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Gratitude on the Exum Ridge


Thirteen years ago I built a sleeping platform in the back of my Subaru and drove west with my buddy Sean to learn the ways of the alpinist. We climbed for a month in the Wind River Range and Tetons. Our last mission was to climb the complete Exum Ridge in a day. We bailed after the first half of the route on account of parties ahead, the late hour, and building storm clouds.

I went and finally completed that mission today with my friend and climbing partner Eric. We left the trailhead at 5:30 am, simul-climbed the complete Exum in three long pitches, topped out on the Grand at quarter til 2 in the afternoon, and walked back to the car by 7pm. It wasn’t the hardest climb I’ve done, nor did we move particularly fast. We did have the mountain largely to ourselves though, and a massive wildfire to the west had cast a smoky haze over the entire range.

Walking down through Garnet Canyon, the setting sun cast long shadows down the valley. The peaks were lit in orange and grey and misted by smoky haze. Sunlight glittered through the falling droplets of a waterfall pouring down over black rock. Being present at that moment in such an incredible place, I felt an upwelling of gratitude and contentment. Far more than accomplishment for simply completing a goal from my early adulthood, I felt so thankful for having the health, friends, partners, and lifestyle that allows me to live, work, and play in the most beautiful places on Earth year after year after year.

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An Attempt on D7 on the Diamond

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Last weekend I was hanging out at my buddy John’s place drinking beers and talking about climbing. A friend of his stopped in, having just climbed the Notch on Long’s. After half an hour of BS’ing about climbing, he mentioned wanting to climb the Diamond.

“Well, what are you up to on Tuesday?” I asked.

“I’m funemployed…..I think I could make that work!” said Matt.

Done, plan hatched, partner found. Long’s Peak has been a big part of my life, since I first heard about the mountain as a newbie climber in Pittsburgh. I have been itching to get on the Diamond for years. I took a trip out west in 2003, thinking we would crush all the classic lines in the Tetons and Winds and then come to Colorado and cruise the Casual Route, but after learning our capabilities we stuck to Wyoming and make a month of 5.7 alpine lines. I tried again to climb the Diamond nearly ten years ago in my first summer living in Estes Park. I carried a ring in my pocket, and after realizing that the North Chimney was no place to be with a dozen parties ahead, we bailed, I popped the question, and we hiked out happily engaged.

In the intervening years, the pieces never fell into place for me to get back up there. Now, single again, I have been climbing as much as my free time allows, and the itch hadn’t lessened. So my newest partner and I loaded up on Monday after work and slept in Matt’s Subaru. 3am Tuesday we hit the trail, miles slipping by in the dark, talking about climbing and relationships and worrying about snow and conditions.

Daylight found us trying not to slide down Mill’s Glacier in approach shoes. I let to the base of the chimney with Matt’s microspikes and a nut tool for an improvised axe, got on rock, and let the terrifyingly loose pitches to Broadway. What began as whispy clouds turned into full whiteout, and I shivered as Matt followed.

“I think we might be done,” I remarked as Matt looked over the topo, hand shaking with cold. “Agreed, I’m a bit sketched out right now,” he came back. We talked it over, and decided to go to the base of the route. As Matt took care of some business with a wag bag on Broadway, the weather cleared and our psyche came back.

“What the hell, I’ll lead a pitch,” I said. I pulled on edges and yarded shamelessly on draws clipped to old pitons, all thoughts of style and freeclimbing lost in the face of old school 5.9 climbing at 12,500′. We found adequate retreat anchors every so often, so we kept going despite our relatively slow pace and occasional raindrops. After four pitches, with another whiteout blocking the life-giving sun, we looked at the clock and opted for retreat rather than all night epic. Backing off went as smoothly as can be expected on a big alpine climb, and by 8pm we were kicking off shoes and drinking beer in the parking lot.

My complete ascent of the Diamond still awaits.

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Ford E-250 Swivel Seat Installation

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I recently purchased a 2004 Ford E-250 utility van. I was fortunate to find a van already stripped, insulated, and built out with a bed, shelving, wood floors, and a kitchen area. It’s a pretty good setup for stealth camping and as a climber van. There were some improvements that I wanted to make, though, including installing a swivel seat base for the passenger seat.

I’m no mechanic. After searching fruitlessly for “how to install a swivel seat in a Ford E-250”, I called a garage and inquired about having it done. They quoted me $300 for the seat base and $50 for installation. I figured if installation was only $50, then it was probably something I could do myself.

I found a seat base that seemed like it would work, based on the few forum posts I found. lists a bunch of various bases, so I purchased a single 96 – 06 Ford Swivel Base OEM Seat for the passenger side. Total cost with shipping was $252 and delivery took about a week.

I was concerned about disconnecting the wire protruding from the seat base. To be perfectly honest, I don’t really know what it’s for but I think that it is an airbag sensor. I needed a T-55 Torx socket to remove the OEM seat base, and asked the guy at the auto parts store about that wire. He assured me that it was difficult to accidentally discharge the airbag, and said that if I disconnected the negative terminal on the battery just to be safe than I could certainly unplug the wire without fear.

I assembled my tools: a socket set, T-55 bit, new swivel seat base, a utility knife and some foam padding. First, I disconnected the battery, then took a deep breath and unplugged the wire and….nothing happened. Perfect.

Second step, I unbolted the OEM base from the floor and removed the seat. Once I had the seat out and on the ground, I tested the fit of the new swivel base. It didn’t seem to line up properly, until my friend Joel pointed out that I had it upside down. Problem solved, the new swivel seat base fit perfectly. The OEM seat base sits on four posts, whereas the new swivel base has a flat sheet metal bottom. I had to cut out the rubberized flooring below the old base to fit the new base, and laid some thin foam rubber underneath the new base to reduce any possible vibration and insulate the metal base somewhat from the frame.

With the passenger seat removed, it was easy to remove the OEM seat base from the seat. I bolted the new swivel seat base tightly onto the passenger seat and set the seat with swivel base onto the bolts. I tightened them down and reattached the wire and reattached the battery. I didn’t have any issues with the airbag warning light, which turned off normally after the van started.

The whole installation process took about twenty minutes. The new base works perfectly. The passenger seat itself has rails for sliding front and back, and the swivel seat base allows the seat to rotate around in a full circle. The center console interferes slightly with rotation, so I have to first return the seat back to its fully upright position, slide the seat forward, swivel it partway, then slide it back to complete the rotation. When swiveled to face the living area of the van, the armrest on the seat is a tight fit against the passenger door. It fits better if the seat is slid back completely, towards the front of the car.

Overall I am really pleased with the swivel install. It was easy to install, even for someone like myself with little experience working on vehicles, and greatly improved the livability of the van. I return the seat into forward-facing locked position whenever I have a passenger in the van, and I have the OEM seat base stored in my garage should I ever need to reinstall it. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment!


The Parable of the Trapeze

On a beach in Chilean Patagonia, Feb 2004

Many years ago I participated in a National Outdoor Leadership School semester course in Patagonia. On a cold, windswept Pacific fjord beach, I recall reading a story that has stuck with me through the years.

Over the past year in particular, I have thought a lot about the Parable of the Trapeze and how much value there truly is in appreciating the void between times of certainty, and how, in fact, there may be nothing certain in life at all. I recently rediscovered this article and hope it has as much meaning to you as it still does to me.

Turning the Fear of Transformation into the Transformation of Fear

by Danaan Parry

Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings. I’m either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I’m hurtling across space in between trapeze bars.

Most of the time, I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar-of-the-moment. It carries me along at a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I’m in control of my life.

I know most of the right questions and even some of the answers.

But every once in a while as I’m merrily (or even not-so-merrily) swinging along, I look out ahead of me into the distance and what do I see? I see another trapeze bar swinging toward me. It’s empty and I know, in that place in me that knows, that this new trapeze bar has my name on it. It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness coming to get me. In my heart of hearts I know that, for me to grow, I must release my grip on this present, well-known bar and move to the new one.

Each time it happens to me I hope (no, I pray) that I won’t have to let go of my old bar completely before I grab the new one. But in my knowing place, I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar and, for some moment in time, I must hurtle across space before I can grab onto the new bar.

Each time, I am filled with terror. It doesn’t matter that in all my previous hurtles across the void of unknowing I have always made it. I am each time afraid that I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between bars. I do it anyway. Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience. No guarantees, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow to keep hanging on to that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives. So, for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of “the past is gone, the future is not yet here.”

It’s called “transition.” I have come to believe that this transition is the only place that real change occurs. I mean real change, not the pseudo-change that only lasts until the next time my old buttons get punched.

I have noticed that, in our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as a “no-thing,” a noplace between places. Sure, the old trapeze bar was real, and that new one coming towards me, I hope that’s real, too. But the void in between? Is that just a scary, confusing, disorienting nowhere that must be gotten through as fast and as unconsciously as possible?

NO! What a wasted opportunity that would be. I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing and the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void where the real change, the real growth, occurs for us. Whether or not my hunch is true, it remains that the transition zones in our lives are incredibly rich places. They should be honored, even savored. Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out of control that can (but not necessarily) accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, most growth-filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.

We cannot discover new oceans unless we have the courage to lose sight of the shore.

So, transformation of fear may have nothing to do with making fear go away, but rather with giving ourselves permission to “hang out” in the transition between trapezes. Transforming our need to grab that new bar, any bar, is allowing ourselves to dwell in the only place where change really happens. It can be terrifying. It can also be enlightening in the true sense of the word. Hurtling through the void, we just may learn how to fly.

From the book Warriors of the Heart by Danaan Parry.

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Another lap around the sun

Summit of Aguja de l'S with Marcos Paz

I recently celebrated another lap around the sun. It’s been a wild wild year, full of challenges and amazing experiences. I spent a lot of my time outside, with friends and family, and on wild adventures.

Personal highs and lows included accepting the REI Anderson Award at headquarters in Seattle, doing my first solo overnight paddling trip in the San Juan islands, enduring a divorce and starting the healing process, living through an epic flood in my hometown, learning to play guitar, saying goodbye to my grandfather, and spending lots of wonderful time reconnecting with old friends and family.

In terms of climbing, I had an unbelievable year. I climbed Mt. Hood, Mt. Olympus, S. Early Winter Spire, the north face of Long’s solo in summer and with a partner in winter, Agujas Guillaumet and de l’S in Argentine Patagonia, as well as lots and lots of pitches in Vedauwoo, Indian Creek, and the Colorado Front Range.

These days I am still selling outdoors equipment, teaching climbing and CPR and First Aid classes, climbing as much as possible, outfitting a van for full-time living on the road, contemplating wilderness therapy field work, dreaming about big walls, and training for another season in Patagonia.

Top of Mt. Olympus with Brian Densmore

Long's Peak winter summit with Eric Poore

Climbing at Vedauwoo

Mt. Hood summit with Justin Hynicka

Leading Run Like Hell, Indian Creek UT, Dan Kim photo

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Riding the Drift 4-21-2013

Curt ascending Flattop

Curt Honcharik, Jozef Sibik and I went up to RMNP for some backcountry skiing on Sunday. I’m certainly eager to go ski the steeps, but have been very cautious lately with the snowpack. Curt and I skied/boarded 25 degree slopes at Jenny Lind Gulch last weekend; our snowpit showed lots of instability. After hearing about the massive accident at Loveland on Sunday, our caution was justified and we decided to keep to moderate slopes.

We had a great day of skiing on the East Bowl of Flattop, also known as The Drift. Creamy snow, plenty of sun, and not too much wind. We dug a pit just above treeline at 11,300′ on an east aspect, in the sastrugi, just out of curiosity. Snowpack was about 6 feet deep to the ground, and comprised of 4′ of bombproof windslab on top of a foot of icy crusts and thin softer slabs, with a foot of facets near the ground. Overall I was surprised by how quickly the snow from earlier this week had consolidated, both up high and in the trees on all aspects…but it’s still a winter snowpack though, so be careful out there folks. We spent an hour practicing with beacons at the end of the day.

My condolences to the families and friends of Saturday’s slide.

Dug a pit to the ground and found a winter snowpack.

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