thoughts on one year of climbing

2018 was my second year on my search and rescue team. It was rewarding and in some areas I feel that I did the job well, but there was one area in particular I knew I was weak: climbing.

I was fortunate enough to attend the Rigging for Rescue basic course, an intensive one week field seminar where we spent a lot of time dangling by ropes, near cliff edges, and other things that would make any normal person a little …. excited. But in the course I saw that, by a country mile, I was the weakest of climbers in that course.


2018 Rigging for Rescue training. I was probably pretty sketched out in this photo.

Then in September of 2018 I ended up going over the edge of Mt Dana’s Third Pillar (mountain project info).  My discomfort with exposure was showing as was my general lack of familiarity with rope systems. You’re good at things you do, and not at things you don’t. I didn’t climb, and it showed. So, I started climbing.


My first time really climbing. 2018, top roped. My teammate took me up a route named after our team, which is pretty dope.

Then the winter set in which shuts down the climbing opportunities around me. Through my work I managed to find a few climbing gyms when traveling, and I stayed in Reno at a hotel that has a pretty cool outdoor wall with autobelays. There’s a rather savage indoor bouldering area in Mammoth’s industrial center that I would go into mid winter, freezing my ass off, but I made progress.

I dropped regular gym life. For those of you who know me, imagine the pain I felt walking away from barbells. I opted for more climbing and alpinist training:


Indoor climbing (in my limited experience) seems to help make you stronger but there are skills that you just can’t really develop unless you’re on real rock.  But you can often climb alone indoors, it doesn’t snow indoors, and there’s a nice sound system.

Climbing is normally broken into three distinct components:

  1. Your fitness. This matters, but not as much as you’d think. But like most of life things will be easier the leaner and stronger you are.
  2. Your skills. These take time to develop and the types of things you climb on will require their own skills. It’s different to go up polished granite than it is to climb under an overhanging roof.
  3. Your head. It can be extremely challenging to be hundreds or thousands of feet in the air and to step from a good location towards a really sketchy and thin rock abrasion and then to keep moving towards even less positive holds.

The head-game one, unless you’re Alex Honnold with a non-functioning amygdala, is a battle you will fight non-stop. But I’ve appreciated the carryover to other aspects of my life. In Rock Warrior’s Way (a book I highly recommend) much attention is given to the very subject of attention and intention. If you can tune out your brain screaming at you that you’re going to die and instead focus and execute the placement of your foot on a pencil eraser sized rock poking out of an otherwise glass-smooth rock face as hundreds of feet of air sit under you, you’ll notice your ability to focus on a lot of other things approves as well.

I’ve actually noticed it with a lot of climbers: they can be spooky focused and attentive. In a world of multitasking, constant phone alerts, and 24 hour news, climbing is about keeping your head extremely clear of things that don’t help you and putting all of your mental capacity towards a limited set of items, sometimes just one very little thing.

This year, I’m again fortunate enough to participate in Rigging for Rescue, this time the higher up small-teams course. We’ll be going to a multipitch route somewhere in the Eastern Sierra and I’m really looking forward to it.

If you’re older (like me, past 40 I get to say that now) climbing is nice because most of the classic and super-fun stuff is not that technically difficult. There are plenty of extremely difficult climbs but maybe 3/4 of the routes that people drool about doing are fairly achievable (and safe) for a first or second year climber.

And as a forewarning, because climbing equipment is a life-safety issue feelings tend to run very strong. Also, a lot of climbers are weird. Don’t be put off by such things, I find the weird anti-social guy just as off putting as you do. There are some nice people who’d be happy to literally and figuratively show you the ropes. Your first time crag climbing start off top roping with a good belayer: you’re not going anywhere. If you “fall” you’ll go down 6 inches or so, the rope giving you a nice cushy stretch.

And lastly, wear comfortable shoes if you buy or rent some. Climbing shoes don’t stretch that much in general, especially if you’re not climbing that often. If you are climbing a lot, you’ll end up with multiple pairs anyway and having a comfy pair of go-tos will not be wasted money. I have a pair of La Sportiva Mythos that I could nearly wear as house slippers.  As much as tight shoes are important, shoes that hurt your feet make climbing suck really bad. You have plenty to focus on without needing to add in foot pain.

skip the burger unless you really want it

I was walking to work one day and a young man standing in front of a community college handed me a flier. It, and I assume he, was full of vegan propaganda. Perhaps you haven’t heard the joke before:

How do you know someone is vegan [and/or into crossfit]? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.

I said “thanks” and kept walking, thumbing through the papers looking for typical arguments that meat is murder and I will enjoy tofu as much as an In-n-Out burger: obviously a lie, peddled by anti-Americans raised in some communist country.


First result on Google image search for “vegan”.

But instead I encountered a rather balanced and realistic approach. “Cows are hard on our environment and health. Consider minimizing your use of them.” I was taken aback.

Rather than be confronted with zealotry, the statement was honest and reasonable. After all, I think most of us know that if we’re not going to absolutely reduce less-than-terrific habits like alcohol consumption that we learn how to achieve a sustainable balance.

Whether you get your news from NPR or Breitbart, you’ll face the hard reality that cows actually beat out cars for greenhouse gas emissions. Breaking news today shows promise that by adding a tiny amount of seaweed to a cow’s diet, methane emissions can be cut by 99%.

Skipping over to more immediate concerns, antibiotics used in cattle are definitively linked to human diseases that are antibiotic resistant. Put bluntly, the contemporary way our society raises cattle is killing people. From the WHO:

…there is clear evidence of adverse human health consequences due to resistant organisms resulting from non-human usage of antimicrobials.

And let’s unpack “adverse human health” a bit of clarity from the CDC:

Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections. Many more people die from other conditions that were complicated by an antibiotic-resistant infection.

Now of course we can’t lay 100% of the blame of antibiotic resistant deaths at the hooves of cattle production. But it’s clearly a significant cause as outlined in this Frontline documentary.


Sorry planet, but I’m eating my 5×5 protein style. I’m not squatting 315×5 by eating tofu, bro.

Tracing this all back to the nice vegan man handing out fliers, I’ve found that like alcohol, pot, and staying up late watching shitty movies the point is not to remove these things entirely from your life (less you become an absolute bore).

I’ve removed most of the beef from my diet by asking a simple question:

Do I actually want to eat beef right now or am I just hungry?

If I’m going to In-N-Out, I’m happily participating in the wholesale murder of cows with a smile on my face. But if I’m just scarfing some food down in a hurry, I’ll toss some Boca spicy “chicken” patties in a pan.

Before I grab a beer, I ask myself if I really want a beer or if I’m actually just thirsty and want some water. Trust me: most of the time I want the beer.

I would posit that most of our daily habits are not consciously planned out. They look mysteriously like what we did yesterday and the week before, and also echo how our parents raised us. But it’s a brave new world out there and there’s new information to contend with.

If you want to do things that aren’t so great for you, me, or the environment that’s fine: we all do things like that. But perhaps consider regulating it a bit. It’s one thing to be a little selfish because you’re too lazy to stock your shopping cart with something better. It’s entirely different to be selfish when your teeth sink into a wonderful juicy burger. in the latter example, selfishness never tasted so good.

weight lifting in mammoth lakes

This article is written with a bit of sarcasm, and may offend some readers.

The author, in his super-bro sunglasses, doing too-high kettlebell swings in Two Harbors, Catalina, a few years back.

Like any minority community, weight lifters live persecuted and scared lives. We are referred to as meatheads, invited over only to help move couches, and in some “fitness facilities” we are actively discriminated against. But hey, that’s cool bro. If I was some puny little dweeb that couldn’t deadlift 400+, I’d probably want to persecute me too. To quote Mark Rippetoe:

Strong people are harder to kill than weak people and more useful in general.

So when we moved up here to Mammoth I realized that there were two choices: The Body Shop and Snowcreek Athletic Club. There’s usually a fairly big cut line between “gyms” and “athletic clubs”; let me break it down for you. There are other types of fitness facilities, but these two classes are common:

A gym:

  • Usually cheap. You’ll hear people bragging about how it’s only $20/month or whatever.
  • Generally full of clowns bicep curling in front of the mirrors.
  • Conspicuously lacking anyone who’s really strong.   Let’s say that “strong” means you can overhead press your own bodyweight.
  • Lots of “lifting gloves”.
  • Packed, crowded, dirty, and usually not with any other real amenities.

An athletic club:

  • Generally more expensive. $100/month is pretty normal.
  • Still full of clowns bicep curling in front of the mirrors, still with “lifting gloves”, and still probably not a lot of really strong people. But there will be a few strong folks.
  • Generally has more fitness gear to pick from. More squat racks. Fancier machines (generally keeping the weaklings off the barbells, which is great). More ellipticals and crap like that to also keep the Cardio Princes and Princesses off the barbells.
  • Saunas, nice lockers, nice showers, swimming pools, places to eat and grab a bite, and nice little touches like hair dryers and shaving gear.

Perhaps one of the biggest things you’re buying with an athletic club membership is just that: a club membership. The community and culture of a gym is generally absolute shit, as where the people in an athletic club while not necessarily a better “class” of people tend to have their act together. They care a little more. They tend to be older and more professional. The treat the place like something they’re paying good money for.


The front entrance to the Snow Creek Athletic Club. Looks a little nicer than some dump 24 Hour fitness clone, right?

Snowcreek also has a racquetball court. Multiple trampolines with actual no-kidding trampoline progression. Martial arts. Yoga. Dance. Kick boxing. Zumba (sigh). Tennis courts. Kids programs.

So when you brag about your dump-of-a-gym $20/month membership and laugh at my $160/month family membership to Snowcreek, I challenge you on the math and on the results.

That hefty price tag is for two adults and two kids. Our kids can attend classes, for free. I go roughly five days a week. Charlotte goes at least a few. So for the roughly 34 times a month we go, we pay about $4.50 an hour. Pretty dirt cheap for everything we get. I’m a huge fitness guy, sipping my IPA, and I’ll frequently tell folks that you either spend time and money to be healthy or you spend time and money to be sick later. You still may get sick, but odds are that you’ll be healthy and able to do more with your life for a longer period of time.

What’s the main thing keeping people from snowboarding, backpacking, and mountain biking? A base of fitness. Fit and healthy, you can walk into pretty much any sport and achieve novice level competency in a shockingly quick amount of time: what a nice way to live.

So I was inclined towards Snowcreek Athletic Club, but after going for a week I feel that I made the right decision. Let me show you around.


This looks like hell to anyone who isn’t into strength training. For the community of weight lifters, an empty room with a cage, chalk marks, and some plyo boxes is gold.

So basically there are three rooms you need to concern yourself with. First, there’s the “box”, which I don’t really know if it has a name, but it’s the classic empty room with a bunch of gadgets, a power cage, and some plyo boxes.


The gadgets in the box room. Kettlebells, bands, an ab wheel, some balls (lol), balance board, medicine balls, some stupid ab thing from the 80’s, etc.

I don’t know when everyone goes to the gym, but around 8am it’s pretty much a ghost town. There’s maybe two or three other dudes in there all of which are, you guessed it, curling in front of the mirrors. God bless them.


The squat rack in the box room. The bar is a old and smooth, and the floor is a bit spongy but loaded up it compresses well enough under your feet that I don’t really feel it. A year from now I’m asking to have a wood base put in.

I spend pretty much my whole time in the box. It’s where I feel most comfortable, and you can move around and exercise, as opposed to whatever the hell is going on with all those machines in the other rooms.


Room number two. I show off the second of the two squat racks in the gym. To the left out of focus are dumbbell racks. To the right you’ll note a gentleman texting while sitting on the bench. At least no “lifting gloves”. Room three beyond it there in the next door frame.

There might be four rooms, I can’t really tell. There are so many frigging machines it’s like walking through a robot factory. But I noticed the chalk on the floor, and the locked up bin of some heavy-ass-lifter’s gear and it made me wonder: I bet there’s a glute ham machine in this joint.


Some dude’s private stash of gear, all locked up. I saw a chain belt in the unlocked one and let it be. Note the chalk scattered about: this makes me happy.

The glute ham raise (GHR) is pretty much the only machine that anyone should use, except for lawn mowers, snow blowers, drills, and saws. Sadly lacking in almost every gym in the nation, it rocks the posterior chain and makes you strong like bull. But given that there must be a power lifter lurking somewhere near this gym, I wondered: maybe a miracle happened and a GHR is here.


Holy crap, a GHR. Note the chalked grips.

Not only is a GHR here at Snowcreek, but it’s not the powder coated white of every other machine meaning that it was specifically ordered by someone.

Mammoth truly is a fitness freak’s paradise. Trails to run on. Trails to ride bikes on. Trails to cross country ski. Mountains to ski and board down. Lakes to paddleboard and (if you’re crazy) swim in. Mountains to climb. And now I can positively prove that there is a legit strength training facility to help you take advantage of all of it.

Mammoth Lakes, so far I’m pretty much in love with you.