18: Life Through a Sieve

Going through a traumatic experience is kind of like putting your life through a sieve. Certain things and people will inevitably fall away, but what’s leftover is what’s important and what stays. In 2009, Kareemah was diagnosed with cancer and underwent an amputation on her left leg below the knee. Three years later, she founded Adaptive Climbing Group. This episode is about strength in visibility and what happens when the narrative shifts from: “you don’t belong here” to “you belong here, you exist, and you matter”.

This episode is brought to you by Deuter, Gnarly Nutrition, Allez Outdoors, Têra Kaia, and Appalachian Gear Company. Music by: “Southside” by Lee Rosevere, “Ichill” by Kakurenbo, “Blue Highway”, “60’s Quiz Show”, “Well and Good”, “Knock Knock”, “Pives and Flarinet”, “Good Times”, “Downtown”, “K2”, “Filaments”, “Bit Drifts”, “Steppin Intro”, by Podington Bear. A HUGE thank you to Chad Crouch, aka Podington Bear, for the support.

Copy of For the love of climbing header

get-it-on-itunes-badge-440x160gglplaystitcher_button

Transcript:

(KATHY KARLO): This podcast is sponsored by Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort, but most importantly–your snacks. Deuter has a history of first ascents and alpine roots. Their head of product development even climbed Everest once, in jeans (hashtag not fake news.) Deuter is known for fit, comfort, and ventilation. Founded in 1898, Deuter believes in good fitting backpacks, so you can focus on way cooler things like puppies, pocket bacon, and gettin’ sendy, whether at the crag or in the alpine.

– We’re working with Better Help to connect you to licensed therapists. They’ll match you with the perfect therapist for a fraction of the cost of traditional therapy. You know who goes to therapy? Prince Harry. Emma Stone. Jenny Slate. Kesha. Therapy is beautiful—everyone should go to therapy. Go to betterhelp.com/climbing to sign up and receive one free week. It helps support this show, and it helps support you.

– This podcast gets support from Gnarly Nutrition, one of the leading protein supplements that tastes “whey” better than they need to because they use quality natural ingredients. So, whether you’re a working mom who runs circles around your kids on weekends or an unprofessional climber trying to send that 5.13 in the gym, Gnarly Nutrition has all of your recovery needs. The only question you need to ask yourself is: Are you a sucker for anything that tastes like chocolate ice cream? (Yeah, me neither.) Gnarly Nutrition is designed to enhance your progress—and taste like a milkshake, without all the crap.

(FEMALE VOICE): Today we’re going to talk about “allez”. “Allez” means “come on!” in a way, or to encourage. Ok! We are done with the simple and normal uses of “allez”, now let’s cut to the chase:

(KK): Allez Outdoor Personal Care products are made by climbers for those who love the outdoors. Their rich and repairing ingredients for their skincare collection are inspired by desert landscapes, and their simple and recyclable packaging makes them eco-sustainable. Allez commits to protecting the open spaces that we love by partnering with the Access Fund and 1% for the Planet. That’s Allez Outdoor: “A-L-L-E-Z”). Allez Outdoor—made by climbers, for those who love the outdoors.

Têra Kaia, made by women for women, is redefining the standard with sizing. The TOURA basewear top is their swim-friendly sports bra that’s designed for outdoor adventure—so you can hike, sweat, and climb to the summit in comfort. You can even wear it camping for days on end—it just about never gets gross (trust me, I have tried.)  You can take 10% off with code “fortheloveofclimbing” and show your support for the show. Go ahead and throw out your other sports bras because #basewear is the only top you’ll pack. Feel naked, go anywhere, look great.

– This podcast gets support from Appalachian Mountain Gear, whose All-Paca Fleece Hoodie won the 2019 Backpacker’s Editors’ Choice Award. We’ve never actually won an award, but this one seems legit. The All-Paca Hoodie offers unmatched breathability and you can wear it for days in comfort under a pack or harness thanks to its durability and design. This lightweight, eco-friendly fabric is the sustainable performance piece that you didn’t even know you were missing. You can take 10% off your order by using discount code “FORTHELOVEOFCLIMBING”, all capital letters (because we’re shouting…for emphasis.) Appalachian Mountain Gear stands by responsibly sourced alpaca fiber and this podcast.

(KAREEMAH BATTS): I think when anybody goes through any traumatic experience, and this is not just about a major rare cancer stage four disease, but just traumatic life experiences, it’s—do you know what a sieve is? Like, a sifter for flour or food. I feel like your life goes through that. And certain things or people will fall away and then, what’s left over is what’s important and what stays.

(KK): When Kareemah put her life through the sieve, she didn’t really have a choice. Cancer doesn’t really allow that. Kareemah Batts was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, a rare type of cancer that affects soft tissue. She underwent an amputation on her left leg below the knee followed by treatment for one year. And by 2010, she was in remission. As a stage four cancer survivor, Kareemah has learned how to persevere through cancer and recovery with equal parts grit and grace.

(KB): We have this thing where you compare your life—you know, before cancer and after cancer. And it could put you in a state of depression if you’re not able to dance the same, run the same, and you’re frustrated with your progress into what your life is. And so, that’s what I was going through at that time. And so, instead of picking surfing which I’ve done before, instead of picking kayaking which I’ve done before—I decided if I picked something that I’ve never done before, then whether I do well or not in it, I’m not expecting to do well and so, I would still come away feeling good about it. My family thought I was going through some post-cancer survivor she’s-trying-to-kill-herself-now-‘cause-she-survived-stage-four cancer. Why would you wanna do that? Couple of friends were asking questions: “So, you gonna go watch people rock climb?” I’m like, “No, no. I’m actually gonna go and do it.” and she’s like, “Uh-huh.”

(laughs)

You know? I’ve seen movies.

(KK): Mm-hmm. Yeah.

(KB): (laughs) We all saw Mission Impossible.

(KK): True confession: never seen it.

(KB): We believe that Tom Cruise totally free soloed that.

(KK): You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. This is not a climbing podcast. Well, sorta. This is a funny, sad, and somewhat uncomfortable podcast about choosing vulnerability and talking openly about our pain. This podcast is sponsored by Dirtbag Climbers. Here’s the show.

– This episode is about strength in visibility and what happens when minority groups are represented in mainstream climbing and outdoor media. As visibility increases, the work that Kareemah continues to do plays a huge role. Even today, there’s a limited range of stories being told—particularly with regard to racial minority. As these mediums start to reflect more diversity, the more we can see a shift in a collective social consciousness to be intentionally inclusive of people from a whole range of different backgrounds. This creates a sense of affirmation and where the narrative used to say, “you don’t belong here”—it slowly shifts to “you belong here, you exist, and you matter”.

(KB): I was a cancer survivor for I would say about a year. I was getting used to wearing a prosthesis and kinda getting my body back ‘cause I went through about seven rounds of chemo and plus, the surgery to amputate a portion of my leg. And so, this was like my recovery time—my period of kind of trying to find myself, both emotionally and physically. At that time, I was kind of trying everything. You know, I’ve rode a bike before but I’ve never rode a bike as an amputee. Went swimming before but never went swimming as an amputee. So, it’s kind of like discovering life again—being baptized into a new body and just trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t work. I started to hit this stage of depression. It could have been a number of things: it could have been the relationship I was in, it could have been my family. Could have been all the medical bills

(laughs)

Could have been living in the projects. I don’t know! One of those things—maybe all put together. And so, when that opportunity came to leave town and go to Colorado and pick an outdoor sport, I picked the one I was least likely to ever do well in, which was rock climbing.

(KK): Kareemah received a scholarship to Colorado Mountain School with a non-profit organization called First Ascents. First Ascents took young adult cancer survivors and fighters into outdoor experiences for the first time, and over a period of time, Kareemah went from “I just survived cancer” to “I’m going to try rock climbing for the first time” to “I’m going to build a community.”

(KB): All that stuff is by accident. I was tired of my co-workers’ beta. I just felt like the dudes giving me beta were like, “Yeah, you just pump your ankle—“ I’m like, “I don’t have an ankle there! That beta does not work for me!”

(laughs)

You know? Like, I would start to actually get frustrated climbing with them. And the first time I ever climbed with another amputee, it was almost like my movement opened up. Just one couple of notes and I was like, “Oh. That makes sense.” And then it just changed everything.

(choir sings hallelujah)

I also benefited from it health-wise—just mobility. Basically, a lot of amputees suffer from things like lower back pain. You know, ‘cause you’re working your core, you’re working your lower back, and sometimes you’re working your leg, like—balancing. You’re balancing, you’re flagging. ‘Cause people thought I was seeing some physical therapist or something—I never saw any physical therapist. I just was like climbing.

(laughs)

So.

(KK): Climbing is therapy.

(KB): Yeah, it is therapy in a lot of different ways and I thought that was pretty awesome. And we had an amputee support group at NYU and every month, we did an activity whether it be going out to dinner or bowling. And, you know, you can suggest an activity—and I suggested climbing. And I showed them my YouTube videos of me out in Saint Mary’s Reservoir and the Bastille and all that stuff. And they’re like—what? Not just because they were like amputees, but because we were New Yorkers from Brooklyn. And they’re like—what?

(laughs)

I mean, when you think about it, this was 2011.

(MALE SINGER): No sleep till. No sleep till Brooklyn. No sleep till…

(KB): And so there was still just like, one and a half climbing gym in all of New York City and now there’s like seven—

(choir sings hallelujah)

—It’s blown up so much. So, you have to think that climbing was still not as trendy as it is now. It’s not in any TV commercials. It’s not winning Oscars. It’s some crazy thing that people not living in New York City do. And so, there was that part of getting them to grasp that. But what really pushed it forward was: I went to Kansas City. There’s this thing called Amputee Coalition. And they have an annual conference where hundreds of amputees come together and it’s like a whole four-day thing. You try out all these different sports from hand biking—they have standup basketball. They have all the latest technology for amputees to use—whether it’s prosthetics or something else.

And now, I’m up to this point where I’m trying to convince others amputees to climb with me. And so, we go to Kansas City. They had this mobile rock wall up—it was all on auto-belay. And it was about thirteen New Yorkers from my group that went to this Amputee Coalition event. And I watched a bunch of my peeps go up there and I saw the smiles as they came down off belay. And I was like, “Oh! I gotsta do this. Like, this has got to happen now. Like, I’m sure this is what I need to be doing.”

(KK): Attending this conference in Kansas City changed everything. It gave Kareemah the chance to see how much joy climbing brought to her friends’ lives, and it was at that conference where she met Ronnie Dickson, three-time USA Climbing adaptive national champion and now-owner of Prosthetic and Orthotic Associates of Tennessee.

(KB): “Hey, you ever been to New York before?”

(laughs)

And he’s like, “No.” I was like, “Cool. Imma reach out to you in a little bit.” Which he started to learn—that’s just how Kareemah works. Like, if I talk about it—it means happening. It’s not an idea, it’s not a possibility. It’s like, she says it’s happening—this is what’s gonna happen. Coming from that meeting and then going back to New York and then trying to figure out how this was going to work—‘cause note, I was very new to climbing. Like, a year. And climbing in Brooklyn Boulders and Brooklyn—which was, I’m from Brooklyn, so that was my neighborhood and local gym. It’s where everyone went at that point. And so, the marketing manager then at that time for EMS knew the co-founder, Lance Pinn, and connected me with him via cell phone.

Nowadays, you would never give your cell phone out like that but, apparently, that’s how I got Lance’s cell phone. I’m sure he wondered that now. He’s like, “Did I really give her my cell phone number?”

(laughs)

Who is this person calling me?

(KK): Who is this person calling me every day?

(phone ringing)

(KB): But I was like, “Hey, you ever had any disabled people come in your gym and climb?” And he was like, “No.”

“Do you want to?” He was like, “Sure.” By the way, other gyms did not say yes that easy! And I’ve worked with a lot of them across the country. It was literally a four-second delay on whether or not. I was like, “Hey! You wanna have some…?”

“Sure!” Other people were like, “Uh, I don’t know. Let me check this. Let me check insurance.” He just right away just said yes.

People see people with disabilities as a walking liability. They think, “We’re gonna get sued. They fall.” We get hurt more. You know? Maybe they feel like their facilities or the buildings are not ADA compliant, which by law, they’re supposed to be. You know, there’s a lot of different reasons. People are just scared. That’s just what it is. People are just scared of the unknown. That’s just a natural, human reaction of fear. It’s just literally like, your exposure to people with disabilities is minimal and your immediate reaction is fear and dislike. That’s just it. I don’t understand it—I’m not going to touch it. I don’t get it—the safest thing for me is stay on my side of the wall. You know what I mean?

Times have changed, you know. We’re now a part of US Climbing. We weren’t when I started and I was the first female USA paraclimber to compete in a USA climbing comp. It was me and Ronnie Dickson again, and Craig DiMartino and like three other dudes. That was just it. It was like me and five of us in a hotel. We were broke. It was awesome.

(laughs)

I look back now on those days and I’m thinking, “Look at that! All of my athletes have a bed to themselves.”

(both laugh)

(KK): That’s how you know you’ve made progress.

(KB): We’ve made progress. No one’s sleeping on the floor of the hotel room covered in a duvet. We are balling.

(laughs)

(KK): Progress would be an understatement. The Adaptive Climbing Group was founded in 2012, dedicated to spreading the message that anyone can climb. Not only did Kareemah become an advocate for access, but she enhanced programming starting in Brooklyn, New York that cultivated independence for climbers with disabilities everywhere. Adaptive Climbing is dedicated to supporting and sponsoring adaptive climbers—that’s right, signed athletes, who have gone on to compete in World Championships. Most importantly, Kareemah teaches her athletes to know their worth.

(KB): It makes me feel like I’m in a dream-state. Like, honestly if you asked us how long would it take for us to get to this point—we were like, “Maybe ten years from now, this will happen? Maybe in fifteen years from now, we’ll have this?” And now it’s like, we have movies about us and actual sponsored athletes which I pushed really hard for. It seemed farfetched to everyone else when I said it and I was like, “Yeah. I’m gonna, um, have athletes be sponsored.”

(laughs)

We’ll say not everybody was really believing the things that I thought could or can happen. I believe in small possibilities—if there’s a small possibility, it’s definitely gonna happen. You know what I mean? I believe in that small inkling, you know? What do they say—“beyond a reasonable doubt”? So, if you say, is this a definitive thing that’s never gonna happen? Then, guess what? There’s no point in trying. If this is a thing where there’s a reasonable doubt to it that it could possibly happen, then why not give it a try? Because we already know there’s only two ways it can go.

I am known to be a bitch in the work that I do. It’s only because I am passionate about it. They’re like, “Oh my god. Kareemah just came down on me again.” Like, “Aw, why is it this way? Why don’t we have that?” It’s because I believe we deserve it and so I’m like, “Really?” Like, “He only gave you what? Shoes?”

(both laugh)

No, but like, someone will be like—ok. Let me give you a good example. So, earlier, before we actually had signed athletes and brands that are people with disabilities, people would get excited just because they got some free chalk and a pair of shoes. And I’m like, “You’re an athlete! Oh, you’re on the US team with all the other US athletes? Oh, you brought home medals and you psyched about some shoes? I ain’t posting about that, man! That gets one post. One pair of shoes gets one post.” Or not even free shoes—a discount code! And I’m like, “No! Because your face and your image matters. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t be on the collective. You know, you’d be on a different level.” And just—empowering my athletes to be able to know their worth. That’s really hard—for people to be like, “This is my worth.”

You have to understand that maybe their whole, entire life up to this point, everyone’s like, “You should just be thankful for what you get as a person with a disability. You should be thankful there’s an entrance you can get into. You should just be thankful that we allowed you to climb in your gym. You should be thankful—that we allowed you to join us.” And I kinda got that feeling sometimes when I talked to certain vendors, sponsors, proposed gym partners. You know?

I remember approaching someone saying, “Hey, you know. We’ve been shuttling this equipment hour and a half, two hours to your facility. It would be great if you had your own. And then, when you have people with disabilities, they can climb on this specialized equipment that Misty Mountain makes. Which is like these wheelchair harness systems which we all use, like literally every adaptive climbing program in the US—it’s the only one that makes it.

And they said, “Well, we don’t really get any disabled people in here so, our bosses said that it’s not worth the investment.” And I was like, “Well, have you ever heard ‘if you build it, they will come’? If you actually had it, then people would come. Do you say, ‘Oh, we don’t have any people bouldering, so there’s no reason to build bouldering walls.’ But if you had bouldering walls and people would be like, ‘Oh, hey! There’s a new bouldering spot that opened.’” Like, come on! Don’t give me that kind of excuse, you know. So, I hit people with numbers because people understand numbers. They may not understand the human experience of being a person with a disability or the traumatic experience trying to apply for a job and other things like that.

So, I say it like this. I’m like, “Hey, you’re trying to sell a family membership. People with disabilities make up a fifth of the world’s population. Right? There’s over a million people with disabilities in New York City out of the eight a half million people—and that’s registered people with disabilities. In that, everyone knows at least one person in their life—in their family or a friend—who has a disability. Family memberships would get sold more if the siblings and a person with a disability and the parents could all take part in the same sport together, which is inclusion. Which means that family’s gonna spend more money here.” You talk to them like that—they’re like, “Oh! Ok.” Before the notoriety, before this became a trendy thing to do, before they started asking us to come in—that is how I approached them. I did not approach them on: “This is a great thing to do! This feels good!” because, to be honest, they got bills to pay. I don’t know if you’ve seen the rent in New York City—it’s a biyatch.

(laughs)

They have to come away with something. And then—once it gains value beyond money, then you can talk, “Well how do we feel about this?” And this is my advice, not just for people who are trying to start an adaptive climbing community and trying to convince their bosses this is the thing to do. l think that if you’re really trying to communicate to people and you’re coming from a different side of things, like non-profit to profit, you need to communicate on their level and not just say, “They’re evil,” or “They don’t want to do this.” ‘Cause I’ve heard that response before. They’re like, “Well, they said they don’t want to do this. They’re opening up a new facility. They don’t have time.” And I was like, “Well, make sure that they know that they’re not spending any time—that you’re doing all the work. Show them the stats, show them the value of it, the return on investment—because that is what they know. ‘Cause they’re business people. You can’t expect business people to check the water supply in Africa.

(laughs)

That’s not their primary focus and that’s not their specialty—that’s yours. Communication and getting work done is not just about whether or not you’re passionate about what you do, but if you’re able to communicate the value to various types of people in ways that they can understand. And then, eventually, have them come over to the side that goes beyond money, beyond numbers, beyond metrics. And I think that that’s what I am effective at doing.

(KK): Kareemah understood the need to see these changes, but she also came at it with an understanding of growth in the sport which meant: business and marketing. Passion for something was only one piece of the puzzle. This required savvy business and communication skills, as well as a deep understanding of the growth of climbing as a competitive sport.

(KB): People who really want it, they’re on it. We sponsored, I don’t know, seventy-something—no, no. More than that. Hold up a second. We got seventeen athletes this year? We’re about, I would say eighty sponsored competitive athletes nationally and internationally. We sponsored the first South African paraclimber last year. People who don’t have residencies, people who have visas, contacting their climbing federations. I’ve given athlete housing to people from other country’s climbing federations. You know, whatever I can do to help people access.

And people actually ask me why I concentrate on competitive: because, as someone who’s been in marketing, I know that completion pushes others sport forward, like the recreational side forward. That’s what people invest money in. America’s definitely that “Olympic competition” culture. That is a huge part of our culture. So, even if they don’t climb—climbing goes into the Olympics, anybody who doesn’t climb or is like, “I don’t get this bouldering thing. I don’t get this sport clip thing. I don’t understand why this is hard. Why is this crowd going, ‘Ahhh!’” Like, nobody understands that. But they can understand going fast from point A to point B, and then that’s the one that’s circulating all over the marketing and the news. And then that is what’s making people go, “Oh, I want to try that. Oh, that’s something I can relate to—going fast. I don’t understand crimpers, jugs, underclings. I don’t know what any of that stuff is.

(KK): What’s a sloper?

(KB): What’s a sloper? Yeah, what’s an offwidth? I don’t know what that is. you know, like, all these things—nobody knows these terms but people can understand fast. There’s a lot of people who are starting to climb just based on the speed climbing, just based on the marketing and understanding the sport which is putting the recreation part more forward and making people say, “Oh, well—I got the speed thing. Hey, what’s that other thing over there?” So, I understand that competition moves sport forward and so that’s why I put a lot of concentration into it. But we also do outdoor trips. We also talk about gym integration which is disability etiquette on and off the wall. That’s my focus. More than the technical equipment side, my focus has always been on disability etiquette, on and off the wall. Garnering independence where a person with a disability, people don’t understand how to be supportive but not overly done.

A perfect example is: someone comes into the facility with a wheelchair. And it’s because a lot of able-bodied people get really excited when they learn a new skill, too, as well. So, they learned how to use the wheelchair harness system that Misty Mountain makes and so immediately they put them into the seated harness. Not asking if they can stand up, not asking if they can transfer on their own, or what the mobility in their legs is or what the percentage of mobility is—can you get a ninety degree? Sixty-five percent? Like, they don’t even ask—they just immediately put them into the easy seat harness. The person feels not connected to the climbing because they do have strength in their legs but they were never asked. They don’t have as much upper body strength as let’s say a paraplegic who only uses their arms to get around. So, they can’t use the jugging and pull-up system, and it’s too hard and they can’t finish it. They never even asked him: “What do you want to do today? What are your climbing goals?”

And I had this discussion with someone who wanted to join our leadership team. I said about being of service: “How do you service a community? How do you know that you’re servicing a community? How do you find out what the community needs?” You ask a question. You don’t say, “I’m gonna fix the community! I’m gonna fix the neighborhood! I’m gonna fix, fix, fix, fix, fix!” It’s like, “Hey, what do you need? How can I support you?” Because then you’re garnering independence for them to be able to triumph and learn on their own. So, I’ve never asked someone, “How can I fix this?” I say, “How can I support you to be able to do this so that you can be able to do it?” And everybody’s experience and then what they value is different, too.

So, if Kathy says to me, “Hey—I have this and this and this and this to do this week. I’m so overwhelmed.” And then I said, “Hey, I’m free on this day and this day. How can I support you so you can finish what you need to get done—and not be so overwhelmed?” Like, that is being of service.

(laughs)

Not telling me unsolicited advice: “Oh, I saw you didn’t have juice in your fridge and so I went and got juice.”

“I’m allergic to that juice. Why didn’t you ask me if I needed juice? What if I have a sugar thing and I don’t want juice? You’ve ruined everything! Everything’s ruined. We have to start back. You’ve wasted money, time, I’m not happy, you’re not happy ‘cause you felt like you did something and you didn’t do it right. So, being of service, I think, is a very important thing that I think I try to teach to everyone—that leadership does not just mean being in charge. Leadership means being of service. When I see managers who are like, “Oh, yeah. I don’t work on weekends.” I’m like, “How’s that possible?” My team will tell you—very rarely will I be like, “I am not going to answer you.”

(laughs)

The Slack stays on twenty-four, seven. I’ll be like, nine o’clock. I’ll be in the airport, it be Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.

(KK): Oh my god, Slack.

(KB): (laughs)

I have a Slack channel for every climbing facility that I work in. And then I have a Slack channel for my leadership team. And I have a Slack channel for my athletes. My athletes send me a message: seventeen athletes all across the country from Colorado to New York—they’re all gonna get an answer. I believe in the twenty-four two forty-eight-hour method. I try my best—I’m not saying I’m great ‘cause I have like five inboxes, so. I can’t say that I’m definitely on it, but I try to be as responsive as possible because people talk about the value or importance of things. And my thing is that—what’s important to you may not be a high priority to me, but because it’s a high priority to you, I’m gonna give you an answer—because it’s going to put us at ease to work together in the future.

My parents are from North Carolina, so they had some sort of rules and I came from a very strict Christian home. I wouldn’t say “strict”, I would say stricter than everybody else I knew in New York City—besides some Jews here in Williamsburg. But I grew up keeping the Sabbath. My ears aren’t pierced. I don’t have tattoos. You know, it’s very simple. Even though I don’t practice keeping the Sabbath, there’s a lot of ideals that stuck with me and a lot of those things are being of service.

And it’s interesting to also see how all these pillars—I would call them pillars because we all started off as foundations. And sometimes, I get a little bit more comfortable by saying that I am one of the pillars of paraclimbing in America in a sport moving forward. But there’s a handful of people from the beginning, like 2010, 11, 12 where I feel like the movement really kinda jumped forward and grew and got organized. I feel like those people, just to see how they’ve grown. We’ve all grown individually, like where we were in our lives whether personally or professionally, and how our involvement has changed, what we decided to do with the rest of our lives. You know, I met people who were working at JP Morgan and totally switched to being accessibility coordinator at the DOT based on their experience in adaptive climbing.

I feel good about what I do every day. Whether whatever the monetary or the physical or the gears results are, I always feel good. You know, I don’t feel like I compromised and that was something I made a promise to myself post-cancer about because I felt like before that, I was definitely very much a people-pleaser. You know, not really taking care of my feelings and how I felt about something and definitely not being vocal about it at all. Now I can’t shut up about my feelings. You’re like, “I hate that. That’s stupid.”

(laughs)

I’m not afraid to say that. Honestly, you just have to almost die a few times, and then it just kind of puts you in perspective. I don’t suggest it, but if it does, it’ll help.

(laughs)

Climbing saves lives. That’s it. Synovial sarcoma survivor. I’m not saying that anybody who’s diagnosed listening should be like, “I should go climbing. I’m going to live if I go climbing!”

(laughs)

I was actually told not to climb when I wanted to go ‘cause I had multiple pulmonary embolisms during treatment and going up to a high elevation—I’d never been to Colorado before. They were concerned about me doing that. But I’m not really good at like—I’d be like, “So, you’re saying there’s a chance, right? Yeah. So, then I’m gonna do it.”

But that experience in my life between becoming a cancer survivor, becoming an amputee, all the personal stuff that I went through, all the people that I lost in between, and then all the people that I gained, is actually what makes me push so hard. I’m a pusher of good stuff, you know? I push for good things. I want everyone to have equal opportunity. If you look like you’re into it, like you’re passionate about it—Imma put a hundred fifty percent into you. If I see someone just putting forth an effort, I’d give them my effort too.

(KK): Even though I still have no idea what I’m doing—things are happening. And if you’d like to help out and support this podcast, please check out patreon.com (that’s P-A-T-R-E-O-N) where you can sponsor us for as little as $1 per episode. It really helps keep this podcast going, and I’m so grateful for all of your help. Special shout out to Cameron MacAlpine because he makes this thing sound good.

– You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. A huge thank you to Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort. And a big thank you to Gnarly Nutrition for supporting this podcast and the messages that we share. Gnarly Nutrition supports a community of vulnerability and equality—and tastes like a milkshake, without all the crap. A big shout out to Allez Outdoor for supporting the Access Fund and 1% for the Planet. Allez Outdoor Personal Care products are made by climbers for those who love the outdoors. And thanks to Têra Kaia. Go ahead and throw out your other sports bras because #basewear is the only top you’ll pack. Feel naked, go anywhere, look great.

Support companies who support this podcast—we couldn’t do it without them. If you liked what you heard, you can leave a review on iTunes or give us a like—like all good things, you can find us on the internet. Until next time.

 

17: What We Know

If you’ve been paying attention to the news, there has been a lot of heavy discussion around the exorbitant amount of atrocities committed against people of color. This is what we know: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd are victims of three separate crimes against black people and that they’re not the only ones. These cases have raised a lot of questions about racial profiling. Millions of people are affected by racial bias every day—but especially people from the black community. And it’s causing black people to ask allies to do better.

Where do we begin to unpack this? It’s really complicated and heavy and so deep-seated within our society, and even ourselves. Brandon Belcher and I sat down last November and this conversation that you’re about to lean into needs and deserves to be heard. Not just by the climbing community, but by the world at large. We still have a lot of work to do, and that work begins by listening to one another—especially to those who have the least power in society. Healing begins by listening to those voices and their stories. Also, Mikey Schaefer makes a quick cameo—how random is that!

This episode is brought to you by Deuter, Gnarly Nutrition, Allez Outdoors, Têra Kaia, and Appalachian Gear Company. Music by: “Southside” by Lee Rosevere, “Ichill” by Kakurenbo, “Blue Highway”, “60’s Quiz Show”, “Well and Good”, “Knock Knock”, “Pives and Flarinet”, “Good Times”, “Downtown”, “Short Story”, “In My Head”, “Dark Water”, “Bright White”, “Old Skin”, and “Got Spark” by Podington Bear. A HUGE thank you to Chad Crouch, aka Podington Bear, for the support and to Peter Darmi for all of his help. Cover photo by Re Wikstrom.

This episode is in dedication to Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and every single black life that deserves to be celebrated, today and all days. #blacklivesmatter

IMG_1763

get-it-on-itunes-badge-440x160gglplaystitcher_button

Transcript:

(KATHY KARLO): This podcast is sponsored by Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort, but most importantly–your snacks. Deuter has a history of first ascents and alpine roots. Their head of product development even climbed Everest once, in jeans (hashtag not fake news.) Deuter is known for fit, comfort, and ventilation. Founded in 1898, Deuter believes in good fitting backpacks, so you can focus on way cooler things like puppies, pocket bacon, and gettin’ sendy, whether at the crag or in the alpine.

– We’re working with Better Help to connect you to licensed therapists. They’ll match you with the perfect therapist for a fraction of the cost of traditional therapy. You know who goes to therapy? Prince Harry. Emma Stone. Jenny Slate. Kesha. Therapy is beautiful—everyone should go to therapy. Go to betterhelp.com/climbing to sign up and receive one free week. It helps support this show, and it helps support you.

– This podcast gets support from Gnarly Nutrition, one of the leading protein supplements that tastes “whey” better than they need to because they use quality natural ingredients. So, whether you’re a working mom who runs circles around your kids on weekends or an unprofessional climber trying to send that 5.13 in the gym, Gnarly Nutrition has all of your recovery needs. The only question you need to ask yourself is: Are you a sucker for anything that tastes like chocolate ice cream? (Yeah, me neither.) Gnarly Nutrition is designed to enhance your progress—and taste like a milkshake, without all the crap.

(FEMALE VOICE): Today we’re going to talk about “allez”. “Allez” means “come on!” in a way, or to encourage. Ok! We are done with the simple and normal uses of “allez”, now let’s cut to the chase:

(KK): Allez Outdoor Personal Care products are made by climbers for those who love the outdoors. Their rich and repairing ingredients for their skincare collection are inspired by desert landscapes, and their simple and recyclable packaging makes them eco-sustainable. Allez commits to protecting the open spaces that we love by partnering with the Access Fund and 1% for the Planet. That’s Allez Outdoor: “A-L-L-E-Z”). Allez Outdoor—made by climbers, for those who love the outdoors.

Têra Kaia, made by women for women, is redefining the standard with sizing. The TOURA basewear top is their swim-friendly sports bra that’s designed for outdoor adventure—so you can hike, sweat, and climb to the summit in comfort. You can even wear it camping for days on end—it just about never gets gross (trust me, I have tried.)  You can take 10% off with code “fortheloveofclimbing” and show your support for the show. Go ahead and throw out your other sports bras because #basewear is the only top you’ll pack. Feel naked, go anywhere, look great.

– This podcast gets support from Appalachian Mountain Gear, whose All-Paca Fleece Hoodie won the 2019 Backpacker’s Editors’ Choice Award. We’ve never actually won an award, but this one seems legit. The All-Paca Hoodie offers unmatched breathability and you can wear it for days in comfort under a pack or harness thanks to its durability and design. This lightweight, eco-friendly fabric is the sustainable performance piece that you didn’t even know you were missing. You can take 10% off your order by using discount code “FORTHELOVEOFCLIMBING”, all capital letters (because we’re shouting…for emphasis.) Appalachian Mountain Gear stands by responsibly sourced alpaca fiber and this podcast.

(BRANDON BELCHER): I’ve never really liked the terminology “dreads” . I like to refer to them as “locks”. Like—my hair’s not really dreadful or anything like that; it’s just how it grows out of my head. But, um—

(big sigh)

It’s more than two black people climbing now—it’s more like five! But for probably the first two to three years, I was pretty much the only black person that was climbing in the gym. Especially in the southeast, I was, for the longest time, the only black person that you would see getting outside consistently. Um, it…it can feel a bit alienating at times.

(KK): Hey, a quick note to everybody: This beginning segment might be triggering for some people listening, especially those who are members of the black community. We do not include any audio of the video footage that has been circulating the internet, however many of the recent deaths that have occurred within the last few months are referenced and included. In light of their relevance, we wanted to include as much information while also being as sensitive as possible, but if you think that this might cause you any trauma, please feel free to skip past the introduction to Brandon’s interview segment at minute twelve. We also briefly mention the topic of lynching during a few relevant portions of his interview around minute seventeen and thirty-five. Everything within our conversation was topical and therefore, important to include.

If you’ve been paying attention to the news, there has been a lot of heavy discussion around the exorbitant amount of atrocities committed against people of color—most recently spurred by the death of Ahmaud Arbery. Ahmaud, a twenty-five-year-old unarmed black man, was killed by two armed white men as he jogged through a neighborhood in southern Georgia. This fatal shooting took place on February 23rd, but the public only became aware of it after a graphic video of the incident was spread widely on social media. This is what we do know: Breonna Taylor and George Floyd’s stories are now alongside Ahmaud’s. We know that they are victims of three separate crimes against black people and that they’re not the only ones. But these cases have raised a lot of questions about racial profiling. Millions of people are affected by racial bias every day—but especially people from the black community. And it’s causing black people to ask allies to do better. For a lot of white people, there is an invisible “only” in front of the words “Black Lives Matter”, which couldn’t be more wrong. There’s a huge difference between focus and exclusion, and #BlackLivesMatter is about focusing on the work that we need to do in order to prevent more violent crimes committed against black men and women. But where do we even begin to unpack this? It’s really complicated and heavy and so deep-seated within our society, and even ourselves.

Brandon Belcher and I sat down last November and this conversation that you’re about to lean into needs and deserves to be heard. Not just by the climbing community, but by the world at large. We still have a lot of work to do, and that work begins by listening to one another—especially to those who have the least power in society. Healing begins by listening to those voices and their stories.

(BB): A moment within my climbing career that sticks out to me was my first time going outdoor bouldering in a small town called LaFayette, Georgia. Just the number of flagpoles that I saw hung up on people’s porches definitely caused a bit of anxiety when I was first out there. Historically speaking, a lot of rural areas in the south have been dangerous places for a lot of black people—particularly black men. A lot of those areas were life-threatening for a lot of people who looked like me. So, to be up there amongst all that symbolism was a bit surreal to me. I just thought, what the hell am I doing up here?

(MALE VOICE): Let’s begin today in Minnesota where tensions between protestors and police reached a boiling following the death…

(voice trails off)

(FEMALE VOICE): The Kentucky family is demanding answers today. The death of a frontline healthcare worker who was killed during a police raid two months ago.

(MALE VOICE): Major developments tonight in that case igniting national outrage of a young unarmed black man shot and killed.

(FEMALE VOICE): Demands for an arrest have grown louder.

(MALE VOICE): America’s going to have to address its long, violent, brutal history of racism and how it plays out in our current criminal justice system. Very often, when black people are killed in this way, the very first thing that law enforcement does is say, “Oh, they’re criminals. Oh, have you seen their background?”

(MALE VOICE): He’d have been living today if he was a white kid. He would have never got racial profiled.

(MALE VOICE): But the video showed the world what we already knew—that black life still needs to be valued and protected.

(FEMALE VOICE): An injustice against one is an injustice against all!

(crowd cheers)

Today I mourn the death of justice! Won’t you mourn with me?

(MALE VOICE): Come on!

(MALE VOICE): The problem I have is this: it is so hard to be black in America. And I think a lot of people do not understand why.

(MALE VOICE): Then I realized as a black young man: What can we do? My youngest son Byron used to ask me, “Daddy, can I go to my friend’s house?” And I would say, “No!” He used to ask me, “Daddy, can I go outside and play?” And I would say, “No!” He used to ask me, “Daddy, can we go somewhere?” And I would say, “No!” And then one day, he stood back and just looked at me. He said, “Daddy, if we can’t do that, what can we do?” And I’m saying today, as black men: They told us to stand up—then they pushed us down. They told us to sit up—then they mowed us down. They told us to sit in the car and don’t move your hands—then they gunned us down. We stood on corners and tried to make a living. They came up and they choked us down. What can we do? What can we do? What do you want us to do? You know, it’s some times right now and I’ve said this and I’ll say it again: We can run up and down football fields. Dribble up and down courts. Hit baseballs out the park. Run around the track. But at the end of the day when they take that uniform off, you still a black man. You still a black man. I was promised by leaders: Stand with us and you will get justice.” I got justice. I got pain. I got humiliation. I got frustration. I got ridiculed. But at the end of the day, I said, “I’m not gonna let the situation dictate my attitude—but I’m gonna let my attitude dictate the situation.” And I made up in my mind that anybody that I see go through what I went through, I’m going to do all I can to help them. And that’s why I’m here today—to help and be with this family. So, I say to you right now: Stick together. Stick together. Make your vote count.

(crowd cheers and applauds)

(FEMALE VOICE): No justice!

(CROWD): No peace!

(FEMALE VOICE): No justice!

(CROWD): No peace!

(CROWD): No justice! No peace! No justice! No peace!

(applause continues and fades)

(KK): You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. This is not a climbing podcast. Well, sorta. This is a funny, sad, and somewhat uncomfortable podcast about choosing vulnerability and talking openly about our pain. This podcast is sponsored by Dirtbag Climbers. Here’s the show.

(BB): Ooh…I guess…I guess I would like to think of myself as someone who tries to be understanding. I guess I try to really hear people’s perspectives, kind of regardless of where they’re coming from. I’m relatively outgoing, a bit of a wildcard sometimes. It really depends. I feel like I’m pretty dynamic and I’m kind of moody, in a sense. It just really depends on the day that you catch me I guess.

(KK): If someone asked you to describe yourself, maybe a stranger on the street—what would you tell them? That you’re funny, optimistic? Maybe you’re a dog lover—I mean, who doesn’t love dogs? Or you’re the kind of person who loves learning new things. Maybe you like science or sports or you grew up in a big city. And you wouldn’t necessarily tell them if you were black…because if you’re standing face-to-face with someone, that would be obvious, right? But it would still be a part of who you are—as a whole. And for those who insist that they “don’t see color”, it’s kind of hard to overlook something like the color of someone else’s skin when they’re staring you in the eye having a conversation about what kind of salad dressing they like or whether they’re an introvert or extrovert. When you say that you “don’t see color”, what you’re really saying is that you don’t see everyone in the community.

What you can’t see (because this is a podcast) is that Brandon is black. On more than one occasion, he’s been described as “one of two regular black climbers in Stone Summit Atlanta—the black guy with the dreads”. But what you also can’t see is that he grew up in Atlanta. He’ll be your best friend in under ten minutes. He’ll call out the elephant in the room and will talk about everything from racism to Rick and Morty without missing a beat. And most of all, he goes above and beyond for his friends. And if you ever meet him in person, he’ll be the nicest motherfucker at the crag. But also—don’t call his locks “dreads”.

(BB): It can feel, yeah, mostly just alienating. I never really got sad about it or really upset about anything. I feel like if it was something that really bothered me all the time that I would have just stopped the sport in general. And also, truthfully, it’s not the first time that I’ve just been the only black person within certain communities and things like that. Like the middle school I went to in Texas: I was one of three black kids in the entire school. They were in eight grade so by the time I was in seventh grade, they were in high school—so I was the only black kid in the entire school. So, it’s not the first time that I’ve really felt really isolated in that sense. You could say I’m a bit desensitized to it in some ways, but I still think about it from time to time for sure.

(KK): Brandon moved back to Atlanta in 2004, and he started climbing in 2013. But he’s not a quote-unquote, serious rock climber.

(BB): I was really wanting to use the climbing gym as a way to train for my calisthenics. I didn’t really take climbing all that seriously. I guess once I started improving, I really kinda started noticing a lot of the benefits. How it really benefited my mental health and stuff like that, especially with how it really dealt with some difficulties with unemployment and some of kind of the depression that comes with that. It really helped me kind of keep my head straight and helped me kind of stay in a healthier mental state. I stuck with it and started climbing outside a lot and now, it’s pretty much taken over my life, for the most part.

(KK): In the US, overt racism is pretty obvious to most people. So, it’s pretty easy to stand up for and defend others—right? But covert racism is just that—it’s covert, concealed, stealthy. Hidden within the fabric of our society and even hidden within the fabric of ourselves. And then, we rationalize it.

The word “micro-aggression” is considered to be a bit of a buzzword these days, but for many of those who don’t truly understand the term, there’s this assumption that it’s about having your feelings hurt when it’s actually about repeatedly dismissing a person’s feelings and alienating them to reinforce the difference in power and privilege. That’s how racism and discrimination today are perpetuated. So, if these things are so deep-seated within us, often to the point that we don’t always know that it’s there—well, how do we combat something like that? We start with defining everyday racism. There are three forms of micro-aggressions identified as micro-assault, micro-insult, and micro-invalidation. You can check out the end of the transcript if you wanna learn more; we link it in the show notes. Almost all interracial encounters are prone to one of these forms of micro-aggressions—and likewise, almost all of us have expressed these—on some level. We always don’t mean it, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt.

(BB): Sometimes you get little awkward comments in the gym and stuff like that and, I mean, they’ve even come from friends and I don’t even think they’ve realized that what they’ve said could be potentially problematic. I mean, I’ll always remember I took a fall inside the gym and you kind of heard the rope cinch as I took a fall—I was on lead. And one guy was like, “Oh it sounded like the knot—” (like a lynch rope) “—tightening when someone gets hung,” or something like that. And you know, I know this person. I know he didn’t mean anything by it. You know, but it’s one of those things that I was just like, “Ehh.”

(small laughter)

You know, I don’t think he even thought about it for two seconds. You know, especially—we were talking about doing eliminates and stuff like that. You know, I’m skipping holds and doing all this dynamic movement and stuff and some people who may not be as experienced in climbing’s like, “Oh, he looks like a little monkey up there!” And they probably didn’t mean anything by it. And I even chuckled about it while I’m up on the wall climbing and you kind of hear their friend kind of whisper, “That’s not ok! You can’t say those things.”

(KK): As a woman, people often ask me about being on the road and do I think that it’s dangerous to be alone most of the time. And, of course, as a woman, there are a lot of things that I need to be aware of. And while I’m not invalidating these concerns as a five-foot tall, hundred-pound woman who travels primarily with her snuggly-not-scary Pitt bull, I could never compare my experience to the experience of a black person’s. It isn’t my lived experience. I don’t have to navigate these kinds of thoughts or certain preparations for my climbing trips the way that a black person might. I don’t know the specific challenges of other minority groups outside of my own—but I can listen. And I can believe that they do exist. Most people don’t acknowledge these challenges because they don’t have to worry about it. Having to not think about unwelcome stares or vet certain stores and restaurants is a privilege—and that’s what some people go through—just to go climbing. Just to engage in outdoor recreation. Just to step out of their front door. We’re not saying that this happens every single day to every single person—but the fact that it does happen needs to be acknowledged. And if you’re a person of color, then you’ve probably had to navigate some of these uncomfortable conversations, too.

(BB): Admittedly, I enjoy a very heightened level of privilege because I’m a man. Especially because of my general size and stature, especially compared to other climbers. I’m a bit bigger than most climbers, I’m a man. So, my interactions, I would say, are drastically different than what a lot of women of color deal with within our community. Based on the experiences that I’ve heard, and not just within climbing, within just outdoor recreation activities in general—it sounds like women of color get a lot more pushback, a lot more hell, they experience more covert and overt racism within these communities—within their own communities. So, admittedly, I have not really had too many experiences where I felt like my general safety or my well-being was actually in danger. I haven’t had many personal experiences. Now, when it comes to climbing outside, I definitely have a heightened sense of where I am at. Coming from the southeast, a lot of our areas are in extremely rural parts of Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee. As a black person, it’s like—I lived with this existence every second of my life, so I’m always cognizant of where I am and how people are interacting with me and how they’re interacting with the world around me. Every second of my life, I’m having to kind of assess. But once I am outside of certain areas, i.e. Atlanta mostly, I have to be even that much more aware. That’s how I have to kind of navigate the world around me. You know, I go up to Rocktown and Zahnd a lot in North Georgia, and, I mean, admittedly, my first experience going up there was kind of terrifying. This was after the Dylann Roof shooting—Dylann Roof had shot up that predominantly black church and, unfortunately, the narrative had really changed to freedom of speech in regards to the confederate flag. And I remember driving up there and you get up to this town called LaFayette, which is the nearest town before you get to the trailhead. And it was like every third house had confederate flags hung up. Some of these confederate flags had Rhodesian and South African apartheid emblems on them.

(KK): To interject, apartheid is white minority rule. It means “separateness” and was a system of racial segregation that governed South Africa for nearly fifty years. It was specifically aimed to protect the domination of white South Africans over non-white South Africans. There were a hundred and forty-eight apartheid laws in total, such as black people had to follow curfews, carry ID permits with them at all times, and had no political rights. These laws that began in 1948 were a continuation of injustices. Protests were met with severe repression. That wasn’t even a hundred years ago—so, to see this sort of symbolism in 2013 when Brandon started climbing is…kind of fucked up.

(BB): So, when I see that sort of symbolism, it really…it definitely resonated with me. Yeah, it definitely impacted me. It was like, “Oh. Your mindset as far as how race relations look or how they should be is not within my best interest at all.” And I was like, “Ok, well I can’t stop to get gas anywhere near here.” And my buddy AJ was with me at the time. He’s the one that pointed out these emblems. I think I was driving so he was looking around. He was just like, “Oh, these are apartheid emblems on these confederate flags.” I mean, there’s a lot of symbolism mixed in with that. And so, he was like, “We need to get to the trailhead immediately. And do not stop anywhere.”

That’s the sort of shit that I have to kind of be aware of all the time. Every single time I go outside climbing somewhere, depending on the crag: I got my gas stations I go to, I got my restaurants that I go to, I got my places I get my snacks. I usually vet places. Usually, they’re kind of corporate establishments—the quick trips, the CVS’s. But besides that, I’m not stopping anywhere else. ‘Cause I’m not really sure what interaction I’m gonna have with people and I’m not really sure how those interactions are going to dictate how my day goes. Because someone decides to call the police on me—and that is a potential life-threatening experience for someone like me.

(KK): I want to talk about something that was sort of a new topic for me to tackle. And that’s the difference between racism and colorism, a word that according to every dictionary and every auto-correct, doesn’t even exist. Not…officially, anyway. Alice Walker, an activist and author, first coined the word “colorism” in 1983. In her book, ‘In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens’, Walker gave name to light-skin preference, or the discrimination against individuals with a darker skin tone. Margaret Hunter has also conducted research on skin tone in the African American and Latina communities, education, and urban inequality. Her book ‘Race, Gender, and the Politics of Skin Tone’ explores this well-known, yet rarely discussed phenomenon. If light-skinned women gain advantages in terms of educational attainment, income, residential segregation, romantic relationships, beauty status, and mental health—then colorism exists, Merriam Webster be damned. Also, fuck you auto-correct!

(BB): Color politics, or skin politics, within the black community, in particular, is very real. I mean, I remember as a kid, my mother was always significantly more dark-skinned than me and my sister and we used to joke around about stuff like that, you know. It’s a lot of that internalized sort of racism that goes back to mostly slave era of sort of like norms that were established that still impact families today. You know, because there’s so many different levels of privilege that are going on. Men and woman, people of color versus, you know, I guess white privilege. Tall privilege—like being tall is kind of a privilege, right? Being relatively attractive—conventionally attractive, is a privilege. Coming from a good socio-economic background—things like that. When you kind of tackle the ambiguity of privilege, you kind of run into these situations where it’s like, yeah, some men of color—they react harshly and strongly to women of color whenever women of color start bringing up certain issues. You definitely see that happen from time to time, and I would say it’s because mostly men of color don’t recognize that they also possess a level of privilege that ultimately shapes how they see the world around them—and ultimately shapes problematic behavior and actions that they carry out. You know, and there’ve been instances where there’s been pretty significant pushback from different parts of these color spectrums that is really unfortunate because it kind of divides the communities. And in a lot of ways, I would say, men of color definitely have failed to show up for women of color. I would say, as a whole, we really have failed in defending women of color when things come up. And that’s just like an issue that’s been around for a long time—a very long time.

And I think for a lot of people when you start bringing up privilege, there’s a level of guilt I think that a lot of people feel when you start bringing up these things. I mean, I certainly have felt that level of guilt when people have brought up my problematic behavior or behaviors or actions that I’ve carried out. And it’s like, “Mm, that’s really problematic because of XY and Z.” When people start to bring up how your behavior is problematic and how it impacts them—how it hurts them, even—it can be hard to process that. And this is just coming from my perspective as a man—it can be hard to process that because you don’t want to necessarily be the one who’s responsible for this pain. For this experience that people are feeling—this kind of uncomfortableness that people are feeling. Even if it doesn’t have to really have anything to do with you or your actions, in particular, just hearing about those certain things can be really hard to process. And I think a lot of people really hate to admit it, but they start to think about how their past actions have contributed to this cycle of privilege or have possibly hurt people in the past—and they start to feel guilty about it. You know, unfortunately, instead of really slowing down and really trying to process these feelings and just hearing out the person who’s talking to them—instead of just slowing down and just shutting up for a second and listening, you know—they get really defensive. I think for a lot of folks, it’s like, they’re not denying that the privilege exists. I think, really they’re trying to defend themselves and say, “I’m better than that.” Which is really unfortunate, ‘cause it’s supposed to be an educational moment. Right? But I think some folks—they really have a hard time processing all of that. And I’ve experienced that myself. And I’ve had to really come a long way with recognizing my privilege and not making the moment about me, of course. And really just letting this person educate me on what I can do better.

I’m definitely a person who likes to have those sort of conversations in person. Not really in like a DM or like a social media comments thread or something like that. I’ve found that it’s a lot more impactful if you’re looking at the person in the eye and they can see the pain in your face or they hear the pain in your voice. I think it has a much larger impact on how they react. So, I’ve gotten a little bit better about being uncomfortable, in that sense. I’ve had to kind of have those uncomfortable sort of moments with people, even in the gym. I mean, I’ve heard some people say some real rotten things about certain groups and I just couldn’t help myself. You have to nip that shit in the bud sometimes and just kinda call it out like it is. Social media, to me, is a good way to highlight very broad, very general topics and issues that people are dealing with. But when it comes to the more intimate conversations that go on and the dialogue that goes on—I definitely have witnessed things go downhill very quickly. And especially like you’re on like Facebook and Twitter and it’s just like, people are just trying to egg you on just to tear you down. The troll culture is at a whole other level than I have ever witnessed. I mean, I’m a child of the internet. I remember AOL Instant Messenger and I’ve done like the whole playing Halo II online and you know I’ve had six-year-old kids call me the “N” word, you know, while we’re playing Halo and stuff like that. And they don’t even know that I’m black, you know. So, I’m a product of the internet. I have seen and I have dealt with some shit online—but the level that I’ve seen it now is just so toxic. So venomous. So, it’s hard to stay engaged on that micro-level when you’re having to deal with all of that at the same time. I think, on a macro-level, like I said, dealing with like more general topics and highlight a lot of important issues, but, on that micro-level when it comes to more of the personal conversations, man. It seems like it’s getting more and more difficult as the time goes on to really get people to understand and to just hear you out. And that’s just from what I’ve witnessed—from your posts, from posts from various other people, from like Brown Girls Climb to Melise Edwards to even like Nina Williams is getting pushback on certain things that she’s highlighting—and it’s like environmental stuff! And folks are just tearing people down’ cause they just generally disagree. They just don’t even wanna hear your point—they just wanna just tear you down as best they can. It’s real bad right now.

(KK): Does it surprise you—that the commentary comes from climbers? Does that surprise you?

(BB): Yes and no. I’ve been joking that each and every year, I’ve kinda become more and more disappointed in our community as the years go by. At first it, it was very surprising because you think of climbing and just generally speaking, outdoor recreational activities, as kind of progressive, liberal activities and everyone’s kind of flower children and everyone loves each other and it’s all love. And then you kinda start seeing some comments from people. Like, “Oh, you are really harboring a lot of hate.” And I guess that the more and more that I’ve kind of gone into some of these comment threads and kind of read some of the stuff people have said—the more disappointed I’ve really felt. I always knew that the community was very insular in a lot of ways, but that was very oddly eye-opening to me. Everyone’s reaction, especially a lot of these guys holding in a lot of sorta like hyper-toxic masculinity within themselves and how they kind of see the culture and the community within their own eyes, I guess but—man, I don’t know. I just kinda thought that we were just better than that and a little bit more open-minded than that.

(MIKEY SCHAEFER): Yeah, it’s interesting. You’re using I guess a term I’m not familiar with or I think of it as slightly different. Like, maybe calling in. You know, I kind of look at that as almost like education. Right? Like, that’s how you change somebody—well, you make them smarter. Right?

(KK): Yeah.

(MS): Because usually, the smarter you are, the more likely you are to do the right thing.

(BB): Right.

(MS): And if people don’t know, then it’s a lack of education. And how do we bridge the knowledge gap that we have right now? And I think most people want to do the right thing. Do you see any way to bridge that knowledge gap? How do we bring people in, you know? Sorry, if you could just wrap that up for me and make it all nice and neat, ok?

(KK): (laughter)

(BB): You have to come from a place where you’re having to educate, which is very hard because there’s a lot of emotional labor that comes with that. But you have to come from a point of education and not a point of shaming. When you start to shame someone, that’s when they’re just going to totally shut off, at that point. They’re not even going to try to have any sort of actual dialogue with you because then it becomes more of a defensive thing. But, it’s like you can’t really be angry at someone because of their ignorance. Like you said before, they don’t know what they don’t know. You can be frustrated about it, but I feel like it’s hard to be angry with someone about these sort of things and that’s where you have to come at it from a point of education with it all—which is so, it’s so difficult to navigate. Now, I think it’s fair to be angry when someone is willing to have that conversation and then instead of listening, they’re just giving a lot of pushback. That’s a totally different thing. And that’s something that I’ve definitely witnessed a lot of times with people where they try to rope you in a little bit and it’s like, “Oh, I want to have this conversation.” And all of a sudden, they start hitting you with their toxic troll nonsense. But I think just coming at it from a point of education versus a point of shaming is the first step.

Climbing is not inherently racist, however, conventional climbing from the beginning—like big wall climbing at Yosemite and stuff like that—it was born during a system of racism, so, therefore, it’s impacted by it, right? Black people were banned from national parks up until I think it was like the mid-fifties or something like that. That’s already a barrier that’s already been set and that has already impacted who is allowed to control the narrative within this certain sport, and who continues on with it. It was born out of the system and it’s going to impact how it is today. So, it’s like, no wonder black people haven’t really been getting into it—because we weren’t even allowed to get into it in the first place. My mom remembers segregated water fountains in Ohio and she’s not even sixty. You know, there’s a lot to unpack, you know, of course, and frankly, when a lot of these big wall accomplishments were going on, black folks were trying to get the right to vote. They weren’t worried about hammering in pitons into cracks and stuff like that—they were trying to just have basic rights. So, who gets to control that narrative from the beginning really has an impact on how things are carried out today. You see it in tech, you see it in climbing—politics. It’s everywhere. It’s everywhere.

That’s one thing I definitely have seen a lot of companies kind of lack: acknowledging that historical perspective. Because the entire time I’m watching Valley Uprising and I’m like “Oh, this is cool. This is neat—but, come on, man. Without your heightened status within this country, it wouldn’t have been a possibility whatsoever. You know, you had the opportunity to do this because of your legal status within the country at the time.” But, you know, I think just acknowledging that is a really big step that we’re gonna have to really take at some point—if we’re wanting to become inclusive in that sense.

(MS): You never get to undo history, right? I mean, we’re always at the starting line—

(BB): Right.

(MS): —Right? So, we can’t go back. We can only go forward. Right? So, if it was up to you, what would we do from today going forward to essentially level the playing field, right? It’s like, I have a head start, right? You know, are there any techniques? Are there any things we can do to get ourselves out of this? And can you apply that thinking to our community or something like that right?

(BB): Yeah, I would say, especially where these gyms are kind of popping up. Like, you look at—what is it? Memphis Rocks. They put Memphis Rocks in the middle of one of the roughest neighborhoods in the entire United States. Purposely doing those sort of things, I think, really opens up a lot of avenues to these communities who are not necessarily exposed to these sort of activities. And in a lot of areas, if you’re wanting to get into climbing, you have to go outside of your neighborhood—which can already have its own sort of loaded historical trauma, depending on the neighborhood and stuff like that. You’re going into a space where, primarily, it’s a lot of white people handling ropes. Emily Taylor has always highlighted this: there’s a lot of loaded historical trauma with that imagery. There’s a lot of symbolic trauma with that imagery. A lot of us have never experienced lynching. But we definitely heard about it. We’ve definitely seen photos of it. And so, that kind of causes some discomfort for some people. For me, personally, no. But for others, definitely. And I can definitely understand where it comes from. And it’s in the back of my mind. It’s not gonna stop me from doing what I wanna do. But it’s definitely in the back of my mind.

Some of these gyms, I think, could take on a bit more of responsibility with trying to get more people in. Especially when it’s in their best interest. You get more of a diverse background within your gym, that’s more money in your pocket. Especially with these big global gyms popping up—these mega gyms popping up, like—

(snaps fingers)

—they’re just, they’re trying to turn out the bucks, man. It’s all about revenue. So it’s within their best interest to do it. But I would say, you know, maybe starting to kind of put in some of these gyms in different neighborhoods outside of a neighborhood that has an REI that’s nearby—or a Whole Foods nearby. That’s a formula that apparently some of these gyms are doing—where it’s like, “Ok, our market typically lives where an REI is at and a Whole Foods is at, and so we’re just going to put in the middle of here.” And it’s like, well—what do those communities normally look like?

On a corporate level—the Patagonias, the North Faces, and stuff like that—there’s been a lot of good initiatives as far as getting more women, people of color, black and brown people within advertisements, within PR campaigns. But I feel like there really won’t be true impact until we start getting more diversity within influential roles. And I’m talking—more people in marketing. More people in your BizOps. More people in your product design. C-level, D-level individuals within your company. Once you start kind of looking—‘cause we’re out there. We’re out there. And I’m not just saying just put just anyone in there—but people who are passionate about your mission as a company. You find those individuals and you put them in those positions ‘cause then, that’s when a lot of those issues will start to be resolved. And, you know, you stop kind of running into these, “Oops. Well, we kind of screwed up here. Oops, we kind of screwed up here.” Well, you keep screwing up because those individuals who are in those positions of power may not necessarily have the perspective to catch those things. I think that’s like the one that’s gonna really change a lot of things. And it’s not just like, “Oh, we have more black people in our retail space!” That’s not really an influential position. That’s not gonna influence the trajectory your company’s going. The positions that influence those trajectories need to be filled with people of a more diverse background who are passionate about your mission statement to see actual change. Like you said, you’re not gonna be able to reverse history—but you can change what the future looks like for sure.

(KK): I don’t hate white people; I hate the system of white supremacy that gives them asymmetrical power and unmerited privilege.

I don’t hate cops; I hate the pattern of police brutality that systematically harasses and kills black people and other people of color with impunity. ⠀⠀⠀

I don’t hate soldiers; I hate the horror of war that terrorizes the most politically and economically vulnerable among us.⠀⠀⠀

I don’t hate rich people; I hate the system of capitalism that creates an elite one percent at the expense of the rest of us.⠀⠀⠀

It is precisely because of my love for humanity that I get enraged at systems that prevent people from flourishing and being free. It’s frustrating to see my righteous anger at unjust systems interpreted as hatred for individuals, but it’s more frustrating to see the oppressed suffer while those maladjusted to injustice remain silent. ⠀⠀⠀

I won’t be silent. These words by Nyle Fort.

Thank you to Brandon Belcher for having this conversation with me. People like Brandon are helping challenge things like bigotry and racial stereotypes every day—and so much of the conversations that we push to start having today will translate to the rest of the world tomorrow. One of the goals of recognizing your privilege and leaning into these conversations and stories can lead to things like internal healing and positive change—which is something that I think a lot of people could truly benefit from. Not only that, but it could save lives.

This episode is in dedication to Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and every single black life that deserves to be celebrated, today and all days.

Even though I still have no idea what I’m doing—things are happening. And if you’d like to help out and support this podcast, please check out patreon.com (that’s P-A-T-R-E-O-N) where you can sponsor us for as little as $1 per episode. It really helps keep this podcast going, and I’m so grateful for all of your help. Special shout out to Cameron MacAlpine because he makes this thing sound good.

– You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. A huge thank you to Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort. And a big thank you to Gnarly Nutrition for supporting this podcast and the messages that we share. Gnarly Nutrition supports a community of vulnerability and equality—and tastes like a milkshake, without all the crap. A big shout out to Allez Outdoor for supporting the Access Fund and 1% for the Planet. Allez Outdoor Personal Care products are made by climbers for those who love the outdoors. And thanks to Têra Kaia. Go ahead and throw out your other sports bras because #basewear is the only top you’ll pack. Feel naked, go anywhere, look great.

Support companies who support this podcast—we couldn’t do it without them. If you liked what you heard, you can leave a review on iTunes or give us a like—like all good things, you can find us on the internet. Until next time.


Resources for you and/or loved ones:

#BlackLivesMatter was founded in 2013 in response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer. Black Lives Matter Foundation, Inc is a global organization in the US, UK, and Canada, whose mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes. #BlackLivesMatter combats and counters acts of violence, creating space for Black imagination and innovation, and centering Black joy.

In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose: In this, her first collection of nonfiction, Alice Walker speaks out as a black woman, writer, mother, and feminist in thirty-six pieces ranging from the personal to the political. Among the contents are essays about other writers, accounts of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the anti-nuclear movement of the 1980s, and a vivid memoir of a scarring childhood injury and her daughter’s healing words.

Race Gender & Politics Skin Tone tackles the hidden yet painful issue of colorism in the African American and Mexican American communities. Beginning with a historical discussion of slavery and colonization in the Americas, the book quickly moves forward to a contemporary analysis of how skin tone continues to plague people of color today. This is the first book to explore this well-known, yet rarely discussed phenomenon.

Racial microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color. Derald Wing Sue’s “Racial Microagressions in Everyday Life offers an insightful, scholarly, and thought-provoking analysis of the existence of subtle, often unintentional biases, and their profound impact on members of traditionally disadvantaged groups. The concept of microaggressions is one of the most important developments in the study of intergroup relations over the past decade, and this volume is the definitive source on the topic.” —John F. Dovidio, PhD Professor of Psychology, Yale University

Additional essential reading for anti-racism work:

IMG_1696

16. A Hunger For Joy

You know when you end your season early and don’t tell anybody at all? Yeah, hi. Sorry, guys! Life got a little crazy there for a second! But not because of COVID. Well, sorta because of COVID. Ok, mostly because of COVID.

On May 12, 1986, students and teachers from the Oregon Episcopal School Basecamp Program set off to climb Mt. Hood. Three days later, nine of the climbers would die in what’s known as the second deadliest alpine accident in North American history. At age sixteen, Lorca Smetana survived the 1986 Mt. Hood Tragedy and has transformed a series of painful experiences into a life of resilience and leadership. Is this the Brené Brown episode of climbing podcasts? Maybe. Welcome back to season three.

This episode is brought to you by Deuter, Gnarly Nutrition, Allez Outdoors, Têra Kaia, and Appalachian Gear Company. Music by: “Southside” by Lee Rosevere, “Ichill” by Kakurenbo, “Blue Highway”, “60’s Quiz Show”, “Well and Good”, “Knock Knock”, “Pives and Flarinet”, “Good Times”, “Brownfield”, “Into the Unknown”, “Satellite Bloom”, “Bumble”, and “Netherland” by Podington Bear, ”Dormir rien de plus”, “II”, and “bleu by Monplaisir, and “The Zeppelin” by Blue Dot Sessions. A HUGE thank you to Chad Crouch, aka Podington Bear, for the support and to Peter Darmi for all of his help.

Copy of For the love of climbing header

get-it-on-itunes-badge-440x160gglplaystitcher_button

Transcript:

(KATHY KARLO): This podcast is sponsored by Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort, but most importantly–your snacks. Deuter has a history of first ascents and alpine roots. Their head of product development even climbed Everest once, in jeans (hashtag not fake news.) Deuter is known for fit, comfort, and ventilation. Founded in 1898, Deuter believes in good fitting backpacks, so you can focus on way cooler things like puppies, pocket bacon, and gettin’ sendy, whether at the crag or in the alpine.

– We’re working with Better Help to connect you to licensed therapists. They’ll match you with the perfect therapist for a fraction of the cost of traditional therapy. You know who goes to therapy? Prince Harry. Emma Stone. Jenny Slate. Kesha. Therapy is beautiful—everyone should go to therapy. Go to betterhelp.com/climbing to sign up and receive one free week. It helps support this show, and it helps support you.

– This podcast gets support from Gnarly Nutrition, one of the leading protein supplements that tastes “whey” better than they need to because they use quality natural ingredients. So, whether you’re a working mom who runs circles around your kids on weekends or an unprofessional climber trying to send that 5.13 in the gym, Gnarly Nutrition has all of your recovery needs. The only question you need to ask yourself is: Are you a sucker for anything that tastes like chocolate ice cream? (Yeah, me neither.) Gnarly Nutrition is designed to enhance your progress—and taste like a milkshake, without all the crap.

(FEMALE VOICE): Today we’re going to talk about “allez”. “Allez” means “come on!” in a way, or to encourage. Ok! We are done with the simple and normal uses of “allez”, now let’s cut to the chase:

(KK): Allez Outdoor Personal Care products are made by climbers for those who love the outdoors. Their rich and repairing ingredients for their skincare collection are inspired by desert landscapes, and their simple and recyclable packaging makes them eco-sustainable. Allez commits to protecting the open spaces that we love by partnering with the Access Fund and 1% for the Planet. That’s Allez Outdoor: “A-L-L-E-Z”). Allez Outdoor—made by climbers, for those who love the outdoors.

Têra Kaia, made by women for women, is redefining the standard with sizing. The TOURA basewear top is their swim-friendly sports bra that’s designed for outdoor adventure—so you can hike, sweat, and climb to the summit in comfort. You can even wear it camping for days on end—it just about never gets gross (trust me, I have tried.)  You can take 10% off with code “fortheloveofclimbing” and show your support for the show. Go ahead and throw out your other sports bras because #basewear is the only top you’ll pack. Feel naked, go anywhere, look great.

(LORCA SMETANA): I don’t think I can remember a time when I didn’t look at life through the lens of mortality. My father was a climbing guide in the Tetons and down in Tuolumne. I remember as a very young child sitting out in the sagebrush and the lupine on the side of a hill and watching a helicopter come down from the mountain and knowing in my four-year-old head that someone had died in the mountains. And at the same time, feeling as if there was a difference between the kinds of people who were out climbing and the kinds of people who were watching, and that this boldness and this insubordination was a way of being that was the right way to be.

(KK): Lorca Smetana survived the 1986 Mount Hood Tragedy, the second deadliest alpine accident in North American history when she was only sixteen-years-old. But for thirty-three years, she has redefined what a life of joy meant to her by confronting an impossible pain. And it’s a lifetime of work to hold yourself with compassion, but Lorca has committed to giving herself to resilience—and now, she teaches the world how to do the same. A large number of people go through enormous pain every day but never take the invitation. Lorca says, “Every time we’ve been cracked open, we’re given an invitation to not dive back into what’s safe and comfortable. And if we can stay, even for fifteen seconds with curiosity and love, it does completely have the possibility of transforming a life.”

(LS): My name’s Lorca Smetana. I live on a farm in Montana with two free-range children and a husband from Eastern Europe, and I teach resilience and leadership.

(KK): You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. This is not a climbing podcast. Well, sorta. This is a funny, sad, and somewhat uncomfortable podcast about choosing vulnerability and talking openly about our pain. This podcast is sponsored by Dirtbag Climbers. Here’s the show.

(KK): You know when you end your season early and don’t tell anybody at all? Yeah, hi. Sorry, guys! Life got a little crazy there for a second! And—I’m hoping to be the only podcast to currently not mention you-know-what, so we’re just gonna blame the delay on full-time work. You think podcasting is a full-time job? Try not burning a non-profit into the ground. PS, if anybody knows anything about not burning non-profits into the ground, feel free to slide into my DMs. Anyway, the podcast and life (for the most part) are pretty much back on schedule

(kids cheering)

whatever that even means! I am hunkering down in Californ-I. A. for the time being and I also just wanted to say how much I missed all of you. I know, I know, I’m being kinda cheesy right now. But I was up to my ears in film fest stuff and life stuff and new boyfriend stuff that I had to prioritize mental health and my personal life above everything else. ButI really missed making this podcast, and I genuinely hope that I’m not just talking to myself (…again).

Anyway, anyway, welcome back to season three of For the Love of Climbing. Thanks to Peter Darmi for his help with this episode. “A Hunger For Joy” talks about resilience and grief, and what happens when those two things collide head-on. If you’ve never heard of Lorca Smetana, it is highly recommended that you find her on the internet. She describes herself as a resilience designer, a mother, a mentor, and a writer. She teaches resilience to students, businesses, and communities and the work that she does is really important. You can find her on fortheloveofclimbing.com at the end of the transcript for more resources and links.

Also, we want to take a minute before the show to tell you about Appalachian Gear Company, whose All-Paca Fleece Hoodie won the 2019 Backpacker’s Editors’ Choice Award. We’ve never actually won an award, but this one seems legit. More to come, but in the meantime, you can take 10% off your order by using discount code “FORTHELOVEOFCLIMBING”, all capital letters (because we’re shouting…for emphasis.) Here’s the show.

(LS): For a long time as a kid, even with being aware of mortality—even knowing people who then died, people in our community, and the larger climbing community—it was still abstract. And it wasn’t until I was sixteen that it really came to live with me on a really personal level. I was a member of what was called the advanced climbing team at my boarding school. And we all climbed together and we also served as unofficial assistants of the annual sophomore climb of Mt. Hood. And for years and years and years, these climbs had gone out full of students and leaders and usually, a few parents and a lot of them went to the summits and a lot of them turned back. If the weather wasn’t good, if people didn’t feel good—the climb just turned around and came home. Nobody had to summit, but everybody had to at least try to set their foot on the mountain. And we had an advisor who was also a mentor, for me, Dr. Tom Goman. We called him Ferder. He was a very special human! He was a priest and a physicist at the same time—and a very good climber. So, he was the leader every year of that trip.

(KK): There was no shame in not summiting and twice before even, Lorca had turned around as a member of the climbing team and a sophomore the year prior. In 1986, almost in her senior year of high school, Lorca was ready to go up again. The goal was to reach the top of the mountain—somewhere around sunrise. Things stay cool, it’s a little bit safer in terms of ice conditions, and you’re up there at this really magical moment before turning around and coming back down to have a late lunch. This trip, like all the others, started out by gathering at the school at 11:00 o’clock at night.

(LS): And we pulled everything all together and got crampons and helmets and all of the things and piled on a bus and drove up to the lodge of the base of Mt. Hood. And got our stuff together and started climbing in the middle of the night—‘cause this is the way you do it. Some of the adults, some of the students, maybe walked twenty minutes and turned around and went back. And they had done their thing—and that was fine. The rest of us kept on going up. So, we had been hiking for a while. A few people turned back, and there were eighteen of us who started. And I started getting really strong abdominal pain—which was in fact, menstrual cramps.

(KK): That’s right, even in 1986, women still inevitably had to squat, wipe, dig holes and deal with our menstrual cycle in the great outdoors. Lorca had gotten her period, which ultimately saved her life.

(LS): And, as a sixteen-year-old girl, that’s a really hard thing to say out loud.

(laughs)

So, I didn’t. But I did go to Ferder Tom and said that I was in a lot of pain and that it was hard for me to walk. And I kept on trying for a while and then it just got bad enough that I said, “No.” And he said there was another student who also wanted to go down—one of the sophomores. And that we could accompany each other down. Pretty straight shot down to the lodge still. And he said that they would probably be behind us—that the wind was picking up some and that they might not go very much further, but that they would go some further. And so, we turned around, the two of us and started walking down. And we got down to the lodge and all of us waited with the bus driver at the lodge. And we waited for them to come, and they didn’t come. And then the storm came.

(RECORDING OF MALE VOICE 1): The only thing you can do right now is wait for the weather. One, the helicopters are pretty much useless because of the high winds and low visibility.

(RECORDING OF MALE VOICE 2): What would somebody have to do in order to survive conditions like this? What would you have to do?

(RECORDING OF MALE VOICE 1): Dig in. Dig in deep and huddle and get warm.

(RECORDING OF MALE VOICE 3): I’m Joe Donlon from KGW News. May twelfth, 1986: students, teachers, and a guide from the Oregon Episcopal School Basecamp Program began a climb of Mt. Hood. They expected to climb the mountain and be home by the end of the day.

(RECORDING OF MALE VOICE 4): May twelfth, 1986: thirteen people set off for a one day climb of Mt. Hood. The group consisted of two faculty members, a mountain guide, and ten students from Oregon Episcopal School. It was a yearly climb, part of a Basecamp Wilderness Education Program. Three days and several rescue attempts later, nine of the climbers would die in a snowstorm. The worst disaster in Oregon history is over for some, but just beginning for others. To this day, the school is still trying to come to grips with what happened that tragic week a year ago. This memorial service was held just last night.

(RECORDING OF MALE VOICE 5): I said a year ago: those of you who are praying for us, please don’t stop. And I want to say that again: please don’t stop.

(RECORDING OF FEMALE VOICE): To you, dear parents and families: we thank you for giving us the opportunity to know these beautiful people of yours. Our lives are changed forever because we have known them.

(RECORDING OF MALE VOICE 4): And even for those who didn’t know them, the memories of May 1986 will live on, no matter how hard we try to forget. At Oregon Episcopal School. Steve Don. Channel Two News.

(LS): And it was one of those storms that comes in and hits Mt. Hood. That was when we started waiting. And it got bad enough at some point that we called and said, “This is worrying us. They’re not here and the conditions out there are getting worse and worse.” And people started collecting at the lodge. Leaders are coming, searchers are gathering, medical people coming in, family members of the climbers are coming, school people are coming, and…the media start coming.

I think I started feeling pretty uncomfortable a little ways after it started getting light. So, I would say mid-morning was when it really started feeling—I wouldn’t say scary even at that point, but worrisome. And I think there’s actually a part even when children are involved—and I say children but, young people—that for me, especially since I was one at the time, it felt there is a block to thinking that something really horrible could happen. It was at the time, a feeling like, “Oh, they might need to be rescued.”—but they were going to be rescued, or that they would just show up. They kept us separate from a lot of the other humans, too. And I wanted to stay up on the mountain for a couple of reasons. One: just ‘cause these were people I knew really well. The school was maybe a hundred and sixty students? And not only was my mentor on the mountain, but my other climbing team members and friends were on the mountain, too. Also, the second reason I wanted to stay up there is because I think, at that point, I still thought nothing was gonna happen. And that it was gonna wrap up quickly, right? So, I’m just gonna stay up, then it will resolve. They’ll be found and then we’ll all go down together. But at some point, I got tired and someone said, “I’m taking you down off the mountain. I’m gonna take you back down to Portland.” And that’s what they did: they put me in a car and I slept all the way down. Got down to Portland, at some point probably in the night, and was put to bed. And—that quick resolution that I was expecting didn’t happen.

(KK): That quick resolution didn’t happen because the storm socked in and stayed, and yet more and more people continued to gather on the mountain and continued to bring in more and more agencies: different rescue teams from different counties, mountain rescues, people coming in with dogs, people coming in from other mountain ranges, and volunteer helicopter pilots. And then the army was brought in, but the storm was still there and so nobody could do anything. After a day or so of all of this collection but no inertia—still nobody was able to go out into the storm. All they could do was ask questions and map and talk and think about going out some but not in full force, when, suddenly, two climbers walked out. They had hiked down off the mountain off of another side and were brought in. It was one of Lorca’s climbing team members and one of the assistant climbing leaders.

(LS): And they told of getting up near the summit and of turning around, coming down and, at some point, needing because of the cold, to start digging a snow cave. And they dug in. And they managed to dig a cave that was big enough for most of them, and they were very important in helping to be able to really narrow the scope of where the searchers were looking. So, as the weather started easing, they were able to send out more and more teams. And the shifting moment for all of us came, I believe it was the morning of the third day. And for me, what happened was I had been sleeping and I woke up with someone had their hand on my arm and they told me that they had found three bodies. And

(long pause)

that was the beginning. That was the beginning of it not being ok anymore.

Not too long after that, by looking longer in the same area, they discovered the cave with the rest of them in it. There were eleven more who were in the cave and of those, everyone was very, very cold and they started airlifting everybody down off to all these hospitals all around the area. In all, there were, I believe, over four hundred rescuers involved over those four days. Of the eleven that were brought down, two of them were brought back to temperature and to life. And the others not. And we began to start moving forward—each of us, and then as a whole school, in relearning what it was to be us in a place like that.

(KK): (softly) At such a young age.

(LS): Yeah. One of the—of the hardest parts in a sense, for me, was I felt in some ways that I was one of the lucky ones because climbing for me had context. It was normal. It was how I had been raised. But for so many people, especially thirty years ago, climbing was not what it is now in size and in scope and in awareness. So, there was a lot of a larger conversation in the media that said, “Why?” Like, “Why even try something like this that can kill people? Why take young people?” And so, there was this component for me of, in a sense, being a defender, of saying, “No, this is real. This is right. This is normal.” That risk is real, no matter where you are or who you are and therefore, this is part of that. And it did change probably my relationship to climbing, too.

There were so many elements that were so dark—of disbelief, of grief, of loss, of pain, of the criticism, of betrayal, in some cases. The, for lack of a better word, the pestering, the hounding, right? The way that people came after details. Whether it was just someone you knew who’s like, “Tell me everything!” to people who were like, “I’m gonna make a movie!” And being very clear that we were so nested at the time, as well, in this community—feeling so loved, feeling so responded to, feeling so close with these other people. And protected. And so, you know, there were people who got through, but definitely—we were so cared for as students, as young people, by our families and by the school and by the larger communities of the city of Portland, even. And there was so much reaching out. And then, people wrote letters from all around the world. Entire classes of school children wrote us letters, which was magical.

(KK): Lorca spoke of this time with a great sadness but also about an astonishing love. This was something that stuck with me. Could an astonishing love come from such a terrible tragedy? She said that she was still nested right in it, that her dearest friends from school are still people that she feels in her heart every day and she still speaks with many of her teachers on the phone. And while, decades later, it is the true definition of astonishing love, Lorca still had many things to reckon with before healing. Because, in 1986, life felt like a huge, dark pit that she and her classmates and the Portland community were still all at the bottom of.

(LS): There were days at a time or even more where you couldn’t see your way out. It was even hard to imagine being out. And that was the order of business, right? The order of business was to get out of the hole, was to start to find a place where the normal moments were outweighing the hard ones, and that was the job. And oddly enough, there’s still this kind of time pressure, I mean for anyone who’s grieving there’s a time pressure. Wherever it is that you start feeling as if other people think that you should be better. That weird, external thing that we can start to incorporate subconsciously in ourselves.

(KK): In previous episodes, we’ve talked about the different stages of grief but to amend that statement, the term “stages” is widely misleading because there isn’t a straight path or progression. Grief doesn’t follow a singular timeline because it’s unpredictable and each individual loss has its own unique healing process. If we stopped thinking of grief as a linear timeline, we can start seeing the actual physical, mental, and emotional reactions we all go through—as well as reach a better understanding of what people who are mourning actually need. Raising grief awareness teaches us how to better support loved ones with more patience and compassion.

At the end of her junior year, everything had completely fallen apart for Lorca. Final exams were canceled and she was taken away that summer and hidden at a family friend’s farm where reporters couldn’t find her.

(LS): And I am so aware now that it’s probably nothing then compared to what it would be now. I mean, there’s no cell phones and there’s no drones and I can’t even imagine. But yeah, it was. It was bad enough. So, that was really healthy and beautiful for me to just be gone.

(KK): And when Lorca returned to school the following fall, things were sorta normal. At least, they were normal in the sense that she was now a senior and the focus was shifted on making things more normal for everybody, which included helping Lorca and the other students get into college. But before Lorca could find a sense of normalcy, she found herself in another hole that, once again, changed her entire life.

(LS): There was another accident—another climbing accident down in South America. I think on Fitz Roy, maybe? That killed three people, one of whom I’d known. And it wasn’t that I knew this person so well or that I was grieving for that person, but it changed the conversation for me into something much bigger than it had been before. Before, the conversation was: “I need to get out of this hole. I need to get out of this hole. I need to just keep sticking it out until I can see daylight again.” And after this accident, I

(pause)

had to face that this one big thing that happened to me was not a “get out of jail free card” in terms of never experiencing pain again, but really saying, “Ok, this isn’t about that. This is about: I better get good, not at getting out of this hole, but I need to be good at getting out of holes. I wanna know: are there humans who are amazing at this? Are there humans who are resilient, vibrant, livers of life, and who have ways of being that aren’t hiding from pain but that can be with it and live with it, and live beyond it? And I wanna know, what does that look like—what feeds that? And now, I have to become that. Because the two big things that showed up in the face of this were: this hurts so badly, one, because I’m a climber. I am doing this risky thing that most people don’t do—it doesn’t keep me from getting run over by a bus, but it makes me much more likely to be having this conversation again with people: ‘Someone I know has died on a mountain. If not me.’”

So, if that’s true, then one, do I choose to stop becoming a climber? Do I choose to stop knowing climbers so that I don’t have this particular thing coming at me? And that was a pretty quick answer for me. It was, “No. I’m not gonna quit

(laughs)

becoming a climber.” Partly because a lot more people are gonna die getting hit by busses, and so it’s a futile kind of self-protection. And so, I need that vibrancy of climbing. I need that joy of climbing as part of one of the tools that lets me be resilient. The other reason why this hurt so badly was because I loved. So, that was the second part. I was like, “Ok. You can quit caring about people. You can stop loving.” And that’s not ok, either. So, those were two very specific early decisions that came out of that. This choice to, if not to stay emotionally vulnerable forever, because we can’t—we build shells and then break them and build them and break them—but the commitment to keep reopening the shells that I’d built through time.

(KK): That’s a really good point because I think a lot of people, they think that emotional vulnerability is a constant and it can’t be—

(LS): No.

(KK): —because if you are all the time, I mean, I think, almost you become a little bit shut off, like by default. I think that happens.

(LS): Mm-hmm.

(KK): So, you have to go back into those shells—

(LS): Yeah.

(KK): —and then reemerge, I think.

(LS): Yeah. I think it’s actually not even possible. We are astounding evolutionary creatures. We are designed, in some ways I think, we’re actually ultimately designed to protect ourselves. Right? And that we are so smart and good about taking care of ourselves by shutting ourselves in, which is not necessarily to our long-term well-being. One of the things that gets lost is: I think we don’t understand very often what we lose when we shut down because we selectively shut down emotions that are not easy. So, we put up protections against sadness, against anger, against fear, and then we don’t recognize that we can’t blunt those experiences—those emotional processes—we can’t blunt those without also blunting joy. That’s why joy has become such a central part of both my own radar for well-being, but also when I work with organizations. When I work with my students up at the university. Joy, I think of as the indicator species for that vibrancy and that well-being and that wholeness. Because if it’s not there, then you haven’t been honoring the other ones.

(KK): Learning to honor difficult emotions doesn’t necessarily mean you need to do something with it. Sometimes sitting in sadness or in grief can be just that—sitting with it. It can mean simply allowing them, instead of resisting the urge to get rid of the pain. When we think we’re minimizing our pain with behavior, we’re oftentimes just amplifying it, but being brave enough to sit with uncomfortable, hard feelings lets us cultivate an environment where healing can really begin. So much of pain and trauma is held in the mind, but also the body:

(LS): I think of that on a few layers. So, on the purely physiological level, we can notice if we actually start paying attention, excavating—as if we were looking at wild animals, right? If we look at these experiences of emotion, that they show up as a wave that is just breaking on the shore and they don’t actually last that long. The initial surge doesn’t last that long and there are ways in which we can be with those surges that don’t put anything in the way, especially if we notice that the most powerful surge is maybe even two minutes of this wave of sadness, this wave of anger. And first, noticing how much of it is physical. The longer I work with emotions, the longer I work with humans—the less I feel that emotions are in our minds. That they are truly in our nervous system and in our bodies. And I love this question about why are humans the mammals who experience long-term trauma when other mammals who experience much stronger day-to-day life-threatening moments

(laughs)

—they get up and walk away and graze again? They go after another animal, they do their thing. And it’s because, for them, these emotional surges—they’re allowed to carry through to their terminus. And they do it by quivering, right? By vocalizing. By running. By using bilateral movement in their bodies.

(KK): Kind of like purging it, in a sense, do you mean?

(LS): Yeah! It’s an energy wave that’s allowed to just roll all the way through, instead of getting blocked or shut. And the blocked or shut goes right into our muscles. It goes right into the fascia. It goes right into the nervous system, into these pockets in our own bodies, waiting for us to discover them later. So, that’s something that’s so teachable and learnable, but it does take a willingness to reconnect with our physical selves in a way that a lot of our lives and culture try to disconnect us. That’s where the emotion is experienced and so, we stop experiencing things below the neck. Even as a climber, right? You think: “Oh, I’m a climber. I can feel my hands and my arms and my legs and I’m very physical and I train,” all these things—but it’s entirely possible to do all of those things and to have shut off until the waves roll back through and show up again. It’s this energy of life. When I think of the erotic, it goes so much beyond a sexual life. It’s everything that’s creative and it’s all of the energy that lets you invent things and make things and love things and dive after things and tend and feed. And when we refuse to listen to ourselves, when we shut ourselves down in the same way that we might shut down a friend who’s saying things that’s too uncomfortable. Like, “Oh, let’s just not go there.” Right? We do that to ourselves all the time, multiple times a day. And so, one—just being aware of what we’ve been doing to the point where we can say, “Ugh! I have been a really rude friend

(laughs)

to myself!” You know? Really uncaring, really insensitive, and without going deep into the judging yourself, you know, just saying, “I’m gonna be better.” Right? “I’m gonna be a better friend to this extraordinary system that I was handed.”

(KK): Lorca has created a life and a career working with educators, cancer support, death workers, and caregivers. Her wisdom, courage, and vulnerability shine through her work after years of studying and learning and self-work since the accident that happened in 1986.

(LS): And it’s had its threads where it’s very much top of my awareness and, other times, it gets submerged. And I have ended up now teaching up at Montana State University in Human Leadership Development. And I am there with these students, and then I’m working with these companies. So, we talk about what it is to be a leader, but everything that we work with is very distinct from management. We’re not part of the business school. And so, it is ultimately very grounded in self-knowledge—which then has to be built on that foundation of self-compassion. Because every place that we are not being self-compassionate, we are getting in our own way and in the way of everybody else that is trying to accomplish something around us. And it shows all the way through, not just in the quality of your own life, but it shows all the way through into the quality of everything that’s being accomplished by the people around you. That transparency of being.

(KK): Yeah. I feel like it’s not so much that you teach it to yourself, but I think life kind of teaches it for you.

(LS): (laughs)

Mm-hmm.

(KK): But how do you teach that to other people?

(LS): Mm-hmm. The first thing that you can ask when there’s a situation of non-compassion, either in your conversation with yourself or with someone else is: “Is there pain? Does this hurt?” Right? And so, the first thing, which some people never even get to the first step, is saying, “This hurts. That hurt. That wasn’t ok. That was uncomfortable.” So, the first thing is just acknowledging that it hurt. Acknowledging that suffering. And then, the second thing is—notice the humanity of that! That is so human to be hurt by that! Everybody in that situation would be hurt by that. Right? That was a painful thing. When you normalize, you also do a second kind of sneaky thing, which is to say, “I’m not alone.” One of the biggest holes that we dive into is: “Not only am I weak or wrong for feeling that thing, but I’m the only one who’s ever felt it or who feels this way right now or who’s ever going to.” And then we spiral into more wrongness. And then the third step, just so simple, but just adding kindness. Just saying, “Ah! That was hard. Would you like some coffee?

(laughs)

Can I do you a favor? Can I take this load from you for a little bit?” whether you’re saying that to yourself or to anyone else. And the scary part is, finding out as I teach this, for how many people that they are at the most rudimentary steps of this. That this is painfully, painfully difficult for them to speak kindly to themselves at all.

(KK): But what a difference it makes.

(LS): Yes. right. Because think about how much energy we spend in a day judging ourselves, if not somebody else.

(laughs)

How much energy do you—do you want free energy? You learn to free up that energy. You’ll be amazed

(laughs)

at what you accomplish! Yeah, over the years, organizing first for myself, out of sheer self-defense, out of sheer stubbornness, that I was not going to be someone who never got back to joy. I was afraid of that. What if this means that I don’t get to live a life that has big chunks of joy in it like I thought? So then, how do you add something—‘cause you can’t subtract the pain, right? I can never make that not have happened. So, how do I build a life that gets to have both? The pain in one hand and the joy in the other hand and then cup them together and be like, “I am all of this. I get to have and be all of this.”

I first started by putting together a metaphorical toolbox. So, anything that made me feel a little better, a little normal. Anything that led me towards a pocket of feeling life rather than feeling death went into the toolbox. And I was like, “Ok, here’s something I can try next time I completely need to do something to feel better. And sometimes, those toolbox tools worked. Sometimes they worked several times in a row and then they wouldn’t work. And I was like, “Ok. Not a silver bullet. I need another tool.” And just keep adding more tools. And then, any time a tool doesn’t work, you say, “Ok. Well, going for a walk didn’t help. Calling this person didn’t help. Massive amounts of junk food didn’t help. Whatever the thing, is, right? Having a toolbox gives you agency. It lets you say, “There are things that I can do or not do. I can stop, I can try, I have power here.”

(KK): Even just the act of figuring out which tools to put in the box is a tool in itself.

(LS): I also had this extraordinary, weird gift of—I got to be right in the middle of and observe hundreds of people in pain. Hundreds of people of all ages—here we all are together and I got to watch what they chose and what I chose to move through this. And very early on, I started noticing, “That’s gonna work short-term, that’s not gonna help them long-term.” And one of the best examples of that was, you know, we had families that were crushed by the loss of their children and of these families, they spread out on the full spectrum of possible responses. And on the one end, we had the normal, natural response that a few took very strongly, some took middling, of blame.

Anger, hatred, revenge. All of those things. They’re like, “We’re going to crush the school. We’re gonna sue.” And they gave interviews with the media that were extraordinarily painful for those of us who loved our school and loved our people and loved climbing! I mean, it was just. And then, on the other end of the spectrum, I got to watch families who, in enormous amounts of pain having lost humans who I treasured—who were really exceptional—that their response was to dive into love. And they dived into connection. And they reached out to me and they reached out to others. And some of them went on to do incredible work for foundations and volunteering and starting organizations and helping other parents who have lost children, founding scholarships for young people. And being very clear, at the age of sixteen, that when I looked at the ends of these two sides—that this person who went into blame—he was a lawyer—I felt as if, either he’ll change or he will suffer for the rest of his life. And with these other people, I felt like they are hurting but that’s very different from suffering. That if we distinguish between pain and suffering, one of them chose the path that leads straight into a lifetime of suffering and the other one was with the pain.

(KK): It’s interesting—the distinction between the two. 

(LS): I think it’s a very important, powerful distinction.

(KK): Almost like suffering is a choice?

(LS): I believe suffering is a choice. Yes. Because suffering is about what we cling to. And pain? There will never be a way around pain. I’m never going to avoid pain. I don’t get that. That’s not something that is ever going to be given to me. But who I am that meets that pain can change every day. And everything that I choose to feed in myself, so that the next time that pain comes to live with me—I don’t know what I’m gonna need at that point, but I can know that if compassion is a language that I’m fluent in, that if I can make things with my hands and voice and my imagination, that if I can continually have resource to the extraordinary vastness of things that I can be amazed by, and that if I never let myself get too far from myself, then this human meeting pain is going to be so much different from the human who is shallower. So, I ask very hard work from my play and from my work and from my life now. Not because I need it instantly, but because if I consistently choose shallow play over deep play, I’ll be shallower. If I consistently choose shallow rest over deep rest, I will not have the resources when I need them. The deep, emotional, and physical and personal resources if and when I need them again. So, it’s a filter that is there all the time now. It doesn’t mean I can’t do shallow things but I’m also very aware that I can’t afford to be caught unaware. And now, I have a family.

One of the most powerful things that was said to me early on was my advisor. I asked him, in the same way that we all want to know when we hurt so badly, “How long is it gonna take for me to feel normal again?” And he said, “You are feeling pockets of normal now. And those will continue to get bigger, not with time but with work. And there will always be things where the darkness is gonna come back, or you might find that it’ll grow and so you’ll have, instead of having pockets of normal—there will be pockets of darkness. And the things that trip you into those might be the things you might expect, right? The anniversary of the climb or it could even be like a smell or something. But that it may also end up being good things. He said, “When you fall in love. When you have your first child. And when your children reach the age you are now. Those could all be things that bring you into a pocket.”

(laughs)

Here it is again. He said, “When that happens, have compassion for yourself and for those around you—until you move through the pocket.” And there have been times, especially in the last few years, when I have felt so magically whole.

For the last thirty years, I have accepted the possibility that I would be navigating pockets of darkness for the rest of my life and aware that there were things that would be problematic for me forever. And the hardest thing about that, of course, is that it’s not even so much that I would be feeling pain but that it would be affecting the people I love. I think the most powerful impetus for healing, aside from just not wanting life to suck as much, is that where I am not whole is where I am not the parent I really am committed to being. Where I’m not the lover, the partner, the wife. And so, that adds a whole ‘nother layer of commitment, too. When I find the pockets, I’m going to work with them so that I am not reactive. So that I can be conscious and awake.

We always have the capacity to create space and if we look at who we are, not as an entity—as an individual unit of survival and a system with tendrils that are extending out into everything that I touch. Right? Into every awareness of me, even. Then that’s everywhere that there’s something that I can do. And so, when we have great pain, we also have the capacity to start, not to shape pain itself but to shape the space we have to be with it. One of the biggest disservices that I see people doing, and I’ve done it myself but that I do less now, is to fill everything so tightly that there’s no space for what pain needs and what pain wants. Anything that’s packed too tightly, whether you’re looking at engineering or a calendar, is fragile. A tap in one place will send cracks through the entire system, whereas something more loosely held has the capacity for bending, has the capacity for being with. So, I think if we did nothing else but started to build in more spaces—whether that’s space in your calendar or your interactions with other humans. Even like on a micro-level—how many seconds before you jump in with your sentence when you’re having a conversation with someone? Reflexively, developing this capacity to add the possibility for what is going to happen to move around in its own time and its own space really changes how we experience something. This can be true for work. It can be true with how you are with your child. If you have someone clamped around your ankles and you—

(laughs)

either physically or metaphorically

(laughs)

and, you know, someone who’s come up to us like, “I feel, I want, I need, I broke, I hurt,” whatever, right? And we don’t have any space left, then that can’t go anywhere. There’s no possibility for learning, there’s no possibility for communication. But by having added breath, having added sleep, allowing in your calendar for transition, then every single interaction will be transformed.

It seems sometimes when we get hurt that we give ourselves this initial pain and we push it away and then, maybe even in some cases, we actually heal from that trauma. But in the process of being in it, we take on coping mechanisms that take years and years of recovery. It’s been a matter of working, initially, with myself. You know, then, having that change how I showed up in other arenas. What are the added capacities that it gives me as a guide or as a teacher? And then starting to really frame it and articulate it as: “This is a function of resilience.” and how teaching people and organizations that systems are self-supporting. That everywhere around us in the world, we can look at so many ecological, exquisite examples and that it is entirely as possible for a human life to be self-nourishing, self-supporting, self-feeding. And when we are below that line of well-being, all the resilience work is recuperative, it’s regenerative, it’s healing, it’s rebuilding. Once we get over that line of well-being, the most fabulous thing happens which is that, all of those exact same tools feed us from victim up into survivor and then from there, if we choose to accept it, we find ourselves in the position of leadership. Because when you’ve gone through a crucible, you’re pretty clear for yourself about what’s important, what’s bullshit, and where you’re willing to put your energy and what needs to exist in the world. People who are that clear, regardless of their experiences, regardless of their education, are natural leaders.

(KK): You can find Lorca and more of her work at lorcasmetana.com. Visit this episode at fortheloveofclimbing.com for more links to her incredible work and TEDx, as well as additional resources if you or a loved one is experiencing grief and loss.

Grief wears so many disguises, and online therapy like Better Help is connecting you to licensed therapists. Therapy is beautiful—and everyone should go. Go to betterhelp.com/climbing to sign up and receive 10% off your first month. It helps support this show, and it helps support you.

And a huge thank you to Appalachian Gear Company for supporting this podcast and the messages that we share.

It is a lifetime of work, but if we choose to stay in uncomfortable places with an openness and curiosity for and remember to hold ourselves and others with compassion, really wonderful things do happen.

Even though I still have no idea what I’m doing—things are happening. And if you’d like to help out and support this podcast, please check out patreon.com (that’s P-A-T-R-E-O-N) where you can sponsor us for as little as $1 per episode. It really helps keep this podcast going, and I’m so grateful for all of your help. Special shout out to Cameron MacAlpine because he makes this thing sound good.

– You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. A huge thank you to Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort. And a big thank you to Gnarly Nutrition for supporting this podcast and the messages that we share. Gnarly Nutrition supports a community of vulnerability and equality—and tastes like a milkshake, without all the crap. A big shout out to Allez Outdoor for supporting the Access Fund and 1% for the Planet. Allez Outdoor Personal Care products are made by climbers for those who love the outdoors. And thanks to Têra Kaia. Go ahead and throw out your other sports bras because #basewear is the only top you’ll pack. Feel naked, go anywhere, look great.

Support companies who support this podcast—we couldn’t do it without them. If you liked what you heard, you can leave a review on iTunes or give us a like—like all good things, you can find us on the internet. Until next time.

Lorca Smetana is a speaker, mentor, consultant and storyteller/singer who helps her students expand resilience tools, resist burnout and grow as survivors into larger leaders. Lorca touches and changes the lives of her listeners. Through her personal story as a survivor of tragedy that made breaking news in 1986 as nine of her companions died on a school climb of Mt. Hood, Lorca gives voice to the fragility of life and inspires newfound purpose and strength to those who are coping with life’s challenges. She offers a new framework for a life that is self-organizing, and self-healing.

You can visit her website to see more of her work here.

You can watch her TEDxBozeman here.


Resources for you and/or loved ones:

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline online or by calling 1-800-273-8255. If you are hard of hearing, you can chat with a Lifeline counselor or contact the Lifeline via TTY by dialing 800-799-4889. To speak to a crisis counselor in Spanish, call 1-888-628-9454.

The Hopeline Network brings together the knowledge and critical services of existing Crisis Centers all under the net of a toll-free number.

ELUNA NETWORK is a National directory with resources listed state-by-state.

GRIEF SHARE offers support groups run by others who have experienced grief. They also have video seminars, personal study workbooks, and other resources.

The American Alpine Club Grief Fund works to increase visibility, education and professional support concerning mental health in climbing, particularly in regard to grief and trauma, that we are creating a community better equipped to support one another on and off the rock and know when to seek professional care.
(303) 384-0110 | grieffund@americanalpineclub.org
The American Alpine Club Grief Fund – Mental Health Directory works to build a community of resilient individuals that know when turn towards support and professional care. Their directory includes resources to find therapy, search tools, books and resources, and additional programming related to grief and trauma.

Mini-Episode 9: How The F*ck Are You? (No, really.)

We’ll be back on April 1st with two new full episodes. Until then, enjoy two mini-episodes today and on March 1st while I try to do things like not burn a film festival into the ground (just kidding…I think!) and if you’re in Denver, Colorado March 5th through 8th, come out to the No Man’s Land Film Festival Annual Flagship event for four days of films, workshops and guest speakers. This mini-episode is comprised of episode ten with Corey Mowery, which if you haven’t listened to yet, we highly recommend. Also, who is this “we” I keep referring to?

This episode is brought to you by Deuter, Gnarly Nutrition, Allez Outdoors, and Têra Kaia. Music by: “Southside” by Lee Rosevere, “Ichill” by Kakurenbo, “Blue Highway”, “60’s Quiz Show”, “Well and Good”, “Knock Knock”, “Pives and Flarinet”, “Good Times”, “La Di Da”, and “Tweedlebugs” by Podington Bear. A HUGE thank you to Chad Crouch, aka Podington Bear, for the support and to Peter Darmi for all of his help.

Copy of For the love of climbing header

get-it-on-itunes-badge-440x160gglplaystitcher_button

Transcript:

(KATHY KARLO): This podcast is sponsored by Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort, but most importantly–your snacks. Deuter has a history of first ascents and alpine roots. Their head of product development even climbed Everest once, in jeans (hashtag not fake news.) Deuter is known for fit, comfort, and ventilation. Founded in 1898, Deuter believes in good fitting backpacks, so you can focus on way cooler things like puppies, pocket bacon, and gettin’ sendy, whether at the crag or in the alpine.

– We’re working with Better Help to connect you to licensed therapists. They’ll match you with the perfect therapist for a fraction of the cost of traditional therapy. You know who goes to therapy? Prince Harry. Emma Stone. Jenny Slate. Kesha. Therapy is beautiful—everyone should go to therapy. Go to betterhelp.com/climbing to sign up and receive one free week. It helps support this show, and it helps support you.

– This podcast gets support from Gnarly Nutrition, one of the leading protein supplements that tastes “whey” better than they need to because they use quality natural ingredients. So, whether you’re a working mom who runs circles around your kids on weekends or an unprofessional climber trying to send that 5.13 in the gym, Gnarly Nutrition has all of your recovery needs. The only question you need to ask yourself is: Are you a sucker for anything that tastes like chocolate ice cream? (Yeah, me neither.) Gnarly Nutrition is designed to enhance your progress—and taste like a milkshake, without all the crap.

(FEMALE VOICE): Today we’re going to talk about “allez”. “Allez” means “come on!” in a way, or to encourage. Ok! We are done with the simple and normal uses of “allez”, now let’s cut to the chase:

(KK): Allez Outdoor Personal Care products are made by climbers for those who love the outdoors. Their rich and repairing ingredients for their skincare collection are inspired by desert landscapes, and their simple and recyclable packaging makes them eco-sustainable. Allez commits to protecting the open spaces that we love by partnering with the Access Fund and 1% for the Planet. That’s Allez Outdoor: “A-L-L-E-Z”. Allez Outdoor—made by climbers, for those who love the outdoors.

Têra Kaia, made by women for women, is redefining the standard with sizing. The TOURA basewear top is their swim-friendly sports bra that’s designed for outdoor adventure—so you can hike, sweat, and climb to the summit in comfort. You can even wear it camping for days on end—it just about never gets gross (trust me, I have tried.)  You can take 10% off with code “fortheloveofclimbing” and show your support for the show. Go ahead and throw out your other sports bras because #basewear is the only top you’ll pack. Feel naked, go anywhere, look great.

– You know how sometimes your life gains momentum, slowly at first and then suddenly, before you even realize it, it implodes in front of you without any given warning? Except that the signs were all there but you’re too sleep-deprived and riddled with coffee induced anxiety to take notice. And, of course, I mean all of this in a good way. I know you relate because I see you. I see the hustlers and the creatives and the working mamas with kids and those of you working weekend jobs to get out of debt but still make time to make it to the gym for an evening session. I love climbing and it inspires me in a lot of ways—but to be honest? These are the kinds of things and people that inspire me the most.

I moved here for the winter with a bunch of intentions, one of them to complete a project I started dreaming up in 2014. On December 19th, I was the first woman to send the Triple Crown of the Tennessee Wall, which is a series of 5.12c roof cracks put up by Rob Robinson in the eighties. The whole project was a perfect metaphor for where I was in my life last year, and throughout it all, there was a voice in my brain that thought I would fail—but I think the whole point was to challenge myself with an impossible goal that would take a little bit of grit. Having gone through the most difficult year of my life, now when I find myself between a rock and hard place, I remind myself of the importance of adversity. When I feel like I’m about to let go, I tell myself that I‘ve already done the hardest thing—and that this is just a rock climb. Perspective is a funny thing.

Having completed all three now, I see and understand the process of big projects in a whole new light. Sending these climbs honestly mattered less to me than trying something that seemed impossible. I came to the southeast because after one life-altering moment, an emotionally turbulent year, and so much sadness and pain because of it, I needed to heal and to be around people who made space for me to heal. And I also needed to physically throw myself at something. What I’ve learned through this process is that the moment you can unlock one part of the puzzle, the next thing feels more possible because of it. So now, I know that I can tackle the next thing and then the next thing after that, whatever that may be. And no matter the impending storm ahead—I’m prepared in ways that I couldn’t have imagined last year, or honestly? At any point in my life. My toolbox looks a lot different this year. And every day, I self-compassionately add new resources to my box. This year I’ve added creativity, self-awareness, mental flexibility, new coping mechanisms, and most importantly: resilience. People are always saying that it’s about the journey, but they never actually tell you how far you have to go. Until you find out for yourself, you’ll never really understand where your limits lie—and most importantly, what it takes to break through them. Because in the end, how hard you climb and how hard you try are two different things. This is the longest I’ve been in one place and I’m glad I took the time to be here. And thanks for being here with me.

Honestly, it’s a lifetime of work but sometimes you need to create that space for yourself, so I hope you’ll all take this as a reminder to hold yourself with compassion. In our upcoming April episode, we’ll talk about trauma and finding “pockets of normal” in your life after going through impossible pain. Speaking of episodes, we’ve been cranking out episodes once a month since our launch in September 2018. As I’m getting ready to head back west, No Man’s Land Film Festival is heading into its busiest season and stacks upon stacks of audio files have been sitting on my computer desktop, untouched since Christmas. I had to be really honest with myself about my workload which wasn’t easy—but kinda necessary for my mental sanity. So, we’re taking a little break and we’ll be back with two full episodes on April 1st and 15th. Stay tuned for another mini-episode on March 1st. And if you’re in Denver, Colorado March 5th through 8th, come out to our Annual Flagship event for four days of films, workshops and guest speakers. This mini-episode is comprised of episode ten with Corey Mowry, which if you haven’t listened to yet, we highly recommend. Also, who is this “we” I keep referring to?

– You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. This is not a climbing podcast. Well, sorta. This is a funny, sad, and somewhat uncomfortable podcast about choosing vulnerability and talking opening about our pain. This podcast is sponsored by Dirtbag Climbers. Here’s the show.

(footsteps on gravel trail)

(KK): Hi. Hey, you guys— if you have a minute, I was wondering if I could ask you for a favor?

(FEMALE VOICE): Sure.

(KK): So, I run a podcast and I’m taking audio clips from people on the trail today and I’m just asking them one question.

(FEMALE VOICE): Sure!

(KK): How are you doing?

(FEMALE VOICE): I’m great.

(KK): (laughs) How are you today?

(MALE VOICE): I’m great! (laughs)

(KK): How are you?

(FEMALE VOICE): I’m wonderful.

(MALE VOICE): I’m doing great today! (laughs)

(KK): So the question is, how are you?

(MALE VOICE): I’m spent. We climbed all day, it was awesome.

(MALE VOICE): I’m great. How are you?

(KK): How are you?

(FEMALE VOICE): I’m good, thanks.

(FEMALE VOICE): Very well, thank you.

(MALE VOICE): I am good enough.

(KK): How are you?

(MALE CHILD VOICE): Good.

(KK): I just want to know: how are you?

(MALE VOICE): I’m good. I’m good. I’m probably, yeah! I’m pretty good!

(KK): When someone asks, “How are you?” do you answer honestly? For most Americans (and yes, it is a US thing), the question gets thrown around as a casual greeting. Most people don’t expect you to respond with anything other than, “I’m good!” or “Fine, how are you?” Nobody actually expects someone to say, “It’s going pretty badly!”—because how do you respond to that? Awkward. And—there are probably a million reasons why this happens: we’re too busy, the honest answer is kinda depressing, and wouldn’t the world just be a better place if we didn’t talk to anyone at all? (Just kidding.)

Yeah, we can’t always be a hundred percent honest. It’s just not the reality of things. But the thing is, when you’re feeling kinda blue or in the middle of a shit storm, it can be a really difficult question, and it takes a lot of patience to answer it when you kinda feel like crap. But it can also be a nice reminder that we’re all human, and you never really know what someone is going through at any given time.

(COREY MOWRY): I think transparency and being open is the perfect place to start, you know what I mean? Not being scared to talk about how you’re feeling or how your friends are feeling or how you’re family’s feeling. You don’t have to save everyone. You aren’t expected to do that, but there are little things like, “Hey. I’m around if you need anything this weekend,” or “How are you feeling?” Just little stuff like that will go a long way. And, you know, there’s professional help now that we didn’t even have ten years ago. You can see a therapist online now and you don’t even have to go into an office. You know, with all of these options, this rate shouldn’t be going up. If anything, the least we can do is be transparent and talk about it and not be scared to open up and be like, “I’m a guy. I’ve never been great about talking about my feelings, but here I am. This is who I am, this is what I’ve been through. I know you all are struggling with different things as well. Let’s recognize that in each other and tell each other, “Hey. I got you.” Let’s start there and see what happens.

(FEMALE VOICE): If someone tells you something tough they are dealing with and your first instinct is to let a platitude fly: please don’t. I know it makes you uncomfortable, but I’m refusing to say, “I’m fine” when I’m really not. When I was in high school, I lost my virginity to a sexual assault. This sent me into a downward spiral of self-harm and disordered eating, but I was able to climb my way out the hole I dug—literally. So, I stopped saying, “I’m fine.” Who does that help? The person who is asking? No! You need to see this, too. You need to see what it takes to come back from this because one day, you might have to as well. Maybe someone can draw strength from my willingness to talk about this. I’m here to listen, and I’ll spare you the platitudes.

(MALE VOICE): So, I’ve been thinking about this a lot actually and have tried to get away from just saying, “Good! How are you?”—to which somebody usually replies, “Good! How are you?” And maybe neither of us even slows down to listen to even listen for a response. But, I think just noting that we get stuck in this pattern can lead to a more meaningful conversation. Actually had a conversation with a coworker about this recently and we talked about what would it look like and what it would require if we gave people the time and space to truly answer the question.

(FEMALE VOICE): When I hear the question, “How are you doing?”, I think, “Wow! What an overloaded question.” And it’s just become so common for us to use this question as small talk. But when people ask me, “How are you doing?” I genuinely just tell them exactly how I’m doing. Because it’s not a light question and I usually don’t ask people that question lightheartedly. And I really want to know how they’re actually doing. So, I’m completely honest about it and it’s pretty funny to see how people react.

(FEMALE VOICE): When people ask me, “How are you doing?” I usually just respond with, “I’m ok.” because I’m not doing great usually—and I’m not doing terribly, usually. And it’s satisfactory when people don’t really want to know how you’re doing; it’s just a cordial greeting.

(FEMALE VOICE): So, today I’m definitely a little stressed out about the ever-growing mountain of things I need to get done. But I’m feeling confident that I can—I can do it!

(FEMALE VOICE): I’m feeling desperate to find a new job. I keep thinking it will get better, and it doesn’t and it’s been eighteen years now.

(MALE VOICE): Hey, Kathy. Thanks for asking. I’m doing really well after having the flu twice in 2019, being weak as a kitten, and losing all my climbing fitness and having to postpone all my climbing goals for the year. But I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel and I’m slowly starting to climb again. So, if anybody out there listening is dealing with their own illness and they’re trying to claw their way back to fitness: I encourage you to be patient, allow yourself to rest and heal, don’t worry if you have to come back and climb 5.4—because climbing is rad whether it’s 5.14 or 5.4. So, eventually, you’re going to get back out there and climb again.

(FEMALE VOICE): I’m moving in with my boyfriend today, so I’m at my old house and there’s just a few more boxes to take over and I’m here by myself and I—I actually feel a little bit sad, even though it’s a really exciting time. It’s sort of sad to feel like you might be losing your independence a little bit, and it’s a little bit scary and there’s a lot on my mind. But we’ll just see what happens from here on out.

(FEMALE VOICE): How am I doing? I’m doing ok. But also, I have a lot of responsibility that’s stressing me out and making me anxious. And I’ve been doing some work to be more honest with myself, and as a result, feel exhausted and vulnerable and like I’m about to cry more often than I’d like.

(MALE VOICE): How am I is a hard question to answer for most people, but for me, it’s pretty simple: I’m pissed. I’m pissed at the state of our government. Pissed at my body. Pissed at the fact that I can’t get back into climbing the way I wanna get back into climbing. But I’m also very grateful. So, when I get past those moments, I look at my gratitude for the people that I have around me, for the love that I have in my life, for sunrises, sunsets, moonrises, moonsets, and dogs. And I’m ok.

(FEMALE VOICE): “How am I?” That’s the toughest question for me to answer because it changes on a daily, hourly, minute timeframe. It’s easy to lie about it because there are good things going on in my life, but sometimes when you have time to think, you realize you’re missing out on the things you want most. And that is terrifying, and sometimes you have no fucking clue how to balance that.

(FEMALE VOICE): I’m grateful, and I’m happy to be here sitting on a boat in a beautiful harbor. But I’ve been very depressed, and menopause has been a huge struggle for me and I have a lot of body pain. And it’s hard to see my way out of the heaviness of it all sometimes. I’m naturally a positive person, but this has really kicked me in the ass—and I’m struggling. It’s been a very, very hard time in my life.

(FEMALE VOICE): I’m tired. Tired of feeling alone—of feeling like I have to protect myself all the time. I meet new people and there’s just always something that makes me put up those walls. And I just wish I could let them down.

(MALE VOICE): How am I? (laughs) I guess it depends on the day. Some days, the Paxil works a little better than others. My life, objectively, is pretty amazing. I’m a white male in America and I’m fairly healthy. Sometimes I’m nervous and I’m anxious. I don’t know. How am I?

(FEMALE VOICE): It took me over fifty years, but I think I can actually say I’m happy and content now. I have a new job that I like and recently got remarried to a wonderful man who shares my passions and takes wonderful care of me. Sure, I have bad days and I often worry about my kids up in college—but I can’t complain. I’m still not used to seeing my body aging so quickly, but growing old is better than the alternative. A few years ago, I had a brief brush with cancer that I survived, but my sister didn’t survive hers. Life has been good to me, and I appreciate how fortunate I am.

(MALE VOICE): I’m great, but my body is not so great. I’ve got a raging infection of valley fever in my lungs that has eaten a few large cavities into them. So, sometimes it hurts to breathe and my energy is way down from normal. I’m still getting out to do a lot of the things that I love outside, just a lot less of that.

(MALE VOICE): I feel slightly uncomfortable admitting this since I know not everyone’s in the same place that I am, but I’m actually great! I’ve hit all my climbing bucket list items, you know, like: big walls, big mountains, hard trad leads, good sport flashes, et cetera. I have a successful career doing something I love. I’m happily married. I live in a fantastic area. You know, in short, I’ve lived exactly the kind of life I dreamed of as a young adult. All the great dreams of my life have come true—and for that, I’m incredibly grateful.

(FEMALE VOICE): I’m not doing super great. I’m really angry and jaded right now. I’ve had two incidents this month, back-to-back. One of which was an unexpected pregnancy that ended in abortion, and the other being a climbing accident that ended up either dislocating or breaking my tailbone. So, I don’t know which one yet. And these happened because I trusted people I shouldn’t have. And I’m hoping that the lesson here isn’t that I can’t trust people anymore.

(FEMALE VOICE): Hey, Kathy. I wanted to answer your question, “How are you?” And right now, I’m really frustrated because I’m naive. I just got semi-taken advantage of by an Uber driver on the street who just tried to, like, force me to kiss him which was really strange. And now I’m finding solitude in this cemetery. I think I’m…I think I’m fine. So, this is the third time in a month that a guy has made a sexual advance towards me. And the fact that this has happened so consecutively really makes me question how other people perceive me. Am I naive? Do I have to filter myself, which is so incredibly difficult to do—I don’t want to filter myself. I want to be nice and friendly and open to people and offer some form of vulnerability, but when things like this happen, it makes me want to close myself off. It makes me feel gross, like I’ve given too much to someone because they think that they can act that way towards me. Yeah, so. That’s how I’m feeling right now.

(FEMALE VOICE): How’m I doing? Hm. Thanks for asking, but I really don’t know. A couple of weeks ago, I was in an avalanche after ice climbing. Standing at the base of the climb and there were six of us. I’m lucky to be alive. Two of the women were carried and buried, and we couldn’t get one out in time to save her. I’m going to the memorial service on Saturday in Canada. So, I don’t know how I’m doing. I’m pushing it all down I think and will have to deal with it later.

(MALE VOICE): How am I. How am I, really? Ugh. Exhausted. Tired. Scared. It’s just—being a solo artist doing your own thing—and I know that you know exactly what I’m talking about. Not having something behind you, just doing it all on your own, is just like free soloing all the time. Like, every day you wake up and you look at your email and it’s like starting another pitch. You know? I don’t know. Things go really well and you get super excited, but things don’t go great like a month later, and you don’t have any work and nobody’s buying what you’re selling. And you’re just like, “Ok. It’s that time of the year again when I think about, ‘What should I do instead? Should I go back to school and maybe be a nurse?’” or I don’t know what. Well, anyway. You probably can’t use this, but I’m just saying hi. Hope you’re doing well.

(FEMALE VOICE): Great now!

(MALE VOICE): But you’re shaking and it’s not because you’re cold. It’s because you’re still terrified.

(FEMALE VOICE): I was terrified! I don’t know! I’m terrified of heights. And I was so close to the rock. And every time I looked down, I wanted to throw up.

(FEMALE VOICE): Today, everything feels like a struggle! I had therapy today and I went to a waterfall, but everything feels kind of conflicted. I’m going through a recent breakup and I just don’t really know how to feel. I’m going, looking at the memories and not really knowing how to feel about them. I have a lot of support, but I still feel really alone. And I just feel like I’m too much and not enough at the same time. And I’m trying to be ok with not being ok. That’s me today.

(MALE VOICE): How is one doing? That’s a question easy to dread. Brooding, disappointed and upset about so many things, both within myself and outside in the world that I see going on. How do I feel about it, and what I could change about it? Well, I guess it would matter that first, I could change myself and maybe, by that example that some way, I could change them.

(KK): Even though I still have no idea what I’m doing—things are happening. And if you’d like to help out and support this podcast, please check out patreon.com (that’s P-A-T-R-E-O-N) where you can sponsor us for as little as $1 per episode. It really helps keep this podcast going, and I’m so grateful for all of your help. Special shout out to Cameron MacAlpine because he makes this thing sound good.

– You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. A huge thank you to Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort. And a big thank you to Gnarly Nutrition for supporting this podcast and the messages that we share. Gnarly Nutrition supports a community of vulnerability and equality—and tastes like a milkshake, without all the crap. A big shout out to Allez Outdoor for supporting the Access Fund and 1% for the Planet. Allez Outdoor Personal Care products are made by climbers for those who love the outdoors. And thanks to Têra Kaia. Go ahead and throw out your other sports bras because #basewear is the only top you’ll pack. Feel naked, go anywhere, look great.

Support companies who support this podcast—we couldn’t do it without them. If you liked what you heard, you can leave a review on iTunes or give us a like—like all good things, you can find us on the internet. Until next time.

15: A Winter in Pakistan

When you go on a climbing trip, everybody thinks it’s a vacation. And you can’t get PTSD from a vacation, right? Except that PTSD isn’t exclusively tied to any one event. Nanga Parbat is the ninth highest mountain in the world and notoriously difficult to climb. Some of the most experienced alpinists in the world have lost their lives trying to summit the “Killer Mountain”, and in 2012 Ian flew to Pakistan for his first winter expedition.

A winter in the Himalaya nearly destroyed him. Ian survived unroped crevasse falls, an avalanche, bivouacs in negative forty-degree weather, high altitude cerebral edema, Hepatitis A, an earthquake, oh—and also, nearly being eaten alive by fleas. When he returned to the states, he couldn’t cope with society and suffered from severe depression and PTSD. Our responses to the events of trauma are our brain’s way of helping us cope and survive. People experience PTSD for different reasons and healing looks different for everybody, but there is still hope and freedom on the other side of trauma.

This episode is brought to you by Deuter, Gnarly Nutrition, Allez Outdoors, and Têra Kaia. Music by: “Southside” by Lee Rosevere, “Ichill” by Kakurenbo, “Blue Highway”, “60’s Quiz Show”, “Well and Good”, “Knock Knock”, “Pives and Flarinet”, “Good Times”, “Cotton”, “Chimera”, “Soldier Story”, “Dark Water”, “Tollhouse”, “Arboles”, “Springtime”, and “Well and Good” by Podington Bear. Sound effects by Mike Koenig, “Rave lite”, and “ccdff2”. A HUGE thank you to Chad Crouch, aka Podington Bear, for the support and to Peter Darmi for all of his help.

Copy of For the love of climbing header

get-it-on-itunes-badge-440x160gglplaystitcher_button

Transcript:

(KATHY KARLO): This podcast is sponsored by Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort, but most importantly–your snacks. Deuter has a history of first ascents and alpine roots. Their head of product development even climbed Everest once, in jeans (hashtag not fake news.) Deuter is known for fit, comfort, and ventilation. Founded in 1898, Deuter believes in good fitting backpacks, so you can focus on way cooler things like puppies, pocket bacon, and gettin’ sendy, whether at the crag or in the alpine.

– We’re working with Better Help to connect you to licensed therapists. They’ll match you with the perfect therapist for a fraction of the cost of traditional therapy. You know who goes to therapy? Prince Harry. Emma Stone. Jenny Slate. Kesha. Therapy is beautiful—everyone should go to therapy. Go to betterhelp.com/climbing to sign up and receive one free week. It helps support this show, and it helps support you.

– This podcast gets support from Gnarly Nutrition, one of the leading protein supplements that tastes “whey” better than they need to because they use quality natural ingredients. So, whether you’re a working mom who runs circles around your kids on weekends or an unprofessional climber trying to send that 5.13 in the gym, Gnarly Nutrition has all of your recovery needs. The only question you need to ask yourself is: Are you a sucker for anything that tastes like chocolate ice cream? (Yeah, me neither.) Gnarly Nutrition is designed to enhance your progress—and taste like a milkshake, without all the crap.

(FEMALE VOICE): Today we’re going to talk about “allez”. “Allez” means “come on!” in a way, or to encourage. Ok! We are done with the simple and normal uses of “allez”, now let’s cut to the chase:

(KK): Allez Outdoor Personal Care products are made by climbers for those who love the outdoors. Their rich and repairing ingredients for their skincare collection are inspired by desert landscapes, and their simple and recyclable packaging makes them eco-sustainable. Allez commits to protecting the open spaces that we love by partnering with the Access Fund and 1% for the Planet. You can win a year’s supply of Allez product by following them on Instagram (that’s Allez Outdoor: “A-L-L-E-Z”), posting a story about an upcoming or past adventure and tagging them. Allez will announce one winner per episode. Allez Outdoor—made by climbers, for those who love the outdoors.

Têra Kaia, made by women for women, is redefining the standard with sizing. The TOURA basewear top is their swim-friendly sports bra that’s designed for outdoor adventure—so you can hike, sweat, and climb to the summit in comfort. You can even wear it camping for days on end—it just about never gets gross (trust me, I have tried.)  You can take 10% off with code “fortheloveofclimbing” and show your support for the show. Go ahead and throw out your other sports bras because #basewear is the only top you’ll pack. Feel naked, go anywhere, look great.

(IAN OVERTON): This might not have been the best idea—and it was a bold idea. And it changed me, drastically. It forced me to question everything that I thought and believed about myself. Because every morning that you wake up and you’re going on to the mountain, there is this thing that sits in the back of your head that goes, “You might die today—you need to be ok with that.” And when I got home, that wasn’t there anymore.

Most people don’t try climbing in the Himalayas in winter. The idea is absurd. Shortly after my return, I went to go see Ed Viesturs speak, the first American to summit all fourteen 8,000 meter peaks without supplementary oxygen. And he got into an argument with a Polish man in the audience about how many 8,000 meter peaks had been climbed in the winter. Ed was certain that there were, you know, still, eight or nine of them that have yet to be summited and the Polish guy was saying, “Well, no. These ones haven’t been summited yet.” And I perked up and I go, “Actually it’s just Nanga Parbat and K2. The Polish took down Broad Peak.” And Ed looks up and he goes, “Excuse me?” I go, “I was on Nanga Parbat this past winter. The Polish took down Broad Peak. Nanga Parbat and K2 remain as the only 8,000 meter peaks to not be summited in the winter.”

Ed’s response was, “I think that climbing in the Himalayas in winter is insane.” To date, I am the only American to attempt to climb Nanga Parbat in the winter. I can’t say we sent our best and the brightest—but we sent somebody.

(KK): You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. This is not a climbing podcast. Well, sorta. This is a funny, sad, and somewhat uncomfortable podcast about choosing vulnerability and talking openly about our pain. This podcast is sponsored by Dirtbag Climbers. Here’s the show.

(IO): My name’s Ian Overton. I live in Denver, Colorado. I’ve been climbing, if you’ve listened to my dad’s side of the story: he hauled me up an icefall behind our house in Massachusetts when I was two. Put an ice ax in my hand, put me in a webbing swami belt and hauled me up it. I started climbing a bit more when I was actually twelve. First alpine experience when I was sixteen trying to do Gannett with my dad. Basically, he taught me everything I knew. He caught me on my first lead fall—I was placing nuts that he’d had since the mid-eighties up at Horsetooth and I whipped and he caught me on a hip belay. Um. So, that’s fun.

(KK): There are a lot of opinions on age, like “You’re too young for this” or maybe “you’re too old for that.” Most of us spent our childhood waiting for permission for things like second dessert and staying up late, or being tall enough to ride the rollercoaster or old enough for a driver’s license. And if you’re impatient like me, then you’ll just trick your high school boyfriend into indefinitely loaning you his car while he goes away to college. Who needs a piece of paper for validation, anyway?

But when it comes to climbers, the general rule of thumb seems to be: “Age is just a number,” and depending on things like having the right mentors and or the right attitude, you can start at any age. We do want to acknowledge that, of course, there are a lot of barriers that can prevent just any ol’ body from climbing—such as accessibility or financial status, and not to mention that the learning curve to climbing itself can be pretty steep. But unlike most mainstream sports, you can still become a rock climber at any age. I know climbers in their late sixties still swinging hard leads in the Gunks back home, and in June of 2019, the youngest recorded person in history climbed the Nose on El Cap. With a huge boom in popularity, the recommended age to start climbing is somewhere between four and seven.

But you don’t see as many alpine babies toddling around out there in the world. Crag babies, yeah. But to be inundated at such a young age in the world of—not just old school trad, but also high-altitude alpinism—it’s a far cry from comp kids today (even if their tendons are made of kevlar by the time they’re twelve.) Ian had a different introduction to the outdoors, and it dictated not just where he lived but how lived his life—and it shaped his entire existence.

(IO): I guess a lot of this stems from my father. He was with army special forces and his whole background was high altitude and cold weather mountaineering—and warfare. So, it wasn’t a matter of if I would climb, or be in the cold or ski or anything like that—it was when. I left climbing for a while in college. Got really involved in the punk scene. Very politically oriented for a long time—still am. After college, I just kinda hit the road. I didn’t really start moving for a long time. I started traveling and working weird jobs—I got a degree in political science and realized I wanted nothing to do with it. So, I took a job working on a hazmat site outside of Albuquerque. I wound up working with an artist collective in Down East Maine. At-risk youth programs in Vermont, ski instructor in Idaho, Colorado. EMT, butcher. I’ve taught cadaver labs for anatomy physiology. I’ve been all over the place.

After my stint in Albuquerque, I did whatever, you know, you do as a counter-culture youth and you go and you backpack Europe. What was supposed to be a trip around Ireland and maybe down to Germany or something like that turned into a six-month stint of hitchhiking around Ireland, and then all the way out to the Black Sea. Along the way, I met this guy named David Klein. David lived in a town outside of Budapest called Èrd and he allowed us to stay through the couch surfing network. It was either a magazine or newspaper in Hungary once referred to him as being a—I think the phrase was:  “globetrotting, mountaineering, psychedelic playboy.” His response to that was, “Ah yes. This is about right.”

We became good friends. I based out of Hungary for a while. I’d hop out to Prague or out to Romania. I would up in Transylvania being bike mechanic for a while. And I came back to the states and after his, I want to say fifth attempt at Everest without oxygen, he called me up from Nepal and said it was about time that we had an adventure. And I thought, “Yeah, sure. Let’s do it.”

(KK): Everybody has an adventure buddy—or at least knows one. And, you know the kind. If your thing is trying hard objectives in the mountains, occasionally known as “doing stupid, scary shit”, then you definitely need friends who are willing to do the stupid thing with you. These partners are otherwise known as “enablers”. Everybody has or knows one—Ian had two.

(IO): The other guy on the expedition—a man named Zoltan Acs, we call Zoli—perked up and said, “Well, fellas. Let’s do Nanga Parbat this winter.”

Nanga Parbat is an 8,126-meter peak that, at the time, was only one of two 8,000-meter peaks that had not been summited in the winter. It was that and K2. I knew about its reputation. The Germans call it “the Killer Mountain”. There’s no reason that I should be attempting this as my first real expedition, but David pitched it to me as, “Well, if you do this, then everything else is gonna seem easy.” I thought about it and I went back to my job as an EMT and I got a call for a frequent flyer—just somebody that you pick up on the regular—and I went, “I can’t just keep doing this. I’ve gotta do something else.” I gave my work a month’s notice saying, “Hey, I’m leaving to do this thing.” and our dispatch manager looked at me and he goes, “You’re gonna die in an avalanche.” And my response to him was, “Well, it’s better than all these places I keep on driving people to and from.” So, I left.

(KK): In alpinism, climbers are constantly pushing the envelope of conventional boundaries. The most important part is to be safe and return home, with or without a summit. And Ian was in tip-top shape—running constantly, training in the gym and spending a lot of time at altitude. In order to meet their objective, all three of them had to be ready for anything. Nanga Parbat was no joke—it had a twenty-eight percent death ratio and the summit-to kill-ratio historically was 3:1. To put that in perspective, Everest, at only ten, is the mountain that Nanga Parbat pushes down on the playground and steals its lunch money from. And at least sixty-eight people have died trying to reach the top.

Besides some of the physical barriers, logistically it was a nightmare. In 2012, there weren’t many people traveling to Pakistan for much more than mountaineering—and getting a visa into the country was tricky. Pakistan wasn’t exactly a huge tourist destination, especially where Nanga Parbat resides. And this was all just a year prior to Osama bin Laden’s death by gunshot wound in 2011. The area is known for its conservative—and in some cases, extremist—religious devotees. Needless to say, Ian received a lot of flak from family and friends about going. And ultimately, there was just a lot of confusion about what was really going on there.

Ian landed in Budapest to meet up with the team in early December and then flew into Islamabad on December 27th.

(IO): Having a giant Eddie Bauer First Ascent duffel bag tends to attract some attention—which wasn’t great because we smuggled an entire case of Johnnie Walker in with them.

(laughs)

Have I not told you this story? Johnnie Walker was one of the sponsors that came through. They gave us two cases of scotch, plus a little bit more. To get the scotch up to basecamp, we had to bring it into Pakistan. Pakistan is a Muslim country; alcohol is considered forbidden—“haram”. So, I’m dragging this bag around the customs area and finally, a man with a tight mustache and a beret and a chest full of badges walks up to me and goes, “Where are you from?” I went, “Uh, the United States.” He goes, “What are you doing here?” I said, “I’ve come to climb Nanga Parbat.” and he looks at me and he goes, “Do you want tea?”

“Uh—yes?”

And he shouts something in Urdu at a kid, the kid takes off running. And he says, “Put down your bags. Sit down.” So, I put down my duffel bag and I sit down on top of it and he sits down next to me and he goes, “So, why are you here? We don’t see Americans.” And he starts to engage me in this really fun, polite conversation. We’re going back and forth and making some jokes. And eventually, the tea shows up and it’s not in a styrofoam cup like I thought it would be. It’s sterling silver tray, china cups, silver teapot. And we sit down, we have tea together, and we laugh and we tell some jokes and eventually he looks at me and goes, “You know, a lot of people come from the west and they try to bring in drugs and they try to bring in alcohol. So, I tell them that this is forbidden. This is a Muslim country. It is haram—and then, I take it from them. And then when we close, we have a party.”

(laughs)

He starts laughing. I stand up. The customs official stands up, picks up my bag and I’m certain it’s about to go away—hands it to me and says, “I hope you enjoy my country.” We walked under the microbus and we take off.

We arrived in Chilās December 30th. We had a couple of days in town before we headed out to basecamp. Chilās is in the area of Gilgit-Baltistan, but the Chilāsi themselves are known for having a much more conservative culture than much of the surrounding countryside. I immediately noticed that I didn’t see women anywhere. We’re at the hotel and a group of students come in. And they’re from Lahore, they’re from Karachi, from Islamabad, Rawalpindi. We’re all chatting about where we’re from and one guy leans over and goes, “I’m from where your drones are bombing.” I puckered up super tight and I looked over my shoulder and was like, “I’m…really sorry about that man. I…don’t have anything to do…” And he goes, “No, no, no. I know. And I’m just teasing you. I actually appreciate it because my family can go out to the market without having to worry about these warlords for the first time in a decade.” And that was a bit of a mind bender to me because I have major issues with the drone program in it of itself, but at the same time—we had a really good discussion about what these programs meant and his firsthand experience with them. We got to know each other really well that night: we played board games, we drank tea. I talked to one guy about Black Sabbath and Slayer and Iron Maiden for like an hour. We bonded over metal. Then I got violently ill—wretching, violently. Food poisoning, something. I am up until it’s time to get into the old Toyota to take us up to the trailhead to start the three day walk into basecamp.

We get up to Bunar Das and get into a rickety old Toyota TJ. Bald tires, shot suspension. I get into the front seat—everybody else kind of piles into the back. The driver starts going up these steep, narrow, winding trails.

(sound of car driving on road)

We encounter a goat herder

(sounds of bells ringing and goats bleating)

who’s got three goats going along the knife edge of this road and he stops off the side. The first goat steps off to the side.

(sounds of birds chirping)

The second goat steps off to the side. The third goat’s not going anywhere, so our driver hits the accelerator

(sound of car accelerating)

and that’s when the goat runs directly in front of the Toyota and just smashes right into it.

(sound of car impacting…something, I couldn’t find any “car-hitting-goat sounds”)

And I’d been yelling, “Stop, stop, stop! Enough, no, no no!” and hits the goat—my head goes out the window, I wretch again. I look back: there’s this old man wailing over his goat. David and our local guy, Fakir, go over and start talking to him. Zoli has been sitting on top of the Toyota this whole time and he leans over me and goes, “Hey, Ian.” I look up at him. He looks at me and just goes, “This is a bad omen. We are so fucked.”

(laughs)

and way out in the distance you can see Nanga Parbat.

Basecamp’s at nearly 15,000 feet, so we’ve got another almost 12,000 feet to go—through terrain I have no idea how to navigate. Because there’s nothing in the lower forty-eight that really gets you set to climb in the Himalaya—no matter how many times you do Rainier or Hood. The size and scope of these things is just mind-boggling.

(KK): The team had spent three days in total hiking into basecamp. When they got there, it immediately hit Ian that he was way in over his head, more than he could have ever imagined. While setting up camp, they quickly realized that their logistical team—the people responsible for their basecamp supplies—had left them with a stove without any of the working parts and summer tents—meaning no floors. Much to their dismay, several of the porters had actually stolen items from them as well.

(IO): My socks, my underwear. My 8,000-meter mitts. My balaclava. My American and my Colorado flag we were hoping to have at summit. The Hungarian flags, and several other important items.

(KK): So, you were pretty well set up.

(IO): Yeah, yeah. We’re—everything’s just going great. When you go out on an expedition, you hire a cook and you hire a kitchen boy—it shows good faith to the local community. “Kitchen boy” sounds a little diminutive, but that’s the term that’s used. The kitchen boy quit in two days. He didn’t want to be there—he went back down to his family in Bunar Das. And this guy named Abdul, he’s like, “I’ll stay.” Abdul and Fida, our cook, didn’t speak the same language. Abdul spoke the regional dialect and Fida spoke a little bit of English and some Spanish and my two climbing partners are Hungarian—so, nobody speaks the same native tongue.

(KK): The team waited for parts for the stove to come up from Bunar Das while they started to try and figure out how to even get to the foot of this thing. Nanga Parbat stands on the eastern edge of the Himalayas with steep, avalanche-prone faces that sometimes develop its own weather systems. And—hey, let’s not forget that it was the middle of winter.

(IO): Morning’s are clocking in around negative twenty Fahrenheit, between negative ten and negative twenty on the bad nights. And the snow just keeps coming. It’s deep. You’d break trail and the next day, your trail was gone and you’d have to do it again. So, we try to go up and over through a series of couloirs and realize that it just ends. We take several days trying to set this up and during the course of that, I wound up falling into the crevasse for a first time—unroped. We’d been setting up camp and thought it was a safe place to move and I was going to retrieve a piece of the tent that had blown away and I took two steps forward and just dropped. The whole world just shattered around me and I landed on an ice ledge in the middle—in the crevasse. I got lucky.

(KK): Ian described falling into the crevasse as the mountaineering equivalent of driving without a seat belt, or airbag, or…brakes: “Think 127 Hours, but replace the rock with a metric shit-ton of ice.” Fortunately, he was able to grab the rim and pull himself out. Unfortunately, this was only the beginning. During their attempt to establish a second basecamp, David and Ian got caught in an avalanche.

(IO): Navigating the icefall—it’s a labyrinth that we can’t seem to find the top of, or find a stable place to set up camp. We start making our way down, but we can’t see the landmarks that we’ve set for ourselves. These bamboo sticks with red flags on, we can’t find them. We’re going across a snowfield. David’s headlight is starting to dim out. I’m in the front, and I can just feel the world start to shake.

(heart beating rapidly)

I look up at this couloir and it just looks like smoke,

(wind gusts blowing loudly)

and I yell, “Incoming!” And we start running, knowing that there are crevasses in front of us and we could very well fall into them, but it’s either that or get hit by the brunt of the avalanche. We get up to the edge of this deep crevasse that we can’t find a way around, so David just tackles me onto the ground.

(heart beating rapidly)

Everything goes black. Can’t see my hand in front of my face. You can feel this intense wind pummel you and chunks of ice are battering at us. Coughing, and just lying on the ground, hoping not to get buried. Eventually, the noise stops. And I stand up. David pulls me back down. Says, “There might be a second one. Stay down.” He mutters something in Hungarian. I laugh kinda nervously, and we walk down to camp one.

He starts stomping around back and forth and I ask him, “What are you—what are you doing?” He says, “Well, I’m making a bed.” The nights have been getting down around negative forty or so, and so I think, “Ok. I guess this is what we’re doing.” So, we stomp out a platform. We call Zoli on the radio and like, “What time is the moon going to get up above the ridge?” And it’s quiet, and he says, “I don’t think that’s happening tonight. There’s no moon.” So, we just decided to hunker down there for the night and wait until morning. It’s too cold to sleep. The thermometer bottoms out between negative thirty, negative forty—so, somewhere below there. And all I can do is sit in my bag and shiver, and David recites part of The Ramayana—this ancient Hindu poem—while we sit there and shiver in the dark and watch the Milky Way spin overhead. It was beautiful. And—after a while, you just kinda go numb to it. The inside of my foot started developing some frostbite.

(sigh)

We get down to basecamp. We have a talk with Zoli. Bad weather’s coming in, so we decide that while the storm comes in, we’ll go back down to Chilās.

We dip down to Chilās. A day later, we go into town and we’d made friends with a guy named Aziz that had offered to give us a ride somewhere. Three police officers come out of nowhere and yank him out of the car and start questioning him. We find out that we’ve had secret police that have been following us for the past few days. He won’t drive us anywhere because of this, so we get out. A white Toyota Corolla pulls up next to us, and an older gentleman steps out with a double-barrel shotgun and points it at both David and I. David says to him in Urdu—something. Later, it comes to light that he’s with the police. And the guy waves the gun and says, “No, you’re coming with me.” situation. And then we’re marched through town, with everybody watching us, to the police station.

(KK): The police station they were brought to was set up as courtyard. Think, old school jail cells, with the bars and everything. And, in the middle of the courtyard is a wooden desk. Sitting at this desk is a man.

(IO): He’s got a book and a telephone, and I don’t think the telephone was plugged into anything.

(KK): David and Ian sit down, and the man stares at them—hard. He demands to see their paperwork.

(IO): He looks us up and down. Tells us, “You could be spies. What are you doing here? You’re causing very much trouble in town. People are very concerned.” And he points at David and goes, “What is your name? Where are you from? What is your job?” And he says, “My name’s David Klein. From Budapest, Hungary. I’m a climber.” And he points at Zoli, same thing. “My name is Zoltan Acs. I’m from Budapest, Hungary. I’m a climber.” And he points at me, and I don’t have that Eastern European stoicism—so I go, “Uh, my name’s Ian Overton. I’m from the United States,” and I was just gonna say climber, but David points at me and goes, “Doctor.”

(KK): Except that, Ian isn’t exactly a doctor—

(IO): But I got a bag full of doctor feel good back at the hotel, so—maybe we can make this work. The guy looks at me and says, “You’re a doctor?” I say, “Yeah?” All the world’s a stage dive right? Let’s do this.

(laughs)

Well, he shouts out something and three officers come over. And one of them looks at me and pulls up his shirt and says, “This hurts.” So, I look at David and I go, “Well, if we don’t go to jail, I’ll do a physical exam on each of your men.” And right there in the lobby, I do a full physical workup on all three of these guys, just like I would any field patient. “Ok, here. B vitamins and some Imodium for the guys with diarrhea. And then, uh, it’s Percocet—here you go.”

(laughs)

(KK): And—it all works out. Ian, David, and Zoli didn’t get buried in an avalanche, didn’t go to jail—and apparently, now Ian is a doctor. They get Zoli on a bus to go back home—he had suffered severe frostbite and wouldn’t be joining them for the rest of the expedition. And then David and Ian head back to Bunar Das, jump into the same beat-up TJ and arrive at Halal bridge. They grind out a four-day hike in two days. And on the last day, they do a twenty-two-hour push through waist-deep snow.

(IO): We check our weather window. We’ve got less than a week until the next big storm moves in, so we need to make time. We take one day to rest and punch up to camp one. Wake up the next morning, stoke is high. Ready to go. Camp two, let’s get this. And somewhere up a couloir, I just lose all my energy and I get this massive headache. Start feeling really sick to my stomach and kinda blurry, so I shout down to David that he needs to finish the pitch. Build an anchor, he comes up. Checks in: “You ok?” I’m like, “Just finish.” Keep on pushing. We get into the icefall. Go up, up, up, and we hit our high point. And I look around, take three steps and hit my knees. I can’t walk straight. And David looks at me and he goes, “Ok, we’re done.”

So, we back up to the icefall and he puts in one old Russian titanium screw. Wraps a little bit of three mill accessory cord through it. Sets up a really sketchy minimal rappel—looking back on it, didn’t care about it at the time. He raps off into the icefall. I go to do the same thing, but I can’t figure out how to load my belay device—which is something I’ve done, you know, thousands of times in my life, at this point? And I can’t figure it out. It’s on backwards, ropes are getting crossed. I can only get one rope to clip in. Eventually, I get to the bottom and he said, “What took so long?” And I tried to explain it to him and my words didn’t feel like they were making sense, but he kinda figures it out and he goes, “Yeah, we’re done. We’re done. We’re done.” He just keeps on saying that. We walk down to the base of the icefall and we made a short video announcing the end of the expedition—because I’d developed high altitude cerebral edema.

(KK): High altitude cerebral edema is caused by changes in altitude. The vessels in your brain become extremely permeable and can leak fluid into the cerebral cavity. Essentially, what happens is: when the pressure inside your skull increases, so does brain tissue and cerebrospinal fluid. So, it squeezes the brain inside of its own head—which is where the headaches, nausea, and vomiting come from. Your body is actively trying to get rid of the fluid in order to decrease pressure. And if the swelling goes untreated, it can cause death by brain herniation.

(IO): We make this video announcing the end of the expedition and it ends with David saying, “So, we’re going back to Islamabad to eat chapatis?” And I kinda laugh a little nervously and I throw my hat on the ground and say, “I guess.” and motion for David to cut the camera, ‘cause I’m about to start just bawling.

For the next five days, David would describe my behavior as irregular and aggressive. Extremely agitated. When I’d go to sleep at night, I’d have these dreams that I would act out—I’d hallucinate that I was a mercenary in a science fiction book that I was reading and that I had a contact I had to meet up with on an ice planet. I’d go wander out onto the glacier in my long underwear and my socks before I’d figured out what’s going on and run back into the tent. At that point, we had commandeered a shepherd’s hut that’s up there for the summertime and turned it into a camp. We go back down to Chilās. And that first night, we’re lying in the same hotel room. And I wake up in the middle of the night and the whole world is shaking around me and I think—I thought that when you drop altitude, this would all be over. I’d be done with the hallucinations and I’m starting to freak out that maybe I have brain damage, and I look over at David and he’s sitting up in bed, too, looking around and goes, “Earthquake!” I went, “Oh!” So, I just went back to bed while the world was still shaking.

(KK): Ian and David made it back down without incident—other than the hallucinations. Ian was running out of antibiotics and taking care of an infection that had developed from his frostbite. But, they got showers and Wifi and got in touch with family and friends back home. The expedition was over. But then, something interesting happened. At some point, Ian and David ventured out to get food and wound up getting caught up in the middle of a town protest.

(IO): The protest comes by and sets up directly across from us—a big stage, and people are shouting in the megaphone and you’re hearing all these catchwords that the news media in the US tells you to be afraid of. Things like “jihad” and “fatwā”. And I look at David and I go, “They’re talking about an internal struggle, like something to overcome within themselves?” And he goes, “Well, no. That’s the traditional meaning of the word. But he’s talking about killing people.”

(KK): When the protest ended, the protesters then came into the restaurant that Ian and David were sitting in.

(IO): And a man looks at me really hard and says something in Urdu. I look at David and David responds, “Oh, Hungary and America.” And he says, “Oh! Nokia phones. You make Nokia phones.” And David goes, “Yeah.” And all of a sudden, all these people crowd around and they gave us food and tea and gave us email addresses so the next time we were in Pakistan, we would have a safe place to stay and we could meet their family. We had this very beautiful moment with all these strangers that wanted to make sure that we were taken care of in their country. And the man said, “Because we’re Pakistani, we have to be cautious about outsiders. But we’re Muslim, and we’re told to be kind to the traveler.”

While I was laid out on that bed, I put myself on a really strict regimen of amoxicillin for ten days. And eventually, it cleared everything up, but I was worried I was going to lose my foot or a hand or an arm and I can’t stop shitting everywhere.

(laughs)

I take enough Imodium to choke a horse and get onto a plane. For two weeks, I didn’t talk to anybody but David. I’d gone out there at a hundred and seventy-five pounds and I came back around one forty-five, one-fifty. I’m six foot two so, I already look kinda scrawny, but I could see my ribs. Eventually, my stomach healed up enough and my lesions were fading away, so I went to go see a friend in Berlin for a week. Met up with two very bizarre Auzzie guys and went on a four-day bender before getting on a plane and heading home.

(KK): And just like that, the expedition was…over. Ian came back to the states with almost no money. He was in debt, he was depressed. And he didn’t know who to turn to.

(IO): And so, I told them all the exciting bits and pieces, but what I wasn’t telling them is that I wasn’t handling being home well. I didn’t feel like I had people to talk to. I was staying with my family. I lost a girlfriend over this—let’s be honest, it was a catalyst for losing the girlfriend. I had no money, I couldn’t go back to EMS, ‘cause mentally I couldn’t handle it. It’s so hard to look at people and go, “Look. I just had the adventure of a lifetime. And I should have everything going for me right now, but it really doesn’t feel like it and I’m really depressed and I don’t know how to talk about it.” Because when you tell people that you went on a mountain climbing trip, everybody thinks it’s a vacation. Like, it’s a beautiful place and it’s mind-bending and it’s altering and it makes you appreciate just the insane severe beauty in life, but at the same time, there’s something about it that can be utterly terrifying.

(KK): Ian had a really hard time acclimating back to normal life. He eventually took a job as a medic and crew lead for a youth empowerment group. They took eighteen to twenty-four-year-olds that needed some sort of life experience out and taught them how to do things, like build trail and, I don’t know, use a chainsaw. If you’ve worked in wilderness therapy, or know someone who does, then you’re probably familiar with the kind of schedule and emotional capacity required.

(IO): And what I’m not telling people is at night, I’m having this horrific nightmare—that I can’t breathe and that I’m getting hit by this avalanche, over and over again. And I can’t see it, but I can feel it and I can hear it. I can taste it. And I’d wake up and have to stifle my own screams in my tent and try to get out of the tent ‘cause I thought I was getting buried. I’d go home from a ten-day hitch and just get into a bottle. Drink heavily. I was sad all the time. I’d get angry with my family. And finally, I went and I got therapy. I had a clear moment and was like, “Ok, you’re feeling good right now, but if you don’t do something soon, it’s gonna come back.” So, I found a therapist that was willing to see me and we talked about why I was there.—that I felt like I had no control over my emotions, and I felt completely out of place. And I didn’t have people to talk to—it didn’t make sense, because I should have everything going for me.

We did what’s called EMDR: eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. The way that EMDR works is a therapist will give you a device and it’s got a paddle for each hand that lights up and vibrates, from one hand to the other. And you track that with your eyes while telling a story of something that’s happened to you. Supposedly, the science behind this is that when you have something that kicks off your sympathetic nervous system, your adrenal glands right? You

(clap)

dump that adrenaline, and it’s “go!” That is processed in your amygdala. It processes that primal emotional fear. However, with post-traumatic stress disorder, which I’d developed because of this whole thing, it gets locked in there. And it doesn’t get processed into the hippocampus, where rational memory is stored—developed and stored. EMDR simulates REM sleep that you’re not getting by doing this cross hemispheric synchronization in your brain and allows that rational memory to develop. So, it’s almost—I don’t like using the term “desensitize”, even though that’s the term—because “desensitized” means you don’t care about it—I still care about it deeply. But I’m able to think about it rationally now. So, she kinda did the thing where you’re like, “Tell me about your happy place. What’s a safe place for you?” I could think of Dinwoody Pass in the Wind Rivers where my dad and I had gone for my first alpine trip.

Coming up from Titcomb Basin, over to Gannett. I can remember the shapes of rocks while she talked me through it. I can remember a crow or a raven playing on thermals—big black birds. And Gannett out in the distance—and being happy. And connected, and with my dad. So, once we’d established that, we started talking about other things. Not just the expedition, but other things that she had found that were kind of joined to that. About relationships. And eventually, about the expedition. And much like Dinwoody, remembering all those small details, I had this almost psychedelic experience of re-living avalanches and crevasse falls and the texture of the snow and the ice, and the cold. And I’d leave the sessions completely emotionally drained. Not really wanting to cry, but feeling pretty dead, but I’d go home and I’d sleep deeper than I’d ever slept. It was like lost in eons of sleep. And in about eight sessions, I finally started feeling good again. I still have dreams when I get really stressed out and I’m not sleeping well—occasionally the avalanche dream will come back. But it’s only for a night or two, because I know to go and talk to somebody.

I think about it every day and I know I talk about it every day. I’m sure that there are several of my friends who are like, “Could you…stop?”

(laughs)

It’s hard when it’s something that’s ingrained in your head! There’s a picture behind you, actually. And that’s me, walking down to camp one, with my mind reeling. And I think about that moment daily. PTSD—you always hear about, it’s something that happens in the military, right? It’s something that happens to people that have been in war. And I went, “I hadn’t been in war.” I’d gone on a vacation. What had turned into a four-month-long vacation, where I quit my job and I was, you know, traveling the world. You don’t get PTSD from that. Well, it turns out, after gettin’ your ass handed to you for two months and being held at gunpoint and doing everything else that—yeah, it turns out you can get PTSD from that!

So, after the expedition, I had come back with almost no money. And I didn’t really know who to turn to. I’d been spending a lot of time running around with the radical environmental community, but because of a recent break-up and a lack of commonality, I didn’t really feel like I could turn to anybody there. My family took me in, but I realized I needed to get out Colorado Springs because there wasn’t anything for me there. And I knew I needed to start working towards something else. I’d liked the idea behind being an EMT, but emergent responders get the short end of the stick when it comes to things like pay. Most EMS services now, at least private EMS services, start their drivers and EMTs off at nearly minimum wage, and it’s no way to make a living. Especially with what you go through—the toll it takes on your body is pretty insane. But I knew I wanted to be in medicine, and there was something cool about doing some of the medical work I had done on the mountain. I’d done everything from, you know, splint hands, treat frostbite—just the daily routine of following up with medications and everything at basecamp. Treating myself for the infections—all of it was really fascinating. So, when I came home, I figured I’d follow up on that. So, I started taking prerequisites. After, I moved to Fort Collins for nursing school and I actually just finished in May. I’ve been hired onto a burn ICU here in Denver, and I plan on pursuing it further and want to take my profession back out into the high mountains.

I didn’t know what I was getting into. And there’s something beautiful about doing that—about biting off more than you can chew, and getting out alive. It made me question who I am and what am I doing. Who I would spend my time with. How I wanna interact with relationships and show that I appreciate those people in my life. We don’t get that from comfort. We don’t get those stark moments of change by living in comfort. This is the experience we get. And I think that this whole thing has taught me to appreciate that. It’s when we choose to be uncomfortable—and that’s a choice we get in the developed world. We have this, like, “Oh. I want to go climb the Diamond on Long’s Peak in the winter. I want to go and run off to Alaska and get my ass kicked on Huntington,” or whatever. We can choose those things—but we have to actively make that choice to create change in ourselves.

– So, the expedition comes and goes. And I got this distinct feeling that no one really gave a shit. And I wasn’t going to write anything about it; I did this weird thing, and I got my ass kicked. But after work one night, I read an article on eight things you learn as a professional adventurer, and it was all just kinda generic stuff: “the little things are what’ll kill ya” and “getting in and out of countries is hard”. And at the end of it, it said: “If you have an adventure story you think we should hear, write us an article. So, I cracked a beer, I did. I kicked it out in about half an hour. Sent it off to their editors. Got a phone call the next day, and a few weeks later, this thing goes live on Cracked. And the editor writes me up and says, “Hey, whatever you do—don’t read the comments.” So, sure enough, that’s the first thing I did and I’m going to give you a taste of ‘em now.

(beer opening)

Quote. Important! Do not climb intoxicateheh—

Quote. Important! Do not climb killer mountains while intoxicated. End quote. Well, I’m certainly not going to do it sober.

When has anything proposed by a couple of drunk Hungarians been a quote, good idea?

Oh, great. Another jackass who can’t stop talking about how he climbed some—

(laughs)

I love this shit.

Another jackass who can’t stop talking about how he climbed a mountain. No one cares, man. Mountain climbing is for fucking losers! Seriously. It’s some bitch shit. These guys need to get a life.

I have no idea why the fuck people keep climbing the most dangerous ones, and I run out of sympathy for people who know it’s dangerous as fuck and they still depri–eh—

Why is that one so fucking hard to say? Mostly ‘cause this fucking person doesn’t know how to use punctuation.

(ROOMMATE JOE): Mostly beer, though.

(IO): (pause)

To be fair.

(RJ): To be fair.

(IO): To be fair!

I have no idea why the fuck people keep climbing the most dangerous ones, and I run out of sympathy for people who know it’s dangerous as fuck and still try to prove something to themselves or to others. It’s like saying, ‘I petted a shark! Twenty-eight percent of people who petted that shark died.’ Yeah? Well, good for you, idiot.

(RJ): (laughs)

I hope there’s outtakes on this.

(IO): I hope so, too. It’s definitely not like the Avenger’s end roll. This is just us realizing we’re fucking stupid. I need to get on a new adventure that proves I’m stupid.

(RJ): I would agree with that.

(IO): So, when we doing something stupid, Joe?

(RJ): My family would kill me if I died on a winter ascent of something in the Himalayas.

(IO): Wait. Hold up. Say that one more time.

(RJ): I said it right.

(IO): (laughter)

Here’s another one: I climbed the Agrocrag in ’96 at the Civic Center. Got lost in so much glitter…so much glitter and confetti coming off the summit. I came down and went to another exhibit or something. Anyway, I didn’t go up there to die, I went up there to live.

(both laugh)

(door opening)

(KK): How’s it going?

(IO): I don’t know, we’re just fucking around at this point ‘cause it’s still recording things ‘cause I don’t know how to turn off your shit. That’s recording.

(both laugh)

That’s recording.

(RJ): There’s no way any of this sees the light of day.

(Ian laughing)

(a lot)

Sorry, Kathy. But also, you left it on, soo.

(IO): Kathy!

(bumping/typing? Ian hitting buttons)

(RJ): I bet if you just unplug that cord.

(IO): Yeah, probably.

(sound of cord being unplugged)

(KK): Even though I still have no idea what I’m doing—things are happening. And if you’d like to help out and support this podcast, please check out patreon.com (that’s P-A-T-R-E-O-N) where you can sponsor us for as little as $1 per episode. It really helps keep this podcast going, and I’m so grateful for all of your help. Special shout out to Cameron MacAlpine because he makes this thing sound good.

– You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. A huge thank you to Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort. And a big thank you to Gnarly Nutrition for supporting this podcast and the messages that we share. Gnarly Nutrition supports a community of vulnerability and equality—and tastes like a milkshake, without all the crap. A big shout out to Allez Outdoor for supporting the Access Fund and 1% for the Planet. Allez Outdoor Personal Care products are made by climbers for those who love the outdoors. And thanks to Têra Kaia. Go ahead and throw out your other sports bras because #basewear is the only top you’ll pack. Feel naked, go anywhere, look great.

Support companies who support this podcast—we couldn’t do it without them. If you liked what you heard, you can leave a review on iTunes or give us a like—like all good things, you can find us on the internet. Until next time.

14: Donuts for Savvy (Part 2)

To know Savannah was to love her. Nina and Court loved Savannah to the ends of the earth, and her unexpected death forever changed the climbing community. In their love and grief, Savannah’s parents turned everything that she was into purpose. Savannah left the world with a legacy of love, joy, and gratitude. This is part two of a two-part story. Introduction by the lovely Chelsea Rude. #donutsforsavvy

This episode is brought to you by Deuter, Gnarly Nutrition, Allez Outdoors, and Têra Kaia. Music by: “Southside” by Lee Rosevere, “Ichill” by Kakurenbo, “Blue Highway”, “60’s Quiz Show”, “Well and Good”, “Knock Knock”, “Pives and Flarinet”, “Good Times”, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”, “Loll”, and “Satellite Bloom” by Podington Bear, and “Snowy Afternoon”, “Telling Stories”, “Early Morning” and “Christmas Memory” by Borrtex. A HUGE thank you to Chad Crouch, aka Podington Bear, for the support and to Peter Darmi for all of his help.

Thank you so much to everybody who contributed to this very special episode, and a huge, huge thank you to Matt Moy and Chelsea Rude.

Copy of For the love of climbing header (1)

get-it-on-itunes-badge-440x160gglplaystitcher_button

Transcript:

(KATHY KARLO): This podcast is sponsored by Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort, but most importantly–your snacks. Deuter has a history of first ascents and alpine roots. Their head of product development even climbed Everest once, in jeans (hashtag not fake news.) Deuter is known for fit, comfort, and ventilation. Founded in 1898, Deuter believes in good fitting backpacks, so you can focus on way cooler things like puppies, pocket bacon, and gettin’ sendy, whether at the crag or in the alpine.

– We’re working with Better Help to connect you to licensed therapists. They’ll match you with the perfect therapist for a fraction of the cost of traditional therapy. You know who goes to therapy? Prince Harry. Emma Stone. Jenny Slate. Kesha. Therapy is beautiful—everyone should go to therapy. Go to betterhelp.com/climbing to sign up and receive one free week. It helps support this show, and it helps support you.

– This podcast gets support from Gnarly Nutrition, one of the leading protein supplements that tastes “whey” better than they need to because they use quality natural ingredients. So, whether you’re a working mom who runs circles around your kids on weekends or an unprofessional climber trying to send that 5.13 in the gym, Gnarly Nutrition has all of your recovery needs. The only question you need to ask yourself is: Are you a sucker for anything that tastes like chocolate ice cream? (Yeah, me neither.) Gnarly Nutrition is designed to enhance your progress—and taste like a milkshake, without all the crap.

(FEMALE VOICE): Today we’re going to talk about “allez”. “Allez” means “come on!” in a way, or to encourage. Ok! We are done with the simple and normal uses of “allez”, now let’s cut to the chase:

(KK): Allez Outdoor Personal Care products are made by climbers for those who love the outdoors. Their rich and repairing ingredients for their skincare collection are inspired by desert landscapes, and their simple and recyclable packaging makes them eco-sustainable. Allez commits to protecting the open spaces that we love by partnering with the Access Fund and 1% for the Planet. You can win a year’s supply of Allez product by following them on Instagram (that’s Allez Outdoor: “A-L-L-E-Z”), posting a story about an upcoming or past adventure and tagging them. Allez will announce one winner per episode. Allez Outdoor—made by climbers, for those who love the outdoors.

Têra Kaia, made by women for women, is redefining the standard with sizing. The TOURA basewear top is their swim-friendly sports bra that’s designed for outdoor adventure—so you can hike, sweat, and climb to the summit in comfort. You can even wear it camping for days on end—it just about never gets gross (trust me, I have tried.)  You can take 10% off with code “fortheloveofclimbing” and show your support for the show. Go ahead and throw out your other sports bras because #basewear is the only top you’ll pack. Feel naked, go anywhere, look great.

– Well, it’s officially December, so you know what that means. (Don’t worry, this is not a “holiday” episode.) That’s right, climber friends. It’s time to renew your gym memberships because it’s starting to get cold as BLEEP out there. Unless you’re like me, and you’ll do everything humanly possible to avoid winter. (PS, I don’t actually care about the word “fuck”—I just really wanted to use a bleep sound.)

BLEEP

BLEEP

BLEEP

BLEEP

A little life update: hectic doesn’t begin to describe the last few months. I ate my way through Canada and slowly made my way back to the southeast. I’ll be here until I finish my winter project, but I also settled down because I’ve been traveling all year and I think I just needed to be in one place for longer than a few weeks. Honest van life confession? Sometimes, I fucking hate van life. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of perks. And I love my life, but there are days when I don’t. And I think that companies and people and social media have done a good job of glamorizing hashtag van life to the point that we’re all privy to the fact that you can’t draw boxes around every single unique situation. It’s impossible to sum everything up with a 2,000-word character limit, and you can’t always accurately capture or caption certain things like heartache or pain or loneliness. I mean, what does feeling “sad” on the internet look like, anyway? How do you post things like sadness or grief to Instagram? A lot of people feel this way, but it’s still hard to find the words to explain it. It’s hard to curate the perfect image to go along with it. So, sometimes the inner dialogue is us asking ourselves: “How much do we share and how vulnerable should we be when we’re sitting behind a screen?”—and then we post a picture of our dog. Or whatever.

I don’t have the answers. I just think it’s important to acknowledge when something feels heavy but you don’t have the right words yet. When you’re exhausted but explaining to people why seems even more exhausting. And now that the holidays are here, it’s even more important to check in with yourself—and the people you love. This time of the year isn’t just about joyful celebrations and making merry with friends and family. And the media might create this “perfect” vision of how it should all go down, but not everyone greets the season with good tidings and abundant generosity.

We do want to acknowledge that the suicide myth is inaccurate—despite a long-held belief that the rate of suicide spikes dramatically during the holiday season. According to the U.S. Center for Health Statistics, the suicide rate is highest between April and August. So, it’s really hard to speculate about the holiday blues, and it could be anything from the burden of financial stress to your strong hatred of commercialism to—maybe you just really miss the sunlight. Stress is a well-known trigger for depression—and holidays can be stressful. But for many people, it could also be the worst time of the year. Maybe they can’t afford a good meal on the table, let alone gifts. Maybe someone is struggling with addiction, and drinking alcohol during the holidays has become so normalized. Or maybe the tragedy of the death of a loved one is too painful to force happy, joyful feelings when every day is a struggle. It’s supposed to be the “most wonderful time of the year”, but what happens when the holidays cause you emotional pain?

If you know someone who might be feeling feelings during this season, check in with them. Check in with your friends who might be struggling. Check in with your strong friends, too. It could be something as simple as asking them how they’re doing, and listening to what they’re going through is really powerful. And if it’s you, remember to acknowledge how you feel; it’s ok if you don’t feel like celebrating. And reach out if you need to. The holidays don’t mean that you have to pretend you’re over here making everything all magical and shit.

This is part two of a really special episode and we wanted to take the time to dedicate it to Savannah Buik and her mom and dad, Nina and Court. Savannah, we love and miss you. Every day.

– You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. This is not a climbing podcast. Well, sorta. This is a funny, sad, and somewhat uncomfortable podcast about choosing vulnerability and talking openly about our pain. This podcast is sponsored by Dirtbag Climbers. Here’s the show.

(CHELSEA RUDE): Hi, my name is Chelsea Rude and I considered Savannah Buik to be a little sister to me. I first met her one summer in Atlanta, Georgia while coaching a pre-national’s training camp, as I was one of the U.S. team coaches at the time. Savannah really stood out to me as this spunky soul who was actually really wise beyond her years. At the time, I didn’t know her but she did open up and let me know that she was really struggling. She didn’t really let me know what she was struggling with but I could see it in her eyes. She definitely was going through some stuff.

That training camp was only about a week or two and then I flew home back to Colorado. Savannah, after that, continued to stay in touch with me and this was something that was really unique compared to all of the other athletes that I’ve ever coached, especially in the training camp since. Savannah would reach out to me and just say, “Hey! How’s it going? What’s up?” And I would respond and just see how she’s doing and, you know, it was just very short and sweet and that was it. But she continued to do this–not just the first couple weeks post-camp, but for years. I knew that she had moved from Atlanta to Chicago with her parents. For a while, didn’t hear from her at that point, but she reached out again and again.

It was the summer of 2017 that she reached out to me and was like, “Hey girl. Guess what? I nailed an internship with the American Alpine Club. And I was super excited to tell her that at that time, I was working at the AAC. And I was super excited to be spending some more days with her while she was here in Colorado. And that’s kinda just how it began. She came out to Colorado. She was renting a house in Denver, but really wanted to be in Boulder and I wasn’t home very much, so I was like, “You know what? You can stay at my place. You can stay in my room. Make yourself at home. Wear, use, whatever you wanna do. Go for it, sister.” And she’d come to work and she’d be wearing some of my hoodies or some of my jewelry and was just so happy to be in Colorado that summer. She was queen of taking selfies with my dog Puma, where her face and Puma’s face were having the same expression. I’m looking at one right now where both of their mouths are open and both of their eyes are closed and they just look like they’re in total bliss. And it’s not just one photo—it’s probably about five photos where they are totally mimicking each other. I can’t even get Puma to look at the camera and take a selfie with me.

Savannah and I climbed together that summer and she took me to Vedauwoo for the first time and I watched her trad climb these things that, honestly I was too scared to try! And she was just giving it her all and it was really inspiring for me to watch. I was always inspired by her climbing, but I really was inspired by the woman who she had inside of her. Her wisdom, which was well beyond her actual years, and just her commitment to being herself. To keeping a smile on her face and reaching out to everybody.

And we would have these long car conversations on the way to Vedauwoo, on the way home, on the way to Rifle—about life. About her struggles. About where she was at in that moment. About boys and climbing and what her dreams were and how excited she was to almost be done with college and to be able to spread her wings. That summer that she was with me was her first summer away from home and she rocked it way better than I did my first summer on my own. And she was proud of it and she could sense this deep growth within her that would have been not possible just a few years prior. And she was really proud of herself. And we were driving down the road one day. Puma’s in her lap and she just looks over at me and she starts talking about eating disorders and how she wanted to make it her life’s mission to spread the word about eating disorder and make it more normal to talk about it so that more people could feel comfortable bringing up the subject and just asking for help. It’s not just whether the person who’s struggling with it is strong, but it’s also creating space in society where it is actually safe to talk about and you’re not going to get looked at weird and people aren’t going to get disappointed in you. Instead, they’re just actually going to support you and hold your hand and help you through that path. And she really wanted to do that—not just outside of the climbing world, but especially in the climbing world as well, where, unfortunately, eating disorders run rampant and it’s not easily talked about. There are a lot of coaches that feel uncomfortable around the subject or might not even really understand or see that it is an actual problem. And I was really proud of her for looking forward and wanting to make a difference in that way.

When I got the news that Savannah had passed away, I was at my grandmother’s house and I was in bed and I got a text message. And that text message said, “Savannah died today in a climbing accident and I know you guys were really close…and I thought you should know.” And I can’t even describe the confusion and pain that I felt because I had begun to consider her a little sister to me during the summer that she was in Colorado with me. When it was time for her to go back to Chicago for school, I was sad, but I wanted to stay in touch and help her on her next journey. So, she packed up her car with a bunch of clothes of mine, my first pots and pans that I had when I first moved out, and was just like, “Here you go, little sister. Go rock your last semester of school and then we’ll continue adventuring from there.”

The day that I found out happened to be six weeks after I had had shoulder surgery, which was really impactful for me. And with the death of my little sister figure, it actually really made me hate climbing for a little bit. I hated climbing—that it hurt me. And then, I hated climbing that it took my friend’s life. And still, I’m working my way through that grief of loss. But you can’t have these really great, fabulous times and be vulnerable and open up to accepting people and loving people without the complete opposite feelings as well. The feelings of loss and everything balances each other out, and Savannah was just a beautiful soul who really inspired me to actually step more on my feet.

I know that it is the mission of her family and a lot of her friends to continue her personal mission statement to normalize eating disorders so that it can help others recover. And it is my mission to always live my personal truth and always help her live her mission. And Savannah Buik—she told me one day that she had hoped to be able to make a big difference and reach many people and I don’t think that at the time she really realized how many people she’d actually already touched when she passed. She allowed people to maybe be a little bit more vulnerable with themselves and I’ll hold that close to my heart forever. Love you, Savvy.

(NINA BUIK): I’ll start with the beginning of the day. So, she had just finished school. She had just gotten her beautiful new tattoo which she had researched for quite a long time and decided that the chrysanthemum was what she wanted. It was the flower of the city of Chicago, but it also represented her blooming here in Chicago. So, it really meant a lot to her to have that tattoo. So, she was sporting her new tattoo, going up to Devil’s Lake. She got up in the morning as she normally would to go on a climb and I said, “Make sure you get back early! Your brother’s coming in tonight.” And we had the weekend planned out: we were gonna go—

(COURTNEY BUIK): Second City.

(NB): Yeah, yeah. Second City, and we were gonna go out to dinner and then we were gonna go have breakfast at her favorite place, Victory’s Banner, to which she said she was going to pay for and take her brother out for breakfast. And so, you know, we were just looking forward to a great, kind of celebratory weekend. And so, when she was walking out—she had her procedure down pat—getting ready to go climbing. Like, you know, there’s steps: getting your gear together, getting your food together, make sure your car’s ok—you know, all that good stuff. And so, she was in the zone getting ready and I said, “Savannah!” I said, “I need you to empty the dishwasher.” And she goes, “Ma! I am—“

(laughs)

“—I gotta go! I gotta go pick up Rudy ‘cause we’re meeting Rob at a certain time.” And I said, “Ughh!” when she left and I know, when we see each other again—which I know we will—she’s going to tell me, the first thing, “Mom, I’m sorry I didn’t empty the dishwasher.” So, that was the morning

(pause)

and later on that afternoon—

(CB): I’ll talk about that. Ok. I just need a second.

(KK): Take as much time as you want.

(CB): I’m ok.

(KK): Ok.

(CB): Ok. So, I really don’t talk about this much. This is the hard part. Ok, so—and I haven’t talked about this much because it’s not something

(long pause)

Gosh.

(heavy sigh)

It’s not something any parent should ever have to go through. Savannah would always call me when she was heading home from wherever she was at. I was in the office. My phone rang. It was from Savannah.

(deep breath)

And I answered it the way I always answer it: “Hey, babe. How was your day?” And the voice on the other side of the phone was not Savannah, but it was a male voice. And as a parent, your mind immediately goes to a bad place and all I could hope at that point was something happened in the car and the car broke down or there’s a flat tire, and maybe it was one of the guys that was with her that was calling me to ask me where the spare was, or something like that. And it was none of those. It was the DNR calling me to let me know

(low sobbing)

that something awful has happened. And I was like, “Is she ok?” and he said, “I’m sorry, but no, she’s not.” So, naturally, you’re stunned. I dropped. I just shut down my desktop and I got up and I left and

(big sigh)

you have all kinds of thoughts going through your head at that time: “This can’t be real. Not us. Not Savannah.” And my first thought was just to make sure I got home as fast as I could. I called Nina at that point in time as I was driving. In hindsight, I probably wish I had waited till I got home, but I let Nina know that something terrible has happened. And I think Nina’s first reaction was, “Is your mom ok?” I mean, my mom who’s now eighty-nine. And I said, “Yes, but Savannah had passed away.” And…and it is very dark at that time. And you talk about being in a fog and what I’d told my brother—he had come into town in the next couple days, as several people did—and for us, it wasn’t a fog. It was ten thousand layers of fog, and it was just trying to cut through one or two layers every day to get to a point where you could get see some sort of light. And I’ll never forget lying in bed that night and just, I didn’t sleep one wink. And just going through your mind, like: how? And why? And you just questioned everything.

The hard part was the young climbers that she was with that day called, right? And

(big sigh)

having to drive her car back, but then having to meet the two of them out in front of our house and it was just as gut-wrenching of a day as you could possibly imagine. And just, it was in a flash. And you always think that it’s somebody else, and it’s, “Boy, I would hate to be those parents. I’d hate to be that person.” Right? And then when it happens to you, it’s like oh my gosh—you can’t even fathom just how bad it is and how emotional it is and how devastating it is. And it just puts you in a position where you almost don’t care at that point what happens to you. You know? Like, there were moments when I was like, “Well, you know what? The worst day that could ever happen in my life, happened.” And it was never a thought of doing something harmful to myself or anything like that, but it was certainly a thought of, “Well, I can go out and I can do whatever I want now.” from the standpoint of I’ll walk down the street in the middle of Chicago at three in the morning because, you know what? What’s the worst that could happen to me? It already happened. And so that’s, for me, how that day played out and I’ll never forget it. And I don’t talk about the phone call. This is probably the first time I’ve really talked about it, ‘cause it’s hard. Very hard.

(NB): Courtney was absolutely right about the layers of fog and the darkness. And when you can’t see, somehow others step in to help you see. Or when you can’t stand, people are around you and help you stand. And it was between our neighbors, our absolutely wonderful neighbors—amazing neighbors, the city of Chicago, Roscoe Village, the climbing community, the eating disorder community.

(CB): Our employers.

(NB): Our employers, a hundred percent.

(CB): Our family.

(NB): And our families and our close friends that were all there to help us stand and to help us walk when we felt like—

(CB): Just to hold us up.

(NB): —we couldn’t stand anymore. Those were in the early months, and I describe the early months as predictable. You wake up and the first however-many-weeks, there was no sleeping. We’d get up and we’d cry. The times that you do fall asleep, you wake up and for that brief second, you think that it was a dream—it was a horrible dream. And then when you realize that it wasn’t, you get back into that really dark place again. But it was predictable. And I knew that we would wake up being sad and go to bed being sad—I mean really, really sad. And then, that begins to transition to something that I think was even worse, which was the unpredictable—which is when you try to go through the motions of going back to work and somebody says something or you see something on TV, or in my case, it was being on a plane and seeing a child that reminded me of Savannah. And I just started sobbing and I couldn’t stop and then people ask you, “What’s wrong?” “Are you ok?” And you can’t explain it and you just spiral from there. And it still happens to this day. It’s very unpredictable and it’s hard. And it’ll be that way.

On the flip side, there have been some amazing things that have happened—like all of the trees that were planted from the request that Savannah made of me on the balcony one day. And that ended up going in a newspaper and it went viral and there were trees planted everywhere in this community, behind First Ascent, including up at Devil’s Lake, and from places from Nigeria to Dubai to the Scottish Highlands. All the way across the country, people would send us photographs of the trees for Savvy. And to me, that was her way of providing more oxygen so we could all breathe and have peace in our own lives. The work we’ve done for Project Heal, everything she wanted—we have turned into purpose. For her and her legacy.

I also wanna call out our gratitude to Dan Bartz who’s one of the owners of First Ascent, who has really been by our side and have had now two climbathons in honor of Savvy. And we continue to stay involved in that and support the American Alpine Club and other causes that were important to her, like Project Heal. But aside from all of that, Dan has been just a really good friend to us. And all the climbers there.

(CB): Yeah, the climbing community’s been great.

(NB): We have a new tribe (laughs).

(CB): Yeah, yeah. We’re part of many tribes.

(NB): Yeah.

(CB): But they have been great and Dan’s been great, First Ascent’s been great, but yeah. You know, it kinda prompted me to go climb. And one of my big regrets is: I had knee replacement in December of 2017 and part of that was so that I could climb with Savannah. We were kinda psyched about it. It was going to be me and her and Liam at some point, and it was gonna allow me to go to the climbing gym with her and, you know, I was just getting towards the end of physical therapy which, you know, after you have knee replacement, it is a long time. And it was right towards the end of that that Savannah passed and so I never got to do that. But I said, “It’s not going to stop me.” And so, the gang and the tribe at First Ascent’s been great. I have to be honest, for me, going to climb for the first time can be somewhat intimidating when you’re not a climber. So, I was kinda like, “No, you know. I’m ok. I’ll just do the auto belay.” Because for me, it was comfortable, but at the same time, I felt like it was giving me a closeness again to Savannah.

(pause)

She’s not here, but I feel like she is there in the gym. And it also connected me a lot of the people that she was very connected to, and it helped me gain a much better appreciation for the community and what they represent, and why she was so passionate about, not just climbing, but that community itself. I still kinda restrict myself a lot to auto belaying only because I’m still not super comfortable with—I don’t know, it’s just like, I wanna get good at it, but it’s not until I’m better at then I’m going to be like, “Ok. I can belay you if you can belay me.” And that kind of stuff, but yeah. The community’s been great.

(NB): And I’m the reverse. I’m scared of auto belay, but I don’t mind when someone’s belaying me and I’m climbing up. Auto belay is like, I’m putting trust in this thing and

(chuckles)

plus, I didn’t do it very well

(laughs)

when I tried it.

(CB): Yeah.

(NB): You know, belayers are pretty good about guiding you and cheering you on. And there’s something to that that feels good. When you’re up there and I hear, “Go Nina! Good job!” And I’m like, that’s timeless. I don’t care if I’m ten or I’m as old as I am (laughs).

(CB): Yeah, whereas I’m the opposite.

(NB): (laughs)

(CB): I’m kinda like—and I don’t know what, I think the term is, I don’t want to look like a gumby

(NB): (laughs)

(CB): or whatever they call them, right? But I feel like that’s where, hey you know what? Until I’m not a gumby, I’m gonna be over here on the auto belay wall.

(KK): (laughs)

(NB): Oh, I don’t care what I look like. I just want to have fun. And a couple of her friends, Carson and Andrew, asked if we would double date with them to go climbing.

(KK): Ahh!

(NB): It’s really cute. It’s fun.

(KK): That’s really cute.

(CB): Yeah, we got a lot of places to visit. You know, I think Chelsea is someone that keeps texting me: “Hey! When are you coming to Colorado?” And so, we got some trips to make.

(NB): We gotta go to the Voo!

(KK): (laughs)

(CB): And there are some routes out there I think that have been named after Savannah. I think there’s one in Utah that it’s way above any of our levels for sure, but it’s something we’d like to see at some point.

(NB): Well, let’s face it—anything above a speed bump is (laughs) is above our level today.

(CB): Speak for yourself.

(both laugh)

(NB): Well, we’re still freshman grievers, but I will say that I realize you can also grieve the loss of a relationship. You can grieve the loss of a job. You know, there’s lots of things that you can grieve over and it’s kind of interesting and it seems like a dichotomy, but while you are kind of retracting in your grief, you have to lean into the process. If that makes any sense. You want to stay away, but you have to lean in and do your own work to work through and allow the process to happen and not run from it because you have to go through all the sleepless nights crying. You have to go through the anger. You have to go through the questioning of things. You have to go through all of that to get to the other side.

(CB): Yeah, I think for me, and what I can say is, no two people are going to grieve the same way or on the same timeline. And for me, it’s ok to ask, right? And it’s ok to ask me how I’m feeling. You know, I’m not running away from the topic, and sometimes, it may be if I wanna talk about it, it’s because I trust you or I feel open enough with you. And I think all of us can take a little of something from Savannah, and I think one of the things I’ve taken is, I am gonna talk about Savannah and I am gonna be open about how I’m feeling with regards to the grieving process. And I think people were really afraid at times to approach you, or even things I notice was as simple as looking you in the eye. And one of the things that we’re very fortunate for and talked to our neighbors about was, “Hey, look. We don’t want to be that couple on the street, right? That everyone kinda walks across the street when they get to your house, then passes your house and then comes back to your sidewalk after they get past your house.” We wanted people to look us in the eye and to feel comfortable with us and ask us how we’re doing and involve us in things. You don’t want to be left alone. You wanna be amongst people that are willing to kind of share in it with you, too. That, for me, has been the process and it’s the little things, like I remember going back to work. I work in a little building that’s got about five stories and it has a little rooftop. And one of the guys told me, “In case you ever need it,” he goes, “I put a little chair on the rooftop if you just need a place to get away for fifteen minutes.”

And it’s just understanding, right? And it coulda been, “You know what? No, I don’t ever need it.” But the idea that someone was thinking of it was pretty special. So, it’s those kinda things. It is a process that you think you are coming out the other side of something and the littlest thing can kinda just trigger you for a day. For me, a lot of the times, it’s music. Savannah had awesome taste in music and I put this playlist together after she had passed which was all the songs that she had kinda introduced me to or the groups she had introduced me to that I still like listening to. And it’s a long process and I don’t know that there will ever come a day that I don’t still feel that hole or that darkness, but thankfully, it’s instead of ten thousand layers of fog, I’d say I have about a hundred left. And so, that’s kind of how the grieving process worked for me.

(NB): You can get through it. It’s just, it’s hard and you have to lean in. And I, a hundred percent agree with Court about the lack of parallelism and the grieving process. Everybody has to do it differently. Men, women, husband, wives—you’re going to process things in a very unique way and understanding that it’s ok for Court to be happy on days when I’m sad. And it’s ok for me to be happy on days that he’s sad, and for us to understand that that’s just part of the process.

(CB): You have to go through it. You cannot go around it. It does not allow you to.

(NB): You can try, but at some point, it will rear its ugly head and you won’t be as healthy as you can be. You have to allow it and you have to, again, lean into it. And I don’t use that lightly because it is hard to do that. It’s really hard. Imagine you’re on top of a cruise ship in the wind. And we’ve been in this situation where it’s so windy. You lean forward against this force and that’s the best way I can describe it: it’s this force. And you have to work at it to lean into it because if you don’t, it’ll push you back. It’ll push you over.

(CB): I mean, Savannah’s legacy, or the inspiration she provided—there’s been so many people that we’ve heard from, and so many people that have been inspired by it. It was interesting. It was somebody that was a client of ours from work, and somehow I got copied on some communication at work and said, “Hey. How you doing? I haven’t heard from you. I just saw your name pop across. It’s been a long time.” And I don’t know who knows, right? And so then, all of a sudden, I got a note back and she was like, “Oh wow.” She goes, “Hey, you know, I’m really sorry about Savannah,” and she goes, “—but I gotta tell you. After she passed—” and she didn’t know who Savannah was, or I don’t even know if she knew I had a daughter at the time. And she said, “I read her blog and it totally inspired me.” She goes, “I go out and I walk every day now and I have made myself a better person and all the things that I used to worry about about my job and things that I thought mattered at the time,” she said, “It just flipped that on its head.” So, it’s those kinda of things that I continue to hear about that, just for me, it’s like, I am so proud of Savannah. Right? But—

(long pause)

(deep breath)

(NB): She gave us a lifetime.

(CB): —but I miss her so much. And that’s the part for me that I still struggle with, is just the idea that she’s not here and that she was just gettin’ started. You know? And the things that I will think about for the rest of my life are, you know, on her thirtieth birthday it’ll be like, “Gee, I wonder what Savannah would have been doing now. What her job woulda been. What kinda activities she would have been involved in.” And then I think about on her fiftieth birthday, and all those kinda things and for me, that’s the stuff that I’m really gonna miss.

(soft sob)

(NB): Sometimes people that hear her story or know her tell us, “Wow. You guys must have been really good parents to raise a daughter like Savannah.” and we often reply, “She made us better parents.”

(CB): She raised us.

(CB): She did raise us.

(MALE VOICE): To Nina and Court: I know we have talked a few times, but I cannot help but keep saying how amazing a person Savannah was. When we talk about an open and welcoming climbing community in Chicago, I can’t help but think of Savannah. She embraced everyone, no matter who or what the situation entailed. She had such a positive energy about her that it was infectious. One memory I have is of a trip where she really, really wanted to go to this specific crag and I wasn’t sure if I was up for it. Her smile and exuberance easily won me over, and we both struggled on climbs that day. She just said, “It’s hard.” with a smile and just really enjoyed and embraced the climbs for what they were.

(MALE VOICE): Hello, Nina and Court. My name is Charles Park and I would like to share with you how I first met Savannah. The first time I met Savannah was when the First Ascent climbing gym opened in Chicago and my daughter was at the climbing gym team tryouts. Savannah was one of the coaches for the newly formed team. She walked over to me and introduced herself. Even when she did not continue to be the coach of this team, she would always say hi to me at the gym. She was always welcoming and kind, always with a smile. She is truly missed.

(MALE VOICE): There were so many incredible things about Savannah, but I think the one that stuck with me the most is how she would constantly reach out to friends and family just to check in and see how they were doing. Even if I hadn’t seen her for months, she would text me out of the blue and ask how my week was going at school or how my recent trip was. And I never got the chance to tell her how much that meant to me, but I try to carry it forward now. Any time I have a memory or a thought about Savannah, I use that as motivation to reach out to a friend and to see how they’re doing and to make sure that they’re in a mentally and physically safe place and I’m trying to carry her legacy forward that way.

(NB): What I loved most was when she was stoked about something, like meeting Lynn Hill for the first time. I mean, you would’ve thought she won the lottery. I mean, that was her lottery. Just that joy, that real joy—down to the cellular level—was so fun to see and be a part of. And in that respect, it really helped you see what joy really is. Right? That, sometimes it’s those human moments. And she had that—the human gift. And I think her gratitude led to her joy.

(KK): Even though I still have no idea what I’m doing—things are happening. And if you’d like to help out and support this podcast, please check out patreon.com (that’s P-A-T-R-E-O-N) where you can sponsor us for as little as $1 per episode. It really helps keep this podcast going, and I’m so grateful for all of your help. Special shout out to Cameron MacAlpine because he makes this thing sound good.

– You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. A huge thank you to Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort. And a big thank you to Gnarly Nutrition for supporting this podcast and the messages that we share. Gnarly Nutrition supports a community of vulnerability and equality—and tastes like a milkshake, without all the crap. A big shout out to Allez Outdoor for supporting the Access Fund and 1% for the Planet. Allez Outdoor Personal Care products are made by climbers for those who love the outdoors. And thanks to Têra Kaia. Go ahead and throw out your other sports bras because #basewear is the only top you’ll pack. Feel naked, go anywhere, look great.

Support companies who support this podcast—we couldn’t do it without them. If you liked what you heard, you can leave a review on iTunes or give us a like—like all good things, you can find us on the internet. Until next time.

(NB): Please come back and bring Shooter with you.

(KK): (laughs)

(CB): Yeah, it’s been nice having you here.

(NB): Yeah.

(CB): And honestly, I don’t know that I could ever live your lifestyle.

(all laugh)

(CB): I said something to Nina this morning about like, “Hey, you wanna get one of these little vans that Kathy’s got?”

(NB): (laughs) Just sell everything!

13: Donuts for Savvy (Part 1)

Grief is the one human experience that we all have in common, but there are no words for losing a child. Savannah Buik was 22 years old when she died in a climbing accident at Devil’s Lake in Wisconsin. Nina and Court saw both sides of the pendulum: how the stronger and deeper we love, the harder it is to overcome the pain on the other side.

This is part one of a two-part story. Savannah was a passionate advocate for eating disorder recovery and pushed for more open dialogue about mental health topics and worked to help end the stigma that surrounds EDs by speaking out against them. Savannah credited climbing for helping her overcome her eating disorder, and she dedicated herself to healing others. #donutsforsavvy

This episode is brought to you by Deuter, Gnarly Nutrition, Allez Outdoors, and Têra Kaia. Music by: “Southside” by Lee Rosevere, “Ichill” by Kakurenbo, “Blue Highway”, “60’s Quiz Show”, “Well and Good”, “Knock Knock”, “Pives and Flarinet”, “Good Times”, “Into the Unknown”, “Unabridged”, and “Stay” by Podington Bear. Cover song by Cherie Ko. A HUGE thank you to Chad Crouch, aka Podington Bear, for the support and to Peter Darmi for all of his help.

Copy of For the love of climbing header

get-it-on-itunes-badge-440x160gglplaystitcher_button

Transcript:

(KATHY KARLO): This podcast is sponsored by Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort, but most importantly–your snacks. Deuter has a history of first ascents and alpine roots. Their head of product development even climbed Everest once, in jeans (hashtag not fake news.) Deuter is known for fit, comfort, and ventilation. Founded in 1898, Deuter believes in good fitting backpacks, so you can focus on way cooler things like puppies, pocket bacon, and gettin’ sendy, whether at the crag or in the alpine.

– We’re working with Better Help to connect you to licensed therapists. They’ll match you with the perfect therapist for a fraction of the cost of traditional therapy. You know who goes to therapy? Prince Harry. Emma Stone. Jenny Slate. Kesha. Therapy is beautiful—everyone should go to therapy. Go to betterhelp.com/climbing to sign up and receive one free week. It helps support this show, and it helps support you.

– This podcast gets support from Gnarly Nutrition, one of the leading protein supplements that tastes “whey” better than they need to because they use quality natural ingredients. So, whether you’re a working mom who runs circles around your kids on weekends or an unprofessional climber trying to send that 5.13 in the gym, Gnarly Nutrition has all of your recovery needs. The only question you need to ask yourself is: Are you a sucker for anything that tastes like chocolate ice cream? (Yeah, me neither.) Gnarly Nutrition is designed to enhance your progress—and taste like a milkshake, without all the crap.

(FEMALE VOICE): Today we’re going to talk about “allez”. “Allez” means “come on!” in a way, or to encourage. Ok! We are done with the simple and normal uses of “allez”, now let’s cut to the chase:

(KK): Allez Outdoor Personal Care products are made by climbers for those who love the outdoors. Their rich and repairing ingredients for their skincare collection are inspired by desert landscapes, and their simple and recyclable packaging makes them eco-sustainable. Allez commits to protecting the open spaces that we love by partnering with the Access Fund and 1% for the Planet. You can win a year’s supply of Allez product by following them on Instagram (that’s Allez Outdoor: “A-L-L-E-Z”), posting a story about an upcoming or past adventure and tagging them. Allez will announce one winner per episode. Allez Outdoor—made by climbers, for those who love the outdoors.

Têra Kaia, made by women for women, is redefining the standard with sizing. The TOURA basewear top is their swim-friendly sports bra that’s designed for outdoor adventure—so you can hike, sweat, and climb to the summit in comfort. You can even wear it camping for days on end—it just about never gets gross (trust me, I have tried.)  You can take 10% off with code “fortheloveofclimbing” and show your support for the show. Go ahead and throw out your other sports bras because #basewear is the only top you’ll pack. Feel naked, go anywhere, look great.

(COURTNEY BUIK): It was funny ‘cause through a mutual friend, I actually know the people that did the tornado chasing stories at the time—storm chasers on TV. And they sent her a signed picture of the team. I’ll never forget the excitement for her that day of receiving that picture, signed to Savannah.

(NINA BUIK): That was kind of the beginning of that we saw develop as her personality—the kind of person that chased her fears. She was so obsessed out of her fear of tornadoes and that obsession turned into her passion. She would obsess over watching The Weather Channel. This was at about four-years-old and she’d come to us and say, “Bob says there’s a cold front meeting a warm front. The conditions are ripe for a tornado!” And then she said, “When I grow up, I want to be a tornado chaser.”

(KK): You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. This is not a climbing podcast. Well, sorta. This is a funny, sad, and somewhat uncomfortable podcast about choosing vulnerability and talking openly about our pain. This podcast is sponsored by Dirtbag Climbers. Here’s the show.

– Grief is the one human experience that we all have in common. But rarely do we expect it to be the death of a child. And the loss of a child is every parent’s worst nightmare. It’s this whole degree of suffering that’s impossible to grasp unless you’ve experienced it. Nothing can prepare you for it and there are no words for the pain of outliving your child. And just like all grief, no matter how deep and no matter how great, the world doesn’t just stop. Savannah Buik was 22 when she died in a climbing accident at Devil’s Lake in Wisconsin. It’s a little over three hours from Chicago, which is where I met her parents to record her story.

There is no easy way to approach death, and Savvy’s passing shook the world. It was my first time recording someone about the loss of their child, and Savvy was a friend of mine. She was probably a friend of yours, too. And if she wasn’t, then chances are that if you’d met her, you would have instantly been drawn to her positive spirit—and she probably would have shared a doughnut with you, then asked you to go climbing.

Savannah was a vibrant person and a fighter. After meeting Nina and Court, I could sense that in them, too. You’ve never met parents more loving than Nina and Court, who reminded me how important it is to love deeply, hug often, and that the minutes we have together really do matter. This is Savannah’s story, but this is also a story about how the stronger and deeper we love, the harder it is to overcome the pain on the other side—but experiencing both sides of the swing helps remind us that we have the capacity for both.

– I’ve also never interviewed two people at the same time before.

(NB): We’re the first.

(CB): Yes.

(KK): You guys are the first.

(CB): I’ll let you take the lead most of the time.

(NB): So, hi. My name is Nina Buik. And we are the parents of Savannah Buik who we lost way too soon a few years ago, and I’m here with my husband.

(CB): Hi, everyone. This is Courtney Buik—better known as “Court”, as Savvy liked to call me. We live here in Chicago. We’ve been here for five years. Moved from Atlanta and absolutely love Chicago, very much in a similar fashion as Savannah.

(KK): Savannah grew up a Georgia native but before she found rock climbing, she first loved music, starting out as a percussionist and moving onto playing piano and singing.

(CB): She loved music. What was amazing to me is I thought I knew music pretty well. I have never met anybody that knew more lyrics to more songs—and it wasn’t just my era of songs, it was the new era of songs.

(NB): Like Frank Sinatra! You say, “Hey Savannah, sing this Frank Sinatra song!” and she was savant! She would just sing the song and know the lyrics. We’re like, “How do you do that?”

(SAVANNAH BUIK RECORDING): Long days of wanting you here

Living in fear

Shedding a tear for you

Long nights of pasty-faced moons

Echoing rooms

Filling with gloom for me

Letters so hard to mail

Feeling like the wind from the sea

(KK): In addition, Savannah was always an athlete. She excelled at soccer, starting at the age of four with her dad as her coach.

(NB): She used to wear these little blue bows—we called them the “power bows”. And whenever she’d wear them, she’d score goals. And it wasn’t like she was born with this talent—she was born with the drive. And she always did her very best to be the best.

(CB): Spent a lot of time on the soccer fields, for sure. Spent the weekends out there a lot of times together and just had a lot of really good memories, a lot of really good times and she was driven. And, you know, some people are born with a gift—a natural athletic gift or the skillsets. But she overcame, really not having those physical aspects at the time to become a really good soccer player. And you can do it a couple ways, right? One is through your mind, and the other one is physically. And she used her thought process to become a much better player. And yeah, she was quite the kid growing up.

(NB): Always interested in math and science (shocker!), and of course, ended up pursuing math, which I think was one of the reasons that she took to rock climbing so much because I feel like rock climbing is a natural problem-solving sport. And yeah, so that was the early years.

(KK): Eating disorders are complex and affect people of all ages. We interviewed Matt and Sabine in episodes 8 and 9 about their personal stories, but we didn’t really cover EDs in young adults. The onset of EDs will typically occur during pre-adolescence or adolescence. And considering the serious complications that can result from having an ED, identifying and treating them as early as possible is crucial for both emotional and physical recovery.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, 95 percent of those with an ED are between the ages of 12 and 25. And according to the National Eating Disorders Association, 40 to 60 percent of girls ages 6 to 12 are concerned about their weight. In 2018, TIME Magazine surveyed 1,300 girls and concluded that between 8 and 14, girls’ confidence levels drop by 30 percent. These effects can be long-lasting.

Nina and Court started to see some of the signs in the summer before Savannah’s eighth-grade year, when she started to really take notice of her appearance.

(NB): And it was somewhat uncharacteristic of her. I mean, again, we paid attention to it, kind of followed it but it really wasn’t until Thanksgiving of that year that we really saw the lights go out. I mean, she’d play outside all of the time. Never wanted to watch TV, always wanted to be out playing—playing soccer, playing with friends. And then the lights went out. It was quite noticeable and between Thanksgiving and Christmas, she became increasingly depressed. We went to get her counseling and then it got to a point where she just felt like she just couldn’t go forward. There was a moment—I’ll never forget this (pause) as long as I’m on earth—but she was curled up in the laundry room and she was—what, thirteen, fourteen maybe?—years old. And she looked up and she said, “Mommy, why is god doing this to me? I’m such a good girl. I don’t understand.” And I just looked at her and as a parent, you don’t know what to say, but I just said, “You know, sweetheart. One day, you’re going to help somebody else. I know you will. And you’ll think back and think, ‘You know what? I went through this for a reason.’” I said, “I just feel that that’s going to happen to you.” And sure enough, later on, she dedicated herself to healing others.

(KK): Savannah became the operations and finance intern at Project HEAL, a nonprofit organization founded in 2008. Project HEAL raises funds for those who can’t otherwise afford in-patient treatment with the understanding that money isn’t the only barrier. They acknowledge that peer support and mentorship are missing in the approach to recovery, and they connect with other communities that lack representation, such as low-income populations, LGBTQ communities, communities of color, and male-identified people.

Savannah worked closely with Project HEAL’s executive team and became a passionate advocate for eating disorder recovery. She shared her journey through her social media platforms to help others, pushing for more open dialogue and asking people to help end the stigma that surrounds EDs by speaking out against them. The extraordinary work that she did with Project HEAL in the time that she was there was instrumental in advancing their mission. We’ve talked a lot about eating disorders and what they are and how they affect lives, but what does the support look like? For Savannah and so many others who struggle with an ED.

(CB): You know, the one thing that I’ll say: I think that we were very fortunate and very thankful for the fact that Savannah came forward with a lot of this. That there was an environment where she could come forward. And I know there’s young adults, kids, adults out there today, even, that probably don’t have the courage or the strength to talk to their parents about some of these things and they never get help. It’s very hard to conceptualize what an eating disorder is, right? And, you know, she looked in the mirror and she saw a very obese person. So, for me as a dad, it’s very hard to understand that, right? And conceptualize and to see how that happens and everybody always would say, “Well, you know, if she had had cancer or if she’d had these kinds of things” there’d have been a line of people at our door with casseroles and pies and everything, trying to help us and help her. And it’s somewhat of a stigma attached to these kinda things that we were all fighting and struggling with her—but it felt very isolated for us at times.

Again, just very thankful she came forward and caught this when we—when she caught it, right? And then, the other part is, thankfully, we had the resources to be able to help her go to—it wasn’t just out-patient; it was in-patient. Spent her fifteenth birthday at an in-patient facility where we couldn’t even visit her at that time. And so, that was—those were the dark days of trying to help her through that. And, you know, as a parent, we were trying to help her through that. We’re trying to go to work every day and focus, right? And then, running out of work. And thankfully, both of us were in situations where we had employers and people that understood and gave us that flexibility and so, everything had to come together perfectly, whereas there are people out there that I know are probably struggling today that don’t have any of that. And so, that’s really what I think I was most thankful for. And…sometimes you look back on things and you wonder how you ever got through it, but you just push and you grind and you get there.

(KK): Unfortunately, we still don’t look at eating disorders as a social justice issue. Most people experiencing EDs don’t have the income or the resources or they aren’t able to take time off of work to seek full treatment like in-patient or long-term therapy. Even for those with health insurance, obtaining coverage for treatment is really problematic. Some plans will cover treatment for depression, but not nutritional counseling, and vice versa. But most insurance companies are set up with mental health benefits categorized under a separate umbrella from physical health benefit. A case manager reviews requests submitted by a healthcare provider to determine whether or not someone is qualified for these benefits. The problem is that most case managers lack the expertise when it comes to the complex medical and mental healthcare needs that an ED requires. Claims are often outright rejected or approved for only part of the recommended treatment plan.

Costs for treatment can range from thirty to a hundred grand, depending on length of stay, individual therapy, and intensive or residential therapy. Insurance companies try to minimize these costs by placing coverage restrictions on mental health illness, which leads to higher annual deductibles. Healthcare has made strides in the last few years, but we still don’t look at eating disorders as a social justice issue. But if we did, we could focus on the impact that they have and start to remove the barriers to recovery. In an open letter to the ED community, Nicole McDermid, an Australian social worker, addresses things like diet culture and sizeism, which is discrimination on the grounds of a person’s size:

(NICOLE MCDERMID): Our treatment spaces need to be safe spaces for all people in all bodies. I will even go so far as to say that we absolutely cannot be in the business of treating eating disorders unless we are simultaneously willing to address issues such as fatphobia and weight stigma in this space.

(NB): So, Project HEAL was two beautiful young girls who were in the hospital struggling with an eating disorder and I think what I’m so proud of about these two young girls is—I mean, they were super bright, educated, they also had support of their families as well—but they were able to rally the medical community, community of nutritionists, community of parents and really help them create a network of people who are helping people. And Savannah was one of those people and she had gotten the internship in January of 2018 in her final quarter at DePaul. And she was absolutely thrilled and she’s like, “I really want this to be my permanent job when I graduate.” But you know, they were fundraising, trying to make money and whatever. And the crazy thing is she raised close to 60,000 within the first six months after her passing, which helped them provide care for eight or nine people who applied for scholarships for care. And her mission continues. And the more people can show insurance companies that this is an illness like other illnesses that needs to be covered by insurance and help these people get the treatment that they need. There’s no chemotherapy—

(CB): You don’t run a fever. Right?

(NB): Yeah, exactly. You know, telling someone who has an eating disorder to go eat a cheeseburger is so destructive when there’s so much pain inside of them. You know, sometimes eating disorders come from things that you’re hiding deep inside and you can’t share. Maybe it’s your gender identity—it could be a lot of things. And to not have support makes you turn to behaviors that aren’t healthy. Again, that stigma needs to be addressed as well as the issues with the government and insurance companies.

(KK): While Court and Nina helped Savannah navigate difficult conversations and support her throughout her recovery, she continued to play soccer in high school. But it wasn’t long until she had to make a decision about that, too.

(NB): Savannah got involved in climbing after her third concussion playing soccer. She had to make the decision.

(CB): It’s a very physical sport, actually and it happened to be on my fiftieth birthday, the day of. We were out watching the game. She was playing for her high school team at the time. And two kids went up, she fell and the kid fell on her head. And she had lost feeling in her fingers and her toes at the time and we took her to the hospital. And it’s actually quite easy to get concussions and I would gather to say that they’re way more diagnosed now than they used to be in the past. When I grew up, it was like: “Come on, shake it off.” But yeah, it’s happening all over and I think I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens quite a bit in climbing.

(NB): And so, then the conversation about leaving soccer had to happen. And you know, that was really hard. Both of us would talk to her and say, “You’re not just a soccer player. You’re an athlete—and that’s a transferrable skill.” And then her brother moved back when she started to get really into her eating disorder and said, “Hey, I took up rock climbing when I was out in Colorado. You want to come with me to the climbing gym?” And she got bit by the bug. I mean, she got bit by the bug.

And that wasn’t the end of her eating disorder. She still battled with that, but she did find something and people that she could really identify with. And so, she took private coaching and then she joined the team and then she did comps. It was just awesome, it was awesome. Stone Summit was a great environment for her and the families there were—and continue to this day to be—the most supportive.

(KK): Stone Summit in Atlanta is where Savannah spent most of her climbing days when she lived there. When you enter the big glass doors to the team training center, you’ll see a twelve-foot tall photograph of Savannah’s face and a quote that says, “Live your truth.” Savannah moved to Chicago in June 2015 and in a lot of ways, it was one of the best decisions of her life. She moved to be closer to her parents, to seek recovery from her eating disorder, and to rediscover who she was. She even got a tattoo. In Savannah’s bedroom, I snapped a photo of her dry erase board. It was a reminder to herself, and maybe a reminder that we could all use: “You can be a rock climber who also loves the city. Follow your dreams and not preconceived ideas of a lifestyle you genuinely don’t want to live.”

(CB): Sometimes a change of scenery takes you away from—and it may not be that they are judging you, but there’s this feeling, right? That it’s the same people that knew me as this person with an eating disorder and all these kinds of things, and sometimes it never allows you to escape or get out of that. And by coming to Chicago, I think for her, it also allowed her to hit the reset button a little bit and start to establish who she wanted to be, not who someone was deciding she was. And immediately seeked out climbing community up here and it is still in its infancy in Chicago. And when we first got up here—when she first got up here—it was a tiny little gym in a little industrial park that we used to drive her down to. And then all of sudden, she found out First Ascent was coming online and it was crazy at that point, from a standpoint of her engaging in that. But I think by moving to Chicago, it really gave her the means to go out there and be who she wanted to be and start to put herself out there. And then the last thing, not to be underestimated is, we also found the right doctors in Chicago.

(NB): She found them.

(CB): And she found them, right. Absolutely. She found a dietician that was perfect for her. She found a—

(NB): A psychiatrist and a psychologist.

(CB): A psychiatrist and a psychologist. I was always very frustrated in Atlanta where it’s, “Hey we’re going to try this” or “We’re going to try this and we’re going to try different medications.” And yet, she got up here and someone said, “Well, I think they’ve been misdiagnosing her all this time. And we’re going to try this.” And all of a sudden—wow!

(NB): Night and day.

(CB): Right?

(NB): Night and day. It really was amazing. And it’s not like she turned her back on her eating disorder, but what she was able to do, like Court said, was hit the reset button and be able to talk about it as part of her past. And she was fully aware that it would rear its ugly head, but it didn’t define her. And she felt like when she was in Atlanta, that it defined who she was.

(CB): Right.

(NB): There was one constant in her life that I wanted to bring up and I think it really was the essence of who she and really the essence of the joy that she found in life—was gratitude. From a very young age, I mean a very young age—as soon as she could write, she was writing. She always wrote thank you notes. She wrote thank you notes to us, she wrote thank you notes to her teachers, she wrote thank you notes to anybody who gave her anything. And she was truly, truly thankful for their role in her development and when…after she passed, there was a stack of thank you cards next to her bed that she didn’t get to mail.

(SB RECORDING): Ok! So, I’ve been singing a lot lately and I thought I would share a little bit of something with you. I’m going to see Grizzly Bear at the end of next month and I’m super stoked but I wanted to share a little bit of one of my favorite songs by them off one of their albums a few back. It’s called “Knife”. And they performed it on this La Blogothèque Take Away Show. So, I wanted to give kind of a smilier vibe. Acoustic, no instruments or anything. I guess “acoustic” isn’t the right word. Instrumental. Instrumental. Acapella? Acapella. There we go. So yeah, here goes!

When I looked in your eyes

With every glow

Becomes another lie

I think it’s alright

I think it’s alright

I think it’s alright

I think it’s alright

(NB): I can see now, twice in our lives, where something that can tear a family apart—we came together in strength and solidarity to support Savannah, and now support her legacy.

(KK): Savannah credited climbing for helping her overcome her eating disorder. The work that she did and continues to do for Project HEAL will inspire people for a lifetime. When asked why she climbs, Savannah said: “I divert to climbing to help me experience all emotions: happiness, anger, frustration, sadness, excitement…the emotions combine to make me feel whole. Climbing is my way of feeling.” Savannah took her message to a bigger platform and now, with the help of Nina and Court, her message lives on.

Project HEAL is committed to helping people access support during all stages of their recovery. Through peer mentorship, treatment grants, and volunteer chapters, they’re bringing the hope of a full recovery to communities across the US. Savannah believed so much in their mission. You can find out more at theprojectheal.org. Nina, Court, and Project HEAL honor Savvy’s memory with their Memorial Fund. All funds raised by this campaign go towards their Treatment Access Program, and Memorial Grants and Funds have been provided to recognize and remember those we’ve lost. You can make a donation in Savannah’s honor by visiting their website or visiting fortheloveofclimbing.com.

(SB RECORDING): (laughter) I’m going to run in the snow!

(laughter)

This is the best thing ever! I just wanted to run in fresh snow!

(MALE VOICE): This girl’s about to graduate.

(SB RECORDING): (laughter)

– Girl, you know I want your love

Your love was handmade for somebody like me

Come on now, follow my lead

I don’t know this part!

Say, boy, let’s not talk too much

Grab on my waist and put that body on me

Come on now, follow my lead

Get it, Court!

(KK): Even though I still have no idea what I’m doing—things are happening. And if you’d like to help out and support this podcast, please check out patreon.com (that’s P-A-T-R-E-O-N) where you can sponsor us for as little as $1 per episode. It really helps keep this podcast going, and I’m so grateful for all of your help. Special shout out to Cameron MacAlpine because he makes this thing sound good.

– You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. A huge thank you to Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort. And a big thank you to Gnarly Nutrition for supporting this podcast and the messages that we share. Gnarly Nutrition supports a community of vulnerability and equality—and tastes like a milkshake, without all the crap. A big shout out to Allez Outdoor for supporting the Access Fund and 1% for the Planet. Allez Outdoor Personal Care products are made by climbers for those who love the outdoors. And thanks to Têra Kaia. Go ahead and throw out your other sports bras because #basewear is the only top you’ll pack. Feel naked, go anywhere, look great.

Support companies who support this podcast—we couldn’t do it without them. If you liked what you heard, you can leave a review on iTunes or give us a like—like all good things, you can find us on the internet. Until next time.


Additional resources to find support for you or loved ones:

Project HEAL (Help to Eat, Accept and Live) is a nonprofit organization that helps people suffering with eating disorders pay for treatment. The organization was founded in 2008 by Liana Rosenman and Kristina Saffran, who had met while undergoing treatment for anorexia nervosa. Project HEAL’s grants help to cover inpatient, residential, outpatient, and intensive outpatient treatments. Recipients can apply for treatment grants through the organization’s website.

Eating Disorder Hope‘s mission is to offer hope, information, and resources to individual eating disorder sufferers, their family members, and treatment providers. Eating Disorder Hope promotes ending eating disordered behavior, embracing life and pursuing recovery. Their mission is to foster an appreciation of one’s uniqueness and value in the world, unrelated to appearance, achievement or applause. Visit their website for additional resources or to learn more about fighting for health insurance coverage.

Why Eating Disorder Treatment is Failing Us All written by Sarah J, Thompson and edited by Ashley Seruya, talks about what a social-justice approach to eating disorder treatments look like. *Content Warning: This article contains graphic description of anorexia and bulimia.

An Open Letter to the Eating Disorders Community

Make a donation in honor of Savannah Buik with Project HEAL.

ct-1522419844-7a36cjywlt-snap-image

12: Life, Interrupted

Life is full of interruptions we’re rarely ready for, so the more doctors tried to convince Hans how serious his condition was, the more he denied it. Because, one minute you’re doing things like remodeling your apartment and riding your bike a hundred miles, and the next—the possibility of redoing your apartment and riding a bicycle is suddenly gone. We most commonly associate grief with death, but what about the softer versions of grief? Like, grieving the loss of a relationship or an old life, or maybe a kidney?

This episode is brought to you by Deuter, Gnarly Nutrition, Allez Outdoors, and Têra Kaia. Music by: “Southside” by Lee Rosevere, “Ichill” by Kakurenbo, “Blue Highway”, “60’s Quiz Show”, “Well and Good”, “Knock Knock”, “Pives and Flarinet”, “Good Times”, “Alphabet Soup” and “Memory Wind” by Podington Bear, “Singing in The Rain” by David Mumford, and “Christmas Tree” and “Warm Feelings” by Borrtex. Sound effects by: “Star Wars Rock” by yelba under License: Attribution 3.0, Daniel Simion, Yo Mama, and Mike_Koenig. A HUGE thank you to Chad Crouch, aka Podington Bear, for the support and to Peter Darmi for all of his help.

Copy of For the love of climbing header

get-it-on-itunes-badge-440x160     gglplay     stitcher_button

Transcript:

(KATHY KARLO): This podcast is sponsored by Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort, but most importantly–your snacks. Deuter has a history of first ascents and alpine roots. Their head of product development even climbed Everest once, in jeans (hashtag not fake news.) Deuter is known for fit, comfort, and ventilation. Founded in 1898, Deuter believes in good fitting backpacks, so you can focus on way cooler things like puppies, pocket bacon, and gettin’ sendy, whether at the crag or in the alpine.

– We’re working with Better Help to connect you to licensed therapists. They’ll match you with the perfect therapist for a fraction of the cost of traditional therapy. You know who goes to therapy? Prince Harry. Emma Stone. Jenny Slate. Kesha. Therapy is beautiful—everyone should go to therapy. Go to betterhelp.com/climbing to sign up and receive one free week. It helps support this show, and it helps support you.

– This podcast gets support from Gnarly Nutrition, one of the leading protein supplements that tastes “whey” better than they need to because they use quality natural ingredients. So, whether you’re a working mom who runs circles around your kids on weekends or an unprofessional climber trying to send that 5.13 in the gym, Gnarly Nutrition has all of your recovery needs. The only question you need to ask yourself is: Are you a sucker for anything that tastes like chocolate ice cream? (Yeah, me neither.) Gnarly Nutrition is designed to enhance your progress—and taste like a milkshake, without all the crap.

(FEMALE VOICE): Today we’re going to talk about “allez”. “Allez” means “come on!” in a way, or to encourage. Ok! We are done with the simple and normal uses of “allez”, now let’s cut to the chase:

(KK): Allez Outdoor Personal Care products are made by climbers for those who love the outdoors. Their rich and repairing ingredients for their skincare collection are inspired by desert landscapes, and their simple and recyclable packaging makes them eco-sustainable. Allez commits to protecting the open spaces that we love by partnering with the Access Fund and 1% for the Planet. You can win a year’s supply of Allez product by following them on Instagram (that’s Allez Outdoor: “A-L-L-E-Z”), posting a story about an upcoming or past adventure and tagging them. Allez will announce one winner per episode. Allez Outdoor—made by climbers, for those who love the outdoors.

Têra Kaia, made by women for women, is redefining the standard with sizing. The TOURA basewear top is their swim-friendly sports bra that’s designed for outdoor adventure—so you can hike, sweat, and climb to the summit in comfort. You can even wear it camping for days on end—it just about never gets gross (trust me, I have tried.)  You can take 10% off with code “fortheloveofclimbing” and show your support for the show. Go ahead and throw out your other sports bras because #basewear is the only top you’ll pack. Feel naked, go anywhere, look great.

(HANS PURWA): So, that happens a lot in dialysis.

(coughing in background)

We’ll talk about that.

(KK): Kevin Ran reached out to me in March of this year and he told me about his climbing buddy Hans, who also happened to be missing a kidney. A few weeks later, Hans and I met on the twelfth floor of the Lower Manhattan Dialysis Center.

(machine beeping)

I’d never actually been in a dialysis center before, so I was a little nervous when I first walked into the building. But it was important to me that I met Hans in person to do this recording, and I soon got to know the incredibly badass, positive person that was sitting in front of me with needles inside of him, slowly removing and transferring blood. These tubes are all hooked up to a machine called a dialysis machine. This machine is what keeps Hans alive as he waits for a kidney donor. At the time of this recording, Hans has been looking for a donor match for four years. Please note that there is discussion about child abuse and suicide in this episode.

– You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. This is not a climbing podcast. Well, sorta. This is a funny, sad, and somewhat uncomfortable podcast about choosing vulnerability and talking opening about our pain. This podcast is sponsored by Dirtbag Climbers. Here’s the show.

(HP): I was born in Indonesia and I had a pretty interesting family, actually. My father was actually a Jehovah’s witness—very strict, religious family. My mother actually decided to marry him, I think, based on a practical, economic solution. When I was back in Indonesia, of course, culturally it’s very different. I used to get beat a lot. My mother was never really there for me—I think she was really kinda outside of that.

(KK): When Hans was six-years-old, his parents got a divorce. His mom re-married and relocated. Hans is an only child.

(HP): There was a lot of manipulation, I can tell you that much. My mother hated my father. I think there was a lot of abuse there. But I think losing me changed him in some way. So, he came to visit me every week. It was like a four hour drive but he always came to visit—and that was my first time kind of knowing him differently than the other side of him, when I was young where he was very physically abusive. But there were moments when he would become kind. When I was about maybe seven-years-old, I was pretty much living on my own: go to school and then go home and just kind of be by myself. That was actually a pretty scary moment when you’re seven! I remember I would go to my parents room and just watch Star Wars all day. And it was the most incredible thing ever because it kind of just distracted me from the noise, you know, I think especially when you’re a kid who’s just waiting for your parents to come home at like ten p.m.

(KK): Hans’ father really did turn over a new leaf though. He was concerned about his son but too far away to do anything. So, he did what any parent in that situation would do: he hired a secret babysitter to keep his son company.

(HP): It’s crazy, it’s crazy! Just to keep me company. You know? And I was enjoying that! I was enjoying it, I had a friend, I was playing basketball with them. And then my mom found out. She was pissed. I remember she beat me so hard. My stepdad was so mad at me and I was just like, “I was just lonely.”

(KK): A few years later, Hans’ family planned a nice, normal family vacation. At least, that’s what he thought.

(HP): I still remember this day. I’d woken and I was like, “Wow that’s a lot of bags! What’s going on?” They’re like, “We’re just gonna go check out Singapore for like, a day or two.” You know, I like being in Singapore. It’s a pretty nice place. And I realize that sooner or later, “Man, this plane is taking a long time!” She told me, two hours before we landed, “We’re going to be in New York.” and I was just like, “What?” And we landed and a family friend of my stepdad took us in. And at the time, all I wanted was to tell my father but I just didn’t know how.

(airplane landing)

(KK): Ok, so please keep in mind that Hans—is still a kid. And up until this point, a lot of his life has not been normal. For example: secret babysitters and secret trips to New York. He was constantly being uprooted when all he wanted was what any of us want: stability and love. Instead, he got a one-way ticket to the U.S. and was plopped in the middle of New York City.

(HP): And that was terrifying—being a person who could barely speak English—being put in a position where I need to go to school now in a completely different culture. That was horrifying. And the scary part about it, I think, was just feeling like I can never fit in. Like, I would go home and I would just lock the door and I would just literally play games and just kind of keep myself distracted—living in a fantasy world pretending that I was somebody else. 

(KK): Even though Hans’ situation was less than ideal, it was still normal to him. At least, that’s what he kept telling himself. Every experience that he went through set the standard for what a normal life was supposed to look like—he didn’t really know any better. Parents get divorced all of the time, and families move—sometimes internationally. Right? So, when his mom and stepfather temporarily separated and his stepfather moved to California, Hans didn’t think it was weird. When Hans’ mom started dating somebody else, he didn’t think that was weird, either. What was weird about the new situation was that he had to live in a separate apartment from his mom. And again, tiny Hans thought that this was business as usual. Every so often, he would visit his mom who was living with her new boyfriend at the time. He would have to lie and say that he was her brother.

(HP): My mother had this apartment in Elmhurst, and I still remember exactly where this apartment is. So, she put me in this tiny room somewhere in the house. It was pay-by-cash, obviously. I was, again, living in a basement in this really tiny room and I was pretending to be eighteen-years-old, which is really crazy ‘cause I was twelve or thirteen here at the time.

(KK): So, you were probably pretty short.

(HP): (laughs) You know! And it was so insane because she was living with this guy—but the guy cannot find out that I was her son. And I just thought, “Ok. I guess this is really normal.” It was a closet, basically. The first day, I actually sat down and I just cried. And I was crying so hard to the point where I got so tired and finally just fell asleep. And I remembered a couple days later, I started going back to school. At the time, I was in Bayside. And I just thought that this was normal.

(KK): Sure, it’s normal—if your name is Harry Potter and you’re waiting your time out until your half-giant best friend comes along to reveal that you’re actually an orphan wizard. There is literally no other acceptable time when it’s ok to live in a closet. But that’s what Hans did in New York while his mom struggled with her relationship. It eventually ended, and that’s when she decided that it was time to leave the city.

(HP): And for the very first time, I thought, “Maybe this could be normal now. Maybe this can be finally a family.”

(KK): But that’s not exactly what happened next. Hans’ mom decided that California wasn’t for her, and she felt more at home living in New York City. She moved back to the east coast, but Hans stayed. For the first time in his life, he felt at home. He wasn’t living in a jungle of buildings and he really enjoyed the campus. There were still a lot of big adjustments to make, but Hans was ready to feel a sense of belonging somewhere.

(HP): The area that we were actually living in was actually very white. I mean, there’s obviously a Hispanic population—but it’s a very small Asian percentage. You’re going to have some sort of identity crisis because you don’t know who you latch onto and it’s very difficult for me to even understand what that means. At the time, I just want to blend in, so I was just like, “I’m just going to be as white as I can.” You know what I mean? That’s the only way for me to exist here. So, I start to forget my own culture. Oh, and then I got really, really suicidal. You know, and I just became really good at hiding it. And a lot of people were just surprised, like, “I didn’t even know that this was happening.”—because I just wanted to be normal for just a brief moment.

(KK): In a lot of ways, California did foster a sense of home for Hans. In other ways, it alienated him. At this point, Hans was in high school and sinking into a huge depression—not in a shop-at-Hot-Topic-“I’m just a kid”-by-Simple-Plan-emo kind of way—Hans became really suicidal. But counselors and social workers stepped in, and towards the end of high school, things started to look up.

(HP): And I finally told my counselor and my senior year went actually better because I was doing my therapy and they said, “Hans, the way for you to get out of this mess is for you to go to college.” And I did.

(KK): So, Hans went to college. And after everything—New York, his parents’ divorce, getting shuffled back and forth, and never feeling like he belonged anywhere—he finally felt free from all of it. Like, he could be a new person. Unfortunately, he was pretty terrible at college (his words, not mine) and his grades were so bad that he was put on probation. He even photoshopped his failing grades to hide them from his parents.

(HP): It’s funny, now I’m a retoucher. Maybe that was the call (laughs). And then I decided, “You know what? I’m gonna try community college in California. I’m gonna make myself better!” And I didn’t do well. I didn’t even go to class! But, at the time, my mother was like, “You need to go back to New York to get your act together. You’ve just been wasting money” and so on. “You need to start getting your act together.”

(KK): Hans took the opportunity and decided to give college one more try.

(HP): I said to myself, “I’m going to be a business major. I wanna make money!” And I went to the counselor and the counselor said, “Well, you gotta take humanities.” and I said to him, “What’s the easiest humanities?” He’s like, “Photography.” (laughs) Boy, let me tell you—when you are passionate about something, you are driven in a way that isn’t possible—you’re just on. And I was really serious about school all of a sudden and I wanted to be there. I was at school from eight in the morning till twelve at night, every day in the photo lab—just trying to master the skillset. And then I graduated and then went to FIT.

(KK): Hans had found his place! He figured it out—he found a passion and a purpose and he really liked what he was doing. He crushed college on his third try and towards the end of it, he was offered an internship and began working as a retoucher in the fast-paced fashion world of New York City. This was his happily ever after. Right? Things had finally come together and life was complete—sorta, mostly.

(HP): But, this is where the story gets interesting. I…met a girl. It was completely by accident. I was taking pictures of this building and she just poked me—her name is Gaby—and she poked me and was like, “What are you doing?” And there was this assignment called “Beauty” and at the time, I was just thinking, “Well, I really need to take a picture of beauty and I thought she was really beautiful and I was like, “Maybe I should ask her.” and she said yes—which is really surprising to me. So, I went to her place and shot her—and that’s how it started.

(KK): The first one is a big one.

(HP): It didn’t even occur to me. Because, to me, I thought a relationship would never happen for me. There’s always something wrong with me, people always are going to push me away—and this is the first time that I was like, “This is actually somebody who actually might potentially be interested in me.” And at the time, she was with somebody else, actually. And I just ended up for a whole year being friends with her and of course, everyone was like, “Are you sure there’s nothing going on here?” You know? And I was like, “No, no, no. It’s all business.” And then she took photo class for the very first time. This is where, I would say, the romance started to develop. If you take photo class, you will see me twenty-four, seven because I’m there all the time. And I wasn’t sure yet because I didn’t know what that felt like.

I think after a couple months after that, I went to her and said, “Hey, I like you. Would you like to be my girlfriend?” (laughs). And then, she was so confused—she didn’t know how to even respond. And she said no! And of course, I was like, “That’s too bad.” I was like, “Well, maybe it’s time for us to have some space. I don’t want it to be more awkward between us. And then, the week after that, she came to me and she was like, “I changed my mind.” (laughs) I was like, “What do you mean?”

“No one ever asked me that so directly, so I don’t know how to answer that. You know what I mean? Nobody just asked me like that.” I was like, “Well, how are you supposed to do this?” Like, “I don’t know—you go on a date first!” It was so embarrassing. I was like, “So, do you want to be my girlfriend?” and she was like, “Yes.” And that was my first experience of love and I couldn’t believe that that was possible for me. She was an amazing partner and we went through a lot together. We went through a lot of different adventures together, we grew together. That was an incredible experience.

(KK): It was the first time Hans had found real acceptance through another person, and he learned how to love someone through all of their flaws and cracks—and also, how to be loved back. And, like most relationships, when this one ran its course—Hans found love again.

(HP): She was focused on her teaching, I was focused on this new career and we just grew apart. We didn’t see each other as much, you know, and it started to feel like it’s no longer there. And there’s a lot of moments where I regret it. Maybe I should have done something. Maybe I should have tried harder. You know? But I thought, “I’m gonna be fine. I’m gonna be totally fine!” And then, I wasn’t fine. I pretended I don’t miss her, but that’s not true.

One of my friends who I haven’t seen in a long time told me, “Hey Hans, you should try climbing!” I was like, “Climbing? What’s that?” And I started climbing. Took me to Brooklyn Boulders and climbing was a distraction. I remember when it grabs onto you, you just don’t stop. I was just climbing so much. I was bouldering and then I was like, “I’m going to buy a bunch of gear now. I’m ready. Let’s go outside! Let’s do this.” And I went to the Powerlinez and did some trad climbing—that was terrifying. I was just climbing as much as I can and my body was changing—from basically photographing all the time to becoming like, “Wow. I’m actually getting fit! My fingers are getting strong. I can do pull-ups now?” I was like, “I can do pull-ups now on quarter-inch? That’s crazy!” Never in my life did I think I could do those things. And climbing became my life. I met a bunch of climbers, met so many friends. I felt so great to have that sense of community that accepts you. Nobody sees me differently—they just see me as a climber that just tries hard and I just felt like, “This is where I belong.”

(KK): Things are looking up for Hans. Like, they’re really, really starting to look up.

(HP): And then, let me tell you: a good feeling doesn’t last. There’s always something else that comes creeping behind you.

(KK): Hans was climbing stronger than ever before. Physically, as far as he could tell, he was in the best physical shape of his life. He’d just completed a Centurian bike ride from Babylon to Montauk—which is a distance of a hundred miles. So, when a doctor asked him about doing a physical checkup, he didn’t really think much of it.

(HP): I was like, “I haven’t done it in a long time, you know, because—look at me: hundred-mile biking—I’m a superhero! Come on, now.” He was like, “I think you should do a physical checkup.” I was like, “Alright.”

(KK): Hans had initially gone in for a routine checkup for his high blood pressure, but was convinced to stay and get a physical checkup as well. A few days later, he got a phone call and they told him:

(HP): “We can’t tell you on the phone. You need to come in.” I was like, “Oh, shit. What the fuck?” I went to the doctor and she looked at the number: “I think your kidney is failing—and it’s bad. And she’s like, “You need to be in dialysis now.” It was such a surreal moment for me. I was like, “What is going on?” Like, everything was amazing. I’m redoing everything in the apartment and all of a sudden there’s this huge, huge wave coming at me and I have no idea how to deal with it. The numbers basically suggested it’s late-stage five kidney disease, which is the last stage. Your kidney is only working seven percent. I just couldn’t believe it. Nobody could believe it, right? ‘Cause in my head, I was like, I went climbing all the time. How is that even possible? And I was like, “Maybe I just need to take medication. They’re just going to give me medication.” It wasn’t real for me yet—it wasn’t hitting me yet, because dialysis—what’s that?

And then I finally said to them, “Listen, in three weeks I’m going to Joshua Tree.” And she looked at me: “Are you insane? You can’t go to Joshua Tree! We gotta do surgery right now.” And I tried to convince her: “I think I can do it. I got this.” And she was just like, “I don’t know, Hans. The numbers are terrible. We can slow it down—barely. But you need dialysis now.”

(KK): Hans kept pushing. But the more doctors tried to convince him how serious his condition was, the more he pressed. Because, one minute you’re doing things like remodeling your apartment and riding your bike a hundred miles, and the next—the possibility of redoing your apartment and riding a bicycle is suddenly gone.

Experiencing grief is kinda like getting the crappiest gym membership that you never signed up for, but they keep charging you every month even though you’ve repeatedly asked them to please freeze your account. Nobody wants it, and yet we’re all going to experience it at some point. So, if you haven’t had to yet—don’t worry. It’s gonna happen because grief is a universal, human thing. It doesn’t really matter who we are or where we come from. There’s no “free pass”. We typically think of grief as being caused by someone’s death, but what about the softer versions of grief? Like, grieving the loss of a relationship or maybe a kidney? Nobody’s actually ready to be told that they have a life-altering illness. Nobody should be ready for that. Hans wasn’t. And what he was experiencing that day, and for a lot of days to come were some of the stages of grief. He denied, he tried bargaining with doctors:

(HP): “How ‘bout if I go to California just to tell my parents—” (because my parents live in California at the time) “—and I can just deal with it later?” And she was just like, “I can’t force you to do surgery but I do not recommend you doing this.” and I suddenly thought, “You know what, I’m going to start looking into this dialysis thing.” And when I looked into it, oh man, my heart just sank.

(KK): There are three main types of dialysis. I’m not gonna say them all, because they were kinda hard to pronounce if I’m being totally honest. Hans needed intermittent hemodialysis, or IHD, which means that your blood gets diverted into an external machine, filtered, and then returned to the body. That’s what you’ve been hearing in the background. The process itself doesn’t hurt, but sometimes painful muscle cramps can occur, and usually because of rapid changes in blood fluid levels. Two thin needles are inserted into something called an AV fistula. One of the needles is meant to remove the blood so that the machine’s membranes can filter waste products. This process is an artificial way of doing what a normal, healthy kidney does. Hemodialysis is usually done three times a week for three to four hours a day, depending on how well the kidneys work and how much fluid weight they’ve gained between treatment. Hans knew that “three times a week” meant no long-term climbing trips and no Joshua Tree.

(HP): No way. No fucking way. And I just cried in the bathroom by myself and I felt like, “Fuck this. I’m just gonna go to Joshua Tree. Let this be my last vacation to celebrate with my friends.” You know? Fuck this shit.

(KK): That would be anger. And—that was also it. Hans was going, he was going to Joshua Tree by hook or by crook. His doctor made one statement before he left:

(HP): “Promise me one thing: you are going to be very close to a hospital.”

(KK): And Hans went. He went to spend Christmas with his mom and stepdad. And it was your typical California holiday with lots of food, lots of lights, probably a lot of eggnog and a lot of seventy-degree weather—probably. But, even though the family was all together celebrating, there was one thing that was off—it was the guacamole.

(HP): Then my mother noticed something, like, “Hans, you’ve been so quiet. You know what you need? Chips and guacamole.” I love that. You know, I love eating that. But I couldn’t eat guacamole—because according to my diet, it would actually accelerate the kidney failure and she’s getting suspicious. And I finally told her and she started crying. I started crying. And she’s like, “You cannot go to this trip. We will not allow you.” And I said to my mother, I lie: “It’s literally just like a resort.” She’s like, “A resort?” Like, “Yeah, yeah. Listen, I just want to have some fun with my friends.” And I finally said, “I will call you every night, make sure everything is fine. I guarantee it.”

So, we got the RV. A couple of my friends start arriving and we went for a journey to Joshua Tree. I had a blast. I had an incredible time—to experience not just Joshua Tree, but we went across Death Valley—it was incredible. I really thought that trip was my last trip before I die. I was like, “I’m just going to go with a bang.” And then I realized that: I knew that going back to New York, I have to face reality. You have to make a choice.

(KK): Maybe it was being in one of the most beautiful places in the country. Maybe it was traveling with people Hans really cared about and being surrounded by their love and laughter. Maybe it was just being out west and sleeping underneath the stars—or maybe just because it was Christmas. But whatever it was, Hans knew what he was facing and he felt ready. When he got back to New York, his doctors said to him:

(HP): I am surprised you’re still here, but we are going to go through this together.

(KK): Hans had to have surgery before he could start dialysis. A special blood vessel is created in your arm by connecting artery to vein. This makes the blood vessel stronger and easier to transfer blood and back. It’s also the fastest way to clean your blood. The whole operation needs four to eight weeks to heal, which meant that Hans had to take medication to slow down the rate of kidney failure until the tissue surrounding the fistula was ready.

(HP): At the time, I was still climbing—which is so insane. I started to take all the medication, so the drugs were really affecting me. Like, I’m feeling dizzy. Things that were so easy like V3 felt like it was V10. My feet got bigger because there’s so much liquid not being pumped out. So I was just like, I think it’s over for me. My doctor told me that, “I don’t think you can climb anymore because your left arm cannot be used that way.” My friend was like, “Maybe you should try golfing, try to find another hobby.”

(KK): Hans isn’t a golfer, though. Which is totally fair. Golfing’s not his thing—climbing’s his thing. He was going to dialysis three times a week and was determined to get well, so he insisted on having the strongest treatment possible.

(HP): You know, I was in a depressive state but I was like, “Everything is gonna be fine.” And I sat down in this very chair and they put the port in me and, you know, I started doing dialysis and it becomes like a routine. In my head, I was like, “I totally got this.” So, the doctor’s like, “Alright, we’ll give you the strongest treatment.” And then I realized that I am just a mere mortal (laughs). I am not a superhero. When they take a lot of fluid out, it has a huge effect on your body. So, the side effect of fluid being taken out is muscle cramp, heart attack, passing out. It was literally the last fifteen minutes of the treatment and I was really holding on. I was like, “I got this.” I was literally considering this as a climb or during the moment when I was biking. I felt I wanted to give up. I was like, “Don’t give up, Hans.”

But I realized that you can’t treat it that way. It’s very different and it hit me so hard. It’s the cramp that you would never want to experience in your life. It starts to spread from your toes all the way down to your abs all the way down to your arm and into your neck. And that was my first time feeling such a pain that I would never want to experience ever again. I was screaming so hard, and everybody freaked out. It was like, ten people surrounding me trying to figure out what’s going on. It was so painful that they had to push all that saline back into my system and this pain, even though it only lasted for two to three minutes, it felt like forever.

(KK): Hans learned that his dialysis treatment wasn’t going to be like riding a hundred-mile race or pushing yourself in climbing. He couldn’t just champion his way through his treatments, and he learned this the hard way: muscle cramps and even passing out in a New York City subway.

(HP): It’s not like the movies where you just drop. Your heart rate just can’t keep up. It usually slows down and then all of a sudden, you just go down slowly and slowly and your vision starts blurring. And what happened one time is that I was trying so hard to breathe: “Come on, Hans.” and I would just go down slowly and slowly and slowly, and I finally realized there is a sound in the subway when you arrive in the station, “ding, dong!”

(subway ding dong)

(MALE VOICE): Stand clear of the closing doors, please.

(subway ding dong)

(HP): I didn’t even care how dirty it was, I just literally went in the fetal position in the station and nobody said anything.

(KK): I mean, it is New York.

(HP): And I was just sweating cold and I woke up, called my boss: “I’m going to be late to work.” But I realized that I’m just a human being and I’m going to make mistakes. I was so afraid of disappointing people. You know, I was like a star student and I was just trying so hard—maybe this could be my community now, and I could feel accepted here.

(KK): I feel like we’ve all been on this huge rollercoaster ride with Hans for half an hour, just listening to all of the ups and the downs. And it’s like—when is Hans gonna catch a break? Life kicks you in the throat, and then you get back up. And then life says, “Wait, I have something for you!” and it’s just another shit pie. And this interview was so long that we didn’t even have time to tell you about the time Hans lost his insurance and Medicaid wouldn’t pay his bills, or that he was diagnosed with Lymes disease and had to get an emergency spinal tap. Yeah—shit pie. But, just hold on a little bit longer, Hans, because we’re all rooting for you.

(HP): This is actually where I kinda met you. This was maybe like five years ago where my friends said, “Hans, why don’t you go to the Cliffs and hang out with us?” And I just said, “I don’t want to be reminded of something that I cannot do anymore.” And my friends were like, “Come on, dude. We’re just going to hang out, chill.” So, I went to the Cliffs and saw a bunch of people that I recognized. They were like, “Dude, Hans—you alright? How’s everything?” You know how it is. Like, they try to be nice. And then all of sudden, my friend’s like, “You know, why don’t you climb?” I was like, “What do you mean?”—“I don’t know, do some 5.6 or something. You know, like toprope. I got you.” I was like, “I don’t know that I should be doing climbing. You know, this is kind of dangerous.” I mean, it’s 5.6—maybe I could be the baddest 5.6 climber out there and I start doing it and he was like, “Hey, Hans! Guess what? Your footwork is still there—” (laughs) “—you still got this.” You know? I was like, “Alright.” And I said to myself, “Maybe it’s possible. Maybe I can climb again.”

And then climbing suddenly wasn’t enough. No matter how much I try to climb, I was just running away for a long, long time. My feelings of being abandoned, my feelings of feeling rejected, feeling of not being a part of community—it always haunts me, regardless. And every day, I’m just trying to figure out what is next for me. When you’re in dialysis, you have to get a transplant as quickly as you can because each day you are in dialysis, your body is dying. What motivates me is the people that I care about, the people that I love. But sometimes, it’s hard. That cloud is sometimes winning. I start questioning even my own friends. But every day I feel like you have to trust them. They care about you. But it’s hard sometimes because it reminds me constantly of being abandoned and feeling like there is something wrong with me. The first thing a child learns is trust, and I never felt that sense of trust and that flood of emotions—I was not ready to deal with. And I just started to understand, how do I stop running away? So then, I told my mother, “I think it’s time for us to talk.”

And everyone was like, “Oh my god—they’re just crying their balls out! I don’t know what is happening!” And I was really just saying to my mom, “It’s ok. I understand. And I am trying to learn to forgive you—but most importantly, the hardest part for me was forgiving myself.”

(phone rings)

(KK): Hey, how are you!

(HP): I am good! How are you?

(KK): I’m doing ok. I’m in Denver right now and oh my god, life is just so crazy! But summer was really good—so I’m just kinda getting my life back. I don’t know, I’m just moving forward—

(HP): That’s good!

(KK): —and I’m glad to do it with you. So, yeah.

(HP): Oh, my god. I think you’re doing amazing, you know? I think you’re exactly where you need to be, that’s what I’m trying to say. You know?

(KK): Yeah. Thank you.

(HP): Absolutely! Oh my god, I’m so excited for you! All the things that you’re doing—I think it’s incredible.

(KK): Oh my god! What about napping? Is napping incredible? I’m gonna go take an incredible nap.

(HP): (laughs)

(KK): Hans, I’ve been editing your episode for the last couple of days and I’m almost finished with it, actually.

(HP): Oh, wow.

(KK): So, obviously you’ve been on my mind and in my ears and I’ve been thinking about you. And I just, well, I wanted to ask you:

(HP): Yeah.

(KK): How does it feel to have found a donor now, after waiting for so long? What was that like?

(HP): When I got the phone call, she said, “We got a kidney for you. Do you want it?” And I was like, “Oh my god, yes!” “How far are you from the hospital?” I’m like, “Twenty-five minutes away.” And she was like, “Ok. Let’s rock and roll.” It was such an emotional experience for me—I was crying in the cab. A part of me is so thankful that I can finally have the freedom that I wanted.

(KK): I’m just so proud of you. And I’m so happy.

(HP): Thank you, oh my god. Thank you, yeah.

(KK): It‘s gotta feel like this huge weight has been lifted off of you.

(HP): Oh, absolutely. The time. Oh, the time that has been given to me! You know, the incredible part of it is, I can feel her presence and hopefully, you know, I don’t waste it. That’s what I’m trying to say here, you know.

(KK): Hans, that’s beautiful. I think—I think you’re doing this kidney justice.

(HP): I feel like I have a second chance and feel like the time that I have, I can finally use it.

(KK): You get your life back, and when you’re ready—we should go climbing.

(HP): Absolutely! Oh my god, I was like, “I want Kathy to belay me.”

(KK): (laughs) Well, that’s funny ‘cause I was thinking, “I want Hans to belay me!” What do you think, you think we can get Kevin on a rope?

(HP): Oh, let’s do it! You know what? He’s gonna do it, he’s gonna do it. For sure.

(KK): You hear that, Kevin? You’re gonna do it.

(HP): It’s mandatory now.

(KK): Yeah, I can’t wait. It’ll be so good to see you.

(HP): I said to myself, “If I get a kidney, the first thing I wanna do is get a dog.” (laughs)

(KK): Did you get a dog?!

(HP): I did get a dog, yes! It’s a golden retriever.

(KK): What is your dog’s name?

(HP): Ok, ok. It’s kind of silly but I call her “Solo”.

(KK): Like for “free solo” or for “Han Solo”?

(HP): For “Hans Solo”! (laughs)

(KK): Oh my god!

(HP): So, therefore when people call me “Hans Solo”, it’s referring to both of us.

(KK): Hans Solo. I love it.

– According to the CDC, fifteen percent of U.S. adults are estimated to have chronic kidney disease, which is about 37 million people. Organizations like the National Kidney Foundation and the Dialysis Patient Citizens can educate and empower those interested in learning about kidney disease. Visit fortheloveofclimbing.com for more resources available.

– If you experience suicidal thoughts and don’t know who to talk to, call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. That’s 1-800-273-8255 to be connected to a trained counselor at a suicide crisis center nearest you.

– And please contact The National Child Abuse Hotline for crisis intervention, information, and referrals. The National Child Abuse Hotline serves the U.S. and Canada twenty-four seven and professional crisis counselors can provide assistance in over a hundred and seventy languages. That’s 1-800-422-4453. All calls are confidential.

– Even though I still have no idea what I’m doing—things are happening. And if you’d like to help out and support this podcast, please check out patreon.com (that’s P-A-T-R-E-O-N) where you can sponsor us for as little as $1 per episode. It really helps keep this podcast going, and I’m so grateful for all of your help. Special shout out to Cameron MacAlpine because he makes this thing sound good.

– You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. A huge thank you to Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort. And a big thank you to Gnarly Nutrition for supporting this podcast and the messages that we share. Gnarly Nutrition supports a community of vulnerability and equality—and tastes like a milkshake, without all the crap. A big shout out to Allez Outdoor for supporting the Access Fund and 1% for the Planet. Allez Outdoor Personal Care products are made by climbers for those who love the outdoors. And thanks to Têra Kaia. Go ahead and throw out your other sports bras because #basewear is the only top you’ll pack. Feel naked, go anywhere, look great.

Support companies who support this podcast—we couldn’t do it without them. If you liked what you heard, you can leave a review on iTunes or give us a like—like all good things, you can find us on the internet. Until next time.


Additional resources to find support for you or loved ones:

National Kidney Foundation (NKF)

American Association of Kidney Patients (AAKP)

Renal Support Network

Kidney & Urology Foundation of America (KUFA)

Dialysis Patient Citizens (DPC)

National Suicide Prevention

Childhelp National Child Abuse

11: A Woman Knows Her Place

Women are a lot of things. We’re complex, we’re coffee-fueled, we smell good—sometimes we smell bad. Sometimes we’re hangry. But one thing is certain—we’re hustlers, we are strong, and we are gritty. Welcome back to the second season of For the Love of Climbing.

This episode is brought to you by Deuter, Gnarly Nutrition, Allez Outdoors, and Têra Kaia. Music by: “Southside” by Lee Rosevere, “Ichill” by Kakurenbo, “Blue Highway”, “60’s Quiz Show”, “Well and Good”, “Knock Knock”, “Threshold”, “Quatrefoil”, “Samara”, “K2”, “A Soldier’s Story”, “Driftwood”, “Three Colors”, “Pives and Flarinet”, and “Good Times” by Podington Bear. Sound effects by Mike Koenig, Daniel Simion, and Isaac Ionescu. A HUGE thank you to Chad Crouch, aka Podington Bear, for the support and to Peter Darmi for all of his help.

Copy of For the love of climbing header (1)

get-it-on-itunes-badge-440x160     gglplay     stitcher_button

Transcript:

(KATHY KARLO): This podcast is sponsored by Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort, but most importantly–your snacks. Deuter has a history of first ascents and alpine roots. Their head of product development even climbed Everest once, in jeans (hashtag not fake news.) Deuter is known for fit, comfort, and ventilation. Founded in 1898, Deuter believes in good fitting backpacks, so you can focus on way cooler things like puppies, pocket bacon, and gettin’ sendy, whether at the crag or in the alpine.

– We’re working with Better Help to connect you to licensed therapists. They’ll match you with the perfect therapist for a fraction of the cost of traditional therapy. You know who goes to therapy? Prince Harry. Emma Stone. Jenny Slate. Kesha. Therapy is beautiful—everyone should go to therapy. Go to betterhelp.com/climbing to sign up and receive one free week. It helps support this show, and it helps support you.

– This podcast gets support from Gnarly Nutrition, one of the leading protein supplements that tastes “whey” better than they need to because they use quality natural ingredients. So, whether you’re a working mom who runs circles around your kids on weekends or an unprofessional climber trying to send that 5.13 in the gym, Gnarly Nutrition has all of your recovery needs. The only question you need to ask yourself is: Are you a sucker for anything that tastes like chocolate ice cream? (Yeah, me neither.) Gnarly Nutrition is designed to enhance your progress—and taste like a milkshake, without all the crap.

(FEMALE VOICE): Today we’re going to talk about “allez”. “Allez” means “come on!” in a way, or to encourage. Ok! We are done with the simple and normal uses of “allez”, now let’s cut to the chase:

(KK): Allez Outdoor Personal Care products are made by climbers for those who love the outdoors. Their rich and repairing ingredients for their skincare collection are inspired by desert landscapes, and their simple and recyclable packaging makes them eco-sustainable. Allez commits to protecting the open spaces that we love by partnering with the Access Fund and 1% for the Planet. You can win a years’ supply of Allez product by following them on Instagram (that’s Allez Outdoor: “A-L-L-E-Z”), posting a story about an upcoming or past adventure and tagging them. Allez will announce one winner per episode. Allez Outdoor—made by climbers, for those who love the outdoors.

Têra Kaia, made by women for women, is redefining the standard with sizing. The TOURA basewear top is their swim-friendly sports bra that’s designed for outdoor adventure—so you can hike, sweat, and climb to the summit in comfort. You can even wear it camping for days on end—it just about never gets gross (trust me, I have tried.)  You can take 10% off with code “fortheloveofclimbing” and show your support for the show. Go ahead and throw out your other sports bras because #basewear is the only top you’ll pack. Feel naked, go anywhere, look great.

(SUDHA PAMIDIMUKKALA): I think I’m just going to introduce myself as just “Sudha”, that’s it.

(KK): Sudha and I sit in her kitchen where she’s making me breakfast. It’s late October and the air is crisp and cool—perfect sending temps. I’m on my way to Philadelphia from the Gunks but I stop in New Jersey to meet Sudha for a few hours, and I’m greeted by her dog at the door.

(doorbell rings)

(dog barks)

I’m a few minutes early and Sudha immediately starts preparing uttapam, which is a type of dosa from South India. Unlike typical dosa, which is more like a crepe, uttapam is a thick, savory pancake.

(sizzling)

It smells soo good as it sizzles on the stovetop. It’s crisp on the bottom but soft and fluffy on top, because of the fermented lentils and rice batter. Sudha serves it with chutney. She then peels the skin of several pomegranates as she tells me how much the seeds remind her of her father.

(SP in background): I don’t want to give up that slot again. Right? I might never get that opportunity again. So, I’m going to go.

(KK): We talk about racism, growing up in India, and her struggle to find climbing partners as a female mountaineer and mother.

(SP): If I don’t summit, I don’t summit. I’m going to go be on Denali. You know? So, again I went off by myself.

“How come you’re gone for so long?” and “What did your daughter do?” It’s mostly women asking me these questions—not as much the men, you know? Just like, women are mostly family-oriented. There’s a lot of times in my own life that I’ve accepted some things as I go because I’m a mother, I can’t do that. Kind of feel like, “Ok. That’s where my place is. Maybe I should just do that.” We all talk about: “Well, how come there are not as many women out there?” I know why. Society puts different expectations on a woman versus a man. Society sets you back from moving forward and, unfortunately, from my experience, it’s mostly women setting women back. We don’t encourage each other as a man would encourage another man.

(KK): You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. This is not a climbing podcast. Well, sorta. This is a funny, sad, and somewhat uncomfortable podcast about choosing vulnerability and talking openly about our pain. This podcast is sponsored by Dirtbag Climbers. Here’s the show.

(SP): I grew up in southern India and moved here when I was about twenty-one. I had a great upbringing in many ways because my dad was totally open-minded. Single father, raised me: and that’s where I feel my free spirit comes from. Because he’s never told me in my entire life, “You’re a girl—you can’t do that.” Never. And then, what surprised me is I never felt like I can’t do that because I’m a woman ’til I was in a Western society and started doing things that were not common for Western women to be doing that, let alone an Indian woman to be doing that. Why can’t I do anything? And I just wanted to do anything that I felt excited about. I thought I could just do it. I rode a motorcycle because it’s just natural for me. And everybody was like, “I never took you for a—” what’s that?

(motorcycle revving)

“— motorcycle mama.” You know, that’s what my colleagues would even remark. Growing up in India, I wanted to ride a moped and back then, none of the women rode in my town—which is actually a capital city. It’s not like a small village. We just asked my dad, “Dad! I want to get a moped.” and he’s like, “Yeah, sure. Go get a moped.” He never said no to it! And then, I remember actually when my sister and I were riding mopeds—they took a picture saying that, “Now women are riding.” The article in the newspaper! So, we were the first ones to ride in my town at that time.

(KK): Back home, societal norms encouraged Sudha to focus on her studies. More than education though, society put an emphasis on getting married and starting a family. But because her father had such a progressive mindset, Sudha instead moved to the US and she received a double masters degree in computer science and math. It was a different life from where she had grown up and she missed her father, but she enjoyed the new life she had built, despite naysayers from back home.

(SP): The reason I moved was really just because my sister was here. You know, I was missing my sister because I grew up without a mother and looked up to my sister as my mother. And when she moved here, and I wanted to also come follow her. Friends and even my cousins that were intelligent and wanted to study were not encouraged to go to college because their parents thought the best thing to do for a girl is to get them married and otherwise, they’re a burden. So, a woman doesn’t need to study as much. Not my father. My father never looked at us as a burden because we’re girls and then, once my sister left to go to school in the US and I was like, “I’m so lonely! I miss her.” and he said, “Who’s stopping you?” My dad was definitely criticized: “What are you doing? You know, they’re single. How come you’re sending them away?” To the point even, “Why are you getting them educated so much because then you’ll have to find somebody that’s as educated as them.” And my dad was just like, “My daughters want to study, they’ll study. And they want to get married, they’ll get married.” That was his attitude. He just did what felt right for him, and what he thought was right for us.

Asian society expects you to just go get a good education, go get a good job, make a lot of money, and you’re successful. That’s where they drive you towards. We’re talking about bubbles, that was the bubble that I grew up in—is that education is the most important thing. But that’s not really true at all. For me, the most important thing and best thing that ever happened to me by coming here is that I discovered the open spaces.

(KK): Sudha didn’t have the luxury of open spaces growing up in India. It was just so overpopulated that the idea of enjoying the outdoors recreationally didn’t really exist. Even hiking is still kind of a foreign concept there. In 1996, Sudha began working as an IT consultant, which kept her busy—not only during the workweek but during weekends and evenings as well.

(SP): “What are you doing this weekend?” and I’m like, “What else would people do on weekends? I’ll be in the lab working on my project.” So, I never got the concept of doing stuff on weekends either. I was always just like, studies.

(KK): Sudha buried herself in her work until one day, a co-worker invited her to a slideshow about the Appalachian Trail. Sudha had never heard anybody talk about the outdoors like that and was in absolute awe. Friends invited her to go hiking through an outing club at work, and a day hike quickly turned into whole weekends spent climbing, rafting, and more.

(SP): I went with her and she was trying to quit smoking at that time, so she didn’t enjoy it and I had a blast. Now I had plans for the weekend! I would work all week but every weekend I would just go hike. And then, one thing led to the other. They would talk about, “Oh, we’re going canoeing.” I’m like, “What is that? I want to go canoeing! I want to go rafting.” I just fell in love with the outdoors. To me, it brought a different self of me out—in wonder, in excitement, in love.

So, there used to be a motorcycle club that they went for lunch rides. And I was like, “Oh, I always rode mopeds and scooters back home and I love it!” On one of those lunch rides, I mentioned to them that I went rock climbing about a month ago and I just loved it. Lucky me, that one of the guys knew somebody that climbed at the Gunks. So, he said, “Do you want me to introduce you to him?” and I’m like, “Yes, please!” I remember my very first climb was actually Gelsa that he took me up, which had a little traverse. I guess being the “newbie”, I slipped on the traverse and took a little swing. My friend that took me there, he made a remark: “You are fearless!”

(KK): In discovering the outdoors, Sudha found her happy place, which is also conveniently where she found a husband—it was through the outing club at work. And she wasn’t particularly interested at first, but suddenly the pressure to get married and start a family started to feel real.

(SP): Again, being a woman, I guess your biological clock is running. Everybody started saying, “Oh, you should get married.” I was like, “Ah, ok.” The outdoors is very important and I thought he is also into the outdoors, and I told him that that’s the most important thing for me. I just asked him to get married without really even dating. There’s not that much of that concept of dating in India. I also, I think, felt too, is to just give into what the society was expecting of me at that time. I just wanted to show them that I could get married if I wanted. I wasn’t living my life at that time. I was living what was expected of me: getting the education, getting the job, and getting married. Then, I had a daughter.

And by this point, already I have done every peak in Catskills in the winter. I didn’t mind sleeping in the cold or sleeping in the tent and spending time out when it’s a blizzard. And I remember during that time, my friends would say, “Oh, god. I’m so happy! Tonight I’ll be sleeping in my bed.” and I’m like, “I don’t know. I never feel that excitement. I’m sad that we have to now go back to living in between four walls.” I never missed the comforts of home at all. I just was at home in the mountains. Even after I had my daughter, I would backpack. I would put her in the front pack and I would carry a backpack on my back. I think my daughter was about five months old when I first did a backpacking trip with her. Everybody used to make the remark that, “Once you have a kid, that’s going to be the end of it.” But for me, it’s like nothing could stop me. So, I would just take her with me and it’s like the best thing because she had a grand old time and I had a grand old time. You know? It’s just great.

(KK): Having a daughter wasn’t going to stop Sudha from spending time outside. In fact, it only encouraged her to spend more time outdoors with her daughter—taking her on backpacking trips and going hiking and rock climbing in the Gunks with her. I watched Sudha carefully with every word she spoke. I watched as her eyes lit up as she described snow camping in the dead of winter or ice climbing in the Catskills, where I’d first met her about a year ago. Being outdoors filled every corner of Sudha’s life, and began opening doors to new opportunities. In 2008, Sudha decided that she wanted to climb Kilimanjaro.

(SP): I asked my husband, “Let’s go do Kilimanjaro! I want to really go climb Kilimanjaro.” and he was also open to that and my in-laws were also nice enough to say that they would watch my daughter. The best part about climbing Kilimanjaro is meeting all these people from all over the world that are just starting to mountaineer and they were telling me stories: “We do this in Italy” or “I did this where” and I was like, “Wow!” I came back from that trip, I guess I always had the passion, but it lit up in me, right? The light was lit. Every chance I had at my work, I had a little downtime I’d be looking to see what else. At work, someone mentioned the Seven Summits. And then I was like, “What is that?” and I started just looking on the computer. No Indian has done the Seven Summits. I wanted to be the first Indian to climb the Seven Summits.

(KK): The Seven Summits are the highest mountains of each of the seven continents, and summiting them is no small feat. The internet told me that it can take years to complete all seven and it’s considered one of the highest respected accomplishments within the sport of mountaineering. To be honest, I’m mostly into type one climbing—but that’s just me. Sudha, on the other hand, wasn’t afraid of the challenge and she friggin took that summit by storm.

(SP): After I came back from Kilimanjaro, I came all energized like, “There are so many mountains to climb! So many places to go!” and then my husband saying that, “I’m not into climbing big mountains and I don’t want to do that anymore.” I kind of was a little disappointed because even though I wasn’t as aware of what I really wanted to do at that time, I still knew the outdoors was important to me. So, that was all I was focused on. Like, he loves the outdoors, I love the outdoors. That’s the most important. When we came back from Kilimanjaro, his family was just very proud that he’s climbed the highest in Africa: “Look! Bill went to Africa and climbed a big mountain!” and then he didn’t want to do it anymore—but I still wanted to do.

(KK): Kilimanjaro changed everything. Sudha thought about the Seven Summits every waking moment, and she began making plans to become the first Indian woman to summit all seven peaks. But, as it turned out, things had changed for her husband after Kilimanjaro as well.

(SP): And at that time, then my husband said, “Oh, no. Because it will affect my retirement plans.” Right? That’s the first time I felt, I don’t know, let down. Not because I can’t do the Seven Summits. It’s more about: here I am, making way more money than my husband. Never once thought, “Oh, but he doesn’t make as much.”—because the outdoors was important to me. And he didn’t say, “Isn’t that dangerous? What if something happens to you?” The first thing that he said was, “You can do it as long as it doesn’t affect my retirement.” It’s ok, you know, I don’t need to climb Seven Summits. Anyway, for a little bit, I just let it go.

(KK): Disappointment would be an understatement. But, despite putting her dream on hold, Sudha stayed active in the outdoor club at work. She still went hiking, she still climbed ice, and she still went rock climbing in the Gunks. But the more time she spent in the outdoors, the more Sudha saw how being a woman was an actual barrier.

(record scratch)

Wait, what? Some of you might be saying to yourselves: “But climbers are way more woke than that!” or “I’ve never seen that happen in my gym.” Well, you’re wrong. And this was Sudha’s experience:

(SP): There was one time on an occasion that my daughter was on a Girl Scout outing and one of the parents mentioned that he hikes Adirondacks 46ers. And I was so thrilled because it’s just such a commitment to go by myself and I was like, “Wow! I always wanted to do that. So, any time you’re going, could you let me know?” And on that outing and stuff, he said, “Oh yeah, in a couple of weeks we’re planning.” I happened to call his home and his wife picked up the phone and she said, “It’s bad enough that you’re leaving your family and going and he’s leaving his family and going and I don’t appreciate him going with another woman. So, please don’t call.” Here I am, in Western society. I’m married to a Westerner. I thought Western society was open-minded and I’m hearing that I’m a woman so I shouldn’t be going with another man for a hiking trip? I shouldn’t be leaving my daughter for a week and go climb a mountain? And it just…it kind of sets me back in a way. I used to go with the full vigor, like, “It’s me! I can do anything.” Now I’m like, “I’m a mother—so I shouldn’t be doing that. I’m a woman—I don’t know if they would like it if I ask them that I want to join.” And also, from the experience of looking for partners: I’m a woman and I’m an Indian woman. They think I’m going to be a weak link. Even after they get to know me, they would say that, “Yeah, because I’ve never seen another Indian woman climb.” So, sometimes I lose out because they don’t give me the opportunity to get to know me.

(KK): Diversity in climbing is a difficult conversation for a lot of people. Despite growing support, the majority of climbing and other outdoor sports are still overwhelmingly homogenous, which can be a huge barrier of entry for some. Diversity in climbing is an emotionally loaded conversation, one that a lot of people tend to avoid. And if you’re one of them, it’s ok to admit that. But initiatives like Brothers of Climbing, Brown Girls Climb, and Melanin Basecamp aren’t avoiding them because they’re uncomfortable—so be sure to check them out after the episode. Leaders like Bethany Lebewitz, Melise Edwards, and Danielle Sky (*total sidenote, this is not in the actual transcript but her name is Danielle Williams. I just always forget because her Facebook name is “Sky”, whoops!) are prompting both companies and consumers to reconsider what representation in outdoor spaces look like. And, a lot of the work that these women and so many others do is possible because of the power of social media.

(choir singing)

But social media didn’t always exist (at least not the way that it does today). Ok, humor me for one second. Once upon a time, people used to rely on (and I’m totally going to sound like a dinosaur when I say this) a website called meetup.com. Pre-Instagram age, this website was primarily utilized to facilitate meetings of groups of people—and it was the perfect tool for Sudha to find climbing partners.

(SP): Back then, social media wasn’t there. In a way, I feel like if social media was there back then, I would have been somewhere else (laughs). But there were all these big groups of people climbing and I said, “How do you guys know so many climbers? I only know one person.” They’re like, “There’s social media groups. There’s meet-ups. And do you go to the gym? You can meet a lot of climbers.” And I’m like, “Oh, I don’t really go to the gym. I just go with this one person that asked me to go climbing.” So, then I went back to my desk next week

(keyboard clicking)

I’m working and looking for: what’s a meet-up group?

(KK): Sudha relied on the world wide web and found herself a partner for Aconcagua, which is one of the Seven Summits. Even though Aconcagua is considered one of the easier peaks to climb, an average of 3,500 people attempt the summit every year but only less than half will complete it. After she applied for a permit, her partner wound up dropping out because he didn’t feel like he was ready—but Sudha was and her mind was already made up. She wasn’t going to let that, or anything stop her from going.

(SP): When I went to Kilimanjaro with my husband, my family readily offered to watch my daughter. But then when I said I want to go climb Aconcagua, they said “Make your own arrangements.” because now they’re not happy that I’m going without my husband. The thing here is that I worked for an undersea fiber-optic transmission field and we used to have cable stations all over the world and I would travel many times for a couple of weeks on a business trip. That time, they would come and help me with my daughter. But if I went to climb a mountain for a few weeks, then all of a sudden it’s become, “How can you abandon your daughter and do that?”

And I’m like, why is it abandoning? I cook every meal for my daughter and my whole family. My daughter never ate in the cafeteria. Every meal, I would wake up and make her breakfast before she left for school. I would make lunch. I would make dinner. And if I was going away for a few days, I would make sure there was food in the refrigerator, cooked—ready to eat. I did laundry, I did everything—but the minute you try to go do something that you love to do, it was just like, “We’re not going to be encouraging you in that.” But for me, nothing was going to stop me from what I wanted to do. So, I was stubborn. Nothing brings me down. I went through all this and I’m not going to let this stop me now. So, I’m going to go by myself and I’m going to go as far as I go. If I don’t summit, I don’t summit. But I’m just going to go do this trip. So, I took off.

(KK): Some people don’t even like going camping by themselves, let alone go climb a 22,000-ish foot mountain. Aconcagua is the highest peak in South America, as well as in the Western Hemisphere outside of the Himalayas. Oh, and did we mention the blizzards yet? But you could drop Sudha off in the middle of the woods, in winter, and she would never feel out of place. Not even for a second. Sudha has a rule where she never takes the same trail twice. She always tries to find a circular route, and that’s exactly what she had planned for Aconcagua.

(SP): So, same thing on the mountain: I wanted to circumnavigate the mountain. So, I wanted to go from one end and come back on the other. Anyway, I wanted to do the more technical side which is the Polish Glacier side and then come back from the Normal Route. Climbing with a guide was never an option for me because that’s me. My thing of climbing mountains is always that mountains should be climbed on your own terms. So, I can’t get mules because that would be like cheating! I was going to carry my entire weight on my back and do this expedition by myself. And one good thing about it actually: I’m moving so slow. It’s not physically possible for me to move any faster than I was because I have all this weight on me—which helped me acclimate. I didn’t even have a headache one day on that entire expedition. That’s one advantage of carrying my own load. So, I was happy that at least there was one good thing about it.

(footsteps crunching in snow)

So, the rangers on the Polish Glacier side—they were really friendly. We were cooking together, we were doing yoga together, we were doing day hikes together and really had a good time. Then I started moving up and I was just still doing really well—acclimating myself, drinking enough water. I just did really well. And I started moving up. I moved up to 20,000 feet camp. There was nobody. It was just me. Just me. I thought, “Oh, tomorrow I’ll summit.” Summit is about 23,800 or something like that. “I’ll summit tomorrow and then I’ll go back down to the Normal Route.” That was my plan. But, right after I moved to the 20,000 feet camp, it started blizzarding outside and trapped me in my tent for a couple of days.

(wind howling)

So, what happened during that time is that because it’s so cold and stormy outside, I stopped melting snow for drinking water. So, I wasn’t drinking as much. I would put some snow in my water bottle and put it in my sleeping bag and that would barely melt and I would just drink a little bit—but I wasn’t drinking as much as I should so, my body’s, at this point, getting dehydrated and I didn’t really realize that. I guess if I had some sense, I would have probably packed up and just given up and gone down—but I felt like I can do this.

(KK): Assuming that I could even get that far—which would be a pretty bold assumption—I probably would have packed up, too! But Sudha waited her time out on the mountain for two days. Do you know what you could get done in two whole days when you’re not stuck in a tent in the middle of a blizzard? I don’t know, probably a lot if you’re, like, a motivated person. Online trip reports talk extensively about the section before the summit called the canaleta, which is a steep, talus field-like section. Sudha had read that most people leave their backpack before making the summit. She decided that she could move faster if she didn’t have the weight on her back.

(SP): It’s only another five hundred feet to the summit at this point. So, I left my backpack down and I really couldn’t spend much time at the summit because it was bitter cold. And I started coming down. Getting through the canaleta was treacherous travel—exposed travel. And I made the summit and I turned back…my headlamp dies.

(KK): Well, shit. The good news is: we already know she makes it. The less good news is that Sudha was stuck up there all night, pacing back and forth to keep herself warm. It wasn’t until the next day that she finally made it back down to camp. Ready for the descent, things quickly went from bad to worse.

(SP): And I was exhausted because now I’m out on the mountain for about thirty-six hours almost. And I made it to my tent and I just was laying down. At the summit, it was so cold and I took my glove off to take one picture but that exposed my bare skin and right away gave me frostbite on my fingertips. And then I spent the night in that bitter cold, so my toes also had a bit of frostbite. Then the rangers showed up.

(KK): From what she could understand, there had actually been an earthquake and a helicopter was coming to evacuate her. Because she had frostbite, they told her that she needed to evacuate for her safety.

(SP): I was trying to tell them that I’m really exhausted—I want to come down tomorrow, but they’re insistent. And I said, “Ok, then. Let me pack up my stuff.” and they said, “No, it’s fine. There’s other rangers coming. They’ll bring your stuff. Just come down.” So, I took my backpack and that’s it. We come to the 17,000 feet camp and they said, “It’s too windy. A helicopter can’t come here. So, just keep walking down.”

(footsteps slowly crunching in snow)

(wind howling)

11,000 feet. My camp is at 20,000 feet—I am at 11,000 feet now. I had such a great time with the rangers on the Polish Glacier side, I had no reason to think that anything but they’re being helpful. But as soon as I came to the basecamp, the rangers just disappeared. And I didn’t know what to do now. I had none of my stuff with me and I didn’t know. I happened to see another mountaineer that just made it to the basecamp on the Normal Route and I just started telling him that I summited last night and I have a bit of frostbite and I’m not sure, I can’t find the rangers. So he said, “Let me see if I can go find and I’ll talk to them,”—because he spoke Spanish. He’ll talk to them and he’ll let me know. He comes back and he says, “Sudha. They’re not going to help you.” They told him, “Don’t worry about that black woman. She’s just running away from somebody on the other side of the mountain. I was like, what? And he said, “You have three things going against you. You’re a woman, you’re dark-skinned, you’re by yourself. They’re not going to help you. Did you not know that about Argentina? That it’s not a place for a woman to travel alone.” I said, “No!” I’ve always traveled everywhere and I would tell my boss that he can send me to Timbuktu, and I’ll go. I thought that the world was so nice that you could go anywhere and I never had any reason to think otherwise. So, then he said, “No. They’re not going to evacuate you. They’re not going to do anything. And if you want, you can just share my tent for the night.”

I had nothing: no sleeping bag, nothing. I just laid on the floor that night. Because I was doing the trip on my own, I also made a decision to just only take one pair of boots, which were my plastic boots. And the next morning, my toes were blistered. Like, both my big toes were blistered. Right? Now I had to put those heavy boots on my blistered toes in the morning and the basecamp doctor, who spoke English actually, she showed up for the first time. She hasn’t provided me any help when I came down the previous night and she was saying, “What are you doing?” And I said, “I’m hiking out.” And she said, “Oh, no—because the helicopter will be here.” And I was like, “I really need to go and catch my flight.” And then, other rangers show up. And they said, “We are rangers here, that means we’re the police. If we tell you you can’t leave, you can’t leave.” And I‘m like, “I’m really sorry. I really need to go.” And I started taking stuff and then they said, “Let us have your passport because we have to check you out.” That’s the first time fear came in me. I was like, “Oh my god. If I give them the passport, would they give it back to me? I don’t know.” So, I lied to them. I said I left it up in the tent.

They were just so ruthless. The doctor said, “You don’t need that backpack to go out.” So, they wanted to steal my backpack off my back. I had a pair of gloves on my hands—they wanted the gloves. They’re like, “You don’t need the gloves. You don’t need those things.” And I said, “But how am I going to hike thirty kilometers?” and she says, “I can give you a shopping bag to put your water and food in .” And I said, “No, I can’t.” And I just started walking. And the rangers literally followed me for a few kilometers, just to intimate me. So, pretty much on that mountain, I lost everything that I took for my expedition. It’s not humanly possible for me to go back up 10,000 feet to get my stuff—and they knew that. That was the reason why they took me away from my stuff. They had no intention of bringing it down to me—nothing.

(KK): Dalai Lama was once asked what troubles him the most about humanity and he said that people are created to be loved and things are meant to be used, but we live in a society where things are being loved and people are being used. The rangers on the Normal Route only cared about what they could take from Sudha and showed not even an ounce of compassion. The entire experience left such a bad taste in Sudha’s mouth that she started to question whether or not she needed to climb anymore. She was happy hiking back home in the Catskills, and she was happy to put her passion to climb big mountains on the back burner for a little while.

(SP): I am just happy being outside. I just want to enjoy the outdoors and it’s more about the people. Right? Frostbite didn’t really deter me from wanting to do it. It’s fine, I’m fine. I’m lucky enough that I didn’t lose any of my digits (laughs).

(KK): I don’t know that anything could have deterred you, at that point. You had a birthday party to go to!

(SP): (laughs) Yeah, yeah.

(KK): Even though Sudha made it back down the mountain in time to catch her flight, because of the earthquake, it was canceled. Sudha had summited on the tenth and came back down on the eleventh, but the delay caused her to miss her daughter’s birthday on the fourteenth. This was another reason why Sudha asked herself if these big objectives were worth it.

(SP): When I called to wish her a happy birthday, she was crying. She was crying, saying: “Mommy, why aren’t you here?” And she had plenty of family here, right? Her dad and her grandparents and rather than them all saying that, “We’ll have another birthday party when your mom comes here,”—rather than that: “See, your mom didn’t even come back for your birthday.” So, that’s what made her sad. And I said, “No, honey. You knew—I told you I was going to come back. It just so happened that I couldn’t come back.” So, once again, you kind of feel like—what is so important that I had to climb Aconcagua? What is so important, why do I have to make my little girl cry? That’s what I feel like. So many men out there are doing so much and I bet you they’re never told that, “How come you abandon your family? How could you leave your daughter and do this? So selfish.” Another thing, also, if a man does climb a mountain and they’ll talk like: “Wow. Your father is so brave. So courageous. He does amazing stuff.” When a woman does that: “Your mom is so crazy.” Why?

(KK): There’s still a huge controversy surrounding the subject of women high altitude climbers. And when I say controversy, I mean double standard. Ask anybody and they’ll tell you that women are judged more harshly than men for engaging in the same behavior. As a woman mountaineer, Sudha was subject to that same double standard. When she wasn’t fighting the mountain, she was dealing with constant pushback. In 2012, Sudha had one more phone call that made her question her passion again. This time, it was as she was preparing to summit Denali.

(SP): And on that trip, when I called home, my daughter was crying because my husband was drunk. She didn’t know what to do. And I didn’t know till that point that he even drank, really. I didn’t know that. So, I didn’t know what to do so I said, “Can you please call Grandma? Tell her to come home.” And then I also called his mother, saying that, “Could you please go home because I don’t know what’s happening there.” And then she said, “You shouldn’t be leaving your family and going climbing mountains. One more mountain you climb—I’m going to file for the custody of your daughter.” It’s not that her son was drinking while there was an eleven-year-old daughter in the house, but it’s my fault that I left the family to go climb. I’m all the way in Washington—helpless. What am I going to do? Maybe somebody can say, “That’s so selfish of you. Why did you still go climb Denali?” But I had a plan. It was happening one way or the other. You know, I’m going to make that happen. There was nobody stopping me from going to that mountain at this point. I still went and climbed Denali. But, when I go to climb a mountain, really summiting is not important. I know in my head I want to summit but the thought is, “I want to go experience Denali.” That was the thought: “I want to go experience Aconcagua. How does it look like? I want to be on it.”

Luckily for me, that the weather was just perfect. Denali was a much better experience then Aconcagua too, because…

(KK): People weren’t trying to steal your stuff?

(SP): Exactly. They’re really nice. There’s ranger support everywhere. The whole trip was very enjoyable. You know, I summited. Not one mention of like, “That’s amazing that you climbed something.” Nobody mentions anything about what I just did. It’s not like I did it for them but it’s just the fact that how it was celebrated when I climbed Kilimanjaro versus how it was totally ignored when I climbed Aconcagua because it was just by myself—other than the fact that they would mention to my daughter how crazy I am: “Your mom’s just crazy. She’s taking off again on one of her crazy things.”

You know what my sister said?: “Why do you have to talk about negative stuff?” Because it’s always shame. If you don’t portray yourself as this perfect person with the perfect life, you’re putting the family to shame. Even just my Aconcagua story—I feel like I want to say it somewhere public because you want other women to know what actually happens there. Do you want another woman to end up in a situation that you did? Tell your story. So, that maybe there’s another woman that wants to go and they’ll read your story and at least be aware what can happen so they can guard themselves. I wasn’t aware. I was seeing the world as rosy at that time and I was like, why would I not trust somebody? Just for that. Just to make people aware. Not that I want any sympathy—nothing like that. But it’s more about like, be aware. These things do happen even though you may not come across it in your daily life.

(KK): In addition to being threatened for her husband’s decisions, Sudha also receives harsh criticism from her side of the family, too. Most of the criticism comes from other women. Hearing this made me want to explore the gender double-edged sword a little bit more and I asked myself how many other women have to navigate these kinds of conversations in their daily lives. The answer is too many. It only emphasizes the importance of hearing stories like Sudha’s.

(SP): Coming from, again, Indian culture, I think if you’re not making money or moving up in your career, you’re basically a loser. This is the thing again: a woman is supporting her family. A man can turn around and say, “No, you can’t do it because it’s going to affect my retirement plan.” (pause) Would a woman ever dare to say that to a man if a man was the one supporting the family? And even in the climbing community, people make the comment: “You’re too crazy!” but I don’t see them saying the same thing to another man. And I question myself. Many times, I’ve questioned myself. Why am I so different from others? Why can’t I be just happy just to be a mother? I try. I try to give up but my soul dies, I feel like. And I heard someplace, something about: “Don’t die while you’re alive.” So, I tell myself that I am dead without the outdoors.

To my daughter, we always say that: “Realize your ability. Realize your true potential.” And why am I not doing that? I know my potential—that I can climb these mountains. I’m capable and I want to and that’s what I love. And why am I not doing what I’m preaching to my own daughter? When I get outside, it’s not a positive experience. I go through that phase and then I say, “If your daughter were to say this to you, what would you tell her? Would you tell her, ’Yeah, it’s ok honey. It’s not important.” I would not, right? So, then why would you do that to yourself and what are you teaching her? For my daughter, even though people think it’s the other way: that for your daughter, you shouldn’t climb. I feel like it’s just the opposite. For my daughter, I should climb. For my daughter to realize that it’s ok as a girl, as a woman, or as any human being, should follow their passion. Just do whatever makes you happy, whatever makes you feel alive. For me, the outdoors makes me feel alive. I don’t have to climb hard but that’s what my heart always craves—adventure. So, I think I won’t ever give it up but there are definitely times now that I keep questioning myself.

(KK): This is Sudha’s story, but it’s also a story for women everywhere. It’s a story about discovering the breadth of what it means to be a woman, and a little reminder that we can all strive harder to celebrate the adventurous women, and those who identify as women, in our lives with the respect and support that all humans deserve. Women are a lot of things. We’re complex, we’re coffee-fueled, we smell good—sometimes we smell bad. Sometimes we’re hangry. But one thing is certain—we’re fucking hustlers. We are strong, we are gritty, and we’re determined. Sudha found her place in the mountains, and this is her story. Sharing stories like these is meant to inspire, to heal, and to empower us—and to act as a reminder that a woman’s place is exactly where she wants it to be.

(SP): And that’s the reason why I feel like sometimes it’s so hard for a woman to follow her passion. I’ve realized my passion late in my life. I’m a mother, I already am a wife. I just tell other women that, please, encourage each other. And if you have a passion, follow that. Don’t let the society lead your life. Make your own. I have lost a lot of time trying to make others happy and there’s no point in crying over spilled beans or whatever but now I want to live every minute doing what makes me alive. You know, what makes me, me. It’s time for me to live my life. Better late than never. So, I’m going to live my life. Because I’ve gone through it, that’s what I like to tell all the women out there, to young women especially: don’t let your life pass you by like I did. Just realize your passion and follow that. Go after it. Just because we’re women doesn’t mean that we can’t. Yes, we can.

(KK): Even though I still have no idea what I’m doing—things are happening. And if you’d like to help out and support this podcast, please check out patreon.com (that’s P-A-T-R-E-O-N) where you can sponsor us for as little as $1 per episode. It really helps keep this podcast going, and I’m so grateful for all of your help. Special shout out to Cameron MacAlpine because he makes this thing sound good.

– You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. A huge thank you to Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort. And a big thank you to Gnarly Nutrition for supporting this podcast and the messages that we share. Gnarly Nutrition supports a community of vulnerability and equality—and tastes like a milkshake, without all the crap. A big shout out to Allez Outdoor for supporting the Access Fund and 1% for the Planet. Allez Outdoor Personal Care products are made by climbers for those who love the outdoors. And thanks to Têra Kaia. Go ahead and throw out your other sports bras because #basewear is the only top you’ll pack. Feel naked, go anywhere, look great.

Support companies who support this podcast—we couldn’t do it without them. If you liked what you heard, you can leave a review on iTunes or give us a like—like all good things, you can find us on the internet. Until next time.

(SP): I just want to tell Alex Honnold: can I just be your cook? Because I was listening and he said he’s a vegetarian. And I was thinking, can I just make your meals and if you ever need a belay, I’ll belay you. And, just keep me outside.

Mini-Episode 7: The Moral of the Story

It’s Still (Mostly) Not a Climbing Podcast. We took the summer off to stand fully in our truth, which means sometimes we have to sit in those uncomfortable feelings, too. But we’re back this September with ten new episodes that unpack a lot of this. We spent the last eight months on the road talking to climbers (like you) about what resilience looks like when shit hits the fan—and everything that happens after.

This mini-episode is brought to you by Deuter, Gnarly Nutrition, Allez Outdoors, and Dirtbag Climbers. Music by: “Ichill” by Kakurenbo, “Ice Pack”, “Pives and Flarinet”, and “Knock Knock” by Podington Bear. HUGE thank you to Chad Crouch, aka Podington Bear, for the support and to Peter Darmi for all of his help with this episode.

Copy of For the love of climbing header

get-it-on-itunes-badge-440x160gglplaystitcher_button

Transcript:

It’s Still (Mostly) Not a Climbing Podcast. We took the summer off to stand fully in our truth, which means sometimes we have to sit in those uncomfortable feelings, too. But we’re back this September with ten new episodes that unpack a lot of this. We spent the last eight months on the road talking to climbers (like you) about what resilience looks like when shit hits the fan—and everything that happens after.

This mini-episode is brought to you by Deuter, Gnarly Nutrition, Allez Outdoors, and Têra Kaia. Music by: “Ichill” by Kakurenbo, “Ice Pack”, “Pives and Flarinet”, and “Good Times” by Podington Bear. A HUGE thank you to Chad Crouch, aka Podington Bear, for the support and to Peter Darmi for all of his help with this episode.

Transcript:

(KATHY KARLO): You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. This is not a climbing podcast. Well, sorta. This is a funny, sad and somewhat uncomfortable podcast about choosing vulnerability and talking openly about our pain. This podcast is sponsored by Dirtbag Climbers. Here’s the show.

– Hey. We are two weeks away from season two, which comes out on September first. New episodes will air on the first of each month, so be sure to subscribe or follow us on Instagram at “inheadlights” (it’s like “deer in headlights”, without the deer.)

Ever have one of those summers where everything goes pear-shaped? That word can accurately describe the past eight months of my life. So, I took the summer off to figure some stuff out—and by “figure out”, I mean: dig really deep. I bought a cargo van, stopped returning ninety percent of my text messages (sorry, guys), holed up, spiraled out, ran away to Spain for a month, cried alone in parking lots, stopped climbing, lost friendships, and eventually had to claw my way up out of the dark. It was a summer. At some point, I even stopped looking for those silver linings. And I knew that that wasn’t who I was, but it felt like I was standing in quicksand. You keep sinking deeper and deeper and deeper, and can’t really imagine that you’ll ever get out. Anyone who’s experienced depression can probably relate to this.

So yeah, life isn’t exactly a supernova of good vibes right now. And that’s ok. Life definitely has a funny way of pulling us in new directions when we least expect it, but even though sometimes life does kick the shit out of us—we still have the choice to move forward. So, that’s what I’m choosing. If this podcast has taught me anything at all, it’s that standing fully in our truth means sometimes we have to sit in those uncomfortable feelings, too. We’re back in September with ten new episodes that unpack a lot of this. We spent the last eight months on the road talking to climbers (like you) about what resilience looks like when shit hits the fan—and everything that happens after.

(MALE VOICE): Yeah, the whole thing was just kind of tough for me ‘cause I knew the sport was dangerous. But until that moment, I feel like, you know, that’s when it really hit home where I was kind of like, “Oh man. It does happen, you know, right in our own backyard.”

(FEMALE VOICE): We all talk about: “Well, how come there are not as many women out there?” I know why. Society puts different expectations on a woman versus a man. Society sets you back from moving forward and, unfortunately, from my experience, it’s mostly women setting women back. We don’t encourage each other as a man would encourage another man.

(MALE VOICE): I had had my leg amputated in 2005 and, you know, spent a couple of years just seeing what this new life was going to be like and trying to figure out where these limits are after I’ve lost my leg. And actually, within that month, I sent two more 5.13s—another 13a and then a 13b.

(MALE VOICE): When I first got into climbing, it became such a part of my life so quickly, I was so completely engrossed. Days at the crag and afternoon/evenings at the bar and smoking a ton of bud at the campsite. And then, a few years ago when I decided that I was drinking a little bit too much and I had to get it together, I didn’t know where I would fit in climbing culture. And it took me away for about two or three years until I was able to get it together and I finally figured out why I really got into climbing in the first place—and that was to connect with god and nature or the universe or whatever you wanted to call it, and really face my fears up there and come out on the other side of them and not have those hangups anymore.

(FEMALE VOICE): I have recently lost the ability to lead hard routes. I was like, “What the fuck am I gonna do?” Climbing is not a hobby. It’s my career—I’m a guide! I’m gonna miss that version of myself that was a courageous risk taker and a badass. I don’t wanna be that woman telling stories about what she used to do. Fuck. Welcome to the next chapter.

(MALE VOICE): It always seemed like people were busy or people had their own ambitions and there wasn’t really time. I felt like damaged goods. And it just felt like everyone was in a constant state of going after their own goals and their own ambitions, and these are people that I’d climbed with before but they’d all moved on. And I just didn’t feel accepted anymore.

(FEMALE VOICE): The afternoon of my thirty-second birthday, I found out my dad died from leukemia. Some people think that would be the worst birthday ever—except that morning, my dad and I exchanged texts and I told him I was going climbing. And he told me to have a great day and I said, “I love you.” Because my dad’s the one who introduced me to the outdoors and he always told me to do what makes me happy, and climbing is what makes me happy.

(FEMALE VOICE): It was a super scary project for me: at least twenty hours of climbing. And when I finally got my shit together and felt ready, my partner went to flake the rope and a condom fell out of his pocket. I pretended not to see it and I felt fearful again. He was my climbing partner and I trusted him, and I don’t know what he expected.

(MALE VOICE): It was such a surreal moment for me. I was like, “What is going on?” Like, everything was amazing and all of a sudden, there’s this huge wave coming at me and I have no idea how to deal with it. I have late stage five kidney diseasewhich is the last stage. Like, the numbers are terrible. We can slow it down—barely—but you need dialysis now.

(FEMALE VOICE): I was doing ecstasy and cocaine in the summer of eighth grade going to ninth grade. I could have just stopped there and not taken the path. I could have just been a kid that was a little wild in high school and I didn’t need to continue doing it. But I was ashamed, I was upset, I was…I was in denial.

(FEMALE VOICE): As a mother of a climber, I have to say that it is kind of a little scary knowing that your child is up there doing something a little…dangerous. But at the end of the day, when she comes and talks to us about it and shares her experiences, it’s pretty amazing. And it just makes me more proud of her and actually, a little jealous that I’m not doing it myself. But, at the same time, it’s really gratifying knowing that I raised a strong, young woman.

(MALE VOICE): All of a sudden, climbing just didn’t make me as happy as it used to, which was terrifying because at the time, climbing was the single largest part of my life—and really, the single largest part of my identity. Climbing is really important to me, but I don’t want it to be the one thing that defines me. Since then, I’ve learned to roll with the punches. If I want to do other things, I do other things. Invariably, climbing will be there when I’m ready for it again.

(FEMALE VOICE): Ok, Kathy I’ve never used this voice memo thing before. So, after having recorded a few clips for you and having to do it again and again and delete them, I just wanna say: why did you never tell me that my voice sounds utterly ridiculous? And thanks a lot, because now I have one more thing to be self-conscious about in my life. Bye!

(MALE VOICE): We read the American Alpine Club publication “Accidents in North America and Mountaineering” and shake our heads at the boneheaded mistakes that got those poor schmucks killed. How frigging stupid could they have been not to see that small oversight, that seemingly trivial mistake, that landed them in a body bag? Jesus. And we tell ourselves, “Oh, I’d never do something as dumb as that.”—whatever that was that got that person killed. But telling ourselves that is a fairytale. If you climb long enough, you’ll do something equally dumb and potentially fatal. If you’re lucky enough to survive and smart enough to actually learn from your mistake, you hopefully won’t make that particular one again. But don’t worry. There are plenty of other ones you can and probably will make. I can think of a couple from my own experience that I just barely squeaked by on by the grace of whoever’s flapping around up there.

And, of course, there’s always the “X factor”: the things we can’t control. Rockfall, weather, bad belaying, and just plain old bad luck. We’re playing a dangerous game—make no mistake about it. Bottom line is: don’t get complacent. Gravity never sleeps—and it never, ever makes a mistake. It leaves that up to us. But you stand a better chance of reaching old age if you keep two very simple, straightforward rules in mind every time you go climbing. Rule number one: don’t fuck up and die. Rule number two: don’t take your partner with you. Everything else is details.

(MALE VOICE): I had a buddy of mine pass away. Kinda, you know, looked up to him in climbing and knew his whole story: he was a professional climber. You know, it hit me pretty hard. Didn’t really climb a little bit after that, after he passed, just…you know, it was like something was missing there. But you also learn from it, you know, keep moving forward, every day. Work harder at the things that you love—it was kind of some of the things I had learned from him when we talked about climbing. I mean, he did some really hard stuff but (laughs) maybe one day, I could get to that level.

(MALE VOICE): You know, the moral of the story is it’s not always over. It’s not always hopeless. You can recover, you can do great things.

(KK): Even though I still have no idea what I’m doing—things are happening. And if you’d like to help out and support this podcast, please check out patreon.com (that’s P-A-T-R-E-O-N) where you can sponsor us for as little as $1 per episode. It really helps keep this podcast going, and I’m so grateful for all of your help. Special shout out to Cameron MacAlpine because he makes this thing sound good.

You’re listening to For the Love of Climbing Podcast. A huge thank you to Deuter, one of the leading backpack brands that will help you hit the trails with confidence and comfort. And a big thank you to Gnarly Nutrition for supporting this podcast and the messages that we share. Gnarly Nutrition supports a community of vulnerability and equality—and tastes like a milkshake, without all the crap. A big shout out to Allez Outdoor for supporting the Access Fund and 1% for the Planet. Allez Outdoor Personal Care products are made by climbers for those who love the outdoors. And thanks to Têra Kaia, made by women, for women. Go ahead and throw out your other sports bras because #basewear is the only top you’ll pack. Feel naked, go anywhere, look great.

Support companies who support this podcast—we couldn’t do it without them. If you liked what you heard, you can leave a review on iTunes or give us a like—like all good things, you can find us on the internet. Until next time.