A Climber’s Bucket List

If climbing for you is compulsory and you have decided it’s a strong thread in your life worth committing to, it’s probably time to think about where you want climbing to take you. Do you want to climb particular routes, reach certain summits, or take part in some traditions? Whatever you’re seeking, here is a brief list of some experiences get some ideas going.

  1. Lead a climb in Yosemite, even if it’s 5.6, like Munginella.
  2. Climb a sharp ridge with high exposure.
  3. On sight a route.
  4. Spend a night on a wall. Use a ledge, portaledge, a cave or just hang there in your harness.
  5. Spend so long on a big wall route that when you’re back in BC and you drop your water bottle, you flinch with a surge of adrenaline right before you remember that you are on the ground.
  6. Climb with one of your heroes.
  7. Live like a dirtbag for an extended period of time.
  8. Get funded for an expedition or project.
  9. Stand atop someplace no one has stood before.
  10. Spend a night in Camp 4.
  11. Attend the Annual International Climbers Meet in Yosemite.
  12. Attempt the Eiger Norwand. Even if you have to bail through the Eigerwand Station (9.400 ft./2865 m).

Now, what’s on your list?

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Ten Expeditions and Climbing Full Time

I just got through what seems to be a very dark, long month. There wasn’t any climbing. There wasn’t even hockey until what seemed like too little too late. Natalie and I de-cluttered our home for a pending move, work has been roaring along in high gear for an unusually long time, and I am just getting over a lingering cold and flu. Goodbye, January.

However, January did bring a few good things. As I reported on Facebook and Twitter, some exciting details about climbs planned for later this year were announced, which is nice since most climbers keep their plans to themselves, lest a competing climbing try to bag the route first. Since I mainly enjoy “real” climbing vicariously, this is very important information to have.

Two sets of grants have been announced in the last couple of weeks. First, the American Alpine Club announced the winners of the Lyman Spitzer Cutting Edge grant and on Monday Alpinist, Patagonia, Black Diamond, Mountain Gear and W.L. Gore Associates announced the 2013 Mugs Stump grants earlier.

Together they are helping fund 10 expeditions from Alaska to the Karakorum. Some teams received both grants. Regardless that there are several more grant awards to be disbursed, these 10 alone will be worth checking-in on this spring and summer.

While these grant recipients are likely to add entries into the American Alpine Journal for the permanent record, they aren’t the only climbers living the ideal life in the mountains. Recipients like John Frieh and others work day jobs to support their climbing habit. Others work seasonal jobs to climb the rest of the year. But it seems that there are more climbers today that are making a living around climbing — mainly by guiding.


Outside — who’s website’s stories have recently been getting as compelling as those in the print edition, by the way — published an
Interview with Nat Partridge
of Exum Mountain Guides on the guiding life. He lives to rock climb in the summer and ski in the winter and he’s been doing that for years.

Nat says that the ability for people to make a living solely off guiding year-round has taken off in the last 15-20 years. He attributes this to the ability to for guides to obtain credentials, such as those from the American Mountain Guide Association (AMGA), and that there are more people with excess money and leisure time for climbing and skiing while hiring a guide.

I think he’s spot on. I’d just add that the Internet, social media and the accessibility of beta has made the ability to guide in regions on routes they haven’t climbed themselves within reach. Previously, if you didn’t know a region well, it might be foolish to guide as guides were like harbor pilots; they were brought onto a climbing team because of their knowledge of local terrain as much as their trade skills. If they ventured beyond their local hills, they had to have introductions in the region to obtain local knowledge.

Even then, the fact that guides in Washington state are able to guide clients in Alaska and the Andes indicates that guides are hired for things more significant than local knowledge, but also their mountain sense. They have soft-skills that don’t operate from a hard checklist. Their instincts, navigation and climbing problem-solving talents are what makes them valuable. Clearly those that are making a living, like Nat, have the attributes worthy of supporting a career.


The traditional way to climb year-round is climbing like a dirtbag. It’s unsustainable. Eventually you grow too poor, too homeless or a combination or too old keep going. The climbing isn’t necessarily the part that wanes. Still, it’s part of the tradition of wandering, whether you’re a hiker or an alpinist.

Take my friend Ryan. Until recently, he worked a Washington, DC job that, like many jobs here, had an end-date. When the his appointment ended, Ryan would have to find a new position at the end of the term. But Ryan doesn’t approach things conventionally; he did something most of us only fantasize about doing.

By the time his commitment was completed, Ryan had downsized his belongings, packed them all up into his backpack boarded a plane for home in where he would start a year-long journey, living in the back of his covered pick-up truck and climbing — starting at the Ouray Ice Festival earlier this month. His only worries are where is the next route, how solid is that anchor, and when does he meet his friends for a drink. That’s a better arrangement than the boys in Yosemite’s Camp 4 had in the 60s and 70s.

Ryan will be doing this through the year. He was still in Ouray, last I checked. He’ll spend a lot of nights in the back of his customized covered-pickup truck and along routes. He’ll be a better climber and have a year to tell stories for years to come.


For me, I wear a necktie and a sport coat to work most of the week. I plan meetings, review budgets, and talk about strategic plans, industry developments and regulatory challenges. I really enjoy it, yet there is part of me that wishes my family would support leaving the city life behind and fully embracing a living that is supported by the climbing life. But I know that I missed that window of opportunity a long time ago and it’s too late to get in my 10-thousand hours to guide for a living. For now, I’ll live vicariously, read vivaciously about climbing history, and I’ll keep sharing what I find.

Well, thanks for dropping by again. If you enjoyed this post, please consider following the Suburban Mountaineer on Facebook or Twitter, because I believe climbing matters, even though we work nine to five.

Stuck in Peaklessburg: Send Me to Vermont

Nebraska Notch

A view of Nebraska Notch from the cabin up Luce Hill, Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe, Vermont

As people gravitate to metropolitan areas to live and work, building up the population density and putting more of us into parking lots with names like “Interstate 95,” we all need to find an exit to releave the pressure.  Fortunately, my wife recently got to problem-solving by using her freelance writing skills to enter a writing contest on a great new travel website that could send us to our favorite little town in Vermont — Stowe.  She wrote a great, short piece entitled “Observing Saint Patrick’s Day on Snowshoes at Trapp Family Cabin,” on Trazzler.com.  If we get the top pick of votes, we’ll win a three night stay in Stowe! 

I know we all need to get away, but I promise if you help us win, I’ll share photos and have some great outdoor lifestyle stories and materials to share right here.  Go the Trazzler.com and register (very easy for anyone, especially if you are already on FaceBook.)

Voting ends Memorial Day, May 31, 2010.  Thanks in advance for your help!

We Are Not Mountain Bums, Unfortunately

As hikers, backpackers and climbers, we are by nature gutsy.  We voluntarily use our weekends and infrequent vacation breaks to venture into the wilderness where the woods can be creepy and lonely, water-based parasites can infect our bowels and ruin our lives, let alone our trip, where alpine trails are always treacherous at best, and where the possibility of crossing into a bear cub (where is its mama?) or wildlife mad from rabies is a viable risk worth purchasing a good insurance policy over. 

Come to think of it, the case could be made that we are not gutsy, but rather mentally imbalanced.  We choose, after all, the dangers of the world without coffee shops, 24-hour technical support, drive-ins, and HD premium channels.  In fact, we could be diagnosed with something if the fact that we highly value the reward a trip to the outdoors brings through the deprivation from modern conveniences and the enjoyment of time being based on the sun and the seasons rather than a clock and a calendar, not to mention the constant reminder notes on our Blackberries is not weighed. 

Then again, maybe we are just not gutsy enough.  We do not exercise the courage to quit our jobs that benevolently bestow us with two-to-four weeks of vacation in which to play in the hills in exchange for 48 to 50 weeks of hard labor per year.  If you are like me, our families rely on us to earn a living, mow the lawn, and, let’s face it, we like the brand new Subaru Outback we just bought on credit.  As professionals and loyal members of our families, we all deserve gold stars.  As backcountry aficionados, well… most of us have earned the little orange spade award. 

Let’s imagine if we could enjoy our adventures in the backcountry without the chore of going to work nine to five (which seems to be a grossly inaccurate description for people’s work schedules these days), would we be satisfied?  Would we miss the generous salary?  Would our families miss the income?  Would our mortgage companies excuse our frivolous departure from making regular installments, and – dare I even wonder – could we be allowed to keep our new cars?  In the end, unless we obtained some income by serving coffee in the corner shop, or at least sweeping up at an outfitter, our trips to the outdoors would be reduced to a type of vagabond-homelessness. I believe our significant others would never forgive us for that, so I will not be reporting on such an experiment in future posts.  Sorry. 

So instead of casting off the burdens of employment, we accept working in office spaces with or without a view of any kind, and that we will not be mountain bums.  We will go on knowing we will not be mountain guides, leading clients daily into the wilderness and up and down perilous routes.  We will go on working at our computer terminals wishing we were ascending a ridge above tree line instead.  We will go on spending more time thinking about and planning our hikes and climbs than we actually hike and climb.  We will go on acquiring gear for trips we may or may not take and that may or may not be overkill for what the trip truly requires. 

For us, life is far better hiking, backpacking and climbing a little, than not joining in the gutsy, crazy sports at all.