Desert Storms

I’ve heard it said in regards to planning a climbing trip that “if you wait for the right weather before you climb, you’ll always be waiting”. This last trip to Cochise Stronghold has proven the wisdom of that saying. As a guide and as a recreational climber I try to pay attention to weather forecasts to avoid dangerous and uncomfortable weather. Professionally and personally I attempt to distinguish the difference between the two. Dangerous weather is life threatening. Obvious examples of this weather would be tornados, lightning storms, blizzards, etc. Uncomfortable weather is entirely dependent on personal preference and clothing/gear available on hand. Common examples are too hot, too cold, or too wet.

On a personal note, having a wife and children have limited the amount of time that I have free to go climbing for myself. For that reason I have altered my personal tolerances for “uncomfortable weather”. I climb in Phoenix, AZ through our triple digit summers not because I find it the most pleasant of weather:) but because it may be the only time that I have. Yet when you consider these temps it begins to create a fine line between “dangerous” and “uncomfortable” weather. To not be adequately prepared for these temps can in fact be life threatening. Being uncomfortable will never kill someone but dehydration can. I prepare meticulously for this by limiting exposure to direct sun ( I climb in the shade), during these temps I carry copious amounts of water (I keep track of my water consumption making certain I don’t run out of water), and I always carry a cell phone, a way to charge it, and stay within range of cell towers.

I bring up this example of the weather in Phoenix, AZ to demonstrate that the lines of dangerous weather and uncomfortable weather can be difficult to distinguish. So when attempting to differentiate between the two don’t forget to consider the worst possible scenarios so that you can pack the equipment essential for survival of not just you, but your partner as well. Also be certain to consider the terrain including, but not limited to, elevation, weather patterns, hazardous road conditions (flooding washes, ice patches, muddy conditions that may make vehicular travel not possible), distance to emergency medical services, cell service, perhaps the need for satellite communication, distance to fresh water sources (even if it is a gas station). This may require a great deal of research on your part but I promise it is not wasted time and it will be a huge benefit to you, your adventure partners, and both of your loved ones.

When planning my most recent adventure to Cochise Stronghold (perhaps my favorite climbing area in the state of AZ) I was considering all those things discussed above and more. I was watching the weather forecast on two different sources and noticed that the night before the chance for rain increased from 50% to 75% on one of my favorite weather resources. I’m personally comfortable  planning a climbing trip when the chances of rain are 50% or less but, I am not psyched when the chances of rain approach 75%. Since the two sources disagreed I was on the fence as to whether or not to cancel the trip altogether. If it rains enough to ruin the climbing then my partner and I would be traveling in the car for 6 hours or more just to get rained on. Well I consulted with my partner and he proved to be as tenacious as my self for adventure saying, “I’m comfortable taking the risk”. We were in good company and traveling down the I-10 in pouring rain leaving Phoenix, AZ heading towards Tuscon. The navigator (me) watching the radars and weather forecasts as we approached our destination. Our hopes were quietly being tested as we drove through solid rain from Phoenix through Tuscon. As the clouds became less thick and the sunrise over the Dragoon Mountains blinded us both, our hopes were slowly being lifted like the wings of a falcon, propelling us closer to the West Side of  Cochise Stronghold.

Once parked at the trailhead, we were enamored with the Sheepshead formation being illuminated in the morning light. We did the ritual racking of the gear, discussing what to bring and what to leave. As soon as our packs were filled our legs carried us up the 1.5 mile approach to the base of the rock and we were staring up at the route “Peace Maker” looming above us. Knowing that the chance of rain was still there, we wasted no time in dividing the gear, flaking the rope, and tying our knots. I started off leading up the glassy granite face; a little discomforted by the fit of my new climbing shoes. I was able to remain balanced on the tiny crystals 130 feet up to the first set of anchors. After the anchor was set, my partner began following the pitch expertly cleaning each anchor that I placed.

I observed the direction of the wind and scanned the horizon looking for any potential rain. I saw two separate rain clouds dropping rain in  the distance but I was uncertain of their path. Once my partner arrived at the belay we both discussed  the worst case scenarios. Because we weren’t certain they would even reach us we decided to proceed up our route.

I launched up pitch two as fast as I could and my partner floated up the technical granite sequences with ease. As he was climbing I could observe the two separate rain storms and notice that one appeared to be headed straight for us. Over two hundred feet off the ground we again considered our options up or down and the risks involved in both. We both opted to continue up.

I engaged the third pitch with the determination of a starving artist craving the life giving nutrients of each climbing movement. My partner sped up following me with the speed and skill of Dale Earnhardt. The two storm systems drew closer. The wind picked up blowing our chalk and caressing our arms giving us an awareness of the rain’s imminent arrival.

With the knowledge that there was a spacious ledge with a two story tall pine tree to provide shelter we made our exchange brief and continued up the 4th pitch. Pausing below a difficult sequence I glanced over my shoulder to see just how much time I had before mother nature blasted me with her fire hose. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the clouds had changed directions parting one to the climbers right and one to the climbers left. Two more had developed in their place  but were much further away giving me the peace of mind to solve the problems that the climbing route was presenting. I made it to a small ledge 50 feet below the large pine tree and was able to breath easy with the knowledge that the rain I could see in the distance would’t be here before my partner arrived at this ledge. As he’d done before my partner cruised up the pitch nabbing the gear and once with in earshot we both exchanged the good news we both knew.

We dodged the bullet that Hurricane Rosa shot our way. Once to the anchor we blasted up to the ledge that had a huge pine tree 200 feet below the summit and waited for the next two rain storms to hit. To our delight these storm systems followed the last and totally missed us!

I’ve been told that those who “Risk big, win big”. Well we won big! The scattered thunderstorms that had between 50%-75% chance of showering us, didn’t. We drank in the views of the rolling clouds and sprawling landscape while we drank our water. The snacks tasted better than snacks normally do because of our beautiful circumstance and good fortune. My partner casted off up the final 200 feet of climbing “on-sight” with the surgical precision of a skilled practitioner.

Once on the summit we celebrated, turning 360 degrees, we were filled with the beauty of the Stronghold!

We were also able to see the black wall of clouds headed straight for us from the opposite direction. It had been obscured by the gigantic granite monolith we had just summited.

Taking time to enjoy the summit and avoid the rattle snake that I had stepped over unaware of it’s presence. It was time to get off of this dome before nature whipped out her super soaker and sprayed us down. Before we knew it our heads were literally in the clouds and the moisture of the cloud moisturized our skin, hair, and gear:) We made our way to the descent gulley sandwiched between the Sheepshead and Muttonhead formations. As soon as we were in the gulley, the mother nature pulled the trigger on her enormous oversized squirt gun and hosed us down! It was so thick and furious it obscured our ability to see the 600 foot granite walls to either side of us. Water falls erupted on the granite faces and turned into streams underneath our feet. It was a humorous dichotomy to be dodging cactus and trying not to slip in the running water:) A desert storm at it’s finest and two adventures smack dab in the middle. The only thing larger than the down pour of water were our smiles!

We made it back to our packs the clouds began to disappear allowing us to see all of the waterfalls on the Sheepshead. We could look up our route and our souls were filled with gratitude that we hadn’t had been climbing during that weather. We were quite aware that we had gotten away with something. We were so soaked we had pruny fingers. The kind you get from staying in the bath tub too long. After being in Stronghold’s hot tub for so long it was pure joy to see the sun part the clouds above and warm our skin. We laid out the gear to dry and as climbers do, got caught up in talking about more climbing.

Everything from the day’s route, to back when the first cavemen started climbing, we discussed it all. Before we knew it the rock was looking dry by about 4:30 in the afternoon. I remembered that the sunset was 6:15 and with the clouds on the horizon perhaps a bit sooner. Well it was too good to resist the idea of getting in one more climb before the end of the day. So, we hustled like a high school football team in the finals. We grabbed all our gear discussed the route all while running towards the next route. We were boogieing up the 600 foot tall “Ewephoria” (as excellent a climbing route as it’s play on words) by 5:00pm.

After completing the last two pitches by the light of our head lamps we were on the same summit for the second time that day by 7:00pm.

If we hadn’t taken the risk of getting rained on or climbing in the dark we wouldn’t have been able to have such a grand adventure by Yvon Chouinard’s definition.

“It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong.” -Yvon Chouinard

The Importance of Goals and Motivation in Climbing

In many ways, climbing is the process of achieving your goals.  For those who want to climb big mountains, each step they take towards the summit is driven by their desire to stand on the summit.  At the same time, there are some climbers who love the mountains and enjoy each step of the journey; the summit is merely the point at which they turn around and go down.  On the other hand, there are climbers who seek out super difficult boulder problems that play to their strengths or exploit their weaknesses.  Similar to climbing big mountains, there are some people who are motivated by topping out the boulder, while there are others who enjoy the process of working on their project; topping out is simply the end of one project and the beginning of another.  Knowing what type of climber you are or want to be is very important.  Once you have developed your identity as a climber, you can begin to develop goals and understand what motivates you to achieve that goal.

 

Personally, I have learned that I am an aspiring mountaineer.  I am an ambitious person and choose lofty goals and big objectives.  I know that I do this because it keeps me challenged and always striving to do something bigger and better than before.  Over the past few years, I have made a few of my first significant ascents in the mountains.  I have climbed the Grand Teton in Wyoming, Charlotte Dome in California, and several backcountry peaks across Arizona.  Throughout this process I have learned that I have a deep love for the mountains and I hope to continue hiking and climbing in the mountains for my entire life.  This is my goal.  In order to achieve this goal I must be willing to sacrifice a few summits in order to make it home safely and be able to return to the mountains.  I enjoy the process of route-finding and the movement when climbing a mountain, this is my motivation.  Standing on top is a bonus and one that I can do without.  Reaching the summit is always the target, but enjoying the mountains is my goal.

There are people who enjoy the process of projecting a route or boulder problem, and when they finally climb the crux moves or link sequences of moves together it can be an incredibly gratifying moment. These moments are what motivate them to continue projecting and training for that goal.  Some people do not enjoy projecting at all and they struggle to find the motivation to try the same route again and again after failing so many times.  With that said, there are many people who do not enjoy projecting so they focus on climbing problems on the first attempt (on sight).  There are also those who enjoy climbing routes well within their ability and are motivated to climb a higher volume of moderate routes as opposed to one really hard route.  Lastly, there are many people who are consistent with their goals and motivations while other climbers may have more scattered and unpredictable motivations from day to day.

Climbing is an amazing and exciting activity that involves the extremes of pleasure and hardship, of both risk and reward. It is an inherently risky endeavor when you start moving higher and higher above the ground.  I believe it is paramount to learn about yourself and develop an understanding of your goals and motivations in order to minimize risk and maximize enjoyment.  The risks of going too far in the mountains are well known to the loved ones of those who have died trying to reach the top.  There is a term in climbing called “Summit Fever,” which refers to the state of tunnel vision that people often get when they are fixated on reaching the summit.  This narrow-mindedness often gets people into deadly situations as they are not prepared for a long descent.  K2 is the perfect example of this, which is the second tallest mountain the world only to Everest.  Many alpinists consider K2 to be the most sustained, technical, and dangerous climb in the world.  One out of every four climbers who reach the summit will die on descent. In August 2008, 11 climbers died on one day following one of the most feverish ascents in modern mountaineering history.  Most of the climbers continued climbing late into the afternoon in order to reach the summit, only to be faced with a super dangerous decent in the dark. The same risks apply to bouldering, sport climbing, and traditional climbing when faced with the decision to go somewhere you have never been before. H ow am I going to get down?  Do I have the ability to climb without falling? How would I protect a fall? What are the risks of injury or death?  Many boulderers and sport climbers push themselves to the point of injuring themselves, and there are numerous accidents every year of people suffering serious falls.  How you manage the decisional balance between all these factors is dependent on your goals and motivation.  What kind of climber are you? What are your climbing goals? Why? What is your motivation?

-Neil Soneson

The Power of Self-Efficacy…

By Neil Soneson, August 20, 2018

What is self-efficacy? Firstly, efficacy means the capacity for producing a desired result or effect; therefore self-efficacy means how capable a person thinks they are to do something and how effective they will be.  This self-emotion is similar to self-esteem and self-confidence which are basically how someone feels about themselves in general. Self-efficacy is different because it is more goal oriented and requires a specific context for the person to think about themselves in. Climbing is a great example of this. Many people have heard of Mt. Everest and know it is the tallest mountain in the world. Most people only dream of climbing the peak, either because they don’t think they are capable or because it seems too big of an objective. The same people who have low self-efficacy for climbing Everest may have high self-efficacy when thinking about hiking up their local foothills. The power of self-efficacy is centered around knowing yourself and truly believing that you can do what you think you can do, as well as evaluating the situation and developing objective reasons for why you believe in yourself.

When I go rock climbing I usually look for new routes that fit my climbing style and that I feel like I will be able to climb effectively.  In selecting a route that I want to climb I consider the obvious features that I would be climbing. I have high self-efficacy when climbing opposing features like a dihedral corner or a chimney system. This is because I feel confident in the muscles of my lower body and my ability to use technical footwork in order to conserve energy. In contrast I have low self-efficacy when faced with a steep or overhanging section of rock because I know it will require more strength  and endurance in my upper body. I am also less confident in my ability to figure out the best technique to use because of my lack of experience on terrain that steep.  There are objective reasons for why I feel I will or will not be efficacious in climbing different types of terrain and different types of rock. This is the essence of what self-efficacy is all about and it applies to everything we do psilocybin mushroom bar!

It is amazing how powerful this concept can be for people once they understand how it works. Humanist psychologists have determined that self-efficacy is the main driver for behavior change. If you want to change your behavior in any way, whether that be adopting a new behavior or trying to reduce another behavior, self-efficacy has to change. If you want to start exercising more, improve your diet, or simply get better sleep, self-efficacy is the way we make decisions on how we are going to change and what will be most effective. Some people know themselves really well and will be able to choose strategies that fit their lifestyle, such as planning and preparing meals for the week ahead of time.  Other people may need more continuous support from people in their life in order to effectively make a change, like having a partner to cook meals with every night. And some people simply do not know what would work for them and they may need to learn through trial and error.  The key to being successful though is deciding whether or not you believe you will be successful and why.  Believing in yourself is not enough, it is crucial to assess the situation and develop reasons for why you feel efficacious or not.

In conclusion, I believe that we have the power to challenge ourselves on a deeper level by understanding our self-efficacy in different parts of our lives.  It is more than knowing what you are good at and not so good at; it is knowing what you maybe able to do if you push yourself a little further than you have ever been before.  When you decide to challenge yourself and try something you have never done before, you will acting upon your self-efficacy and promoting personal growth.  It truly is amazing to surprise yourself and think, “Wow, I actually did it!  Now what’s next?”

Why I Love to Guide

By Neil Soneson, August 17, 2018

What does it mean to guide someone? How does this differ from simply telling someone what to do?  These are questions that I have asked myself many times during my first year as a rock climbing guide.  To understand what it means to be a guide requires an understanding of how people communicate.  I believe that there are some people with strong leadership qualities who seem to direct people gracefully and effectively towards what they need or want.  There are other people with incredible listening skills who are able to communicate with others so that they feel heard, while also evaluating that persons knowledge level, physical skills, and emotional readiness to complete a task.  In my opinion, guiding someone in any situation is a balance between directing and listening to the person.  The challenge is in recognizing when you are doing one more than the other and coming back to a balanced state of guiding.

I love to guide people for the obvious reasons of knowing where to go, how to get there, and what to do to make the experience safer and more enjoyable for those being guided.  These are the things that allow me to feel confident as a guide, mainly because they allow me to make a plan on how to safely navigate objective risks.  It makes me feel great to know exactly where a loose rock is on our approach trail, or exactly at what time our route will go into the shade.  This information allows me to develop boundaries that I feel comfortable working in as a guide.  The more defined and familiar those boundaries become the more attention and energy I can devote to those I am guiding!

I mainly love guiding because I love people!  As a guide I am often meeting people for the first time, at the beginning of our trip, and getting to know them throughout our entire time together.  This is really what drives me throughout the day and from trip to trip.  I simply love meeting people from different parts of the world and learning about their experiences.  In asking them about their experiences I can try to guess how much they know about rock climbing and what we are going to do.  With that said, while I am asking them about their past experiences with climbing and other outdoor activities, I am always listening to what they say, how they say it, and how they carry themselves in the environment that I am guiding them.  Some people can talk the talk, but do they walk the walk? Essentially, this is the central challenge as a guide.  Discerning between what people are telling you and what they are showing you.  This is where listening skills are paramount. If a person claims to be an experienced climber but has trouble hiking up the trail to get to the actual rock climb, then that is valuable information that I must use as a guide.

As a guide I am also responsible for managing my client’s emotions and expectations.  Some people want to learn as much as possible, while others want to be challenged on a physical level.  Some people are afraid that the equipment will break, while others are afraid of plant and wildlife. All of these factors are important for me to consider when creating an experience for that person.  What route do I select?  What equipment do I bring to guide this particular person up that route? What if that route is too difficult or easy for them?  I love making these decisions because it encourages me to empathize with the climber I am guiding.  I get to learn about them and try to give them an experience that matches their emotions and expectations.  Sometimes it can be stressful in the moment, but usually as we are hiking out together I can talk with them and evaluate myself as a guide based on how satisfied they are with their experience.  I love to guide for all these reasons, but above all else I love to guide because some people tell me, “That was awesome!  This is just what I was looking for.” 

Becoming a Certified Guide…

By Michelle Marco, April 9, 2018

My introduction into the Rock Guiding world has been quite a unique experience. I was lucky enough to find a mentor when I had very few years of climbing experience under my belt. I started with Stoneman in August 2016, and at that time, I had only been outdoor rock climbing for barely over a year. I knew the moment I tied in my first time outside, that I had just made a life commitment. I was “tying the knot” both literally and figuratively with rock climbing at that moment, because I fell so deeply in love that day, I knew there was no turning back. From that point on, I spent the vast majority of my free time learning what I could about outdoor climbing and practicing my skills at a local indoor gym. About a year later, I reached out to a local climbing guide to ask “Hey, what’s this guiding thing all about?” We met for coffee, and I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse: a guiding mentorship, where I could learn the ins and outs of what it means to be a Rock Guide. And man… was it a steep learning curve!

There are a lot of skills that a climbing guide needs to know, a lot more than you may even imagine. Learning to efficiently handle ropes, tie knots, place gear, communicate with guests and climbers, perform rescue and safety techniques, and other skills can be quite overwhelming at first. It is a continuous learning process, and many of these things can take years to master. Because there are so many facets to guiding, it is only natural that there is a certification process for Rock Guides. Even guides must go to “school” to hone their craft, and pass tests to prove their aptitude. This past month, I participated in my own certification course through the Professional Climbing Guides Institute (PCGI).

The Single Pitch Guide (SPG) course is 3 days long with a 1-day assessment. I was lucky enough to take my course close to home, in the McDowell Mountains. The first day of the course went over anchor systems, or building the gear at the top of a route to hang a top rope (a top rope is similar to how it appears in the gym, when the belayer is on the ground). The following photo shows a solid anchor for top roping:

The red line is the anchor. It is attached at the top (not in the picture) to two pieces of gear in the rock and there is a giant, super strong knot tied in between the two pieces of gear. The loop underneath this knot is called the master point, and this is where the top rope is hung.

We also reviewed a few effective methods to take over the belay from one guest, and ascend the rope up to the climber in the event that the climber should become frightened or hurt, and need assistance lowering to the ground.

A majority of the information from the first day was review for me, although I did pick up some very handy tricks from my instructor that will help make me more efficient at building anchors. Efficiency is key to be able to set up systems in a timely manner and prevent the other climbers in your party from waiting an unnecessary length of time.

The second day, we returned to the McDowells to review 3-1 and 6-1 hauling systems. A 3-1 or 6-1 hauling system creates a mechanical advantage that allows you to pull 1 lb of force for every 3 (or 6) lbs of force at the other end of the system. So for example, if a climber were to need help through a section of a climb, I could set up at 3-1 system where I would only be pulling 1/3 of their weight, and the system would help me with the other 2/3. That also means that for every 3 feet of rope I pull up, the climber is only going to move 1 foot. The graphic to the left from roperescuetraining.com helps explain how this system looks.

On this day, and the third day, we learned various methods to safely teach climbers how to rappel. These include belayed rappel and load releasable rappel (using the munter-mule combination hitch). This allows the climber to rappel on one strand of the rope while backed-up on a belayed strand, should the climber let go of the brake strand, or get their hair caught in the rappel device. A proper anchor set up with this system is pictured below:

This picture doesn’t do a great job of clearly showing you each piece, nor is the munter-mule tied here, but as you can see, there’s a lot of gear involved and a lot going on at once when multiple ropes are involved.

One other method to safely rappel is to set up a pre-rigged rappel, where the new climber is set up on rappel at the top anchor. The guide then rappels down to the ground, and keeps their hands on the brake strands to protect the climber as they then rappel down to meet the guide. This seems to me to be the most effective and time-efficient way to teach a new climber how to rappel, although there are situations when a belayed rappel would be ideal.

After going over all of these systems, it was time to put them together in various scenarios. For example, in the first scenario…

  1. Guide instructs Guest #1 and #2 on how to lead belay, and backup a belay. Guide lead climbs traditional route (placing trad gear) and builds a traditional anchor.
  2. Guide belays Guest #1 to the top of the route. First guest has trouble, and needs assistance through a section of the route. The guide implements a 3-1 system to help the climber through a few meters of the climb. The guest finishes the route and is safely anchored in at the top of the route.
  3. Guest #2 climbs route to the top with no trouble, but does not want to rappel down. This climber is lowered to the ground.
  4. Guide sets up load-releasable rappel for Guest #1. Guest #1 rappels safely to the ground.
  5. Guide cleans up anchor and joins the guests at the base of the route.

Roleplaying this scenario as the guide (with the instructor and another climber roleplaying as the guests) was very high-stress and high-intensity. There are many steps that go into each of these systems, and it is imperative that they are completed in a safe, accurate, and timely manner. These are the same scenarios used in the assessment. In the assessment, these skills are timed, adding to the intensity.

Because I have had 1.5 year experience as a guide under my belt under my mentor, a lot of these techniques were review for me, although many of these rescue / safety techniques are not something that I have needed to use very often. I felt that this was a great opportunity to be able to really master some of these skills. At times the course felt a bit like information overload, so I can’t imagine how stressful it would be for a climber with little-to-no guiding experience.

In all, I am really satisfied with the material presented in the course. I was able to really hone my skills, learn some new tricks, and become a better, more efficient Rock Climbing Guide. But the road doesn’t stop here! There is a lifetime’s worth of growing as a rock climber, both recreationally and professionally as a guide. There are more skills to learn, and more courses to take, and this is just the beginning of my journey.

Untrained but Not Untested: Speed Hiking the Echo Canyon Trail

I moved to Phoenix, Arizona in the fall of 2017 to work as a rock climbing guide. The extreme heat of the summer mellows into enjoyable climbing temperatures throughout the fall, winter and spring. One of the locations where I lead excursions is Camelback Mountain. The mountain gets its name due to its shape, which looks like the head and hump of a kneeling camel. Camelback is located in the middle of the Phoenix valley and is a popular spot for locals and tourists to climb and hike. Echo Canyon Trail is the most popular hike at the mountain park. The trail is approximately 1.25 miles long and has an elevation gain of about 1,280 ft. Hiking trails, like skiing or mountain biking areas, use symbols in order to signify the level of difficulty. Green circles are easiest, blue squares intermediate, black diamonds difficult and double black diamonds very difficult. Echo Canyon Trail gets, in my opinion, the unnecessarily scary grade of double black diamond. I suppose it is to let first-time hikers on the trail know this isn’t your average walk in a city park. The combination of intensity and desert climate can leave the unprepared dehydrated. Although the trail can be challenging in spots, there are hand railings in locations where one might need a little support.

While visiting Camelback, it is not uncommon to see folks trail running. This piqued my interest and I did a little investigating. The speed record on the Echo Canyon Trail is 15 minutes and 58 seconds, set by Jim Walmsley of Flagstaff, Arizona. My wife and I hiked the entirety of the trail at a leisurely pace with breaks and clocked an hour and 15 minutes. At the top you get an awesome panoramic view of the Phoenix Valley. As a rock climber, I am a natural competitor and decided I would hike the trail again the following day to see how fast I could get to the top. While I am a solid climber, I have never done any trail running, or normal running for that matter. I played plenty of football, hockey and baseball in my youth but I was never a runner per se.

My speedy hike was not an attempt at the record, but a self-challenge to see how I fared. It is October and the temperature is still quite high, pushing the mercury to the mid-90s mark on the thermometer. We are having unseasonably hot weather and set a record this week for heat at this time of year. The best time to hike the trail in these conditions is in the early morning when it is still cool. Having been to Camelback a few times, I know parking is limited and it gets jam packed in the morning. You can be waiting in line a non-insignificant amount of time to park if you do not get there before 6 AM. I decided I would rather contend with the heat as opposed to the crowds on the trail and got there around noon. I had a backpack full of a few liters of water and a smaller amount of sunscreen to take with me on my hike. I started my favorite podcast and a timer and got going.

I am not a trail runner and my strategy was to not pretend to be one. I hiked at what I would describe as a non-weenie pace and tried to maintain that pace throughout the trail. The first part of the trail has the easiest terrain. It has switchbacks at a relatively gradual incline on evenish ground. I could potentially have hiked this part faster, but I didn’t want to wear myself out for the more intense sections. I am most familiar with this section of the trail because it leads to the main rock climbing areas. The trail wraps to the left of the “headwall” climbing area and steepens. This section has some slicker rock and has a handrail for added stability if needed. I pushed through the area of stairs and slick ramps and maintained my pace. The rest of the trail involves scrambling up steeper, uneven terrain where you may need to use your hands for stability. As a rock climber, I am most conditioned for steeply inclined terrain and like to think this is where I can make decent time. I struggled to maintain my pace through the steeper sections and slowed my pace occasionally to recover. The intensity left my leg muscles feeling a bit like jelly. I pushed through the final bouldery steep section and stopped my clock. I was at 32 minutes and 2 seconds. I was pooped and found a nice shady spot to sit, recover and rehydrate. It is a beautiful view to take in and I sat longer than necessary to recover, enjoying where I was in the world.

I am not discontent with my 32-minute mark and it puts the record of 15 minutes and 58 second into perspective. The Arizona Diamondback center fielder A.J. Pollock completed the hike in 27 minutes and 20 seconds so I feel pretty good with my efforts. I am never going to be a trail runner, but I am drawn to do the trail in sub 30 minutes.

Echo Canyon Trail is a fun hike in the Phoenix area. Hike at a leisurely pace or time yourself, but get out and enjoy nature. Make sure to look up at the cliff face when you are hiking and you may see me climbing in my natural habitat.

Surprise yourself: Defeating Self Doubt

It has been almost two years since my marriage was forever changed  by piss. My wife urinated on a test strip and we started the challenging route of parenthood. You see, before having a child we used to go on spur of the moment road trips and tall long rock climbing routes. It has been almost two years since we last did that and now we have a 7 month old baby to care for. So for those who can imagine; many stars have to align for us to be able to do any thing like that again. Well it is spring time and love is in the air but more importantly Grandma has the weekend off. So… things are looking pretty good! My birthday is just around the corner so my wife gives me a “hall pass” (different kind of “hall pass” fellas). I get to choose what route and where we climb for this not so spur of the moment climbing trip. Many options enter my mind and of course there are logistical considerations (drive time, climb time, etc.) but, I can’t get “Cloud Tower” in Red Rocks on the west side of Las Vegas, Nevada out of my mind. I do what most men do and make my own choice, I choose the “Cloud Tower”! … then I check with my wife to make certain that it is my choice. I have wanted to climb this route for well over a decade of my unprofessional climbing career. It is approximately 5.5 hours from home and Grandma won’t get to our house until about 9:00pm at night. We will only have her services for 48 hours and we have to make the time count. We may not be in college anymore but our resolve hasn’t aged a day and it has only gotten stronger through the years.

We do a general skills check and we know that the route will be challenging but we are both feeling good about attempting it (even if we fail). The car is packed with climbing gear, camping gear is also loaded, the baby is asleep, and Grandma is here. It is time to start the trip. 10:00pm-ish. Off we go we make it to the only campground in Las Vegas just outside the Red Rocks scenic loop drive at 3:00am. As we both predicted it is full. There are opportunistic campers drinking coffee huddled around their cars waiting for the first campers to leave so that they can nab a camp site. We don’t want to waste time with that so we pull into a grocery store parking lot and set the alarm clock for 5:30 am (sunrise). We get our 2.5 hour cat nap and drive to the park entrance where the line had already started forming. We are third in line, not too bad. There is just enough time to fire up the breast pump so that my wife doesn’t burst on the wall. As the gate opens and each car either flashes their passes or pays the fee we are off, driving one of the most relaxing and scenic drives in existence. The Tower is looming over our left shoulder as we begin the loop. As we continue  driving  the “Cloud Tower” moves over our right shoulder and we are watching it grow in size, along with our excitement as we get closer to the trailhead. The cheap gas station coffee that I am drinking has had little effect on my current state of arousal. However the sound of my climbing pack setting on the ground and the sunrise illuminating the tower has got my insides more excited than high school student going to prom.

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Yet at the same time there is a voice of doubt protesting inside of me quietly saying “You have no business on this route”, “You haven’t climbed anything like this in two years”, ” You think that you are ready for an 800ft. tall traditional climb close to your limit?”, “Your not going to make it”. Even though this is something I have wanted to do for so many years I find another part of me yearning for excuses to not even attempt the route so I would’t fail.

My wife has finished pumping and together we finish off the high calorie cinnamon roll we picked up from the gas station in Kingman, Arizona 5 hours earlier. “Maybe we’ll get food poisoning” the thought quickly enters my head or “Perhaps the weather will close in, Red Rocks does have notorious wind storms you know.” “Of course I know, you are talking to me”. I am conflicted. I truly want to  climb this but I am so afraid of failure at the same time. My wife and I are double checking to make certain that we have both packed all of the gear necessary for the climb. “Are you certain you feel up to this?” I ask her. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to climb it without falling but, I know I can make it to the top” she replies earnestly. Well my attempt to have my wife be my excuse failed me. I am running out of ideas. She asks me “Are you feeling good about it”? “I think I can do it but I am afraid that I will not do a good job”. She replied, “You’ll know best but I think you got this”. Her confidence carried me to the trailhead. Now we were hiking towards the “Tower of self doubt”. Experiencing the beauty of Red Rocks on the way.

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We arrived at the base of the climb and encountered two climbers starting the route we were planning on. Perhaps this could be my excuse I thought. I could see myself explaining to people as the asked about our weekend “Oh, well we would have gotten to climb it but, we were turned around by this incredibly slow climbing party” and they would express their understanding by replying “ughhh…” with an empathetic face. We weren’t there very long and it was obvious that excuse wouldn’t work with these climbers. They were young fast and efficient. We geared up, flaked the ropes, used the bathroom, and stashed our climbing packs to discourage the critters from digging in our bags. I inhaled deep swallowed my spit and looked up at the route above. Instinctively I asked, “On belay”? “You are on belay when you clip” she responded.

I grabbed the rock and let my body do the rest. The first two hundred feet of the route were a nice way to get the muscles warm. The climbing wasn’t too difficult or tricky but very enjoyable. The end of this first section (pitch) of climbing deposited me on a spacious ledge. The following steep sections of climbing were visible from this ledge. As I anchored in and started holding the rope (belaying) my wife I looked up about 150ft. and could see the climbers above us entering into the most difficult pitch of climbing. I could hear his rhythmic breathing and sporadic grunts as he was at the most difficult part of that pitch, the rock acted as a sounding board carrying their sounds across the canyon. “Woohoo!” one of the climbers exclaimed “nice job, you sent it!” the other climber answered. I could hear their whole conversation about how difficult it was and how there is no way he thought he was going to be able to do this climb with out falling or weighting the rope (on-sight).

Now my thoughts of self doubt get even louder. There is no way I am going to be able to climb that pitch on-sight like that climber did. We are climbing so close to them they are going to watch me as I fail on that pitch. It is going to be so embarrassing. You should turn around now while you still can. I know that I can turn around and retreat from this ledge easily. But if I climb off of this ledge, retreating the route will be arduous and I don’t want to put my wife through that. I am wrestling with these thoughts as my wife climbs the section below. As she arrives at the ledge I still struggle with this self doubt.

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She had a blast on the first 200ft. of climbing and we reminisced about climbing we just did. “That was so much fun!”, she exclaims as she pulls the final moves to get to the ledge. “Right! I thought that climbing was really fun too.” I responded. “I was thinking that part of the climb was going to be unpleasant or grungy but it was really fun.”, she explained through a smile. “Me too, what a pleasant surprise.”

I prepared for the next pitch of climbing by reflex. Sorting the gear and reorganizing the rope to remove any tangles. Simultaneously I explained how those climbers above me “crushed it” on the crux pitch and how I doubt that I’d be able to do the same. “You’ve been climbing so well. I think you can do it”, she stated calmly. She sounded so matter of fact it helped me hear the other much quieter voice of confidence in side of me. It was telling me to go for it. It can’t be that hard, that’s why everyone down grades the difficulty of the route. I began thinking that I might be able to do this route after all.

The gear was sorted the rope was ready and I was off climbing the next pitch of the route. I found each hand jam and foot placement to be pure joy. I moved with confidence closer to the crux pitch of the climb. Even though the difficulty loomed over me I was saturated with the enjoyment of my current state…climbing. I wasn’t overcome by fear because my focus was is in the current moment. I arrived at the anchors separating me from the crux pitch, put my wife on belay and enjoyed the view of the canyon. At the same time marveling at her graceful dance up the rock face.IMG_9685IMG_9838IMG_9743

She arrived at the belay and it was time. All of the feelings of self doubt were over shadowed by the excitement of the task at hand. Another pitch I needed to prepare for. I sorted the ropes and the equipment. I took only the gear I anticipated using on this section of the climb so that I wouldn’t have to climb with any unnecessary weight. I scoped the crack and started to plan how I might climb it. What anchors would I use first. The crack appears to be thinner at the base and gradually widen the farther up it goes. I finished arranging my gear then chalked my sweat soaked palms. I lifted my eyes to take a look at the route above. I had so many different feelings at the same time excitement, fear, anticipation, doubt, joy, nervousness, yet I had a peace and calm as I intentionally focused on the puzzle before me. I accepted the possibility of failure and  at the same time the possibility of success. I asked “on belay?” You are on belay”, she answered. “Climbing”, I stated. “Climb on”, she responded. I took my first steps above the anchor station. “You got this!” she emphatically stated and I was off. Each movement with efficient precision up the easy climbing before the angle of the rock got steeper. There I was at the base of the crack, the most difficult section was upon me, staring me in the face. I inserted the tinniest anchors I brought into the crack. My fat fingers unable to enter the crack forced me to trust my climbing shoes and rely on even smaller features in the rock on which to stand. Using holds outside the crack I found a series of tenuous moves forcing me to brace my body on the rock. Through a series of technical climbing maneuvers I found myself making upward progress and I was able to get half of the first pad of my fingers in the thin crack. It was too small to jam my fingers and create a wedge but it gave just enough purchase to continue adjust my feet and climb higher. I found a good rest and placed another anchor in the crack. Finally I can get the first knuckle of my fingers in the crack in a specific pod but now the foot holds are smaller. I climb up another couple moves. My breathing is loud and rhythmic. I place another anchor in crack and I can still only fit my first knuckle in the crack. I am approximately ten feet away from the part of of the crack where I will be able to fit up to my second knuckle in the crack which will finally provide me with a secure handhold.  The problem is my last anchor is below my feet and I know I will have to climb another 10ft. up and I am on the last foot hold I can see. If I don’t get an anchor in now and proceed upward I won’t have a solid stance to place another anchor. I would be looking at a fall greater than 30ft. The fear of taking that fall is the only thing separating me from secure handhold. I look down at my harness to see if I can find anchor that will fit the size of crack that I am in. I am out of that size of anchor. I lean in and look intently at the crack above and below the reach of my hand. Above I spot a taper in the crack that just may take an anchor size that I do have. My rapid breathing is audible across the rocks as the gentle breeze carries it away from me 400ft. above the canyon floor. The noise of the chattering carabiners makes the only other sound I fumble the next anchor off of my harness. I lean in to the stone and with the precision of a surgeon place the anchor in the only place it would fit. It fit perfect! Now I am only looking at a 20ft. fall if I screw up the next sequence. I place my fingers in the only pods of the crack that they’ll fit. Still only one knuckle deep I paste my feet on the featureless sandstone and start pulling. I am barely holding on and I have managed to make it 10ft. above my last anchor. I have a foot to the left of the crack a foot to the right and I have tips of my fingers wrenched in the crack providing just enough friction to hold my body weight. I can see the crack above widen to the finger size that I need but the footless stone is making it hard to move high enough to get that finger lock. I am calculating if I can make the move or not and my right foot slips! But, I am still clinging to the rock by my wrenched fingers. I quickly paste my feet back on to the smooth sandstone and give a long exhale. Aware of my muscle fatigue and the long fall I am about take, I’ll only have one attempt. I know I have to be precise. I breathe deep and pull in to the rock with my finger tips and and push upward with feet I let go of the crack with my right hand and reach high aiming for the perfect finger lock…

My fingers slot in the crack with the security of deadbolt and I fill with surprise! I finally have a secure handhold but no defined features for my feet to allow me to rest. I can feel my fingers wanting to let go. I am 15ft. above my last anchor; if I don’t place another soon I am looking at a huge fall. Not allowing my body to be distracted by success, I pressed on continuing to work my way up the crack searching for a defined foothold to distribute the weight of my body so that my fingers could finally rest and so I can place another anchor. That foot hold came only 5ft. higher. I placed my anchor. I started shaking out my right hand and then alternating to my left to allow blood flow to my deprived digits. I still couldn’t see the anchors and I didn’t want to get cocky so I remained silent. My belayer sharing the same sentiment didn’t say anything either. Yet I could feel the grin on my face as I started into the final moves of the pitch. When I saw the anchors my smile widened all the way to the back of my head. I made the anchor and called down to my belayer “off belay!”, “your belay is off” she called up the rock. “I can’t believe I did it!” I exclaimed. ” YOU DID IT! That was awesome!” she screamed back.

As I organized the station I found a comfortable rest on the rock and was able to stare at the surrounding cliff faces. I continued to hold the rope safely so my wife could climb the pitch I had just finished. I peered down and now I towered over the feature in the stone that had been looming over me only minutes earlier. I marveled at the angle and the colors it had. It was truly beautiful. My wife graced stone with exquisite technique gave it a well deserved compliment. I was in a state of awe at the beauty I was able to experience. I began to ponder all of the events leading up to the moment that I now found myself at present. The doubt, trepidation, anxiousness, and fear that I had experienced before we had even left our home was no where to be found. It had all become a memory, a story that I am now telling. Sometimes we lie to ourselves, sometimes we surprise ourselves. I continue to climb because I learn through many mental battles who I am and bit by bit remove the seeds of self doubt and question from my mind changing me into a better, more self aware person.

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A new kind of bachelor party!

When most people think of a  Bachelor Party their minds fill with scenes from the movie “Hangover” or of a night filled with drunken debauchery and strippers. Many would call those parties extreme! Some may even call those epic! We would call those parties neither extreme nor epic and would interject our very own recipe of a truly Epic & Extreme Bachelor Party!  IMG_4232

Start with 3 cups of “surprise”. We decided to inform the bachelor of the general activities of the Bachelor Party. The trip would last at least 5 days but would have time for any unforeseen obstacles or circumstances. It will involve at least three extreme sports that he needed to arrive prepared for… rock climbing, mountain biking, and ice climbing. We will be camping bring your own sleeping gear.

Day1

Mix in your first cup of “Extreme Fun”. Leaving Phoenix Arizona at Midnight we arrived in the world famous Indian Creek (“the Creek”) Utah. The incredible splitter sand stone cracks required many cams and tape to protect the bachelors hands.

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We began the day climbing SuperCrack! aka “Luxury Liner”. This was the first splitter sandstone crack climbed by Earl Wiggins changing the limits of what was impossible.

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Then we moved over to  the “Incredible Hand Crack” ! And yes it was, truly INCREDIBLE!

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Day 2

Now it is time to add a gallon of “uncomfortable epic” to the bachelor recipe. This should be something you know will test the comfort zone of the bachelor. A quick drive through Moab then along the river road over to Fisher Towers. It’s time to climb “Ancient Art” with perhaps one of the most exposed summits on the planet. It is certain to be scary for not only the bachelor but his companions as well:)

On top of the second pitch after 200′ of chimney!

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Only 30′ of interesting climbing between us and the “sidewalk” 🙂

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The “sidewalk is a thin sliver of rock with a vertical drop between you and the ground. Then you must walk across to reach the “Ancient Art”.

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… Yes, we have to climb that!

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Victorious! We stood on the skinniest pinnacle of our lives in the middle of the Utah desert. We can look back up and smile at that odd pinnacle that we conquered. Yet we remind the bachelor that “marriage” is far more extreme than that summit.

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Day 3

After testing the bachelor to his discomfort it is time to stir in a “fun test” with that which he is more comfortable. Believe it or not our bachelor is far more comfortable with ice climbing! We have to drive over through Durango, CO to a lesser known town of Eureka, CO. It is there we will take him to the Whorehouse… You knew it was coming but it isn’t the Whorehouse you’d think. It is actually a 600′ ice climb named “the Whorehouse Hoses”.

The very last pitch is a 200′  WI 3  rope stretcher. It would be the longest pitch of ice that the bachelor would have to lead climb. He completed this task with style.

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A beautiful way to leave the mountains!

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Day 4

Miles and miles of mountain biking through the “Canyon of the Ancients”. Located just outside of Cortez, CO this rip roaring desert single track was quite enjoyable and we were even able to ride within a ‘stone’s throw’ of some ancient ruins.

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A quick drive back to Moab, Utah and through Arches National Park.

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A round the day off with a ride through the “Slick Rock Practice Loop”.

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quick video!

Day 5

We gave the bachelor a choice, would you like to go rockclimbing or more mountain biking? As we patiently waited for the bachelor to make his decision we were informed from a local that a severe weather storm was closing in. It was going to be dumping inches in Moab and feet in Monticello the town through which we would have to exit overnight. Wanting to not get snowed in, we decided to round our trip off by mountain biking in Sedona Arizona. An excellent choice!

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It was truly Extreme and Epic! If you don’t make your bachelor party like this; we at StoneMan recommend that you plan your life like this:) Live life to the fullest!

From Water to Ice!

This Thanksgiving I had the time to reflect on things that I am thankful for. Family was first in mind as we surfed in the ocean and feasted on the San Onofre beach 40 minutes or so north of San Diego California.

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The addition on new members to the family.

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(engagement)

The young eyes exploring the west coast for their first time.

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The next I was thankful for was coffee. My first experience camping with our 2 month old son required coffee each morning. I had to get it before he woke up:)

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Once awake you never know when he’ll be happy.

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I learned perhaps as much as he explored! Those relationships with family I am most Thankful for! With more time to reflect next to the crashing waves I became very Thankful for being alive at this point in history. To be on the beach surfing, enjoying a family holiday this weekend and the next to be ice climbing in Hyalite Canyon just outside of Bozeman Montana the next! What other time in history did we have the ability to travel so rapidly and at the same time have the technology to have cutting edge gear to subdue nature with?

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I am thankful for being alive!

From Forest to Desert!

This weekend I had the honor of climbing with clients from out of the country. While Canada may not seem far away the difference in landscape and environment is vast! @carlodinardo with his wife and friend came to experience the difference first hand by climbing the local granite gained some passive income. We met at the Tom’s Thumb trailhead and sampled the unique weathered granite of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale, AZ. I don’t want to make you jealous by telling you exactly how awesome our time was… I’d rather show you:)

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Tis the season to go climbing!