A Dirtbag’s Guide to Getting Drunk

-or-

We Now Return You To Your Regularly Scheduled Programing

 

The dilemma is real: you’re at the grocery store on the way to the crag, you’re not working regularly so you need to make your cash stretch as far as possible, but the thought of spending an evening with the local scene fully sober makes going home and watching TV like a normal person seem like a good idea. What’s the most drunk you can get for your money? What forms of alcohol are the most palatable after a hard day of climbing? How badly do you need to forget that you live in a van? This post aims to examine all these questions in detail.

 

Cheap box wine (red)

approximate cost: $15 for 5 liters

approximate % alcohol: 12

pros: Room temperature is perfectly fine, very drinkable for the percentage of alcohol, goes well with many crag foods, sold in large quantities, lightweight packaging

cons: Just not that refreshing, tastes weird when actually warm

 

40 oz malt liquor

approximate cost: $4 per bottle

approximate % alcohol: 8

pros: Hands down the most drunk you can get for under $5, very drinkable if freshly purchased

cons: Must be kept in cooler if not consumed immediately, generally sold in glass bottles (heavy)

 

Cheap gin

approximate cost: $20 for half gallon

approximate % alcohol: 40

pros: Probably the most alcohol per volume per dollar you’re going to get

cons: Best if mixed with tonic water, requires a chaser or a sturdy constitution otherwise

 

PBR

approximate cost: $6 for six pack

approximate % alcohol: 4

pros: Basically lightly flavored alcoholic water

cons: Basically lightly flavored alcoholic water, kind of gross when warm

 

Pacifico

approximate cost: $10 for six pack

approximate % alcohol: 4

pros: Tastes better than PBR

cons: Costs more than PBR

 

Tequila

approximate cost: $30 for quart

approximate % alcohol: 40

pros: Makes you feel like you are actually partying instead of sitting around binge drinking

cons: Really fucking gross unless you’re already buzzed

 

Conclusions: the optimal choice varies from situation to situation; wine or hard liquor is best if immediate consumption is not on the table, both are also preferable if there is any kind of hike involved, as they have more alcohol for their weight. Beer is best for larger gatherings as it is more easily shared without the need for glasses. Dividing out a case of beer is also better, as it makes it harder for one person to drink more than their share without being noticed. If you don’t want to share your beer, malt liquor is a good option. Hard liquor is best when you need to forget where you are pronto, but be sure to prepare your sleeping arrangement before you start.

A Critical Anatomy of the Friend Zone

-or-

The Gang Gets Uncomfortably Personal

 

Taking a break from our regularly scheduled programing, this week we bring you a pseudo-feminist rant / bitchfest, in which Jacob recounts his romantic failures and generally struggles to maintain a sense of self-worth.

It is currently quite trendy for those of the feminist persuasion to be dismissive of the social phenomenon some men refer to as the Friend Zone. As I consider myself of that persuasion this creates something of a dilemma, as while I hate angry, entitled, bros as much as the next self-respecting leftist, I have myself had a long series unrequited crushes, infatuations, and more serious affections, many of which follow the basic pattern of the purported Friend Zone. The personal history is damning enough: nine times, dating back to around age 14, I have been romantically interested in a girl who did not return my feelings (to clarify: to my knowledge, no one has ever been romantically interested in me, what this has done to my sense of self-worth is a matter for another time). At least three of those nine exhibited strong Friend Zone characteristics, meaning that we were good friends prior to the development of my affections. While certainly not a singularity, I believe myself to be in something of a unique situation in this regard. In liberal circles much is made of the value of the perspectives of those who are marginalized – that oppression must be understood from the inside out. While my situation is certainly not one of systemic repression, I would like to suggest that a similar principle can apply. Just as the fact that white people don’t feel themselves to be racist does not mean that racism does not exist, the fact that women don’t believe that they create and maintain a Friend Zone does not mean that such a thing is not happening. Obviously, no comparison should be implied between the severity of these examples; they are similar qualitatively, not quantitatively. What follows is an attempt to describe the Friend Zone from the perspective of its recipients in such a way that one need not sacrifice one’s feminist principles to acknowledge its existence.

The first thing that must be said about the Friend Zone is that it is an overused term. The Friend Zone describes a status applies by women to men, not their actual lack of romantic interest, meaning that just because a woman is not romantically interested in a man does not mean that he has been “Friend Zoned.” What I am positing is that the actual Friend Zone amounts to the existence of a third gender in modern western society: an underclass of sexless males who are viewed as somewhere between children and eunuchs by their female friends. This designation is not institutionalized or even universally accepted, rather it is an effect of the expected sexual dynamic between men and women, namely that men instigate mating rituals and women respond to those instigations either positively or negatively. Consequently, men who tend not to instigate mating rituals are viewed by women as belonging to this third category, which the men, who possess all of the romantic urges of their more forward peers, resent utterly. The entire phenomenon can therefore be seen as a result of the rigidity of our socially conditioned gender roles (meaning that if we could all just get over our collective desire for males to be domineering we wouldn’t have this problem).

Some differentiation is in order between “Friend Zoning” and simple rejection. It should go without saying that a woman has every right to not desire or otherwise be interested in a man and nothing I am saying should be interpreted as an whiny, “meninist,” rant. The Friend Zone is a much more specific type of rejection, a categorical rejection akin to that of a heterosexual person rejecting the advances of a member of their own sex. The key difference between this example and what is being here described is that the Friend Zone gender/orientation is imposed rather than self-identified, meaning that the woman believes the man to be something that he is not, and rejects him, at least in part, out of confusion; i.e. she rejects him because she has never considered him a romantic possibility. This experience is quite disconcerting for the man because he believes, correctly in many cases, that the woman cares deeply about him and is interested in him as a person, qualities which, especially between two young, healthy, single, people, often preempt a romantic relationship.

The basic problem appears to be that for a man, a similar Friend Zone exists only for the highly unattractive and, in essence, every female friend is a potential romantic partner. Women, it seems, are much more selective, resulting in a situation where the average man is more romantically interested in the average woman than vice versa. Although there are certainly cultural reasons for this asymmetry of desire, it appears to be found throughout the animal kingdom (meaning that even if this particular piece of reality makes me want to go live in a cave and eat locusts, I just have to deal with it).

The close reader will have noticed by this point a critical flaw in my argument: a somewhat suspicious lack of evidence. I have done no interviews, collected no surveys, studied no statistics; I have only my own experiences to go on and it is entirely possible that I have misconstrued everything. Maybe those nine women had no interest in me for nine different, perfectly legitimate, reasons; maybe I smell funny and everyone is too embarrassed to tell me; maybe I exude some sort of weird anti-pheromone; maybe I have horns growing out of my head; god knows. A great many people, having been informed of my perennially single status, have presented their own version of 101 Ways For Jacob To Get Laid, and without fail I laugh it off. I can look around me well enough and observe that many, much stranger and more unpleasant, people than me can get a date. Aside from a profound uncomfortability with taking any sort of sexually aggressive stance, there is no one thing causing all of this. Which has led me to this conclusion, this understanding of the Friend Zone as a product of our rigid gender roles that demand that men be the aggressors. Aside from admitting to myself that I am just a shitty person who no one wants, I have no better explanation.

Soloing Exploits of Years Past That I’m Not Getting Enough Credit For, Part 3: Aid Climbing

-or-

The Ongoing Exploit

 

My dad has been a subscriber to Alpinist Magazine for longer than either of us have actually been climbing. I think we got him the first year as a Christmas present and we’ve been renewing it ever since. Anyway, sometime in those early years before I actually knew a butterfly knot from a piece of buttered toast (and had far more experience with the latter) I read an article about Eric Kohl. Now, unless you also read that article, or are a Yosemite Valley aid climbing aficionado, you probably don’t have a clue who Eric Kohl is. Eric Kohl was one of the baddest aid climbing masters who ever stood up on a skyhook. In the 90s he put up a couple dozen A5 monstrosities, most of them solo, most of them on the Falls Wall; a few of them used recalled bolt hangers and most of them are still unrepeated. You can’t find a story about someone repeating one without it involving them feeling like they are about to die. Anyways, so Eric Kohl solo aided a lot, and back then there was only one way to do this, with a clove hitch; the gist being that you feed yourself some rope, cinch up the knot, climb for a bit, and then feed yourself some more rope, and then climb for a bit more. This planted an idea in my head, long before, as I said earlier, I knew shit about climbing, that aid climbing could be done solo, and I paid attention to that because unlike climbing, I knew something about being alone.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that being alone has been the central and defining struggle of my life. My sister once dismissively described all her friendships before middle school as taking place before she “had friends who were not better friends with other people.” I have never gotten past that point; I have always been peripheral – a marginal character in a few people’s lives. I don’t fault them for this, I’m sure it’s all my fault for being an awkward, socially inept, self-absorbed, narcissist, but that doesn’t change the fact that trying to get into, and get better at, climbing, when you can’t seem to form relationships like a normal person, is quite difficult. But you can aid climb alone, that’s the point of this, you’re going so slowly that you can belay yourself with ease. Well, not exactly with ease, it’s actually a pain in the ass, but more on that later.

Boulder at the base of Iron Horse, totally bomber

Boulder at the base of Iron Horse, totally bomber

Some preface on how I got into aid climbing will probably be beneficial here. Me and Ryan wanted to do Liberty Crack, which, depending on how you do it, is about thirty percent aid, so we went to Index and spent a drizzly afternoon climbing the first pitch of City Park. We had his alpine aiders and my hand-tied aiders and his set of BD stoppers and my set of BD stoppers. I should probably mention the time I aid climbed a tree. I aid climbed a tree in my backyard one time. I came up with a sling system that constricted around the trunk to allow me to climb a 70ft Douglas fir. It was perfectly safe, except that I had no belayer, no lead rope, one hand-tied aider that was probably ten feet long, a set of texas slings designed for glacier travel, and two of these tree-anchor-sling things. At any one time I was anchored to at least one them, or rather, I was tied by a length of cord from the anchor to my twenty-year-old Robbins harness that was made of the same material as your car’s seat belt. I climbed about half way up the tree and then threw a sling around a couple branches and rappelled using a chunk of 11mm Petzl static line my dad had brought home from work. Some weeks later I went back up to get the sling. So City Park was the first time that I had aid climbed for real. Before that me and Ryan had gone out on a rainy afternoon and tried to aid climb Shirley. He had gotten confused and lowered off a fixed pin tied off with some god-knows-how-old webbing. Instead of pulling the rope, I followed, aiding on his pieces and cleaning them as went (I don’t think either of us had an ascender at this point). When I got to the pin I just lowered. In retrospect that would have been crazy, maybe I rappelled, or maybe we left a biner, it was dark by that point and I’ve consumed a lot of alcohol between then and now. Point is, it was a shit show, unlike our City Park climb, which took forever but went fine, because that climb is nothing but perfect nut placements from top to bottom.

Green Drag-on pitch 2, the real fun begins

Green Drag-on pitch 2, the real fun begins

Some weeks (months? like I said, lots of alcohol between then and now) later we did Liberty Crack. He freed the first pitch at 5.11something, I aided the Lithuanian Lip, he aided the scary fixed copperhead pitch, and we freed most of the rest of the climb except for about 15 feet around the rotten block. So by spring of 2014 I had aided two pitches, but I was recovering from a dislocated ankle and a badly ingrown toenail so all normal climbing was basically out of the question, and I remembered that Eric Kohl article and thought to myself that maybe I should try solo aiding. At the time I was working 6am-2:30 in a window plant in Bothell, so driving out to Index for an afternoon of climbing was no problem at all. My first goal was to solo aid City Park, after this went reasonably well, and working off of Daryl Cramer’s list of clean aid climbs in Sky Valley Rock, I solo aided Iron Horse and Stern Farmer. At this point I was still using a grigri, or at least I was for City Park. At some point I read about them spontaneously not holding falls and I switched to just a clove hitch. These all went reasonably well, except for when Danny Coltrane saw me just below the crux of Stern Farmer and voiced some concerns about my anchor. I had thought those two podded finger-size cams oriented for upward pull looked fine. He said something to the effect of, “Just don’t fall, oh and by the way do you have any hooks?” I said, “No, I thought this was supposed to be C2.” To which he replied, “Yeah, C2 can have hook moves, here I’m attaching mine to your tag line.” And that’s the story of how I did my first two hook moves, in a row, with no belayer and a questionable anchor.

Not as bad as it looks, I promise

Not as bad as it looks, I promise

After this I attempted Green Drag-On for the first time, which was really fun because the second pitch has some mandatory free moves. It’s a six pitch route and I bailed after pitch two, pledging to return with more gear, more water, and more of a clue what I was doing. In the end I managed two of those promises. The “more gear” turned out to be cam hooks. Somehow, a pair of cam hooks were the first piece of climbing hardware I bought new. I tried them out on City Park and Iron Horse first and then took another shot at Green Drag-On. This time I got Chandler to come up with me the night before and fix the first pitch via the Davis-Hollard route. With this head-start I made it to the top of pitch four before bailing, although, in my defense, I had completed all of the good aid pitches, with only the rest of a bolt ladder, a short C1 section, and a dirty low-fifth top out ahead. The real reason was that the bolt ladder was reachy as hell and I didn’t have a stick clip and that meant sketchy-ass hook moves between bolts, which, my anchor far out of a sight below a roof and no belayer, had scared the hell out of me.

All of the gear

All of the gear

Despite the fact that I now know other people who like to aid climb, this is actually something I’m still doing. Sometimes it goes better than others. The other day I hauled my entire rack and two 70m ropes to the Upper Town Wall to try Dana’s Arch and check out the nearby pitches. It felt like I sweated out about a quart of water just getting there. Upon arriving I discovered a couple things, the first is that Dana’s Arch is really quite short, and also sport bolted. As a clean aid exercise, it was deeply disappointing: almost nothing but easy hooking between bolts. I could have contrived myself a challenge and skipped the bolts entirely, or even just used them for protection only, and I’ve done that before on aid climbs that have been retro bolted. On TPMV I clipped a few bolts I didn’t step on and on The Stigma I just pretended they weren’t there, but the pin scars on this one were funky as hell and I didn’t have very many offset cams. It was cool though, to get a look at a new part of the wall, and to know that I can go climb almost whatever I want if I’m willing to endure some shenanigans.

A People Watcher’s Guide To The Climbers Of Index

-or-

Obligatory Stereotyping!

 

The Yuppies

Status: Common

General Description

The Yuppie is among the most common species of climber sighted at Index and, a few quirks aside, one of the most benign. Yuppies can most often be found on clean, popular multi-pitch climbs in the 5.8-5.10 range and can be approached safely.

Disginishing Characteristics

The Yuppie will be well equipped, but his or her gear will show signs of mild, low intensity, long duration, wear. Look for faded, but not abraded, ropes and harnesses. More technical gear will often appear new, but be one or more generations out of date, this is best observed in items that gear manufacturers update frequently, like helmets and carabiners. The Yuppie will often fastidiously mark their gear and the female Yuppie will almost always be equipped with gender specific equipment.

The Yuppie often has a background in hiking and/or mountaineering, so the astute observer will notice that their backpacks and footwear are often designed for those enterprises, rather than specifically for rock climbing. Because of this they will often be environmentally minded and are rarely seen littering, playing loud music, or trampling vegetation.

Yuppies rock climb almost exclusively as mated pairs, this produces a few behavioral issues noted below, but also serves as an identifying characteristic, larger groups of Yuppies will always be even in number and have equal numbers of males and females.

Tips For Interaction

If approaching a group, or more often a couple, of Yuppies, expect to be greeted in a friendly manner and then ignored completely; for the Yuppie, rock climbing is a pastime much like visiting a restaurant or attending a concert and they often pretend they are the only people there, not, as it may seem, out of rudeness, but because they believe this to be the proper social conduct.

As noted above, Yuppies travel in mated pairs and if isolated their behavior can change dramatically. Yuppies are capable of normal interaction with observers of the opposite sex only when in the presence of their mate, when separated Yuppie females tend to be become extremely guarded and withdrawn while males become nervous and ill-tempered.

Preferred Habitat: Aries, Godzilla-Slow Children link-up, GM Route, Rattletale, Davis-Holland

 

The Bro With His Girl

Status: Common

General Description

This species of climber appears to form a couple, much like the equally common Yuppie, but is, in fact, singular. The female accompanying the Bro With His Girl is not actually a climber and is best characterized as a display designed to achieve a social status. If the girl can be observed climbing as well or better than the Bro With His Girl then the classification is inappropriate (see The Pre-Yuppie, The Northwestern Collegiate Flock, or the critically endangered Normal Human Being).

Disginishing Characteristics

The Bro With His Girl is best identified by his well developed, carefully preened, ego. Indeed, the name of the species is entirely derived from these efforts, as His Girl is a deliberately selected specimen designed to insure his status among other climbers, while the climbing is a deliberate mating stance designed to impress His Girl.

The equipment, clothing, and plumage of the Bro may vary greatly but that of His Girl does not. She will invariably be well kept, with immaculate make-up and hair, and will usually be wearing generic athletic clothing, usually of a bright hue and a tight fit. Her climbing gear will almost always be new, but do not consider this to be an intrinsic characteristic because it will, on occasion, be borrowed.

Tips For Interaction

Be careful approaching this species, especially following either a failed climbing attempt or a wildly successful one, as the Bro’s behavior may be dangerously erratic, hostile, or braggadocious. The Bro With His Girl will often view the approach of an observer as a chance to spray, that is, to mention, seemly off-hand, his climbing accomplishments, for no other purpose than to let it be known. The observer should remember that he or she is not really the audience of this display, instead this is a ploy designed to impress His Girl. Should the observer validate the Bro’s accomplishments by acting impressed or asking for additional information the Bro will usually be quite pleased.

Preferred Habitat: Lower Town Wall base, The Country base, Private Idaho, Toxic Shock area

 

The Digger

Status: Endangered

General Description

The Digger has become one of the more rare species of climber to be sited at the Index Town Walls and is much more commonly found at climbing areas like Three-O-Clock Rock and Spring Mountain. Once locally common, the Digger has been driven away by the large expanses of clean stone that have come to predominate at Index, his preferred habitat being low angle, brush-choked, cliffy outcroppings that can easily be top-roped.

Distinguishing Characteristics

Much of the Digger’s paraphernalia will be unfamiliar to the average people watcher and therefore the Digger may not be identified as a climber at all, but rather as some sort of bizarre, cliffside, gardener. If not in their preferred habitat, look for a haggard, somewhat elderly, appearance, a certain distant expression usually associated with Vietnam veterans, and a thin coating of dirt or rock dust. Those with some experience with this species will start to identify hand drills, wire brushes, crow bars, and trowels.

Tips For Interaction

Approaching a Digger can be a risky proposition, as the observer’s presence is likely to cause them to feel that a crag is becoming “overcrowded,” leading them to become grumpy and then flee. The best procedure is to begin by showing extraordinary appreciation for their work (even if you don’t know any of the routes they have established, a certain vagueness can be sufficient) and then try to find a common acquaintance: “aren’t you the guy who climbed that route with so-and-so” etc. If you can successfully establish yourself as a friend of a friend, the Digger will typically become quite amiable.

Preferred Habitat: The Diamond, The Duck Wall, Dana’s Arch area, the Lower Lump.

 

The Lesser Van-Dwelling Migratory Sender

Status: Locally Common

General Description

Although not technically rare, the range of the Lesser Van-Dwelling Migratory Sender has always been more limited than most; luckily for the local people watcher, the Index Town Walls are currently an excellent place to sight this species. A close relative of the Greater Van-Dwelling Migratory Sender, the Lesser Van-Dwelling Migratory Sender prefers the smaller crowds and lower expectations of places like Index to more prominent areas like Squamish, Yosemite, and Indian Creek, where competition for mates is much more intense.

Distinguishing Characteristics

The Lesser Van-Dwelling Migratory Sender is easily identified by his or her roost: most often a well-equipped van but occasionally a Subaru or small pick-up truck. The key is that this is not just a mode of transportation, but a dwelling; look for custom built organizational systems, bedding, and a certain lived-in aroma. While on the rock, Lesser Van-Dwelling Migratory Senders can be identified by an ease with project grades, a preference for flip-flops while belaying, a particularly manky set of slings, and by any snack-food they consume, which will be peculiar and usually homemade.

Tips For Interaction

With a characteristically high stoke level, the Lesser Van-Dwelling Migratory Sender can be approached with some ease as long as the observer mimics this attitude. Affecting a gut-thrusting bro accent, being somewhat touchy-feely, and frequent exclamations of “go for it, man” can all be helpful. The greatest danger in approaching a Lesser Van-Dwelling Migratory Sender is his or her lack of any aversion to dirt, which the typical observer generally tries to keep out of their food, books, and other perishable possessions; lend any of these items to the Lesser Van-Dwelling Migratory Sender at your own risk.

Preferred Habitat: The Cheeks, UTW sport routes, Natural Log Cabin.

 

The Hippie Crone

Status: Threatened

General Description

While sightings of this species are rare, the people watcher should be aware that their numbers, although low, are not actually in decline. The prevailing theory is that the increasing popularity of such post-hippie activities as stand-up paddle boarding, urban biking, and sustainable farming is drawing this species away from the cliffs. The increased numbers of Yuppies and Bros With Their Girls is probably also to blame, as the Hippie Crone often competes with these species for moderate top-ropes and easy multi-pitches.

Distinguishing Characteristics

The Hippie Crone often appear very similar to an elderly, female, Lesser Van-Dwelling Migratory Sender, with the typically strange food choices, inexplicable belief system, and habitual vagrancy. The primary distinguishing characteristic is that while an aging, female, Lesser Van-Dwelling Migratory Sender will maintain a distinctly athletic vibe, the Hippie Crone with gravitate toward the aesthetic of the habitual backpacker. The Hippie Crone is also much more likely to smoke cigarettes and/or marijuana.

Tips For Interaction

The behavior of the Hippie Crone is notoriously unpredictable. If she takes a liking to the observer, she may ply them with food and other offerings and generally adopt a maternal orientation. If not, she is likely to dismiss an observer off-hand and pretend, much like the Yuppie, that they do not exist. In general, the smaller in number and more childlike in appearance the observer, the more likely the Hippie Crone will be to unceremoniously adopt them into her flock. Large, loud, groups of bearded men and well-dressed women are more likely to arouse her ire.

Preferred Habitat: The Country, Roger’s Corner, Great Northern Slab area.

This Week In Climbing Media

-or-

I Am Going To Post Something This Week, I Just Am.

 

The Best Enormocast Moment Ever:

[Chris Kalous, Brendan Leonard and Andrew Bisharat lamenting the rise of social media and especially how now everyone knows about their trips before talking to them]

Hayden Kennedy: [who famously has almost no social media presence since the shitstorm surrounding his and Jason Kruk’s chopping of some 120 bolts from Maestri’s Compressor Route on Cerro Torre] “It’s like when Dylan went electric, man.”

In other news, apparently Dave Graham has climbed 67 V14 boulder problems and Brendan Leonard gives money to homeless people and thinks you should too.

My conclusion: climbing media is almost nothing but vacuous, self-congratulatory nonsense (Peter Beal made this accusation in a Facebook post some months ago and at the time I brushed it off but I keep coming back to it and more and more it seems sadly true). Climbing media is occasionally interesting at exactly that same rate that people are occasionally interesting. The majority of climbers seems to believe that finger strength and/or the willingness to risk death equate directly with human worth. Some good work does get published, but for the most part the discipline seems stylistically stagnant and I suspect that the only real reason for this is a lack of demand. Climbers are perfectly satisfied reading about the same old shit in the same old way, day after day. It’s like pornography or cheap liquor – it’s functional, it doesn’t have to be good in any artistic sense; it gets you where you want to go. Most modern climbing writing aspires to the aesthetics of the two minute bouldering video, complete with the hip-hop soundtrack and the sponsorship logos. Maybe it’s just summer and everyone is too busy actually climbing to be writing well about climbing, but then again maybe as long as we keep thinking of climbing as a sport we won’t be able to write intelligently about it. Sports are, by definition, trivial.

Lately I’ve been aid climbing a bunch. My lead head is weak beyond all reason: I just don’t trust my body and I don’t have the right partners to work my way back up through the grades right now. Aid climbing is nice because you don’t have to trust your body, just your mind, and it really blows open the whole notion of climbing as a sport. Aid climbing is not even all that athletic. It’s hard work and it requires an amazing degree of finesse, but no amount of physical training will make you better at it. It’s all cerebral, all thinking, trusting, willing. Up there for hours at a time, stuck in the most unlikely places, hanging on some very small pieces of metal, you have a lot of space to think, to really consider what you are doing and what it means. More people should give it a shot.

Suicide Tuesday

-or-

Climbing As Epilogue

 

Last week I got invited, spur of the moment, to climb Mt. Rainier’s Kautz glacier. The following is based on that experience. Please consult our Obligations page if any confusions arise.

I am laying on my back in the dirt and scree of the crater rim. I smell a hint of sulfur in the mist blowing from the fumarole a few yards away and I can’t tell if that’s what is making me nauseous and dizzy. I wonder, in an oddly detached manner, if I am about to pass out. I should eat something and drink something and get out some sunscreen and put on my shell jacket but I don’t. The sun, from which yesterday I wanted shade, is now covered by a thin layer of clouds. This preoccupies me to an inordinate degree. I shift my back against the rocks, shaky and confused, and try to form a new plan. I’m not going to be warm here. It’s too windy and too early in the morning and I need to eat something and drink something and put on my shell jacket and start down. I don’t know what cerebral edema feels like but I remember having a pneumothorax and not being able to catch my breathe no matter how hard I breathed. This place feels like death, like if I sit here long enough I’ll just fade away.

I am balancing on my front points placing an ice screw, and then another. The cores are good but the ice looks rotten and I can’t stop thinking about taking the fall I’ll take if I weight this anchor and it rips out. I balance, one foot sideways, and clip in to the master point, but I don’t lean back and instead start building the v-threads with one hand while the other holds my ice tool. My father is standing a few feet away on the snow with our other partner, Alan. They know what I’m doing, but they’ve never done it themselves; I’m going to toss them the ropes and they are going to rappel first. It occurs to me, as Alan starts down, my father already in the snow at the base, that I weight thirty pounds more than either of them. In the tent the day before I was reading Marcus Aurelius: there is no cause to curse fate, only our decisions can have morality, can be good or evil, and to die doing what is right is no evil. I weight the v-threads and remove the anchor, all the convolutions of slings and quickdraws and ice screws reduced to two cords through holes in the ice and a hundred and twenty meters of rope dangling underneath me. At home before I left I was reading Daniel Quinn: What is the knowledge that all civilized people have that they wonder at its absence in the savages they encounter at the ends of the earth? The fruit of the gods passed through them without nourishment – the lie at the heart of all our arrogance. I spit out the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and let the rope slide through my hands. Forty seconds, maybe sixty, and my descent is finished. Today must not be the time ordained for me to die.

I am striding through the scree beneath the glaciers and into the parklands and it rises up from the pines and the flowers, this scent like joy made fragrant. After these days of ash and wind and gritty water these meadows seem like a new heaven and earth created just for us. Every part of me is in pain but I don’t feel a thing. Rushing on, to pure water and hot food and rest, I almost wish I could stay here and never have to see what surely waits in the forest below.

I am sitting in my car, mapping a route to a very tall bridge. There is a gas station across the street and I came here to purchase alcohol but then thought maybe otherwise, maybe it was time to be leaving. To live a life is to enact a story, to choose a course and bear it out, but epilogues do not have destinations and I have been aimlessly tacking on pages for longer than I have been going places like that crater rim. Up there the haze seems to be of another world entirely, the meadows flattened out the peaks lost all perspective, it could be a painting but for the red moon that moves above it all, but it is wholly one thing, the ice and pines and the fires far away. You cannot pick out the parts that love you. You do not have to know what is good and what is evil to see the imbalance of this: there is one mountain and though it feels massive beneath your feet the smokey hills outweigh it by many orders of magnitude. If fate decrees that you be alone all your life can you still lower your head and give praise to the gods? Are there some ordinations against which you can and must rage? Do you have to be a part of this world?

Top Ten Places To Eat After A Climb In the PNW

-or-

Obligatory Shameless Clickbait

 

10. Home – you already have food there and you can eat it while lying showered on a couch. Sometimes it’s worth it, sometimes it isn’t.

9. Sultan Bakery (Sultan) – Their Reuben sandwiches are about 8 in. across, not the greatest in the world but better than anything else you’ll find along Hwy 2.

8. Tacos Chalito (Ellensburg) – the superburrito: better and larger than the ones you get from places like Chipotle, for 2/3 the price.

7. El Camion (Seattle) – The cons: they are in Ballard; the pros: they serve the best burritos in the PNW.

6. Skagit River Brewery (Mount Vernon) – Another town, another brew-pub. An excellent place to eat nachos after an almost eventful simul-rappel.

5. Boundary Bay Brewery (Bellingham) – Much like Skagit River but in all likelihood closer to where you were climbing.

4. Casa Que Pasa (Bellingham) – More calories per dollar than Boundary Bay and probably the third best burrito after El Camion and South.

3. North Fork Brewery (Mt. Baker Hwy) – although it looked and feels like a dive bar, these people make, no exaggeration, the best pizza in the PNW.

2. South (Leavenworth) – forget the bratwurst, this place has burritos as big as your head.

1. Your car – If you have food, or better yet beer, at your car, there is no better place to chow down. The best part is that it doesn’t matter what time you arrive at the trailhead, the cooler in your trunk doesn’t shut down for the night. Plus, this is one of the only ways to experience having beer for breakfast without feeling like you’re an alcoholic.

 

Buy me an offset cam and your restaurant makes the follow-up article, buy me a port-a-ledge and this entire blog becomes your billboard indefinitely.

Chilliwacked

-or-

Fletcher Limburger! It Was You All Along!

 

Special thanks to Adam “Gimpilator” Walker for the invite, as well as to Heather “Anish” Anderson and Fletcher “Not A Cartoon Poacher” Jordan. Before reading this one you might want to review my Obligations page

On Friday June fifth Fletcher, Adam, Heather, and I left Seattle for the Chilliwack range to attempt Mounts Spickard, Rahm, and Custer. I had never heard of any of these peaks. This has become rather par-for-the-course for me when I climb with that group. I do almost no route research and show up with nothing but my personal gear and just enough food to inspire sympathy, and my sympathy I mean handouts; I hate doing route research and I usually get an excellent trip out of the deal. What Adam and company get out of inviting me I’ve never quite figured out. I usually make fun of their Bulger-boner peak-bagging antics the entire trip. With my accident record I honestly don’t understand why anybody invites me anywhere, but that’s a mystery for another time.

Anyways, so we left Seattle and spent the better part of the car ride north deciding what version of the truth we were going to tell the border patrol agents, as our intended route involved a highly illegal, but quite common, re-crossing of the border. We considered just spiting out the peak names like it was no big deal and banking on the officers not having a clue that those objectives were in the US, but eventually decided to just tell them we were going to Garibaldi, which, given that we took the Peace Arch route to avoid the Sumas Border Patrol Officer From Hell, was completely believable. Soon afterward we re-thought the entire plan, turned around, and drove out Highway 20 to Ross Lake, where we chartered a boat to take us to Silver Creek and the infamous Sjolseth bushwhack into Ouzel Lake, which totally happened.

Anyways, so we left the Depot Creek trailhead near Chilliwack Lake rather late and it was rather hot and the road walk was longer than I thought it would be but we only had to turn around once and there really is an old broken down truck in there. Except that we were definitely on the Silver Creek approach and not in Canada at all. The really fun part was that we kept seeing excessively fresh bear scat. This got even more fun when we found a tree with scratch marks that Heather assured us were from a grizzly bear. I entertained a brief fantasy of getting attacked by said bear and dispatching it with my ice axe. This is actually a perennial fantasy of mine; much later on the trip I mentioned to Fletcher that if I go my whole life without murdering someone with an ice axe I will be thoroughly disappointed. I’m pretty sure he thought that was a weird thing to say.

Anyways, so after much lamenting of the general heat we arrived at the border swath. If you have not seen what the, I assume US, government has done to the 60-odd feet between their land and that of our neighbors in the great white north, it is really a thing to behold and we stood around for awhile taking photos, a choice of activity that we regretted about ten minutes later when a helicopter started hovering over us. Why they were doing that, I have no idea, since, once again, we were far from the border, deep in the brush of the Silver Creek drainage.

Anyways, so we dove for cover under a nearby boulder and while I remarked that if this erratic was in Lake Stevens it would be covered with routes, the helicopter continued to pass over us, quite low. As I recall, I was told to shut up. Other words may have been uttered as well. Just when we though the damn thing was about to leave it swooped quite low into the swath and dropped off a couple border patrol agents with assault rifles, but as we were snug as a bug underneath our boulder, they never saw us. It also helped that we were about 20 miles away near Silver Creek.

Anyways, so after that narrow brush with a homeland security holding cell that may or not have been on US soil, we hastened up Depot Creek to the legendary Waterfall Scramble Slabs. Of the many thing we had heard about this treacherous spot, the reality was far worse: slimy, V3-ish, slab climbing in mountaineering boots with a heavy mist pounding down ceaselessly; in-cut crimps fills with frigid water, missing fixed lines, death fall dynos to algae covered sloppers, it’s amazing no one died. Of course it helped that we had never crossed the border and were, in fact, deep in battle with the Devil’s own club on the other side of the range.

Anyways, so I was pretty hopped up on adrenaline by the time we got above the waterfall and veritably sprinted the remaining 1000 feet to the Redoubt basin. All I could think about was how awesome this was and how good it felt to be alive after all the shit last winter that made me wish I was dead. I just kept saying to myself: this, this right hear is why I didn’t do it, this is why I stuck around. There are other reasons too, some of which are coming along nicely, but pulling up over that rise and seeing Mount Redoubt towering above us like our very own Dolomite was pretty nice.

Anyways, so the remaining distance to Ouzel Lake was a bit of a slog. Lots of talus, lots of braided streams blue with rock flour, lots of weird human-shaped cairns that seemed to be leading in the wrong directions. It was one false ridge line after another until we finally gained the pass and wandered down to the lake, this being the pass above Silver Lake, as that was definitely the way we had come up. Fletcher and I were in the lead at this point and when Adam and Heather failed to show up we were not entirely sure how worried we should be. Both of us were a little mystified as to how we had beaten the PCT record holder anywhere and we had a long and entirely hypothetical conversation about what we should do if they just disappeared, our main concern being finding a way to notify search and rescue without suggesting that we had illegally crossed the border, which indeed we had not.

Anyways, so we went to bed that night telling ourselves that if they hadn’t shown up by morning we would be morally required to do something about it, but not a moment sooner. Luckily, they stumbled into camp around 3am, refusing to discuss what had caused their delay. Our theories ranged from a crazed sexual escapade to their stopping to filter water, but the harried and haunted look in their eyes suggested something far more disturbing. I was all for lazing about the lake until later in the morning and letting them catch up on some sleep but both objected to this strenuously and insisted that we leave immediate for Mount Spickard, the high point of the Chilliwack range. Thus it was that at approximately 5am on the sixth of June the four of us began our summit bid.

Anyways, so by midmorning we had made the summit. My boots were soaked and the sun was doing a piss-poor job of drying them out. SE “Hard” Mox looked mean enough to reach out its gigantic Lemolo and chilliwack us all into oblivion. Spickard? More like Spick-easy! I was getting silly and it was time to be on our way. The descent was going quite well until a stray mountain goat decided it had had enough of these dumb fucks on its mountain and charged us from a distance of around a quarter mile. The maneuver might have worked had there not been about 1500 vertical feet involved and the crazed animal’s first leap was directly onto the center of a steep, circular, snow slope around the size of half a football field. I could have sworn I heard the whoomph from all that distance, and then there was a class 3 wet slab avalanche rolling down the mountain toward us. Adam’s only words were, “Man, now we’re never going to get Rahm and Custer.”

Anyways, so the wall of slush hit us about halfway down the remnant glacier and carried us with some speed towards the cliff above Ouzel Lake, a drop of probably around 500 feet, which is a long way to fall when you hung up the wing-suit after Dean Potter’s little mishap. The rest should have been an AAC Accidents in American Mountaineering report except that, unbeknownst to me, we were not alone. Just as the four of us were being rocketed over the cliff, a US border patrol helicopter rose up and four agents leapt out, grabbed us, and then deployed their parachutes, gliding to a gentle landing on the sandbar next to Ouzel Lake. At the time I was worried that we were about to be arrested, but then I remembered that we had taken the most definitely possible and in existence Silver Creek approach and therefore had broken no laws, although I did have a not insubstantial amount of hydrocodone in an old oxycodone proscription bottle. Luckily they didn’t search my first aid kit.

Anyways, so the border patrol guys gave us a brief lecture about avalanche safety and wildlife avoidance, commenting on the criminally and congenitally insane goat psyche and concluding by distributing plush dolls of Bernie the Border Patrol Beaver, which we will all prize for the remainder of our lives. Mine is proudly displayed on my bookshelf as I now write, nestled firmly between my copies of Power and the Holy In the Age of the Investiture Conflict and Shopping in the Renaissance.

Obligatory Book Reviews: The Calling – Barry Blanchard, The World of Ice and Fire – George Martin, Five Dialogues – Plato

-or-

Look At Me I Read Some Books!

The Calling – Barry Blanchard

IMG_0151

I suspect that in future years I will credit this book with inspiring a renewal of my passion for mountaineering. As I have said elsewhere, Kiss Or Kill was the first climbing book I ever read and I essentially got into climbing to become the sort of person Mark Twight was. Sometime in the last three years that drive has gotten lost. Anxiety, fear, and laziness have overwhelmed my hopes and dreams many times. I have grown resentful and jealous and my depression has made several major resurgences. Reading the first few chapters of Blanchard’s memoir was like stepping back in time and reliving my original aspirations. These chapters concern his attempt on the Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat with Kevin Doyle, Mark Twight, and Ward Robinson, and what struck me, more than the cold and misery and danger, even more than the glory and ferocity, was the love. I think Blanchard knew this and shoved these chapters, far out of the greater chronology, to the forefront, so that his postscript, about how he and Kevin Doyle supported each other through some of their dark nights of the soul and how the meaning of life is love, would seem like a return to the source. Whether this was his or some editor’s decision, it is masterfully done. I can think of some climbing books that are as powerful (Kiss Or Kill, The Great Days, Touching The Void) but none more so by any kind of margin.

In some ways The Calling is more about all the people Blanchard climbed with than it is about himself. No matter the intensity of the climb he is describing, the partnership is what takes center stage. This is what gives the memoir its extraordinary human warmth; there are so many climbing books that read as either tragedies or litanies – everything that went wrong or everything that went right, and while some of the best climbing books ever written fall into the category of the former, in repetition they become meaningless; they start to feel like war memoirs and one begins to wonder why we do this is the first place. Additionally, to write a story composed primarily of triumph without it devolving into the old historian’s complaint: one damn thing after another, is extremely difficult. I, for one, can barely write a trip report for a successful climb in anything other than bullet points. Throughout the book Blanchard and his partners face appalling danger and difficulty but the most memorable passages are of passion and humor. At one point he relates some friend of his’s theory of Freudian psychosexual degeneration, how climbers enter an expedition in the sexual stage, talking incessantly about their significant others back home, before reverting to the anal stage, where the composition of everyone’s bowel movements becomes the primary concern, and then finally, when all hope of sexual satisfaction and ever taking a solid shit again have passed, the climbers enter the oral stage and its endless fascination with all the things they want to shove through the holes in their faces. Even in my limited experience on climbing trips in the Cascades, this theory seems frighteningly accurate.

 

The World of Ice and Fire – George Martin

IMG_0154

Usually I really dislike reviews that think they need to give a summary of the work they are reviewing (this is what wikipedia is for), but with regards to George Martin’s latest tome, some clarity needs to be reached regarding what exactly he created before I can proceed to value judgement the shit out of it. Unlike his Song of Ice and Fire novel series, The World of Ice and Fire is written as an in-world artifact: a compendium of world history written by a “Maester Yandel” for the “King Tommen,” with whom readers of Martin’s novels will be familiar. Despite this slightly campy premise, the work does not suffer greatly from a series of annoying, self-referential, asides, as one might expect. In other words, Martin is giving us a prehistory for his series that, while not providing any Ah-Ha moments regarding major mysteries from the novels, avoids the unreliable narrator trap that its premise might suggest. None of this, however, should be taken to mean that just because the book is not as bad as it could be, it is particularly good either.

In addition to major and persistent redundancy and derivation problems, Martin was unable to resist the temptation to be inappropriately clever, punning Lucifer as the devil and alluding to Thomas Hobbes’ famous Leviathan quote about life being “nasty, brutish, and short.” And these were just the two I could remember off the top of my head, again and again I rolled my eyes and almost asked aloud, “really? are you kidding me?” Peter Jackson has said regarding his initial goal of making The Lord of the Rings a different sort of fantasy film, that what they could never do was wink at the audience in the manner of so many fantasy films, admitting to their own ridiculousness and inviting the viewer to play along. In addition to its more serious flaws, The World of Ice and Fire has entirely too much winking.

Of my two more serious critiques the more straightforward is that Martin tells the same story over and over again. Children + Giants – First Men – Andals – Targaryens – Robert’s rebellion, the details vary from region to region and I could tell he was trying to shake things up and avoid openly repeating himself, but by the end of the second third of the book it felt like I had read the same story seven times. There are all kinds of problems with Martin’s basic grasp of history, how static he seems to think family lineages and lands to be, how little his idiosyncratic seasons seem to impact the plot, but what it all amounts to is that his history tries to be historical and falls just a little bit short. Tolkien didn’t give a shit about being historical; he drew mountain ranges conveniently around kingdoms and neglected even the bare bones of demographic and economic realism, and it didn’t matter because no reader expected it to be otherwise; Middle Earth was a place of legend, its events could be just as meaningful as Moses parting the Red Sea while making about as much sense. But Westeros is not Middle Earth, Westeros has the look and feel of a real, historical place. In most respects Martin did this very well, his world has all the particularities, the contingencies, the random insanity of the real world, but it’s just a little too cohesive, too comprehensible. The Stark line has lasted for thousand of years and they comprise only one nuclear family? Each of the seven kingdoms is ruled by one of seven families, each with a clearly defined symbol, colors, motto, and epic castle, all of which relate to an appropriate theme? These flaws are visible in the novels and it is to Martin’s credit that they are not more glaring in this work, but they are there to be seen regardless.

The last of my major critiques has to do with scope. The scope of The World of Ice and Fire is massive, covering as much of the world and its history as it would be conceivable for a scholar in Oldtown to know, but in actuality the universe Martin invented for his novels is somewhat less vast and the close reader will see the gaps. Martin’s history of the Targaryen regime, if nearly as incomprehensible as parts of The Silmarillion, is well developed, as are his histories of the other seven kingdoms and the Free Cities. Beyond that, the book tends to cover places Daenerys went while padding out the periphery with Lovecraftian mythology. And I don’t just mean squid deities. The edges of Martin’s map are filled with direct, shameless, Lovecraft references: an island of Leng where the inhabitants commune with Old Ones; a K’Dath of fabled horror; numerous ruins of unknown origin and sinister appearance. After reading this I am now expecting the series to conclude with Daenerys and Drogon battling Cthulhu and a horde of cosmic cats for the Iron Throne.

One final note regarding the illustrations: Some time ago I watched an interview with Martin where he talked about wanting some really good art for the book, or rather, he really didn’t want it to be another “big book of bad art.” In general they did ok, it wasn’t Alan Lee but there were exactly zero cringe-inducing images. While the majority of the illustrations were somewhere between pretty and pretty blah, there were a few standouts, Philip Straub’s Dragonstone endpaper, Arthur Bozonnet’s portraits of Baelor the Blessed, Jordi Gonzales Escalmilla’s Andals in the Stormlands, Jose Daniel Cabrera Pena’s Sword of the Morning, and Philip Straub’s festival city. My issue is with art direction, not art quality: all of the women look like supermodels. I know most of them are supposed to be related and the Targaryens are notoriously beautiful, but with that much inbreeding it is simply absurd for them to be so consistently hot. And it’s not just facial structure and nice dresses, the artists unerringly chose these striking runway poses. I’m not sure if those were just the models they had to work with or if these guys just don’t know how to paint a normal looking woman. Also: eyeliner and tans, they haven’t always been in. In any case, I found it weird and somewhat distracting throughout.

 

Five Dialogues – Plato

IMG_0153

By the time I graduated from high school I had read four Shakespeare plays but had never touched Plato. I’m pretty sure this is a good 40% of what is wrong with public liberal arts education. Plato’s thought is foundational for western philosophy, and for western ways of thinking in general. You can’t understand Christianity, among other things, without it. I am firmly convinced that instead of four years of “English” classes, high school students should take at least one of philosophy. Anyways, I first read the Five Dialogues (Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, and Phaedo) four years ago in my freshman year Ancient Philosophy seminar and have re-read it in parts several times since and now finally in full. For a modern reader, the experience is an odd one: you start with the Euthyphro, a lighthearted, strangely comedic, introduction to the Socratic method, and then progress to the Apology, which might be the single most important philosophic text ever written. Socrates’ doubt of his own knowledge is less famous than that of Descartes, but, in my view, far more profound. Descartes is playing a game, sitting in front of his fireplace in a bathrobe, pondering this crap because he has nothing better to do. When Descartes wonders if he can really know anything for sure he’s playing lets pretend, which is revealed when he argues his way absurdly from “I think therefore I am,” to “the existence of God is a necessary fact.” For Socrates it is not a game, he might have been making fun of Euthyphro but his trial is as serious as it gets. He genuinely believes that all his knowledge, and therefore all of everyone’s knowledge, is made suspect by its limited nature.

As great as parts of the dialogues are though, Greek logic can be kind of messed up. In high school I took a theory of knowledge class (don’t ask) and one of the first things we were told was “the word is not the thing,” meaning that there is no intrinsic connections between the words we use for things and the things themselves. From a postmodern, poststructuralist perspective this is a kind of simplistic view, but it is an important foundation, and one that we do not share with many ancient peoples. Plato seems to believe that if something makes sense grammatically it must be true, i.e. Elephants and Elephant Seals must be related, so he can say the most absurd things and all the other people in his dialogues just nod their heads and say, “of course Socrates, it must be so.” It was kind of funny reading my original margin annotations, i would get so mad at these guys, I one point I just scribbled, “SHUT UP YOU FUCKING YES MAN.” The pinnacle of his absurdity might have been when he argued for the immortality of the soul on the basis of the soul being connected to the living and the living being the opposite of the dead.

Men In Tights

-or-

In Defense of Lycra

So I have this pair of lycra tights that I found in my parent’s garage. If their accounts can be believed, my mom sewed them for my dad circa 1985 when he was a photographer for REI. They’re pretty stunning. A couple years ago I started wearing them on climbing trips. Not consistently, but often enough to get a sense of the general reaction. They never fail to elicit comments, the best of which might be from a ten-ish year old girl at Smith Rock who remarked with sarcastic contempt, “nice pants.”

Andy Smith on Tatoosh, Lower Town Wall

Andy Smith on Tatoosh, Lower Town Wall

I can’t quite tell what my climbing partners think of them. Ryan usually doesn’t say much, but I know him well enough to know that he knows me well enough to keep what I’m sure he’s thinking to himself. One of the first times I wore them at Index Michal was pretty taken aback. He didn’t know me too well and like most people, he probably assumed I was far too reserved for that kind of thing. More recently he looked askance and said something to the effect of, “dude, I could never pull that off, I’d have to work out for like a year.” Which is funny because he’s in far better shape than I am. What I tried to explain to him is the tyranny of hope, how nihilistic celibacy frees you from so much stress. I know I’m not going to get laid wearing vintage lycra tights, but then I also know that I’m not going to get laid not wearing vintage lycra tights. In total hopelessness there is great freedom.

Myself on Heaven's Gate, Upper Town Wall (hell, I think we might even be wearing the same jacket)

Myself on Heaven’s Gate, Upper Town Wall (hell, I think we might even be wearing the same jacket)

At Index or Vantage I’m just another character, but it’s at Smith Rock that the lycra really comes into its own. The scene there is all sports bras and yoga pants and ripped guys walked around with their abs flexed, and it can be downright depressing if you’re in the wrong mood. It can feel like just about everyone is tanner and fitter and climbing harder and having more sex than you are, which is probably true. But then I have to remember who I am; I’m not a knight at the table, I’m a court jester, dancing for my bread. So if I’m shaking on their warm-ups or too scared to try the classics and they sneer at me, which they do, then fuck them. Their loins may be harder than mine but my pants are fancier than theirs.