Crank + Cog Events.

The summer is quickly approaching and with it Crank + Cog are launching a number of events centred around cycling, hiking, food and … simply slowing things down a bit! The North West of Ireland, particularly Sligo and Leitrim, has so much to offer. It’s an area rich in history, folklore and above all else has stunning scenery that rivals the best Ireland has to offer. The two counties are on the Wild Atlantic Way but it’s inland away from the busy coast that it’s true beauty is revealed and it’s secrets unlocked Come join Ciarán of Crank + Cog through the lane-ways and boreens to discover the real Ireland! We are running two events; A multi day event and a single day event. Keep an eye on the website or Crank + Cog social media platforms for further events. For details follow the links below: The Poet + Warrior Tour. The Farm To Fork Cycle. A cycle event organised by Crank + Cog.
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9: Shit in the Woods

The thing you should know about eating disorders is that they don’t really discriminate. Eating disorders affect all races and ethnic groups (not excluding men). They also have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness—of around ten percent. This episode is about eating disorders, body positivity, and just owning your shit, specifically through the lens of climbing and one woman’s experience.

This episode is brought to you by Deuter, Gnarly Nutrition, and Dirtbag Climbers. Music by: “Jazzy Frenchy”, “Cute”, “Funny Song”, and “Enigmatic” by, “Ichill” by Kakurenbo, and “Pives and Flarinet” by Podington Bear, “End of Winter” by Rest You Sleeping Giant, “March of the Mind” by Kevin MacLeod, “You and Me” by Borrtex, and “Twinkle Twinkle” by David Mumford.

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(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 has a history of first ascents and alpine roots. Their head of product development even climbed Everest once, in jeans (hashtag not fake news.) Deuter is known for fit, comfort, and ventilation.  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.

– We’re working with Better Help to connect you to licensed therapists because even though my advice and opinions are free, I am improvising the whole thing. Better Help lets you message a licensed therapist, day or night. They’ll match you with the perfect therapist for a fraction of the cost of traditional therapy. You know who goes to therapy? Prince Harry. Emma Stone. Jenny Slate. Kesha. Therapy is beautiful—everyone should go to therapy. Go to to sign up and receive one free week. It helps support this show, and it helps support you.

– This podcast gets support from Gnarly Nutrition, one of the leading protein supplements that tastes “whey” better than they need to because they use quality natural ingredients. So, whether you’re a working mom who runs circles around your kids on weekends or an unprofessional climber trying to send that 5.13 in the gym, Gnarly Nutrition has all of your recovery needs. The only question you need to ask yourself is: Are you a sucker for anything that tastes like chocolate ice cream? (Yeah, me neither.) Gnarly Nutrition is designed to enhance your progress—and taste like a milkshake, without all the crap.

– Have you ever cut an exterior hole in your van? Me neither. Building out a van can be hard work, not to mention that table saws have a funny way of leaving you with fewer fingers than you started with. (We’ll ask Tommy Caldwell all about it when he returns my emails.) I really can’t be trusted with power tools since a drywall incident in 2005—but Mark and Anthony can. Roaming Ingenuity is a team of outdoor enthusiasts and tinkerers based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. Whether you are looking for a custom van build, or just need a little help with installing a roof vent, they can help. PS—I never actually emailed Tommy Caldwell.

(SABINE CONNORS): I used to struggle with bulimia. It was hard because, I mean, have you ever taken laxatives—in the woods? You literally can’t predict that shit. But in the end, I learned that people care in all the right ways and that wiping your butt with leaves is never the right answer.

(KK): You might remember this clip that we used for the trailer in 2018. You might even relate to it. This is Sabine, climber and doctorate student based out of the southeast. I don’t know many humans who thrive purely on coffee and sunshine quite the way that Sabine does, but I gotta say: however she does it, it’s working. This girl can hustle as hard as she climbs—and she does it with grit, moxie, and grace.

It’s been estimated that in America, thirty million people of all gender and ages suffer from an eating disorder, as stated by the National Eating Disorders Association. Eating disorders, or EDs, affect all races and ethnic groups, not excluding men. They also have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness—of around ten percent. The thing to remember is that having an ED isn’t actually a choice, like choosing to skip lunch. It isn’t a fad, or a diet phase, or a lifestyle choice. They are real, complex medical illnesses that really feed off of shame and stigma.

The episode that you are about to hear is about eating disorders, body positivity, and just owning your shit—specifically through the lens of climbing and one woman’s experience. Thank you to the people who contributed to this episode. You can go to and check out the resources available at the end of the transcript. This is episode nine.

(SC): For me, it’s a lack of control. So, I was a very competitive swimmer in high school—like pretty damn good. And I was supposed to swim in college and the university I went to, they actually cut their women’s team. You know, every eighteen-year-old who swam twenty hours a week—you all of a sudden take them out of that environment and like, what eighteen-year-old isn’t going to get a little chubby? Or whatever, shit happens. There’s no one moment where I realized, “When I didn’t have a period, I could run fast.” For me, it was just the perfect storm of a lot of different things: I had a roommate in college who’d struggled with anorexia her whole life. This is the first time in my life I’d ever dieted or I’d ever been even remotely close to needing to lose any weight.

And it was this perfect storm where I’d just discovered running, and I was really surprisingly good at running, just off the bat. And my roommate just taught me all these terrible tricks for losing weight and it just turned into this number game and I just lost control for five years, just binging and purging. And I ended up purging all sorts of different ways—anywhere from laxatives to running a hundred miles a week.

(KK): Sabine described this “perfect storm” in her life where everything inescapably led her to bulimia, but EDs literally can and do affect anyone. They don’t always originate from a past history of abuse or trauma or daddy issues or a million other potential “whys” and “hows”. And they’re really not selective based on your race, gender, ethnicity, or sexuality; they are pretty much as diverse as the people who have them.

(SC): I’m a twenty-five-year-old climber from—kind of from Atlanta. I guess my permanent address is in Atlanta right now? And I am finishing up my last year of PT school, which is a three-year doctorate program. So, I’ll be kind of on the road for the last year doing my clinic rotations. I started climbing when I was about eighteen, yeah, about eighteen. Right around that time, I finished high school. I started climbing ‘cause I really liked a boy and then I liked climbing way better than I liked the boy. So, I kept climbing. And then, climbing has been kind of the one constant throughout kind of a nasty couple bouts with bulimia.

(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.

– Most of you are probably familiar with some of the more common types of EDs: such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. There is a more comprehensive list of disorders at the end of the transcript on the blog.

(SC): There are a lot of people out on social media I feel like, like, it’s their thing. They get on social media, it’s very cathartic for them to talk to a lot of people about it—especially people who are pretty far out from it. And I try not to talk about it too much because it’s kind of all-consuming. It is your life. There is literally not an action during your day that isn’t calculated or factored into it. I feel like the more I would research, the more bad ideas I would get. Especially now where, you know, recovery is a lifelong process. So, even now I kind of don’t like to look at statistics, I don’t like to look at definitions or any of that stuff.

(KK): Question: does anybody ever tell you to “put on a happy face” or “just be positive” when you’re in a funk? Yeah, annoying! And, ok—sometimes they’re right and it works, and it’s just a matter of shifting gears and attitude. But having an ED is similar to having depression, and it is all-consuming. So, it totally makes sense that Sabine would want to create some space between her social media and personal life. Those obsessive and negative thought patterns really complicated Sabine’s life. Signs of having an ED can vary, but for most people—everything becomes heavily calculated. For Sabine, sometimes it was losing control and just binge eating entire jars of peanut butter—and then cranking it out at spin class the next morning at five a.m.

(SC): It’s always complicated. There’s always so many more factors. Like, I can’t even explain how much my day was ruled by, “Oh, the walk to my building is .47 miles away. That’s only forty calories instead of a whole half mile, which is fifty calories.” I used to be that person in the dining hall who would put peanut butter and jelly on a slice of bread and like, scrape the peanut butter off of the bread with my teeth and not eat the whole slice. It just rules your world. Literally, everything you do is a numbers game. It’s awful.

(KK): Secrets have a way of forming really bad habits, and EDs thrive on secrecy. Not only had Sabine devolved into calorie counting and food limiting, but there was so much silence surrounding her ED that, while she started to form habits that supported it, she also created habits to protect it.

(SC): I think the most detrimental one is you learn to lie really well. And it impacts a lot of relationships. People get really worried about you! They see you at the gym, they’re like, “Why are you here? Weren’t you already here earlier?” And you’re like, “Oh, I was looking for you.” It would get to this point where if I sat still for too long, I would panic and I would make up reasons why I needed to go. The university I went to had this huge lake: if I was out at the lake with my friends, swimming around wasn’t enough. I would be like, “Guys, I forgot I had some homework to do! Somebody needs to drive me back right now. I need to do an hour at the gym.” Being outside wasn’t enough. To this day, I refuse to play card games because it got in my mind: I was sitting, and sitting isn’t good. Like, you can’t sit. Sitting is not active. You’re not burning any calories. It just destroyed a lot of relationships.

(KK): At this point, Sabine is pretty dang active. There are a lot of active people who consider shedding weight in order to gain a more competitive edge. We mentioned it in the last episode: endurance climbing is a sport that demands an extremely high strength-to-weight ratio, and what winds up happening is a lot of climbers choose to lose weight instead of building muscle strength. In a lot of ways, climbing is considered an active and very healthy sport, but at the risk of sacrificing your muscles and overall mental and physical health, some climbers work really hard to lose weight in order to perform better. But what’s the real cost?

(SC): You’re in such a bad mood when all you’re consumed by is, “I haven’t done enough pitches,” or “I haven’t climbed hard enough,” or “I haven’t moved enough today. I haven’t burned enough calories.” And you’re out at fricken’ Horse Pens, which people would kill to climb at. Yeah, and I’m absolutely flabbergasted by some of the people that stuck with me through all of that because that must have been fucking annoying. And, I mean, you do stupid shit. I remember being like, “Ooh, if I’m cold, I’ll burn more calories. No, it’s ok—I don’t need two pairs of pants. I’m fine.” And you just shiver your way through the day and then you’re miserable and you don’t climb and then if you don’t climb, it’s this self-loathing cycle you get into.

(KK): Sabine was dating somebody, who, at the time, was probably the best person for her to be with. He was really stable and, most importantly, he normalized food for her.

(SC): God bless that guy. He just normalized food as best be could, which is the best thing, I think, you can do for any person. It’s not like a, “Oh, hooray! What can I make you? It’s so good you’re hungry!” Like, fuck that shit. I already feel weird enough about it. Like, I know what I’m doing is wrong—everybody knows what they’re doing is wrong and you just can’t stop it. You just spiral.

(KK): Well, it’s an addiction.

(SC): Yeah, you lose control. Yeah, it’s an addiction to a number. It’s an addiction to the scale. It’s an addiction to, “I ran six miles yesterday; I have to run six today or else I don’t do as well.” Like, “If I eat seven hundred calories worth of chips today, I have to run seven miles tomorrow morning.” Yeah, it was just all-consuming—I feel like I missed out on five years of my life. I felt like I missed out on college. I missed out on eating Zaxby’s when I was hungover, or dollar slice-dollar beer night after climbing. I never enjoyed it while I was there—all I could think about was, “Oh my god.” You know, “I haven’t eaten all day because I want this one slice of pizza after climbing.” And then you eat it and you feel like a total piece of shit.

(KK): Relationships with food, like any other, are…complicated. As are the side effects. Specific to Sabine’s ED, which is characterized by intake of large amounts of food accompanied by a sense of loss of control, some of the side effects of bulimia can include: inflamed and sore throat, worn tooth enamel, esophagus rupture, acid reflux, dehydration, and hormonal disturbance. And if it gets really bad, it will create an imbalance of electrolyte levels, which can actually cause a stroke or cardiac arrest. Other long-term side effects can include high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, heart disease, and type II diabetes.

(SC): Oh—the other part of being bulimic and having no body fat and running a hundred miles a week and climbing, all this stuff, is—you’re tired all the time. I used to fall asleep standing up—like, not kidding. I fell asleep at this boulder called “Bursts of Joy” at Rocktown—standing up. Leaning against a rock. I used to fall asleep in the most ridiculous positions. I mean, any time my body got the chance to stop—I was out. It was bad. Like, I was falling asleep driving. I was falling asleep in class. I was falling asleep taking exams—like, I used to put my head down in the middle of an exam and take a nap.

(KK): Not only are you tired all of the time, but your risk of osteoporosis is also a lot higher. The medical complications that result from bulimia can cause severe dehydration, damage to endocrine glands, and ultimately, will lower your bone density. This was something that Sabine had to find out the hard way.

(SC): So yeah, you have the brittle bones of a sixty-five-year-old woman and I remember running on the treadmill. I was twenty, and I got this hip pain one day and it wouldn’t go away. And, you know, I’d been popping Advil for all of these insane overuse injuries over the past years. Like, I ran through a broken ankle, I ran through a torn something in my knee—I never even got diagnosed. And then, I ran through this hip pain for two or three weeks in my left hip and it was bad—I was dragging my leg. And, of course, I wasn’t going to drive to campus because I only lived half a mile away. Why would I waste burning fifty calories driving to campus when I could just walk there? And I remember, just dragging my leg to campus and back and getting on the treadmill and trying to run. And one day, the hip pain was too bad and I hadn’t taken any Advil so I couldn’t really run through it. So, I got in my car and I was like, “God. I’m going to go home and take some Advil and then I’m going to come back and run.” But I got in my car and I was like, “Oh my god. I can’t push my clutch in. Like, I literally can’t move my leg.” So, I called my dad, and my dad was like, “Ok. You just need to go to the doctor. You probably hurt something. You run a lot. You know, you’re hard on your body.” Like, very gentle dad-like. He knew I was just screwing my body up.

Within five seconds, my MD weighed me, asked me how much I ran, did one test on my leg and was like, “You broke your hip. You need an MRI.” I fell asleep in the MRI—immediately! No earplugs needed. And they called me and they were like, “Crutches. Don’t do anything. If you actually fracture this hip all the way through—this is a bone in your body that can and will die.” The hip bone and a bone in your hand are the two bones in your body, if you break them—they die. So, I was twenty and I turned twenty-one with a broken hip at the Red, because, of course, I climbed through it—like an idiot. I went to Hueco with a broken hip. And to this day, I have really bad left leg issues. My left leg is an inch smaller around than my right leg. I don’t know, it’s just depressing—like, you’re twenty and you have a broken hip. And then, your metabolism takes an awful hit from it, too. It’s taken years for my metabolism to bounce back. Your body essentially goes into survival mode. Laxatives were a huge problem for me for a long time—it was a thing I tried to hide. And I had to get colonoscopies every six months as a twenty-five-year-old because I wrecked my colon so much. Just laxatives, laxatives, laxatives. I have done things like, shit the bed and pooped myself out climbing because, you know, laxatives—you don’t effing know when it’s going to hit you. It’s just frustrating to know that everything that I was doing to myself has impacted me just so much more down the line.

Climbing is the one constant through all of this. I think I put a lot of pressure on, eventually. I was like, “Oh, you know, you should send. If you’re lighter, you send harder. You can crimp harder. And then, it turned into this thing that was routine. It wasn’t necessarily because I loved climbing, but it was a routine. That’s what we did: we went outside, we climbed on the weekends. And it’s only been in the past year or two that I feel like I have really come out of the throes of everything. Like, I still struggle. You know, I had a really good day of climbing the day before and was like, “Oh my god. You’re not going to climb that hard again if you eat an entire box of pasta.” That’s the kind of stuff that runs through your mind—who knows why!

But, the climbing was the one thing that was always there for me. You know, when I broke my hip—you can’t run, you can’t get on the elliptical, you can’t do anything. But I could hangboard and I could do pull-ups and I could do that kind of stuff. And climbing has become one of those things where you are so rewarded for being healthy. You’re just so rewarded for being good to your body that it was one of those things that I definitely grew to love the whole process behind climbing. And when you fail at climbing, you succeed at something else. If you fail at one thing, then you kind of succeed at another. Like, if you fail at this long route because you’re pumped and you’re tired or you didn’t pull hard enough or you can’t pull hard enough, you’ve succeeded in that you’ve learned more about yourself and what you need to do in order to do it. There’s a process with every sport. Like, there are just as many variables when it comes to running or when it comes to anything else, but climbing is one of the ones where I’ve come to love the process.

(KK): I think that, in a lot of ways, we’re still pretty surprised when we hear about eating disorders among climbers. And maybe it’s just sort of assumed that, aside from the occasional injury, climbers are all young and healthy and gunning for it. Rock climbing as a whole is considered one of the healthiest, most active sports—both mentally and physically. And that isn’t an untrue statement, but it also isn’t completely accurate, either. Even if you haven’t been climbing for long, chances are that you know someone who has struggled with an eating disorder. (In fact, I am willing to bet money on it—and I don’t have a lot of money to be making bets on!)

Confronting an eating disorder, whether it’s you or somebody you love, means being brave enough to recognize that there is a life-threatening problem. And, yeah—it’s a process: climbing, recovery, all of it. Having an eating disorder isn’t a choice, but challenging it and the monsters that it manifests is.

(SC): One day, I was like, “You know what? I’m a fucking adult and I am good enough in my own skin now that I see what I need out of the world.” The day that it all just kind of kicked off was when I just kind of nutted up enough to kick myself in the ass and be like: “You are going to be fine if you don’t run today and you’re going to be fine if you’re single. It’s fine. It’s going to be fine. Just eat the cookie.” I started climbing for myself and through that, I started doing everything else for myself. And it all just kicked off with leaping off into the unknown and just nutting up enough to kind of discovering the world without a crutch.

(FEMALE VOICE): I have struggled with eating disorders since I was fifteen. I’m thirty-three now. It comes and it goes, you know? I know bodies don’t matter. What you look like does not matter. But for some reason, gaining those five to ten pounds spins me around a million thousand times. So, I’m here and I’m still dealing with it—but this time it’s more me wanting to maintain things so that I continue to climb how I have been and it’s definitely a fight.

(FEMALE VOICE): Climbing helped me realize just how out of control my eating disorder had gotten. Put on my shoes one day and got on a V0 I used to run laps on. Halfway up, I started seeing black spots. By the time I got to the top, my head was spinning and my total intake for that day after working a twelve hour ICU shift: four hundred and eighty calories. My climbing partner hatched me out of that hole. Even now, he still checks almost every day to make sure that I’ve eaten enough, that I’m not filing back into the same patterns because they’re easy to go back to. My biggest triumph so far? My weight hasn’t changed in two months. I have reasons to fight, and that’s all thanks to climbing.

(FEMALE VOICE): So, I still struggle with body dysmorphia. It’s difficult to remember what I look like or am in my head, or believe what people say in regards to how small or fit or beautiful I am. Especially when I’m surrounded by and admire really fit, athletic people. I guess, basically, it’s difficult to maintain a sense of self when I’m surrounded by people in general. I think it’s because I tend to place others before me, even to the point of making myself disappear in my own head. But instead of finding an answer or a single point of perspective, I just let it flow. As in: it’s ok to feel what I feel as long as it doesn’t become detrimental to what I need or want to get done.

(FEMALE VOICE): I just wanted to share that I struggled with an eating disorder starting in high school and while I am way more compassionate to myself now than ever before, I still struggle with these things. Especially when life gets rough, which of course, it does. I think growing to appreciate my body for what it’s able to do and where it’s able to take me has empowered me on levels that I never thought were possible.

(FEMALE VOICE): The biggest issue I have dealt with in climbing is the feeling of imposter syndrome. And this often has to do with how I and how I perceive others to view my body. I’m curvy and athletic, which is not often the lith, spidery and tiny look I often see of other female climbing sensations. This has made me feel self-conscious when I’m not strong enough to pull certain moves and then I feel self-critical of how I’m built. This isn’t something I’ve entirely gotten over, but I believe that recognizing that I feel this way and talking about it with others helps open the dialogue. By surrounding myself with partners that don’t define my success by my body or my feats in climbing have made me feel more comfortable and successful, on and off the wall.

(FEMALE VOICE): I’m not naturally athletic and it’s taken a lot of work to get to where I’m at. And then I see all these amazing athletes on social media and in my gym, and they’re in the best shape ever. And there’s even weekend warriors that are just like, sculpted. And here I am, trying to hang with the big guys, and just runnin’ around with my jiggly little legs and a big ol’ butt. It just sticks out, it’s not muscular, it makes leggings really hard to find—and it’s just there. You know, and you move down a little bit and you get to my hips and then there’s these things. And they’re just like—saddlebags?! Saddlebags! What? How do you get these? Where do they come from? Why don’t they go away? They never go away—no matter what I do. They’re just these pockets of jelly and I don’t know what to do with them. But they’re just there to annoy me and frustrate me that I don’t look like or climb as hard as the people without big butts and saddlebags. But maybe, it’s my big butt that’s pulling me off the wall when I try to climb hard things?

(FEMALE VOICE): I looked over and there was this typical gym crusher girl in her racerback tank top and she could do stuff like, upside down and dyno to things—and I didn’t even know what a dyno was—I just knew that this girl could fly. And instead of being awed by her climbing ability, I remember just staring at her back muscles and her biceps and her forearms and being like, “Oh, I will never be a climber. If that’s what happens if you get these muscles, I don’t want it.” And I remember being really bummed because my body dysmorphia was going to ruin all this fun I was having at the gym. But then, moving from that and now that I climb all the time and it’s such a huge part of my life and my body has changed so much and I’m proud of my muscles—it’s so helpful dealing with body dysmorphia and body image issues—to learn to just love that your body does this rad thing for you.

But I did have the experience where I went and visited some friends who I hadn’t seen since I started climbing. And one of my friends was like, “Oh my god! You got so buff! Like, not like gross buff. Not gross. But, super buff! Holy shit.” And I was really taken aback, because, what do you mean, “gross buff”? Like, how could my muscles be gross? They do all this cool stuff for me. And then I caught myself looking in the mirror and wondering like, “Am I that girl now from the gym that people are looking at and are like, ‘Oh my god. I do not want to climb ‘cause I don’t want man arms, or I don’t want crazy big blood veins,” or something, ‘cause my own friends were telling me that I was “so buff” but not “gross buff”. I was like, “Well, you know, shit. I don’t want to be ‘gross buff’. I do want to climb hard.” And then it became this battle in my mind of, “Ok. I want to climb hard and the tradeoff might be getting ‘gross buff’ and, you know, having big back muscles or big shoulder muscles or whatever.”

And just trying to come to terms with, my body isn’t going to look the way our society thinks that women’s bodies are supposed to look. And my body’s going to be able to do really cool things and take me places with really cool people. And I’ll get to experience all these amazing views—like sunsets off of Tahquitz and really fun campfire conversations and I’ll get to feel this dopamine dump in my brain if I am able to push past my body dysmorphia. Just feeling that rush of projecting a route and then finally sending it and you’re just like, “My body did that! That’s so cool!” That’s so much more exciting and validating and worth it to me than when I would meet my calorie goal or be the skinny one at the party or something. And now I’m like, I want to be the one who can put up topropes and the one who’s strong and encouraging and sends my projects and gets to feel that celebratory rush where I’m just like, “Oh my god. That was amazing and so worth all the work I put into it—even if my muscles are scary now, or like, I’m the buffest girl at the party.” (laughs) It’s so much better and so much more fun.

(FEMALE VOICE): Body positivity can be a really hard concept to really understand and accept. I mean, I’ve struggled with this idea of being happy with my body for a really long time and, honestly, I still do struggle—especially when I’m climbing. I don’t envision wanting to have this model body. Like, I envision wanting to be these badass women who can send these amazing routes and have strong and lean bodies. And in the outdoor community, there are so many of those women and that’s kind of what I aspire to be: a badass strong woman. And then, there’s this image that I have of what that looks like and sometimes I see these women in the climbing community who are just lean, toned, and so damn strong. And I’m constantly comparing myself to them and thinking, “Should I even be here at the same crag that they are, trying to climb the same routes? Like, am I even strong enough?” So, I’m just always struggling with how my body is and where I want it to be. I mean, I want it to be strong and lean and what I envision what an “outdoor body” should look like.

So, I’ve had this idea in my head for a really long time. And then, a wonderful woman came into my life who is a dear friend of mine now and the idea of body positivity changed completely for me. I mean, she’s this badass, strong, skilled woman that I’ve always looked up to but she doesn’t necessarily fit the stereotype that I had in my head. And she taught me that it’s not about who was the strongest, who was the best—and instead, it’s about having fun and trying hard and being with people that you love and can support you and encourage you, and most importantly, she taught me that it’s about feeling good in your body. If you feel strong and love what your body can do for you—like, get you to the crag, up the rock, across rivers—whatever it may be. I mean, our bodies do so much for us! And now, I tell myself every day that my body is a temple. And sometimes, I still do struggle with body image. But, I love my body and all the places that it can take me and I’m so fortunate to have a capable body and to love what it does for me.

(MALE VOICE): I went through an eating disorder that took me about four years to recover from. It’s something that we don’t talk about as much, but we should ‘cause it’s a sport very prone to inducing people towards this kind of behavior.

(FEMALE VOICE): So, I took a little while to finally sit down and record this, I guess because, talking about eating disorders is not really easy—which is silly, because it should be something that we can talk about. Like, I don’t think that it should be a taboo subject anymore. The thing about eating disorders is it’s not just physical; it’s a mental struggle. I would look in the mirror and I was just never really happy with myself, and so I would choose not to eat thinking I would feel better and that maybe, I would be more lovable. But, you know, the thing about it is that it wasn’t even just that I wanted to lose weight or wanted to be skinny; it was the one thing that I could control. And I got really bad. You know, it got to the point where I would almost pass out while doing silks or rock climbing. It was making me not as strong as I should have been. So, luckily I got out of that relationship. I was finally learning to love myself for me and got a hold of my life. I had told myself that when I finally was able to kind of overcome that and be happy with who I was and where I was, no matter what, that I would get a tattoo. So, I did—I got the NEDA symbol. So, the National Eating Disorders Association with a blue lotus. Lotuses bloom out of the mud, so for me, it kind of symbolizes overcoming obstacles and blooming through them. So, I have this tattoo now on my side and, I think for me, it’s just a really good reminder of what I’ve been through and what I’ve overcome. And so, anytime I look in the mirror and I want to think negative thoughts about myself, I see that and I’m reminded of everything that I’ve been through. It helps me open up more about my past struggles and I think that it helps other people. ‘Cause you never know who else is struggling with it, and if you’re open with them to talk to them about your past and be like, “Yeah, if you’re still struggling with it—it’s ok. You’re not actually alone.”

(FEMALE VOICE): I remember one time, I had only had Triscuits and an apple all day. And I collapsed with stomach pains. But I became a rock climber and when you’re climbing, you’re burning so many calories. You’re needing more food, and I didn’t recognize that because I was thin. I continued to feed my eating disorder through climbing, and I think it really affected my performance, my relationships with my climbing partners—especially living on the road with someone who expects you to perform at a high level and you just can’t because all you had was potatoes that day. And they don’t understand; they don’t see that. It’s another reason to hate yourself and another reason to keep the eating disorder going. I’m really working hard to force myself to eat more, especially when I’m climbing. To eat a lot of healthy foods, but not really care about if it’s healthy or not—just to eat. And that’s my main goal. And I think when I can get to a place where I can go climbing and have enough energy to do what I want to do and have fun with my friends without feeling left behind because I’m so low in energy—I think that’s when I’ll know when I’ve truly made it. Anyway, love you, Kathy. You’re such a bright light and I’m so glad you’re doing this podcast. It’s so cool.

(FEMALE VOICE): I am proud to say now that I sought professional help for my mental health issues. I am in remission from anorexia. I kind of hate the word “survivor”, but I am an eating disorder, I don’t know, kick-asser? (laughs). And I love my job in the climbing community and I climb again, and I get up on the wall and I make friends—and I don’t panic. And—that’s pretty amazing.

(FEMALE VOICE): I think while climbing can be so positive like, learning to view your body as this amazing tool who does this cool shit for you and pulls you up these really beautiful climbs. Climbing can be so positive—and all of that positivity can so easily be undone with social media. It seems like the trend lately is just climbing pictures are just another advertising model. And so, it’s less about what grade that climber might be able to climb or how much work he or she has put into it. And for me, climbing was this cool escape where I could go climbing and not think about the way I look and not think about how I’ve been pressured since I was a little girl to be beautiful. Disney movies and our whole society and basically everything we’re told from the time we’re little is that our value comes from our “beauty”. And the main character, the main woman, is always beautiful—and that’s her defining characteristic. And I know that was part of my eating disorder and my body image issues is, I don’t look like a supermodel. I look like a person! And I thought that that was wrong ‘cause all I’ve ever seen in media was these beautiful women and I thought I was a supposed to be them.

And then, climbing happened and all of a sudden, I could just exist out in the woods with no reception and just drink beer and goof off and go climbing and my body felt so cool because it could take me to these beautiful places. And I’ve watched sunsets off of multi-pitches and slept on crash pads with my friends, and climbing was the one thing where I didn’t have to worry about being beautiful. What mattered was: was I safe belayer? Was I good friend? Was I fun to be around? And I didn’t have to worry about being beautiful. That was not the requirement.

And now, when I look at social media it’s like, “Oh—it’s not enough that you climb hard. You also have to be hot.” Like, you’ve also gotta be a babe. I don’t know. I was talking to someone and she was talking about how when someone’s taking pictures of her, she’ll have to make sure the way she’s climbing doesn’t obscure her face and she doesn’t put her arm up above her face and block the camera view. Whatever. And I was just like, “Fuck that!” I just want to rock climb. All I care about when I’m climbing is the movement and the flow and sending, hopefully. And there’s all this pressure to prove on social media that we’re cool and it just sucks because I want climbing to be about how much effort I’ve put into it and the community I have in climbing. And it’s, lately, becoming just another tool for beauty brands and we all want our sports bras to match our cute pants and our harness has to be clean. And, I don’t know, I look at those pictures of those models climbing and I don’t see fat rolls hanging over their harness which I see when I look down if I’m hanging on a route, and I’m like, “Ah, fuck. There’s my fat hanging over my harness.” And I used to not worry about it too much. Now there’s just more pressure, I feel like, to be beautiful while I’m climbing when I used to just climb.

(FEMALE VOICE): I suffer with anorexia and bulimia and have since the beginning of high school. I ran track at the time but was actually removed from the track team for being so anorexic. What I think about is, I’ve had an important discovery that my eating disorders are emotional manifestations of my anxiety and depression. Essentially, when I feel out of control, I can control my food intake and size. So, fast forward: rock climbing now changed my perspective on my body. I have found strong beautiful, rather than small. And to be strong, I have to be nourished. And to be nourished, I have to digest good food. While I’m definitely not cured and I’m not really sure if I ever will be—I am healthy. And I am getting stronger. Thank you for letting me share my story.

(FEMALE VOICE): I chose to take a gap year

and fill it with

everything but me

But when I started the tale

the spaces

were all I wanted to see

The letters were all wrong

I hated

how I write

But the spaces between my words

were a stunning

intriguing white

And so I figured out

that my talent

lies in between

So why bother about the letters

when there’s such

blanks to be seen

I eagerly developed

this wonderful talent

I saw

The fulfilling in-betweennesses


any flaw

If I tell you about my gap year

or describe who

I am

It’s three times, long and hard

the space key that

I slam

The story of what was happening

Under my hands started gappening

The font of my writing

once strong

and bold

Blurred to pencil strokes

ghostly intruders in the Holy Gap’s

Wide Stronghold

On my every train of thought

a singular announcement

echoes on

…mind the gap, mind the gap, mindthegap…

Subconciousness’ Subway Headquarters’

monotonous jargon

My legs racing to

keep up with the

train’s carts

Keeping my feet drumming along

until my knees blow

to shards

I chose to take a gap year

to open up

my view

But into the gap I  t







now my perspectives

are few

The gap’s sides, sharp

and cold

at contact

But I shall recover them all

cushioning the hurtful


Thus I’ll close off my gap year

close it off

in style

I’ll start out by

(don’t get this wrong)

making my legs cross that extra mile

This is something I wrote a couple of years ago about how I got obsessed with the thinness of my own body. The “gap” I’m talking about is the well-known “thigh gap”. It wasn’t about body image. It was about challenging myself and willpower and pushing through obvious cries from your body that you’re in need. So, I decided to just stop eating and I pushed it further and further. And to this day, the decision I made as a stupid, bored teenager who thought she could make herself more interesting by becoming complicated and by having issues (sigh) have really affected the course of her own life ever since. Climbing was this new challenge. It was this new thing that I could challenge myself with and it could take up the space of this eating behavior…addiction. Climbing was going to save me.

(KK): 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 (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.

– 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 a big thank you to Gnarly Nutrition for supporting this podcast and the messages that we share. Gnarly Nutrition supports a community of vulnerability and equality—and tastes like a milkshake, without all the crap. And a big shout out to Roaming Ingenuity, a team of outdoor enthusiasts and tinkerers based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. 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.

Resources for you and/or loved ones:

National Eating Disorders Association: 1-800-931-2237

This helpline offers support Monday–Thursday from 9 a.m.–9 p.m. EST, and Friday from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. EST. You can expect to receive support, information, referrals, and guidance about treatment options for either you or your loved one. You can also contact this helpline through its online chat function, available on its website. Additionally, there is an option to send a text message if you are in crisis by texting NEDA to 741741; a trained volunteer from the Crisis Text Line will get in touch with you.

Something Fishy: 1-866-418-1207

This eating disorders helpline offers treatment referrals nationwide. Its website also provides a wealth of information and resources about eating disorders and eating disorder treatment. Through its website, you can join an online chat group where you can speak to others in your shoes to gain support, advice, and hope.

Hopeline Network: 1-800-442-4673

This is a hotline dedicated to serving anyone in crisis. Sometimes, people with eating disorders might feel so full of shame or self-hatred that they contemplate hurting themselves. If this is true for you, this hotline offers nationwide assistance and support from volunteers specifically trained in crisis intervention. You can talk to someone day or night about anything that’s troubling you, even if it’s not related to an eating disorder. You can also call if you need referrals to eating disorder treatment centers.

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders: 1-630-577-1330

Currently serving people in the United States, the hotline operates Monday–Friday from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. CST, with plans for a 24/7 hotline coming soon. Trained hotline volunteers offer encouragement to those having problems around eating or binging, support for those who “need help getting through a meal,” and assistance to family members who have concerns that their loved one might have an eating disorder.

Overeaters Anonymous: 1-505-891-2664

This hotline is available to people worldwide who need a referral to an Overeaters Anonymous support meeting in their area. Contrary to popular belief, Overeaters Anonymous is not just for people who are concerned about eating too much; it is also intended for those who have anorexia, bulimia, food addiction, or any other type of eating disorder. If you are reluctant to attend an in-person meeting or are not geographically near one, its website offers you the option to participate in an online- or telephone-based support group.

Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association (formerly the Massachusetts Eating Disorder Association): 1-617-558-1881

This organization offers education, information, referrals to clinicians who specialize in eating disorders, support groups, and additional services for people with eating disorders in the New England area. It also offers information about nationwide treatment centers and is available between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. EST, Monday–Friday.

The United Way’s Call 2-1-1

The hotline is intended for anyone living in North America who has any type of crisis or who needs help locating specific resources, including information and referrals for eating disorder treatment. Available 24/7, it can offer information and referrals to treatment organizations in your area.

Crisis Textline: Text CONNECT to 741741

Available 24/7, 365 days a year, this organization helps people with eating disorders and other mental health issues by connecting callers with trained crisis volunteers who will provide confidential advice, support, and referrals if needed.

More information on eating disorders

Posted in Climbing, Unabridged | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on 9: Shit in the Woods

8: The Heart of the Matter

Matt is the editor-in-chief of Climbing Magazine, a published author, a husband, a father, and a pretty well-seasoned climber. He’s the kind of guy who makes everything look really easy—even when things are really really not easy. And even though most of his life has not been easy, Matt has found his answers—beyond benzodiazepine addiction, beyond mental distress, beyond chasing dragons of treating it—to get down to the heart of the matter.

This episode is brought to you by Deuter, Evo Hemp, and Dirtbag Climbers. Music by: “Jazzy Frenchy”, “Cute”, and “Funny Song” by, “Ichill” by Kakurenbo, and “Pives and Flarinet” by Podington Bear, “Curiosity” by Lee Rosevere, “Collective Decision”, “You Are Not Alone”, and “Calm” by Borrtex, “Drift” by Daniel Birch, and “Play Pelagic” by Little Glass Men.

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(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 has a history of first ascents and alpine roots. Their head of product development even climbed Everest once, in jeans (hashtag not fake news.) Deuter is known for fit, comfort, and ventilation.  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.

– We’re working with Better Help to connect you to licensed therapists because even though my advice and opinions are free, I am improvising the whole thing. Better Help lets you message a licensed therapist, day or night. They’ll match you with the perfect therapist for a fraction of the cost of traditional therapy. You know who goes to therapy? Prince Harry. Emma Stone. Jenny Slate. Kesha. Therapy is beautiful—everyone should go to therapy. Go to to sign up and receive one free week. It helps support this show, and it helps support you.

– This podcast gets support from Gnarly Nutrition, one of the leading protein supplements that tastes “whey” better than they need to because they use quality natural ingredients. So, whether you’re a working mom who runs circles around your kids on weekends or an unprofessional climber trying to send that 5.13 in the gym, Gnarly Nutrition has all of your recovery needs. The only question you need to ask yourself is: Are you a sucker for anything that tastes like chocolate ice cream? (Yeah, me neither.) Gnarly Nutrition is designed to enhance your progress—and taste like a milkshake, without all the crap.

– Have you ever cut an exterior hole in your van? Me neither. Building out a van can be hard work, not to mention that table saws have a funny way of leaving you with fewer fingers than you started with. (We’ll ask Tommy Caldwell all about it when he returns my emails.) I really can’t be trusted with power tools since a drywall incident in 2005—but Mark and Anthony can. Roaming Ingenuity is a team of outdoor enthusiasts and tinkerers based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. Whether you are looking for a full custom van build, or just need a little help with installing a roof vent, they can help. PS—I never actually emailed Tommy Caldwell.

– Hey. Before we start, I wanted to say a few things. First, I wanted to say thank you to Peter Darmi for his help with this episode (I seriously could not have done it without him), and to Matt, as well as everybody who has been brave enough to come on this podcast and tell their story. I also felt like it was an appropriate time to say thank you to all of the people who have really been looking out for me these past few months. I’ve had my own personal sadness to carry and process this winter, and I just want you all to know how much every message, every email, every phone call—even just good thoughts—mean to me.

The last few months have only emphasized the importance of sharing these kinds of stories—unscripted, painful, and painfully honest. Nine months ago, I acknowledged that the difficult things can be hard to talk about, but when we talk openly about our pain and weave it into a story—something really powerful happens. I really do believe that there’s value in struggle—that’s not just something I say. Nine months have gone by and I am blown away by how well-received this project has been, and I’m grateful that so many of you share the same vision.

A quick heads up: nobody dies in this episode, but there is a lot of heavy discussion about drug use and addiction. We will talk a lot about mental health and eating disorders, and there is also brief discussion about suicide. Go to to see the resources available at the end of the transcript. Here is episode eight:

(MATT SAMET): Boulder has definitely grown a lot. But I mean, the climbing is eternal. It’s one of the few places in the country where you can live as a climber and also have decent economic opportunity, I think. You know, if you come to Boulder and take it for what it is and take what you want out of it—I think it’s a wonderful place. If you come here and you’re like, “I’m the best climber at my gym and wherever, and I’m going to go to Boulder and crush and get sponsored, and this and that—you’d see a lot of people come here and they’re like, “Oh fuck this,” you know? They’re kind of in and then they’re out. Because it is a huge climbing scene and there’s a ton of talent.

(KK): If you stay in any place too long, you know, you start to feel like a big fish in a little pond. But yeah, you come here and you’re just like, “Oh my god, I’m, like—

(MS): I’m nobody.

(KK): —kelp.”

(MS): Yeah, I’m kelp! At the bottom (laughs) swaying in the sea breeze while the fish come by to nibble atcha.

(KK): Matt is far from kelp, though. He’s been climbing for thirty years and is the editor-in-chief of a small publication called Climbing Magazine—maybe you’ve heard of it? When you have things like “editor-in-chief” on a resume and you’re living in Boulder—one of the most well-known climbing meccas in the US—it’s sorta easy to just assume that you probably have your shit together. But we tend to forget to look past surface level things, like status and job titles. It’s pretty easy to get caught up on the every day things that are in plain sight. You know, normal life stuff.

(MS): I have two young boys now and, you know, I need to earn money. The days of living in a Toyota and eating ramen are over.

(KK): Kids love ramen.

(MS): Yeah, that’s true! Well, you know, maybe I don’t need to be working, then. Although, there’s trans fats. So, really, if I wanna actually look after my kids, I probably shouldn’t be feeding them trans-fat-filled ramen.

(KK): Does your wife climb?

(MS): Oh, we used to climb together a lot but then we, you know, had two kids. Sometimes we meet at the gym, like, maybe once a month if we’re lucky (laughs). I assume that we’ll climb together again someday, but I don’t know when. But it would be lovely.

(KK): Beyond a full-time job, raising a family and having endless climbing at his disposal—Matt doesn’t live the quintessential Boulder-dweller’s life. And he’s pretty candid about it.

(MS): You wanna hear about suffering.

(KK): I do! I want you to emotionally gut me, and also all the people who will be listening to this. I…yeah (laughs)

(MS): Just say: Tell me about your suffering (laughs)

(KK): Like I said, I came here to be emotionally gutted.

(MS): Just gotta get right to the heart of the matter.

– 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.

(KK): A recent study found that one in six adults in the United States take psychiatric drugs for the treatment of mental health conditions. Among the most commonly used medications are benzodiazepines. When these sedative drugs were first introduced, it was widely claimed that they were non-addictive. This claim has since been proven false. Prescriptions for benzodiazepines increased by sixty-seven percent between 1996 and 2013. Benzodiazepines, which are typically used for the treatment of clinical anxiety and other conditions such as panic disorders and seizures, have become one of the most commonly prescribed and misused classes of drugs. They operate widely in the brain, affecting things like emotional reactions, memory, thinking, muscle tone and coordination. So, a question: what are the real dangers of benzodiazepines? Because it sounds like they treat a lot of things that need to be treated. And, are they dangerous? Matt, like so many others, knows firsthand the true impact that benzodiazepines have. Here’s his story.

(MS): You know, I deal with basically long-term neurological issues that were caused by being on benzodiazepine tranquilizers for years. You know, these are sedatives that are used to tamp down the nervous system. They go by common brand names: Valium, of course, is the one most people know. But these days, people definitely know about Klonopin and Xanax. You know, you hear about klonnies and xans, because people abuse the shit out of these drugs. They really have a nervous system muting effect. So, if you have trouble with anxiety or seizures or sleep—these drugs will lower you down. And in that sense, they’re effective, right? But in the other sense, like any drug, they’re highly addictive and over time, your body becomes habituated to their effects and your nervous system stops being able to regulate itself.

And then, when you do go to get off the drugs, your nervous system rebounds in a huge way. And that damage is really long lasting. I haven’t taken any of those drugs since 2005. So, we’re talking thirteen years now and I still deal with symptoms. I was also on a lot of other psychiatric medicines that complicated and damaged my nervous system and sort of during all that, I had issues with substance abuse, too—with pain pills and alcohol, to some degree. You know, marijuana, too. So, I was definitely a toxic sewer. See, the thing is, this was so long ago that you would think I would be better. And I think that that is the struggle that I deal with—is that I probably look ok to you—but I actually am in a lot of pain, almost all the time. I just have learned not to—what’s the word I’m looking for? Manifest it, really. You know, I just kind of stuff it down and get on with my day.

(KK): You just don’t react to it.

(MS): I don’t react to it. There’s not much I can do about it. Some days are good and some days are bad.

(KK): We’re talking physical?

(MS): Physical pain and often a lot of emotional pain, too. Because, I mean, these tranquilizers—what I’m saying is, you go off of them and you need to go really really slowly. But the medical community doesn’t support that and that was certainly my experience, too. I was yanked off them really abruptly. And when that happens, your body doesn’t have time to sort of re-regulate itself and it gets into this mode where it can just kind of stay there for years and years and years until you heal. So, you know, I’ve been slowly getting better again and actually, had gotten a lot better. I’d stopped the pills in 2006 and up until 2013, I was probably like ninety percent of my old self. And then, in 2013 I had a big setback and so, I’m five-plus years into that now and still dealing with it. The main thing that I think I deal with is disbelief.

(KK): I mean, if you take a really bad climbing fall and you’re on the ground all fucked up and broken—it’s pretty clear what happened. And people will rally and there will be hospital visits and fundraisers—that sort of thing. But if you have something that’s internal, and essentially, invisible—that’s a whole different story.

(MS): You know, it’s an entirely subjective experience. I’m the only one who can feel it. People are just sorta like, “Huh.” So, I’m very selective about who I climb with. Like, you know, just make sure they’re people who are supportive no matter what. Because there’s days at the cliff where I’m just fucked. Like, I might be physically fucked or mentally fucked because of this. You know, like I said—it’s nervous system hyperexcitability. It feels like I’ve been plugged into a wall. So, I’ll wake up on a bad day and I’ll feel like electricity is coursing through me. Anxiety is off the charts—vibrating—like I have an internal tremor that’s basically my central nervous system just firing, firing, firing, which in turn makes my muscles fire, which in turn makes them feel like they’re on fire, and I’m all locked up. You know—horrible anxiety, can’t think. And it’s like, shit I gotta get through the day somehow.

And then, if you go climbing in that state—like sometimes climbing makes it better. It kind of can break me out of the pattern. Sometimes, it makes it worse and I just don’t know. So, I think the big thing, as a climber, is just people who I climb with know about it so that they know I have this limitation.

(KK): So, no Mountain Project partners?

(MS): (laughs) Partner finder? I think you’re rollin’ the dice on that one, no matter who you are. Yeah, yeah. And I think, I mean, maybe you’ve encountered it, too. I mean, I think you’ve sort of talked about it some on your podcast: there’s just this sort of this machismo in the climbing community where people—it’s just sort of assumed that we’re all young, healthy and fucking going for it all of the time. And that’s sort of the default. You know? And that’s sort of a portrayal in the media and that’s sort of the lore of the sport—sticking your neck out there and manning up and sacking up. And it’s like, it’s not that black and white. Life is never that simple. So, I think, you know, that’s the one thing that’s been challenging for me—is finding how to live within my story, within kind of a culture that’s a little bit macho.

(KK): Being hard and soft at the same time—that’s so much of who I am, but I would say that that is not the norm in climbing culture, and just society in general.

(MS): Right.

(KK): You know? People can’t comprehend how you can do that—how you can have those two things coincide.

(MS): Yeah, like how can you be a rock climber and be scared? It’s like, well how can you not be scared? And then, if you have a nervous system on top of that that won’t let you not be scared—yeah, what do you do with that?

(KK): Thirty years a climber, Matt grew up in Albuquerque and he later moved to Boulder for college.

(MS): I landed myself in this mess. You know, I don’t blame anyone else, but this, I think, all started with an eating disorder. So, when I was in my teens, I really got heavily into rock climbing. There were no gyms at that point, but I’d always kind of wanted to climb and I’d done some climbing with my dad’s college roommate. Like, starting from age twelve, I’d go out to Olympia, Washington in the summers and climb with him. And I’d come back to Albuquerque and there was nowhere to climb. And then when I was fifteen, I was enrolled in one of those things in the eighties. It was called the “challenge program”—like, I stopped going to school. It was basically through a psych hospital. It was like an outpatient thing. Because I’d transferred from a private school to a public school, and I got to the public school and I was just like, “Holy shit. This is overwhelming.” Like, I felt like I was going to get beat up all the time. I was kind of like a punk rock kid with a mohawk and stuff.

(KK): I could see that.

(MS): Yeah, it sucks. Right? Yeah, you’re a target if you’re walking around as a punk rock kid. And I just got really gripped and I wouldn’t leave the house and I got terrible agoraphobia. So, they enrolled me in this program. And the program sorta helped me and I just really, was like, “Oh this is it.” Like, I’d climbed some before that, but as soon as I was able to go climbing regularly, it was clear that that’s what I wanted to do. So, I got heavily into it and probably around the time I was sixteen or seventeen—I mean, this was the eighties. People were emaciated. You know? You’d pick up the magazines—it was definitely even worse than it is now. And I think it’s still a thing now. No one talks about it, but obviously, it’s still a thing.

(KK): What Matt is referring to is the relationship between body image, weight and performance climbing. There was, and still is, this misconception that people have to be skinny or a specific weight in order to climb well. And I am neither confirming nor denying that doughnuts probably don’t actually help you send, and things like strength-to-weight ratios can be critical physical benchmarks for climbers with bigger goals. But there are good ways and bad ways to get there, which Matt had to learn. And—he did.

(MS): I think Christian Griffith came to Albuquerque and he was one of the first Americans to go over to Buoux, France and climb. And he did a slide show and he had all of these photos of him and he wanted to do this route, Chouca. And he talked about dealing with his own eating disorder and having to get really skinny for this route. And I think it was Jean Tribout, who was the leading sport climber at the time, at one point told Christian that he was too heavy to do Chouca. So, Christian goes on these crazy diets at the crag eating these little ziplock baggies full of dried oats and milk powder or something. They were choosing starvation rations in order to do these routes. And they did—they came back having done all these 13d’s and c’s and 14a’s—like, stuff that was really cutting edge at the time. And I remember seeing this slideshow and I don’t think Christian was necessarily espousing having an eating disorder, but it certainly was on the table. And same with that article—if you can go back and find that article of Climbing, you know, it’s a pretty seminal article, because it was one of the first ones that sort of introduced the whole concept of European sport climbing to American readers.

But I remember I just sorta was like, “Oh. Ok.” And I really, around age sixteen or seventeen, started eating in a fucked up way. Like, starved myself for four or five days, then binge and overeat. You know, food limiting. Just kinda the standard stuff. And yeah, I kept it pretty well hidden—I think my parents suspected to a degree because my mother had had an eating disorder. But I kind of hid it. And I did that for a long time. And then I moved up here to Boulder in the early nineties. And, you know, it’s like we were talking about—Boulder’s a pretty overwhelming, concentrated climbing culture with lots of very good climbers. And I remember my freshman year in college, I think I dropped down to a hundred and twenty-five pounds. I was the wrong weight for a male who’s five foot seven and, you know, I’m kind of a stocky Russian guy. I don’t think I knew how fucked up I was. I would look in the mirror and I was like, “Yeah, I still gotta lose a little weight.” I don’t know what I woulda lost, you know? But I think just years of the bad eating and my weight bouncing around, by that following fall, I started getting really bad anxiety and I started to have panic attacks.

(KK): If you’ve never had a panic attack before, it is really hard to know what it’s like. I definitely remember my first and only one:

(heart beating rapidly)

my heart was racing, I was flushed and lightheaded. I thought I was having a stroke or a heart attack and I remember being on the phone with a friend at the time, who assured me in a very calm voice: “You are ok. You aren’t having a heart attack.” (Later, only to tell me that he totally thought I was having a heart attack.) But the important thing to know is: you’re not going to die, even though you might feel like you will. The hard thing to know is that it can take years of therapy, education, and understanding the cause before you can really grasp what’s going on.

(MS): It’s horrible. Yeah, it’s a horrible thing and then you kind of quake in fear at the specter of it. Yeah, I think the first one I had, I was on the Stairmaster at the health club where I was living and I just kind of went too hard. And I came home and I was kind of dizzy and sweating and I just started sort of hyperventilating without realizing it, freaking out. I’d almost kind of died of dehydration a couple of months before that, so I was like, “Oh! I’m really dehydrated again.” I called the ambulance

(ambulance siren)

and they took me in and I was completely fine. And the nurse was like, you know, they’re ER nurses—they’re annoyed when you come in for a panic attack. ‘Cause I’m sure they see a lot of drug-seeking behavior malingering, and she just kind of kicked me out on my ass. She was like, “You had a panic attack. Get out of here.” And I was like, “What the fuck is a panic attack? I don’t know what that is.” You know, but I was really freaked out and I went home—I think it happened right before Christmas break. I went home over Christmas break and I didn’t leave my room. I didn’t want to exercise ‘cause I didn’t want to get my heart rate up, like, I was just terrified of stimulation. And I had to work through that. I stayed in college and I went back, started therapy. And at that same time, I also started to see a psychiatrist, which I think was the, you know, the biggest mistake I made.

This was the nineties and this was the whole listening to Prozac, all these SSRI’s are new—like, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, you know? There’s all these quote, unquote new cleaner anti-depressants and drugs like that. And I sort of bought into that whole myth—that you need those, you know, because of these quote, unquote chemical imbalances or you need these in addition to talk therapy. If I could go back now, you know, twenty-six years ago, I would say: go to therapy—but clean up your diet, do yoga, stay the fuck away from those quote, unquote medications because they’re gonna unravel you down the road. But that was sort of my entry point into psychiatry.

At that same time, you know, I think I started to take Paxil, which is an anti-depressant. But the doctor also gave me Ativan, and he was good and thoughtful about it and he said, “Only take these as needed. You don’t want to take them every day. If you’re having a really high anxiety day or you can’t sleep—take these.” And I kind of kept that relationship with them, but I also noticed I had an affinity for these drugs. But I don’t think that that’s unique. You know? I don’t believe necessarily that there’s an addictive personality or that if you’ve abused other substances you’re going to latch onto it. I mean, so much of it is biochemical. Like, take a Mormon grandmother who’s never had a drink in her life and you can give her these drugs for two weeks and she will be physically addicted. And they sink their hooks in you—they work on you on a neurochemical level, and sort of no matter how strong a proclivity you have towards substance abuse, at a certain point, your body will need them in order to not go to into withdrawal.

I definitely noticed an affinity for them—I liked that they knocked out anxiety because—who wants to feel anxiety, you know? Nobody. It’s horrible. You know, I didn’t always just use them—I definitely sometimes would stockpile them and take more than I needed, or I would kind of ask the doctor for more. You know, I’d get into that kinda behavior. And then, my senior year in college, someone I know was getting Valium and I just don’t think I really knew the dangers, but I started really abusing Valium. Like, going to raves and, I don’t know, it was just this nihilistic period, you know. A bunch of us were in on it and became really addicted and then stopped, cold turkey.

(KK): Going cold turkey means quitting abruptly, with no weaning period and no professional help. Most people assume that they can stop using a drug just as easily as they started taking it, but that’s not the case with benzodiazepines. Going cold turkey is a shock to the system. It puts your body into overdrive while your brain tries to reset its normal neurotransmitter production levels. And what we’re trying to say is: when it comes to tapering, you cannot stop cold turkey. It’s really risky. People can have seizures, convulsions, paranoia. They’ve had heart attacks. It can even trigger psychosis. Benzo withdrawal has even been linked to death, as reported by the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology.

(MS): And that’s what it did to me. I stopped taking them and three or four days later, I stopped sleeping and I was like, “I’m losing my fuckin’ mind.” I didn’t know what was going on; I didn’t know that I was taking so much of these drugs—I think I was sometimes taking eight or ten a night—that I needed to taper. And because I was young and physically strong—my body could withstand it. Fortunately, I didn’t die. But, yeah, I really lost my mind for three, four, five days—something like that. I was hearing my voice kind of being called out from random places in the sky, seeing things, not sleeping, felt like the ground was kind of made out of tar—like when you walk on a really hot street in the summer? And ended up going to my therapist. I finally admitted what had happened and he’s like, “Oh. You can’t do that.” And I ended up in Boulder Community Hospital. I got free of all that, but I should have known then. It took me months to feel better again. And that time, I was only twenty-two or twenty-three.

(KK): That’s scary when you’re that young.

(MS): Yeah, it was not a good experience. Because you just wonder, “Am I gonna sorta be out of mind for the rest of my life?” or “What’s going to happen?” But yeah, it took a really long time to heal. I moved to Europe and my sleep was all fucked up and then I had jet lag and then I wasn’t sleeping. That initial experience, I remember some nights I wouldn’t fall asleep til, three, four, five a.m., you know, just—it totally messes up your biorhythms. So, I dealt with that then, and then I stayed away from those drugs, for the most part, for a while. But then, I moved back to Boulder in ’97 or ’98. And I’d been clear of all psych meds and I was feeling anxious again, I think, probably because I was really skinny ‘cause I’d been climbing at Rifle. Got back on Paxil and then back on benzos, and then I started taking them daily and, you know, I just don’t know how complicit I am. I mean, a part of me was probably like, “Hey, cool. I don’t have to deal with this anxiety problem anymore.” There was no long term thinking. But, at the same time, the doctor, you would hope, would be aware enough to think that, “Here’s this guy in his mid-twenties. He can’t be on these things all his life. We have to figure something else out.” And we never really did.

But, over time on those, you know, I was taking two milligrams of Ativan—so it was one milligram twice a day. Over time, my anxiety started to get worse and worse. And what happens with these drugs is you go into something called “tolerance withdrawal”, which is where you basically have built a tolerance to your dose, which means your body is kind of in an acute state of need of a higher dose. So, you have withdrawal-like symptoms, but you mistake those for a worsening of the condition that you’re trying to treat. So, I would have much worse anxiety, horrible panic attacks, sleep issues. But, you just sort of accept it and, I mean, the mainstream narrative is that some of us are born with chemical imbalances and that we need to treat them all our life with drugs—which I don’t believe to be true. But, I didn’t know at that point to really do any sort of deeper research. You go to doctors—you trust doctors—and then, after they damage you, that’s usually when you find out they actually don’t know what they’re doing. And a lot of them are taking big pharma-money or they’re not really researching the drugs they’re giving out and, you know, that these pharmaceutical studies are totally skewed. It’s a for-profit industry and the best way to make money off of you is to keep you perpetually sick and to keep you perpetually yolked to their chemicals.

You know, it certainly could have been on me to get in more of the bullshit—you know, but a lot of the bullshit was me. So, I wasn’t mature enough to face it. I was like, “I’m a climber.”—I was doing a lot of risky stuff, I didn’t want that to change, you know, I was smoking a lot of pot. I was taking these pills. It was comfortable. It was warm. It was cozy. You don’t want to get yanked out of that. You don’t want to be told, “Hey—you’re going to have to go through years of horrible fucking withdrawal and you’re going to have to suffer.” And—no. You’re like, “I’ll just stay here. I’m good!” You know? I mean, and I’m sure there’s a lot of denial about having a problem, anyway. But, you know, there’s this whole kind of oleo of different things. It was like, prescribed drugs, psych meds, my own drug abuse, the risks I was taking out climbing—at that point, I was doing a lot of high ball problems and free soloing and long things alone in the mountains. So, I think if anyone could have extricated from that, it would have been me.

You know, over the years I’ve built a tolerance to those pills, and then you start to get something called “interdose withdrawal”, which is withdrawal symptoms between each pill. And I was just sorta living on this roller coaster of like, I’d take the pill—I’d feel pretty good, and then it would wear off and I’d have horrible anxiety and I just couldn’t…I never, I don’t know why I never put two and two together. I’d be like, “Every day around two, I have horrible anxiety.” and it didn’t occur to me—I’d take the pill at like, nine when I wake up, or eight. It wears off by one and at two, I need another pill. I was just like, “I don’t know. At two, I get really anxious.”

You know, so it just kept worsening and worsening and worsening, and then eventually working with this doctor, my dose of these benzos climbed until it was four times what it had originally been. Until I was taking four Klonopin a day, and then there was like two of the big Xanax, which was the equivalent of the amount of Valium I’d been abusing. And then I began to take a bunch of Vikatin, too. I mean, it all just kind of came to a head. I was like,  “Ok. No more.” Like, I was fat and moody and not really anchored in reality and angry a lot of the time and couldn’t climb and I’d sort of lost everything. So, I was like, “I gotta get off these drugs.” So, I got off the opiates myself—and the benzos, I was like, “I’ll work with this doctor to taper.” And I was like, “It shouldn’t be too bad. Maybe these aren’t as bad as the opiates.” And I just had no idea. So, in 2005 I began to taper—going pretty rapidly, but at that point, you know, I’d been on them every day for seven years. There wasn’t much information. There’s a lot of information on the internet now.

(KK): The “Ashton Manual”, which is available online, gives an overview of what benzodiazepines do to your body, how to withdraw from them, and offers tapering schedules. It also describes the problems with the cold turkey/withdrawal method and gives acute and protracted symptoms. In addition, there are Facebook groups that can help you figure out how to titrate your drugs and how to taper slowly and safely.

(MS): People now, when they find the support, they go really slowly and a lot of them do ok. But I didn’t, and I went really quickly and it just turned into this absolute nightmare because as I tapered, again—I had that nervous system hyperarousal and all of these horrible symptoms, and I’m going to this psychiatrist and he’s saying: “It sounds like you’re bipolar. It sounds like you’re having mixed states,” which is a cross between depression and mania. We were trying these other different antidepressants and mood stabilizers, and you know, the thing is, all I was was chemically sick. And more chemicals were being poured on and this led to these sham diagnoses. Ended up in, you know, it was three different psych wards that fall and at certain points, I was on five or six different medications that I didn’t need. And by the time I left the last hospital, they’d gotten me off of benzos, but I left there on Lithium which is a horrible, terrible drug—and really dangerous if you’re a climber because it gets in your bloodstream and if you get dehydrated, you can get lithium toxicity. So, I mean, completely risky for the kind of life we like to lead.

I was on Neurontin, which there’s been a huge lawsuit over the company. I forget who made it, but they were just pushing it on dementia patients and they were pushing it on everyone for anything. So, it was just sorta this catch-all drug. It was like, “Oh you don’t feel good? Take Neurontin.” So, I ended up on that and a really dirty old antidepressant—a tricyclic antidepressant. They’re the ones that cause heart problems and heart palpitations and dry mouth and dizziness—like, these old, dirty drugs from the fifties and sixties. I’d finally started to do my own research to read a lot of these anti-psychiatry books and things like that. And I was like, “I’m pretty fucked. Like, if what these books say is true, I’ve dug a really deep hole here. Or, a really deep hole has been dug.”

And I came out of that hospital and I flew back here to Boulder and I was alone over Christmas and I tapered the Lithium, I tapered the Neurontin, and then nine months later, I tapered the antidepressant. And meanwhile, I was in the throes of acute benzodiazepine withdrawal. I mean, it’s just, it’s really hard to describe, but it was way worse and has been way more terrifying than anything I’ve ever encountered out climbing. I mean, one of the worst things I’ve encountered. I mean, I’ve spoken to other people who’ve been through it: people who’ve lost their children, people who’ve survived cancer—this was worse (big sigh). For a year and a half, I probably only slept for two or three hours a night: auditory hallucinations, hyperacusis, which is just your senses are too sort of finely attuned—so bright light really hurt, strong smells are really overwhelming, obsessive thoughts, sweats, shaking, tremor, muscle weakness, heart palpitations, tinnitus—you know, that ringing in your ears. There’s lists of hundreds of symptoms and when you’re in acute withdrawal, you’ll have dozens of them at once.

(KK): It must have felt endless to you.

(MS): Oh, it did, and it still does—because I still deal with it. But yeah, there’s nowhere to hide. I think that’s the big problem. Imagine that you’ve just topped out a really long alpine route and you’re on a summit with no trees and you’re in the middle of a lightning storm? It’s that sort of feeling—except constantly. Especially when you can’t sleep, because sleep, at least, is some sort of psychic relief. You’re like, “I can have dreams and I’m not going to be in pain when I’m asleep.” But sometimes I didn’t even get to sleep. It’s a lot better now. A lot of people who go through this, what I’ve seen and talking to people and what you read about—is there are a lot of suicides. And there’s also a lot of people who don’t escape because they continue to believe the conventional narrative—that this is the return of your original problem. You know, they’re in this state that is indescribably bad—way beyond anything they’ve ever experienced and they’re still going to their doctor whom they trust, and the doctor’s like, “Oh. This is just who you are.” and people lose hope and they end up believing the doctor’s rhetoric and they end up poly-drugged.

I mean, we’re so complex—all of us. There’s so much been written about this, almost all of it is trauma—childhood trauma. Like, people disassociate, they get lost in their own thoughts. And all these fucking imaging studies where they’re: this is the brain of a schizophrenic, this is the brain of a depressed person. It’s all horse shit. They don’t know. They don’t know the barest thing about the human brain, much less the soul. I mean, the psyche and the soul. Psychiatry is so rigorous in this sort of chemical approach to things. It just doesn’t account for anything else. A lot of people find their way to these drugs through general practitioners—people who don’t even have any experience with helping someone who’s in emotional distress. You know, things like that. And I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault in particular, but I think there is also a lot of greed and evil. There’s definitely a lot of complicity, too. You know, it’s like if you do a lot of research the way these drugs are marketed and tested—and the way that they present the fact that we all quote, unquote need these drugs. I mean, everyone makes their own decision, but you know, you watch the nightly news and they’re pushing psychotropic medications on people. You know, us and New Zealand are the only two countries in the world with direct consumer advertising for pharmaceuticals. I mean, a lot of the motivation is profit—it’s not helping people. And you know, maybe this drug helps one person—maybe it gives twenty other people awful side effects—like, kills their liver.

(KK): Or ruins their lives.

(MS): It ruins their life, like mine, yeah. It’s completely changed the trajectory of my life. And you know, I think a lot of these doctors, these psychiatrists, maybe believe they’re helping—but their toolbox sucks. You know? Their toolbox is full of poison.

Until I started to really have acute tolerance problems and things like that, I was pretty functional. Like, I was somehow functional, you know. But when they really stopped working and when I was totally strung out—my anxiety was crippling. I had to leave a job—I was working at Rock and Ice at the time—and I had to leave. I was like, “Maybe this job’s giving me this anxiety.” And then I left and the anxiety was still there. Like, 2006, when I was incredibly sick one month out of the hospital, I took a job back at Climbing. Jonathan Thesenga came back on as editor and he hired me and I was like, “Well. I’m really sick.” And I told him and he’s like, “Yeah, I want you there.” And I was like, “Well, maybe the structure will help.” And it has. You know, for a while there, it took me a while, like, you really have to bring your brain back online, too. Like, you know, when I was acutely sick, which was over Christmas 2005 into the new year, 2006, I couldn’t do much more than watch television. And even that, I had trouble comprehending it. It was often too disturbing for me. Like, you’re really, really sensitive. I was just reading stupid little articles in dumb magazines, like Parade Magazine. And then, over the months I was able to start to read stuff in the New Yorker again, and then I was able to read books again. But your attention span is just shattered because you’re in so much pain and so much information’s coming at you. So, you know, in the face of all that, it was certainly hard to work, and still can be, but I find it also gives me at least some structure, something that’s sort of outside of the suffering that lets me reorder my mind.

(KK): Professionally, it was hugely disruptive. It affected Matt’s jobs and relationships ended over it. In 2007, Matt met Kristin, his wife, and told her what he was going through. By then, he had begun to heal. But then, he got sick again in 2013.

(MS): I was freelance at that point, and luckily most of my work was at home and I was able to just, like, “Ok. You’ve been through this before.” and just get the work done. You know, but how does it affect me now, on a day-to-day basis? There’s days, sometimes when I still have to go home early, mid-afternoon ’cause I feel too sick. You know, and I’ll go home and I’ll lie there and maybe take a twenty-minute nap which I’m really lucky to be able to do. That’s the other fucking torture, too, is when you can’t sleep, you also can’t nap. So, at one point, I remember—I think some of the worst periods—I would go a week without sleeping. I couldn’t even nap during the day. But now, at least, I can go home and take a nap and then feel a little bit better afterwards. It really was hugely disruptive and when I had the setback, it was really disruptive too, because our son was only a year and a half at that point. And then, a year and a half later, our second son came along.

(KK): He’s not sleeping, you’re not sleeping!

(MS): Yeah! Exactly. You know, you have the logistics of having two kids, the stress it puts on a marriage. I also got very, very sick then. My immune system kind of went south on me, probably because of the stress of going into a setback again and, you know, the kids bring home viruses and stuff. And I got so sick. You know, definitely, during various points of this, I’ve had to quit climbing. And not just for a like week: “Oh, my fingers are kinda sore.” It’s like, a year, a year and a half. And at the worst, I think in 2015, I didn’t climb for about a year and a half. I couldn’t. I mean, at one point, I was too weak to even walk around the block. So, this stuff—it lays you out, and until you get better, you have to sort of restructure your life around it. And it’s very variable, too. You don’t know how you’re going to feel on any given day, so it’s hard to sort of like, lock into plans. I mean, I don’t really ask people for support. All I ask at this point is that they believe me. That’s all I care about. That’s the one thing I can’t fucking deal with. It’s like, when people don’t believe me, again—I don’t need to be validated. I just need to not have to defend myself.

(KK): Not that it’s necessarily important to Matt that people empathize with what he goes through, but it does provide a context in which he has to operate—and when he comes up against people who don’t believe him or worse, use it against him, it not only impedes his healing, but it can also be infuriating.

(MS): There’s nothing wrong with mental distress. It’s there for a reason. I mean, that’s the thing I’ve learned through all this—through trying to chase these dragons of treating it. There’s a reason we feel these things, right? I mean, there’s a reason that people have psychotic breaks. It’s trauma or some sort of dissonance in their life. Or maybe someone put LSD in their orange—you know, I mean, things can go south. And there’s a reason people get incredibly depressed or anxious. I mean, look at how we live—it’s out of whack with nature. And, I mean, I think, as climbers, in particular, we understand that. As a climber, you can go outside and you feel really good simply because of where you are and what you’re doing. And we’re incredibly lucky to have that, right? And I think that is mostly what people felt until the Industrial Revolution. You were outside, you were moving your body, you were connected to the earth. I mean, we’re animals and we have this sort of non-animalistic way of living and all these rules that we’re supposed to follow. And then, there’s countries and places in the world where people are a lot happier, but America is completely fucked up. I mean, I just don’t know how you could live here and not be depressed or anxious—unless your head is up your ass and you’re not paying attention to what’s going on and you’re not informed. I mean, it’s a travesty, right? I mean, modern life is kind of a travesty. Like, the things that I have to think about are whether my children are going to be shot at a playground or going to a mall. That’s not right. And how could you be aware of these things in the world and not feel anxious?

So, what I’ve learned is it’s a very natural and almost a healthy thing, you know. There’s a reason we feel what we feel, and if you try to medicate that away—the feelings won’t go away, but the manifestation of them in your body will go away—while the drugs are working. And then, when the drugs stop working or when the drugs make you really sick, you’ll be dealing with chemical withdrawal and unresolved emotional issues. You know? It’s just, it’s really hard. And I mean, you know, I don’t think that the climbing community is necessarily any better or worse than other communities. I mean, obviously, there’s a lot of darkness in it and a lot of people I think sort of use climbing as a catharsis, but, you know, might as well—could be shuffleboard (laughs). I don’t know. I mean, I think it’s just one more tool that people use to escape, and it’s just sort of hard to blame people for wanting to escape.

So, you know, I think, yeah, I mean, some of what I did—I triggered these panic responses in my body by starving myself. But I think a lot of it, too, is just at least for me, is having an outlook in which, you know, I’m trying to pay attention to the world around me. And the more you pay attention, sometimes the harder it is to not feel darkness.

(KK): It can be difficult to pick up the phone and ask for help, but calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always free and confidential. If you experience suicidal thoughts and don’t know who to talk to, call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. That’s 1-800-273-8255 to be connected to a trained counselor at a suicide crisis center nearest you.

– 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 (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.

– 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 a big thank you to Gnarly Nutrition for supporting this podcast and the messages that we share. Gnarly Nutrition supports a community of vulnerability and equality—and tastes like a milkshake, without all the crap. And a big shout out to Roaming Ingenuity, a team of outdoor enthusiasts and tinkerers based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. 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.

Resources for you and/or loved ones:

The Ashton Manual contains information about the effects that benzodiazepines have on the brain and body and how these actions are exerted, as well as detailed suggestions on how to withdraw after long-term use and individual tapering schedules for different benzodiazepines are provided.

World Benzodiazepine Awareness is solely an activism and awareness effort and its mission and objectives focus on public education and awareness alone. Their website contains general information about medical conditions and treatments. The information is not advice, and should not be treated as such. World Benzodiazepine Awareness educates communities on the dangers of prescribed benzodiazepines.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)‘s mission is to advance science on the causes and consequences of drug use and addiction and to apply that knowledge to improve individual and public health.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) is an international non-profit membership organization (with more than 1,800 professional mental health members) and a leader in education, training, and research for anxiety, depression and related disorders.  More than 38 million people from around the world visit the ADAA website annually to find current treatment and research information and to access free resources and support.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline online or by calling 1-800-273-8255.

These institutions, many of which study anxiety disorders, can provide information on the nature of these conditions and how to cope with them.

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Gear Review: Outdoor Research

My Outdoor Research Helium II became an essential part of my climbing day necessities. It’s received numerous mentions and awards, from Runners World to Outdoor Gear Lab. Here’s what the royal “we” at For the Love of Climbing think about this piece of gear:

Some of my favorite climbing is multi-pitch, which means you need to be prepared and have your shit together. Prepping water, food, and for the weather can sometimes feel like a daunting task. But the Helium II helped take some of the weight off of me—ironically, because it clocks in at an incredibly light 5.5oz.

The Technology + Specs

This layer consists of fabric constructed of Pertex Shield, 100 percent nylon, and 30D ripstop. What are these words, and what do they even mean? Well, it essentially means that this combination creates a waterproof jacket that is also compressible and lightweight. Pertex Shield is what makes this jacket waterproof but breathable so you won’t sweat to death in it. The ripstop fabrics are woven fabrics that use a special reinforcing technique that makes them resistant to tearing and ripping. Reinforcement threads are interwoven at regular intervals in a crosshatch pattern.

The stretch fabric will easily accommodate a full range of motion, which is essential when being active in the outdoors—especially when you are climbing and trying to clip that almost-too-high piece of gear. The hood is adjustable and doesn’t compromise visibility; fits well over my climbing helmet. The YKK Aquaguard center-front zipper and elastic cuffs both complete a seal between you and the weather outside and will help prevent water from getting in. This jacket packs into its own pocket with a webbing/carabiner loop that easily clips to any harness or pack.



I’m a smaller-than-average-sized human (AKA I’m the size of a large child), so fit is always a challenge for me. The Helium II fits true to its size, as do all of the OR products I have tried, which was a huge surprise to me. This isn’t true for most apparel companies, so taking the guessing out of the sizing made this easy for me.

I’ve heard some complaints about not being able to wear a puffy underneath, but I don’t necessarily think it’s that kind of shell. There is plenty of room underneath for a single baselayer, and I anticipate not wearing the Helium II for colder weather, anyway.


It keeps me, works well for keeping the rain and wind out. This layer was created for flash-storm performance, and it lives up to its expectations (especially when I am mid-way up a route when a storm comes in—it’s perfect in a pinch!) Waterproof and windproof—what more do you need?

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The Helium II is a great all-year-round jacket, although I might consider something more heavy-duty for the winter months. This jacket makes a wonderful outer layer for my multi-pitch adventures, is durable, lightweight, kicks ass in the wind and the rain, and packs to the size of a bagel. The only thing it can do better is: be a bagel.

This jacket retails for $159. You can purchase your own Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket here.

Disclosure: I am currently an ambassador for Outdoor Research. These opinions are my own, are the result of thorough testing in the outdoors, and are no way influenced by the fact that the product was complimentary.

All photographs courtesy of Outdoor Research.

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Crank + Cog Prints Shop.

So here it is, the Crank+ Cog Print Shop! High quality photographic prints of captured light, shadows and fleeting moments.

The last couple of years I have explored some pretty amazing places, both home and abroad. Over this time my camera has been attached to my hip!

I usually don’t need too much persuasion to get outdoors but getting up an hour or two before dawn in the depth of winter would be a struggle if it wasn’t to photograph the stunning landscape around me in the North West of Ireland.

The prints I have selected are a selection of photographs from the West of Ireland and Iceland. I will renew the choice of prints in the shop every few months.

Visit our Shop page to view and purchase prints.

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Climbing Doesn’t Change You

I recently had the privilege to be a social media guest contributor for the #alpinistcommunityproject. Over the course of a week last March, I shared a series of images that chronicled my journey to solo big-wall climbing.

I began my first post with an image from an unsuccessful big-wall expedition in Africa the previous year. In May, I had traveled to the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Principe, an island nation off the west coast of Africa, to attempt a first ascent on Pico Cão Grande: a needle-shaped volcanic plug that sits in a constant, thick cloud. I wrote in my first post that I was tremendously unprepared for the weeks ahead, as I stumbled through the process of learning to aid climb on a big wall in the thick of the rainforest. In later updates, I explained that, despite failures, obstacles and injury, I wouldn’t let anything cause me to lose sight of my new goal: to aid solo my first big-wall route after I returned home.

This comment appeared on one of the posts: Usually really like this climber spotlights but this one is a little over the top. “Such strength was always within me.” Gag me. Please let’s talk about rock and ice—not feelings.

The following week, Georgie Abel, a writer and yoga teacher in the Bay Area, shared excerpts from her recent book of poetry along with images of her climbing. In response, someone wrote: Wtf is all this spray lately. I thought this was a climbing magazine not a women’s issues blog. He later added: These Instacam climbing celebs absolutely nauseate me with their self aggrandizing emotional posts and shameless hawking of whatever book or sponsored product is paying their gas bill at the time. It’s extremely boring and I find it’s usually the female climbers who talk less about the rock and more about their feelings.

Something beyond the blatant stereotyping in one of the comments stuck with me: This is rock climbing it’s not supposed to be nice or safe or accepting of who you are and your ~feelings~.

As Reddit users have observed in the past, my own blog, a personal collection of stories that goes beyond ticking off projects to delve into the climbing lifestyle, generally “walks the line between poetic and overly saccharine.” After I released a short film called “For the Love of Climbing,” negative comments flooded the forum pages in response:

Why does every climbing video feature someone babbling about their philosophy/lifestyle/overcoming challenges/etc/etc. I don’t need a motivational speech from someone who lives in a van. I clicked on a climbing video to see some bloody climbing, just climb.

Yeah, I’m an asshole who, while spends a lot of time thinking about climbing (philosophy major…), also recoils against this… It’s climbing and you aren’t a better person because you do it and don’t have a moral high ground over people who prioritize work and “traditional” success.

I dirtbagged for a bit (all self-funded). I got some nice sends but it became depressing after awhile. Climbing is a leisure activity like golf; there’s nothing special about it.

Maybe I’m getting bitter as I get older, but I can’t stand all of this fake and manipulative altruism.

Everyone is on a journey to something. Weight loss journey, climbing journey, school journey. It’s tied in to people’s need to make mundane things seem extra important in their own little story. You’e [sic] right, climbing, at its core, is fucking stupid. I still don’t understand why I like it or waste my time with it.

Oh for fuck’s sake, what is with all this self-realization. Climbing is still as useless as it has always been. It’s not your fucking journey to enlightenment, it’s just…climbing.

 Climbing doesn’t change you.

During my mid-twenties, much to my parents’ dismay, I moved into my car to pursue a life of rock climbing. My father, a mathematician and former college professor, made it clear that he disapproved of my guileless approach to life. My decision to quit my job and leave New York City was a final act of rebellion that didn’t make sense to my parents: they were both taught to work hard to achieve their goals and to live a modest life, not to follow whimsical dreams across the country. But for twelve months, I drove through the red deserts of Utah and Arizona and down old Wyoming country roads, fully embracing the dirtbag lifestyle with a belief that some truly satisfying things in life might still be free—companionship, love and laughter.

In the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, a deep and narrow chasm with mysterious, dark walls and an unwelcoming reputation, I found a wild nature that drew me, despite my fear. One evening, after five long days of climbing over shaded, pink-streaked granite, my partner and I tried to scrape our way to the North Rim before daylight expired. The skin on my hands was wrecked and raw. I felt exhaustion sinking into my bones, and I didn’t have much fight left within me, but the only passage out of the canyon was up.

We had two more pitches before we could crest the rim. I brought my partner to the belay station as the sunset flickered in the distance, darkness on its tail. I was afraid to lead the next pitch with only one small orb of light. But I racked up for it anyway, and as I entered the leaning crevice, I felt a strange and foreign sensation. It went as deep as it could into the cavity of my bones and nestled somewhere in my brain, sending vibrations throughout the rest of me. Then, with a single breath, I released my fear. My fingers tingled while I placed a piece of gear at waist level, my desire to gain the summit grew much greater than my apprehension, and I continued up.

Climbing weaves together personal experience and nature. It becomes an emotional exercise when we apply the lessons of scaling a rock face to everyday life. We don’t just reach the top for the sake of triumph, and how we get there counts for a lot. In her piece, In Climbing, as in Life, New York City cartoonist Connie Sun says: “One aspect of climbing is holding on with all of your strength. The other side, just as essential, is learning to let go to begin again.”

What is it about sentimentality that turns people away? A Dictionary of Literary Terms defines sentimentalism as “a superabundance of tender emotion, a disproportionate amount of…feeling.” Critics, as Robert C. Solomon explains in his book In Defense of Sentimentality, claim that sentimentalism distorts reality with “a ‘saccharine’ portrait of the world”: it manipulates the reader by appealing to what we generally consider shallow emotions, rather than exploring the “facts” of the story. When sentimental work plays with our feelings, it seems contrived and dishonest, a ploy to exploit our reactions. And many have declared that feelings have no place in climbing.

Yet we can trace strands of sentimental writing back to mountaineering’s early days. As the Canadian scholar Julie Rak explains, in eighteenth-century Europe, essayists and philosophers regularly invoked the trope of sentimentalism. “At the time,” Rak says, “it was called sensibility and it referred to investigating the world using the senses, which included feelings.” When explorers took to alpinism for science, they also kept notes on the inner effects of the experience. In A relation of a journey to the glaciers in the Dutch of Savoy (1775), the eighteenth-century mountaineer Marc-Théodore Bourrit observed that leaving the summit of Mt. Breven elicited deep pangs of regret: “We threw one parting glance over all those magnificent objects; which we never could be tired with surveying. We looked at one another, in expressive silence; our eyes alone could speak what we had seen, and told what passed in our hearts; they were affected beyond the power of utterance.”

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, sentimentalism became linked with women and the domestic realm. Nevertheless, sentimental writing about the Alps by some climbers, both male and female, persisted. In the Victorian Age, as David Robbins points out in Sport, Hegemony and the Middle Class, “For the romantic, the essence of mountaineering lay in an unmediated and intensely personal relationship between the individual and the mountains, on which competition and technicality were unwelcome impositions. Taken to its logical conclusion this implied the rejection of mountaineering as an organized sport and the radical recasting of its institutional practices and cultural traditions.” In other words, when mountaineering literature focuses on personal experience rather than on technical accomplishments, an author’s approach could be seen as subversive and, oddly, threatening to a status quo that valued things more easily measured and ranked.

Meanwhile, accusations of sentimentality began to appear in climbing publications. Published in 1883, Elizabeth LeBlond’s The High Alps in Winter was the first guide to winter mountaineering ever written in English. While LeBlond described some of her serious winter ascents, she tended to understate their actual risks; instead, she devoted more lavish prose to the beauties of the frozen landscape. That same year, an Alpine Journal reviewer noted: “After searching in vain for more satisfying matter, [the critic] has to remind himself that he is dealing with a lady’s book, and the book of a lady who has written to amuse an idle hour. Her narrative, he gladly allows, is simple, intelligible, and, as to difficulties and dangers, free from most of the exaggeration of tourists…. She has chosen to record them in a volume which is probably the flimsiest and most trivial that has ever been offered to the alpine public.”

The blanket dismissal of romantic writing is frequently imposed on women. As Brian Wilke points out in an article for College English, stories accused of sentimentality tend to be those with “a subject that involves not the grand emotions of the public hero but rather the intimate, intensely personal domestic emotions.” In other words, the sentimental is still often construed as a traditionally “feminine” and “inferior” realm. Similarly, in Poets & Writers, Nate Pritts notes: “Sentimentality is inherently seen as a weakness…. Critics use the term ‘sentimentality’ recursively, to indict writing that presents unwarranted sentiment, passages of unmoored or unjustified feeling.”

Male authors have, at times, also been subject to this criticism. In Eric Shipton: Everest and Beyond (1998), critic Peter Steele accused the famed mountaineer and adventurer of bouts of “purple prose.” Steele partially excused Eric Shipton’s offense, explaining that explorer was perhaps influenced by Frank Smythe’s “notoriously verbose” style. Still it would seem that, according to some modern mountaineers and critics, not only is there no place for feelings in climbing writing, there never was.

And yet emotionally saturated mountain literature maintains both defenders and practitioners. In his biography Shipton and Tilman, Jim Perrin argues that so-called “purple prose” is occasionally necessary: it represents “an attempt at expressing a mood that is essentially enraptured. It is a type of near-mystical perception.” Current climbers, too, try to capture spiritual or quasi-spiritual moments at altitude. In his essay, “Breathe Deep,” renowned alpinist Jeff Shapiro recounts, “By climbing in the mountains, I realize I’m small, insignificant and vulnerable. My ego crumbles, and my perspective expands. The borders between myself and my surroundings appear to dissolve…. I feel sunsets instead of merely seeing them: the ripening of their colors seems to evoke the scent of flower blossoms. A particular peace fills me, elusive, indefinable…. And [I] recognize how I fit into the natural world.”

The act of navigating with words through complex emotions has made me aware that what I’m doing goes beyond the technical movements of climbing. It’s about the elements, the seasons; it’s about life. It’s experiencing the quiet excitement of packing up a car and driving away, knowing that you will be gone for a very long time. Stumbling up steep switchbacks to giant granite cliffs that endlessly stretch on. Beating up every muscle in your body from sunrise to sunset, then watching embers glow in a dying campfire while you receive the last swig from the bottle making its way around. Taking a huge gulp of cool desert air and sinking into the calm of the evening. And waking up to do it all over again.

Despite a year of steady climbing, when I arrived in São Tomé in 2016, I felt both physically and mentally inadequate. After working for almost three consecutive weeks, both on and off the wall, our team of three dwindled to two when my partners told me that I should remain at the base. Filled with a sense of anguish and failure, I waited alone into the early morning hours as they made their push for the summit. Having already been dubbed an overly “sentimental” person in the past, I wondered whether being open about what happened on the trip and about my embarrassment would result in similar criticism. Perhaps exposing an instance of weakness implied that I wasn’t strong enough for this pursuit. Perhaps I was just another “female climber” who spoke less about the rock and more about her “feelings.”

Upon my return from São Tomé, I published an essay called “Do Not Go Outside to Cry.” I concluded: “Failure gives you depth. It gives you mental tenacity. It shatters the expectations we often feel trapped within, the expectations that our perceptions of ourselves create. Exposing our failures lets us fearlessly show the world that we are human…. Nobody walks up the mountain to the top with a smile on their face the entire time, or without shedding a few tears, a little blood.” I felt painfully exposed, but when readers responded to my story with benevolence, I realized why I had shared it in the first place: to cultivate empathy and understanding not only for myself, but for others who might have had an experience. I remembered that sentimentality helps me dwell in that sweet spot where I’ve encountered something so big that maybe words will never do it justice. That feeling is humanizing to me, and it’s there, in the act of vulnerable writing, that I see the importance of honesty.

In the past, like many climbers, I was reluctant to accept that vulnerability wasn’t always a flaw. I believed that strength meant wearing a ten-ton shield of mental toughness and achieving perfection in all aspects of life, from my relationships to my climbing goals, and everything in between. I’d convinced myself that my value was based on my accomplishments. Over time, however, my fear of rejection and judgment morphed from a shield into an encumbrance. It was then that choosing vulnerability became an act of courage.

For me, anything powerful enough to awaken sentiment is worth a dialogue. Such conversations can build intimacy with others, a sense of overlapping stories: even on Instagram and Facebook, I like to think of my words as tiny notes and letters between pen pals I have yet to meet. Perhaps sentimentality is not a distortion of the real world, but something that allows us to see life from a different perspective. It’s an appeal for feeling things freely without censoring our own tenderness. From love songs to great literature, it is the sense of love and happiness, pain and suffering, empathy and compassion, that transforms us. The way the earth looks after rainfall, sopping wet and glinting with newness, stays with me long after the moment is gone. The sound of gear clanking above as I hold the belay rope in my hand. The fear before an airy fall, and then the sudden sensation of taking the plunge. The sweet smell of sagebrush that always reminds me of Wyoming.

Any person who thinks that it’s a waste of time to treasure these things is welcome to their opinion, but they’re missing out. We all have emotions that eventually bring us to self-awareness, if we let them. Beneath every curmudgeonly old soul is the ability to share a passion and appreciate something that makes us feel deeply, often in ways we can’t quite explain. It’s true—climbing does not change you. But having a passion for something is what will.

 This article was originally published in Alpinist Magazine Issue 61 – Spring 2018

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7: Why Not Now

Fact: fear stops so much of what we do. But after one life-altering day in the Gunks, Caitlin stopped putting things on hold and made some big changes because she saw what happens when you lose the chance—when you always think, “I’ll do it later.” and then later doesn’t exist.

This episode is brought to you by Deuter, Evo Hemp, and Dirtbag Climbers. Music by: “Jazzy Frenchy”, “Cute”, and “Funny Song” by, “Ichill” by Kakurenbo, “Trippin at the Party” and “Pives and Flarinet” by Podington Bear, “Brave” by Borrtex, “The Flight of Lulu” by Possimiste, “Southside” by Lee Rosevere, and “Twinkle Twinkle” by David Mumford.

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(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.

– We’re working with Better Help to connect you to licensed therapists because even though my advice and opinions are free, I am improvising the whole thing. Better Help lets you message a licensed therapist, day or night. They’ll match you with the perfect therapist for a fraction of the cost of traditional therapy. You know who goes to therapy? Prince Harry. Emma Stone. Jenny Slate. Kesha. Therapy is beautiful—everyone should go to therapy. Go to to sign up and receive one free week. It helps support this show, and it helps support you.

– This podcast gets support from Gnarly Nutrition, one of the leading protein supplements that tastes “whey” better than they need to, because they use quality natural ingredients. So, whether you’re a working mom who runs circles around your kids on weekends or an unprofessional climber trying to send that 5.13 in the gym, Gnarly Nutrition has all of your recovery needs. The only question you need to ask yourself is: Are you a sucker for anything that tastes like chocolate ice cream? (Yeah, me neither.) Gnarly Nutrition is designed to enhance your progress—and taste like a milkshake, without all the crap.

– Have you ever cut an exterior hole in your van? Me neither. Building out a van can be hard work, not to mention that table saws have a funny way of leaving you with fewer fingers than you started with. (We’ll ask Tommy Caldwell all about it when he returns my emails.) I really can’t be trusted with power tools since a drywall incident in 2005—but Mark and Anthony can. Roaming Ingenuity is a team of outdoor enthusiasts and tinkerers based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. Whether you are looking for a full custom van build, or just need a little help with installing a roof vent, they can help. PS—I never actually emailed Tommy Caldwell.

(CAITLIN MAKARY): Every step of this till now—it’s all new. I mean, working with another facility—that’s new. I’ve never done that before. This is the first time—we’ll figure it out. I was definitely pretty anxious about the break in delivery service from my kitchen shut down because we never missed a delivery since we started—no matter what was going on. Didn’t matter the weather, the staff, someone was sick—we always delivered.

(city traffic in background)

(FEMALE NEWSCASTER): Santizo was one of a hundred and eighty-five small business owners from bakers to chocolatiers who work out of the 200,000 square foot shared commercial kitchen. But now, she and other tenants can’t fill their orders. Many of these startups say they’re still scrambling to find a new workspace and this could put some out of business. Others worry about the ripple effect this closure will have on the entire local food industry. In Bushwick, Brooklyn. Natalie Duddridge, CBS2 News.

(CM): So obviously, that hurt really bad to feel like I was unreliable to people or they were expecting something that they didn’t get. My accounts have been massively understanding. It’s been so nice and really reaffirms to me the type of people that I work with. Because I do know a lot of other small food producers that sell to bigger companies—and not that size is a problem. You know, you look at Newman’s Own—that’s an amazing company that’s a big company. Patagonia: I think their hearts are totally in the right places. So, it’s not about a size thing; it’s about an intent—like, the intention of the company. And so, I’m just always trying to be aware of what our intentions are, how we’re getting bigger, and so, you know, I hope that I can just kind of keep that guideline there. But yeah, I don’t know. We’ll see what happens. It’s kind of crazy that it’s just that—like, it’s just banana bread.

(KK): Ok, so if you’re wondering what banana bread has to do with rock climbing…well, maybe nothing. Maybe everything? Let me back up. Caitlin Makary is a climber and the founder of DANK Brooklyn, a company that she started in 2016 with no prior experience and only eight thousand dollars to her name. But she wasn’t always a climber and she didn’t always own a banana bread empire. For a decade, Caitlin has worked in corporate fashion and clothing design. She has done everything, from factory sewing to selling vintage clothes to designing clothes for puppets. So, how do you go from working in corporate fashion for ten years to…banana bread? And again, what does becoming an entrepreneur have to do with climbing?

(CM): I had all these other business guiding points that I looked at for different reasons. Like, one of them is that company Baggu. Emily Sugihara, the founder, and I actually interned together at Proenza Schouler when we were both in our early twenties. And when I had heard that she started this company, at the time I’m still working in design and I was a little bit like, “Oh. That’s—I mean, that’s cool that she has her own company, but it’s just like a bag.” I thought that, you know, as a designer, you’re like, “I’m going to be making all these different garments and people are going to be wearing my clothes.” But she just did everything about that in the perfect way. It was before everyone and their mom was offering a free tote bag with stuff. It was when people were starting to realize that using plastic bags wasn’t a great idea. She made this single item in a bunch of different colors that she could probably source pretty readily. She understood the manufacturing aspect of clothing design and so, she could get it done. And because it’s dead simple, you don’t need to have things in size buckets. And she’s expanded the company a million times over since then, but just having an idea where it was the right time for the market and it was an accessible price point. I mean, everybody has Baggu stuff. It’s so ubiquitous. You see it walking around the city in New York every single day, and to have that much product that you put out there—that’s huge.

That was one of the companies where I’m like, “You just have to keep it really simple ‘cause you’re not going to be able to afford a lot of stuff at the beginning.” And so, having it be one item was really the only way that it worked for me—and that only worked because I wasn’t a baker. I know other bakers who have businesses that are trying to go after the wholesale market. So, when they have a sales meeting, someone will be like, “Oh—well, could you also do a corn muffin?” or “Could you also give me a croissant or something?” And they’ll say yes ‘cause they wanna make the sale—and I would have said yes, too. But I couldn’t—‘cause I didn’t know how to do any of that shit. So, I was like, “Oh—banana bread’s our specialty! It’s really just the thing that we’re best at.” And then, you know—go from there. But having it be so streamlined for me was the only way to make it work. Because I wouldn’t have been able to juggle the rest of that stuff.

(KK): Yeah. Also, who eats corn muffins?

(CM): (laughs) Well, they’re good with chili.

(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.

– Caitlin and I started climbing around the same time when we were both living in Brooklyn, New York. For Caitlin, it was like flipping a switch. She loved every aspect of climbing—she loved being outside and learning new skills, and climbing taught her that she wasn’t fully happy unless she was trying new things and being challenged. Caitlin learned how to trad climb in the Gunks, which is where she and her partner, Casey, were on November fifteenth—the same day as Heidi.

(CM): I was talking about it with one of my bakers just last week. And so, somehow that story had come up. And we were driving to the train and he asked me about it. He wanted to know more about it—if I hadn’t minded talking about it. And I told him, “Dude, this changed everything for me.” Along with a couple other things that happened: I had an uncle that summer that passed away super suddenly. He’s in his late sixties but he was a pilot, and you know, would have regular checkups every six months. He was always healthy—didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, active, everything. Goes to the hospital for chest pains and he died three days later and no one saw that coming. It was a really horrible, very unexpected situation. So, those two in the same year—it was just like, it just made me look at everything in my life because at that time, I had been a designer at Nautica for seven years and I was in a relationship about the same amount of time. And I honestly just wasn’t happy with any of it. I wasn’t happy at work. I had moved up a lot in the company—I was started out as an assistant designer and by the time I left, I was the senior woven’s designer for the entire international and American divisions.

(KK): So, just kind of a big deal.

(CM): (laughs) I mean, I had a boss there for the first five years that I just loved. And so, that was why it worked for me. She’s the person I look at now whenever I’m trying to be a good boss to my employees ‘cause she was one of a couple that I’ve had that are amazing. And so, that was really worth it for me ‘cause that company’s a lot more conservative than I would normally go to, but with her, it kind of worked. And so, there was that. But I mean, I was even up for the design director position and I went to school for fashion design! Like, I was working in my industry. You know, my grandfather was a steel mill worker in Pittsburgh and had six kids and would still come home after a twelve hour day and be present as a father, and it’s like, I feel like I’m being a little bitch. I’m working in my field. Like what else do I want kind of a thing? You know, it was a very cooperate company, but I’d worked high end before, too—and there’s pros and cons to both. And I just didn’t know if I was being a baby. I’m like, people would kill for this job. It’s safe, I get paid all the benefits, like whatever, it’s great. Technically.

And then, my friends over the years had been getting married. You’re kind of taught to assume that you’ll get married—not even expect it or want it, but it’s just something that happens in life. At one point, you get married. At one point, you have kids. And I was totally on that track. Like, there was one time when I was not not trying to have kids ‘cause I was in my late twenties, I’d been with my partner for five or six years at that point, I love kids—I love being around them—and I’d just think, “Ok. This is kind of the time in life when you do this thing.” And so, I wasn’t not trying and it was just luck that I didn’t get pregnant then because that year my sister got really ill and moved in with me and so I helped get her healthy over the next year and a half. And having that level of responsibility for another person made me realize that I didn’t think that I wanted kids. And I would have just done it otherwise.

So, all these different factors are basically looking at what’s expected of you. I had a great job, I had a good person—it just wasn’t working for me. And I had to decide whether or not I felt like those concerns were valid. The experience with Heidi in the Gunks and my uncle—I just thought, “You know what? They are valid. I’m not happy. It doesn’t matter that it looks good to somebody else or that I should feel happy according to someone else. I’m not.” Climbing was so integrated in the reasons why I decided to change everything in my life. And everything changed.

(KK): Heidi Duartes Wahl was considered one of the strongest female climbers from Chile and she was living in New York at the time. She and her partner were starting up the infamous Yellow Wall, a 5.11 Gunks classic, when she took a fatal ground fall on the 5.7 pitch. Heidi wore a helmet that day and took a twenty-foot fall that any of us could have easily taken, which is maybe one of the hardest parts of her story to reckon with. This tragic accident affected so many people, as tragic deaths will so often do, but it also did something else. It sparked a change in a complete stranger’s life and sent Caitlin on a new path that would change—and continue to change—her life, forever.

(CM): While we’re up on the wall, someone comes running down the trail yelling that there was an accident. And so, we simul-rapped off and Casey ran ahead while I pulled the rope because we didn’t where or what had happened, and so we didn’t know if we were going to have to climb to someone and get them off the wall. Once I pulled the rope and I started running down that trail, I somehow realized that she was on the ground, so I just ditched everything as I was going. And then we get there and she was getting CPR from one of the rangers. And I knew her partner—not well, but I knew him. And so, they told us all to just stay there and wait because the paramedics were gonna come and they were going to need help getting her off the trail ’cause it was up a steep approach trail that was covered in leaves and everything. And so, we waited and it just really looked bad. I’d never seen an accident before like that and her hand was just paper white. They were doing CPR the entire time, but it just didn’t look—I mean, she definitely was unconscious, but I couldn’t really tell other than that what was going on. And weirdly—didn’t really feel anything. And I remember thinking about that—just thinking, “Why am I not freaking out right now? This is kind of crazy.”

And so, the paramedics get there and we put her on a board and then, basically, all the hikers and climbers that had gathered around stood shoulder to shoulder and passed it down the trail and then I helped put her in the truck. I remember seeing her harness laying on the ground and it was in pieces and I was just like, “Did her harness fail? What happened?” And then I realized they’d cut it off of her and the helmet, too. And Casey and I went back and all our stuff was still on the wall. So, we went up Andrew to the ledge ‘cause we had a haul bag—we were practicing hauling and everything. And we hadn’t eaten or drank anything since we’d started super early in the morning. And so, we sat down for a minute on the ledge and then I just totally lost it. That was the minute when I was just like, “This is what she wanted to be doing right now.”

You know, you don’t even think that it’s gonna look like what it does. Like, you think about falling when you climb, especially when you’re learning—it’s scary as fuck. And, you know, even when you’re good at it and you’re doing a hard climb—like, you always think about what the consequences are and you should. It’s dangerous. There’s reasons why people wear helmets and have good partners that they climb with and, you know, all that stuff. But yeah, you just don’t think about what the reality of it is gonna be. And so, that really affected me and it still does daily, I mean, I don’t think about Heidi every day anymore—but I think about it a lot.

(KK): Witnessing a traumatic death would make any human contemplate the flickering nature of life. But, it’s almost a too-easy thing to ignore in day-to-day life, when we’re busy making plans and checking Facebook statuses and thinking about which takeout place to not order from this week so that they don’t start to think you can’t read a cookbook.

“A death is considered traumatic if it occurs without warning.” That’s a pretty broad definition, and we’ve heard a lot of stories from people about loss and death but—what about grieving the death of someone…you didn’t know? Caitlin had never met Heidi before, but she had essentially witnessed her last breath of life. While the specific nature of Heidi’s death is traumatic by definition, how we process these things will inevitably always come down to how the event is experienced by the individual person. Seemingly, at first, not much in Caitlin’s life had actually changed. Big picture? She still went to work every morning, she still lived in Brooklyn, she still ate pizza and she still had to feed her cat. In between all of those moments, there was still a lot of change happening. Even if she didn’t know it. But, life went on and Caitlin didn’t stop climbing, either. Climbing and baking are directly related for her. In the past, she would bake banana bread to use to bribe friends with—that and a little gas money in exchange for rides up to the Gunks.

(CM): It started from this vegan recipe that my sister had, and I never had all the right ingredients in the house. So, I would just use what I had and substitute ingredients and just cut certain things out completely, which with baking, you’re really not supposed to do that. But I cook for myself a lot and I never bake, so it was just more that approach of, “Ok—eyeballing things and throwing them in a bowl.” But everyone always really liked it.

(KK): Fast forward a couple of years later when a new guy Caitlin had been dating one day suggested that she sell the bread. Caitlin’s response?

(CM): No. Like, how? What do you—I mean, I’m—I had no experience in food—ever. Never waitressed, never bartended, never worked in any food service industry—ever. And there’s rules for that stuff. You know, like you can’t just randomly start selling something. I’m not someone who loves baking, like, just gets a whole lot out of it. It was more just like, “I like how this tastes and my friends like it, too. So, when we don’t feel like bringing lunch to climb, we’ll just eat this instead.” (laughs). And so, yeah. I never thought about it—even considered it. And then, I started freelancing at this other job that my old boss from Nautica had basically poached me for this company and it was full-time for a while, but it was horrible. So, I was like, “I’ll give myself a year here.” ‘cause a year off is a reasonable amount of time on a resume. And so, then in that time, basically the company wasn’t doing well. They decided to cut staff and so, I kind of started thinking about the bread. ‘Cause I was like, “Well, ok—let’s pretend that this is an idea. What would I even call it? What would it look like?” I kind of looked at it from a visual standpoint just ‘cause that’s what I knew.

Then I broke up with this guy—it was insane. Like, the most traumatic crazy break up experience ever and I just went into a hole. I didn’t want to talk to anybody, I wasn’t eating properly, I lost weight. I was just in this crazy state of mind and that’s when I just like—I think I spent four days in the house. Just like, I would go to work and I’d come home and I just, in four days, created the LLC, I made a website, I did all the graphic work, got the whatever initial permits I needed and I just threw myself into work. It was just one of those moments when you’re like, “Who cares? Like, why not? Like—why not.”

(KK): It was the culmination of everything that had happened in those two years that made Caitlin really and honestly ask herself: why not? It was Heidi, it was climbing—

(CM): And also, my mom in the last couple years—and this could be literally its own podcast on its own—but my mom had to start over her life. And she, at the age of sixty, went from volunteering at a food bank to being the garde manger, which is the chef that’s responsible for all the bar items and salads and appetizers at one of the fancier restaurants I’ve ever been to. She was second guessing her worth and all the stuff that she brings to the table and her experience and I was just like, “Dude, you work on the line with men that are half your age and you’re one of their best employees.” She ended up getting another job and now she’s lead line chef at this other incredibly fancy restaurant, and she did this at sixty. So, I was like, “If she can figure that out, I think I can try it.” (laughs). Yeah. You don’t ever have to stop learning new stuff. You can literally start over whenever you feel like it (laughs). That was a really good thing to realize.

I’ve also spent a lot of time thinking about why people stay at jobs that they actively hate for years—and it’s fear. And I’ve asked other bosses, I’ve asked other people along the way: “Why do you think that that happens?” ‘Cause I was right there, you know? And I was doing that exact thing myself. But it’s fear. And so, if you can get over being afraid when there’s no real danger, then that makes everything more possible. But, I have to say (just so everybody who happens to hear this knows): I don’t have kids. I don’t have anyone I’m responsible for financially. I don’t own my house; I rent. You know, there’s all these factors that made it work for me, personally. And I do know other business owners that, you know, have whole families and have different financial obligations to other things and, you know, it does change it. It doesn’t make it impossible. I know tons of people that do that. But I’ve had a very fast and light approach to it. I’m not responsible for much else besides me and my cat.

(cat meowing)

(KK): Caitlin told herself that she wasn’t going into debt over this, so if she couldn’t make it work and make ends meet, that’s it. The company’s done. But, with a little bit of moxie and a lot of grit, she put her head down and got to it. There was a parallel between entrepreneurship and climbing for her; because climbing has so many parallels to everyday life, Caitlin saw that. Having the experience of learning how to lead mentally prepared her for the challenges of becoming a business owner and a baker.

(CM): Even things like assessing risk and dealing with fear—climbing taught me so much of that. Because you get in situations when you are genuinely scared and you’re like, “Am I scared or am I in danger?” ‘cause there’s a difference—and if I’m just scared, I can work through it. That skill was valuable so many times. Like, I learned how to ride a motorcycle when I was in my thirties—I mean, I am in my thirties now. But that was scary! But I just thought about leading, you know, for the first time and I remember taking thirty minutes to build an anchor ‘cause I was so freaked out that it wasn’t going to work. And you’re like, “Ok, I can learn that. I can figure it out and I can keep myself safe and I can do it here, too.” And then, same thing with the company. It’s like, just mitigating fear and that anxiety response in your body or just dealing—having it, but just doing it anyway. You know? That has helped me in every aspect of my life.

(KK): All of that hustle has paid off. The banana bread is now sold in over forty coffee shops, climbing gyms, and stores in the greater New York City area. Caitlin created a product that people love and a company that gives back to a community that has supported her these past two years. DANK sponsors initiatives such as the New York City Adventure Film Festival, Adaptive Climbing Group, Gunks Apps, Project Girl, and more. DANK may have started as collateral for rides to the Gunks, but it’s grown to be much more than that. It’s a community. It’s a lifestyle product. It’s vegan.

(CM): We sell to thirty-five places in mostly Brooklyn and Manhattan now, but there is the Cliffs in Queens, which is awesome—love those guys! And yeah, I mean it started out just walking around and going to coffee shops and giving samples and talking to people. And it’s definitely growing all the time. Two of our newest spots are Brooklyn Roasting Company—five of their shops have the bread and The Elk in West Village just picked it up. But we have places like all the Little Skips stores in Bushwick. They’ve been around forever and the owners are amazing. They have a real family for their team, and a lot of my shops are like that—where people work there for years. Most of the time, a good metric for me, if I think the space will do well or not, is if it’s a place I genuinely just enjoy being in. If it’s a spot where I would hang out and do some work or meet up with a friend for coffee or just go there on my lunch break ‘cause it’s nice to get out of the office for a minute and be in a good space. That’s where I sell to.

Yeah, we’ve been in business since—I started the company in January 2016. The first week of sales was the first week of March in 2016. And our first account, Yours Truly: I cold called them on the very first day I did sales. And actually, the owner, Fabrizio—I introduced him to climbing and he loves it—a lot! So, (laughs) that’s been super cool. I am actually going to do a day where I reach out to my stores and see if people are interested to start climbing, ‘cause I’ve gotten a lot of questions about it from places that I sell to and people are really interested. One of my bakers wanted to come for sure, one of the managers at Happy Bones is gonna come, and I just talked to one of the managers at Sey Coffee in Bushwick and he’s interested, too. And so, I’m gonna put out a couple dates where people can come and then I can show them how it works. So, it’s been really cool that there’s been both ways. The climbing community has been ridiculously supportive of me the entire time. It’s been so cool.

(KK): We love you.

(CM): Aww! Thank you! (laughs). But like, yeah. It’s really cool to see the other side of it now, ‘cause I do have, now, a community in the food industry. It’s so cool that I get to be a part of the New York City coffee scene because I just think there’s so many genuinely creative, interesting, hardworking, and driven people in that field. So, the fact that they’re kind of getting interested in climbing has been really cool.

I’ve lived in Brooklyn since I was eighteen, so I grew up as an adult in the city and I didn’t start climbing until 2011. So, it’s really funny because when we were climbing at Brooklyn Boulders and everyone was learning and people started going outside and kind of figuring it out—like, we are the babies of the climbing scene. Because other cities, this is just what you do: everybody trad climbs, everybody’s really good at it. There’s probably just, like, the level gets ratcheted up. But, the cool thing about the New York community is that I feel like there was a second wave of it around 2010, 2011. It’s super interesting to see how it’s developed because even things like all the new gyms opening up, it’s super interesting. It’s becoming a much more widespread thing. It’s really not that much counter-culture anymore. It wasn’t even when I started, I mean, I’m not kidding myself. It’s not like it’s the seventies or even earlier or whatever. Those people were so hard (laughs) you know?

But I think that the community on a personal level is really special. I always assumed if I moved somewhere else, that climbing would be the in: that’s how you meet people, that’s how you make friends. And I know people that have moved to, you know, Colorado, to Vancouver, to California and they just say it’s not the same thing. I do think New York is a transient place. Not that many people are really from there and so people are just more open to making friends, meeting people, doing different things. And then, when you take that tier of people in that community that are adventurous and like to take risks and learn new things, it is a really special group of people. So yeah, I mean, they’ve been there for me from the beginning—like the gyms that I sell to: Brooklyn Boulders and The Cliffs, friends at GP81 opening up their new gyms. It’s really cool to see how it’s progressed over such a short amount of time.

You know, it’s cool that it’s accessible. I love climbing. I love showing people climbing. I love bringing people outdoors for the first time or putting them on their first lead, which I’ve gotten to do a couple of times. And that’s always really cool just to see people learning it. I think it’s such a valuable skillset because if you get to the point where you are climbing outside and leading, especially trad, there’s this level of care and consideration that you have to take with doing things the proper way. I feel like a lot of times, especially within certain age brackets nowadays, there’s not ever a real sense of consequence with anything because you can undo so many things, you can change so many things. I just think that making a decision and having to really stand behind it and be like, “I did this the right way. I’m positive of it. Because if I didn’t, something bad’s gonna happen.” You know, climbing teaches you that, which there’s not that much else in day-to-day normal modern life that will do that.

(KK): A few years ago, I was really struggling with my writing career. I remember calling Caitlin up—and I feel like I’m always calling her when I’m having a crisis or a business question. And she told me that there was a shift once she was able to start identifying herself as a baker. And that carried a lot of weight for me. I stopped thinking of myself as a two-bit hack wannabe, and you know what? She was right. I was a writer as much as I was a climber, as much as she was a baker.

(CM): Yeah, you don’t have to really care what other people see you as. I mean, even other people, which is funny, saw me as being a baker ‘cause I own a baking company—that seems logical. But, any time I had thought about my career now being in food service, it would just stress me out ‘cause I just don’t know that the way that I knew designing. I worked in that industry for ten years. I knew a lot about that field and I knew nothing about my new field, so.

I hope my mom’s not listening to this (laughs). So, this is probably two summers ago and it was such a really difficult time because I had come into working for DANK full-time. I had this awesome girl, Camille who, that was my first hire, who basically had been doing the baking for me while I went back to work during the day. ‘Cause at the time, we were baking between 2:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m., three nights a week. So, you can imagine just how that throws your entire life off. And at the beginning, when you have no resources and no money, everything’s hard because you just have to be super scrappy and just do most of it yourself. So, that’s where I was at and Camille got another job which was super great for her, but she had to stop baking. And so, I had a meeting with my financial advisor and was just like, “Is it ok if do this right now? Is this a good idea?”

On top of all of this, I have no money. Like, I’m paying myself a hundred dollars a week. Like, I can’t go out to a bar and buy a single beer with friends. So, one of my girlfriends is having a bachelorette party and luckily, it was in the city. But they still had this whole itinerary of different things that they wanted to do—and all of it cost money. You know, you can explain to people that you’re broke, but even if they’re your best friends, unless you’ve kind of been there recently, it’s hard to remember what it’s like and I was totally there myself when I left Nautica. I mean, that’s why—I would have quit that company minimum two years earlier, but you get comfortable with the money and it’s hard to picture cutting back. And I had cut back so hard that people my age with careers had a hard time really understanding what I meant when I was like, “I’m broke.” It’s not like, “Oh, I’m broke till I get paid next week.” It’s like, “I actually don’t have money right now.” (laughs).

So, at one point in the daytime—I don’t who started talking about doing mushrooms, but people decided that they wanted to do that. We get some. And the part of the night that I was going to do was this cruise thing. It was like a—you get on a boat. There’s a dinner component to it. It was like eighty bucks and the food was horrible—and, you know, that’s what I pay myself in a week. That was a really hard blow. Then, we spend a million hours running around Greenpoint trying to find a bar to go to. I pay the six bucks it costs to get a beer—

(cash register opening)

—which—again, this is literally knife in the heart every time I have to exchange money that night. And then, the minute I get a beer, everyone decides that they don’t feel like being there anymore.

(murmuring crowd at bar and background music playing)

Even while we’re at the bar—at the time, I’m single and this guy is chatting with me and he asks if I’m a teacher and I’m like, “No, why? Are you a teacher?” And he was like, “No, you just look like a teacher.” And I’m like—

(record scratching)

—“That’s not a compliment! Like, what the fuck is going on with this night?” I was just over it. I was over everybody. I was just so filled with anxiety, stressed, and whatever. So, my girlfriends leave and they were all going to go to one of their houses, but I was like, “I need to just go home.” I’m like kind of over everything right now.” And so, I call a cab—

(fast whistle)

(cash register opening)

—of course, more money. There you go. And when I get into the cab, I start to trip a little bit.

Ok, I’m like, “These mushrooms better kick in because something needs to happen tonight. Like, something interesting just needs to—whatever.’” (laughs). So then, I get out of the cab at my house and because I’m tripping I look at my apartment door—almost don’t recognize it because it’s so ugly and dirty looking and just horrible and I’m like, “Is this where I live?” And I walk into my house and the hallways are so scuffed and terrible and I’m just like, “Oh my god. I live in a shithole. I have no money. I can’t even afford to go out with my friends for one night. Like, what the fuck. I’m working at night. Like, what is wrong with my life right now?” And I’m in my apartment—same thing—everything just looks hideous and I just can’t deal with where I’m at in life (laughs).

And so, then, I just take a shower because I’m like, “You know what. I’m just gonna take a shower and hopefully, things will feel better.” And while I was in the shower, it started to feel a little better. I don’t know, just things kind of seemed more positive and the bathroom’s kind of steamy. And it’s so weird because in my memory, I come out of the shower and it’s all steamy and everything’s really clean and sterile, but in a comforting way, like in a 1950’s hospital where things are still homey looking but it’s very clean. It’s not like how hospitals are now. It just felt like—ok. I kind of realized that if I just kept working, like if I just put my head down and I just kept working so hard, I’d be able to work my way out of the situation. That was the first thing. And then, the second thing is because everything was all clean and white—ok, my bathroom’s not white by the way, it’s teal. So, I don’t know where the whiteness came in (laughs).

Everything was so clean and nice feeling that I had this feeling of being reborn into this role and for the first time, I’m like, “I am a baker. I just need to become a baker.” (laughs) and I go to lay down and it’s really getting late and then, after a second the money part just starts weighing on me again. And I spent the next five hours awake in my bed doing calculations on my phone calculator of whether or not I’d be able to make ends meet (laughs). So, it kind of took another turn, but it was genuinely productive. I don’t think I need to be endorsing everyone to go to drugs or anything, but it was just a genuinely productive time and it kind of just did shift my headspace a little bit about it. It wasn’t any easier or I had any more money the next day, but we did work out of it.

I still say “we” every time I talk to someone because I’m making people think it’s not just one person doing all this stuff. And now, I pay my bills, I pay my rent, I pay my insurance, I pay my employees, all the payroll taxes, workers comp insurance on that, rented the kitchen, storage. That’s all from the company. Like, all of it. That was the switch, which is kind of funny ‘cause I probably shouldn’t even be telling this in a public setting, but whatever.

(KK): I’m not cutting this.

(CM): That’s ok (laughs).

(KK): All deaths have the capacity to shatter us, to shatter our worldview. Caitlin didn’t let the incident in the Gunks shatter her, though. Instead, she took one big moment in her life and let it be part of this catalyst of change for her, and in a lot of ways, become a part of her. Caitlin had a choice—she could stay at a corporate job in fashion or give DANK her all. She thought of herself in twenty years saying, “Remember that time I owned a banana bread company…?” and it just seemed like the more interesting path to take.

(CM): You know, I really still look at every day as if, you know, anything can happen at any time. In two weeks, I could be dead. I don’t know. It’s not like I walk around with a shadow over my head or I’m freaked out by it at all. But, when it comes time to making certain decisions, I mostly will just be like, “Yo, let’s do it. Let’s go for it—because why not?” I think a lot of the fear that came with messing up or things not working out went away because I saw what happens when you don’t get a chance—when you always think, “Oh, maybe I’ll do it later.” and then later doesn’t exist. So, why not just do it now? Being able to just be like, “Yeah. Let’s try it.” I think I’d be happier to try and not make it than to just wonder if it would have worked forever.

(KK): It can be difficult to pick up the phone and ask for help, but calling a PTSD hotline number is always free and confidential. If you or someone you know is dealing with a traumatic incident, consider speaking with someone about the treatment options available. If you experience suicidal thoughts during a PTSD episode and don’t know who to talk to, call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. That’s 1-800-273-8255 to be connected to a trained counselor at a suicide crisis center nearest you.

– 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 (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. And a big thank you to everybody who knows how to speak another language. You are infinitely cooler than I am—I gotta get Rosetta Stone.

– 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 a big thank you to Gnarly Nutrition for supporting this podcast and the messages that we share. Gnarly Nutrition supports a community of vulnerability and equality—and tastes like a milkshake, without all the crap. And a big shout out to Roaming Ingenuity, a team of outdoor enthusiasts and tinkerers based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. 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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Gear Review: Deuter Climbing Rope Bag & Accessories

I think it’s safe to say that not all gear is made of the same quality, and that definitely holds true for rope bags! Oh, the trusty rope bag. It can be the quintessential piece of climbing equipment that you’re missing on all of your cragging days.

Long gone are my days of using IKEA blue bags (although, for you dirtbags out there, it can still work in a pinch!) The Deuter Gravity series focuses on being minimalistic but functional. The entire line is designed to be light enough for alpine endeavors but also, with durability in mind.

image2 (3)The Deuter Gravity Rope Bag is made of a tough high density, macro-lite 420 denier polyamide that features high abrasion resistance, due to its tight weave, as well as being coated with a polyurethane compound for weather resistance. No matter the weather, this bag’s contents (be it a rope or snacks, or both) will stay safe and dry inside. This kind of quality of fabric is often used for guide packs.

The Gravity Rope Bag will also comfortably carry your rope to its destination. The bag is a navy/granite (blue/gray) with long, brightly colored adjustable straps that make it comfortable when hauling around. The shoulder loops don’t dig into your skin, which is a huge deciding factor for me. It will hold a rope up to 80 meters, no problem.

image2 (4)

Included inside is the Deuter Rope Sheet, which weighs only 11 ounces. The Rope Sheet can be used separately from the bag and is not connected to it, which is practical and convenient. Say goodbye to tangled up ropes and sighs of frustration with these color-coded corners (to indicate the orientation of your rope stack). Purchased separately, the retail price for the Rope Sheet is $35. The bag itself (with the sheet included) clocks in at 1 pound, 6 ounces and retails for $60.


The Deuter Gravity Rope Bag and Rope Sheet will keep your rope safe, help keep YOU organized, and are must-have additions to your climbing gear, with their incredibly durable and well thought out design.

The Deuter Gravity Rope Bag retails for $60, and the Deuter Rope Sheet retails for $35.n You can purchase your own Gravity Rope Bag here.

Disclosure: I am currently an ambassador for Deuter and the gear has been provided for this review. As always, all opinions are honest and my own.

All photographs courtesy of Deuter.

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Climbing Helmets: Love Them or Hate Them?

It was summer of last year, and my buddy Evan Raines came out to Wyoming. We had planned a week sport climbing in Ten Sleep, something I always greatly looking forward to. I’d just been in Wyoming two weeks ago, climbing with another group of friends. I’d been in the middle of the podcast launch and hadn’t been climbing much, if at all. I watched everybody warm up on 11s and 12s and while they were projecting much harder grades, I projected the warm-up routes.

It was fine, I told myself. Climbing outside, no matter what the grade, was the best way to start feeling strong again. It never really bothers me, but I was aware that I was the weakest one in the group. Not only that but as I pulled out my helmet and strapped it on, I started to feel like the dorkiest one, too.

Who brings their helmet sport climbing? I asked myself. Dorks do. Dorks bring their helmet sport climbing! But I wore it with pride as I struggle-barged my way up routes at the Shinto Wall.

I didn’t always wear my helmet climbing. In fact, I am guilty of being one of the most inconsistent helmet wearers I know. My partner in the Gunks when I first started climbing never wore one, and even though I’d purchased one my first year climbing, I didn’t feel obligated to wear it. In fact, I usually carried it up to the crag and it lived in my backpack the entire day. A really useful way to spend 100 dollars, right?

As time went on, I started to wear it more religiously. I would tell people, “I always wear it on trad routes.” which was mostly true, most of the time. I never wore my helmet on off-width routes, which is a judgment call I have to make. On occasion, I would forget it at home or in the car and shrugged it off as a one-time thing. When that happened, I climbed without the restriction of the annoying buckle at my chin, the wind in my hair, and my head completely unprotected. But I didn’t care–it felt so free!

But as more time goes on, I have begun wearing it with more consistency. I started to realize that when I was mid-route and fumbling with gear, I wasn’t afraid to death of taking a fall. Having my brain (and glasses) strapped in, I actually found that I felt much braver. It sounds silly, but having to worry about one less thing getting damaged in a fucked up fall made me feel more confident—and I could climb through cruxes with more fluidity and assertiveness.

During that trip, I joked and said I was completely aware that I was the dorkiest person at the crag one evening to Kelly Cordes, referring to the fact that I had brought along my brain bucket. He laughed and told me, no, that he was actually feeling a tinge of guilt for not having his with him when he saw me with it.

Two weeks later on the drive back up to Ten Sleep, I mentioned that I admired Evan for always wearing his helmet while climbing. I’d noticed that he hadn’t brought his helmet with him the last few times we’d climbed together in Tennessee, which I casually brought up. We discussed this and caught up on some other life things for a little while driving up 80. Having not seen each other since last winter, there were so many good updates to swap: I was launching the podcast that I’d been tirelessly working on all spring and summer, my partner was in Pakistan and we were both feeling pretty good about our relationship, I’d moved to Salt Lake City (a dream) and was in love with my work more than ever before. Evan was graduating from school that year, had started dating someone new, and just seemed so happy.

I commented on how happy we both seemed and that life was looking pretty bright for both of us, holding new and exciting things in the near future. That’s when I concluded that if wearing my helmet meant that I could extend the duration of that happiness by any means, I would. Both Evan and I have been climbing long enough to know that anything can happen, anywhere, anytime, and often without warning. “I really like my life right now,” I simply stated. “I feel happy with where I’m at, and the people I get to share my time with. Getting fucked up or worse, dying, would really throw a wrench in those plans.”

Now, more than ever, I see more climbers wearing their helmets—even at sport crags, which is really encouraging. And yet, I don’t see it as often as I should. What I do see or hear are the same excuses as to why people aren’t wearing them:

“I don’t like the way that it feels/looks.”

“Wearing one reduces my performance.”

“It gives me helmet hair.” or “Helmets don’t look good in climbing photographs.”

“I climb hard enough to not have to worry about falling.”

“The quality of rock is solid.”

“Helmets are expensive.”

“I always wear a helmet. Except when I am sport climbing.”

And so on and so forth.

But the thing is, when things go bad, it always happens fast. Rockfall is unpredictable. Weather is unpredictable. Gear pulls. Belayers make errors. Old/fixed gear can be unreliable and dangerous. Parties above you drop things, sending gear or rock careening down at high speeds. Shit happens.

I had a roommate who was climbing something well within her limit once, but the rope got caught around her leg and she fell on something moderately easy—I think a 5.6 or 5.7. She was fine, but she lost her sense of smell for a while–and she eventually got it back but it will never be the same. On that very trip to Ten Sleep, after declaring my stance on helmets, I wound up taking a whip on Captain Insano (5.11d). I was pumped in a section and before I fell, my foot was not behind the rope. When my arms were too tired to hold on anymore, I fell off and my leg caught behind it. I took a huge ride and was flipped upside down. Ultimately, I was fine because it was just overhanging enough, but just the act of being inverted for a fall was not a feeling I’d like to repeat any time soon.

EVERY climber’s foot will find its way behind the rope. I’ve watched it happen a million times. It’s usually only for a nanosecond, and it’s always fine. They don’t even notice it (or at least, they don’t acknowledge it) and quickly move to a new stance. I have become so hyper-sensitive to it that I notice it almost immediately. Although the chance of falling at the exact moment that happens might seem very small, every climber should acknowledge the fact that it could happen. And it probably will when you are least expecting it to.

I agree that helmets are not going to save a life every time. The argument that climbing helmets aren’t going to save you from an 800-foot free fall, for example, are legit. And no, donning a bucket is not going to save you from something like spraining an ankle. But the idea of wearing a climbing helmet every time you tie in, whether following or on lead, seems pretty sensible to me. We can always, always speculate about safety in climbing—and every climber’s standard for safety is going to be different than the next. But wouldn’t you rather err on the side of caution than to find out firsthand what it’s like to live with a traumatic brain injury? Or a post-concussive syndrome or skull fracture? While some may argue that head injuries are actually pretty rare in climbing, the fact that it could happen—shouldn’t that be enough?

In any other sport that you can risk falling and hitting something, a helmet is worn. In fact, in many of them—it’s a requirement. Nobody thinks twice about seeing a cyclist or skydiver with one. It wasn’t always a standard practice to wear a helmet when snowboarding or something as simple as riding a bike, but now it’s a standard across the board. Even helmets worn for skiing wasn’t typical until professionals began actively promoting them, making them seem almost “cool”. I would rather see this practice amongst professional climbers to make wearing a helmet more of a standard than to see more people get injured to start a trend.

Another thing I often ask myself is: why don’t we see professional climbers wearing their helmets more often? Does it really come down to wearing them in photographs just doesn’t look as good without? I’ve seldom seen photos of the pros wearing them in mainstream climbing publications. Kudos to moments where someone like Sasha DiGiulian sets an example and wears one on bigger objectives—can we see more pros wearing them for sport climbing as well? I’ve heard the defense: “I always assess the risk, and if I don’t feel like it’s that bad, I won’t wear one.” But climbing is inherently risky, whether you are clipping bolts or plugging gear—whether you are single pitch cragging or on a big wall.

I understand that even professional climbers are still just people and that if you want to be a role model, then you (the un-professional climber) have as much power as anybody else to become one. A lot of this comes down to outreach, though. And the more people who see climbers wearing their helmets, the more normalized it becomes—especially when it’s a well-known professional athlete with a big following or social media platform. How we change the culture of not wearing helmets starts with each of our individual decisions.

Here are a few personal thoughts on how to make climbing helmets more widely accepted:

Encourage your peers and partners to use one.

Wearing one yourself only encourages other people to. You don’t even need to say anything.

Make it a standard for all new climbers and especially, younger ones. Let that be the norm that they learn with. Too many people head up the crag from indoor climbing with a gym mentality.

Buy and use a climbing helmet that feels comfortable to wear. If it doesn’t feel good or is too heavy, you’ll never wear it. Technology has really changed a lot and most companies have managed to maintain impact ratings while decreasing overall weight.

Remember this for every excuse you might have to not wear one:

“I don’t like the way that it feels/looks.” – You’ll like the way that it feels/looks if you are badly injured or paralyzed even less.

“Wearing one reduces my performance.” – Wearing a helmet can lead to increased confidence on a route. Maximum sendage, bro.

“I climb hard enough to not have to worry about falling.” – Everybody falls.

“The quality of rock is solid.” – Even the most solid climbing areas that I can think of have had holds break off. Whole features of the wall have broken off in the past in well-trafficked areas you might not think it could happen, but it does.

“Helmets are expensive.” – So is an ER bill.

“They look dumb.” – So does an injury that you could have potentially avoided.

“I always wear a helmet. Except when I am sport climbing.” – I still don’t understand the difference.

Most of the time, you have little to no warning that something is about to happen—it just does. Even in something that seems as safe as sport climbing, there are plenty of things that are out of the climber’s control that could happen. We say that if we climb “in control” and do things such as watch our lead rope in relation to our legs, we can be preventative of an accident. But because it’s life and we live in the real world, so much will always be out of our control. One thing that is well within it is wearing a helmet and regardless of choosing to wear a one or not will send a message to others.

Climbing safety is ultimately a matter of mitigating risks. There is no way to eliminate all of the risks in climbing. But is wearing a brain bucket really going to risk me not sending? Because I’d rather risk that than risk a head injury. I haven’t been climbing even a full decade yet, but I’d like to at least make it to ten years. Like I said, I really like my life right now. Being dead or suffering from a brain injury would undoubtedly make that tricky. Veterans of the sport say that when they began climbing twenty, thirty years ago–it wasn’t cool to wear a helmet. People rarely used them. Now, that’s changing. Being alive is definitely the new cool.

Photograph courtesy of Alma Baste.

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Tiny droplets of water suspended in air.

I got up one morning earlier than normal to take a walk up a hill beside me. As I walked higher and higher everything below remained under a blanket of fog, mist and light drizzle. You could come to the same place over and over again but each visit will be different. Everything changes in the mist.

Fóidin Mearbhaill – a phenomenon in Irish mythology of been enchanted and led astray in the mist.

The pictures below are what I saw!

Somewhere in the North West of Ireland!

misty arroo2
benbulben road
misty arroo track
misty arroo sheep
benbulben cliff misty
misty arroo clouds
misty arroo lake
benbulben track
benbulben top misty
misty arroo sheep track
Misty benbulben
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