confident leader would perhaps emanate. But I speculate. Having climbing it without falling, I am happy to have done this legendary climb but am surprised the fear was so strong. Just the very idea of 'that fall' was enough to feed that petulant child called fear. Just a thought, that's all yet it's enough to make you do silly things and serve it with fries.

Diana does a great job following but isn't up for leading the next pitch in the now dark. The next pitch has bigger holds to my utter joy and after ten feet the first bolt is clipped. I charge on, Diana's faithful headlamp glows in the dim as I climb on ten, twenty, thirty feet. Fuck sake, am I off route? there's no protection around. The fatigue of the first pitch still lingers as I go 40 feet above my last piece to a ledge. It's an easier mantle but still an 80 foot fall would not be appreciated in our current situation and condition.

A few cams* go into the corner on the ledge and shortly after we are both at the top. The stars are out and I take one last look at this magic realm I've come to love so much, even if the climbs demand so much effort, maybe becuase of that actually. We both rappel to the ground safely, still a little shaken from the fright fest and begin to manoeuvre our way through the nocturnal jumble of chaotic rocks, leaving behind the brooding hulk, darker than the night sky itself and exit The Wonderland an hour or so later, thanks to Diana who knows it like the back of her hand.

Another great day in Jtree. Thanks Drew for the photo.
*

The next day, we're having breakfast with friends, recuperating from last nights adventure and after a belly full of seasoned potatoes and eggs with tortilla wraps, we head to L.A so I can catch my flight to Bangkok.

Somewhere around halfway we are cruising in the relaxing morning air, enjoying each others company until BAM! A car bumper or something to that effect blows across the road and under the car. A couple of seconds later the undesirable occurs... 'duh duh duh duh duh duh' "Yup, we got a flat tire". Shit my flight is in two and a half hours... 

Again, thanks to Diana, her insurance can send a tow truck that will meet us on the shoulder of the road in twenty minutes. I sit twiddling my thumbs, jerking my feet, chewing on the thought of 'I could miss my flight'. Diana's perspective of 'well this is happening, let's do our best with what we've got' is of course a healthier view but it doesn't help my worried mind. She's right though, so I sit with it. The guy shows up right on time and puts a dummy tire on the car and we're off like a bullet.

90 minutes to go as we approach east L.A. The whole time my heart is back to the thumping state. Two details concern me. First is the flight, which wasn't that cheap and my visa. This day is the last day allotted before it expires, so I'm back to being worried. Which, I note, is a shame because it's the end of my road trip with Diana which has been a blast. A wonder filled adventure with brush strokes of beauty that paint the tapestry of our road trip. I go in and out of focus from inane worry for something that hasn't even happened yet to appreciating the purity of the moment here, in the car that I've come to know so well, travelling with her, a special being in my life. 

Somehow she navigates the traffic and finds roads less packed then the others as we approach LAX. At departures, I only have time for a quick kiss, goodbye and see you soon as I run to the check in, which is in the process of closing. The attendant, thank goodness checks me in and I walk straight onto the plane for Thailand.

Sitting on the plane, I think back in hindsight about these two electric scenarios. So intense. And it occurs to me, that the fear is so much worse than the actuality itself. How profound. 

*  


* 5.10 denotes a grade of difficulty
* Onsight is when you climb it for the first time with a fall
*Redpoint is when you try a few times until you do it without falling
*A pitch is a rope length or one section of the climb
*Protection that has been drilled into the rock as removable protection is not available
*A run out denotes a long run between protection points, a fall would be a big drop
*Camming units are a form of removable protection

Friday, 2 May 2014

Year of the Snake

FORWARD

   The past year was epic. So much so, that the climbing centric narratives can no longer contain the scope of what i want to express. The meat of the story surrounds the effects of the snake bite but smaller stories will ensue with either a lot of action, a minor tremor of excitement or intense introspection. It won't be linear either, that depends on the motif of each story and the relevant space and time. Either way, i just want to share stories and encourage people to share their own.
Henceforth, there will be an arc of stories over the duration of July 2013 to April 2014 under what I've called the 'Year of the Snake'. The title will make sense to readers eventually but it's also a nod toward an extremely talented person called Jeremy Smith who put up a bold new rock climbing route in the enchanted forest of Squamish, Canada.

The Chief, Squamish

SNAKE BITE

   During the last days of August, there was a tepee. A circular space large enough for about 20 people to enter and sit inside. Surrounding it were structures just like it, brimming with hundreds of people coming in from all directions and flying away on their merry way. You see, this bustling encampment was just one 'block' inside of many others, all with a different purpose and theme. 
If you float into the sky and look down from a birds eye view, you'll see an enormous sundial forming 10 o'clock to 2 o'clock with the centre circle called 'The Playa'. Maybe a mile in diameter. Branching out from 'The Playa', the 'blocks' go about 13 deep (using letters). Sweep across the curvature of the sundial and somewhere in this iridescent metropolis, our little tepee stood amongst kindred clusters known collectively as the Shaman Dome.

Yes, we're at Burning Man.

The scorched earth surrounding us is located deep inside the Salt Flats of northern Nevada, known as Black Rock Desert. At it's height, 68,000 people gathered here in 2013 for the ongoing experiment of 'radical self expression and reliance'. A temporary city. Nothing here grows from the ground. Only Sun, Moon, Earth and us to create and reinvent.

Aerial shot of 'The Playa'.  (Googled, I  take no credit and own Nothing obviously)
Inside the tepee, it's late morning and the baking oven is gently wafting hot air under the tarpaulin into the calm space of gathered seekers and veteran practitioners. To my left is Kyla from Canada. A real gem. We crossed paths rock climbing in Utah during the winter of 2012 and has been a spiritual counterpart ever since. At the time of our meeting, the tendrils of winter began to spread it's frost over the valley bottom of Indian Creek and an exodus for warmer temps began. Our tribe ended up flying south to Mexico (See previous post; Running out of Time). And a crazy and joyful exploit it 'twas. When the time eventually came to grab contact details, she mentioned her Facebook was named after her shamanic power animal, the Eagle. A spark of curiosity came into being right there and 6 months later, it's time for Spirit Connection.

The shaman starts by blessing us all with incense. Feathers and animal bones are placed in the centre. He explains that a drum will beat in a consistent bum-bam-bum, bum-bam-bum for 10 minutes, followed by a short breather, then another 10 minutes. Sit up in the classic meditation pose, eyes closed.
He begins by asking you to think of somewhere you went as a child that was a place of trust and safety. I remembered the woods above my mothers house. The lush countryside of Britain. Memories of walking our family dog, climbing trees, crawling through the undergrowth, the rich palette of flowers in bloom during the spring. The inner sanctum. "Look for a door" he says. A muddy hole under my favourite oak tree appears and a staircase leading down into the void. Your subconscious? 
I can't tell if it's imagination that will appear or that I'll have to try and make sense of an endless flow of shapes and symbols swimming through me like a river of thoughts. All i know is to relax and be open. The one question radiating; "Are you out there?"

Ten minutes is up with nothing  We listen to peoples parables of what they experienced during this time. Some of them are vivid and i marvel at what they claim to have seen and felt. Some say they also didn't find anything.
The drum starts again. Time to give it another try. Sanctuary, calm, open. I fight the thoughts of frustration and stay relaxed. The subsequent minute or so was the most mind bending thing I've ever witnessed. How can i put it? Think of the geometric framework that we as humans have created in terms of mapping an environment, structure, anything really. From right to left, an image projecting onto the back of my eye lids with this structure was an Eagle swooping down to land exactly where Kyla was sitting. On my left.
This released whatever shreds of doubt i was harbouring. It's real. Subsequently, scales materialise, ebb and flow like a reptile is draped across my eyes. Upon notice, the scales move away with fluidity in an arc and come around to face me. The Snake. We acknowledge each other but i don't do anything, i don't want to. I'm in awe. It opens its jaws slowly and purposefully before swallowing me whole.
Boom. The session ends with smooth synchronicity but I'm a little lost for words...stunned actually. It didn't feel hostile at all...but what did that mean? The shaman explains that it was a good sign. A message of welcome and total embrace. I wanted to reciprocate fully. The two of us together, united in essence. To fully 'grok' each other as Valentine Michael Smith puts it. In what way i wonder.

Sean Renwick's Photo of The Temple
The next day, at 'Sacred Spaces' i was admiring some art work on consciousness inspired by the brilliant artist Alex Grey. (www.alexgrey.com). Under the multi coloured awning of the atrium, a group was congregating next to a sign posted 'Discover your Inner Being'. Naturally i was drawn to participate. It ended up being pretty simple. Again, a circle was formed. "Do any of you guys know each other?" The lovely woman leading the session asked. Two women smiled toward each other, one fully ordained in silver head garments that reminded me of a Buddhist deity with glitter sparkling up along her royal cheekbones and a mane of brown hair beautiful and long. Her friend was blond and fair with wooden bracelets, dream catchers, feathers and shimmering blue eyes. Both had kind faces and carried an air of a clairvoyance. They knew each other. No one else seemed to though.
 So, we are instructed to take turns, one at a time, to sit in the middle for others to say what they see in that person's face using brief adjectives. Various individuals eagerly take turns to convey their insights. Words like "playful" "nurturing" "sexual" and "introverted" start to fly around.

It's been a fun hour. Our guide has shown or reminded us rather, that we can make astute observations of each other if we can look past quick judgements based on our concepts of identity and the resulting prejudices. The ego and it's projections. Expressing ourselves from the heart whilst welcoming from the heart. The key, i suppose, is observing these initial impressions before letting it guide your subsequent thoughts, letting your sunshine burn through the gloomy cloud of cynicism. Of course, there will always be an infinite amount of scenarios that say something different but it should be something encouraged nevertheless.
During the last 60 minutes I've been a little distracted though. Still smiling and participating yet retaining a minute here, a minute there to ponder and churn the events of the Shaman Dome over in my head. The water was still muddy from the disturbance and would take time to settle. Turning around, we notice the next group filtering in and the vibe says our session is coming to a close. I didn't go but hey that's OK...


Surprise meeting with Patrizia. (We met in Red Rocks NV, years before)
"Yo, what about Toby? We haven't seen him yet". Spinning back to the group, the clairvoyant duo's eyes beam over in my direction with an inquisitive smile. Being the only one left from the group our guide ushers me into the middle. Plodding myself in the centre, in nothing but my jean shorts and scarf, i look around at the beautiful people we've been talking with this past hour. A searching look over my companions saying So, what do we have here? followed by a bashful glance at my hands. The calloused scars of crack climbing in Squamish still fresh and embedded in Playa dust like talcum powder. Again, the observations were astonishing. The preliminary comments like "thrill seeker", "playful", "sexual", "deep thinker", "nomad not yet settled" and  "self disciplined" were all kind and surprising especially when i heard "cute". Yet the home run came from the oracles in the front.    

"I can see wisdom from past lives" the woman with earth tones said. Interesting. "Hmm" continued the sparkling brunette "I can also see transmutation occurring in him, hmm yup, like a snake" We lock eyes and she smiles at the acknowledgement. How? This happened yesterday?!

Stepping back out onto the Playa with yet another dose of wonder, the sun begins to set. Gentle gusts of wind send clouds of dust into the expanse above, turning the sun into a tangerine orb. Thousands of people on their multi coloured glowing bicycles are roaming in all directions. Trance and techno beats gently initiate their nocturnal ritual. The sun eventually dips behind the horizon and is met with hooting and hollering from the night owls. I think about this confirmed transmutation. Maybe I'm getting ready to settle in the United States? I miss Diana with a pang. I wish i could share this with you, and start to think about what life would be like in the future with her, rope access work and climbing on the road.  A dream for an idealist like me. It didn't occur to me that knowing the path and walking the path is something different entirely.


The snake bite will manifest all. 

The man burns in 3 days.


*-* -*-* -*-* -*-* -*-* -*-* -*-* -*-* -*-* -*-* -*-* -*-* -*-* -*-* -*-* -*-* -*-* -*-* -*-* -*-*-*-
* Normal text - Hampi*                                                                                   *Bold text - Back in time*

   7 months later, I'm lying down like a starfish on a raised plateau in between two big boulders feeling the heat of the day radiating into my aching frame. The air is still and doesn't help to cool my body that's glistening with sweat. It's sunset once more but the temperature remains high around 38'C. It's quiet too. Tranquil. A faint reverberation can be heard from the local evening drum circle higher up. Their daily salutation to the falling sun and an ode to the rising moon.
I could hear the vibrations peak and lull when i was climbing earlier. In my little snow globe, i imagined it as my tribal soundtrack as i explored the scattered sugar cubes of rock deployed all over the surrounding plateau. Alone, choosing established boulder problems that didn't look too hard to climb was wonderful. To feel your fingers latch those little crimps and crystals again, the dance of orientating yourself to the holds, the unique positions you find yourself in the middle of a rock face. Full body awareness. I will always be thankful for climbing because of that. The way it helped me take my first steps toward manifesting a more astute consciousness.
Sitting up, there is just beauty all around. The little creek below flows through the meandering valley, nurturing the thirsty palm trees and keeping the rice paddies lush and green. Leaning over top, jumbled heaps of bulging boulders stained in peach and orange sit silhouetted against the fading sky. Within this delightful palette of colours, something stirs in my soul. It's time to return to the 'Healing Hexagon' of Manju's Guest house. I felt like sharing with the beautiful beings that have coalesced in this place.

Climbing the 'Warm up' on Rishimuk Plateau
 Hampi, Southern India.
April 2nd 2014

3 weeks before this exceptional happening however, my head was reeling like a boomerang still in flight. Personal circumstance had not unfolded as i thought at all. 3 months of climbing and being on the road in California was bliss in the afterglow of Burning Man, especially when we returned to my favourite place in the United States. Joshua Tree. 4 months in SE Asia after that, tapping into the wonderful world of the climbing community, mixed with bountiful blends of cuisine and architecture on our 'cultural' down days. Other times the big chill. Great fun in both Thailand and Laos
But something happened when we crossed the Pacific. A shift i couldn't put a finger on. It started subtle though but we felt it. Diana and I. For me, it felt like a block of communication. With this resistance growing in strength i became angry on two fronts. Why can't i articulate myself? Why was this happening now? Resulting in a slow downward spiral into a self imposed prison. We did have amazing days though and those memories i shall cherish. But the my inner self at the time? Was losing cabin pressure. 


Wandering & Pondering in Ton Sai
It was like riding wavesLeading an overhang without taking a fall, dancing on the beach or watching the sunset and discussing the mechanics of life were and are of course, fantastic. But again, with one on one engagement, inter connectedness at an intimate level grew dimmer and hazy with time and space. My ego jumping and stomping in a tantrum, as my conceived notions of the future don't go as i want or expect. Yup, we're breaking down. Climbing becomes my only respite. I'm always psyched to move on the rock but it wasn't enough. I had to fix something but i didn't know what. Perpetual cycles. What a weight.

It's dark by the time i stagger from the night into the light of the Hexagon. The vibrations from the music and the people within the nest are perfectly in tune. Hanging lanterns of different shaded colours dance and sway in the gentle breeze. Harmony. Many conversations are had. Track; Desert Raven by Jonathan Wilson. Learning, sharing, having fun. At some point in the night i find myself sitting with Sam and Jackson in a state of such contentment that i found myself having some kind of revelation.
Two and a half weeks in India, where interaction with people is constant, nothing goes the way you think it will and really money is just a game when travelling on a shoestring. It all helps you to work on some core skills such as keeping a bag of tricks for bartering and being open in an honest and responsible way. And the latter, really worked a number on me.

Back in Chiang Mai, Diana's about to catch the bus to Bangkok and take a flight back to the US. We figured that this parting would also serve as a metaphor for our relationship, as a 'couple' that is, good friends we shall remain. What a year though. During that time we climbed the Incredible Hulk together with 'that scramble' down in hail and freezing rain, we had vehicle breakdowns on major highways, an episode with a black bear that ripped all our food apart, moon flooded nights in Joshua Tree, trekking the jungle in northern Laos, motorbike night rides from the crag, braved illness and my damned Ton Sai abscess..Unique experiences shared together. 
Looking at her radiant face through misty eyes and quivering chin, I'm filled with a real sense of gratitude, betrayed however, by resignation and fleeting thoughts of 'what if'. 


Diana and Wade climbing at the Furnace, Chiang Mai
Thai people mill around the truck, inhibiting what might have been an emotional scene. Fortunately, we had a chance earlier that day to talk. Ironically, its was one of the best dialogues we'd had in weeks. The thing was, that during this Asia trip, i was often left at a loss for words, i couldn't understand what i was feeling let alone express that to her. So many times I wanted to tell her that i loved her and tell her she was great just by being her but i would also be absent minded and miss obvious chances to express that through actions instead of words because i was thinking thinking thinking about how and why our situation had changed, totally missing the present.
That morning however was different. Upon separation a weight was lifted and we started talking, recounting stories, laughing and crying. The most open communication we'd had in a while. Tremendously therapeutic. A sign that all was not lost, i could still speak from the heart but the root of the problem was not solved. It was clear that i couldn't move forward until i found the source of this disquiet.  

With emotion somewhat purged, i felt hollowed out but good, it felt right. She fades away with the traffic and that was it, she was gone. But not lost.


 If you love somebody you have to be willing to set them free.
 I will always love you Diana.

Inside the Hexagon, i feel my vibration increase. I close my eyes and sit for a while, focusing on awareness. The energy in here tonight is amazing. How 8 inhabitants can create a flowing feeling of loving and healing, like a Burning Man cell is incredible and shows what each of us is capable of creating. Conscious creators. It's been a while since I've been in a state quite like this. My engrossed, albeit excited, mental chatter evaporates leaving fresh thoughts and sensory input to be viewed objectively. I notice these thoughts but i am not my thoughts. I am. Next track; The Sense I Am by Mooji.

"Just the feeling i am, is present...but it's not attached to any condition or any thought. If Spirituality or religion has any significance, its only such that when its sieved out, the feeling 'I amness' stops associating with other concepts and ideas...and simply marinades in its own self....and then great peace...great joy.." - Mooji

The gurus words emanate from the sound system. It feels like he's talking directly to my consciousness. Synchronicity is met with a blissful smile. A warm sensation begins to glow in the centre of my chest. 

On March 14th, I touch down in Kolkata with my 'water brother' Mona. Yes, we're here! Before we even leave the airport, it begins. "OK, so lets use the ATM so we can get into the city"...Only, one machine is out of money, the other out of order and the currency exchange won't accept anything under $30. We meet Daniel, a Danish fellow in the same boat. The three of us converse with a cohort of attendants and eventually we are guided out of the airport, past the bus station to a tiny building near the airfield. Inside this dimly lit shack is a machine. Weird
A little while later we are in a taxi heading to our booked hostel in Dum-Dum. Nowhere near the centre of the city. The rickety white tin box, bumbles along through tight lanes heaving with people, rickshaws, cows, blaring music, colourful buildings and rapid fire honks from every vehicle on the road. There's traffic going in all directions, even sideways. 
But it goes slow enough to let everything flow. Amazing to witness. People definitely get knocked around if you're not careful but for the most part it works. It feels like swimming with multiple interconnected shoals of fish. 

Sensory overload. I loved it.

The Victoria Memorial, Kolkata
10 days later, a camel lumbers past laden with smiling Indians swaying this way and that. We are taking a last look at the aquatic expanse of the bay of Bengal from the beach in Puri. A lot hasn't made sense to me up to this point. Nothing happens the way you expect, people seem to eventually ask for money or act without any kind of forethought of their actions. Sacred cows eating in mountains of trash and the spectrum of poverty astonishing.
Almost every financial interaction ends with confusion for everyone involved and always scraps of paper with sums and division with individual taxes for every item included afterwards. It took us days to leave Kolkata due to the Holi festival and had to pay a travel agent in Puri to wake up at 4am and get us tickets, as our entire day before at the ticket office and trying online ended in vain. It's hard to be introverted and think. I just wanted to be in Hampi to climb with Liam and Mona. 

Puri's Beach
We board the train the following day at dawn, drink some chai and let the next 25 hours float by. Hot drinks, Biryani, beggars, water..it keeps going. Someone always has something sometime. I feel like this is the first time i can relax and just take everything in, apart from the transvestites who want money to leave you alone. Quite strange.

Mona the Sunflower
Looking over at Mona on the other side of the sleeper carriage, i'm met with her primrose perplexion smiling back at me, loving this place she had visited many times before. Knowing the process i'm going through getting to know this place too. Hey, it's not for everyone. You either love it or you...find it frustrating. The sun rises and sets in the same day of our long journey and rises once more as we enter Hospet. A short distance from Hampi.  
A few days later, we forgo our brief 05:30 morning ritual. It was fun, especially some of the cracked boulders, but lets face it. All too soon it's too hot to climb. High's of 42'C is too much and leaves you immobilised. Surrender, it's OK. Submit to the day with the solace that i can climb for an hour or two in the evening. 

The young Wizard Liam having a good time on 'Psycobloc' 6b+. Thank you Dana Wang for the photo.

My philosophic counterpart, Liam, and I spend our days instead discussing in analytical cycles about India and the human condition with our pocket book scepticism. A time of council and meeting of minds. Wonderful of course but i still felt i wasn't shining the light in the right direction. Illumination had not occurred lately. A few days later, Liam must go North. Good timing to. The hostel we are in is closing down due to domestic issues with the married owners. The latest argument could be heard from every corner of the place, almost personifying my own back and forth of late. The next day, i bid my old friend farewell at the 'ferry' and move into Manju's Guest House down the road. Bags are dumped into the new room. It's quiet here, how refreshing. Time to walk over to the Hexagon and meet the others.  

The Hexagon
Next Track; 'You are Awareness' by Mooji  

"Both the ego and the consciousness refers to themselves as 'I'. You see, God says 'I' and the Devil says 'I'......You've fallen for it, you the consciousness has fallen for your own projection" - Mooji

Wind inflates my lungs as i take a slow deep breath and maintain the glowing embers i can feel in my chest. 'Maya' is a Sanskrit term for delusion and that was just it. I didn't think it was possible but it had happened to me. What had caused this state of delusion? The damn ego. And the reason for this? Lack of growth and imbalance. I had been living, on and off, in Western Canada since '09 and have been helped financially from my parents. Yes i worked during the winter to pay for the ski lift ticket and for rent but without that flow of aid, a lot would not have been possible. So because of this, although i am of course immensely grateful for their support and understanding, i am left with a sense of shame. 
Shame that I'm not doing this completely off my own back. On the other hand, I'm pursuing travelling and climbing. The two vehicles that have introduced me to the mighty mountains, the supreme silence of the desert and people whom i love and would be strangers had i never jumped on that plane or never hitch hiked down that road. All of which have helped me to become more conscious but somewhere i faltered in that evolution.

Shining brighter. Yes, genuine reflection, finally. Alex Greys conceptual artwork of  'Sacred Mirrors' suddenly becomes a little more understood. We are different aspects of the same entity. What    
 we see in other people reflects in us something we love or we hate (with various degrees in between). Why couldn't I express myself to Diana then? Because of 'poor little me'. That damn ego. She is smart, capable and independent. Self sufficient. This highlighted a gap in my life and i knew i had left that gap unfilled and unfulfilled for too long and as a result used accomplishments in climbing to try to heal that rift. 
I will always be thankful to climbing for forging my connection with this earth and creating my first ripples of awareness and it will remain a major part of my life but it can't be everything. When i tried, my sense of self, my identity crisis, is what caused layer upon layer until eventually the voice of the heart was dimmed and i began to stumble in the dark.

Not anymore. 

It occurs to me how powerful perception is. Heaven and Hell is not some external world but right here right now. We are the creators of our own reality and if it's run by the stroppy 'poor little me' primate ego constantly fearful and looking for validation we will get nowhere and live in these hateful perpetual cycles. Like the Ying - Yang, Vishnu & Shiva, Creation & Destruction, Love & Hate, Spring & Fall, they all go hand in hand, one cannot exist without the other but i choose to step into the light. Renounce the ego. I felt a rejuvenation in me once more, like getting shoved back onto the path and saved from stumbling in the undergrowth. 

The gravity of the Shaman Dome finally dawns on me. The snake bite had indeed poisoned me but it was necessary. I had to go through the delirium in order for that poison to be transmuted. I had finally shed my former self. Born again to to speak. Back to the feeling of simply being.  


"I think now looking back, we did not fight the enemy, we fought ourselves. And the enemy was in us." - quote from Oliver Stone's film Platoon. 

Monday, 17 June 2013

Safe in these Surrey Hills

26th April, Idyllwild, California.

Diana is busy working at camp so without a partner i am therefore left to my own devices for the day. Without a doubt it begins with a bucket of hot coffee. Next, i walk a few minutes out of town, to a cluster of trees for some private council on the days potential. The pines groan as their stiff and parched trunks sway softly in the cool morning breeze, their needles floating at will into the perfect blue yonder above.

Looking up to the east, the splendid pinnacle of Tahquitz rock sits silently in its dominion over the valley, it's golden white granite glowing fierce in the bright morning sun. It's less than a week before i return to UK soil so i guess there isn't really any question.  I'm going climbing. 

An hour later, i top out on 'The Trough' a 4 pitch 5.4, a historic route (1936) that requires some scrambling with a few hand jams but one of the first ascents which turned out to be a pleasant warm up. Returning to the base of the west face once more my thoughts turn to the main objective. White Maidens Buttress. The routes on this feature are full of variations but still stay sub 5.6, all 800 ft of it.

Sitting at the base and looking at the route, there's no babble that invades my thoughts, only calm, as if my spirit already knows that i'm going to need a tranquil mind for the ascent. When enough time has passed, the usual check list is sorted. Strap up the rock boots, chalk bag on. Mow down a Mars bar and chug some aqua. Good to go.

Tahquitz Rock, from the trail head. The buttress is the middle feature. (Leaning left)
The initial flakes and cracks are surprisingly vertical but perfect jam after jam keeps the flow strong. After two hundred feet i pass a large pedestal with a couple of guys chilling. Excuse me, mind if i pass? Cheers.
The angle then eases and the cracks still juicy for the next few hundred. Never before had i felt so empowered to be alone and capable in that moment 500 feet up. Then came a moment i hoped would come since August 2011;

At this point in time, i had been trad climbing for 2 months. Feeling good about progress, i felt like a low commitment day and decided to go to the Smoke Bluffs, a crag in Squamish (Canada) with an abundance of single pitch routes. By 4pm i had soloed some very easy '5 star' 5.7's and decided to finish with 'Burger & Fries'. All i can say is a series of very bad decisions shortly ensued.  Firstly, the route is about 80 feet and gets baked by pounding sunlight and at that time of the day sweaty and slimy. Secondly, a lot of easy 'classics' have a tendency to be polished, and oh how it was. I start up anyhow in some kind of arrogant defiance and reach the top of the flake. From here you palm your way up the polished, bulging slab to the top but instead of down climbing like any sensible human being i reach my third and last crescendo.  

Groping a protruding dime with two fingers and stepping off the flake,  my feet are now pasted on squeaky pebbles. The dime is as smooth as marble and i freeze up quick.
Oh No. Saying this out loud only exacerbated the rising tide of terror beginning to consume me to the core. Legs shaking and palms damp and slimy i fear the friction will not last and contemplate my absolute failure. "I'll only break my legs" comes to mind and rouses a last ounce of what felt like survival climbing. I refuse to accept this. With all my might i reach up and slam my palms as hard as possible onto the slab, my feet desperately running in order to create some kind of momentum. In a few frantic moves i am at the top gasping for breath and feeling like an utter fool. My motives that almost led to my potential oblivion was the result of my ego assuming a 5.7 without a rope was a sure thing. I had to be more in touch with me, my essence. I never forgot that, but hoped that some day i would be able to solo again without that crippling image choking me with fear. 

That same day, Smoke Bluffs, Squamish
Back on Tahquitz, two years on,  i reach the end of a friendly crack. At first i halt as the way directly up is out of the question but it seems i must traverse down to the left to reach the final corner cracks that wind their way up the ramp all the way to the summit. Not long now. The moves look OK but a flash of that day at the Smoke Bluffs makes me take a breath. Instantly it dissolves. I am still and clear. Stepping down onto the slab i chalk my fingers and crimp the holds perfectly. One move at a time i go, looking down to focus on my feet with 500ft of silent space below. Still i breathe, the sound of air inflating my lungs is the only thing i register. Nothing else exists in that moment, only nothingness. Three moves in, i am in between the two cracks, completely exposed. One more. I keep going slowly, mindful that i could reverse the moves if necessary. Finally, my fingers curled around the protruding flake and into the crack. Ahh. And then it clicked. At long last, i had found my centre and was free of the fear. The setting sun was beginning to stain the valley in orange and call it a day, as was I.

Sitting on the summit, all i could feel was immense gratitude to be alive. Existing. Every cell inside my body tingling with intense life. Although the climb is rated 5.6, which is not technically very hard, i had a revelation. You are not you from 2011, you are not what you would like to be, you are just you in this moment. It's all relative, that's the whole point. All you can do is be honest with yourself and make the right decision in that moment. This is most important.

Back in town, every sound is crystal clear, every spectrum of colour is visible and the smell of food utterly delectable! I meet up with Diana and listen to her talk about her day. She appears to be glowing. The sound of her voice is so soothing, her scent intoxicating. I recline in my chair and relax. Sublime, so sublime.

Climbing on Tahquitz the next day with Diana 
2 months later i'm sitting in mums garden in a little village called Wonersh. It's located in Surrey, southern England. Many delightful qualities exist here; Twisting country lanes that lead to old pubs that date back to the 15th Century, old friends who possess the bonds of friendship that surpass proximity and time and of course family. The local blackbirds and Robins sing their chorus of song as the bumblebees hunt for pollen across the flower beds of Honeysuckle, Lavender, Buddleia and Lilac. The wind chimes sing peacefully in the background. So much life here. So safe.

2 months. The longest i've gone without climbing for two years. On the contrary, i am the one who is wilting. I feel like i have been cryogenically frozen. It's a hard thing to describe to people that do not live with the mountains in their lives, but this was why i started the blog in the first place i suppose. It's funny how you think back to how amazing it all was or how awesome next month is going to be, but what about now?
As we create our own reality, it's definitely important to put things in perspective, like making enough money to fund that expedition you've always wanted to do or to reconnect with family after all those epic adventures you've had. The legendary British Philosopher Alan Watts once put forward a metaphor that the present is like a sailboat. The wake doesn't drive the boat but are memories and experiences that ripple and melt into the sea of time, just depends on where you want to go. I like that.

Mum (having a snooze) and her house.

My little Buddha in the garden
The flame will never go out, only smoulder from time to time but without passion we are a dead souls.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The Power of Love

"Everyone? Let me ask you a question...What's your favourite thing about climbing?"

Several conversations ease to a halt as we all glance across the flickering fire at our newly arrived camp site guest. Only Groove Armada maintains the beat in the background. A few seconds tick by as we consider our answer to the question we've all been asked a million times before. Initially, i refrain from answering, noticing empty beer cans scattered around his swaying form. We were after all residing in 'The Pit', a camp site located near the bouldering hotspot known as the 'Happy's'  in Bishop, California. Would a gym climber come boulderer who's opening conversation was big moves and grades know what i'm talking about? Is there any point in going there? Well, it's different for everyone, that's the whole point. The brief flutter of prejudice is tossed aside. Sharing butt cheek space with Diana on our little blue cooler i stoke the fire, watch it pulsate and smoke. When it's time to indulge it goes like this;

For two years now, i've been on a somewhat cosmic drive down the road of self discovery and that passion is the vehicle. With loving care and attention it intensifies like a swirling vortex in the centre of your being, illuminating the need for more exploration into the deep unknown inside yourself.
What is most inspiring to me, is that we are all together in this search. Although every climber has a different motivation and various ways of expressing that, we are united through our Love for something and consciously create a space were we can air our thoughts and feelings without fear of judgement or vindication.  Simply, it's the community. This is what we all had in common with our answers and was the same during the 2012 Indian Creek thanksgiving. Unification of this kind is always an encouraging thought.

So...The deep unknown. Picture your solitary self on a warm summers eve standing in front of a deep cave. Only the trees of the surrounding forest rustle in the gentle breeze. Curious as to what is inside, you take the first few tentative steps to it's mouth, crouching to avoid bumping your head and peer inside the darkness. Nothing. Hesitant, you creep forward until the rays of the setting sun gently recede behind you. Lantern in hand, the light slowly kindles the inner walls of the cave as you slowly advance one step at a time. Finally you are able to stand and discover you're in front of an immense catacomb, the feeble light is no longer able to show you the way ahead. Behind you, is the small white dot of where you came from but it's distance you cannot decipher. You feel brave to have made it this far but what now? Return to the safety of daylight while it lasts or continue into the yawning chasm ahead?

High on Ancient Art, a classic route in Utah

What's it going to be like on the summit?

AWESOME
Of course this metaphor isn't solely bound to being on the sharp end of a rope but to life in general. It extends to getting on that plane and checking out that place you really want to explore, sticking your thumb out on the highway, going to a social gathering or discovering a new relationship. Something different is something new but we won't know what it holds in stall for us until we step into that void willingly. In our  own way we can be bold every day of our lives if you make that choice to open your mind. For me climbing has provided that ability and has permeated every aspect of my life so far.

Riding the motorbikes with my dear friend Will in Laos, 2010
That time i made a cave my home for a few days in La Pedriza, Spain, 2011
A typically awesome gathering in Potrero Chico, Mexico, 2012
Peace & Love


Saturday, 6 April 2013

Spectrum

'A condition that is not limited to a specific set of values but can vary infinitely within a continuum.' - Wikipedia

Sunrise from Canmore. Photo: Patrick Hogan

The bicycle feels heavy and cantankerous as it labours up the final switchbacks. The front wheel thrashes left and right in a feeble attempt to ease the angle of the incline ahead. It's occupant gasps for oxygen to help feed the fatigued pistons that drive the vessel ever onward. The gradient eventually recedes as i reach the impressive pass to Spray Lakes, it's threshold crowned with the East End of Mt Rundle on the right hand side and the magnificent north face of Ha Ling Peak on the left. The thumping inside my chest ebbs away slowly as the bicycle rolls to a tired stop. The top of the Grassi Lakes crag is conveniently situated directly under this pass so the funnelled winds blasting through the gap at 50kph shouldn't have been surprising, but it was, swiftly making me feel cold again.

Dipping down a few feet into the canyon of Grassi, the wind abates and i stuff the bike into the snow slope. Using it's frame as a seat, i sip some tea from my thermos and look down into the Bow Valley to the east. As usual, it doesn't take long for my gaze to turn again to the soaring wall of Ha Lings north face.

The strong winds heaved clouds of spindrift from their snowy ledges sending them swirling across the dark broken face. It seems to me that this smouldering titan of the ancient world was waking from the long, deep slumber of winter and is calling those that are willing, to enter it's vertical domain. The hypnotic stare lingers, nothing else exists. It only takes a brief moment for your imagination to manifest itself but sometimes that's all you need to be inspired. In this case, to simply wonder what it would feel like to be up on those heights was enough to plant the seed of curiosity. The more you meditate on the arduous task, the further the roots of that seed slide down along your veins and spiral around your bones until it consumes you completely in the depths of your heart and your soul.

The North Face of Ha Ling from the Pass

To those that know the routes up this face, i am aware that the most popular and direct route to the summit is in fact an alpine 'sport route' with 20 or so pitches, all bolts. Does this take away from the grandiose i feel for the mountain? Not at all, it is and will always be about the aesthetic line. For Ha Ling, the best looking line takes the direct route up the steepest part of the face and therefore the most exposed. Two factors alone that result in an exciting day out.I will climb it with a good friend this summer. It was then, pretending no routes existed that i began to understand the allure of climbing first ascents.

Later that day, the sun lit up the canyon and felt warm for March in the Rockies (Only 0C). After hours of bouldering on the steep, dry overhangs i was finally knackered and psyched to have had a first legit day of 2013 on the rock! I thought about the legendary crack climber Steve Hong's quote from some article in Rock & Ice about how important it is to be self motivated. Oh the joy of riding a rusty bicycle from the trailer park for 90 minutes up a savage hill to go bouldering in a snow filled canyon with numb hands! Seriously...  





 

Packing away my things, i stood in front of the prominent arĂȘte of 'A Bold New Plan', a route that juts out into the skyline. Two years ago i climbed that route for the first time. My first 5.11a on bolts. A cause for celebration at the time but it's funny how you evolve. Since that time, i discovered epic traditional routes, big boulders and now waterfall ice, all of which terrified me upon initiation but are now spectrums of climbing within my comfort zone. (In a general sense of course, it always depends). In the coming days, when i am ready, big wall aid and mixed climbs will be part of it too.

For me, the road to enlightenment lies in the surrender to the timeless wisdom out there in the hills. My personal hero, Walter Bonatti wrote about the mountain being a perfect reflection of your spirit. It's was true then and it always will be. Perhaps the most important thing since that day however, lies in people. Chris McCandless quote "Happiness, only real when shared" rings eternally true when i think of all the genuine beings i have shared exceptional moments with. To the special people within our community, i thank you for all your positive influences, hilarious antics and openness to embrace people for who they are. To me, ones opinion of a place or a journey is purely subjective and based on their experience of that place. Due to this, western Canada is my spiritual home.




The long winters used to be something i somewhat dreaded due to the short hours of day light, cold temps and the beautiful yet deadly environment in the mountains. Yet, the few months of solitude during the winter just spent had me savour the few yet quality friendships encountered in the snowy ranges of the Rockies and appreciate the true rays of light in my life. The energy you create will gravitate those similar to you...an encouraging thought.



Coasting down the switch backs on my return to town, i think about Mark Twight (another legend) and his last chapter of 'Kiss or Kill'. He talks about his unique friendships and his declaration of utter love for those that he knows will walk willingly with him into the gauntlet of the unknown to create an undeniable bond. I am beginning to understand this.

To my true friends and the noble mountains, i love you...i really do.





     

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Mixed Feelings


"Some changes look negative on the surface but you will soon realize that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge" - Eckhart Tolle

Silence. The kind you get when nobody's awake and the pale of dawn isn't ready to turn on the lights yet.

Two bodies lay side by side, cocooned by pudgy, soft down sleeping bags, like a pair of juicy grubs. One prone, the other in a fetal position. That's me. We are sleeping in the back of a Toyota 91' Previa with a back seat unscrewed and piled on the other to make space. Sitting up, i take in the surroundings. Forecast said it was -15 last night. A nice layer of frozen condensation encases all the windows inside the van we've dubbed the 'ice house'. I scrub a whole through the back window to my left. No cars have left the parking lot yet for work. David is still dead to the world. I lie back down again. Watching my steaming breath rise and spill over the roof, i can't help but think; "This time last month i was in Mexico clipping bolts in the sun"...Narf

Ice, Ice, Baby!
 The small car, filled with the three of us was bursting at the seams. Ropes, racks, clothes and food filled every remaining cubic inch. Slowly but surely the burdened vehicle makes it's way through the town of Hidalgo, lurching over yet another speed bump with a Clang!, briefly muting the thumping bass line that's been cranked up to maintain our psyche. After 5 months of traditional climbing we were actually quite excited by the thought of clipping some bolts for a few weeks! Rounding the corner of the main square, we start up the hill towards El Potrero Chico. Jib and Van let out a "Woo Hoo!". The cliffs of the canyon must be coming into view. I would be more psyched by the spectacle but at that moment all i could see was the back of Jibs head. When the tired motor finally comes to a halt, all three of us step out for a look. Wow!

The entrance to the canyon


The euphoric moment of  'finally getting here'
  The day before, we had been driving in a straight line across Texas. As night fell we stopped for a sleep in some field near the highway. We grab our sleeping pads and land in the soil like felled timber and into instant slumber. A few hours later we are woken by two massive pick up trucks both with their headlight beams aimed right at us. I rub the sleep from my eyes and put out an arm to shield my eyes from the blinding light to see three silhouetted men standing in front. All have their hands cocked near their holsters. I crane my head to look around the guy in the center. The side of the truck reads "US Boarder Patrol". Great.

With Vans disarming smile and explanation that "we actually want to leave the usa", i am allowed to totter out in my boxer shorts to the car to show them my visa. He smiles at the bumbling Englishman and tells us to move on at dawn.  An hour later it happens again and we explain again that we want to go to Mexico. "You guys are crazy" the officer retorts, in perfect southern drawl.

What's crazier, is the steepness of Outrage Wall!
Canmore, Alberta. Situated in the Canadian Rockies, this world class arena would be the perfect place to learn to climb vertical ice and to enter the new realm of mixed climbing. (Rock and ice in the same route). My new home. For the winter at least. Initial excitement fills us with the hilarity of 'winter dirt bagging'.  On our first day out we get suited and booted for winter climbing and go about sinking our tools into the soft blue ice at a practice area just outside of town known as the 'Junkyard'. After a few laps i stand on top of the small cascade and look down into the Bow Valley and study the summits and faces around us, plastered in snow and ice. Magical..beautiful...deadly. A wonderful winter playground but a place where you can't screw it up. Not for a second. I am nervous but excited to step out of my comfort zone and see where it takes me. Starting to get cold now. The water on the falls that had soaked my jacket was now turning crunchy. Better go down.

Then it starts. Back at the 'Hostel of Doom' ( we paid $5 bucks to use the kitchen each day) i remember leaving my ice tools at the bottom of the ice crag. Damn. Driving back up i run over to the falls as it starts snowing. At the spot, i get on my knees and scrape frantically for the lost tools and start to get demented when at last they appear. The next day the van won't wake up. Battery dead? We hook up the cables to another car but sparks fly out. That can't be good. Now the lights on the dash won't come on. We search for a mobile mechanic but they don't exist so we dash across the road to vehicle repair shop but we have to bring the vehicle to them. Hmm. Pushing won't work so we eventually concede and call the tow truck. 2 minutes and $130 later its getting fixed (Blown fuses). A few days later the battery is dead again. Phew, it gets jumped without a hitch. We then go to the Alpine club hostel out of town as the HOD is too awful. A nice night there leaves us refreshed for the next day. The morning of, we set off down the hill to climb. Alas, on the tight bend we sail flawlessly over a sheet of ice into a ditch and nearly roll into a telegraph pole. Our little ship had been severely rocked that week and i was starting to doubt my place here. No job to cover costs and no place to live was starting to eat me from the inside. Jumping ship was turning into a good idea.

The site of our 'little mishap'
La Pasada. The new campsite for a fortnight. More like a resort, it sits at the mouth of the canyon and hosts a garden, swimming pool, kitchen and bar. Being the same price as sleeping in camp 4, it feels like luxury. Revelling in the warm breeze, i waft over to the pool to see my Czech friend Petr and his mate we met in Yosemite. Catching up and trading stories, a Mitsubishi van the size of a tin can pulls up. I know that van! Out gets Alex and Nick from BC. Haven't seen you guys since Squamish! Sharing a beer and lounging on the deck chairs, i enter catch up mode again. They drove from the Red River Gorge in Kentucky and talk about their new friend they met there that should be arriving soon. My ears prick up and i know who it is already. I know that voice! The friend from the red is none other than our dear friend Ina from Squamish, how wonderful!
 
Hanging with Nick and Ina at La Pasada

Negro, the campground doggie
 After a night of celebration and a bottle of Tequila we swiftly head up into the canyon. Our first route is a really fun, athletic route of about 1000ft called 'Space Boyz' Mostly 5.10, the position is fantastic. With the lightest rack ever, consisting of 18 draws (ahh simple sport) we link pitches and go go go! Crimps, pockets, bolts. It would be this way pretty much everyday for 2 weeks. When Kyla catches up with us (from the creek) we had a tribe back together again. To say this was a good turn of events was an understatement. 


Looking up 'Space Boyz'
Intention. Positive intention. Your actions, your attitude, your resources. You can make it happen. Of course, i didn't really want to leave this place. You're right here. World class ice formations formed all over the Rockies and would be the perfect place to learn. Fortunately, we met some Danish climbers who were here on a mission and were able to tag along and hero the ice falls (on top rope...) One of them tells me that the living legend Will Gadd said "you should top rope 100 times before you lead". This makes me feel less pitiful and i go about making my way to 100 with a little more dignity.

That following week was a great breath of fresh air and the doubt was suppressed more and more but waking up in the van with my thoughts brings back this feeling anew. David leaves for Cuba. Climbing is the only stable thing in my life.

Damien Cote belaying Simon Jensen in Johnston Canyon

The world famous Stanley Headwall. Climbing this in inconceivable to me right now.
Looking up the start of Professor Falls. WI4 300m


Looking out to Cascade mountain from the top. Magic.
  Sport climbing is fun. With hardly any gear it means you can afford to pack some unnecessary gear that you would never be caught with in the alpine...like an i pod and speakers for example. On this day we want to climb lots of pitches in a day, apart from the next little bit which has a brief 5.11b sequence, the rest is low 5.10. Jib is making his way up to the belay pretty quick. I know this because I'm reeling in the rope and the faint boom boom boom of the bass line is getting closer until i hear 'can't get no sleep'. Classic, Faithless. I quickly grab some draws and start up the 'Pit Bull' variation on 'Estrellita'. Crimp, high step, rock over, mantle onto shelf, finger lock. A little rest allows room for a quick shake out and a look at the lip. Ooh getting a bit pumped already. A few more moves up a shallow corner and im just shy of reaching the lip. The music sounds like a whisper as its taken by the wind. Come on, get you feet up. Nope. Fingers begin uncurling. i make a cave man eske slap for the lip but it tickles my tips and i go limp as i peel off the wall into space. Back at the bolt i see the crucial foothold i failed to see in my lactic state. i try again and reach the lip. Jib soon follows and we're off again. After linking 20 pitches in 10 rope lengths (we also went up 'Super Nova') and 13 rappels we had had a good day out!


Climbing 'Sketch Pad' 5.11a/b, El Fin de Semana
Enoying one of many routes on Mota Wall

Chugging out tunes with Jib on 'Estrellita'
That's the great thing about rock climbing, especially on bolts. You can push it and take the whip. Taking it to the limit is fun. Most of the time. There are exceptions...

The opposite can be said for ice climbing. At least when you're learning. This is all im thinking about when its time to lead the first pitch of Weeping Wall, left hand (160m WI4). My friend Damien, a very experienced climber from Quebec who possesses great humility and unwavering optimism, has agreed to lead the harder pitches above. Got to contribute at least one lead. Setting off, the ice is nice and soft. Thrust the tool in and test it. With straight arms, bring your feet up into a squat like position and stand up, arching your back. Strike again. That's the basic sequence. 4 close screws later my calfs are burning but otherwise im alright, just need to stop stressing.

The massive Weeping Wall.
Our line went left of the exposed rock in the middle.
 A couple of weeks before, my first lead up a tiny steep pillar was a disaster that left me knackered, shaking and whimpering a fearful "watch me" only to finish crouched under a roof at the top with no fixed anchor. Just a set of bolts 2 meters to the left on another climb. The best idea i can think of is to drive a tool in with the hammer of the other as hard as possible, sink the other tool next to it and lower off them. Not the best ascent ever, that's for sure.
I hope this can be somewhat understandable though as the last WI4 i tried to lead last year, called 'Hers' in Grotto canyon (near Canmore) resulted in the most terrifying fall of my climbing life so far.
The ice had formed nicely and i started up the cone at the base. A few holes from previous ascents made 'hooking' my tools quite easy. At the top of the pillar i was nice and warm having placed the last ok screw now at my feet. The crux of this formation is that you need to traverse a couple of meters, under a roof and over an icy step in which the icicles underneath had sheared off. This made me fearful of the integrity of the step and as a result i was crunched up too far in the roof above. About halfway between moving away from the pillar and reaching the chains (it's for a direct mixed route as well) i hammer my tool into the highest piece of ice available that's far to brittle for decent purchase. I keep on hammering with my bent left arm in the cramped space as much as possible but am getting tired so quickly i can literally see seconds left in my minds eye. With a small hole now i figure it's got to hold something. i match my right hand on the tool as well. Upon stretching out for the chains with my left hand the tool explodes, sending shrapnel of ice into my face. The tool butts into my cheek and im off. Letting out a death scream, my tools clatter onto the frozen ground and i swing into the pillar. My right knee smashing into the ice and absorbs the force before i swing back left. My razor crampons sailing over my belayers head. I finally stop and sit up on the rope. The screw held. Woah. I look up and see it's come out halfway. I lower down and limp over into the snow. That was close.

Back down in the canyon, we all sit round the blazing fire, listening to music, chatting about the day, shooting the shit. For most of us, we will be parting ways again. A regular event with such a nomadic group of people. Some will continue south, some will stay, some like me go back north. What a season. Looking forward to seeing you all again someday. It was a pleasure. Let's have another drink! The next day i was to step out of the airport in -25.

Vans usual antics

Our last fire together
Back on Weeping Wall these memories flash by but i ignore it, breathe and finish the pitch. Damien flows up in two seconds and we continue up for the rest of the day. A couple hours later, we are halfway up this massive wall of ice. No matter how long you climb, when you look down on something like this..it's awesome. "Lets get out of here" he remarks as i reach the belay. He is right, its sunny and above zero. We put snow over the anchor to help the ice from melting. A couple hours later we are onto of the ledge and begin the rappels. That's only halfway, there's upper Weeping Wall too which looks wild!

Damien leading the second pitch



Arriving at the 3rd belay. Psyched.
Rapping back down


A long drive later im dropped off at my new home in the trailer park. Things are looking up, eh! Let's keep it coming. Maybe i can lead my first mixed route and make some more cash..... Positive Intention.