This wasn't an easy post to write. And it won't be easy to read. But I've gotten into the habit of recording my climbing life on this blog, and sometimes hard things happen. Bouldering has shaped my life significantly and life events affect it in a mutual way. The borders between my climbing and the rest of my life can be undefined and break down from time to time. During the last few weeks I put up mental walls, and had those walls fall down again.
Our summer vacation was going along smoothly. Joe visited from Denver and got out with us for some bouldering. Based on what Joe's been climbing lately, I knew he'd enjoy "The Giving Tree." He didn't quite send it, but he really liked the problem.
Ashley and I still had one more line to try in the vicinity of the U.F.O. Matt's problem "True Blood" V6/7. We climbed the line, starting from a hanging position on the rail, but learned later that it was originally done from a lower sit start. It's in a tight space, but it has interesting features and moves. I'm continually impressed by how engaging these physical puzzles can be.
The International Climbers' Festival began, and I'd signed up to help where I could. I set up chairs and delivered prizes for the Legends and Lore event on Wednesday. During one of the first talks of the event my phone started to vibrate. It was a call from my mom in upstate New York. I left the building and learned that my dad's heart valve surgery wasn't going well. The surgeon told my mom that she wasn't sure whether or not he'd survive. I was quite upset by the phone call, but I'd volunteered to help with the Boulder Bash that night. So I pushed thoughts of my dad out of my mind for a few hours and just focused on helping out at the Boulder Bash as if nothing else was happening. The event went well, and I enjoyed watching everyone from beginner to pros test themselves on various problems from V0-V10. I bouldered a bit myself, but found that even with a bunch of lights provided by Goal Zero I was falling off of normally easy top outs once it got dark. I'd forgotten to bring a headlamp.
Chelsea warming up before the sun went down.
But on Friday morning I learned that my father had died during the night of kidney failure. Here's an obituary that my sister wrote.
That day happened to be the first day of Festival bouldering clinics, and I was signed up to give a tour. Once again, I tried to push thoughts of my dad out of my mind, and focus on the task at hand. I helped guide Jon's clinic around the Rock Shop. Early in the day I sprained my wrist on an easy problem that I tried to quickly muscle through rather than taking time to figure out. I don't think my entire mind was focused on climbing, and that probably caused the injury. So I was forced to quit climbing for the session, and that allowed me to refocus on guiding clinic participants to problems I thought they'd enjoy. Jon did a great job of checking in with everyone, and clearly demonstrated what strong climbing looks like. Here's a shot of him floating up "Sundance Kid."
I drank a lot of coffee, drove to Denver, flew to Chicago, and then to Syracuse. I had window seats the whole way. The number of farms I flew over was staggering. Each one just slightly different from the rest, covering vast flat plains and then gently rolling hills. I remembered what now feels like another life, living in a small town in Iowa from the ages of 2 until 16. All the dramas that played out in that landscape of industrialized agriculture.
I flew over Chicago, which looked like it was thriving, then over vast parts of Detroit that looked utterly abandoned. The plane descended into Syracuse as the sun was setting. And I had conflicted feelings as the sun lit up the smog filled air between two layers of clouds we were descending through to create one of the most beautiful scenes I've ever experienced. I was disappointed that my camera was packed in the overhead bin, and I wasn't able to grab it.
The next few days were spent with family. Reflecting on my dad's life, his death, and going through his things. All of his stuff was meticulously organized, and stored together within bins reflecting specific interests within specific time periods of his life. He'd been a photographer when I was young, developing black and white photos in a darkroom he set up. He'd been an athlete during high school, playing football and hockey. He had his fraternity years at Cornell, his years in the Peace Corps in Colombia, his ride back home from Panama on a motorcycle.
His years of working for the extension service in New York, years of working in "Big Time" agriculture in Iowa, years of owning Lloyd's Lake and Land sporting goods store, and time in New York semi-retired. He spent the last couple decades growing food for his farmers market stand, cutting trees in the Adirondacks, mowing lawns, plowing snow, making maple syrup and selling class rings for some extra income. He established a few strong connections with a few people, within each section of his life, and maintained those connections until he died.
My reflection on his life, and things, put me into a mood that I can only label as existential. I saw all the ways my dad had pursued meaning, productivity, and order within his life. But whenever I left my parent's house, and observed the lawns, strip malls, small farm fields, small forested areas, and busy roads of upstate New York, I saw no meaning in any of it. The area is well maintained, the businesses look successful, everything is green and growing. It's obvious that people are working hard to make the area a better place. Upstate New York isn't meaningless to the people that call it home, but it still felt empty of meaning, pointless, to me. Opportunities for the types of adventure, discovery, and the personal growth that I've devoted myself to aren't there to be found.
Spending time with family for those few days was the most important thing in the world. But soon it was time to return to Wyoming. As I drove through the empty spaces, past Sweetwater Rocks, and the Wind River Range came into view, I had the strongest feeling of returning home that I've ever experienced.
The next day my wrist still hurt too much for me to really climb, but I brushed up new lines at the Rock Shop for Ashley and Sierra to climb. It felt so good to be home, spending time in the mountains again with Ashley and our daughters.
Ashley on the first ascent of "Copperhead" V5.
Ashley and the girls had summer camps, an airbag recall, and other business to attend to down in Colorado the next day. I stayed in Lander, painting our house, and cleaning up new lines at the Rock Shop. Mid-week I was invited along for a trip to the Falcon's Lair. It's rare to get a crew of seven boulderers all psyched to spend a full day alpine bouldering. It was exciting to get back up there with Justin, Le, Tony, Skyler, Jason, and Kian.
A parade of pads hiking to the lower edge of the snowfield seen in the distance.
We did some exploration, and got started with some first ascents up a small roof.
Skyler getting the first ascent of "Sniper No Sniping."
To wrap up, I'd like to explain that a lot of ideas have come into stark relief for me during the past few weeks. The most salient one is that when life comes to an end, we live on through our reputation. That it's important to have a positive impact on the world. But that different people are in very different places, and will have very different impacts. We all have a unique path to tread. Most of our moments, and most of our lives, continue on in a comfortable state of habit just meeting necessities. But true excellence, influence, and inspiration come from doing new things, and doing them well. My dad left many positive marks on the world.
I know that my marks on the world will be left through my efforts as a father, a teacher, and a bouldering developer. And also with my efforts to document what I learn through words and photographs. Continually hoping that, with sincere effort, I will be able to live on with a good reputation. What more can we do?