Josh, a climber from my great state of Georgia, RSVP’ed as a “maybe” for HC’s July 2010 convention, and if he had been able to come, maybe you’d have met him.

Josh, in a standard southern climbing scene

The first time I met Josh, I was utterly charmed.  Most straight guys wouldn’t step anywhere near an aerial fabric, either because it looks frightening, or because it’s not the butchest activity to try for the first time (or ever) in front of others.  One time at the climbing gym, unmoved by either concern, he insisted that I show him a few moves, and he picked it up immediately.  Me and a gay friend sighed, that fuck-shit-motherfucker sigh resenting that someone so amazing doesn’t bat for our team.  Us crushing on him didn’t bother him either.  This made the resentment yet worse.  So cool!

Six months ago, he fell in Tallulah Gorge.

When someone dies, your response isn’t about the person who died, it’s about you.  Which is why when you hear about a death, the most immediate reaction is to find out exactly how it happened, and then once you find that out, you can distance yourself from it.  “I don’t do that, therefore, I am safe.”

But I don’t feel safe.  I imagine, like the rest of us players in the “extreme” sports, he participated because these activities order the emotional tumult we find inherent.  People who smile are aware more than anyone of the costs of living authentically–social rejection and the fear of not doing what everyone else is doing are a certain penalty, and so the risk of physical danger is just another bullet in the ledger.    I feel like the context of his death, expanded to the appropriate level of generality, implicates me, and us.

I feel bitter, and sad, detached, and angry, and vaguely guilty, despite being a hundred miles away.

When I was a freshman in college, the world opened up.  So much changed since then.  I learned to climb, I became an atheist, had sex, fell in love, traveled to new places, took big ice cream scoops out of my brain and replaced them with (usually) better things.  He was nineteen, about to carve his own path, but we lost him and what he would have become.

We don’t know how to talk about it, so we revert to the conversations we would have had before.  “How are you?”  “Good. How are you?” “Good.”  Everyone has bags under their eyes.

The margin of safety in our sport ebbs and flows, as it does with even the most mundane activities–not everyone rides around in a brand new Volvo with side curtain airbags.  Maybe it’s too expensive and what we have is the safest we can get, or maybe we just don’t want a goddamn ugly Volvo.  Sometimes we drift off a trad route to a runout, and decide that it’s safer to keep going rather than down-climb.  Or we see a route, weigh the risks, and climb it anyway.  This is the same choice you make when you step out of the house, have sex, cross an intersection.

Trad climbers will say (well, not if they’re honest) that they always put in more pieces, sport climbers will say they don’t climb trad, non-climbers will say they don’t climb, etc.

Even the most edge pushing trad climbers fall faster to heart disease and car crashes.  And yet climbing accidents suffer an almost religious examination, despite being indistinguishable from the pleasures of an antique car or a hamburger.

I think it risks being reductive to say that Josh died doing something he loved–I’d rather say that he died being himself.  His attitude was to be open to the world.  I’m sure this hurt him before.

It would be too easy to say you would have put in more pieces.  I’m sure there are moments in your life, whether in climbing or elsewhere, where the background thought was (or the equivalent of) “don’t fall.”  If X, then catastrophe, and the chance of X can’t be eliminated.  My brother almost died in a bike accident–I still ride my bike, and he now rides a motorcycle.

If there is one thing to be said of climbing and the nature of the risk that makes it unique to us, I would say that it’s the cognizance of the risk.  The legal term of art is “assumption of risk.”  Climbers are, I’ve found, universally very well aware of the risks they are taking, and accepting of those risks as part of the deal.

I wish he had put in more pieces, taken a different route, gotten up thirty seconds earlier that morning, but it’s too late to ask for that now.  The most we can say at this point is that, if he’s anything like the rest of us, his sport was representative of a much larger image of living the life that he wanted.  A more risk averse person wouldn’t have embraced other people so easily or had a smile that tore through walls.  Fate’s roll of the dice confined us to enjoy Josh’s presence for a terribly brief slice of time.

I ask myself if I knew him well enough to justify feeling this shocked.  I know there are not many people who make others feel welcome in the climbing community, but he was one of them.  When people die, there are always emotions that you want to instantiate in words, but you don’t, for fear of some social rejection. It’s the same reason most people don’t smile. I feel pretty weird writing and posting this, for example. I can’t eulogize him as well as the people who were close to him.  But that boundary would have meant nothing to him–I know if I had died before him, he would have said something about me.  Maybe he was afraid, and he just overcame it on an incredibly regular basis.  I hope the memory and example of his life will at least partly replace what we lost.

A smile etches itself into memory in a world of fear.  His death has and will continue to burn for an enormous number of people.

Breaking News: Ale-8-One Bottle Molested by Rowland, Company demands STI Panel

Red River Gorge October 2010 Trip Report

Day 0 (The Lost Day)

fuck UA

OMFG, Worst Service Ever. Never fly United Airlines if you have a choice. A wise girl scout once said “if you want to make God laugh, just make a plan”. I was off from work, packed, tucked, and sitting on the damn plane for half an hour. When the captain goes all like “not to worry folks we have a minor leak in the fuel line or maybe hydraulics but we should be able to depart in a few minutes”. Cut to an hour later and I paraphrase “this is your captain, I’m a dumb jackass, get off the plane and take all your bags”. Cue 100 angry passengers, 2 United agents, and the great four hour wait to speak to one them. Not cool. This guarantees I miss the connecting flight in Chicago and poor Mike is now stuck in Lexington when we should be setting camp at the Red. If you ever fuck a UA steward give it to them hard and at least for five hours. I got it from them bad. Rant Over.

Day 1

hurts so good!

5am flight to DFW. 7am flight to Lex. Success! Mike and I hit Wal-Mart for all the essentials: cereal, rice milk, tangerines, and a bottle of bourbon. We drive in and setup camp at Land of Arches. Happily my old friend Sabrina, from Pittsburgh, was there to greet us. With just a few hours left of light we decide to hit Roadside Crag for a quick warm-up on Trouble Clef 5.9-.  This is a classic slab line for Sabrina and I, but Mike’s slab cherry gets popped and he takes it like a man. With darkness approaching we head back to camp to warm up with a nice campfire. Mike demonstrates his mad girl scout skills by starting a large campfire in under 20 seconds, the secret is gasoline.  Sabrina proceeds to breakout a dangerous quantity of peanut butter cookies and we grab some PB+J’s for dinner.  What happened then is hard to recall but I know we began to drink the bourbon under the guise that it provided warmth from the chilly night.  To further that end we thought it wise to walk through the fire being happy little pyros with a large toy, thank God Merrell knows how to make a fire resistant shoe.

Day 2 (the Awesome day)

Michael getting busy at Bruise Brothers

I woke from the cold the next morning feeling surprisingly spry yet stumbling slightly, shaky in my step.  The Georgia crew, Alex and Paul, arrived sometime in the night and in true style I had absolutely no recollection of that.  With Sabrina vomiting in the field, and some strange purple stains on my jeans, I figured out quickly that we got sloshed.  Mike provided a few details, such as someone may or may not have crawled into a women’s tent and vomited there.

Either way coffee solves everything and so we bummed some hot water off of Paul after learning that Mike is only capable of large fires and not handling stoves, an excellent tidbit for the Austin Arson department.  The St. Louis crew of Michael, Meli, Mary, and Christy were supposed to have shown up the night before but was still not accounted for.  I feared that somewhere along the treacherous roads of Missouri a rogue biker gang of lesbians turned the men into castrati and kidnapped the women forcing them into a life of leather pants and bandannas.  Turns out they camped in the back of the lot and we were too busy drinking to notice they rolled in, oops.

Everyone looks so busy

The morning consisted of climbing in the Muir Valley at the Bruise Brothers Wall.  Mike and I got there first and led Little Viper 5.10b.  Jungle Trundler’s 5.11a bouldery start and crack feature became Mike’s new favorite route at the RRG.  The rest of Homo Climbtastic showed up and put up Hey There, Fancy Pants 5.10c as well.

We had an almost full Mo going on with St. Louis, Georgia, and the Ryan’s!  The crag started out quite empty but was becoming quite crowded with breeders so we decided to switch crags to Roadside and meet up with Michigan crew which hadn’t shown up yet.

Mike heading for the anchors on Ro Shampo!

Roadside was a great time. Mike successfully led Ro Shampo his first 5.12a! Ro is my classic project, flashed once but sadly never confirmed; oddly Mike did not love it as much as I. Still if you had but one route to climb in the Red I’d vote Ro all the way.

My old friend Peter managed to find his way down from Chicago and climb Ro with us as well – not a 12 cherry for him but still his first time on the route.  It was epic to see him progress so far since I left the frozen tundra of the north. All this time Jonathan was running around trying to find some nice climbs for his crew but Roadside is often busy and they settled on The Return of Chris Snyder 5.11d.

short person crux

They were having a good go of it but it was getting dark and Jonathan asked if I’d clean it up. Now I was thinking this was gonna be a nice easy short 11 but no I look up and it’s 95ft tall and the climb hasn’t been finished. Sweet baby jebus.  After getting some locking draws from Mike, I grab a headlamp from Jon and start up.  Super fun easy moves, but sustained, very sustained. At the last couple bolts I switch the follow-up system I’m on to lead and finish the last few moves.  While cleaning I learned that energizer headlamps are impossible to turn on with tired fingers and that I can tie a figure eight in the dark.  Coming down through the open air 70ft off the ground, 20ft from the wall, in the dark was amazing, perhaps one of the best moments of the trip in my mind. For recovering gear and not falling on/killing my belayer I earn some free Miguel’s from Jonathan, super tasty Thanks!

Day 3 (The cold day)

Alex climbing in boots

Brr. Cold. Fuck that shit. In utter irony the coldest climbing day is done in Purgatory.  Yup, Pendergrass, I donated like 10 bucks when I was dirt poor in college so I feel like I own a small piece of this place. Anyhow we began on the shaded wall 100ft from the one in full sun.  While I’m half asleep from too weak coffee someone sets up The Gimp 5.10a and Jumbo Shrimp 5.10a. I was an ass ignoring everyone and basking in the sun while eying Hellraiser 5.12c.  After Alex sketches out on the Gimp he hops on Hellraiser only to face the sick reachy sloper of defeat, I decided against trying the route.  Some guys, who smell distinctly of weed, come by to play with Hellraiser so we head back toward the St. Louis crew.

Alex starts on Jumbo Shrimp, in boots, and halfway up goes slightly off route pulling off a small chunk of the wall, Christy who is belaying is wisely wearing her helmet; Alex was cool about it and hung onto it before throwing it safely into the woods.  Meli braves the route only to be faced by the comedic stylings of Mary Tang and takes a catch.

Michael and Mike

Needing new toys Michael, Paul, Mike, Meli, and I head to the Playground and work on some fun slab routes. Michael and I lead Slide 5.9 and Tire Swing 5.10a, respectively. Meli works on Slide which is very reachy for shorties, but pulls through the crux.  Tire Swing has a great bouldery start and some hard to read traversing which made it feel tougher than 10a.

Alex, Christy, and Mary Tang spent a little extra time in Purgatory for their wicked ways and pulled on some elevens including Christy’s project Special Boy? 5.11c. Mary Tang took a sweet whipper on this one.

Michael getting ready for a Brief History of Climb

After Playground the rest of went over to the Gallery to check out a route for Paul called 27 Years of Climbing a five star 5.8. Paul, Michael, and Meli hit that one which I’ve done in the past and know to be super fun.  Mike and I put up a Brief History of Time and since I was feeling great I gave it a second go.  With a little convincing we got Michael and Meli on it and they seemed stoked after finishing it up. Paul vows to get on that one next time.

After a full day of climbing we head over to Miguel’s to hang out but damn was it crowded. You’d think they had a drag queen showdown or something. The main lot was full, the overflow lot was full, and side of the street parking was full for a good 100 yards.  Nevertheless our fabulous selves wrangle a table indoors and enjoy good company.


Christy bringing draws to Roger (who once again showed his excitement for climbing by forgetting to bring along gear)

Christy to the Rescue!

Roadside once again, cause St. Louis needs a quick exit.  We worked on Dragonslayer 5.10d and Crazyfingers 5.10c. Now depending on who you ask the grades are exchangeable. I found Dragonslayer to be way easier than Crazyfingers and of course I’m right and the guidebook should change, is all I’m saying..

Anyhow to earn our sponsorship status from Beta Clothing Designs, Alex and I stripped down to our skivvies and donned the bright red highly breathable boxers that Beta sent us.  Alex led Crazyfingers in the boxers and I took my clothes off for Ro Shampo.

Alex in just Beta Clothing Designs boxers

I managed a one-hang on Ro Shampo.  While Alex and I were at Ro, Mary and Paul attempted a trad crack but bailed when they realized they ran out of fisting gear, I mean fist size gear. It was approaching mid-afternoon and the St. Louis MOs had to be on the road. We said our goodbyes and headed to some warm-down climbs. Mike and Paul worked on Altered Scale 5.9+ while I went and did my business in the woods for the first time, rather relaxing I must say, I highly recommend everyone give it a go.  After losing about a pound I felt good enough to attempt Way Up Yonder 5.12a.  After pulling the 5.11b bottom Up Yonder I began Way Up Yonder. Got four clips up and feeling like a scrotum I said fuck it and bailed, thank God for project draws.  It went from a fun pockety climb to a slopy overhanging bullshit. F that.  Alex played on it for a bit and then we hit Miguel’s for some tasty stomach hurting pizza, yummy.  While there Alex showed everyone the fine art of rimming an Ale81 bottle, skills he attests not to use, but clearly well practiced.

An Ale81 getting rimmed by Alex.

Back at camp we washed down, ate way too much jerky, and discussed the best gay slang terms to have the servers at Miguel’s yell out around camp when bringing out your pizza.  My personal favorite is “daddy”, can’t you imagine it “I’m looking for daddy, I got a hot big one for daddy”…  Speaking of daddies we also discussed the fine art of projecting a cock, cause some sends take some time and practice…

Mike hits Fuzzy Undercling

Day 5

Alex and Paul roll out despite having a perfect day of climbing available. Weak sauce.  So Mike and I hit military wall, sadly where Jonathan Elyea (pronounced L-E-A), was the day before, totally didn’t get enough climbing with our Michigan crew.

We had flights in the afternoon so we hit just two climbs. Fuzzy Undercling 5.11b and Possum Lips 5.10d.Fuzzy was nasty, the ground erosion is making the boulder start even harder, not cool.  Possum Lips though was awesome. This route was a piece of cake for Mike (god-damned tall people) but for me the crux was a feet on tiny pebbles, hands on super thin crimps dyno to a horn. Great fluid movement but hurt like a bitch. Super technical, love it.  The crag was quickly filling with breeders so we headed out to pack and hit the airport bar for a beer.  A great trip ended. Didn’t get to hang with everyone long enough, only one option: Bishop….


say HorseCock!


High-Res Photos

Written by the Evil Solar Powered Rope Gun