It took long enough, but after 5 years I have finally graduated from Western State. It has taken a while to hit me, but I am pretty excited to be done. I am headed back to Maryland to continue working for Earth Treks Climbing Centers as a jack of all trades, slingin’ grips, coaching, guiding, etc. And of course, working on my whistling skills, rehabbing my finger, and training for a season long New River Gorge trip in the fall with my friend Ben Spannuth (and Caleb Justice if I can steal him away from school). After that, who knows? The world is my burrito!
Five years ago I arrived as a dirty gym rat from the east coast. I still love the gym, but now I am a bit cleaner, I no longer have a tree-sap dreadlock, and I can grow a much better beard. So life is pretty good I guess. Gunnison has been an amazing place to mature as a climber, and I am grateful for the opportunity to climb in and around the valley. There are a few things that I think make Gunnison a unique place to be a climber. The first thing is the amazing diversity of rock and how accessible it is. Hartman Rocks. Simultaneously the worst and best climbing area ever. Lets be real, for the most part Hartmans is lowball choss, even the sport climbs. But damn it if it isn’t 5 minutes away and always sunny. You can literally climb outside 365 days a year. Crazy. And you know what? If you can find your way through the maze of disintegrating granite choss, Hartmans is home to some of my favorite boulder problems ever. And even one of my favorite sport climbs (also Gunnison’s hardest). The sheer size of Hartmans is also an asset. Every time I think Hartmans is tapped out, I hike over a hill and get hit in the face with untouched classic boulders. Another thing that makes Gunnison unique is the potential for exploration and first ascents. Not just at Hartmans, but everywhere. It is a rare occurrence for me to go climbing for a day and NOT do at least one first ascent. Since coming to Western I have been involved in the development of many new climbing areas, and we have just scratched the surface.
Probably my favorite thing about the WSC climbing community is how supportive it has become. If I can speak frankly, and I can, the climbing community here has come a long way in terms of inclusion and support. I once heard George Sibley say, “One does not come to the mountains for love of his fellow man”. It seems many people come to Gunnison to ‘get away’ and even with all the talk about ‘community’ out here, it is easy to feel isolated. At least that is how I felt my first few years here. But I can’t talk about the failures of the Gunnison/WSC climbing community without talking about myself too. In my first semester as unofficial head of the WSC Climbing Team I probably came across as a dick. That’s probably because I was being a bit of a dick. I like to think that I have come a long way since then, and that is what college is for right? Learning! And I have definitely learned a lot. About people, climbing, community, and myself. I loved coming up to the gym this last year and seeing everyone crowded in the cave hanging out, climbing, joking around, and making plans for bigger and better adventures. I am really proud of how the climbing community at Western is evolving and I hope it continues to move in a positive direction.
Here is some unsolicited advice I wish I could go back in time and give myself:
1.) Stay humble.
Climbing is about having fun and pushing yourself. No one cares how hard you climb, how many pull ups you can do, or if you soloed some shit house climb in the winter. In the grand scheme of things none of us are badass. To keep things in perspective, I just remind myself that there are 10yr olds who could warm up on my projects.
2.) Stay safe.
There is nothing cool about being dumb or dangerous. Sure you might think trying to onsight that R rated pitch or soloing that climb you have wired will make you badass, but you probably won’t feel that way when you are laying there with broken legs and your friends have to carry you out of the back country. Being able to climb another day is badass. Getting hurt is not.
3.) Take pride in what you do.
Whether you are doing a first ascent, training in the gym, or writing a paper. Conduct yourself I a way you can be proud of. Try hard. All the time.
4.) Keep exploring!
There is so much rock. It is all over the place and there is plenty for everyone. When I come back to visit I want to check out all the new areas ya’ll have found!
5.) Share your projects.
Climbing is more fun with your friends. The first ascent isn’t that important. Plus, you probably have the beta wrong.
6.) Trad is not better than sport is not better than bouldering is not better than trad…etc.
Mix it up. Expand your skill set. You will be a better climber.
Finally, I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes by the Japanese poet Matsuo Basho.
“Do not follow in the footsteps of great men, seek what they sought”.
Get out there and PULL DOWN!
P.S. If you are ever on the east coast look me up, lets go climb.