Osprey Packs Ambassador Matt Hayes is a resident of Boulder, Colorado as far as the postal service knows. Since graduating from the University of Colorado he’s actually lived in 3 different states and 5 countries. Matt learned the intricacies of broadcast production and still photography in college, how to twirl wrenches working in bike shops for a decade, and how to race mountain bikes by getting beaten all the time. His other skills include playing the saxophone, jumping off cliffs into powder fields, rocking a mohawk, and eating nachos with two hands while riding a bike. He is a certified EMT, is currently enjoying a budding “career,” and shortly will commence saving the world.
While Colorado is an amazing place to live, Autumn can be a bit boring as the bike trails get a blanket of snow but haven’t collected quite enough to start skiing. Consequently, I decided to spend a few months this Fall in South America guiding mountain bike trips and riding through Colombia on a 125cc two-stoke motorcycle.
I left my temporary home in San Gil, Colombia and headed north towards the coast. Honestly, I didn’t really expect my 1996 Yamaha DT to survive the trip. A favorite model of the drug-runners in the mid-90’s, my motorcycle had already had two gaskets leak, the clutch fail, and the throttle seize in the two months I had owned it.
The highway hugged the coast line and every hill crested led to a beautiful beachfront view. It was gorgeous and I eventually had to force myself to stop taking pictures for fear I wouldn’t actually complete any mileage.
I shouldn’t have worried so much – about an hour later the road turned flat, straight, and hot. I cruised to the city of Riohacha, got some lunch, and took a dirt road out of town that led straight into an impassible river. Negotiating a different route out of the city, I saw a sign for The Beaches of Mayapo. I remembered seeing a map of a small road that wound along the beach ending up in Quatro Vias which I wanted to check out so I followed the sign.
The road surface was one of the best I had encountered in Colombia so I figured it was a main road, which was good because I knew I was low on gas. The long sweeping corners with nothing to obstruct the view allowed me to push the little 125 as fast as it would go. I was having a blast until the road suddenly, without warning, turned to a network of spidering dirt trails.
This was completely outside my frame of reference. How does a main road disintegrate to unmarked trails within a meter? There was no town, no turn around point, no road signs. All I could do was shrug and go back the way I came.
As the sun set I flirted with the idea of camping for the night but ultimately decided to find a cheap hotel. The road was just as fun on the way back and I was feeling euphoric until the bike sputtered and died as it ran out of gas. Exasperation set in.
I started pushing the bike until I found two security guards chatting by a school. I told them I needed gas and they answered in the most accent-riddled Spanish I have ever heard. I couldn’t even understand the word for “10.” Luckily they understood me fine and eventually we worked out that one of them would walk about 2km with me to a cluster of homes where some guy had some gas.
One of the main features I like on the Osprey Farpoint is the removable daypack. It’s perfectly sized to hold my valuables without being bulky, and it can stow inside the main pack if there’s room which is how I had been traveling. I grabbed the small pack and we started walking down sand footpaths into the dark. I was sure I was going to get gas or get robbed, but I had no idea which one.
After several random turns we arrived at a trailer where a disheveled man showed us to a locked shed. He opened it, and as his flashlight darted around I saw 10 or 15 five-gallon containers all presumably filled with gasoline. He sold us a few gallons which I lugged back.
With new gas the bike fired right up and, after thanking the guards profusely, I backtracked towards Riohacha yet again.
I was exhausted, sick, anxious, and even a bit scared as I followed the deserted road but the stars overhead were mesmerizing. I stopped, turned off the bike, and starred at them for a few minutes. I felt like I was on a big journey but I was only venturing around one part of one country on one planet. I felt far from home, but my DT125 topped out around 70kmh and I had only been riding for a few days. The star light had been traveling at a billion kmh for 100’s or 1000’s of years to get to the same spot. Granted – light doesn’t have to deal with running out of gas, getting directions, mechanical failures, or FARC kidnappings, but it still made me feel infinitesimally small and my problems even smaller.
I stopped at the first hotel I found, and with thoughts of all the problems that day juxtaposing the immensity of the universe I climbed into bed excited for the next day’s adventure.
After five months of worker’s disability checks and a slow re-entry into the world of climbing, it was time for me to start guiding again. I am a firm believer in doing what you love to do for work, if possible, and guiding is my perfect pursuit. Like any profession, you have to pay your dues, get trained/certified, and work the jobs that people don’t necessarily love to do, but eventually if you stick with it, it pays off. At the end of the day, any job as a mountain guide has you out in the hills, and not behind a desk, so how bad can it be?
Many people might view mountain guiding as a superfluous, luxury pursuit, but there are a few arguments that I believe in that justify its pursuit, and mountain climbing in general as well. At the heart of the matter is that the world is a better place when there are more happy, satisfied and motivated people in it, and skiing and climbing and the guiding of those activities is one of the best ways for me to make the world a better place.
This summer I really feel like I got a fresh perspective on the joys of guiding. Maybe it was the five months of not working and minimal activity with my injury recovery; maybe it was the few days of really high quality and rewarding guiding I did. My guess is that it was the combination of the two. So what were the days that made me so pleased with my chosen career path and my return to it?
First was getting the chance to guide my favorite multipitch route in the world, Freeway, in my home of Squamish. After the five minute stroll from your car, you are greeted with 1,000’ of sustained 5.11 climbing. Roofs, corners, traverses, slabs; Freeway has it all, and is a standard test piece. I can climb it again and again (and have probably climbed it over 40 times) with out ever growing weary of it. But this summer I got my first chance at guiding it. Freeway might only be guided once or twice a year at most, due to its sustained difficulties. There are also only a handful of guides that would feel comfortable in front on 5.11+ terrain. For me it became a litmus test of my confidence at returning to my favorite activities at a high level of performance. There is no doubt that I was nervous and apprehensive at accepting the work, but in the end, I decided to give it a go.
Fortunately, when I met the client in the morning, my confidence was boosted even more. Patrick was a climber who certainly has gotten a lot done over the years and he wanted a day out on the rocks to push his personal limits. As soon as he styled the first pitch of the day, a tricky 5.11a warm up, I knew we had it in the bag. All in all, we both cruised the route with no falls and were back at the car bright and early celebrating an awesome day on the rocks.
The other day that stands out in my mind was a lap up the Grand Wall, also in Squamish. At 5.11- and 10 pitches long, it is also considered a classic test piece. Sustained, with pitch after pitch of brilliant climbing, many climbers spend a few weeks in Squamish with their focus being to train for and send the Grand Wall. This route gets guided more frequently, and I have guided it a few times, but my client on this day was a little different. At 12 years old, Joe is a future star of the sport for sure. His sisters, with their coach Elliot, were on a rope team right in front of us. Both of the siblings have climbed 5.13 and train with a crew of young crushers in Boulder, CO. Don’t be surprised if you see their names in the mags in a few years, pushing the limits of rock climbing. However, neither of them had multi pitch climbed before, or for that matter done much trad climbing at all! Even though 5.11 climbing is well within their abilities, eight hours hanging in a harness with food, water and gear strapped to you is an entirely different beast. Whatever these two lacked in experience, they more than made up for in sheer psych. Joe was right at home with 1000’ of exposure beneath his feet, swinging and hanging around in his harness, cruising through cruxes. It was so enjoyable to have fresh perspectives, with no expectations and no complaining. Young people really have a unique and unbiased view of the world, and it was a pleasure to see an old favorite route of mine through the fresh eyes of a 12 and 15 year old.
- 15 year old Isabelle on the Grand Wall
There were definitely a bunch of other quality days guiding for me this summer, these were just the two that stood out the most. Really, every day has brought a lot of reward to me, helping folks to enjoy the vertical stone and fill their lives with a bit more excitement. As I said before I can’t imagine ending up in another career!
- 12 year old Joe on the super exposed bolt ladder mid height on the Grand Wall