May 15th 2013 - Written by: Kelsy

Bringing Diversity to the Outdoors: First All-African-American Team to Summit Denali

Expedition Denali is history in the making, another first for the books and a step in the direction of changing the world we live in. This National Outdoor Leadership School expedition will take nine mountaineers to the top of Mount McKinley this June, making them the first all-African-American group to summit Denali. Of course, reaching the top of North America’s largest peak is not the ultimate endeavor; Expedition Denali’s most significant objective is to inspire people of all colors to experience the outdoors. This statement from Expedition Denali’s Kickstarter Campaign gets to the root of the ascent:

By 2019, it is estimated that minority children will become the majority in the U.S. These kids will become the leaders of this country and the world, and a staggering majority of them don’t feel the outdoors is a place for them.

In an effort to connect as many people as possible and inspire diversity in the outdoors, a documentary film will be made telling the story of the summit. Here’s just part of what the film itself will capture, from Kickstarter:

This group of climbers will do more than climb a mountain. At an elevation of 20,320 feet, extreme altitude and harsh weather aren’t the only barriers Expedition Denali is determined to break through. On the 100th anniversary of the first Denali summit, Expedition Denali is a symbolic step forward, encouraging people of color—and particularly African American youth—to participate in and become inspired by the vastness and beauty of nature.

The good news is that Expedition Denali, with support from The North FaceREI, and the Foundation for Youth Investment, has actually exceeded its Kickstarter Campaign Pledge, thanks to donations from people all over the world. Of course, we can all help by spreading the word about what an amazing, inspiring and world-changing expedition this is. Be sure to follow Expedition Denali on Facebook for updates, news and information and to share the updates that inspire you.

April 8th 2013 - Written by: Kelsy

Open Access: A New Era for Jailhouse Rock


Today, Jailhouse Rock outside of Sonora, California is entering a brand-new era in climbing. But for 20 years, it was nothing more than an open secret with limited access. While climbers like Beth Rodden and Alex Honnold cut their teeth here, access was extremely sensitive because it ran through private property. The landowner was supportive of climbing but equally weary of letting Jailhouse Rock become known. Thanks to the efforts of the Access Fund and local climbers, an easement was negotiated with the landowner — thus opening it up to a whole new world (and era) of climbing.

April 5th 2013 - Written by: Kelsy

Celebrating 10 Years of Red Rock Rendezvous

Today marks the kick-off of the Red Rock Rendezvous, and its 10 year anniversary, at Red Rocks Conservation Area in Spring Mountain Ranch State Park. The event is a veritable extravaganza of outdoor adventure, which includes back-to-back clinics focused on climbing, mountain biking, trail running and more. Powered by Mountain Gear and yours truly, Osprey Packs, we’ll be there to help celebrate and make it as unforgettable an event as ever!

Osprey Packs will be providing mountain bike clinics through the weekend at Red Rocks with the likes of Osprey Pro Athlete Alison Gannett and Osprey Amateur Athlete Jeff Fox. We’ll have demo bikes from our friends at Trek Bicycles and much more.

Saturday’s bound to be a big day, with Osprey-sponsored climbing clinics instructed by Osprey Athletes and pro climbers Majka Burhardt and Beth Rodden. Majka will instruct a “Learn to Trad Lead” clinic, and Beth will be leading a clinic on “Intermediate Sport and Techniques.” Adding to that, Saturday we’ll host a “Meet the Osprey Athletes” event from the booth with free poster signings. Come by the Osprey Booth  from 6-6:30 to see Majka Burhardt, who will be signing posters and talking about her latest adventures. Right after, Beth Rodden will be signing posters and talking about her latest adventures from 7-7:30! For more information about the schedule and to sign up for clinics, visit the Red Rocks Rendezvous website here.

Throughout the weekend, Osprey Packs will also be stationed at its booth offering  free pack demos, and we’ll have the brand-new line of men’s and women’s 2013 hydration packs and Variant and Mutant climbing packs there for you to try on. We’ll also be offering free pro pack sizings, fittings and advice from Osprey Packs experts throughout the event.

Adding a little more recreation to the event’s festivities, come by the Osprey booth to play our Access Fund Bola Bowl/Ladder Toss Game and you may win a free pack as we raise funds for the Access Fund! Then, try your hand at our “Fix a Flat Contest” and race against the clock to win prizes that include our spring 2013 line of Osprey hydration packs! To top it all off, we’ll have daily giveaways with swag, stickers and catalogs — so stop by to say hi!

We’ll see you at Red Rock!

April 4th 2013 - Written by: Kelsy

A Red Hot Time

Trail conditions in Telluride, Co the first week of February. The trail goes right of the tree in the center.

It was the first big storm in a while, overnight it had dropped nearly a foot of powder and I broke away from my desk not to ski, but to run. Uphill on unbroken trail and then downhill knee deep in powder with frozen hands plunging to elbow’s depth, I had the giddy grin only a mountaineer could muster in conditions so ridiculous — training conditions. I was slightly scared things may be on the edge of possible as the afternoon drew darkly into evening, and seeing as this was the edge of my personal spectrum for reasonable “trail” running. But I had a goal in mind that got me out that day and I focused myself like any maniac would in an undisturbed wonderland, finding my way back to the town I live in, the end of another training run and one week from the day of my date with the desert in Moab, Utah, on the infamous Red Hot 55k race course. I figured surely this race would be a test of skills with all this snow scattering across our region as my Inbox met messages from the race director stating just that. This last run had me ready for the worst!

After a training run. Winter can be tough time in the mountains to build your base mileage.

This was my third Ultra marathon race in the last five months and my life. You could say I’m out to have a big opening season or I’m just out to have fun and doing it — I like to aim high. After two 50-milers, I learned a lot this fall, finishing almost dead last in the first one, moving up in the ranks on the second one and then this time, setting and actually achieving a respectable time. Of course, I don’t win as a beginner, I just show up and run or hike or like this last weekend in Moab, greet a nasty course and finish it off despite a few moments of classic “WTF headspace,” an all too familiar spot for me, now just exhibiting itself in another arena. Despite a gigantic bruised foot that I suffered from in the first Ultra with 8300′ of vertical gain, unbeliveablable IT band pain that resulted in a 5 hour 4 mph power hike to successfully finish in the second and finally getting it dialed on training for this one, this was as close as I had come to a “good time.” No, there was no pain or injury this time, just a wimpering voice in my head that reminded me I am a mountaineer and a desert running novice when reduced to my own two feet and a time limit.

The day started right, I went to the start line, turned on my iPod and feigned a stretch before things got moving. Within the first hour, I had warmed up, held back on the pace and realized I was going to have a good day physically. The course had very little snow, it was in great conditions and fast underfoot so much so that after 21 miles and 2000 vertical in just over three hours, I was on to having the best day of my life and feeling good. I had already put 2/3 of the distance and the elevation behind me and the trail was mostly a flowing road with occasional slickrock benches and climbs. But alas, I resign myself detrimentally to being an adventurer on a constant basis so I had thought that I had a real shot at covering the next 13 miles in decent style and time. Then I saw it. I saw the slick rock and opened up to eat some humble pie… at least I had time on my side and an empty belly, I would need the next three hours to finish this 13 mile section — crazy, huh?

This photo was taking on a 20 mile training run 2 weeks before the Moab Red Hot 55K. I assumed the course would hold a lot of snow, I was wrong. ;-)

This section of the course was rumored to be very tough and for a first timer, it was for me. Jutting steeply from the plateau is a massive slick rock uplift tilted on its side and somehow I thought that this popular bike and off-road vehicle trail would be a cinch to navigate — even after 20 miles of my fastest running trail time this year. A little detail I was wrong about in a big way, I thought it would be easy to figure out, relatively flat with oil stains, tiremarks, white stripes all over the place, you know like a Moab off-road trail!

Well, it was beautiful in a different and revealing way. Although I will admit I heaved and sniveled the “F” word (no, not fun) more than a few times as I scaled another scrambly outcropping hoping to see another stop-and-go-sufferer groping about on this jagged, steppy and incredibly firm landscape where I was lost… in retrospect, I realize I should have concluded those “Fs” with a “yeah” as it was exceptionally breathtaking scenery. I was needlessly annoyed because I was looking at my watch and worried about my time — a factor that in hindsight should not have mattered and that compounded a hard time finding the trail. On top of that, I was hitting a wall and that forced me to lose some composure while in the complete solitude I should have reveled in. Walls are crazy though, so I’ve forgiven myself for taking the landscape for granted at that moment. This wall was just in my mind, a physical manifestation of caloric and energy deficits that erode rationality to the point of pain, distress and sometimes complete disconnect from reality and expectations — all in your head. Then they lift and you feel great or you’re done, whichever comes first. That is the “crux” as it were, to Ultra and marathon running — pushing through the wall to send your line, just like in rock climbing.

In the end, it was so incredibly hard on me, this section, but also so incredibly thoughtful of the race organizers to put something together so specatucular, so fantastic, so engaging and so enthralling that if this was your first time to the desert — it could also be your last and you would have a legitimate 34 mile adventure where if you hadn’t gotten lost at least once, you would’ve just been racing. It felt like a summit day. Except that unlike a summit day, when the route kicked back before a tough section, there would be aid stations with enthusiastic volunteers to encourage your success and support your nutritional needs — dreamy oasis’s like I often wished for on high alpine routes.

This is the finish line at the Red Hot 55k. This is the only photo I took that day, it was moments after I finished and was standing in line for a quesadilla... it's a day I've given my all when I only take one photo from a burrito cart.

I really like this sport, Ultra running. It is nice to be in a compromising situation that involves serious personal challenge and  “WTF” moments but not as severe as rescuing a buddy off a mountain, wondering how you’ll get off the mountain after the storm or running out of gear on a sew ’em up crack that ends a few thousand feet off the deck in a blank wall. Not to take anything away from those moments, I am grateful to count them in my bank of experience as well. Which leads me to a fact I can’t escape: Life is a little crazy, and should be. Like mountaineers, Ultra runners are crazy too, but I like them and am happy that in training for my summer goal of enchaining a massive amount of peaks, there is a fun community I can be part of; one that supports us as we hit walls, run through deep snow in the winter and continue to all look for ways to get outside for a day. I finished in six hours and 21 minutes on the faster half of the mid pack and couldn’t be more grateful for the chance to see so much desert, so many people having “fun” and another full day of pushing mental and physical boundaries to uncomfortable places and back.

March 21st 2013 - Written by: Kelsy

Looking Back is Moving Forward

Ben Clark on 24,688' Annapurna IV's North Ridge. Clark and Josh Butson were the first to lay ski tracks on this notoriously unstable route. Photo credit: Josh Butson

Carving one last wet, heavy mid afternoon turn into camp last May, I stopped, clicked out of my ski bindings and took a step back from 10 years of working alpine routes in the Himalayas. I began this 10-year career with an Everest summit on my second expedition and then attempted 13 more peaks in the Himalayas. My partners and I would dispatch routes in a bold style that, depending on whether you read the NY Times or the Adventure Journal, either brought us closer to death or closer to life in this humbling and crushing mountain range. I have a biased assessment on the position of life or death. I made it through physically unscathed and can reflect on experiences “in the field” with great partners, good memories and only “some” bad luck. But a lot of my friends, and some of my mentors did not fare as well: some died, some quit, others didn’t know when to stop. It is with that disclosure that I begin to wax sublime on some of my more memorable moments and a couple of caveats to explore if you think this is an interesting topic:

1. All I wanted to do was see the world.  From the age of 20 until 32 that manifested into mountaineering and channeling all my efforts, extra money and time into the Himalayas.

2. This was not a hobby for me. It was an obsession that drove almost every decision I made during that time. It had to or I would not have survived what I was doing. No mountain was worth giving up the chance to explore another one for, so I had rules that I followed and when I committed to climbing a peak, made it happen despite a real job.

3. I love this sport whole-heartedly and it makes me hurt deep down in the pit of my stomach when I think about never doing it again. But not as bad as the thought of making a fatal mistake and hurting the people I love.

So here you go, a snapshot of what I have to contribute on life, death, risk… and why I personally chose to take time this year to consider what I was doing.

It was a chilly October and my right butt cheek was smeared against a frigid corner of bare granite, knee grinding into the opposing wall over a single toothy crampon point that held my weight while a heel sloped downward and my achilles fought for reprieve. In this precarious position 90′ above Josh, my partner on the wall and belayer, I had a left leg flagged out into space pressing away from the corner. It was desperate, my quivering right arm clutched an ice tool hooking an 1/8″ nub of bare rock while my left arm extended into a steel pick scratching a surface of thin decomposing snow and ice. In the still air at 17,000′ I yelled down to Josh to untie from the rope between us, “Josh, take me off!” He responded: “What???” I repeated what I knew he had to do: “Take me off, I will kill us both if I fall.” At that moment, severely exposed and wildly wrong about adequate protection (I had placed none) in the vertical corner I was inching upward in, “26 year old me” knew if I made one error I would die from a fatal 1200′ fall and violently rip Josh off as well, the two of us tumbling to death six days from a road that led to a town where people spoke only Mandarin, in a Chinese valley where no one knew we were. This was difficult terrain to be soloing but I knew I could execute the moves to safety because I never allowed my emotions free reign to seize and paralyze me in the moments where my life, death and the future was suspended in balance like this. I had nothing to lose, which helped. After all, I would leave nothing behind but about $700 in my bank account, no debt and an e-mail to my parents from a smoky bar in Rilong — a forgotten relic of a town in the far Eastern Himalaya that crumbled in an earthquake in 2008.

But I didn’t fall that day in 2006. And we still had an epic time getting off that mountain in the dark, in a major storm with two ropes and barely any protection for adequate anchors in the featureless compact granite. We took risk and we executed, death was an option, just never acceptable for us. But I want to phrase that carefully; I did not see this as cheating death, I was cheating odds, which is a different game and mindset. Even though I love nature and alpine environments, luck was the most prevalent explanation for living and also the most seductive element of adventure granting clouds and snow, sun and summits and fate or failure. When we got home to Telluride, Co. from that trip, all I wanted to do was have a conversation with my local mentors Charlie Fowler and Chris Boskoff about how awesome the trip had been, how confident I now felt putting up a new route in the Himalayas. They too were in China on an expedition, but they never came home, an avalanche swept over them a few weeks after the storm we had survived. They died doing what they loved.

Jon Miller belays Josh Butson as the team reached the site of a 5 night stay at 21,600' in a fierce Himalayan maelstrom on Baruntse. Photo credit: Ben Clark

In 2009, with three more aggressive years to hone my experience and an appetite for dangerous runouts, I was in the lead on a new route on the NE face of 23,390′ Baruntse in the Nepali Himalayas. Josh, Jon and I had committed to what we thought was a six-day alpine style push with the bare amount of equipment to climb the mountain by a new route, summit and then ski down the other side. This was my dream climb and the route I would say had the most influence on me than any other route I ever touched. I wanted to traverse it more than any ground on earth. But on that day as I led, ice climbing on a shiny spine of ice cleaving a wide open face capped by dangerous icefall on either side, I peered across valley to the 8000′ south face of 27,940′ Lhotse to watch the jet stream explode against it in a 3000′ tall mushroom cloud framed by an eerie alpenglow. I scarily uttered through chattering lips with 2000′ of air nipping at my heels: “Living people do not see things like this.” That night, on a ledge we chopped out and sat on for five days, I hunched over with my frost nipped feet warming on Jon’s stomach holding his hands so he could lean forward and puke into a Ziploc bag. Josh melted water in a stove almost hanging in space on the edge of the tent. We settled into an uneasy realization of what we all knew may be true — this could be it if the storm built steam and blew our tent to pieces. We had reached a point of too far, not yet no return, and would have nothing but time to worry about our fate as Jon’s stomach ailment deteriorated into a serious condition.

21,600' camp on the NE face of Baruntse, aka "the good times clubhouse." Josh Butson, Jon Miller and Ben Clark spent five nights here in a storm that everyone down below thought killed them.

But the storm built only so much steam and we lived. After 10 days on the mountain we rappelled the route rescuing Jon and in three months I was in Salt Lake City, Utah at the Outdoor Retailer show talking to an athlete manager of a company that supported me as an athlete. Recounting this tale and then discussing the fate of a new friend I had made that year who had reached out to me for advice before my trip — Micah Dash, we remembered Micah’s adventurous spark, which was extinguished with two others by an avalanche in Sichuan while we were on our climb. The last e-mail I got on day six of our approach to Baruntse was about Mt Edgar; “Did I know anything about it?” The news of why he hadn’t responded to my last e-mail hit me just one week after returning home from Baruntse and somehow the stock sentiment made me pale this time. He died doing what he loved.

In May 2012, with my wife at home pregnant with our son, I broke trail in 3′ of snow up a large valley on 21,506′ Chulu West with Jon, Chris and Gavin. We climbed three awkward pitches of rock the day before to get into position to be the first people to ever ski this valley and were hit by a major electrical storm that delayed our start and lay fresh snow over some dangerous terrain up high. At just after noon that day we stood looking at the last steep pitch leading to the summit ridge, the sun was intense, heat was picking up and large chunks of cornices had crashed into the slope and triggered a couple of sizeable avalanches. At that moment, my mind drifted to where it always had, where I knew that there was a good chance that if we set foot on the slope it would avalanche, but I wanted to go anyway because I have tempted fate many more times than just what is above and it has worked out. That is what it takes to make it to the top.

But this time it didn’t work out, we did not “succeed” and tag the summit. We talked about it. We talked ourselves out of it. Why? Because I don’t want to die a suffocating oppressive death after being ripped to pieces and then buried beneath a ton of snow. We would not settle for eight more ski turns and a stale eulogy. I did not want to be someone who “died doing what they loved” because if that were the case, then I would die hanging out with my family, sleeping, eating ice cream, pizza, editing a film, listening to a great song — just sayin’. Luckily, by committee, everyone elected that we should “just ski”… novel right?  We didn’t actually have to increase our risk of death to pull that off and have fun. My God, why did it take me so long to learn that?  Just skiing there was “extreme” enough and I was so engrossed, so used to laying it out there that I could not even see that was an accomplishment. It had become routine to pioneer, dangerously so.

With occasional views like this, why wouldn't you at least be curious to explore the Himalayan high Country? I snapped this photo right before skiing off the summit of 20,201' Thorung peak.

In 15 peak attempts in the Himalayas from Dhaulagiri in Western Nepal, the summit of Everest in Tibet and the far reaching slopes of The Savage Sister in eastern Sichuan, I had come close or had completely risked it all every time, every time except this one. I have broken an ankle, rescued a friend, run out of oxygen on summit day, been in an avalanche scenario and watched friends fall in crevasses, lose feeling on the right side of their body and cry, cry in the anguish of physical and emotional defeat. I have given up myself in the dark hours of a stormy night and understood the process that leads one to freezing to death alone and undisturbed by that choice. This time everything went right, including my attitude toward it all… so I quit, the moment I finally got “a head.”

Situations and tolerances vary for everyone and across latitudes and longitudes. Education is the best backup to support your judgment when taking risk. There will still be moments after you have gained that medical and snow science knowledge when you are in the mountains and your tolerance will negate what you have learned or the situation will fall outside what you were taught. If you proceed at that time you must knowingly commit and pursue your present goal with little more than faith that the consequences you are anticipating are truly manageable within the system of variables you are engaging with. That is adventure; it is in that space I loved so dearly, where I learned to be present on the line between here and now and tomorrow or never. Don’t forget though, that the system you are engaging is greater than the slopes around you and you may have to speak to someone’s mother, father, wife or brother about the mistake you don’t think you are about to make, even though most of the time you won’t. But if you do, if something goes wrong, if you nearly cost someone his or her life or are there when something out of your control goes completely wrong, I can only tell you that in my experience, it is a far lower low than any altitude high you may ever reach.

Every now and then, it makes sense to press pause. On our iPod, during a movie, in a heated debate… sometimes we just need a break to process all the excitement and the stimulation. There is little room for pause in real life or the types of scenarios above. There is no skill that will comfortably guarantee survival either, for that there is only luck. I think that is why they call it risk and nothing else. I think that is why I always encourage others to go if that curiosity drives you. Considering what I have survived, I would go forward in some instances where others may have stayed home because I felt it was necessary to explore boundaries. I don’t regret that I did, but I’m not continuing onward today. I have already gone and I have come back.  And on this side of things, I am enjoying a state of pause, reflection and peace with my decisions.

"Of course it is worth it"- Ben Clark skiing powder on the North Slopes of 20,201' Thorung peak with 21,506' Chulu West behind him. Photo credit: Hari Mix

January 16th 2013 - Written by: Kelsy

The 20th Hueco Rock Rodeo is Almost Here

This year marks the 20th Anniversary of the Hueco Rock Rodeo, and Osprey is proud to be a sponsor of the event itself. The Hueco Rock Rodeo is one of the longest-standing climbing competitions in U.S. history, and although it’s undergone many changes over the years, it’s still put together by the local climbing community, and with help from organizations such as, most recently, the American Alpine Club. Every year since 1989, the Rodeo has brought together climbers of all abilities to compete in an entire weekend of climbing at Hueco Tanks in El Paso, Texas.

Year after year, the Rodeo has attracted big-name climbers from around the country. This year’s event promises an impressive lineup. Here’s the rundown, via Rock and Ice:

The long weekend this year will include the legendary Fred Nicole, who is going to be cooking pancakes to fuel everyone up Saturday morning. Paige Claassen and Abbey Smith are presenting the Inca Odyssey slideshow and Paul Robinson is premiering his movie Chasing Winter. After the comp Angie Payne will be presenting her sideshow titled, Discovering and Establishing Boulders in Greenland. The festivities Saturday will also include our 2nd Annual Art Show featuring local photographer Sam Davis and artist Vanessa Compton, our 2nd Annual Dyno Comp, and the mechanical bull, which is returning by popular demand! Also for the first time we are proud to include some of the cultural aspects of Hueco Tanks into the Rodeo, with the Rock Art Tour set up by the staff at Hueco Tanks.

This year’s event will span President’s Day Weekend, February 15th through the 17th. Here’s the full schedule of events, via the Hueco Rock Rodeo site:

Friday February 15th:

2:30-4:30 p.m. – Hueco Rock Art tour
4-8:00 p.m. – Preregistration and raffle booth open, raffle money going to the Youth Outreach Program
7:00 p.m. – Burrito dinner by Marmot & beer from Fat Tire
7:30 p.m. – Slideshow, Paige Claassen and Abbey Smith for the women’s side of the Incan Odyssey, Marmot’s 30 day expedition to develop unclimbed alpine boulders and explore a remote valley in the Peruvian Andes.
8:30p.m. – Movie Premier!! Paul Robinson presenting his movie Chasing Winter

Saturday, February 16th:
The competition will start and finish at the Hueco Rock Ranch
6:45 a.m. – Registration
6:30-7:30 a.m. – Breakfast COOKED BY FRED NICOLE!
7:00-8:00 a.m. – Participants can try on shoes to demo for the day
7-8:00 a.m. – North Mountain video will ****IF YOU ARE COMPETING ON NORTH MUNTAIN (you will be told where you are competing when you register) YOU MUST WATCH THE NORTH MOUNTAIN VIDEO—IT WILL BE SHOWING IN THE RANCH HOUSE BY A PARK STAFF MEMBER********
7:30-8:45 – Line up for shuttles to the Tanks
8:00 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. – The 20th Annual Hueco Rock Rodeo
5:00 p.m. – The comp ends
4:30-6:00 p.m. – Shuttles leave the Park and take participants back to the Ranch
5:00-6:45 p.m. – Turn in score cards at the Ranch House
5:00-8:00 p.m. – Raffle booth open, raffle money going to the Youth Outreach Program
4:30-8:30 p.m. – Local Art work by Sam Davis and Vanessa Compton displayed and on sale in the Ranch House
6:00-8:00 p.m. – Dinner
9:00-10:00 p.m. – Mechanical Bull riding available for 1$ per ride
8:00-8:45 p.m. – Slideshow by Angie Payne on her trip to Greenland discovering and establishing new boulder problems
9:00-10:00p.m. – Dyno Comp
9:00-11:00 p.m. – Raffle prizes given away
10:00-11:00p.m. – Awards ceremony
11:-00p.m.-3 a.m. – DJ Some Homeless Dead Guy and bonfire

Sunday, February 17th Youth Comp & Clinics begin and end at the Hueco Rock Ranch
8:00 a.m. – Youth Comp & Clinics breakfast registration
8:30-9:00 a.m. – Competitors and Clinic participants can try on shoes to demo for the day
9:30 a.m. – Youth Comp competitors head into the park
10:00 a.m. – Clinics leave for the park
6:00 p.m. – Rodeo Round-up BBQ & Youth Comp prizes awarded

We hope to see you there!

November 20th 2012 - Written by: Kelsy

Free Rider!

Me and my dream climb.

It was 8:30 a.m. and I was totally destroyed physically and mentally. We had been climbing since 3 a.m. to beat the way-too-hot November sun and I had just finished pitch 28 of Free Rider, a 34 pitch free route up El Capitan’s southwest face. It was the last 5.12 pitch on the route, but that didn’t mean much. Up next was a steep 5.11, followed by an 11d finger crack which led into the notorious Scotty Burke off width, with another two 5.11- pitches and a gimme 5.6 to the top. Graded 10d, the Scotty Burke might be the biggest sandbag I have ever experienced. It took me four tries to figure out how to climb it on toprope, and when I got it, I was really fresh and rested. When I got to it on this day, it would be on my fourth day of climbing in a row, after sleeping on the wall for three nights. ‘Sleeping’ would be an overstatement. It was more like a few hours of napping over four days. Everything was taking its toll, and it all caught up right now.

7" crack of your dreams/nightmares.

Right now I was sitting on the Round Table Ledge, after completing a wild 5.12 traverse on the lip of the Salathe Headwall. To give you an idea of this position, imagine yourself doing a hand traverse on top of the empire state building… which is sitting on top of another empire state building. Ya, it’s that exposed. I was sleep deprived, bonking and exhausted. I screamed, battled and hung on with every last bit of juice I could muster up, as I had climbed every pitch without falling to this point, and I didn’t want to start failing now. Somehow I made it to the ledge, but that was pretty much the end of me. I managed to set up the belay, haul over our day pack, and get Jasmin to start following. She was sending the route to here as well, and I wasn’t about to give up on her yet.

Two pitches down, 32 more to go!

What she found when she got to the belay was a shattered remnant of her husband and climbing partner. When you climb with your wife, there is no buffer or toughness on the surface that you might have with your friends, and before I knew it, I was crying. Granted, I cry more than most guys, I am a bit of a sensitive softie, but I had just sent the pitch, I was sending to here, yet I felt like I was about to fail. Years of dreaming about climbing this route, weeks of training and prep to get to this point in time and space, and I was crying, ready to throw in the towel. But that is what makes climbing so special; it’s a partner/team sport. When you can’t make it happen, sometimes your partner steps up. Jas took the reigns and shoved food and water down my throat, lots of food and water. A half hour later, while belaying her on an ‘easy’ 5.11 pitch, I started to come back to life. Calories, caffeine and H2O were going to my failing muscles, slowly rejuvenating them.

All I had to do was make it through the next two pitches, and the last three I could do no matter what. With no excess of power and strength, it all came down to technique and mental fortitude. That is what you should be doing anyway, but I guess there are lots of times when I climb ‘dumb’; pulling myself through moves and not climbing through them intelligently and efficiently. Well, there was no choice now.

Pitch 25 or so, getting up there now.

Chimneying, jamming and finding stances, I somehow rested my way up the 150’ of crack climbing to get to the steep and exposed belay for the Scotty Burke OW. I grabbed the handful of cams I thought I would use, leaving behind all excess weight. I climbed smart and fast through the steep 11d crack to the no hands rest before the 10d off width. I took a long break and slowed things down. I tried to remember all the techniques I had learned climbing the world-feared/renowned Monster almost 1500’ below me. (The Monster is a 160’ 5.11 offwidth that repels/scares away a lot of climbers. I had onsighted it on the first day up the wall, after not really sleeping in anticipation of how hard it might be. Technique came through and somehow I waltzed it!). On top rope I had lay backed the hardest part of the Scotty Burke, but that was not going to happen today. I entered full grovel mode and dug in to the trench for 100 feet of full on warfare. Inch by inch I locked my heel-toe cams in, arm barred and crimped. No one could see me as you are around a roof, but everyone could hear me screaming away in the biggest battle of my climbing career. 100 feet to go to send El Cap… and on this day, technique and mental fortitude prevailed. I had never dug so deep in my life.

Jasmin enjoying the jug at the end of the last hard pitch of the route, 1 5.6 pitch left, with 3,000' of air below you!

Getting up to the anchor with no more gear and slings, and sitting on the ledge in the sun, a wave of relaxation and contentment took over. Wow. Jasmin cruised the pitch behind me, and it was all but in the bag for both of us. Four years ago we had tried to do the route and failed. We had spent two weeks before launching up from the ground checking out all of the pitches on rappel and top rope and we were still not sure if we could do it. But there we were, three pitches from the top, and we were doing it. We each made it possible for each other, coming through when the other couldn’t, and now we were enjoying success together.

Party's over, time to unpack!

For 15 years I have been going to Yosemite, most of my climbing career. From my first hard multipitches (Astroman), my first multiday big wall (the nose, El Cap), my first one day big wall (the nose) to the crown jewel of my climbing dreams (Free Rider), it has been my proving grounds, and fuel for inspiration and memories, and this journey would be no different.


Just so the truth is out there: There were two pitches that both of us tried to lead and failed, the Teflon Corner and the 2nd Endurance Corner. We both tried multiple times, and could not send them on lead, but both managed to top rope them clean on our ascent. I know it’s not a perfect ascent, but I climb for myself, and I couldn’t be happier with what we managed to do with the time and energy we had at our disposal.

Free Rider, El Capitan, Grade VI, 5.12d, 34 pitches, 3,000’+. Climbed from November 1 to 6, 2012 with Jasmin Caton.

August 5th 2012 - Written by: Kelsy

Walking With Warriors

Know the poorest of the poor are among your neighbors, in your neighborhoods, in your town, in your city, perhaps in your own family. We must look first to our own streets. — Mother Teresa

Last month, five climbers and I went to climb Mt Kenya for Challenge21 in hopes of raising money and awareness for Water For People. Through the process, we learned far more than we had anticipated.

The dynamic Kenyans we met demonstrated that the first place to make a difference is in our own neighborhoods—in our own country. For those with greater wherewithal the help can and should extend further. In the big picture, our greatest hope is to educate as many people as possible in the areas where our world is struggling and losing balance: clean water, sanitation, wildlife poaching, climate change, poverty, illiteracy etc.

Pete McBride and Jake Norton teamed up to film the trip. Their talent is exceptional with stunning imagery that captures the path of water from its origins on Mt Kenya, which supplies the country with 70 percent of its water, through the bush to the city where it runs dry in the slums. This film will show even those in the first world that there is a lot at stake as we lose our watersheds.


May 29th 2012 - Written by: Kelsy

Lane Love: Mountain Biking in Style via Chris Akrigg

The story of stunt biker Chris Akrigg‘s crash (and subsequent 40-foot fall) that resulted in a shattered femur is all too well known in the biking community all around the world. But now — a year later — Chris is well again, and back at doing what he loves to do: mountain biking with some serious class and finesse.

His first video back is proof that Chris has been hard at work recovering from his injury. It’s also a visual work of art. So today, after a fine long holiday weekend, we encourage you to sit back, relax and enjoy.


Every Monday on Lane Love, we’ll be featuring bicycling news, stories and photos from around the world. Have a lane that you love? Send us a photo! You can post it to our Facebook page or upload to our Flickr group and we might just feature it here on Lane Love.

May 19th 2012 - Written by: Kelsy

Two Days in the Mountains: Climbing and Skiing Mount Baker and Mount Cheakamus

We live in a pretty spectacular place, so earlier this month, I hatched a plan to take advantage…

Day 1: climb and ski the Coleman Deming route of Mount Baker in Washington State.

Day 2: Do the beautiful Spearhead ski traverse, and if the stars align, ski the North Face of Cheakamus Mountain in British Columbia.

To prepare for a trip like this, it’s important to study the weather forecast and avalanche stability. It’s a lot of hurry up and waiting for a two-day weather window.

Even then, there are no guarantees in the mountains and success is not just in achieving goals in terms of summits and descents. It’s all about new experiences, meeting new people and maybe a new sense of purpose and energy after returning to the real world.

Here is a short video and photo gallery after our trip to the mountains…

ARVE Error: no id set

Special thanks to Matty Richard, Tim Grey and Dominic Melanson who unbeknownst to us had the same aspirations to ski Mount Cheakamus, but started from Whistler Mountain (the other side of the traverse). Lucky for us, they were friendly and set a good boot track up. Good vibes! Thanks for your humble offerings and gracious boot pack.

Mike Traslin grew up skiing on the North Shore Mountains of British Columbia. Starting on plastic skis at the age of 3, his passion has remained steady ever since. Being Canadian, it was always ice hockey and skiing for Mike in the winter, but soon it turned into racing gates and then freestyle skiing. And once he discovered powder and backcountry skiing he was hooked, and never looked back.


Whether your pack was purchased in 1974 or yesterday, Osprey will repair any damage or defect for any reason free of charge.