Not your usual climberI am, I think, a fairly rare climber: Someone who, throughout the course of my life, has been a failure. I think for many climbers they have been successful at many stages in their lives, driven, ambitious, used to success. For me, it has mostly been the opposite – twelve years of failure at school, repeated financial incompetence, broken relationships, no real career to speak of, repeated stopping and starting of interests, lack of focus, poor health etc., etc, ad nauseum. And that is, really, the truth. I was a quitter and a loser.
Mt. Thielsen and beyondAnd then I decided to climb Mt Thielsen. One fateful day, ten years ago in September, I started out on the trail up my first mountain, not knowing what I was doing or what to expect, but most of all, having no idea how profoundly that day would change my life. I set out with the idea of getting at least to chicken point, and gave myself permission in advance to not climb the summit pinnacle, especially since I knew we would be climbing without ropes, but when I reached the base of the pinnacle and watched guys much bigger than myself scrambling up easily, I knew I could do it and set out, finding myself more focused than I ever had been before, every handhold, every foothold being the extent of my world and soon, I was standing on the tiny summit, feeling the profoundest sense of exposure and elation. That was it, I was hooked. And while that would be the only mountain I would climb that year, an obsession began that has now led me to the summit of a mountain or crag some seventy plus times in a decade, with the last year and a half being by far the most productive: Twenty summits between July of 2007 and September this year. And every time it has been the same - the same focus and drive and unwillingness to quit, things I sorely lacked in life.
The Next StageMountains and rocks are my truth, the high places my temples. I eat, breath, sleep and dream of mountains. For myself, it's all I want anymore. To climb as hard and as often as I can while I can. And now, after having done the most technical rock climbing season in my life, a whole new element has been added.
Rock ClimbingBefore this year, I had rock climbed maybe ten times in ten years, never having felt a huge draw to it, preferring general mountaineering to anything else, but having relocated from Eugene, Oregon to Roseburg, Oregon, where the Callahans, the local crags, are located, I decided to do a little more, and I quickly met Greg Orton, local guidebook author and climbing instructor, and he invited me to help with his intro climbing classes, which I did, helping assist with belaying and rappelling. The next time he called me, it was to go to McKinley Rock, a four hundred foot high outcrop in the Umpqua River area, and I told him I had never done a multi-pitch climb before, but he reassured me that it would be fine with just the basics. So we went, and Greg and I completed the Hang Ten route (5.10a), a three-pitch climb that completely blew away my preconceived notions of what I thought I was capable of regarding rock climbing(see my trip report – my first multi-pitch climb). By the time I was done, just like on Thielsen, my world had been changed again, and I was hooked again. By the end of my climbing season, I had gone rock climbing probably close to twenty times from June until September, the highlight of which was doing the Peregrine Traverse on Acker Rock, one of Oregon's longest rock climbs, when I led every single pitch (before that day I had led exactly one pitch on an easy 5.7 slab). So needless to say, my entire outlook has changed. Now, knowing that I can climb 5.10+, I look to my future and hunger for routes I had always dreamed out of my reach - the North Ridge of Mt Stuart, East Face of Whitney, while my confidence in my climbing has been increased into entirely new dimensions. And I thought I was obsessed before.
On The Way UpI'm a better person when I climb. I'm happier, calmer, I sleep better, I eat better. In fact, before I relocated to Roseburg, I was a rail thin 135 pounds, a weight and physique I had maintained for my entire adult life (I was thirty-six when I moved). I had eating habits that bordered on anorexic, at one point going three days without food (and not really noticing). Now, with all the climbing (plus hiking and a little kayaking), not to mention the loving relationship I am in(plus all the good food she cooks for me) , I have gained nearly fifteen pounds (mostly muscle mass). This last year and a half has been one of the most joyous of my life. I even had a newspaper article written about me and my exploits.
Aspergers And A New Way To View The WorldEarlier this year, I happened upon a book written by John Elder Robinson called Look Me In The Eye, a book about his life with Aspergers Syndrome, and a light went off in my head(Aspergers, for those few of you who haven't heard about it by now, is a form of high-functioning autism). I had never heard about it before, but the descriptions of it were uncannily like my own life – crushing social anxiety and awkwardness, and inability to understand social cues, obsessiveness with a narrow topic to the point of excluding other, 'normal' interests, not being able to look others in the eye, etc, etc. I couldn't believe it, this was so like me I felt like crying. I have struggled so much with my life in so many ways, all the while being a highly intelligent, well-read, self-educated person. Well, needless to say, I began to read as much about it as possible and discussed it with a few people who were close to me and realized this was definitely it, and soon I talked to my doctor about it, who, after doing some research, easily diagnosed me with it. It was obvious. This was huge for me, my whole outlook changed, the albatross of shame was removed. Now all the problems I had had in life were more understandable, the struggles with school and friendships, money and organization. Now I am planning on going to college for the first time, to get a degree in outdoor recreation, to follow my passion for all things climbing. I can get help, learn in my own way (which tends to be on my own rather than a classroom setting), I actually can get a degree! I have let so much go that was weighing me down since this diagnosis, I have unfettered myself to be as obsessed with mountains and climbing as I want, since I really can't be any other way anyway.
SummaryThrough climbing I am a success, through climbing I have worked out innumerable problems, grinding out my cares on a dusty trail or steep snow-slope, feeling that gratification at the end of a climb, wearing that shit-eating grin for days afterwards, knowing that I had achieved my goals, knowing that I hadn't given up. Through climbing I have learned to trust my heart, leaving a good job in Eugene to seek a new life with climbing being my main focus, a choice I am so glad I made. I can hardly wait for more.
It has been a long road for me to get here. Many troubles surely still await, but life now is better than it has ever been. I have started to understand who I am, and why I have struggled for so long, and how I can work with being a slightly autistic oddball obsessed with all things Climbing. I'm never going to go back to how I was, though, never. I have given myself fully to climbing now, and will continue until age or gravity forces me to stop. Hopefully that wont be for a nice, long time.