Friday, September 12, 2014

Celebrating a Different Sort of Full-time Climber

"Some will fall in love with life and drink it from a fountain that is pouring like an avalanche coming down the mountain." B. Surfers. Pepper 

Chad dips water from Precipice Lake, Sequoia National Park
In our climbing community and circles we have ample opportunity to observe and share the lives of those that are "living the dream". Climbing's immersive nature and inspirational quality lends itself to uninhibited passion. 

But how? How to live that dream?

There is no shortage of media in our mountain and climbing community advocating for the nomadic, "dirtbag" life. Nor is there any shortage of this lifestyle in climbing's history. Whether you're perusing the Patagonia catalog, listening to our crowd's defining podcast, or lusting after the release of the next feature length climbing movie, one wouldn't be wrong to believe that having no permanent address is the only way to fully experience climbing. 

Our climbing communities attract those with counter-culture leanings. The immersive experience of mountain travel is addictive. One wants only more and more. Like junkies, many new and old climbers dive fully in. Influenced by the story of hero Alex Honnold living in his van full time, who was in turn preceded by California's legendary "Stonemasters", countless rock fiends hold the full-time, on-the-road schedule as the pinnacle of the climbing experience. Every corner of the internet holds a new blog documenting someone's "escape from cubicle hell". Indeed, wandering from one climbing area to the next is an amazing life; one finds a strong community, rapid improvement in the craft, and a life bouncing from one beautiful natural environment to the next.
Dale, high on Mt Tyndall. 

However, few if any can truly sustain this wandering existence. Whether the limits are financial or lifestyle, "living the dream" on the road is better described as "sampling one particular dream." There are many other ways to live in concert with the mountains. I've had the distinct pleasure of sharing mountain adventures in the past month, and for years, with two excellent men who each live their very own version of mountain and climbing nirvana. And neither life looks like anything we regularly see romanticized. Our climbing culture's neglect of yet another, more feasible and common, path is unfortunate. Both Chad and Dale get more time in the mountains than average. And both hold down full-time jobs and have healthy, grounded, sustainable lives. They make sacrifices for their pursuits, but that which is "lost" sure seems minimal. They each execute a version of the climbing life in their own way, but they share a passion, balance, and delightfully non-standard way of living an immersive climbing life.
Chad, in Pete Starr's footsteps. Chad and his Sierra pioneer hero share
lawyer training, SoCal residence, and  the summit of
Black Kaweah, about 80 years apart. 

A couple years ago I had the distinct pleasure of lending a very small hand in the production of the Supertopo High Sierra climbing guidebook. I edited a little, wrote a little, and contributed a few photographs. So did Dale, incidentally. And Chad made it into one of the photos I submitted. At the book release party I met ultra-sender, and dedicated lifer, Chris McNamara. Chris Mac has built much of his life around climbing (although he has a robust entrepreneurial spirit… I also work for him at and has a ridiculous climbing resume. Even as he's reviewing gear and selling guidebooks for climbing, he doesn't get out as much as he'd like. None of us do, really. I had him sign a copy of the guidebook for Chad. In explaining who Chad is, I noted that he and I had spent nineteen days together in the mountains in the previous year. Chris commented, asking "does this guy have a job? I don't even get out 19 days in a year". Yes, Chris, Chad has a job. He works in some fully engaging, high-energy, real estate business. I don't really get it, but I do know that Chad has changed positions a number of times, and is now responsible for his own business. As a guide, I interact with plenty of people who work in high-consequence environments. Upper level professionals, in this age of the smartphone, are accustomed to constant contact. Getting them out in the wilderness is stressful, at the least. Chad, however, lets it all go. When he's out, he's fully immersed.

Chad on Dunderberg

Dale's friends joke that he does too many things to be just one person. He climbs, skis, and bicycles at a high level. He spends a great deal of time with his family on the East Coast, travels for work, and still leads the Mammoth happy hour charge more often than not. I am pretty confident that "Dale" I get to hang out with is actually sometimes a hologram of the real Dale that is in Missouri fixing windmills or in Vermont eating white cheddar.

Dale on Mt. Williamson's "Long Twisting Rib"
While the aforementioned notion of "ditching it all" to climb and travel full-time is indeed romantic and much touted, Dale and Chad demonstrate that it isn't the only way our cutting edge forefathers chose to pursue their passions. Before he started really making money with photographs, Galen Rowell was notorious for driving hundreds of miles on his weekends off from fixing cars. Francis Farquhar, best known for his first ascent of Middle Palisade, was an accountant in the Bay Area. The legendary and athletic Pullharder climbing club, in it's heyday through the mid- to late-00's, was made up of students and professionals in San Diego. 

Hamilton Dome, Sequioa National Park
If nothing else, Chad and Dale and those like them prove that enjoyable immersion in climbing and mountain life does not require quitting one's job or living in a van. All of us have barriers to climbing more. A full-time job need not be one of them.

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