Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Electric Africa

I don't really write poems and this was a first for me. It's about a climb in Tuolumne that I am absolutely in love with and the area too. What a beautiful and cosmic place Tuolumne can be!

Electric Africa

Electric Africa, I love you so

Crimps and knobs barely enough for the tip of my toe

I learned to put in the time

To toil and toil until I could climb.

I learned to cherish our magical space

To bring that Jeffrey Pine close to my face

Electric Africa, I love you so

I learned the art of dance

Finess and balance at every chance

You taught me to love the process of life

Slow and steady 'cause there's no need for strife

Electric Africa, I love you so

Tucked behind Pywiak Dome

Is the sacred place I call home

Sunday, July 19, 2015


We were sitting in my mom’s blue suburban after one of my soccer games. I was wearing a plaid green AYSO t-shirt with the number nine on back and long, black shorts and green socks with shin guards up to my knees. Long, blond bangs swept over my eyes, sometimes disrupting with my vision. I was eight.
Me, left, and my sweet cousin, Alyssa, on the right. 1995.
“Mom, I want to become a world cup soccer player one day.  I want to be like Mia Hamm. She’s the best soccer player in the world.” She turned to me, with a smile on her face, knowing that I was a dreamer.
Mia Hamm, my childhood hero
“You can be whatever you want if you work hard at it.” She responded, putting her hand on my knee, an affirmation of her support.

Spring, summer, and fall passed and I spent every free moment of my time playing soccer. When I wasn’t playing a game or at practice, I would dribble the ball around the house. The soccer ball became an extension of my foot. On Christmas, I found a collage of Mia Hamm photos my mom had made for me. She put it in my playroom to go with all of the Mia Hamm posters I had collected. My Dad made me a Mia Hamm fansite called. ‘miakicks.com.’ I dreamed that one day I could meet her. She was my childhood hero.

Years passed, and she was still my hero, but I added another person to that list – Derek Fischer of the LA Lakers basketball team. A family ritual we had was to watch basketball games together. Three years in a row, they won the national title and we felt an overwhelming pride for our region of the country.

Derek Fischer was smaller than the rest. He was unassuming. He wasn’t Kobe, who’d had consistent 40-50 point games. He didn’t shine like Kobe did, but he was crucial in their success those three years. Derek was a team player. He pulled through with reserves at the end of the game, making key defenses, and play-making for the offense. I always thought of myself as a Derek Fischer, not gifted but driven, driven to put in the hard work and make it happen. I got a signed player card from him and added it to my little shrine in the corner of my bedroom.
Derek Fischer, the MAN! 


In my mind, heroes were untouchable. They were the gods in the heavens, doing all that is right and good in the world. They were passionate and driven, kind and giving. They'd help you when you were down, are self-less, and stoked.  Now that climbing has become the driving force in my life, I have found myself referring to climbers like the heroes of my childhood. Unlike Mia or Derek though, we get to interact with our heroes because we share the same space to play- Yosemite, Indian Creek, Squamish. Our heroes are everywhere and it’s not uncommon to meet them at the crag or on El Capitan. Sometimes I ask myself, “What would Dean or Croft do?” I make references to their boldness, stoke, or demeanor. I idolize them with posters in my cabin for inspiration and read old climbing magazines to fuel the stoke. It brings out the child in me, envisioning a future where I could be like them.

And then, I meet these people. The community is too small to give detailed experiences about people you know or are familiar with, but I realized they weren’t Zeus or Hercules, Luke Skywalker or Frodo - they are just like me, like us. They have insecurities, bad habits, sometimes drinking problems. They can be overweight and boring, living in the shadows of their former self. They can be divas, or stuck-up, assuming they’re above you. And they can be just plain assholes.

I’ve been disenchanted several times with climbing heroes I’ve had. It hurts, and sometimes it feels too personal, like they’ve wronged me even though we’ve never met. My investments emotionally to heroes make me feel like we were friends prior to meeting, like they will be jovial to see me. Maybe I’m naïve - I am naïve. But that’s ok.  So I get mopey for a day or two, start to dislike them, and wonder why I ever thought they were so magnificent and then move on.
Daniel Hoer on top of the world, Third Pillar of Dana. Daniel taught me how to adventure, trad climb, and live life to the fullest.
Big-time hero.
This cycle has repeated several times, but each time, it also teaches me that humans are humans – some gifted, some hardworking, some selfless. It makes me happy to be me with my flaws and insecurities, but also appreciative of the qualities that I shine in. After these encounters, I take more time to appreciate my life and lifestyle. I realize I am my own hero.
Public Sanitation Photo Credit: Drew Smith 
Aside from instilling confidence in myself and my path, I also take more time to appreciate the people I have around me. Our tales aren’t in the magazines but shared from ends of ropes or connections made from life-changing shows. They’re shared at inopportune times when things go to shit or over a breathtaking sunset.
Yosemite locals, Katie and Ben - everyone's heroes!  Photo Credit: Michael Pang 
My friends are my heroes and I’m fortunate to know them. Vitaliy’s drive and hard-working ethic motivate me to get better and cultivate a healthy competition. If he could do it, I could too. Jim’s optimism on hour 18 of an El Capitan ascent motivates me to keep jugging and suffer on. Katie and Ben, the power couple, do everything with style.  Father Luke, the ultimate weekend warrior, looks out for everyone, making sure we’re stoked, fed, and happy. I could write on and on about everyone who really inspires me, and more than just a sentence, but that would take forever. My inspiration lies in the hearts of all the colorful people in my life, and in myself. Mia Hamm, Derek Fischer, and Alex Honnold may be the best at what they pursue, but our deepest relationships are with our friends and family – our heroes.

Vitaliy, Jim, and Luke to my left on the summit of the Warrior in Red Rocks! HEROES. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Living My Dream

Hand jams, glorious hand jams! It was redeeming when I finally got into the meat of the Stove Legs. Getting into the stove legs is a tricky crux for people on their first Nose attempt. I had climbed it twice before, knowing exactly what I was going to do. Run out the 5.6, clip the tat, swing over and climb slightly runout 10a crimps to a bolt. In a moment, I was on those crimps, scared to commit higher in fear of taking a pendulum. I fell, confused and scared, realizing that I had broken a hold.

“Jim, I’m nervous. I can’t stop shaking.” It had been almost a year since my last Nose in a day, also my last time climbing El Capitan. I felt like a fish out of water, unconfident in my skills or ready to move fast and be bold. 

With a mantra and motivation from the gaining party, I pulled it together to clip the bolt and swing again. Somehow I ended up on the Real Nose, approaching a corner system instead of a splitter hand crack. 

“I’m off route Jim.” I could tell he was frustrated with my  mistakes and slowing us down on our ascent. Our friend Mac showed up below me at the anchors I should have been at.

It’s ok. I thought. Lower down to the anchor, untie, pull, and re-tie. 

Pull it together. Pull it together.

Once the mistake was corrected, I got into the groove again, ruthlessly jamming my way up the Nose, and placing gear only when necessary. A party was rapping as I sped by.

“Good job, you are crushing,” he said.

“Thanks man, I feel like a turtle right now.” I responded, still upset with my mistakes.

2.5 hours to Dolt. It was 30 minutes faster than my last run with shenanigans. Maybe I’m not moving so slowly. 

Jim caught up, gave me gear, and I sped off again - quivering in the Texas chimney, destroying the Boot flake (free’d it!), and nailing the King Swing. Jim took over and I was finally able to soak it all in.

Here it was, early April, in t-shirts, climbing El Capitan with our good friends rallying behind us. I sat there for a few minutes on Eagle Ledge understanding so vividly why I am so passionate about rock climbing and the lifestyle. I felt free, in ecstasy and awe of the world around me - loving the puffy, white-bellied swallows chirping in the cracks I was jamming, the view of Middle Cathedral, the meadow, Ribbon Falls, and all of the subtle features of Capitan.

My favorite moment of the climb was jugging the changing corners, my least favorite pitch on the route due to it’s steepness. That area of rock is so unique with just one feature, the changing corners pitch, and nothing but blankness on either side. The wind was raging, and ropes flying over head. I laughed, and laughed, as I dangled in space almost three thousand feet off of the deck.

We topped out and got down just as the sun was setting, shared icecream, cheesy popcorn, and good food with my closest friends.

I moved into my shabin in Camp Four the next day. It’s a modest wood-framed tent cabin, but feels luxurious after living in a mini-van with another person for a year. My first decoration was a picture of the Salathe headwall above my bed. Mayan gracefully dispatches the 180 foot splitter in the photo. It is my daily reminder of where I am headed, and what I am working towards. 

Later that night, I turned on my pager to start my first season on Yosemite Search and Rescue. It was 10:30 at night and I heard this unfamiliar buzzing and a person speaking. I was startled. Am I getting called out?

“One to two SAR members needed for a call on top of Yosemite Falls,” the unfamiliar person commanded. Shaking off my sleepiness, I biked to the SAR cache and got sent out on my first mission. I spent half of the night hiking in the rain up the Yosemite Falls trail to locate two lost, young hikers from Southern California. This meant talking to my new friend and SAR mate, Buck, about everything rock climbing.

I’m finally starting to feel like I’m reaching a balance, a balance that is rewarding and sustainable for now. I’ve been battling the extremes in my lifestyle - just climbing in Bishop or just working in Taiwan. I am more psyched that ever to work in and for a community I’m in love with, and to pursue my dreams and become a granite gansta!

That night, I realized I was living my dream.  I am taught time and time again that patience is the greatest virtue. It’s easy to slump in your seat when things aren't working out, when you’re not sending a pitch, or life, or when you get into a situation that ends up less glorious than envisioned. I often think about Taiwan, what I learned, the life I lived there, and how I’ve changed from it, but it’s hard to put it down in words. I will write about it when it flows freely from the depths of my soul, but for now, I will keep learning, practicing patience with myself and others, and push myself to expand my comfort zone in all aspects of life. 

The time is now and it’s time to RAGE!

Mac and Rob sticking the King. We are above. Photo Credit: Kaylene Grove