And the flashback begins. 19 years old and home from college after freshman year. A challenging freshman year to say the least. I had come home and worked as a raft guide for the first couple months of the summer. I had a decent amount of cash saved and wanted to go somewhere. I had heard tremendous praise about Squamish, British Columbia. Four hours north. I was going to go climb there.
I was climbing and living in Index, WA. My family owned property there and that is what inspired me to be a climber. I grew up staring at an ocean of granite. 500-foot cliff faces littered with amazing cracks. The Index Town Walls made me a climber that was truly addicted to crack. Squamish, I was told, was a massive version of Index. A seriously beautiful wall placed on the Sea to Sky highway between Vancouver and British, Columbia.
I told my parents that I wanted to go climb up in Canada. They had some questions and I had some answers.
Question: who are you going to climb with? Answer: I am sure I’ll meet people.
Question: where will you stay? Answer: There’s definitely a place for my sleeping bag!
Question: How long will you be gone? Answer: Until I run out of money.
Question: Is this a good idea? Answer: Climbing is always a good idea!
So I packed for my first dirtbagging trip! All my camping gear, my climbing gear and some spare clothes. No cell service internationally and only a couple hundred bucks in my pocket. I’d broken in my trad rack in Boulder and was ready to see what was in store in other climbing areas. One doesn’t just decided to do nothing but climb and eat peanut butter and jellies. There was a life long build up to get to this point.
Author’s Note: prepare for my take on the inception technique. I tricked you and you must experience the flashback within a flashback.
We were an outdoorsy family when it came to hiking and exploring. But adventure sports were not really in the mix. One of our most extreme family adventures were accidently hiking 3 hours in 100+ degree weather to a straight up nudist colony run beach filled with 100s of naked old people. I was six, my sister Grace was 4 and baby George was a baby.
We played in the Marin Headlands and the Redwoods as young kids in the San Francisco area. When we moved to Seattle our playground became the Olympics and Cascades. My family bought the property in Index when we moved to Seattle (I was 10ish). Dad bought a whole climbing set up thinking we’d explore the Index Town Walls.
Quickly, we realized that he was way out of his league. Nothing about playing at rock climbing was a good idea. He had no idea that Index was aggressively hard trad climbing. It was the beginning of my passion – but the adventure needed a different kick start. We placed a rope, harnesses, shoes and a rack of quickdraws into storage and carried on.
I continued to pursue every opportunity to go outside. I’d pick any path that provided me physical activity, wilderness and fresh air. I snowboarded, I canoed, I rafted, I hiked. When I was 15, my 3 best friends and I went out camping for 3 days in the Cascades. Yet, I pretty much had to pursue these experiences on my own.
My dad had a passion for wilderness, fishing and hiking. He had been to camp and played outside growing up. He went to college in Dallas and has worked in advertising offices since then. His free time has always been committed to wading rivers, trout hunting. He taught me the basics and inspired me, but knew little about preparing an expedition or big wall rock climbing.
I love my mother. Of course, I do. However, she is not outdoorsy. It would be hard to find a way to convince her to sleep in a sleeping bag on the ground. I saw her ski one time. Ever. Maybe that’s an imagined exaggeration – but, she has been nothing but supportive despite the fact that she prefers the convenience and luxury of civilization.
Both my parents did all they could to promote my love for the wild. They always tried to go out of their way to allow me to pursue my passion. It always felt so inconvenient for them. My family was always chaotically busy with sports and extra-curriculars. The opportunity was limited despite their encouragement. Wilderness is hard to get to.
My driver’s license changed everything. It made it so I could go where I wanted, when I wanted. I was free to go explore without restrictions. That’s when the climbing gear was unveiled. We asked to use that gear at a local, free, outdoor, artificial wall. That’s where I got my chops. Marymoor rock wall was where my friends and I skipped class. We’d meet up before and after school. We’d drink beer and shine headlights on it. We climbed all the time.
We started going to the local crags. Playing at sport climbing trying to get a hang of the ropes. Then I saw Sonnie Trotter trad climb Cobra Crack. I got trad gear as my graduation gift from high school. A single set of BD cams between .3-3 and a rack of nuts. I effectively took this shiny new gear to the center of Boulder’s campus and waved it around until someone offered to teach me.
My first mentor was a German foreign exchange student named Felix. He lead the first 10 trad climbs I ever participated in. I met a guy named Mike who took me on my first multipitch. They all used my gear to show me the way. It wasn’t until that fateful summer in Index (you remember the beginning of the chapter?) when I lead my first climb after watching a 13-year-old get after 11+ cracks on gear. I was shamed into my first trad lead and it has been history since then.
I was already a competent and comfortable sport climber but trad had scared me. Once I got through the first lead, I felt so much more confident and blasted through those first handful of grades. It wasn’t that different and I felt super safe. That’s why I wanted to go up to Squamish. To try to lead somewhere epic. I wasn’t ready at all for The Chief. But I could try all sorts of things and go see Cobra Crack! It was that ridiculously challenging overhanging finger crack I was thinking about as I crossed the border. Leaving the United States to test my skills and dirtbag mindset on foreign soil.