Gear Review: BioLite Headlamp

Wildly Capable. Simply Comfortable. Meet the BioLite HeadLamp:
I never thought I would love a headlamp as much as this one, but BioLite has knocked it out of the park with the slimmest headlamp I’ve ever worn. In comparison to previous headlamps I’ve used, the design of the HeadLamp is unbeatable: a slim-profile, breathable fabric, and a whole lot of functionality packed in a powerful little light. It’s pleasant for extended wear without any of that pesky bouncing or slippage! With a combination of smart fabrics and rebalanced weight, the HeadLamp creates such a comfortable fit, you won’t even know you’re wearing it!

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BioLite’s HeadLamp boasts some pretty tech impressive specs that says a lot about the innovation behind this piece of gear:

Weight: 2.42oz (69 grams)

Output: 330 Lumens

Run Time: 3.5 hours on high (White Flood + White Spot) and 40 hours on low (White Flood)

Battery: 900mAh Rechargeable Lithium-Ion

Beam Distance: Flood – 16 Meters, Spot – 75 Meters

Modes: Dimmable White Spot, Dimmable White Flood, Dimmable Spot/Flood, Red Flood, and Strobe

Dimensions: 3.74 x 1.38 x 2.36 in (95 x 35 x 60 mm)

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This unique unit uses a 3D SlimFit construction that allows it to sit flush on your forehead and won’t bounce or shift. Its moisture-wicking fabric won’t abrade and the whole thing moves seamlessly with you, whether you are trail running or climbing vertical faces. There is nothing bulky or uncomfortable about the HeadLamp’s smarter, lighter design.

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Because the power source sits in the rear of the HeadLamp, there isn’t any slipping. With the front weight so minimal and the grams are redistributed towards the back, the BioLite HeadLamp offers a gravity-friendly design and weightless feel.

The HeadLamp angles downward to illuminate below and is easy to operate. Lock mode is easy to engage: when the HeadLamp is off, just press and hold the “on” button for 8 seconds and it will be locked (so you won’t accidentally drain battery life while it sits in your pack.)

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The most important features for me are functionality, fit and comfort, and battery life. The BioLite HeadLamp meets all three of these for me. There is no aggravating bounce while I am actively using it and its compact and lightweight design feels almost downright soothing to wear. The battery life is quite long (and thanks to its recharging feature, the entire unit can be powered up with any micro-USB source). And, finally, its bright lumens help me immensely when I get stuck night climbing against my will as it lights up the entire route. This thing cranks out lumens like that’s its job; imagine that!

The fact that BioLite’s Kickstarter is over 600% funded says a lot to me. There are plenty of headlamps available on the market, but to find one that fits and functions as well as this one, not to mention at an MSRP of $50, is like striking gold. Say goodbye to the bulky, saggy-banded headlamps of the past as BioLite innovates what smart outdoor gear looks like.

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3: She, Her, Hers

When we’re born, a doctor proclaims that we are male or female, based on what our bodies look like. But some people’s gender identity is just different from what was initially expected at birth. Halcy wrote in March of 2018: “Dirtbagging has been an integral part of my climbing experience. Two months after I learned to climb, I packed up into my vehicle and took to the road. But things changed when I came out as transgender.”

In March of 2018, Halcy wrote to me: “Two months after I first learned to climb, I packed up into my vehicle and took to the road. But that changed when I came out as transgender. The world became a more dangerous place for me and I didn’t feel safe climbing with whoever happens to be at the crag. While living authentically is totally worth it, it is hard to lose how you fell in love with climbing and find new ways of enjoying it.”

This episode is brought to you by Deuter, Evo Hemp, Dirtbag Climbers, and BioLite. Music by: “Jazzy Frenchy”, “Funky Suspense”, and “Funny Song” by bensound.com, “Ichill” by Kakurenbo, “March of the Mind” by Kevin MacLeod, “Bloom” by Jahzzar, “Arboles”, “Flutterbee”, and “Pives and Flarinet” by Poddington Bear.
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Transcript:

(KATHY KARLO): This podcast is sponsored by Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort, but most importantly–your snacks. Deuter is known for fit, comfort, and ventilation. Stay tuned for a new line of women’s climbing packs, coming out any day. I can’t tell you which one, but stay tuned for more about Gravity SL line–made by women, for women.

Deuter has a history of first ascents and alpine roots. Their head of product development even climbed Everest once, in jeans (hashtag not fake news.) Founded in 1898, Deuter believes in good fitting backpacks, so you can focus on way cooler things like puppies, pocket bacon, and gettin’ sendy, whether at the crag or in the alpine.

– Hey. Are you ready for some new innovation when it comes to headlamps? Get ready for BioLite’s new HeadLamp, launching this spring of 2019.

Is there anything sadder than a headlamp that stretches and sags? There are some pretty impressive tech specs that say a lot about the innovation behind this piece of gear. It weighs less than two and a half ounces, uses a 3D SlimFit construction that allows it to sit flush on your forehead, and won’t bounce around. The design of the HeadLamp is unbeatable: a slim-profile, breathable fabric, and a whole lot of functionality packed in a powerful little light. (Is functionality a word? Because it always sounds fake to me.)

The BioLite HeadLamp launches in Spring of 2019 and is available on Kickstarter until October 19th. Keep updated on its release at bioliteenergy.com (that’s B-I-O-L-I-T-E) and stay tuned for a gear review coming up on the blog. (Seriously, will someone else use “functionality” in a sentence?)

– When we’re born, a doctor proclaims that we are male or female, based on what our bodies look like. Most people labeled male at birth turn out to identify as men and most people who are labeled female grow up to be women. But, some people’s gender identity–their innate knowledge of who they are–is just different from what we initially expected at birth. Most of these people describe themselves as transgender.

And transgender people come from all regions, every racial and ethnic background, from every faith community. Transgender people are your classmates, your co-workers, neighbors, and friends. With approximately 1.4 million transgender adults in the US–and millions more around the world–chances are that you’ve probably met a transgender person. Everyone has a gender identity, but for so many of us, we don’t even think about what gender identity is because it automatically matches our sex at birth.

My friend Halcy and I talk about what it’s like to be a transgender woman in the climbing and outdoor industry. In March of 2018, Halcy wrote to me: “Dirtbagging has been an integral part of my climbing experience. Two months after I learned to climb, I packed up into my vehicle and took to the road. But that changed when I came out as transgender. The world became a more dangerous place for me and I didn’t feel safe climbing with whoever happens to be at the crag.”

Please note that there is brief discussion about depression and suicide in this episode.

(HALCY WEBSTER): My name is Halcy Webster. I am a trans woman and I’ve been climbing for several years but I came out as trans a little bit more recently.

(KK): I asked Halcy if people treated her differently now, after transition.

(HW): Uh, yeah. (laughs) Yes. Yes, life is very, very different. Yeah, climbing, I’m having people telling me, “Yeah, for this next part, use your hands and your feet!” Like, it’s not like that’s any useful advice!

(KK): That actually happens—you get unwarranted advice?

(HW): Yeah! It was kind of funny, that guy who told me that, he said that he was a Stone Master from Yosemite and all that stuff. And it’s like, this is something that happens, you know, regardless of what type of people you’re climbing with: people who really know what they’re doing, people who don’t know what they’re doing—everybody has an opinion on what you should do.

(KK): Can you, in your own words, explain what a transgender woman is?

(HW): Sure. So, a transgender woman is a woman, first off, but what’s a little bit different about them is that at birth, the doctors assign them male. And that’s basically the only difference between a trans woman and a cis woman, or cis being “not trans”.

It wasn’t a singular event that I can point to, I was like, “Yup! That’s the moment I knew.” Although, I will say that once I found out that transgender was a thing that actually exists and there was a word for us, like, “Oh! That’s what I am.”

(KK): You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. This is not a climbing podcast. Well, sorta. This is a funny, sad, and somewhat uncomfortable podcast about choosing vulnerability and talking openly about our pain. This podcast is sponsored by Dirtbag Climbers. Here’s the show.

(HW): In my teens, when I was studying gene expression and genetic indicators and stuff like that and I thought, “Oh, what’s this trans thing? I don’t know about this.” So, I was just reading more about it, trying to expand my knowledge and then I realized that there’s a lot of similarities that I felt. I think one of the big things was when people would make stereotypes and generalizations about genders, in my mind, it always kind of triggered this thing—like, “Oh, wait. That’s not accurate because I don’t fit in there. That doesn’t describe me.” That was kind of one of the things that started tipping me off earlier. And I do remember just as a younger child being told, “Don’t stand like that. Don’t put your hand like that. That’s how girls do.”

Once I found out there was a name for this, that I’m not alone, that I’m not just some messed up person, that there are things you can do to feel better—it was a mix of emotions. One was relief—that I wasn’t alone. But then also, fear because I knew just right off the bat that, “Oh, this is not going to go well with my family. I lived a pretty sheltered life (laughs). I grew up in Michigan, kind of on the border of Michigan and Ohio, with a large family. I’ve got five sisters and one brother. So, my family is very loving but also extremely conservative. And so, with me being trans that certainly makes things a bit more interesting.

For like, twenty years, women in my family were not allowed to wear pants. That’s how conservative my family was. As a younger child, whenever I expressed any femininity, that was sharply rebuked. And I was homeschooled; all social interactions were focused either on family or on church. Now that I’m here looking back on it, part of the reasoning was if you control somebody’s social interactions, that’s really good leverage on controlling that person. And so, just kind of the specter of losing everyone you love is a huge motivator to act in accordance with what you’re told.

(KK): Coming out to your parents as homosexual, which refers to your sexual preference in partners, can be one thing. And not that one is easier or harder than the other, but coming out as a transgender person seems to be taking a lot longer to become “mainstream”. (I used air quotes, even though you can’t see them.) Regardless, coming out is exhausting—but how else will people know if you don’t tell them?

(HW): I come from a large family: five sisters and one older brother. Very close with my siblings, with my older brother and then my sister. Yeah, I was very close with those two in particular. My sister was the first one I talked to about this, just ‘cause I trusted her the most and I figured, if anybody in my family is going to be accepting, it’s gonna be her. And she wasn’t. She didn’t speak to me for several months. So, when your best hope doesn’t go well—that’s not very encouraging.

My older brother, I mean—he wants what’s best for me, but he thinks that he knows what is best for me. That’s kind of hard because his vision of what’s best for me is different than my vision of what’s best for me. Yeah, it’s definitely caused a strain on our relationship as well (laughs and sighs).

So, yeah. So, my family being as they are: they’re very involved in church—my dad is a church leader and so, they started to include some of his church friends in on this stuff without my knowledge or consent—like giving my contact information to his church friends so that they could contact me and try to change me. Those conversations really didn’t go well. Kind of one thing that struck me about conservatism and my family and just kind of a lot of my background is disregard for the concept of consent.

Kind of ever since then I’ve been receiving phone calls with the area code from my hometown area. I’ve considered changing my phone number—changing all ways of contacting me. To even think about that, to think that I’m going to completely cut off everyone that I’ve ever loved—that’s just a hard thing to even think about. And I’ve got family members with declining health and if I cut off my family then I will lose out. It would be really great if I could see my grandparents before they die.

A lot of people don’t have very good family relations, but I just wish that I could actually interact with my family, that I could talk with them, and that I don’t have to literally hide from them. That’d be nice. Being a transgender woman, it in of itself is not a huge burden. The difficulties come from people. The hardest thing has been my family. It’s been losing people that I care about. It’s dealing with bureaucracy to get the medical care that I need and the legal representation that I need. All of the difficulties—they’re artificially created by other people.

(KK): Today, the youth are starting to reject this binary way of thinking that we’re all so used to and challenging their adult counterparts to keep up. This is so different from Halcy’s early years.

(HW): That I don’t belong is the most accurate way to say it, but it’s not just that I don’t belong in social circles. It’s like I felt like I didn’t belong in the world. It got pretty bad, and then I tried to ignore it and that only further declined my mental health. I felt very stuck. The only people that I had in my life were family and church. Even though I was an adult, I didn’t feel like I had a whole lot of freedom. And so, I felt that I couldn’t do anything to move forward towards transition.

I’ve always been super outdoorsy, always loved just spending time in nature, going camping, going backpacking, canoeing, and kayaking. And so, then around this time in my life, I thought, “Well, I’ve got a whole lot of crap going on in my life. Climbing was something that really appealed to me, and that’s something that I can do. That’s something that I can make some forward progress on.

(KK): And, like any new climber, Halcy started obsessing. She began watching climbing videos, watching climber’s movement, buying gear, building a rack. And then, Halcy took her first ever climbing trip to one of the sport climbing meccas in the southeast.

(HW): My first time climbing was down in Red River Gorge. I made a trip down there. So, then I figured that I can’t pursue climbing here in Michigan; I have to go west for that.

Two months after I first learned to climb, I hit the road. And it was very good for me. I mean, the physical side of it releases a whole bunch of good chemicals in your brain that are really good. So, in just that alone, made a difference but then also having more freedom—feeling like I didn’t have family members checking in on me, looking over my shoulder, free to think. And life on the road is just the best way to be free. It felt so good.

That’s how I met you, Kathy. It was in Ten Sleep and you had an incredible impact on me. I saw you and just kind of how bold you were, and it was obvious that you faced fear, but then, it was also obvious that you didn’t let fear stop you and that was really inspiring. And then, also to see that there’s a woman climber rocking it and living on the road like me and—just everything about our time together was very inspiring.

(KK): I’m not crying.

(HW): It was obvious that returning is not a sustainable solution for me—that I would have to leave my family again. So, I was planning on leaving that spring. Two weeks before I was heading out, I was bouldering in the gym (‘cause I wanted to stay in shape through the winter) and then I took a really bad fall and just totally messed up my leg. I tore my ACL and my meniscus and fractured my femur and had several other partial ligament tears. Yeah, it was—it was really bad. That canceled my plans to go live on the road (small laugh).

(KK): It’s tough to spend an entire summer basically lying on your back, looking at the ceiling, and feeling more stuck than ever felt before. It’s really hard when you have a plan to get out—and then, it’s yanked from underneath you.

(HW): And then also, I’d lost all of my previous coping mechanisms. Before, to make myself feel better, I would go running or go climbing or do something physical and I couldn’t do that anymore.

(KK): But Halcy did recover and in 2017, she finally made it out of Michigan.

(HW): Early spring, late winter—I finally made it out. That time I spent lying on my back waiting for my knee to heal, I had a lot of time to think. I came to to the conclusion that I don’t have a choice on if I’m going to transition or not. If I’m going to live—I’m going to need to transition. I started that as soon as I could and—that wasn’t soon enough because again, like I said, bureaucracy and dealing with people and all that stuff. But here I am now. I mean, this is the best life has ever been for me. This is the best I’ve ever lived—because I get to actually be me, and that’s an amazing thing to be able to do.

So, probably one of the biggest things that I’ve learned from rock climbing that applies to other areas is to rationalize fear. I get scared a lot when I climb, but I’ve learned to say, “Ok—is this fear something rational or is this irrational?” I look at my system: I’ve got a rope. I’ve got my quickdraw (at my knees!) Ok, this is an irrational fear—I’m going to ignore it. But then, also recognizing that, “Oh ok, no. This is actually a dangerous situation here.” So, kind of learning to differentiate between what is a rational fear and what’s an irrational fear is an invaluable tool that I have gained from climbing. And it’s definitely helped me with transitioning, just dealing with these fears and letting the rational ones not control me, but inform me—and just pushing past the irrational ones.

(KK): Not all fears are irrational, though. And living without fear of discrimination and violence and being supported and affirmed in being who you are is something that I think a lot of us take for granted. And, for as many people who are kind and compassionate and open about gender diversity, there are just as many people who aren’t.

Last year, in 2017, at least twenty-eight transgender deaths were tracked in the US. Most involve clear anti-transgender bias. Being fired or denied a job, facing harassment, homelessness or living in severe poverty, or being denied critical medical care—these are just some of the existing barriers that the intersections of things like racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia can create. In 2018, there have been at least twenty-one transgender lives taken by fatal violence.

(HW): My sense of trust has really been damaged. Definitely kind of developed some trust issues there. And (trails off) just, there’s so much more to be afraid of, it feels like.

(KK): I think it’s hard for a lot of people to understand that fear, you know, just that constant threat of attack if you don’t experience it, and you have no way of experiencing it.

(HW): I take much more consideration onto which environments I put myself in. I lost my job over transitioning, all of my family members, everybody I knew in my hometown. And so, just kind of seeing all of those things, I don’t want to give anybody the opportunity to treat me like that again. So, I generally avoid situations where I think that there’s a chance for things to go negatively.

(KK): Did you have preconceived ideas before you transitioned or while you were transitioning about what the climbing community might be like, coming back to it?

(HW): I found some great climbers that I absolutely adore and just love spending time with, and a lot of that’s through an organization that I’m a part of now called the Alpenglow Collective. And so, it’s kind of a community building platform for women and trans people. I wouldn’t either condemn or praise the climbing community as a whole for how it treats trans people because the climbing community is too diverse for that. But I will say that it only takes one negative person to alter your life in a terrible way, regardless of how many positive people you meet. That definitely had an impact on kind of the caution I’ve taken with getting back into the climbing community.

(KK): Because she chose to live openly as a transgender woman, Halcy lost a lot in a short period of time. She lost all of her family, all of her friends and social life, and her job that allowed her to work from the road. And yet

(HW): It pales in comparison to how much I’ve gained from actually being able to live. I’ve climbed with people who, some of them know that I’m trans, some of them probably know. But, I mean, it just hasn’t been an important point of discussion. I mean, it doesn’t really matter that I’m trans. They treat me as a climbing partner and as a friend and that’s really great—just to feel accepted and to feel kind of somewhat normal. So much of my life has not been normal and so, to kind of get a little sense of that is very nice.

I don’t think that if somebody is close-minded, there’s a whole lot we can do to change that. In order for somebody to learn, they have to want to learn. So, that first step of wanting to learn is up to the individual. We can’t make somebody want to learn. What we can do is provide them with information—educate them. Talk about how gender is a social construct or just talking about the experiences of people and just letting them know that there’s more to the world than they’ve seen and that they know—that they’ve seen a very small perspective of what can exist in the world and that they should consider things that they haven’t considered before and that they should listen to people they haven’t listened to before. There is so much out there to learn. So, yeah just encouraging a culture of continued learning.

(KK): You know, I’ve definitely realized over the years that being a passive bystander can actually be more harmful than anything. And so, what do you think some things that we can do to aid in transgender visibility and help create safe environments are, based on your own personal experience?

(HW): I mean one is, when you see transphobia or anything like that, I mean—calling it out. It’s far more difficult for me to call it out because, in doing so, then I’m opening myself up to attack to from that person. And so, having a cisgender person who can kind of call them out without fear of being attacked for their gender—that’s a very appreciated thing. And also, just one example of really good allyship was, again with Alpenglow Collective. Our organization was asked to speak on a panel and so, the leader of our organization was the one who that was asked and she asked them if they had any trans people speaking at this panel. And they said they didn’t. And she’s like, “Well, then you need to get a trans person’s perspective.” And so then, she suggested that they talk to me. And so, kind of making sure that trans people’s voices are represented. So, sometimes the act of action that allies can take is being quiet. But not just being quiet—but being quiet to make a space for additional voices.

I would say that a really big misconception that I’d want to eliminate is the idea that a trans woman becomes a woman. No, I mean—a trans woman has always been a woman it’s just that she’s had to hide who she was for a period of her life. I’ve been really tempted just the thought of, “Ok. So, what if I tried to make sure that nobody knew I was trans?” And just everybody that met me would think that I’m cisgender and I wouldn’t correct them and just kind of go along with that. And I mean, that’s really appealing—that idea of normalcy and just leaving behind parts that have caused so much grief in my life. The thought of being able to escape is very tempting. If I did that, then I would be silencing myself and not lending my voice to an important issue.

When I was first figuring out gender and all of this stuff, it would have been so nice to have a trans person, particularly in climbing, that I could look up to and see that, “Oh. It’s ok to be a trans climber.” And that there is hope for a good life. I didn’t have that. (pause) I want to send out that message to other trans people who are scared. I want them to know that: things will be tough. I won’t lie to you and say that it will be easy, but I will tell you that it will be worth it and that you can get through it.

I am now on the executive team of Alpenglow Collective

(KK): Shout out to Emily!

(HW): and that’s been hugely impactful for me. Just connecting me with amazing people and getting to do wonderful things and make a positive impact on the world—and doing it all through climbing. I mean, (laughs) what better thing could there be? It’s something I do just because I love it so much—calming my mind, making my body stronger, and developing relationships with really awesome people. And I’ve got climbing to thank for all of that. Climbing has changed my life and it will continue to do so. I hope that I can continue to climb for many more years.

(KK): Some things we can all do to be better allies that I’ve learned: if you don’t know what pronouns to use, listen first. Challenge anti-transgender remarks in public spaces, including on social media. Set inclusive tones. Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something. It’s always better to admit you don’t know something than to make assumptions or say something that may be incorrect or hurtful. Being an ally is a sustained and persistent pattern of action. 

(HW): I am very excited about where the community is heading. I don’t think that most people are intentionally malicious—I don’t think that most people want to hurt people—but just because of their lack of awareness and their ignorance, they do end up hurting people. And that does not excuse their behavior but to me, it feels me with hope because I can’t change it if somebody intentionally wants to be hurtful, but I can do something about it if somebody doesn’t want to be hurtful but just doesn’t know. We can change people who just aren’t aware—that’s a thing that can change and to me, that’s so encouraging and so hopeful.

And I think that there’s a lot of conversations going on right now about people of color, the LGBTQ community, women, and so many important people that have been excluded. There are conversations now about that that didn’t exist before. And I think that we have definitely come a long ways, but I still think we have a long ways to go—and we will probably will always have a long ways to go. The point isn’t to be perfect. The point is to be better. I think as long as we keep that forward progress—that’s really all that matters. And I do see that forward progress happening, and it does fill me with hope.

(KK): If you are a transgender person in crisis, there are so many resources available. Check out The Trevor Project, which is open 24/7, 365 days a year at 866-4-U-TREVOR. There’s even a list of international resources at http://www.thetrevorproject.org.

You can call the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 and if you are having thoughts of depression and suicide, please—reach out to the The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK. You are not alone.  And just keep talking about how to challenge the beliefs of close-minded people in constructive ways. We can’t force everyone to be supportive, but we can give them the tools to learn and try to understand. Acceptance doesn’t always require understanding, but understanding will often follow acceptance.

(KK): You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast.

(record scratch + iPhone ringtone)

(FEMALE VOICE): At the end of your message, press one (light beep)

(FEMALE VOICE): I am calling ‘cause I am making the long drive up towards Washington right now, ’cause I’m gonna go spend some time in Squamish. But I listened to your podcast and you weren’t lying—I literally cried the entire time. The entire time! (laughs) I wanted to call and just, first off, tell you how moved I was by it and just how I wish there were more podcasts for me to listen to today. (laughs) I have a long drive! But also, just talk about it and how moved I was. It brought up so many thoughts! It was so good and I just wanted to share how moved I was.

(KK): You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing, and even though I still have no idea what I’m doing—things are happening. And if you’d like to help out and support this podcast, please check out patreon.com (that’s P-A-T-R-E-O-N) where you can sponsor us for as little as $1 per episode. It really helps keep this podcast going, and I’m so grateful for all of your help. Special shout out to Cameron MacAlpine because he makes this thing sound good.

(record scratch)

A huge thank you to Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort, and to Evo Hemp, who is on a mission to bring you quality hemp products that are both affordable and accessible. What the heck is hemp, anyway? We’ll have to tell you next time. Support companies who support this podcast—we couldn’t do it without them.

If you liked what you heard, you can leave a review on iTunes or give us a like—like all good things, you can find us on the internet. Until next time.

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The Most Important Thing

When Kurt and I left NYC last winter, I told him that I got to pick the next place we lived. We spent Christmas with his family in Arkansas but immediately backtracked to the southeast to spend a winter in Chattanooga. A majority of my time spent climbing has been in the southeast, specifically in the New River Gorge and at the T-wall. I’ve always had enough time in both places to attempt a thing here or there, but never long enough to project some of the harder things.

I often wonder what climbers from out west think of when they hear about climbing in the south. The general consensus has always been: the south is filled with rednecks, extreme humidity, and possible snakes, and there is always a chance of retreating to your car because someone with a gun threatens you off their property. None of those things would be false preconceptions. But, despite some of these factors, there are also primo sandstone trad routes and moderate winters, which provide year-round climbing opportunities.

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Racking up with Sarah Malone. Photograph by Bryant Hawkins

There are a few climbs in Tennessee that I have been willing to make the 19-hour drive from Colorado for. Human Chew Toy (5.11d), in 2015 was one of them. Fists of Fury was another. Fists is one the infamous Triple Crown roof cracks at the T-wall, about 30-meter long climb consisting of an intense, burly start, a bombay roof crack, and an invert you absolutely have to battle through to the anchor.

Rob Robinson and Steve Goins put Fists of Fury up in 1985. Robinson says of the history of the climb, “The name came from one of several martial arts training exercises that I incorporated into my training to benefit my climbing back in the day in order to build brutal, crack climbing power: Doing hundreds and hundreds of push-ups in a large bed of rice approximately ten inches in depth set in a 3′ by 3′ square pan.”

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This exercise was just one of many Robinson used to consolidate and refine his crack climbing power. 
Pumping laps on Grand Dragon (5.12-) early 80’s Photograph courtesy of Rob Robinson
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Leading Grand Dragon for the cameras. Foot cross technique is used to stabilize against body swing and rotation. Mid 1980’s. Photograph by John Harlin and courtesy of Rob Robinson

Robinson said that this type of training provides the martial arts practitioner with tremendous gripping and tearing power. “It’s brutal shit. And it’s great for climbing, too,” he says. Robinson gave the Tennessee Wall mega classic roof crack its name, “Fists of Fury”, in recognition of the rice bed power training he performed, which was instrumental in his original onsight/flash of the route. For the first ascentionist, the crux came once he jammed out into the bombay slot, cut loose on a pair of fist jams buried high and deep in the crack while smearing feet on the bottom wall that sloped away beneath him. To turn around, Robinson relaxed into a full body dead hang on his fists and then eased his feet into space. Letting them dangle, he then twisted his head hard left to give him enough space to rotate. He says, “It was such a tight fit that I literally sanded the skin off the end of my nose in the process…. A little bit further out and I wormed my way left around the lip, then up a short corner to a standing belay. An FA story that’s never been told.”

The first trip I ever took to Tennessee, I merely gawked at photographs. The second visit to the T-wall was in November of 2014 and I decided to try my hand at it. I failed miserably, barely able to get ten feet off of the ground and taking on every other piece. It felt impossible before I even got to the hand to chimney-sized crack and overhanging offwidth. I was going to need a miracle—but I kept that one in my back pocket. Another day, I always told myself.

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My first ever attempt. It got dark. I was up there for a while. Photograph by Mark Pugeda

But sometimes, you get climber’s amnesia and forget about how impossible things feel. Enough time goes by that you even start to believe you have some small iota of a chance. It had been four years since the first time I’d gotten my ass kicked, with one other attempt. I asked Kurt if we could spend the winter in Chattanooga climbing and working so that I could give it a real attempt this time. It was going to take a lot of work, and I knew it. Because I don’t really onsight things anymore, and I especially don’t onsight 12 roof cracks.

After waiting out some wet weather, I had three and a half days of attempts (one with Donal O’Leary and again with Sarah Malone). Both were generous enough to belay me through it even though it was not fast climbing. Mike O’Mara gave me a belay on the coldest, wettest attempt, where I only made it halfway through the roof. It had been a particularly cold winter, and there was a huge sheet of ice, frozen on one side of the wall. Where the crack opened wide, daggers of ice jutted out, glistening dangerously and threatening anybody who happened to be standing underneath. I went indirect and hacked away for what felt like forever with my ice tool and a number 3 cam. Shards came careening down and I was lowered, giving the route some time to dry.

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You won’t believe me when I say this was the easier part. Photograph by Bryant Hawkins

Our time in Chatt was dwindling down and I was wondering if I’d be able to go up it again, or would I have to come back and try another time. Mostly, I was in need of a good belayer—someone who didn’t mind trudging far west with me and taking up a few hours of their day. Sabine Connors pretty much saved the day when she said she’d join me. Not only did she come with me, but she was also buzzing with excitement (more than me, I think!)

Racking up, it already felt improbable. I had sorta figured out what to do through the upper section but still, up until that day, had not been able to do the start clean. It was overhanging. It was burly. And scary, burly, low to the ground moves still make me nervous. But Sabine put me on belay and I started upward. I’d told myself, it was just a warm-up burn to familiarize myself with the gear and movement again. I went entirely horizontal, to the point where I was almost upside down, and plugged my first few pieces. Breathing deeply, I continued through the bulgy roof that had given me trouble from day one. I got to a good stance and said, “Fuck if I try that again.” I was NOT doing that again.

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The roof that starts this whole thing. Photograph by Bryant Hawkins

I continued up through the 5.10ish crack and at the arete, I plugged a bomber hand-sized piece. From perfect hands, I inverted to place my feet inside the crack. I took a breath—two breaths—and came swinging out. My heel-toe cam kept me perfectly in place and I pivoted to the other side. I shuffled quickly through to where I thought I would plug another piece but decided to skip it. In one swift motion, I sat up, chin at my knees and grabbed the tufa-like feature inside. After scraping my way through it, I made it past the bombay chimney to the final crux.

The offwidth is overhanging just enough. I wasn’t sure if I needed to invert again or not; it was unclear. I did a butterfly on a 4 section and got myself slightly inverted before going full splits. I wanted to be angry that Mountain Project calls it “overhanging fists” because for someone with my sized mitts, it isn’t. But, I battled for several moments, hearing Sabine shout up to me, “You got it!” And then, amazingly enough, I did have it. I’d pulled the last overhanging roof.

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Belaytionships with Sabine Connors. Photograph by Alma Baste

Reaching the anchors on the first attempt that day almost brought me to (happy) tears. I had put so much of myself into this route, spanning several years, that it felt surreal to know that it was finished. I remembered the first time I sent Human Chew Toy, I wrote that you don’t always make it to the top. Giving yourself a little time and space between you and the things that you want gives you perspective, which is all a part of the route. They always tell you that it’s a journey, but they never tell you how much.

When I look back at last year as the winter I put both of my east coast projects to rest, and I feel satisfied. I’ve taken a lot of time off since that January and, while I’ve still been climbing, I have not been seeking anything to project. I think that’s a necessary part of the journey, too: taking time to reset. I’ll be ready to start all over again though, soon. Starting from the beginning is just as important as getting to the end. How hard you climb and how hard you try are two different things.

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Photograph by Bryant Hawkins
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Gear Review: Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody & Uberlayer Hooded Jacket

I don’t often have a new favorite piece of gear; I have a piece that I really like or one that I dislike, and reasons why. Last year, I wore theUberlayer Hooded Jacket by Outdoor Research and it became a fast favorite. Here’s why:

This layer is well-constructed high-tech hoody that works great for all of my winter activities. It’s the perfect mid-layer but works well as a stand alone piece as well. The inner is soft while the outer has top notch water repelling ability. The material consists of 100% nylon 30D stretch woven shell + 100% polyester stretch mesh lining + Polartec® Alpha Insulation.

Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 10.45.09 AMI love the way that it shapes my body, and I especially love the way that it feels when I’m reaching my arms above my head. Whether swinging ice tools or placing a cam, the mobility is great. Be sure to size appropriately though, as this hoody has a trim athletic fit. The stretchy shell gives this piece great overall mobility for people who like to be active in colder temps, which is a fantastic feature for climbers.

Polartec insulation helps to regulate body temperature. The outer shell is tough, which means that it will hold its own against abrasion. This layer has proven itself in cold weather and my body doesn’t overheat when I’m wearing it and on the go. The breathability factor is primo.

The Uberlayer Hooded Jacket served its purpose last year, proving to be a great all-year around jacket, super comfortable and versatile.

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Staying dry in the Catskills. Photograph by Skip Thomson

However…the Uberlayer is being phased out (which means if you can find it, it’s likely well-discounted! Definitely snatch one up if you have the chance—for the price, it can’t be beat.)

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The Ascendant Hoody by Outdoor Research would be a wise, affordable alternative. The Ascendant Hoody is my current go-to choice for any sort of climb, whether rock or ice. I thought I loved my Uberlayer, but the Ascendant knocked it out of the park with its outstanding comfort, unbeatable protection from weather, and versatility. This jacket works well as an outer layer alone or mid-layer.

What makes this jacket an instant favorite? The stretch-woven Pertex Microlight 20D ripstop outer layer and the wicking Polartec Alpha Insulation (100% polyester) combo creates active insulation. Stretchy mesh lining will manage moisture when you’re moving, and Polartec insulation is both breathable and water-resistant. While I wouldn’t recommend wearing it for torrential downpours or dripping wet ice climbs, if you’re rocking it somewhere in between, I think you’ll be pleased. These features make the Ascendant Hoody perfect for both uphill slogs, downhill ski runs, vertical ascents and more. The average weight of this jacket is 10.9oz (for a size medium).

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The Ascendant Hoody will offer four season functionality, which means I can cruise rock ice climbs in it and stay comfortable as well as whatever the opposite of cruise is on ice climbs and remain warm and dry. This piece will keep you warm on those cold mornings but remain breathable while you’re moving. For the well-rounded outdoorist who love everything from ice and rock climbing to backcountry touring to just being outside—this could be the versatile piece of gear you didn’t know you were missing!

Comparing the two hoodies, the Ascendant has a little less warmth, much more breathability, and more water resistance. The Uberlayer is about an 1″ smaller in the chest, otherwise, they fit the same. If you’re like me, and uncertain of what size you might be, you can use the chart below to help.

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Whether avid adventurer or casual recreation, outdoor professional, you’ll find something to love in either hoody.


The Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody retails for $215 and is currently on sale. You can purchase your own Ascendant Hoody here. The Outdoor Research Uberlayer Hooded Jacket retails for $315 and is currently on sale. You can purchase your own Uberlayer Hooded Jacket here.

Disclosure: I am currently an athlete on the Outdoor Research team. As always, all opinions are based on my own personal research and are both honest and my own.

All photographs, unless otherwise mentioned, are courtesy of Outdoor Research.

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2: A Unique Relationship

Bryce’s brother Tyler died in a climbing accident but because of his death, Bryce became more intrigued with the sport that took his brother’s life. He says he has a unique relationship with climbing, and he doesn’t believe that the grieving process is this big scary monster we all think it is.

This episode is brought to you by Deuter, Evo Hemp, and Dirtbag Climbers. Music by: “Jazzy Frenchy” and “Funny Song” by bensound.com, “Ichill” by Kakurenbo, “Brave”, “One Moment”, “We Are Saved”, and “Warm Feeling” by Borrtex, “End of Winter” by Rest You Sleeping Giants, and “Heart Ache” by Broke For Free.

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Transcript: 

(KATHY KARLO): This podcast is sponsored by Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort, but most importantly–your snacks. Deuter is known for fit, comfort, and ventilation. Stay tuned for a new line of women’s climbing packs, coming out any day. I can’t tell you which one, but stay tuned for more about Gravity SL line–made by women, for women.

Deuter has a history of first ascents and alpine roots. Their head of product development even climbed Everest once, in jeans (hashtag not fake news.) Founded in 1898, Deuter believes in good fitting backpacks, so you can focus on way cooler things like puppies, pocket bacon, and gettin’ sendy, whether at the crag or in the alpine.

(BRYCE GORDON): Myself and climbing have kind of a unique polar relationship where after it took my brother, I became very intrigued with it because of the community it held and the connection back to him. But, at the same time, sometimes I’ll either be at the base of a climb or on a climb or, really, at any point associated with climbing and the switch will flip. And I’ll just be disgusted and tired and really turned away by it. And it’s interesting…coming up to those moments or realizing that I’m approaching them. It’s just kinda the way it is, but it’s still a really insightful opportunity for me every time I tie in or head up the crag.

(KK): You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. This is not a climbing podcast. Well, sorta. This is a funny, sad, and somewhat uncomfortable podcast about choosing vulnerability and talking openly about our pain. This podcast is sponsored by Dirtbag Climbers. Here’s the show.

(BG): Sometimes people are like, “Do you have any siblings?” and you’re like, “No.” and you go on with the conversation and you’re sitting there sweating like, (quick breath) “I just lied about my brother dying!” I didn’t lie but, you know, you get really–I get really stressed out sometimes. I can’t believe I just swept that under the rug! And then I’m like, “Fuck it, they don’t need to know. Like, I don’t have to put that on them or me at this given time–we’re enjoying an ice cream sundae. There’s no reason to fucking slap them in the face with that.” So, you can either say no and continue on with the conversation or you can say, “I did.” and continue on with that conversation.

(KK): Bryce Gordon used to have a brother. For the rest of his life, there will always be a before and an after. The before, when his family was intact and his brother, Tyler, was still alive and with them. And after, when Bryce would somehow learn to live without Tyler. And losing a brother or sister is a little bit different than losing, say, a parent. Relationships can come and go and parents age, but a brother or a sister is different. A sibling is sort of a co-keeper of your childhood, someone you’re supposed to get to spend a whole lifetime with.

(BG): So, it’s totally an in-the-moment judgment call. And my mom and I actually talk about that quite often: “What do you say?” like, “What do you do?” Because my father passed away and a lot of people–like, “Oh, what do your parents do?” and I say my mom’s an architect and that’s normally enough to satisfy them. They never ask about the second parent. So, it’s this interesting, yeah, it’s an interesting way that you get to choose how you interact with society and how much other people know. It’s a valuable tool–to recognize that you have that choice.

(KK): Is choosing to talk about Tyler about finding the right people to talk with?

(BG): I think sometimes, if it’s the right person and I feel like they are up for the challenge. It’s a really traumatic event and like, you’ll tell somebody this traumatic event and they get a sense of trauma themselves. So, I feel like if they’re up for the challenge and they want that struggle, then I’ll definitely engage with them. But, there are a lot of people–and this could just be ‘cause I’m a twenty-year-old and all the students I go to school with, thankfully, have never experienced anything like this—and so, there’s a lot of, they just don’t know how to respond and then you just kinda get this award silence of “I don’t really want your pity or your sympathy. I want your thoughts. I want your ideas.”

(KK): Tyler and Bryce spent most of their childhood adventuring and climbing together. Having grown up with an older brother myself, I just sort of picture most brother relationships to be filled with your typical antics—you know, name-calling, stealing Halloween candy from each other and, sometimes, you pretend that you’re The Rock and practice your Ultimate Fighting Championship moves on the weaker person…you know. Fun stuff like that.

But Tyler and Bryce had a different kind of childhood.

(BG): Yeah, I think some of my fondest memories as kids are climbing up Elephant Rock. Mom was off on a run and Tyler was just dragging me up this thing. And he was like, “Come on, come on! You gotta get up this!” And I was like, “Ahh, what’s the big hurry?” and got up and ran up to the top of the dome and watched this amazing sunset. And then he was like, “Alright, cool. You wanna toss the rope on the rappel?” He always just led by like a very simple and subtle hand, so.

There was never an option to not clean a route for him. No matter what, he was gonna be like, “Alright. I don’t care if takes you an hour–you gotta top rope this thing and get me my draws.” And so, there’s like, clipping chains, there’s always that moment of like, “Thanks Tyler. Thanks for fucking kicking my ass as a kid.”

And I’ve been back to Penitente Canyon down in the San Luis Valley. It was a big place we used to climb as kids. A very unique style of climbing on really beautiful rock and that was where Tyler really started to kind of first push his leads. And going back there with some of his friends and being able to repeat the first 11 he ever did, and then repeat some of the other 11s that were kind of bigger goals for me, and being able to just do those clean in a place right next to that piece of scrub oak where I used to be tied in as a little kid belaying him as he tried things as a twelve-year-old is like, “Wow. This kid was fucking rad and he’s made me a pretty rad little brother.” And so, you get these moments of kind of emotional ecstasy and complete gratitude for him. A lot of people could also get really mad at him for the position he’s put us in. So yeah, climbing is just this kind of double—this really amazing—double-edged sword.

(KK): That’s pretty much the elephant in the room with all of the lights turned on, isn’t it? Going in deep and asking whether or not climbing is fundamentally selfish means that we have to look at our lives and our loved ones within it. How do climbers justify the risks that we take to the people that we love? And can we?

A question that we all ask ourselves honestly, at least once in our lives. It was a question that, after May 27th in 2015, Bryce has had to ask himself, too.

(BG): I guess I like to start kind of where it entered our reality, which was Wednesday night at 1:30 in the morning. And I just remember, kinda in that pseudo dream state where you’re aware of these things going on outside of—you know, like, you should maybe be waking up but you’re not really sure. And I remember our dog was up and about and sirens outside, and I was like, “Well, there’s no reason the police officer would ever be at our house.” And then, there was a lot of banging on the door. Mom wasn’t going to get up, so I got up and answered the door and was staring at an officer in my boxers. And the first thing he said is, “Is your dog friendly and safe?” and I was like, “Yes. She’s fine, you can enter the premises.” And then the chaplain, I believe is the title of the person, was also there and was like, “You should go get your mom.” So, I went and woke her up and she came out. They came in and the officer and chaplain pretty much just said, “All we know is Tyler had a fall and Tyler’s dead.”

And I just remember my mom just turned around, and my mom’s like 4’11”, so, turned around and looked up at me was just like, “Bryce, you should go put some clothes on.”

(KK): It’s 1:30 in the morning and the police have just shown up at your door. And you’re standing there in your pajamas, thinking, “This has got to be a dream.” Except you don’t wake up because it isn’t a dream at all, and you start to quickly realize that everything has changed—and nothing will ever be the same again.

(BG): And I remember that was kinda the last moment, I think the last bit of maternal confidence she had. And then, after that it was just kind of, you know, let the world fall apart. And we were in the middle of remodeling our kitchen so, all of our cabinets were in the middle of our living room and our house was just a shit show. And the officer couldn’t leave until somebody else could show up. So, we called a really good family friend of ours whose sons have grown up with me and my brother and just kinda sat there in a puddle of drool and tears and snot.

Cletis, he had done a bunch of climbing with. Ryan, he hadn’t climbed with until that trip, but they had done some routes in Zion before heading to The Valley. They’d gotten to know each other, and both Ryan and Cletis are like, “Those first three days we spent on the wall were absolutely fantastic.”

(KK): Tyler had been on a twelve-month long road trip through Europe and the US. He studied applied mathematics at CU, where he finished a difficult undergraduate degree with a 4.0 GPA in three years. Trying to get in as much climbing as he could before attending grad school at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, he and two other friends found themselves in Yosemite National Park.

(gear clanking)

The Valley, where climbers go every year to cut their teeth on big wall style ascents. It’s where Ryan, Cletis, and Tyler had plans to ascend The Nose, a thirty-one pitch big wall route that follows the massive prow.

(BG): Tyler and his two partners left, I wanna say, they were camped at pitch twenty-six on The Nose and had climbed two pitches. And one of his partners was leading, one of them was belaying him, and he was jugging up the pitch they had just done. And the lead partner dropped a nut, which fell past the belay ledge and landed on a ledge below. And Tyler got to the belay ledge, and there was another party of three there. They were all kinda jamming out. They knew they were going to make the summit that day, so it was like, very casual, happy atmosphere. And got to the ledge and the belay partner, I think, said, “You know, I can go get the nut once we finish this pitch.” And Tyler, of course, kind of being on top of things, voiced up and said, “I got it. I’ll go get it.”

And then, got up, tethered in with his PA and then, the next thing his partner Ryan remembers, he heard Tyler say, “Whoa.” and he turned to his left and Tyler was just leaning back and there was nothing to catch him. He just took a three hundred foot whipper and hit the ledge they had camped on the night before and died immediately.

(KK): Had something in those split seconds gone horribly wrong? Bryce would go over this in his head, again and again.

(BG): That’s–I mean, that’s the strangest thing about the event. There shouldn’t have been any mistake and there really was no causality or reason for it. But, when they found him, his Grigri was on—he was still tied into the fixed line he had been jugging and his Grigri was on his belay loop but wasn’t threaded at all, so, he somehow just was one step away from his full transition into rappel and just, for some reason, hit a moment of complacency.

(KK): Tyler had fallen twenty feet to the next ledge beneath them, and then further down to the Camp 5 ledge. He was never connected to his Grigri, which is a rope braking device that assists in belaying. This caused him to free fall the length of the rope. Ryan and Cletis were unsuccessful in reviving Tyler…he was gone.

(BG): A few months later, around beginning of July—it was my birthday. My birthday’s July eighth, Tyler’s birthday is July tenth. So, I was up in Boulder with his friends for that occasion. I went over to their house—Ryan and Cletis both live together. And they made me breakfast. We went into the backyard and I just kinda let them talk, and it was super cathartic for them. And yeah, just talked for like an hour and a half.

(KK): Grieving friends did what anybody in that situation would do—they tried to piece together what had happened on El Cap. Not only was Tyler a good friend, a mentor, and a strong climber, but he was smart. He was a safe, smart climber.

(BG): In the days following, there was a lot of like, Tyler’s old climbing partners, who were older men in the community who had kind of taken him out and showed him the ropes, were like, “It must have been some other mistake, ‘cause Tyler was really smart and a really good climber and really thorough.” That’s definitely one of the hardest notions to dwell on, is that it was just a moment of complacency. There’s really no other causality for it.

(KK): Bryce took me through what the next few months looked like. Nobody is ever really prepared to lose somebody. I mean, you never see: “Happy and fulfilled person dies in their sleep at the exact right age without any discomfort, surrounded by all of their friends and family, all of whom are able to accept the fact and let go of that person and go on with their lives.” And when you lose somebody, nobody prepares you on how to mourn.

(BG): I mean the feelings–yeah, it’s not like a feeling, it’s a lot of feelings–definitely comes in waves of—like the first month, every other day was an up and a down. Like, down my brother just died. Up, I pretty quickly got embedded in his Boulder community and just got to experience second-hand the life he had formed in college, which was kind of his blossoming. So just, like constant ups and downs and then, you know, eventually, those ups and downs stretch over the course of a month, and now, kind of more constant and less aggressive fluctuations. But yeah, it’s a constant feeling, for sure. There’s very few moments where you’re completely oblivious to the fact.

The sadness and depression kind of go away and those you can kind of remediate, but yeah, you kinda gotta accept the fact that even when you’re eighty, you’re still going to be in this process of just interacting with that event and the consequential emotions of it. Yeah, the grieving process.

(KK): The thing about grief is that it’s not just a matter of coping with loss; it’s also about coping with change. We’re talking about all of the big changes, like having to go to funerals and receiving sympathy cards (and casseroles, probably). And just not having that person around anymore to celebrate things like Christmas and their birthdays with—and then, all of the little ones, too. The more subtle ones, like wanting to send a text message to someone and then, suddenly remembering that they aren’t there anymore.

Grief…sucks. Life is impermanent, everybody dies, and everything over time will change—I think it’s Buddhism that tells us that (not the grief sucking part; that was me). It also tries to tell us “that life is characterized by suffering”. Seriously, Buddhism? I guess what they’re probably trying to say is that it’s ok to work through pain in your own way, and at your own pace. It makes us who we are.

Because grief is a process and not a task. Even if you’ve never taken a psych 101 class in your life, you probably know the five stages of grief. Or maybe you don’t! Here they are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These stages are meant to be used as a framework for going through loss and, while you might identify with some, if not all, it’s never really a linear progression. Grief just isn’t like a staircase; you don’t just get to the top and be finished. It’s more like a janky-ass rollercoaster ride with all of its peaks and dips. And it’s natural to have an uneven journey.

(BG): There’s so many beautiful moments I’ve had within this process in the past three years. It was three years, three days ago. So many beautiful moments and cathartic moments and moments of interaction, not only with the emotion but with Tyler. It’s got a whole lifetime. It fucking sucks. But, at the same time, it’s like, my life is going to go on and the seventeen years that he added to my life, you know, that I had him, is still priceless.

(KK): Most people in Bryce’s position might walk away from climbing forever. Bryce did the opposite. He formed this really unique relationship with climbing after losing Tyler—which definitely might seem a little strange. But, Bryce didn’t stop climbing and instead, he continued to tie in and let it mold his life.

(BG): Yeah, I think that climbing is probably one of the biggest triggers, but I pretty immediately was like, alright. I have to go climbing—mainly as a way to interact with his community, but also, as a way to interact with him. Our father passed away when he was four and I was fifteen months old and so, he was always a really quiet kid and climbing was always this way for this really brilliant young kid to use his mind and his physical skill and engage with an activity. And so, climbing is a trigger, both in the present but also, in the past, thinking about being tethered to a piece of scrub oak so I could catch him on lead when I was eight and he was twelve and weighed forty pounds more than me. And those sort of memories of going back to crags that we were both at, you know, when we were young, are definitely triggers.

I never really pushed myself climbing until after Tyler passed, because then I ended up doing it lot more of it to engage with his community. Some days, climbing is a really fun experience and somedays, I’m like, “Alright, this is what Tyler—this is what he felt! Problem-solving and making your body work and making your mind work to accomplish whatever objective.” Somedays, I engage with that at a really high level and other days (pause) I can’t get the sensation of uncontrolled free fall out of my head and I’m just like, I’ll be a top rope hero today.

My buddy Sam and I just went down to the White Rim and climbed Primrose Dihedrals on the Moses Tower. It was kind of the last hurrah before finals week. And I kind of knew, coming in the spring, climbing gets a lot harder and becomes more of a sensitive trigger to trauma. And I was leading the second pitch–and I love the desert. Tyler and I grew up in Durango really close to the desert and sandstone—it’s my healing environment.

So, I was really excited that Sam was like, “You’re going to lead this next pitch. It’s going to be awesome.” And it was just uncomfortable, and I was really exhausted. I had multiple moments where I was like, “I might fall here.” and instead of being like, “Alright cool, you might fall.” I just got really panicked and eventually just got to a point where I was like, “Sam, you have to finish this.” and came down and we just had a quick chat on the ledge. I was like, “I don’t think I want to lead anything until May 27th comes around. Until I’m past that date.”

And I’ve never been hard on myself because I think any other person in my position would just walk away from climbing and never want to interact with it. So, there are definitely moments where it’s just paralyzing and awful. It was an amazing climb, but it was still kinda, the whole time, I was like, “I kinda wanna just be back on the ground.”

Our father passed away at an early age and my mom was just an absolute trooper in raising us. And you know, if she doesn’t do fourteen miles a week trail running, she kinda goes stir crazy. And so, it’s definitely kinda something in our family where, yeah, we like to suffer through things–engage with hardship. And even though there are moments of emotional paralysis and utter, just total—not devastation, but kind of a form of depression that hits you on the wall very subtly.

I mean, since that last trip to the tower, I haven’t put my shoes on. I don’t really feel the need to, and it could be all summer, it could be not until school starts again and I want to go burn off energy at the bouldering gym. It’s just—I don’t force myself to interact with it in any sort of way. I just kind of allow whatever opportunities come and if I feel good, I’ll get on something and if I don’t, I’ll just be a top rope hero all day.

(KK): Or just not even climb.

(BG): Or just not even climb. It’s like, climbing I love you and I’m grateful for you but at the same time, I can tell you to just go fuck off whenever I want. (laughs).

It’s pretty rare that I just go from point A to point B through the event. But, it’s good to do sometimes. I will pull up things that have been dog-eared in my journal that are these crazy cathartic passages I’ve written and I’ll share them with Tyler’s friends at the correct moment, you know? Yeah, when you allow somebody else to interact with your thoughts, it just adds a whole different level of complexity and purpose to the whole discourse.

When you’re feeling these really heavy things, it’s hard to conceptualize them and there’s a lot of little boxes in our society, but you can’t draw little boxes around events this unique. So close your eye and, you know, look into your minds’ eye, which some people get that and some people don’t get that, but just think about what that looks like and what that is, and to me, it’s always kind of been this really heavy weight. The way I kind of visualize it and think about it is like you’re tossing somebody this anecdote, and you’re tossing them this weight, and you get to see them fumble with it and try to catch it and figure out what it is. And sometimes, they get a really firm, solid grasp. And you’re like, “Awesome. We did it. Like, we made that connection. You got something out of it, and I got something out of it.”

(KK): Grief affects our whole self, and yet we tend to treat people who are coping with a loss like treating somebody with an injury. But, eventually, a broken limb will heal and even though we physically look fine on the outside, internally, we aren’t always. But—also, don’t treat us like we’re helpless. Right? Grief is…really complicated.

We shouldn’t treat it with over sympathy but we also need to share real thoughts and feelings with those who are dealing with it. Engaging with the actual event and trauma that someone is experiencing, and not just assuming that they’re helpless and sad. Because most people aren’t helpless. They’re still walking, breathing people.

I think that society views people going through loss as very broken. Like, it’s almost easier to view someone that way because when you have a benchmark for what it’s supposed to look like, then you can compare it to what getting over it looks like.

(BG): I mean, when it happened, I didn’t give a shit what people were saying to me. I was kind of in this (quick breath) paralyzed kind of–not paralyzed, just kind of…as my mom puts it, this state of surreality. Like everything is surreal to the point where your whole reality is surreal and you still enter those moments. But I think, I mean, like you said people tend to say, “I’m so sorry.” and that is a really good thing to say.

My buddy, just the other day, texted me and I haven’t seen him in a long time and we were going to make dinner together and catch up. And he was like, “I’ll probably be really late. I’m just getting back—I’m driving back from the hospital in Billings” (which is a few hours away from Bozeman) “‘cause my brother had a paragliding accident.” And he really didn’t give me anything other than that and I just said, “Ah. That’s fucking shit. I won’t ask any questions over text. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

So, I think, yeah, you should always offer something. Like “I’m sorry” is great, but it doesn’t have to be “I’m so sorry!” If you don’t have any concept of the emotion they’re going through, you don’t need to try to. You can just say, “I’m sorry. If you want to continue, continue. But you don’t have to tell me anything else and I’m not going to pry.” If I want to explore the emotions that come along with it with you, then I’d be happy to do that, but ya can’t fix me. And you can’t fix anything, so, you know, I appreciate the effort.

(KK): Because Bryce had lost his father at a young age, the Gordon family could easily be compared to a three-legged table: constantly wobbling and teetering, but still standing. Still functional. And then, the third leg was suddenly torn off.

(BG): Mom kinda took a–I mean, for me, in my concept of her, my visualization of her, kinda took a pretty big shift after Tyler passed away. But, Mama Gordon, as I like to call her, Connie, she’s always been really strong and after our father passed, she goes, “I’ve got these two young boys and I’m just going to raise them to be fantastic”—and I think she did a pretty damn good job. But she definitely—it definitely took her a while to kinda come to a resolve regarding the causality. And I think we’re kind of both in the same place now where we won’t know why Tyler forgot to thread his Grigri and we never will, so we can’t torture ourselves with always asking that.

It also took about over two years before she got to have the conversation with his partners that I got to have only a month or two months after his passing. And so I think for a while there, I was kind of more content because I had a deeper understanding of the day and the event. She just didn’t quite have that grasp of why and what and how—how it all went down. But she already has amazing coping mechanisms for grief: trail running and pushing herself, and now is enjoying time with me. And I think it’s been a little bit harder ‘cause now she doesn’t have an objective to turn her mind to. I’m raised. I’m out of the house. And for me, it’s been kind of easy ‘cause, you know, I went to college and I had to pick a college and pick a house and pick a major. And I was kind of forced to move on with decisions in my life, where she’s at a point where she could retire, she could not retire, and so she’s kind of been a little bit paralyzed in this indecisiveness. But she’s moving out of that. She knows she needs to do something. She’s trying to figure out her next steps, and she definitely has figured out quite a few of them.

And then our relationship, I mean, we’ve always been really close and I get all off my happiness and energy directly from her and my desire to suffer directly from her as well. I think she dragged us up probably ten 14ers by the time I was fourteen-years-old. It was from age seven onward, it was like a 14er a year pretty much, or more. So, definitely has that put your head down and go mindset and that’s definitely brought us closer–just the fact that we could share that grieving mechanism. Like, endurance activities are just so valuable to both of us. And when I come up with these crazy far-fetched ideas, like go bike twenty-six miles to a tower to go climb it and then bike out the next day, all within a thirty hour period. She’s kind of like, “Alright cool! Pack enough food.” (laughs)

I’m the only child. I’m kinda the last heir to our little family. And so, you know, of course, she’s gotten a little bit more protective, but I think she understands and trusts me to make good decisions and I think she understands that as much as she’s probably worried about having only one kid left, I’m equally as worried about being the only kid. Like, I am not allowed to die before–my mom’s not allowed to outlive me. That’s not an option. Like, “What are your goals in life?” “Live to be older than my mom. And then career, whatever, all that other stuff.”

Definitely kind of creates some tension sometimes, and I think on my end, I need to be better at being expressive of my decision making. I’m a really big backcountry skier, so I need to be expressive of, you know, here’s what we’re doing today and here’s kinda the situation and how we’re going to approach the safety level that we set. I mean, one, I put a lot of weight on myself to be really good at that stuff. And two, I think I’m starting to learn and starting to realize the value of, not necessarily reassurance, but just her understanding of my approach to all the activities that I’m not going to stop doing.

(KK): That can be a HUGE responsibility to bear. How do you not live in a bubble?!

(BG): I started wearing my bike helmet when I go make grocery store runs now, you know? You don’t see any other twenty-year-olds cruising around with their bike helmet when they go to the bars at night or when they go grocery shopping or to campus. I’m like, “Well. Fuck. That would really suck if I got creamed by a car.” Just little things like that have definitely shifted within our relationship.

(KK): Two people can mourn the loss of the same person but in very different ways. Bryce and Mama Gordon both lost Tyler, but their grief didn’t necessarily run parallel with one another.

(BG): I don’t always go to her, and I don’t always go to people. Normally, I write the struggle down and normally I sit with things. I revisit them for a while, and then there’s a moment where sharing seems right. It’s nice to be able to just say, “Oh fuck.” with somebody else and have them just completely reciprocate that. But, I don’t think they’re parallel paths. I think there’s more of a sense of maybe failure on her part, or even greater loss, ‘cause the whole point of having children is to see them grow and blossom. And then for me, I more value the past seventeen years of experience I had with Tyler than I grieve over the future seventy years that I don’t have with him. And I think for her, it’s the opposite.

(KK): Which makes sense as a parent.

(BG): Which makes sense as a parent, for sure.

(KK): They say that lightning never strikes twice, but try telling that to Bryce. He and two of Tyler’s good friends, Cat and Laine, had planned a trip to the Grand Tetons the summer following Bryce’s high school graduation. 

(BG): Laine was in Jackson, Wyoming for work and Cat and I both decided to visit her. And we did just some fun climbing and some fun hiking and then all three of us had a day that we could go out and do things together, so we were going to go climb the Grand. Walked all the way up there and got to the upper saddle, which is where the route actually starts. And the route traverses left (right from the beginning) to this thing called the belly crawl, which is this big flake that you kind of saddle and scooch across. And the rappels for the route come down directly to the apex of the saddle, just to the right and we were putting on our harnesses. One member of their party had done the rappel and they were sending back up an ATC because they were short one, for some reason. And Gary Falk, an Exum guide, was pulling up the ATC and it got stuck and so, he was kind of finagling with it and weighting his personal anchor. And, apparently, from my understanding of the final accident report, is that the type of knot he had is a knot that slowly walks. So, it had walked to the end of, you know, the extra tail he had originally tied it with and came undone.

And so, what I remember is hearing a yell and assuming, you know, we’re on a very popular route, assuming it was rock. And then Cat saying, “Oh shit.” and turning around and seeing his body hit the ground at the base of the rappel and bounce, probably forty to sixty feet, and hitting again at the ledge and then, below the belly crawl and—below the route is Valhalla Couloir, which is a thousand vertical foot relief—and he just disappeared.

(KK): Everything wanted to shut off, especially having experienced his own trauma. But Bryce knew that he had to shut it down, shut down all thoughts like that and just go help. So, he immediately buckled his helmet and ran back over to the apex of the saddle where the first member of their party was waiting.

(BG): There’s really no (pause) we were the first responders, but there really was nothing to respond to. It was going to be a body recovery. And we got to him and he didn’t know if it was Gary at the time or if it was somebody else, and I very vividly remember khaki Black Diamond pants with black knee patches. So, I told him that, and he was like, “Oh shit. It was Gary.” and he started breaking down. And then, Cat and Laine caught up to me, you know, a hand full of seconds later. And it was not lost on either of us that we had just witnessed essentially what Tyler did. Like, a simple mistake with no real causality except for complacency. Like, an uncanny similarity. And they both kind of looked at me, and were like, “Are you ok?” and started to bring up the fact that it was an uncanny similarity. And I just cut them off and was like, “We’re in the middle of a rescue. We got to shut that thought down.”

(KK): And for the next twenty minutes, they did. A ranger came up and the rescue ensued. Bryce, Cat, and Laine sat there, just waiting. They waited until they felt like it was appropriate to leave and Bryce sat by himself.

(BG): As soon as I could allow myself to think again, the first thought I had was: “Are you fucking kidding me? Again? Fuck you, mountains.” I remember distinctly thinking, if I was Thor, I would just smash them to little pieces. And then I remember thinking, “Well, that’s not possible. Maybe we should just put a fence around them so no humans could get in them anymore. We gotta block off the vertical world.” And these are just like, ping balling through my head really quickly. Yeah so, I sat with that for a little bit and we started making our way down. And walking down, I started kind of shifting my frame of thought to one of—kind of what started as more analytical, like what are the chances that I see that first hand and am the first responder? There’s some greater forces, you know, who knows.

(KK): The more that Bryce found out about Gary, the more his thoughts started to shift towards the possibility that there was a purpose to him being there that day.

(BG): Up until that point, there’s definitely a lot of sleepless nights where the first, you know, thirty minutes to two hours were trying to fall asleep would be like, what does falling three hundred feet look like? And so, my thought kind of shifted to this, “That’s what that accident and that event looks like.” And shifted towards this really uncanny closeness to Gary, even though I’d never met him or even heard of him before, and this sense of gratitude—which seems really weird to say about somebody’s passing, but the sense of, thank you, for kind of giving me that resolve on that big “what” question that I had. And I think that is something that I got and my mom didn’t get.

A lot of people would be like, “Well, why would ever you want your mom to see that?” Like, well I wouldn’t, but because I did, I got this sense of gratitude and resolve for the whole event. Aspects of it are really, really crappy, but sometimes I will just sit down and hash out that memory and replay it. ‘Cause knowing sucks, but knowing is, in the long run, better.

I wasn’t going to go back to my therapist anymore that summer, and after that, I was like, “Alright! I owe you one more visit.” And I told him that and he was like, “Wow. Even as a therapist, I have associative PTSD just from hearing that story.” And I don’t tell people that one that often because I don’t want—you have two events like that happen in your life and people are going to start thinking, “This kid’s really something special. He can really handle anything that people throw at him.” and maybe that’s true, but that doesn’t matter because that’s not who I am.

It doesn’t matter that these events happen to you. All that matters is that you understand that they happened in this world. So, the fact that I was lined up with them twice doesn’t matter. Both of those events happened, and that’s what matters. I just, for some reason, have this weird keystone connection, but that’s not consequential to the way I carry myself, or even the way that the rest of this whole world, like—I saw a butterfly flap its wings twice but the butterfly still flaps its wings. You know? That metaphor. So. Yeah, I don’t share as often but it is really crucial to my developmental grieving and how I’ve applied it and sat with it and processed it.

It’s a much less fun story to tell because it’s so impersonal in a way. I didn’t know him. I don’t know if I deserve to carry his story, you know? No one deserves to be a first responder, but it’s just like, it’s kind of weird to say that I’m grateful for seeing that. I think at this point, I’d like to go connect with his wife and his remaining family. It’ll be a one of a kind grieving engagement between two people.

(KK): Grief happens. And, in our hearts, we all know that death is a part of life. But sometimes, death is so senseless and we try to make some sense of it, give it some sort of meaning. Bryce found meaning in Tyler’s passing, and some people could call him unlucky. Others could see the experience as a gift. It definitely isn’t the kind that you can wrap in pretty paper. And it doesn’t come with bells and whistles or have monetary value. But it can give us all a better appreciation for the brevity of human life and, ultimately, how we treat the people we love.

(BG): I think that was the moment where I pulled the meaning of the event itself. The actual “How does this happen?” And it doesn’t matter who you are or what you’re doing, and it really doesn’t matter why trauma hits you—we live in a universe built off chaos. And if trauma hits you, you just have to understand that that happens to people, and I think that’s kind of the biggest umbrella meaning I’ve pulled away from it. I’ve been dealt card after card of trauma and the why and the how are nice to know, but it’s going to happen to someone, to something in our world. And if you’re one of those–if you’re on the receiving end, I don’t want to say the victim end, but you know, if you’re on the receiving end of it, that’s what you’ve been dealt and that’s just what you’re going to deal with and that’s fine. Kinda add it to yourself and let it mold you and mold it and just realize that it’s what happens in this world.

(KK): Death is a loss that echoes and echoes and the loss of one person is felt by so many people—not just the ones closest to them. I wanted to surprise Bryce with something special. So, I asked some of Tyler’s friends to share who he was to them, and I also wanted to say thank you to everybody, and to Bryce, for sharing Tyler with us.

(MALE VOICE): One of my favorite things about Tyler was how simple everything was to him. He always really loved rock climbing and so, he went rock climbing. He really liked mathematics, so he did a lot of mathematics. One thing that was really beautiful to see over the last year was how important Tyler’s friends were to him. I’ll always cherish the memories I have with Tyler—growing up, in college, in the Alpine club with him. He was one of the first people that I looked up to as a climber in the climbing community in Colorado. He was able to show everyone how to climb for just the right reasons, just for the pure love of it.

(FEMALE VOICE): Whenever I think back on Tyler, I always think about his ease with determination for things that the rest of us find quite hard. And yeah, he had a simplicity about him that I think most of us found pretty inspiring. But he was one of the most determined people I’ve ever met and he did it with an incredible amount of compassion and ability to listen, so I always felt safe around him. And I think that’s one of the most inspiring qualities a person can have.

(MALE VOICE): So, when I first moved out to Colorado, I had only a handful of consistent climbing partners and Tyler was one of them. He was definitely the shortest of the four of us that climbed regularly together, and he would have to do these crazy sequences—dyno-ing between holds to climb the same routes that the rest of us would. But, at the same time, he’d always be the first one to try something intimidating or a grade that was too hard for most of us. Yeah, he just kind of had this mentality: you should just go and try to do what you love—and that’s it. He kind of had this “Nothing’s a big deal” attitude, which I definitely always admired. Any time we were out climbing, he’d kind of have this mischievous smirk on his face, like he knew a secret that none of the rest of us did (which, he probably did because he was super smart). I remember he was trying to explain a bit about cryptography, which is what he was going to study in grad school. And I was completely lost, but totally pretended to keep up, and I wasn’t used to that feeling of being so intellectually outmatched.

In early spring of 2015, I was out filming for work and I had a break, and Tyler was on his way through. He was taking a break between school, after graduating undergrad. And he was kind of hitting up the classic trad climbing areas in the US, making his way to Yosemite on a big break before he went to grad school in BC and I just happened to catch him at the right time. And so, we went out and did Lightning Bolt Cracks on the North Six Shooter in Indian Creek.

You know, any time you climb in the desert, it’s always a little bit sandy and a little bit unnerving. So, of course, Tyler was kind of nonplussed and we got to the route and the weather’s great, you know, we got to the last pitch and it was Tyler’s lead and he just seemed to float on up, and I thought, “Oh great. We must have gotten past the hard part.” And proceeded to follow an overhanging offwidth and just, the whole experience just kind of seemed really casual, and it totally makes sense if you knew him.

I remember getting to the summit of North Six Shooter and it was just super windy and our ropes were blowing everywhere, but just being really satisfied and just enjoying the whole experience without too much concern or—I really just remember being pretty content in that moment.

(MALE VOICE): One of my favorite memories that I have with Tyler is back from the summer that he and our friend Jordan and I spent traveling around Wyoming and South Dakota. And the audio that you’re about to hear is from a video that we took just near the summit of, I think, Spire Four in the Cathedral Spires in the Black Hills. And the last pitch—it’s like a 5.4, but you have to crawl through this tiny little hole. And in the video, you’ll hear Tyler cheering me on trying to get me through the hole. So, enjoy.

(TYLER GORDON’S VOICE): (cheering and laughter) Come on Eddie! You can do it. Yeah! Come on, dude. Cruxing! There’s no way you’re going to fall there…if you did, you’re really screwed! (gear clanking and laughter) Whooo!

(KK): You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. A huge thank you to Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort, and to Evo Hemp, who is on a mission to bring you quality hemp products that are both affordable and accessible. What the heck is hemp, anyway? We’ll have to tell you next time. Support companies who support this podcast—we couldn’t do it without them.

If you liked what you heard, you can leave a review on iTunes or give us a like—like all good things, you can find us on the internet. Until next time.

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For the Love of Climbing

I am biologically a grown-up now, at least, according to my birth certificate and the fact that I can remember to go outside with a sensible pair of shoes. I’m a busier person these days, maintaining a full-time job, a full-time relationship, and launching new projects on the side. I even finally caved and started using Google calendar (I had always been adamant about using a small, handwritten calendar to organize my schedule, but lately, haven’t even been able to keep up with that.)

I lived in New York City in my twenties, and I still consider those the best five years of my life (and probably always will). I was certainly less busy then, and I thrived on climbing. Just travel and climbing—it was everything: the air that I breathed. It was hard to relate to things or people outside of it. Now, hurtling full-speed into my thirties, I am embracing all of the changes that are happening, both around me and within me. It feels nice.

While being busy is just one aspect of adulthood, I think one of the most important aspects is remaining open to the fact that there will always be lessons to learn, ways to grow and evolve; we are never finished. Something that I have learned in my seven(ish) years of climbing: climbing should be a supplement to the rest of my life, complimentary, in a way. I see social media platforms pushing climbing and climbing related media in our faces 24/7 in a way that often makes me uncomfortable.

I know that sounds like a double standard from someone who uses social media to reach a wider audience. But, truthfully, my enjoyment for climbing will never be as good as it could be if I’m not taking the time to enjoy the rest of my life, too. Climbing is not enjoyable if you don’t love the rest of your life—no matter what Mountain Project, gear companies, and your friends’ Instagram stories tell you.

It’s an ongoing challenge for me, to take steps back from social media in small increments so that I can focus on the things I really wish to take part in, the people I truly love, and the relationships I wish to nurture. I try not to use social media as a cure for boredom or a place to spray. Cameras can only capture so much, anyway. They can’t capture belly laughs or that feeling in your gut you receive when you finally reach the point where the summit meets the sky. Incredible things happen, undocumented and unfiltered, everywhere in the world at any given moment. What the evening dusk tells me as it falls around me in ethereal beauty is: How we live our life is far more important than how we say we live our life.

Some other things happened between back then and now: I stopped questioning the absurdities of life, cried on a big wall in Africa, was depressed, took a ground fall, broke a bone, moved back to New York City, fell in love, ate a lot of $1.25 tacos, aid soloed my first big wall, drove across the country thirteen times, made a lot of cookie towers, saw my best friend get married, got a full-time job, understood who I was, and found a little slice of happiness, here and there.

I now live in Salt Lake City and continue to travel around the country to climb. I work for a film festival to promote a shared vision of gender equality in the outdoor industry and beyond. I write stories to inspire and promote empathy. I produce a new podcast about choosing vulnerability. I don’t wander the road and live an exotic van life, nor do I really want to/need that to feel happy or fulfilled.

I don’t climb for a living, but I certainly live to climb. When I started writing this blog, now four years ago, I was sitting in my Brooklyn apartment, trying to come up with a clever name. It suddenly hit me: “For the love of climbing”. “For the love of”, meaning for pleasure and not for profit. It seemed fitting. But it was never just about the climbing—it was always about the lifestyle that came with it and the challenges I’d learn to overcome. It was about finding out what the difference between impossible and possible was, and where I lay on that spectrum.

In 2016, I made a wrote, directed, and helped produce a film with the help of Sean Feiertag, Justin Cerone, Sean McDowell, Jonathan Sedor, Brian Gallio and The Afternoon Edition. I think that this video speaks for itself. It’s a little reminder that the world is your playground, and to do what you love with love, which is the message that this blog has always and will always share. Ultimately, all I have ever wanted to do with my life was something meaningful that impacted people in a powerful way. I’m proud of my work. Thank you all for reading my words and being a part of this blog, my writing journey, and now, podcast. I am looking forward to the next chapter ahead and thank each and every one of you tremendously for the support over the last few years. I’m excited to see what comes next (:

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Gear Review: Trango Phase Alpine Draws

“Your draws are looking a little fuzzy.” said every person I’ve ever climbed with in the last three years.

While this can motivate you more than ever to send and to not take wingers, there is also that desire to not have any gear explode and hit the ground (for me, anyway). Time to hit the Internet and see what I should be looking for. My first set of alpine draws were the only ones I’ve ever owned, so I had officially spent seven-ish years not looking at what was on the market.

Down the Internet rabbit hole I went. I’d heard good things about the Trango Phase Alpine Draws, and I was keen to learn more. I recently took them with me on an Alaska trip and climbed in Hatcher’s Pass. Here is the nitty gritty:

trango-phase-alpine-rock-climbing-quickdraw-4-pack.Draw.02The Trango Phase Alpine Draws includes a Phase Straight Wire Carabiner on one end of the quickdraw. It’s meant to clip protection, either gear or a bolt. A Phase Bent Wire Carabiner rests on the rope end.  Thanks to a large rope bearing surface and good gate clearance, both of these carabiners offer smooth and seamless clipping, not to mention clipping these biners are incredibly satisfying. The strength ratings are as follows: strength for major axis (closed) is 22 kilonewtons. Strength for major axis (open) is 7 kilonewtons. Strength for minor axis is 8 kilonewtons.7127ESbjnzL._SX425_All of these specs make these the perfect all-around carabiners for racking up on a harness. Both wire carabiners are “D” shaped and individually, weigh 30g.

They are connected with a 60cm-long, 11mm-wide sling. With a 60cm Dyneema blend sling, in total, the Phase Alpine Draw weighs in at 80g total

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The first pitch of Toto on The Diamond at Hatcher’s Pass. Photograph by Chris Vultaggio

. The sling is made of a low-profile weave, which means that they are super simple to rack on a harness, make into alpine draws, and extend quickly. Other alpine draws don’t extend as well and get jammed up in itself, causing a clusterfuck while you’re trying to clip your rope. These draws are a dream: not only are they light and strong, but they feel great in your hand.ONECOL

What else can I really say? The weight and durability are unbeatable, and these alpine draws come at an extremely attractive price point, whether you buy them individually or as a pack of four. Everything about these draws works—from the color coordination for keeping things organized to functionality. Whether you are starting to build your own rack for the first time or are continuing to add to it, the Trango Phase Alpine Draws are great for the price and the perfect addition for sport, trad, and alpine objectives.


The Trango Phase Alpine Draws retail as a pack of four for $78, or individually at $20 a pop. You can purchase your own set here.

Disclosure: I have received the gear for this review from Trango. As always, all opinions are honest and my own.

All photographs, unless otherwise mentioned, are courtesy of Trango.

*This website and its owner are not responsible in any way, shape, or form for anything that happens to you. This review was compiled by both opinions and information/research. Do not use this review on this website or any information contained herein unless you are a skilled and experienced climber who understands and accepts the risks of climbing. Rock climbing is inherently dangerous and you should always climb within your ability, after carefully judging the safety of the route and personal gear. Failure to follow these conditions may result in injury or death. If you choose to use any information on this website to plan, attempt, or climb a particular route, you do so at your own risk.
You are responsible for knowing and respecting your gear’s capabilities and limitations. Always know the maintenance and use history of your equipment and destroy retired gear to prevent future use. Your safety is your own responsibility and no article or video can replace proper instruction and experience. If you choose to use any information on this website to plan, attempt, or climb a particular route, you do so at your own risk.
Love,
Kathy
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1: Unbroken

You haven’t heard this story yet. But, maybe you have. Maybe it’s a sister, a girlfriend, a best friend. Maybe it’s you. Survivor stories like these are creating a global framework for how to end sexual violence–by talking about it. If there is any hope for having meaningful, nuanced discussions about this, transparency is our greatest ally. This is one survivor’s story, out of millions. This is episode one of For the Love of Climbing.

This episode is brought to you by Deuter, Evo Hemp, Outdoor Research and Dirtbag Climbers. Music by: “Jazzy Frenchy”, “Retro Soul”, “All That”, and “Funny Song” by bensound.com, “Ichill” by Kakurenbo, “Feelings”, “Faith”, “Brave”, “We Are Saved” and “Buying Presents” by Borrtex, “Black Wattle Walkabout” by Krackatoa, and “Decompress” and “Curiosity” by Lee Rosevere.

For the love of climbing

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Transcript:

(KATHY KARLO): This podcast is sponsored by Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort, but most importantly–your snacks. Deuter is known for fit, comfort, and ventilation. Stay tuned for a new line of women’s climbing packs, coming out any day. I can’t tell you which one, but stay tuned for more about Gravity SL line–made by women, for women.

Deuter has a history of first ascents and alpine roots. Their head of product development even climbed Everest once, in jeans (hashtag not fake news.) Founded in 1898, Deuter believes in good fitting backpacks, so you can focus on way cooler things like puppies, pocket bacon, and gettin’ sendy, whether at the crag or in the alpine.

You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast and I’m your host. My name is Kathy and before we begin–first off, hi everybody! Hi, Mom. Did you figure out how to download podcasts yet?

I also wanted to let you know that this episode will contain graphic sexual violence, discussion about suicide, and it’s going to be really hard to listen to. But, not only are we super proud of this episode, it is incredibly topical–because, in less than six months, a simple hashtag went viral and the MeToo movement uncorked women’s stories, worldwide. Stories like these are creating a global framework for how to end sexual violence–by talking about it. And if there’s any hope for having meaningful, nuanced discussions about this, transparency is our greatest ally.

MeToo is not just a hashtag. This episode is not just one woman’s story. It’s the start of a larger conversation that needs to be had.

(CHRISTA MELDE): I almost quit climbing. I really, really thought: I’m done. I can’t do this anymore. I’m going to take up darts or bowling or (laughs) hangman or something! But I can’t do climbing anymore. But, I’m still here. It’s taken a lot of really, really hard work–not only for myself, but for my friends and my family and a community that rallied around me to support me, in any way that they could.

(KK): This is Christa. Christa is a rape survivor. According to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, otherwise known as RAINN, on average, there are (are you ready for this?) 321,500 survivors, ages twelve and older, of rape and sexual assault every year, just in the United States alone. Christa is one of them.

As of 1998, an estimated 17.7 million American women have been victims of attempted or completed rape. It’s important to mention that men and boys are also affected by sexual violence. Christa has endured what so many women, men, and children should never have to endure. But, she is opening up an important dialogue and breaking the silence that so many people live in. And, she’s still here. She’s still climbing.

(CM): So, I got into my job because I wanted to make a change in my own bubble the best way that I could. I love climbing. It has such a unique community and I thought if I could change one aspect of it, that I could do something good with my life. So, I committed to it and I’m still here (laughs). I’m still here.

(KK): You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. This is not a climbing podcast. Well, sorta. This is a funny, sad, and somewhat uncomfortable podcast about choosing vulnerability and talking openly about our pain. This podcast is sponsored by Dirtbag Climbers. Here’s the show.

(CM): I’m from Phoenix, Arizona and I am about…I just turned twenty-six. So, almost forgot my age there (laughs). But I have been climbing for about eight years now, started in 2010 when I was eighteen years old (went on my eighteenth birthday), and I work at a climbing gym. I run the daily operations for it and I do all of the human resources. I teach all of the lead classes. I run a small group of adaptive athletes for the visually impaired, do all of their safety stuff, their kids programs–a little bit of everything. So, very involved in the community. I love it, I love my own community in Phoenix with all of my heart and I’ve just been trying to grow it.

During the past year, I’ve really concentrated on programs for women and how we can empower female climbers and get them comfortable, get them crushing on the wall, and give them a safe space–not only to climb but just to talk to one another and open up these really unique dialogues among female climbers. My favorite movie is Indiana Jones. Just want to pop that in there (laughs).

(KK): When Christa reached out to me a few months ago, I asked her to sit down with me. She didn’t hesitate. She said yes, almost immediately; she was ready to talk about this on a bigger platform. Before we met, I stalked her Instagram (as you do) and I immediately wanted to know everything about her. We talked a LOT (I think for several hours.) We talked about how nerdy she is,

Did you say you were playing Dungeons and Dragons the other day?

(CM): Yeah, I love it.

(KK): I actually don’t know how to play that game.

(CM): I’ve been playing for a year and a half.

(KK): Oh my god, that’s awesome.

(CM): Yeah, definitely a nerd. It’s one of my favorite hobbies (laughs).

(KK): her amazing boyfriend, alpine starts, her love of coffee, fear of open water and other various things that scared her:

(CM): Actually, the movie that scared me the most was “The Blair Witch Project”. I saw it when I was a kid. It came out in the early 90s. And I did a lot of backpacking and hiking. I grew up in an outdoorsy family. So, at one point, my older brothers knew that I had seen it and there’s that scene where, like, they’re in the tent and the tent starts shaking and there’s giggles outside. Ok, well my brothers did that to me when I was a kid after I’d seen the movie, and it still scares me! Every time that I go pee in the woods at night, I’m, like, convinced that the Blair Witch is going to get me.

(KK): I don’t think I’d even get out of my tent.

(CM): Fortunately, I have a dog now, so he protects me from the Blair Witch.

(KK): And then, we talked about something else that’s scary. What makes it so terrifying is that it isn’t a horror film about noises in the woods; this is real life.

(CM): What if I came out and nobody believed me? You know, I’m a woman. I’ve grown up as a female. I see the disbelief towards women and their stories. What if that happened to me? What if the community ostracized me? What if I was called a liar? What if people just didn’t care? It was a terrifying thought and it was one that followed me for years before I started talking.

(KK): But Christa did start talking. This is what she had to say:

(CM): It was really hard and there are still people to this day in the community that when we walk past each other in the gym, they look down instead of up. Because they don’t want to make eye contact with me, especially with all of the programs that I’ve started to put into place and how outspoken I’ve become in the last year. I am the villain in their eyes. And that is not just a climbing problem–it’s a society problem.

We tend to think that we are above reproach, as a sport. That we don’t have sexism or misogyny or, you know, what happened to me, “It just, it doesn’t exist in our sport.”, “I’ve never experienced it, so it can’t be true.” or “I’ve never seen that happen. That doesn’t happen in my gym”. But it does. It does, whether you realize it or not. Every woman in your gym or in your community or at your crag has experienced some type of sexism at some level at some point in their career as a climber, and as a human. Mine was exasperated by this really terrible event and it made me open my eyes dramatically to some of the problems that plagued our sport and our community and, you know, at first I didn’t know what to do with that. I felt totally alone in the world.

(KK): The year was 2013 and Christa had just taken a job at her local gym.

(CM): I was a bartender before that and I hated it. Bartending is only fun for so long until you just can’t handle it anymore. Especially when you are bartending in a city like Scottsdale, Arizona, which is a little high maintenance if you don’t already know that (laughs).

So, I started working at a gym. Got really involved in the community, started really pushing myself, training really hard. I was about to start to break into the low 12s at this point and I was really just psyched on life. I had found something that I could be good at. And I met a very terrible person that I didn’t realize was a monster at that point. (long pause) It’s pretty crazy, the disguises and masks that people can wear.

I had a co-worker; his name was Chris. That’s what we’ll call him. He was a little bit older than me but had been in the community, like, since he was a kid–been on the climbing teams, he worked at the gyms, he built home walls for members, and he developed local areas. So, if you were in the climbing community, you knew him, or you knew of him. Friendly guy, very social, very open to teaching people and taking people outside. Kind of as a beginner climber, a resource that you immediately gravitate towards. He was also dating a close friend of mine at the time, so I got to know him pretty well. We climbed together for about a year and I learned how to sport climb, I learned trad placement. I learned a lot. And I trusted him.

(KK): You spoke about how he was really immersed in the climbing community, and you know, everybody saw him as this great guy, like, he bolted routes and he took people out and showed them how to climb. It’s almost like he had a totally different life that nobody knew about.

(CM): You know, the funny thing about sociopaths is I think that they all do a bit. At some point, something changed. His true colors came out a little bit more and I got to see the monster that he really was and everything for me, my entire life, changed in an instant.

(KK): This is where we’ll take a little break. This seems like a good place to take a break, right? Listen to this.

(MALE VOICE): It was partially a lack of perspective with ironic truth of living a privileged life. I quit my corporate job to live out of my van, climb to my heart’s content, and sustain myself with remote work. I was living the dream-and yet, felt empty. I see-sawed from one end of the scale to the other, neglecting the balance that makes life so rich. Climbing is my life, but my relationships and the world that I’m so fortunate to be a part of is what makes me whole.

(KK): Hey, we’re back. We are still in 2013 and Christa is crushing it in her climbing. She started climbing more and she met somebody–Chris, a mentor. He was a beloved member of the climbing community and everybody knew him. You probably know somebody exactly like this at your gym: charismatic, friendly, knowledgeable…normal.

(CM): Things seemed normal that day. But, I could see when he came in that there was something different in the way that he looked at me. It shifted from seeing me as a human to seeing me as an object. I wasn’t the first woman that he assaulted and I wasn’t going to be the last, either. It was something that he had thought about. It was clear that he had planned it. I don’t know if he thought about it from the moment that we started climbing together or how he saw that opportunity as one that he wanted to take, but it was a choice that he made that day and things have never been the same for me.

(KK): Chris came over like it was any other ordinary day. He had been dropping off some climbing gear, but this time, something was different. Christa knew it the instant she saw him.

(CM): The way that he looked at me was utterly terrifying. I was home alone, he was in a position of power, not only physically, but in our community, and I didn’t know what to do. And, you know, I don’t think that any woman should ever have to qualify the reasons why she was assaulted. We make decisions out of our survival instincts, and I didn’t know what else to do but let it happen and hope that it wouldn’t happen again.

It was horrible. I remember afterwards, sitting in the shower, thinking that I couldn’t take enough showers to feel clean again. It (long pause) totally messed up my life.

After I was assaulted, he threatened me physically. To drive his point home, he pulled up his previous arrest record of a time in about 2008 where he tried to strangle his ex-wife to death and was caught for it. I don’t know how he was able to work in our community and not have a background check. I don’t know how it slipped through, but it was a prior and he was proud of it. So, once I knew that he was willing to kill someone to protect his own identity, what do you do?

(KK): At this point, I’m hoping that you’ve never had to research how to report a sexual assault and never will. If you don’t know what to do after being attacked, Christa can tell you.

(CM): The statistics are terrible. Sixty percent of sexual assault goes unreported, for various reasons. But one of the main reasons that led me, not only for the protection of my own life, was the fact that only three percent of perpetrators will be incarcerated.

(KK): That’s right, three percent. And that’s not all. It gets worse.

(CM): Only, like, ten percent goes to court. So, at that point, I have all of these crossroads that I need to think about. If I report him and nothing happens, will he kill me? If I report him and we go to court and then, nothing happens, will he kill me? If he goes to court and gets incarnated for maybe a year, two years, six months, three months–what happens after? He knows where I live. He knows my phone number. He knows my family, my friends. Will he kill me? Somebody that I love?

There are all of these options that you have to weigh and self-preservation is the only thing that I could think about in that time, so I just hoped that it would stop. I didn’t tell anyone; I was terrified. He worked at the gym. He was in a management position. He was a developer in a position of power, and what if I came out and nobody believed me?

(KK): In a world full of rampant misogyny, coming forward with the truth about having been sexually harassed or assaulted means facing intimidation, having to re-live traumatic experiences, the unlikelihood of justice, and so much ridicule from the public. You could be called a whore, or a gold digger, or worse: a liar. The result is that so many survivors would rather keep silent than expose this terrible, awful truth.

(CM): So, I shut up and I went to work the next day and just pretended like everything was ok. I wanted to feel normal. I wanted to feel like I could continue with my life with this horrible thing and it would just go away. And I walked into work the next day and he was there. You know, I had been threatened, I had been raped, and I was at work just going about my normal business.

(KK): But none of this was normal, and life didn’t go back to normal. Not only that, it didn’t stop at one time.

(CM): I have been raped in my car. I have been raped in my local gym. I’ve been raped at home. I have been raped in his house. I had been forcibly choked. I had been raped vaginally and anally. I lost count at some point how many times I’ve been raped, and I can’t remember all of it.

Over the next three months, I was habitually raped multiple times a week. He threatened my life so many times that–there’s only so many times you can take being threatened before you feel like you don’t have anything left to fight with. There’s almost this feeling of giving up. There are very few people out there that I feel have truly experienced rock bottom, and I can raise my hand and say that I’ve been there. I’m in the rock bottom club.

(KK): I’m the mayor.

(CM): Yeah, right?

Things are an evolving process. It re-wires your brain. It re-wires how you process your fight or flight responses. Everybody processes things different, and trauma changes everything about your brain chemistry. So, to protect myself, my brain started to disassociate and I repressed a lot of my memories. I say that there are a lot of my memories that are locked away in this file cabinet that is in the basement of my brain and the door is locked. And the file cabinet is locked. And every time that I, you know, I take another step down the basement, something else pops up. And I don’t know if I will truly get everything back. I’m not sure if I want to. But you know, therapy is awesome and it’s done wonders for me.

So, over that time that I was being assaulted, people started to think that Chris and I were this really awesome climbing partnership. It reinforced that I couldn’t come out. People had this perception of me, that I, you know, I was really climbing up the ranks of the climbing community. I was starting to climb harder, learn all these cool things and–it’s really hard to live behind a mask. And it’s not a mask that I made. It’s a mask that was forced upon me.

They saw us as friends, they invited us out together a lot. I just continued to climb. I just wanted some degree of normalcy in my life. I was convinced at a certain point that if I couldn’t hold onto something normal, something constant, something consistent, that I would lose everything. Rock bottom is a place where it’s really easy to make rash decisions. It’s really easy to get to a point where you no longer value your own life and think that the only way out is death.

(KK): Ninety-four percent of women who are raped experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, during the weeks following the attack. Thirty-one percent of women report symptoms nine months after. To give you a better idea, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates there are approximately 96.3 million adult women in the United States. If thirteen percent of American women have been raped, and thirty-one percent of those survivors have developed PTSD, then that’s a whopping 3.8 million adult American women who have had rape-related PTSD.

3.8 million women.

The numbers for suicide are just as grisly. Thirty-three percent of women who are raped contemplate suicide. Thirteen percent will attempt suicide.

(CM): It’s something that we all think about in some regard, at some point. I’ve been there. So, I just kept climbing. I just kept pretending that everything was ok, and climbing started to become very painful for me because it was fake. It wasn’t real, in comparison to what was really going on in my home life.

At a certain point, I stopped regarding my own life. I had truly, truly given up. I did not see any way out of my situation. It–he stole a part of me. A lot of me. He took it from me. He took my identity from me and I had nothing left at that point. That’s when I started making more rash decisions. I, at that point, I didn’t care if anybody was going to find out and I started looking for resources. You know, there was a glimmer of hope in the abyss. I thought about going to the police at this point. I had nothing left to lose. I wasn’t going to involve my friends or my family on it because I didn’t want to bring somebody into the darkness. I didn’t want to bring somebody into a situation where they could possibly get hurt. You know, I would rather get hurt. And then he started to threaten my friends and family.

There was nothing I could do. That took the cake. There was nowhere for me to go but stay in rock bottom. At that point, I couldn’t do it anymore. Every part of my humanity had been stripped from me. I had no agency. I felt powerless, weak, insecure, worthless. The list could go on and on and on. This continued on for about a month, and this is where things get a little fuzzy for me. Like I had mentioned earlier, I repress some of my memories, and this is where things got really bad.

(KK): Most people would have found their rock bottom one year ago, when this had all begun. But for Christa, the worst part was when her loved ones were put in danger. When he started to threaten her friends and her family, and there was nothing she could do.

(CM): I’ve always considered myself to be a pretty caring and sometimes overly compassionate person. My friends and my family make up my identity and my life. They are everything to me. They always have been. So, when he moved his targeting system from me to them, it no longer just involved me. It now involved good people that I cared about: people that made differences in other people’s lives–that were parents, that were uncles and aunts. People that have these really vivid, important lives, and I couldn’t do that to them. In my headspace, at that point, my life weighed less than theirs. And that’s an easy decision for me to make, even now. I would easily sacrifice my own life for somebody that I love and I think that most of us, if it came down to it, I think that we’d make the same call. So, that really was the point where I felt like Chris had won.

(KK): Hey. We’ll be right back.

(FEMALE VOICE): I screamed falling, but it was too late. I fell about eighteen feet onto a boulder onto my side. After that, I realized that fear doesn’t leave. You just have to learn how to harness and control it.

(CM): It’s important, as you’re listening, to remember that this is your local setter. This is your local developer. Take a second to realize that this is a member of the climbing community and really humanize this story. This is not just some crazy, off the beaten path guy. This is a member of our community.

(KK): During this time, were there any friends who confronted you, like what is going on, this isn’t you.

(CM): During this time, I still kept up my persona–that I climbed a lot, that I had just suddenly only hung out with two or three people, mainly Chris. He isolated me. I pushed everyone that I cared about as far away from me as possible. The farther away that people were from me, the safer they were. If Chris thought that I didn’t care about them, he wasn’t going to follow them or find out where they lived or find out where they worked. He would leave them alone.

It was about six-ish months. It felt like years, holy crap. It felt so long. This destroyed all of my friendships. It destroyed all of my relationships. My family started to think that I didn’t like them anymore, maybe I was going through some type of addiction, that I just stopped caring–that I stopped loving these people. The decisions I made were to be a good friend, but I was the only one that knew what was really going on. I blocked people’s numbers. I deleted people from Facebook. I avoided them in the gym. I made sure that if Chris was in the facility, that I was as far away from them as possible. I kept my distance to the people that I loved most. He found a way to isolate me, which is what all sociopaths do. It’s what all abusers do. They make it seem like it’s your only choice.

(KK): In the wild, predators will isolate prey from the rest of the herd to better attack. That’s precisely what sociopaths and abusers will do to their targets. They will isolate their target from their friends, their colleagues, and family. Christa found herself locked in an abusive relationship, one that she never signed up for. One that she didn’t know how to get out of.

(CM): My life, at that point, was forfeited. During this time, I was still climbing. I was still going to work every day. I was still going out and doing my normal thing, like drinking chocolate shakes, and drinking beer and making dinner. But, every single day, I just hoped that there wouldn’t be the next day. I really wanted everything just to end. And, it just kept going.

(KK): And so did Christa. Until one day, an old, yet close, friend of hers started to notice that something was up.

(CM): He’s my current boyfriend. His name’s Aaron

(KK): A quick update: now fiancé!

(CM): and I have known him since about 2011, 2012. We were really, really close leading up to these events. We had class together back in my undergrad. He was a climber at the gym too–just an all around pretty stellar person. I mean, I think I can boast about him now.

Aaron did notice. He noticed that I was being distant, manic, angry, irritable with him–and again, it was purely so that I could protect him, I thought, in the best way that I knew how. He pulled me aside one day and asked me what was going on, and at first, I brushed it off and I told him to get away from me. Aaron has this really strong moral compass where he came back and he started to just validate who I was as a person. It was the first time that I had been validated in almost a year. He tried to make me feel human again, that I was strong, that I could be courageous. That if I could send all of these crazy hard climbs and push through the fear of falling–if I could do all of these things which most people can’t–that whatever I was going through, I could overcome.

It seems like assaulting one person is, like, way overly enough, but for Chris, I was getting boring. He was assaulting two other women at the same time. I think that when I hit rock bottom and stopped caring, that the responses were no longer what he deemed desirable. I was no longer fighting. I had given up.

It’s a hard thing–a hard thing to bond over, that you’ve both been assaulted by the same person. All of our experiences are very valid and all of our emotions are valid and our experiences vary in different ways, from where to how to how many times, but all of these women that I have gotten to know are some of the strongest women that I have ever met. And they’re all such badasses for going through what they’ve been through. I’m one of them too, I guess (laughs).

(KK): Fuck yeah.

Another woman, outside of the climbing community, who had also been assaulted by Chris, started to raise some attention. Over the course of three months, Chris was arrested, tried in court, and incarcerated–on one charge.

(CM): He was charged with abduction. Every other charge was dropped for a plea bargain. He was only incarcerated for a year. And during that timeframe, I was terrified of what would happen when he got out.

(KK): So that year wasn’t really a relief.

(CM): I thought that it would be, but it was anything but. I thought that the recovery process would start when it stopped, but the recovery process for my life didn’t start for at least another year. The time that Chris was in jail, I counted down the days, which is totally not healthy, but I was terrified of what would happen when he got out, and not even the highest level of restraining order could make me feel safe. Because when does a psycho killer or a psycho rapist listen to a restraining order? What good would that do me?

(KK): At this point, Christa still hadn’t told anybody yet. Chris had just…disappeared. He disappeared from Christa’s life, and from the climbing gym. Everybody wanted to know where he went, and the one person they wanted to ask was Christa.

(CM): Because I was the person he chose as his front, as his normal human front, his human mask. And that sucked. At first, I told them that I thought that Chris had moved away. It would change from time to time, depending on my trauma responses and how anxious I was that day. If I was already starting to disassociate, I would trip up over my words and, you know, “He moved away; you know, oh I don’t really know, I think the went into the military; I think he’s on a climbing trip.” And they would all be like, “Oh, that’s such a big bummer!” Like, “He seemed like such a cool dude and we’re going to miss him!”

You know, when you hear somebody validate the person that’s been abusing you for almost a full year, there’s no way that you can come out of that conversation feeling good. It just drives the point home, that he was in the right or that this guy’s better than I am. So it took a really long time to be able to start coming out about things. I slowly started to come out in very vague snippets to some of my close friends, to Aaron who I was able to reconnect with, to a couple of close girlfriends, some cousins–people that never left, that were truly unconditional friends to the end.

(KK): Some of the fears that kept Christa from coming out became realities for her. She started telling people that her relationship with Chris wasn’t consensual, and it wasn’t what it looked like. And there were people that did not believe her.

(CM): There were people that told me that I was lying, that Chris could never do that, that he had been in the community for so long, and you know, “I’ve known him for nine years. He could never do that.” Needless to say, those people are definitely not my friends anymore. That was when my recovery was first starting and to get those setbacks was emotionally devastating. You know, I sat down after a few of those and just thought, “What’s the point? Why am I talking about this? Why am I coming out if people are just going to say nasty things about me?”

(KK): Or just believe in the goodness of this person? It’s like, if you’ve done x amount of things with your life, you know, you get, here you go, one free rape. You know. Like, you’re a good person.

(CM): Yeah. Get out of jail free card, a little bit?

(KK): Mm-hmm.

Too many convicted rapists are put on trial and receive amnesty. These judges will often receive letters from their loved ones, pleading that they are inherently good people who made a bad decision. Some even imply or directly suggest that the survivor is to blame for the assault. These things contribute to an entire system that is failing rape survivors, each and every day.

(CM): Not only was I recovering and was I being diagnosed with PTSD at that time, but I was so angry at society for allowing these things to happen and brewing this victim-blaming culture that puts it on the woman. There were people that asked me questions like, “What did you do to make Chris think that you wanted to have sex with him? What did you do to make him think that your relationship was ok? Why didn’t you tell anybody sooner?”

(KK): We tend to believe that, as a whole, climbers are really great people. That we care so much about access and the environment, and, for the most part, are fairly moral. And yet, there were these questions that were so offensive and toxic to the cause, and to Christa’s life. Again, these are people who also campaign for climate change and all of these really progressive ideas, and yet, at the same time, were asking her, what she did to get raped.

(CM): So, what do you do with that information, once you have it? I felt absolute disgust with my community, to anger, to passion to do something. But, you know at the same time, I was struggling with being able to climb again and being able to be a part of a community, because at this point, climbing–it was a trauma trigger for me. So, every time that I touched the wall, every time that I put on my harness, I would have full on panic attacks. I would start to feel like my skin was crawling, like, I needed to take a shower. Nobody could get near me or touch me. I would just start crying because it was triggering my PTSD, hard. I couldn’t climb. I couldn’t climb the beginner wall at my gym on top rope. I couldn’t lead or lead belay because I would have dissociative panic attacks and if I tried to climb, I wouldn’t know how I got to the top. I would have no memory of the climb, between the ground and the top. So, I couldn’t climb. I worked at a gym, I ran climbing programs, and I couldn’t climb.

I didn’t know what to do with it. I went outside once with a group of friends because they pulled teeth to get me out there. And I decided to try to climb this route that was a jug haul to the top and I couldn’t get past the first bolt on top rope. I came down from that route wanting to tear off all of my clothes and my own skin because I felt so disgusting. I ran down to the bottom of the crag and I cried for, like hours. I decided, in that moment, that I was quitting climbing. I was done. I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t strong enough. I couldn’t move past it. That was something that he had successfully taken from me which was my whole life. How I identified as a human was through climbing. You know, we all have our own lenses that we relate to the world through, and mine was climbing. And, at that point, I had no sense of my own identity. I had no idea who I was or what I was going to be. I, straight up, just wanted to burn my harness and my shoes and just light everything on fire.

(KK): Christa came home from that trip and had to take almost a full week off of work because she couldn’t be in the gym–she couldn’t even see climbing. She contemplated quitting her job and just…moving. Like, maybe if she could just have a fresh start, she would be able to live a normal life. But ultimately, she knew that her demons would chase her, no matter where she went. And there was a part of her that didn’t want somebody to forcibly make her quit climbing. If Christa was going to quit climbing, it was going be on her terms. She was going to make that decision.

(CM): I decided to climb the beginner wall and have these crazy panic attacks and know that I was gonna be taking work off a lot and that nobody was going to know why I was going through all of this.

You know, a lot of climbers have this discussion about grades and elitism in the sport, you know–if you’re not leading it, you’re not climbing it. And I had gone from this really grade-chasing lead climber to somebody that couldn’t even top rope a 5.6. People didn’t know what to think of me. I had retracted from the community. I couldn’t climb anymore. People didn’t want to climb with me because I couldn’t lead belay them and I would shy away from it, even though I was teaching lead classes at the time.

It took years to be able to start leading again. It took years to be able to start training or projecting, or most importantly, climbing for fun. Because every time I was on the wall, I would have a trauma response. And if you’ve ever had any type of trauma response, you know how terrible they are. They are not fun. They are debilitating. So, I concentrated for a while on just learning to love climbing again. I top roped everything that looked fun to me. I didn’t even worry about grades for a while, even though it didn’t make me feel good to be climbing the beginner wall. And I watched all of my friends progress as I stood stagnant.

(KK): At this point, some really strong women came into Christa’s life. They had also experienced assault and became huge allies for her.

(CM): They encouraged me. They hugged me. They let me be upset when I needed to be upset and, over time, I was able to start enjoying this sport for why I originally got into it.

(KK): Coming back to it, what did that look like for you?

(CM): It was a really, really slow progression. I eventually started to project, and for me, at that point, projecting looked like 11b/c. And when I was able to get through a climb without thinking about Chris, that’s when I knew that I could start to like the sport again. When I could clip a bolt without feeling like I was being raped again, I realized that I could love climbing again. So, I started sending some of my projects and eventually I decided, you know, I’m going to go back to that climb that kicked my ass. It’s time, I’m going to try it. No expectations, if I’m not feeling good, I’ll just come down and it’ll be ok.

(KK): Christa went back to the Pit, a popular sport climbing crag in Flagstaff. Everybody knows it, it’s almost always packed with people, which is exactly what it was like on the day that Christa returned.

(CM): I cried through the entire route. I was, like, wailing on the wall. Everybody has stopped what they’re doing to pay attention to what I’m doing. I didn’t realize this till I was at the top, but I was, straight up, like, I don’t know how I saw the holds. I don’t know I saw the movement because I was crying so hard! So, I clipped the anchors and every bolt felt more and more like I was starting to take my life back a little bit. This climb was the pinnacle of my accomplishments. Because this was the climb that I vowed to quit climbing over. This was the climb that I associated and symbolized with my assault. It all came down to this climb. This 11- jug haul to the top was everything to me.

(KK): A few months ago, you sent me messages, you recorded your words, and these are your thoughts. Listen to this.

(MALE VOICE): I think one of the hardest things that I struggle with with climbing is remembering that I don’t have to be a climber. It’s like, I tie so much of my identity to being a climber that it’s hard when I really suck at climbing some days or I don’t want to climb, and I just forget that I can be ok at climbing and ok at a lot of other things. And yeah, that’s ok.

(CM): There are moments of emptiness, like maybe if I am in Shavasana in yoga, you know, or when I’m climbing something that’s at my limit and I’m just thinking about the moves. There are moments where there is some escapism from it. But–you don’t really ever get over it. You just–you have to make a decision of how you want to integrate it into your life.

(KK): Chris was arrested, and Christa had the date of his release marked in her calendar. She received one threatening text message from him when he was released.

(CM): It was like an earthquake in my own life. I haven’t heard from him since. I think about what I would say to him if I saw him. It’s gotten less frequent now, but it used to be every single day that I would wake up, I would have this role playing in my head: “What do I do if I see Chris? What do I do if he walks back through the doors of my gym? Do I need to reach out to the other owners of the other facilities and let them know that this is happening? How do I protect myself and these other women and my family? Is he going to come for me, now that he knows that I’m speaking?” You know, I even had this argument with myself yesterday, because I’m coming out about this in a very public forum. What if he hears it? What’s he going to do? Is he going to make a decision that is rash and unpredictable? And all of those fears are valid. I think every woman in my position would have those.

Fear stops so much of what we do. It has stopped so many of my decisions. I know, now, that I have so many resources around me to protect myself. I know that I am a stronger person now. I can’t say that if I had a time machine, that I wouldn’t go back and change what happened to me, because it was awful and I still struggle with it every day and I will always be haunted by this ghost in some way or another. But I’ve also become more empathetic and compassionate and open to women’s issues in a way that I don’t think I would have necessarily gotten to maybe as quickly as I have now. But yeah, I mean, I still struggle with fear on a daily basis, in some degree. I mean, I hold my keys in my hand when I walk to my car. I park under lights, park within view of the cameras. I check my backseat before I get in the car. I pay special attention if there are cars that are consistently behind me because I’m worried of who it might be. I don’t walk alone at night. There are a ton of things that you change in your life when something like this happens to you.

(KK): When something like this happens in your life, you eventually have to ask yourself: how do I let this define me? Christa decided that she didn’t want to be seen as the “rape victim”. She wouldn’t let that define her life. The decision that she came to terms with is that she not a victim. She prefers the term “survivor”.

(CM): Because every day, I choose to wake up and I choose to get out of bed and I choose to protest my own experiences. I define my life now by committing to women’s programs and sharing my story and being transparent, so that if other women are going through anything like what I went through, that they know that it’s ok to speak. And that they know that they are valued and important and courageous and that, if we can all be transparent about our stories, that we really can have social impact. And even in the climbing community, that we can change things that are problematic within our own sport. If we don’t share our experiences and we don’t talk and we keep these things to ourselves, things will never change. They will never change.

So, it’s scary for me to talk. Things are still evolving for me. I still have issues come up every single day and I still have days when I can’t get on the wall and climb. I still have days where it’s hard for me to get out of bed. I still have days where it’s really hard for me to have an intimate relationship with somebody. I’m not perfect. And I don’t feel anywhere near where I wanna be. But, every day does get a little bit better. And there’s obviously ups and downs with that. It’s a wave. But, meeting all of these strong women that have inspired me to be a better person and stand up in my own experiences and ask questions like, “What kind of community do we want to be? How do we want to define ourselves as a community? What are the things that are important to us?” Learning to answer those questions and talk about them in an open dialogue has been the most helpful and empowering action I could have taken.

(KK): Then I asked Christa a really hard question.

(CM): Sometimes, I approach it with anger. Sometimes, I approach it with sadness. Sometimes, I approach it with disgust and sometimes, it’s a weird confluence of all of them. But, ultimately, in some regard, I think that I pity him. His own life and his own brain and his own moral compass is so screwed up and ass backwards that there is no way that he will ever find happiness or relief. That, in some regard, makes me feel sad. Maybe if his upbringing had been different or if he was able to channel these impulses in a different way as a kid, maybe his life would have been different, too. And, I struggle with feeling pity for my abuser because I really just want to feel angry all the time, and I really just want to put him in a box and villainize him as, you know, like a, like a Rocky and Bullwinkle villain.

Ultimately, I just feel sad for him and I wish things could have been different. I think that there is a whole other conversation that needs to be had for how we as a society handle mental illness, and even our jail systems and how we rehabilitate people. That we can do a better job to ensure that people like Chris do not become the monsters that they have the potential to be.

I really hope, in some regard, that Chris can look back on his life at some point and truly, truly from the bottom of his heart, make a change. I don’t think that will be true and one thing that still really sits with me in a negative way is that the women that Chris assaulted, including myself, our life never goes back to normal. We never get over it. We integrate it into our lives but we never fully move past it. For Chris, he got a year in jail and he gets out and things go back to normal for him. He goes into a new city, meets new women, the process repeats itself. So, there’s a lot of frustration and a lot of guilt that I have about these potential women in the future that are going to suffer the same fate, maybe worse.

It’s a really hard question, what I would say to Chris if I saw him. It’s a really hard question to answer. I think that more importantly than concentrating on our abusers, is that we need to empower our survivors, because they are the future of social change. They are the future of this movement. They are the future of all the potential that our society could be surrounding these issues.

So, you know, it’s hard, I get asked pretty frequently, like, how do you feel about Chris or what would you do if you saw him? And, I think what I would like to focus on instead is: what would you say to somebody that had these issues happen to them or somebody that was assaulted? Let’s focus on the women that have been through so much and that are so strong and so courageous and that are struggling at their core, like I have been, still am, was, all of it, and let’s give them a platform and let’s take away the power from the abusers. They don’t matter. The survivors are what matter. So, I don’t know, it’s a really hard question to answer.

(KK): I actually think you answered it perfectly.

And it’s true. We hear way too much from people like Chris. And we hear way too much from the Harvey Weinsteins and Brock Turners of the world.

(CM): I think it’s important to humanize the survivors and let them know that we are your friends. We are your sisters, your cousins–we’re your teachers. The people in the climbing community–we’re the people that you think live these wonderful, beautiful lives, maybe, and we are going through so much, all the time. Every day. And, we are powerful because of it. We are our own army if we can just come out and talk.

You know, there are still a lot of people in the sport that don’t believe that sexism and misogyny exist. Like I said earlier, there’s still a large victim-blaming mentality, and I am here to say that these things, these terrible things, exist within our own community. I am proof that this happens in your local community. And I know that it’s not just me. There are other women who are experiencing things like this, and they may not be on the most extreme scale as my experience, but there are aggressions towards women in our community that are happening every single day. And if we don’t admit that they’re happening and open up dialogue about them, then they’re just going to continue to happen. It’s ok to admit that maybe we don’t treat women as equal to our male counterparts as we should. It’s ok to entertain that thought.

So, what I’ve really focused on this year with my own recovery for myself, and for my community, is creating programs for women where they can climb together, have safe spaces, and talk about it, because we have so much in common. Our experiences are so alike and they parallel each other so well, whether it’s something like your climb was downgraded, or they said it was soft because you sent it, or spraying you down with beta when you didn’t want it and didn’t need it, and they wouldn’t have done it otherwise. There are all of these things that happen and there are women that feel uncomfortable in their own gyms–and at their own crags. It’s time to make a change and I think that now, more than ever, we have the potential to because more people are speaking out.

I mean, No Man’s Land has done a great job at empowering women and making them feel like we are the community. We’re bolting routes now, we’re putting routes up, we are forefronts in the community now. And it’s time to speak up for the women that maybe don’t have the power to speak, like me in 2013. I didn’t have the power to speak, and if I had somebody to tell me that it was ok, maybe things would have been different, maybe not. I don’t know. But I hope that if there’s anybody that’s listening or is in my community that is struggling with anything similar, that they know that there are resources, that there are people that truly, truly care about them. There are people that they can talk to that will help them get out of the situations that they’re in. I’m one of them.

If you are struggling with this, there are a lot local resources for you. There are domestic violence shelters in every major city. There are online chats that you can talk to from different organizations, like RAINN. If you are scared and you don’t know what to do, there are places that will come get you, that will move you out of wherever you are for free. There are so many resources for you. I know how trapped you feel, and I know how low and insecure you feel, but you’re a value and you’re so important to the world and you have so much to offer and so much to give. Please utilize a resource and come join the thousands and millions of women that have experienced this and that are starting to stand up. The MeToo movement is now in the forefront of the news. We can take back what is ours, we can take back our lives. And there are just so many resources. You don’t have to stay where you are, and you don’t have to make the decision to end your life, if that’s where you’re at. There is a way out. There is a way up.

(KK): I’ve been thinking about this story. A lot. Like Christa, it has drastically opened my eyes to the amount of work that we, as a society (both men and women), have yet to do. Some days, it just makes me feel tired and overwhelmed and so frustrated by the amount of people in this world who do nothing, who deny that these problems even exist. The ones who write it off easily as “she cried wolf” or they ask “What was she wearing? Did she have a little too much to drink that night?”

Let’s stop tearing apart women’s character, stop discussing their outfit. What the mainstream narrative wants us to believe is that the wounds of sexual violence are not real. For the listeners on the other side of this, we have a role in helping survivors heal. We have a responsibility to believe. And not every survivor will be believed. And so many will suffer in silence, so few will get support from a bigger community. So, Christa is building one.

(CM): It’s 2018, yes? So, I’m about five years into my recovery. Less than that, realistically, probably two to three, after I was able to decompress everything. The people in the community, the women that I’ve experienced, have just been absolutely amazing. One thing that has really stood out to me, probably the most powerful thing that I’ve taken from all of my experiences, is that transparency will be the most powerful weapon that we have against these aggressions. Being open, not necessarily being unafraid to talk about it, because I can tell you that right now, I’m afraid to talk about my own experiences and what the consequences of this conversation may bring, but being open and standing up and talking about everything that is happening, to you, to your friends, to your climbing partners. We really can change the community.

I just sent my first 12a outside which felt super long overdue. I finally feel like I’m climbing, for the first time ever, I really feel like I can become a climber and have fun. But, my main concern moving forward is just ensuring that women have a good space to speak. So, I encourage you, if you’re dealing with anything like this or you’ve experienced anything similar, to talk. Not only on social media and message boards, but in your local gyms. If you see something, address it. It’s ok to say that you’re not comfortable. It’s ok to tell somebody that you want some space from them. Climbing’s a great sport and I think we can make it better.

(KK): I think you’re making it better.

(CM): Thanks, thanks!

(KK): I think you’re doing it!

(CM): I’m really trying. I mean, I can’t be the only one. I would like to think that I’m the only one because that would mean that this isn’t happening to other women, but I know that I can’t be the only one. Not with the statistics that are out there. If you’re listening to this, you have a friend that has been sexually assaulted or you have been sexually assaulted yourself. It’s widespread. It’s time to change things. It’s time to stand up and reform policy. It’s time to change.

(KK): You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. A huge thank you to Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort, and to Evo Hemp, who is on a mission to bring you quality hemp products that are both affordable and accessible. What the heck is hemp, anyway? We’ll have to tell you next time. And a big thank you to Outdoor Research: award-winning outdoor product, to outfit any adventure, for the journey ahead. Support companies who support this podcast—we couldn’t do it without them.

Thanks for listening to the first episode. If you liked what you heard, you can leave a review on iTunes or give us a like—like all good things, you can find us on the internet. Until next time.

(MALE VOICE): If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). More resources are available online from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

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Off The Beaten Track.

 

I’m not sure what it is that attracts me to hills. It could be a number of things.   It could be the reward of freewheeling manically downhill.  Maybe it’s the chance to empty your brain, focusing on the one task of carrying you and your bike upwards. Or perhaps it’s the self congratulatory pat on the back for your efforts .  It’s probably a bit of all three!

But i think the main reason I seek out hills are the panoramic views, especially the breathtaking countryside here in the North West of Ireland!

Arroo Trail is an 8km track, starting at Aghanlish Community Centre Glenade, Co.Leitrim.  It’s primarily a walking track as the path tethers out to a rough bog road but should be fine for MTB tyres. There are three gates along the route, always remember to close them afterwards as sheep roam the hills.

If the climb doesn’t take your breath away then surely the jaw dropping beautiful views of the surrounding country-side will!  The path zig zags up over the small foot hills of Arroo and flattens out as the track leads to a bog. You don’t need to climb too far to witness the views. As you make your way upwards be sure to look behind. Your  gaze will be guided towards the Atlantic by the hedge divided small fields scattered below. The quietness up here is only interrupted by the occasional bleating sheep, the songs of the lark and the rustle of the wind through the haw-thorn trees. Further up the track some of the most iconic features of the Wild Atlantic Way can be seen.  Donegal Bay, Slieve League Cliffs, Mullaghmore, Classiebawn Castle, Inis Murray and Sligo Bay all reveal themselves.

 

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laura arroo

 

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Mini-Episode: I Didn’t Know at the Time

Did you ever do something you loved, but for all of the wrong reasons? Ego is a hard thing to overcome. You want your ego to be as big as possible when you’re about to make that crux move–but it’s just as important to learn when to set it aside when you come back down.

This episode is brought to you by Dirtbag Climbers. Music: “What’s it Like” by Young Grandmas.

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Transcript:

(FEMALE VOICE): My biggest difficulty is with my own ego. Once I started to feel physical power, I forgot about that kid-like inner exhilaration we all felt as newbie climbers. And that’s when I began to hinge my self-worth on the grade I was climbing because I didn’t know at the time what it meant to love myself unconditionally.

So, I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, but I climbed to distract myself from asking the real questions of who I am. And I climbed for the sake of getting attention. And I climbed because, simply, I couldn’t lag behind everybody else.

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