Your Town Needs a Boulder Park

Next to the baseball diamond in Davis, WV is the accessible and playful Tucker Boulder Park. (All rights reserved)

The family and I were escaping the heat, the crowds, and (we hoped) our pandemic-reality by taking a break from our jobs in the Monongahela National Forest. I loaded our luggage, outdoors gear, and clipped my rock climbing shoes onto my daypack, just in case.

I dropped my climbing gym membership when they reopened, not wanting to risk breathing in coronavirus-infected indoor air. So I haven’t climbed anything since March 11th. For the Mon I recall a lot of cliffs that were short and chossy, and giant boulders covered in roots or moss. Seneca rocks, the Mon’s prime rock climbing destination wasn’t far, but wouldn’t be a family outing for us.

So I looked up bouldering in the Monongahela and the first thing that came up was the Tucker Boulder Park. At first, I wasn’t sure if it was a facility with memberships and a daily fee, or something else. After reading a little more, it was clear that it was an outdoor playground. But it wasn’t just an ordinary playground with slides and a swing, this playground had two top-out boulders.

When we drove through town, I couldn’t find the park. I assumed that it would be front-and-center. Davis, WV is the highest town in West Virginia and it’s also within the confines of the National Radio Quiet Zone, meaning, because of an observatory and a Navy communications facility, radio, including cellular service, is limited. My GPS didn’t work and the best cell signal I could find was 1X and it faded as you went south of town and disappeared altogether. In town, I saw Stumptown Ales just fine (and their Bewildered Hippie was delicious!) We did not return to Davis for days. Out of town, the trails were peaceful and I found lots of large moss-covered boulders in Otter Creek Wilderness, though never anything suitable for a crag. Maybe there was, but with our kids’ little legs, we couldn’t hike as deep into the backcountry as might have been necessary.

Stumptown Ales in Davis, West Virginia.

One afternoon, before we drove back to Davis for dinner out, I checked my map for the Tucker Boulder Park when I was at our cabin’s wifi. It seemed pretty obvious where it was, so we went there first. But when I drove to the edge of town, the intersection where you are supposed to turn seemed to lead to a long row of houses, not a park. So we turned around and went straight to Milo’s Cafe and we filled up on burrito’s and pork nachos. Afterward we drove to the edge of town one more time.

I kept driving past the intersection I thought the map referred to and saw a fence that held in a baseball field. At its far end were two top-out boulders and no one on it. The road I was looking for, if you could call it that, was actually a narrow gravel path. I shouted and pointed and the kids saw it too and shouted for joy; they knew their father’s curiosity was turning into a lark.

We sanitized our hands and picked some holds to rainbow. Nothing was labeled with tape. I followed the kids around a little as they need some guidance. After a few burns they needed longer breaks from pulling plastic and I got to jump on a backward leaning problem. I’ve neglecting my fingerboard since May, which didn’t seem to matter now. My legs pushed me and core held. Schnickelfritz asked me to help him on a problem he set his eyes on, where the holds were bigger and a ledge, he thought would get him to the top of the little boulder. “Help” meant holding his waist as he worked on the footholds; an ab workout for me too, since he’s getting bigger! It was as if we had been looking for a prime skiing resort but discovered a little slope with only a two-seat lift, only the locals knew about and had much more fun.

Bouldering has become a go-to option for more climbers, seemingly than ever before. Actually, I’ve been bouldering long before it was more popular, but trad and sport climbers disparaged bouldering as a lesser activity. Though I agree that dedicated boulderers, me among them, were weird. I should have had more self-confidence. I’ve been vindicated by how bouldering is part of a diverse form of training for trad and sport, as well as a specialized discipline that has a new trendy following. I thought bouldering-only gyms in Chicago and New York City were wonderful, but this Tucker Boulder Park has something more going for it.

Climb safe and have fun, thanks to Davis, WV.

Because the Tucker Boulder Park is a public apparatus, there are no waivers to sign. Rules and guidelines are posted. The rules sign is inviting, rather than discouraging, and the best line is this: “Climb at your own risk.” The town has accepted the risk within these guidelines. In a way, it reminds me of a public swimming pool when there is no life guard on duty. It’s not like a private gym, which is concerned about staff oversight and liability. It was the closest pulling plastic got to the real rock experience with rules I have ever experienced.

Your town needs a boulder park. My town needs a boulder park. Put on your rock climbing shoes or your sneakers. Bring your own crash pad. Volunteer to set routes for your neighbors with the parks department. No ropes, except for adaptive climbing, of course. And the rules are reasonable. No paperwork. No fees. Just a fun time in your community.

Thanks again for stopping by. I’ll post here on T.S.M. again for you in a couple of weeks. And if you enjoyed this post, please consider following me on Twitter and/or Facebook.

Do Climbers Read?

A beautiful day in the Brooks Range. (All rights reserved)

In a recent article about the Banff Centre’s role in mountain literature at Gripped.com, Jon Popowich talked about how mountain literature moved him as a young man: “There were many times when I encountered words that were not just of actions, but were of reflections and feelings, as the writers tried to make sense of the landscapes within them.”

As one of my regular readers, you’re here because you enjoy climbing literature, or perhaps you just like reading about adventures in the mountains. You read. However, many of your peers do not. By read, I am referring to narratives and biographies, rather than guidebooks, magazines and digital content.

In the article, Popowich quoted Geoff Powter, who is a climber, author, and editor, about the general lack of readership:

Powter noted there is a general feeling that people are not reading as much now, at least books. “The proportion of people who climb and read is way less. At the gym, I asked people “what’s the last mountain book you read?” Hearing nothing, I then asked “okay…what’s the last book you read?” Not many. People spend a lot of time searching online or reading magazines. So that’s the critical component of the literary side of Banff.”

Jon Popowich, “The Role of the Banff Centre in Mountain Literature,” retrieved from Gripped.com on June 17, 2020.

Even before I started writing this blog (over 10 years now), I met climbers and nonclimbers that did not read anything not on a screen, and that did not include ebooks. They had not heard of Annapurna or No Picnic on Mount Kenya, influential climbing books and arguably classics. This is why I drifted from discussing alpine climbing news and history (which I still do occasionally) to sharing books about climbing and sometimes sharing stories of famous ascents; they had never heard of them.

Publishers of climbing books like Rocky Mountain Books, The Mountaineers Books, and Vertebrate Publishing continue to publish narratives and biographies annually. Margaret McDonald and David Smart have books both being released in the next several weeks. And non climbing-specialist publishers, like Penguin and its imprints, continue to publish quality mountaineering and climbing sagas periodically. They are clearly selling. I wonder whether climbers are the ones actually reading these books?

I also wonder whether the lack of readership among climbers is part of the modern cultural trend with digital content. Consumers want snippets, speed, instant access, and the ability to move on to the next thing swiftly. Books are not sips, they’re gulps. They’re an immersive process, rather than a quickly satisfying espresso, and they are, for most, longer commitments than a day of binge watching a series on Netflix. The trend of lengthy experiences is also in decline in popularity, from long, meandering backpacking trips, needlepoint, nine-inning baseball games, and playing a full eighteen holes of golf. They’re just too long and committing for the modern general audience.

For me, I’ll keep reading and sharing climbing books and passing on a little about my Who’s Who in climbing history as I go along.

Thanks again for stopping by. I’ll post here on T.S.M. again for you in a couple of weeks. And if you enjoyed this post, please consider following me on Twitter and/or Facebook. Read on!

How to Find Mountain Peace Anywhere

The once-elusive K7 West. (All rights reserved)

Kyle Dempster, the late alpinist, believed there was no reason to rush to the climb. In fact, he believed an approach, even if it was long — or maybe especially if it was long — was necessary.

It is the walk that gets you and your mind ready [for a climb.] The walk puts you into a trance. It is a meditative process that connects you with you, also your surroundings, and allows you to become completely accepting and fully aware of the climb ahead.

Kyle Dempster on approaches to Katie Ives in 2013

Although Kyle’s objective was the summit, he clearly embraced more than that, including the steps that brought him there, literally. In investigating how to hold onto the mountain high, I’ve learned there was some science to what Kyle did that we can apply too, plus some other habits we can adopt.

August is vacation month for me. I work less this month than any other time of year by taking off at least eight days if not 10 or even 15. And when I return I feel great — nearly bullet proof — in handling all my responsibilities and professional challenges. But it fades and I don’t want it to. According to a 2010 study of Dutch citizens after a vacation, people can hold the high reliably for a week… maybe two. Mere weeks. And, as I will share, Kyle’s approach walk is part of our solution.

COLLECT

I don’t know how Kyle felt after he returned from K7 West in Pakistan. It was a sought after objective that proved elusive to many experienced alpinists. He was probably disappointed the first time, yet relieved to be home and running his coffee shops once again. After reaching the summit, he may have felt elated, or proud, or lucky.

I have managed the stretch my mountain high once after a trip to New England. We visited Down East Maine and hiked sections of the Long Trail in Vermont. I purposefully took photos for the wall, bought a coffee mug with a lighthouse, and a baseball cap. The mug is a constant reminder as I use it every morning, and sometimes use it in late in the day with a beer when I write. The cap strikes up conversation sometimes, and I get to relive and share the visit. All of this helped me keep the feeling up for over two months. After that, it was a little harder to pull on. Photos helped, but the resiliency of the buoyancy took on water.

ANTICIPATE

This is where I realized Kyle’s intentional approach to the mountain was incredibly valuable. According to Leaf Van Boven of the University of Colorado Boulder and Laurence Ashworth of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, anticipation is capable of evoking stronger feelings and images than memories after the fact. Whether it’s a vacation, a mountain climb, or a coveted route, what we make of it and how we approach it matters.

Kyle anticipated the climb well before he arrived in the Karakorum. Choosing his objective, gathering gear and supplies, coordinating with partners, and familiarizing himself with the objective all took considerable effort. Planning is related to anticipation, which brings me to my next point.

PLAN

Planning the adventure or the vacation makes us anticipate and helps ensure our journey accomplishes our goals. For every trip, even a business trip, I write down two-to-three goals (not objectives) for the visit. For instance: 1. Spend time with Natalie and the kids; 2. Hike to a summit or pinnacle; 3. Find a craft beer I haven’t tried. Even my business trips are similar: 1. Build relationship with business partner; and 2. Return with a nugget of knowledge or wisdom to share with my teammates. I try to keep them relatively broad so as to leave space for the unknown. More importantly, I am anticipating various possibilities that make me excited… just about life.

READ (RATHER THAN WATCH)

In planning, it is tempting to turn to YouTube and Netflix for documentaries and films about your destination or activity, but do so sparingly. The visual medium has limited benefits for us as human beings, as Melissa Chu writes Inc. In fact, she says, when we read we are forced to engage our thinking and use our imaginations.

RETREAT REGULARLY

Making the mountain high last is also about creating the mountain high through anticipation. This is why I have my mountain book hobby, why I hike, climb, and it’s also why I play golf somewhat seriously. I plan, and in planning, I anticipate. I read, and in reading, I often retreat. I use my souvenirs from my travels, from my lighthouse mug, to my favorite sweater, when I do my hobbies. I even keep my rock climbing shoes nearby as they even evoke some sense of adventure and pride in being a climber that energizes me when I face some challenging responsibilities. It all comes down to the habits I build into my regular routine.

Kyle’s approach still resonates and feels like the most simple way to disengage from the hustle and bustle of life, and engage with what we really seek, and where we really want to go.

Leave the cell phone in the car, turn off the iPod, slow down, tune out and tune inward. Find creativity, observe, mediate on a decision, the answers and even the unknowns are inside, and walking is how you will arrive.

Kyle Dempster, ibid.

Thanks again for stopping by. If you enjoyed this post, please consider following me on Twitter and Facebook. Anyway, I’ll post here on T.S.M. again for you in a couple of weeks…

The Finest Relic of Chris McCandless

Fairbanks Bus 142 on the cover of the first-edition paperback of Into the Wild (1997)

On June 18, 2020, the Alaska National Guard lifted the legendary bus,where Chris McCandless finished his adventure in 1992, out of the Alaskan woods for good.

The bus is from Fairbanks and was built in the 1940s. It is also 30 miles from the nearest road. The bus is beyond a river that appears to have run dry during part of the year, but is a deadly torrent the rest. McCandless stumbled on it when he ventured into the wild and used it for shelter. In attempts to see it and connect with McCandless for themselves, people would visit his “magic bus” every spring. Since, two more people died there and several others have necessitated organized rescues.

I am presuming you’ve read Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer (1996) or saw the 2007 movie by Sean Penn that it inspired. The first time I picked up the book, my parents saw the description that started “In April 1992, a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness…” It was definitely my kind of story, but the cover takes on a cult-like mystery; my parents were immediately weary of what it might do to me. Later, when I went to Alaska, staying with my friend Steve, he and I talked about three things: Climbing Denali, girls, and visiting Fairbanks Bus 142. We ultimately decided not to trek down the Stampede Trail and cross the creek; we realized that there were other more remarkable places that would change us without chasing Alexander Supertramp.

For some readers, the McCandless story awakens in many of us an inner sense of being independent, wild, and free. It’s the dirtbag life and not giving a damn about our job or convention. (Of course for others, he was an irresponsible, unprepared, rebellious, reckless youth.) Regardless, he challenged our perspective and made some of us reconsider our notion of how and what we live and work to accomplish.

And then there is this place. This memorial. This shrine. This bus several miles off the beaten path. It may as well have been a remote temple in a lush Himalayan valley only accessible by crossing glaciers, hiding a portal to reach a wise sage.

I wanted to visit too for many years. I was startled one day when studying my Denali National Park and Preserve Map years before visiting Alaska, I found the Stampede Trail indicating the path to the Bus 142. I marked approximately where it was and shared it with Steve. I admired Chris McCandless for his bold and deliberate actions. So many things about him were abstract ideas, which were challenging, but the bus was real and tangible. I could show you where it was. Maybe it could bring clarity?

Around 2014, long after the book and the movie, Chris McCandless’ sister Carine came out with a revision, or enhancement, about what she had known but diluted for years, about why Chris vanished the way he did and went on his journey. She said, in addition to embracing his love of nature, he had great anger directed toward his parents and wanted no more part of them. His parents were abusive to each other, and Chris and Carine felt helpless. Chris McCandless’ quest for freedom was not just from the things you and I want a break from, like responsibilities of a society and cultural norms, but an oppressive relationship.

I once heard that we have much to learn from addicts and eccentrics, and it is sometimes true (though not always.) I would put McCandless in the category of eccentric and hurt or traumatized person. The conventional approach to eccentrics or the traumatized is to just ignore or dismiss many hardships. McCandless is a worthy curiosity. It’s okay that that the bus was removed; the bus isn’t the vehicle to reach McCandless. I think Jon Krakauer has more to share about McCandless’ adventure, or what was known about it in 1996. It created a record, better than the bus, in his book, Into the Wild. The real artifact worth preserving and revisiting — or rather, re-reading — is the story that inspired us to look at things differently.

Thanks again for stopping by. If you enjoyed this post, you might want to follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

P.S. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer is not a mountain book or a climbing story as a whole. In my opinion, it is part of the general adventure genre, which is a broader category of what I normally cover here on T.S.M. In the book, Krakauer talks about his experience climbing Devil’s Thumb in Alaska. (It’s my favorite chapter.) The value statement and hashtag for this blog “#climbingmatters,” which used to be the tag line on the website’s masthead — Climbing Matters… Even though we work nine to five. — was partly inspired by Krakauer on page 134 of my 1997 paperback edition from Anchor Books: “By fixing my sights on one summit after another, I managed to keep my bearings through some thick postadolescent fog. Climbing mattered… The world was made real.”

Banff Mountain Festival and New Climbing Books for 2020

2018 Banff Mountain Film & Book Festival thank-you card.

Did you see the announcement tweeted from the Banff Mountain Film & Book Festival? Well, the festival be will held virtually due to the pandemic, as I reported in my last post; that you knew. The 20,000 guests cannot all attend due to both social distancing guidelines and international travel restrictions. The tweet added some interesting detail: Somehow they will be holding a virtual marketplace and beer hall.

The market I comprehend… but virtual beer hall?

Jon Popowich’s article in Gripped, “The Role of the Banff Centre in Mountain Literature,” didn’t shed any light for you and me about the beer hall thing. Popowich wrote his essay on the influence of the Banff Centre before the pandemic. It was actually heartbreaking, because everything he said was true, and not only has the Centre been forced to make the festival virtual, but it had to lay off three-quarters — 284 people — of its teachers and staff due to decreased revenue.

I was worried that the festival and its Mountain Book Competition would be cancelled. As Popowich showcased the Centre overall and the festival’s role in spurring new creative outlets for mountain culture. In fact, it’s not just climbing and alpinism, as it was when it began; it’s broadened to other subjects as well. As an article competition pre-reader, I even had a submission about a wilderness fly fishing trip that blended personal experience and the wonder of nature, through a scientific lens. Popowich explains, with insight from Bernadette McDonald and others, about how the “voice” in climbing books and stories have been fostered and amplified through the Banff Centre and its amazing team past and present.

Popowich also called out an upsetting trend that the Banff Centre helps counter, at least somewhat, that I have been talking about for years: Climbers today don’t read. In fact, I’ll go a step further: Climbers today don’t read and they don’t know mountain history. Popowich surveys climbers at the gym, as I do, and wherever I meet other climbers here in flat Peaklessburg.

This trend has consequences on what’s published; books of the past were autobiographies and introspective narratives; today climbing and mountain books are often “Trojan horses” carrying an environmental or social message. This isn’t exclusive, thankfully. And I am hopeful about these books that caught my attention, which are set to be released later this year:

NEW BOOK RELEASES FOR 2020

Vertical Reference: The Life of Legendary Helicopter Rescue Pilot Jim Davies by Kathy Calvert (which was released in May.)

Stories of Ice: Adventure, Commerce and Creativity on Canada’s Glaciers by Lynn Martel.

Emilio Comici: Angel of the Dolomites by David Smart (I will be reviewing this for you here on T.S.M.)

All that Glitters: A Climber’s Journey through Addiction and Depression by Margo Talbot (I’ll share my review of this one on this blog as well.)

Buried: Updated Edition by Ken Wylie.

Altitude by Olivier Bocquet (author of text), Jean-Marc Rochette (artist).

Winter 8000: Climbing the World’s Highest Mountains in the Coldest Season by Bernadette McDonald (I hope to review this one for you here.)

I still have more questions about this beer hall, and whether the organizers can pull it off, I am a little doubtful, no offense. What I do know for certain is that during the festival, and while I am doing my pre-reading, I’ll be sipping a dark brew, thinking of the Banff Centre very fondly. I hope you will too.

Thanks again for stopping by. If you enjoyed this post, you might want to follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Climber, You are Equipped for Times Like These

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The once elusive K7 West. (All rights reserved)

Climber, you have a gift to help you get through this turbulent time.

Like you, I have been largely at home for nearly 90 days. I haven’t done any climbing, but I hope you have. When able, I read my issues of Alpinist, Climbing, and some books rather than spend too much time on my phone, which has been especially difficult this past week.

And like you, I have a heavy heart. There have been over 375,000 deaths worldwide due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19, and for me that includes a loved one. For we Americans, things are dark here, particularly with the uprising around the unjust killings of George Floyd, Breona Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Read, Tony McDade, and many more. And there’s been vandalism and violence and retribution. Although racism has been here since European explorers arrived on the continent, it still lurks about in nasty, evil ways. If the myth of American exceptionalism was still still alive, surely we should face up to reality that was always a myth. I recognized that it wasn’t true just a few years ago.

As adventurers, I think you and I are poised to see what’s possible, in justice, equity, and peace. I know you might prefer to face adversity of a different kind right now, particularly without health worries, existential questions, and politics. Part of me wants to flee to somewhere remote and disconnect. No smartphone. No news. No radio. Ernest Shackleton’s fourth expedition to the South Pole actually appeals to me in calming way lately.

However, Shackleton was not escaping anything; he had a clear objective. He was headed to the South Pole, by nature an adverse challenge. He suffered and he endured. He guided his stranded crew through shipwreck, cold, long days, buoyed ebbing morale, and navigated the high seas. They were missing so long they were presumed dead. And when they all returned safely to an England 497 days later, they arrived in their own new normal, with a world at war. Change is the only constant.

For you and me, climbing matters not only for our appreciation of movement on rock and human achievement in the mountains, but for the superpower of perspective. By now, in your climbing career, you probably realized that there is more to climbing than climbing. In fact, it’s not even Instagram posts of your route or view or even your clever boulder problem around your kitchen cabinets during COVID-19 self-isolation, as joyous as those things are. Climbing is about our inner being; it tests our nerve and our perspective of what’s possible for ourselves and humanity. It has always been about seeing the beauty of a challenge, even if it’s absurd, and pursuing the dream. We build strength, condition our endurance, and innovate equipment and technique to see our visions through.

That mountain or route you daydream about is not itself a challenge, rather how you look at it. El Capitan has been reached without a rope a million times before Honnold scaled it with Jimmy Chin’s camera’s on him — except he took the route no one ever actually free soloed before. A beautiful, ephemeral line that changed how we looked at the world, what’s possible, and our humanity.

This season of COVID-19 exacerbated by grave racial injustice is no different. We need to use our superpower and apply a wide, broad, and long perspective. It’s for safety, health, equity, and a better world.

What do you see when you look at a mountain in your life. An opportunity? A dream? Something futuristic? Maybe we’re not collectively fit enough yet to see how the path comes together, or in our case a route to some normalcy and racial equity. Maybe we need more conditioning to rise to the challenge. Maybe we need to dream, or just endure while holding on to our vision for the future, even when violence and forces conspire to smash our hope. The first way to the top might be just one foot in front of the other. Later, we might go the hard way, maybe ropeless.

How do you see things now?

For your next steps, I recommend clicking over to the Access Fund’s list of actions items to be part of the solution.

Use your perspective and hold on to your vision.

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