10: I’ll Spare You the Platitudes

Corey’s dad introduced him to climbing and the outdoors. In 2010, Corey’s dad died by suicide.

We don’t actually have a complete count of suicide attempt data because the stigma surrounding it leads to a lot of underreporting. But having an open dialogue and sharing stories like Corey’s is helping to break down the barrier of this stigma, and lead to more conversations and understanding of depression and mental illness. This is Corey’s story, and this episode is in loving memory of Don Mowery Jr.

This episode is brought to you by Deuter, Gnarly Nutrition, Allez Outdoors, and Dirtbag Climbers. Music by: “Jazzy Frenchy”, “Cute”, “Funny Song”, and “Enigmatic” by bensound.com, “Ichill” by Kakurenbo, “Pives and Flarinet”, “Ruby”, and “Tweedlebugs” by Podington Bear, “Sense of Music” by Borrtex, and “Thinking it Over” by Lee Rosevere.

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(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:

(KATHY KARLO): 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.

– 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 because even though my advice and opinions are free, I am improvising the whole thing. Better Help lets you message a licensed therapist, day or night. 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.

– Have you ever cut an exterior hole in your van? Me neither. Building out a van can be hard work, not to mention that table saws have a funny way of leaving you with fewer fingers than you started with. (We’ll ask Tommy Caldwell all about it when he returns my emails.) I really can’t be trusted with power tools since a drywall incident in 2005—but Mark and Anthony can. Roaming Ingenuity is a team of outdoor enthusiasts and tinkerers based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. Whether you are looking for a custom van build, or just need a little help with installing a roof vent, they can help. PS—I never actually emailed Tommy Caldwell.

(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?


(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.


(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?


(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.

In 2010, Corey’s dad died by suicide. This is Corey’s story, and this episode is in loving memory of Don Mowery Jr. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that on average, there are one hundred and twenty-nine suicides per day. We don’t actually have a complete count of suicide attempt data because the stigma surrounding it leads to a lot of underreporting. But having an open dialogue and sharing stories like Corey’s is helping to break down the barrier of this stigma, and lead to more conversations and understanding of things like depression and mental illness.

After meeting up with Corey in Red Rocks, I couldn’t help but wonder: what would the world look like if we all had to answer that question honestly? Please note that there is discussion about child sexual abuse, depression and suicide in this episode. Visit http://www.fortheloveofclimbing.com for resources available at the end of the transcript.

(COREY MOWRY): Every year, we’d go up to Big Sur for Mother’s Day. And so, this one year my dad told my mom, “Oh, I’m going to take Corey and Casey down this river,” We had a little raft and it was like this tiny little thing. And it was supposed to be this calm, like, “Oh, we’re just going to cruise down the river. She’s going to drive down and pick us up at the end of the river.” But it ended up being the most crazy, disastrous little mini-trip ever. And me and Casey were, I don’t know, like, eleven years old or something. But the first few minutes, we run into the side of these bushes over in the water and the spiders are just crawling all over us. And then, we’re freaking out and my dad keeps his calm and then we lost the paddle and then he had to jump in and grab the paddle. And we’re like, “Ok. We got through the spider phase.” And then went further down the river and all of a sudden, these kids started throwing rocks at us and we started hitting the rocks with the paddle and my dad, again, is maneuvering us out of the way. And then, we get towards the end and had to pull the raft from the water, walk around this log, and then my brother Casey was about to step down and my dad grabbed his shoulder and lifted him up—and he was basically about to step on a rattlesnake that was curled up, shaking its rattle.

And this little casual river trip ended up being the most epic adventure ever that I’ll never forget! And it was like, that’s kind of his spirit, just kind of leading these things and he’s just like, “Eh!” You know? “Fun time. Right, guys?” And, you know, I got that from him, and that joy and that kind of, “you don’t know until you try” mentality in life. And just rolling with the punches—especially outdoors, especially climbing and especially when you’re river rafting these sketchy little Big Sur rivers (laughs).

(KK): Don was the person who introduced Corey to the great outdoors because he loved being outside and he loved sharing it with his boys. Corey and his brothers grew up in southern California, but they went everywhere. When the boys were little, Don bought a trailer and took them road tripping, all the way up to Yosemite and Big Sur every year. A common sight was Don, leading his boys into the wild. He was warm and loving, and there was a comfort in talking to him. At work, a lot of his staff members would lean on him for support—he was just that kind of guy.

(CM): Very soft spoken, he was very kinda methodical. He didn’t share his emotions, but he was just kinda someone you entrusted everything with. You know what I mean? When he left us, we did a ceremony at camp and hundreds and hundreds of people came. And it was like, the most magical thing ever: everyone speaking, saying amazing things. Everyone in shock, not really knowing why or how, because he affected so many people. I didn’t even realize it until I saw everyone there and was like, “Wow—this is a big network of people that have all had a positive relationship with him.” So, I was just like, “Holy shit.” Like, I kinda knew it but, you know, it wasn’t real until I saw everyone there. Seeing police officers and staff members and campers and family. You know, you kinda just see how important one life could be.

Right now, we’re recording this. Like, I know I have good friends and family but it’s hard to tell the effect if I wasn’t here, like, what it’d be. But I bet it’s bigger than I envision and same for you and same for everyone. We all have so much to offer and life sucks sometimes, but being able to persevere through life’s ups and downs—that alone is an accomplishment and you reap the benefits. And the people around you reap the benefits as well.

(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.

(CM): I’m Corey. Born and raised in Southern California, Los Angeles area. Once I was nine years old, my whole family packed up and moved towards the mountains—the Santa Monica range. My parents got a job at a summer camp out there, so ran this big property. I went from this Glendale inner city kid to this kid living in the woods with my twin brother and just having this whole access to the mountains. That’s kinda my childhood, in a nutshell.

I’ve been in the music industry for the past, you know, ten years. I was managing artists and now I’m a financial manager at this CPA firm, managing, you know, musicians, tours, and finances and contracts and all that fun stuff. I definitely like the entertainment industry aspect of it and I love being around people and being in the city but, I do have a part of my heart in the woods and in the mountains where I grew up.

(KK): Corey was born in Southern California, where his dad worked on a narcotics unit and later, became a homicide detective before they moved to the camp where Corey and his brothers grew up.

(CM): Yeah, so my dad was actually a police officer for fifteen years. So, it was just kind of weird that he ended up directing a summer camp. But for him, it made a lot of sense because he’s always loved the outdoors. Growing up in the camp, we actually had an outdoor climbing wall. So, I was doing that when I was nine and my dad actually got me my first climbing shoes and a harness. And then, from there, our property backed up to Malibu Creek State Park which is kind of this pretty famous state park. In old movie days, they would shoot Planet of the Apes out there and a bunch of old TV shows. But there’s cool sporty crags out there. You know, all single pitch but that’s kind of where I got my start. I guess high school’s when I started climbing outdoors and then, I was kinda doing music at the same time. I was playing in a band, and then college happened, and then my band broke up and then my climbing partner—we broke up. He moved away! And then I started working full-time, going on tour and working with bands. And then, you know, the past few years, getting back into it. And then I’m like, “Alright! I’m going to go to the gym every day and start working out again and getting in shape!” So now, hopefully, grow from here and start pushing it for some bigger stuff. I’m not too old yet, right?

(KK): No (laughs).

(CM): I’m good. So! But yeah, so I’ve always been attracted to the mountains. Like a big hiker, big snowboarder, big runner-hiker-jogger-walker, and then climbing just upped it all. I just kind of fell in love going up vertical rock.

(KK): Corey spent seventeen years running around summer camp, playing on rocks and going swimming and climbing. He described himself as a “brat camp kid”, and had the kind of childhood that most kids only dream of. Not only did he have a storybook childhood, but it was normal…or so he thought.

(CM): You hear all these “Me Too” stories and you kinda put it in the back somewhere where you just don’t really address it. Yeah, I didn’t talk about it for like ten years. I didn’t even know it was there, to be honest until I was in my twenties. When me and my twin brother turned ten years old, we were taken advantage of by this adult male counselor. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a summer camp: there’s counselors and there’s staff. That’s what kind of makes the whole experience, but it’s cool because you have people come around from the entire world for the summer and they’re here to work and help kids grow and discover themselves. But when I was ten years old, I was sexually abused multiple times by this camp counselor who we entrusted, you know what I mean? And I look back on my camp days and it was so positive and there was so much good. But it was like, “Oh wait. Well, this happened.” And I didn’t really talk about it until my early twenties.

(KK): Can a memory really be forgotten completely? And do we forget our worst memories? There’s arguments for both. Some psychotherapists believe that children understand and respond to trauma differently from adults, and when they’re hurt (especially if they are sexually abused), they may “dissociate,” and block out the memory in order to protect themselves. Dissociation just means that a memory is not actually lost, but is unavailable for an unknown amount of time. It kind of gets put into a memory storage, like on a hard drive somewhere, but can’t be recalled until it’s accessed again. There is currently a lot of research that will argue this theory.

The person who abused Corey passed away in a car accident, which Corey found out when he was in high school.

(CM): It took that to bring up all these memories of what actually happened. I buried it so much. I ended up talking to my parents about it. My dad not managed just me and my brothers, but all of the staff members and all the campers. And he would pay for staff members coming from Europe and he would pay them some extra money if they don’t have gas money or whatever. And he just always took care of everyone else, and I think when that happened, he felt like he let me down.

I was twenty-three back in 2010 and full-blown in the music industry. I was working with bands and I was actually on tour across the country with this band. I was in Maryland when I got a call from my mom and found out that my dad had committed suicide. And it’s funny ‘cause my first reaction was: he fell off a cliff, right? Or he fell hiking—because he was the one who introduced me to the mountains and introduced me to climbing. She just told he was gone. I pressed her and she was like, “Oh, no. He died of suicide.” and I was just like, “What?”. I was in Maryland at the time and across the country and it was just the last thing I would ever expect.

(KK): Corey had, and has no way of knowing, but he often wondered if one of the reasons why his father died was partially because of the guilt he carried with him after what had happened to his sons.

(CM): I was in Jersey City and I remember specifically my flip my phone. My dad actually texted me and my brothers that morning and just said, “Love you guys. I’m proud of you.” And I looked at my phone—didn’t think twice of it. You know what I mean? I was just like, “Oh, cool.” I didn’t even respond to it. I just closed it. It was my day off—you know what I mean? I guess it was kinda odd looking back because he’s always struggled opening up and he didn’t share much. But yeah, so, I closed my phone and then I ran back into the water and did my thing, and that’s when I got the call the next night.

I crippled, you know. I didn’t know what to do. Luckily, I had some people on tour with me and they helped me out. They shoved me on a plane back to California and I had some family pick me up and we went over to camp. So, it was just—it was a blur because it was at the peak of the summer. So, we had hundreds of people up. And, you know, he was Mr. Accommodating—like, he never wanted to hurt anyone. So, he drove off the property. He drove and went to a hotel to stay away from everyone and not intrude anyone. He even went in the bathroom and closed the curtain. He didn’t want to burden anybody with anything—which is kind of weird and totally him, looking back on it.

(KK): Don was such a thoughtful man his entire life, and he was even thoughtful in death. He left letters to Corey and his brothers, his mom, his best friend, and a few beloved staff members. What he didn’t include were his reasons why.

(CM): It’s weird, a lot of it’s kind of jumbled and you kinda see the hard time he was in, in the moment. Luckily, I have a great family and support system and that’s kinda how we got through it. We, as a family, made a pact: me and my mom and my two brothers. Like, we’re going to talk about everything—there’s no secrets. That’s the reason I’m on this podcast! He loved the outdoors, but he went to kind of escape. Like, he would love going on solo adventures and hiking around and kind of getting lost. And he loved that beauty side of nature and kind of used that to, you know, fill him up.

At the end of the day, it’s hopelessness. You know what I mean? And we’re all in this crazy world together and we all get the best of it and we get the worst of it together. And when you feel hopeless and there’s nothing else to live for—it’s just the mind is so fragile and it’s so powerful. And if there’s anything that we can do, it’s just listen to one another and support each other and just be there for each other. And it doesn’t even have to be in a deep conversation. Be like, “I’m here this week and I’m around,” if you feel like someone’s going through something. Or, if you’re really close to them: call ‘em out, you know, and see what’s up and be like, “Have you talked to somebody?” That shouldn’t be something we’re scared of doing anymore because I know for a fact that my dad, he never talked once about being depressed. The stigma around talking about your feelings—he could never overcome that. And that went all the way to the last day.

(KK): Fashion designer Kate Spade, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, and countless other publicized suicides have left people talking more about how we can help those with behavioral health conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. Suicide rates have increased thirty percent in the last twenty years, and they account for nearly one million deaths globally. And yet, despite the harsh reality of these numbers, we live in a society that still struggles to openly and honestly talk about mental health.

(CM): You don’t have to run around like, “Everyone—tell me about your mental health!”

(KK): But wouldn’t that be kind of amazing?

(CM): It would be, I know! Let’s just make sure to be like, “Talk to me about your mental health!” No, but yeah—that’s kind of what I do now, actually (laughs). I host this 5k run every year and try and get family and friends together and just open up. Some people that I think would benefit from it are the ones that don’t come and the people that don’t necessarily need it, they come and they love it, you know what I mean? And you kind of see it after doing it year by year. But, you know, who knows? Maybe if I chip away, it might affect them in some way positively. We’re all just normal people, but we can all step up our game a little bit, I think, overall. And especially as a climbing community and an outdoor community. We’re just surrounded by beauty and challenges and we all just are stoked all the time on accomplishing goals. Our mental health comes with us through all those challenges, you know what I mean? So, why are we pretending that it’s not there or it doesn’t exist?

Obviously, it’s draining to talk about sometimes, but it’s real and I’ve had people—they don’t want to talk to me about my dad’s suicide. They think it’s going to spark something in me. I see that fear. But also, they don’t want to address it themselves. Death is already hard to talk about it. You know what I mean? You know, it’s like—I tell somebody, “Oh, my dad passed away,” and that’s how I usually frame it and then: “Oh, I’m sorry. How did he die?” I’ll say, “He died by suicide,” but if I said he died by cancer or he died in a car accident—there are different reactions to every one of those. You know what I mean? And suicide is just, I feel like…I almost find myself hesitant to even say the word.

(KK): Corey hosts a team every year and participates in Alive & Running, a 5k race held annually in Los Angeles, California. This race is meant to spread education and awareness surrounding the stigma of suicide and uplift those remembering lost ones. The first of its kind, the Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center is a national leader in training services for people who have thought about, attempted or lost someone to suicide. Not only are there are support groups, but they also train more than 20,000 people each year how to recognize and respond to warning signs.

Suicide is an earthquake—sudden, jolting, and devastating—the aftershocks ripple long after. In an effort to make sense of things, it’s easy to throw labels around like: “He was selfish.” or “She took the easy way out.” When we hear things like this, it contributes to the fear and judgment surrounding the stigma of suicide, and really prevents people who might need help from reaching out and sharing. The stigma behind suicide is pervasive and creates a continuing cycle for many—but wellness and recovery are possible when we choose to talk openly, intelligently, and sensitively to raise awareness and prevention.

(CM): I guess after the suicide, I felt a lot of rage, a lot of anger, the first three years, I would say. It lingered for a long time. And it was real rage. I tried to step up and be the leader of the family, but it’s hard because I’m going through my own life and trying to grow at that moment.

(KK): And you’re twenty-three.

(CM): And I’m twenty-three, and I have my twin brother and he was struggling. He just couldn’t shake it and I don’t blame him. But, the more I talked about it and the more I opened up—I got to a better place with it. And I recognized how deep—because I was never depressed. I was never a depressed person. I didn’t know how hopeless and how lost and deep their feelings got. So I think a lot of my anger came from my perspective like, “What the hell? Things aren’t that bad.” But I was never suicidal. I was never depressed like that. I think seeing good people like my dad and others—people who you and I know, people that you go climbing with, people in your outdoor community that love the outdoors and love community and love people. You’re like: if they see the beauty in the world, why would they go that far? I think understanding definitely helped—talking to people, kinda seeing how widespread this is. Not just people who actually go through it, but the families and…it’s just such a spiderweb of peoples lives affected.

It’s like politics: you don’t want to get involved sometimes because it’s just a mess, you know? And everyone’s so divided on it. So, I think—I think people are divided on seeing cases of people dying by suicide, compared to cancer or other forms, which goes back to the whole unique nature of the death.

(KK): Mental health is a struggle for people to discuss openly, mostly due to a lack of education. As we learn more about suicide, mental illness and other factors that can lead to suicide, our language has also started to evolve. We’re so conditioned to hearing the phrase “committed suicide” that we kinda just use it without a second thought. But the problem with this is that it puts the responsibility on the person. We now use appropriate, non-stigmatising terminology when referring to suicide. The more that we can wield language to accurately and sensitively describe suicide, the more we can encourage a healthy and respectful way to talk about it. Using the word “committed” is considered inaccurate, insensitive, and it strongly contributes to the stigma that is still associated with suicide. A much better term is: “died by suicide.”

(CM): That’s how I was raised hearing about it. So, even when my dad died, I was like, “He committed suicide.” And then, the more I researched, the more I’ve talked about it with people, it’s like kind of the trend has been more towards: “He or she died by suicide.” And yeah, you can look at it and be like, “Oh, it’s just one word. It’s just one little thing.” But it does change the perspective on it and mental health—it’s a real disease and it’s a real problem. Yeah. It’s complex.

(KK): It’s real complex. Thank you. Thank you for sharing this.

(CM): I’ve never gotten to the point where I would consider taking my own life or anything, but I got closer to seeing where that could be a possibility, which was scary. Survivors of suicide—it is a red flag for someone who might, in the future, die of suicide. It’s definitely a reality and that’s what goes back to me and my family and kinda being open and making the pact of, we aren’t hiding anything anymore. We’re being open, we’re leaning on each other. But I also understand not everybody has that kind of community after the fact. That’s why it’s important to be cognizant of everyone and every situation they’re going through—because you don’t know. You don’t know how deep it can be and, I don’t know, there’s so many suicide attempts too that could easily have gone either way. It makes it that much more scary.

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): It can be difficult to pick up the phone and ask for help, but calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always free and confidential. 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.

Sexual abuse affects children and adults across ethnic, educational, and religious lines. If you or someone you know has been sexually abused, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE.

– 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. And a big shout out to Roaming Ingenuity, a team of outdoor enthusiasts and tinkerers based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. 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:

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 Trevor Project, is an LGBT crisis intervention and suicide prevention hotline and is open 24/7, 365 days a year. The Trevor Project can be reached at 866-4-U-TREVOR. There’s even a list of international resources at http://www.thetrevorproject.org.

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

To find local resources in your area, visit To Write Love On Her Arms.

For additional resources, see the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education).

Check out the following stories from people who have been there:

The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline is dedicated to the prevention of child abuse. Serving the United States, its territories, and Canada, the Hotline is staffed twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week with professional crisis counselors who, through interpreters, can provide assistance in 170 languages. The hotline offers crisis intervention, information, literature, and referrals to thousands of emergency, social service, and support resources. All calls are anonymous and confidential.

Stop It Now provides a national helpline for adults living in the United States who are concerned for the safety of a child and don’t know what to do. All calls are confidential and will be answered by knowledgeable professionals in the field of child sexual abuse prevention.

RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network, is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline, which is free, confidential, and available 24/7/365 in English and Spanish. RAINN works in partnership with more than 1,000 local sexual assault service providers across the country and operates the DoD Safe Helpline for the Department of Defense. You can call RAINN for guidance and resources in crisis (though call 911 if it’s an emergency), by calling 800.656.HOPE (4673).

Safe Horizon has a free, 24/7/365, confidential national hotline in English and Spanish for domestic violence survivors; rape, incest, abuse, and sexual assault survivors; and victims of other violent crimes. Counselors are available to talk about your situation (whether it’s recent or not), as well as help you figure out the next steps, whether that’s in the form of counseling, legal aid, safety planning, or finding a shelter. They can also help you find in-person counseling, group therapy, legal aid, and other resources. Contact them at 1-800-621-HOPE (4673).

You can report an incident and make available to law enforcement for possible investigation. You can contact the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children 24 hours a day at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).

Laws vary by state–it may be child protective services, a department of family and child services of your county, or law enforcement. Learn more at Darkness to Light, a non-profit committed to empowering adults to prevent child sexual abuse. Their work is guided by the vision of a world free from child sexual abuse, where children can grow up happy, healthy and safe. Darkness to Light exists to empower and educate people to prevent child sex abuse.

Alive & Running is an uplifting, life-affirming event that remembers loved ones lost to suicide while raising funds and awareness for the Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center. The first in the nation, the Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center is a national and world leader in training, research, and services for people who have thought about, attempted or lost someone to suicide. Their center has a 24/7 English/Spanish Crisis Line (1-800-273-TALK) that takes calls from around the United States and is the back-up for crisis centers throughout California. It is also one of only three in the U.S. that answers calls on the National Disaster Distress Helpline.

9: Shit in the Woods

The thing you should know about eating disorders is that they don’t really discriminate. Eating disorders affect all races and ethnic groups (not excluding men). They also have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness—of around ten percent. This episode is about eating disorders, body positivity, and just owning your shit, specifically through the lens of climbing and one woman’s experience.

This episode is brought to you by Deuter, Gnarly Nutrition, and Dirtbag Climbers. Music by: “Jazzy Frenchy”, “Cute”, “Funny Song”, and “Enigmatic” by bensound.com, “Ichill” by Kakurenbo, and “Pives and Flarinet” by Podington Bear, “End of Winter” by Rest You Sleeping Giant, “March of the Mind” by Kevin MacLeod, “You and Me” by Borrtex, and “Twinkle Twinkle” by David Mumford.

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(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 because even though my advice and opinions are free, I am improvising the whole thing. Better Help lets you message a licensed therapist, day or night. 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.

– Have you ever cut an exterior hole in your van? Me neither. Building out a van can be hard work, not to mention that table saws have a funny way of leaving you with fewer fingers than you started with. (We’ll ask Tommy Caldwell all about it when he returns my emails.) I really can’t be trusted with power tools since a drywall incident in 2005—but Mark and Anthony can. Roaming Ingenuity is a team of outdoor enthusiasts and tinkerers based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. Whether you are looking for a custom van build, or just need a little help with installing a roof vent, they can help. PS—I never actually emailed Tommy Caldwell.

(SABINE CONNORS): I used to struggle with bulimia. It was hard because, I mean, have you ever taken laxatives—in the woods? You literally can’t predict that shit. But in the end, I learned that people care in all the right ways and that wiping your butt with leaves is never the right answer.

(KK): You might remember this clip that we used for the trailer in 2018. You might even relate to it. This is Sabine, climber and doctorate student based out of the southeast. I don’t know many humans who thrive purely on coffee and sunshine quite the way that Sabine does, but I gotta say: however she does it, it’s working. This girl can hustle as hard as she climbs—and she does it with grit, moxie, and grace.

It’s been estimated that in America, thirty million people of all gender and ages suffer from an eating disorder, as stated by the National Eating Disorders Association. Eating disorders, or EDs, affect all races and ethnic groups, not excluding men. They also have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness—of around ten percent. The thing to remember is that having an ED isn’t actually a choice, like choosing to skip lunch. It isn’t a fad, or a diet phase, or a lifestyle choice. They are real, complex medical illnesses that really feed off of shame and stigma.

The episode that you are about to hear is about eating disorders, body positivity, and just owning your shit—specifically through the lens of climbing and one woman’s experience. Thank you to the people who contributed to this episode. You can go to http://www.fortheloveofclimbing.com and check out the resources available at the end of the transcript. This is episode nine.

(SC): For me, it’s a lack of control. So, I was a very competitive swimmer in high school—like pretty damn good. And I was supposed to swim in college and the university I went to, they actually cut their women’s team. You know, every eighteen-year-old who swam twenty hours a week—you all of a sudden take them out of that environment and like, what eighteen-year-old isn’t going to get a little chubby? Or whatever, shit happens. There’s no one moment where I realized, “When I didn’t have a period, I could run fast.” For me, it was just the perfect storm of a lot of different things: I had a roommate in college who’d struggled with anorexia her whole life. This is the first time in my life I’d ever dieted or I’d ever been even remotely close to needing to lose any weight.

And it was this perfect storm where I’d just discovered running, and I was really surprisingly good at running, just off the bat. And my roommate just taught me all these terrible tricks for losing weight and it just turned into this number game and I just lost control for five years, just binging and purging. And I ended up purging all sorts of different ways—anywhere from laxatives to running a hundred miles a week.

(KK): Sabine described this “perfect storm” in her life where everything inescapably led her to bulimia, but EDs literally can and do affect anyone. They don’t always originate from a past history of abuse or trauma or daddy issues or a million other potential “whys” and “hows”. And they’re really not selective based on your race, gender, ethnicity, or sexuality; they are pretty much as diverse as the people who have them.

(SC): I’m a twenty-five-year-old climber from—kind of from Atlanta. I guess my permanent address is in Atlanta right now? And I am finishing up my last year of PT school, which is a three-year doctorate program. So, I’ll be kind of on the road for the last year doing my clinic rotations. I started climbing when I was about eighteen, yeah, about eighteen. Right around that time, I finished high school. I started climbing ‘cause I really liked a boy and then I liked climbing way better than I liked the boy. So, I kept climbing. And then, climbing has been kind of the one constant throughout kind of a nasty couple bouts with bulimia.

(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.

– Most of you are probably familiar with some of the more common types of EDs: such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. There is a more comprehensive list of disorders at the end of the transcript on the blog.

(SC): There are a lot of people out on social media I feel like, like, it’s their thing. They get on social media, it’s very cathartic for them to talk to a lot of people about it—especially people who are pretty far out from it. And I try not to talk about it too much because it’s kind of all-consuming. It is your life. There is literally not an action during your day that isn’t calculated or factored into it. I feel like the more I would research, the more bad ideas I would get. Especially now where, you know, recovery is a lifelong process. So, even now I kind of don’t like to look at statistics, I don’t like to look at definitions or any of that stuff.

(KK): Question: does anybody ever tell you to “put on a happy face” or “just be positive” when you’re in a funk? Yeah, annoying! And, ok—sometimes they’re right and it works, and it’s just a matter of shifting gears and attitude. But having an ED is similar to having depression, and it is all-consuming. So, it totally makes sense that Sabine would want to create some space between her social media and personal life. Those obsessive and negative thought patterns really complicated Sabine’s life. Signs of having an ED can vary, but for most people—everything becomes heavily calculated. For Sabine, sometimes it was losing control and just binge eating entire jars of peanut butter—and then cranking it out at spin class the next morning at five a.m.

(SC): It’s always complicated. There’s always so many more factors. Like, I can’t even explain how much my day was ruled by, “Oh, the walk to my building is .47 miles away. That’s only forty calories instead of a whole half mile, which is fifty calories.” I used to be that person in the dining hall who would put peanut butter and jelly on a slice of bread and like, scrape the peanut butter off of the bread with my teeth and not eat the whole slice. It just rules your world. Literally, everything you do is a numbers game. It’s awful.

(KK): Secrets have a way of forming really bad habits, and EDs thrive on secrecy. Not only had Sabine devolved into calorie counting and food limiting, but there was so much silence surrounding her ED that, while she started to form habits that supported it, she also created habits to protect it.

(SC): I think the most detrimental one is you learn to lie really well. And it impacts a lot of relationships. People get really worried about you! They see you at the gym, they’re like, “Why are you here? Weren’t you already here earlier?” And you’re like, “Oh, I was looking for you.” It would get to this point where if I sat still for too long, I would panic and I would make up reasons why I needed to go. The university I went to had this huge lake: if I was out at the lake with my friends, swimming around wasn’t enough. I would be like, “Guys, I forgot I had some homework to do! Somebody needs to drive me back right now. I need to do an hour at the gym.” Being outside wasn’t enough. To this day, I refuse to play card games because it got in my mind: I was sitting, and sitting isn’t good. Like, you can’t sit. Sitting is not active. You’re not burning any calories. It just destroyed a lot of relationships.

(KK): At this point, Sabine is pretty dang active. There are a lot of active people who consider shedding weight in order to gain a more competitive edge. We mentioned it in the last episode: endurance climbing is a sport that demands an extremely high strength-to-weight ratio, and what winds up happening is a lot of climbers choose to lose weight instead of building muscle strength. In a lot of ways, climbing is considered an active and very healthy sport, but at the risk of sacrificing your muscles and overall mental and physical health, some climbers work really hard to lose weight in order to perform better. But what’s the real cost?

(SC): You’re in such a bad mood when all you’re consumed by is, “I haven’t done enough pitches,” or “I haven’t climbed hard enough,” or “I haven’t moved enough today. I haven’t burned enough calories.” And you’re out at fricken’ Horse Pens, which people would kill to climb at. Yeah, and I’m absolutely flabbergasted by some of the people that stuck with me through all of that because that must have been fucking annoying. And, I mean, you do stupid shit. I remember being like, “Ooh, if I’m cold, I’ll burn more calories. No, it’s ok—I don’t need two pairs of pants. I’m fine.” And you just shiver your way through the day and then you’re miserable and you don’t climb and then if you don’t climb, it’s this self-loathing cycle you get into.

(KK): Sabine was dating somebody, who, at the time, was probably the best person for her to be with. He was really stable and, most importantly, he normalized food for her.

(SC): God bless that guy. He just normalized food as best be could, which is the best thing, I think, you can do for any person. It’s not like a, “Oh, hooray! What can I make you? It’s so good you’re hungry!” Like, fuck that shit. I already feel weird enough about it. Like, I know what I’m doing is wrong—everybody knows what they’re doing is wrong and you just can’t stop it. You just spiral.

(KK): Well, it’s an addiction.

(SC): Yeah, you lose control. Yeah, it’s an addiction to a number. It’s an addiction to the scale. It’s an addiction to, “I ran six miles yesterday; I have to run six today or else I don’t do as well.” Like, “If I eat seven hundred calories worth of chips today, I have to run seven miles tomorrow morning.” Yeah, it was just all-consuming—I feel like I missed out on five years of my life. I felt like I missed out on college. I missed out on eating Zaxby’s when I was hungover, or dollar slice-dollar beer night after climbing. I never enjoyed it while I was there—all I could think about was, “Oh my god.” You know, “I haven’t eaten all day because I want this one slice of pizza after climbing.” And then you eat it and you feel like a total piece of shit.

(KK): Relationships with food, like any other, are…complicated. As are the side effects. Specific to Sabine’s ED, which is characterized by intake of large amounts of food accompanied by a sense of loss of control, some of the side effects of bulimia can include: inflamed and sore throat, worn tooth enamel, esophagus rupture, acid reflux, dehydration, and hormonal disturbance. And if it gets really bad, it will create an imbalance of electrolyte levels, which can actually cause a stroke or cardiac arrest. Other long-term side effects can include high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, heart disease, and type II diabetes.

(SC): Oh—the other part of being bulimic and having no body fat and running a hundred miles a week and climbing, all this stuff, is—you’re tired all the time. I used to fall asleep standing up—like, not kidding. I fell asleep at this boulder called “Bursts of Joy” at Rocktown—standing up. Leaning against a rock. I used to fall asleep in the most ridiculous positions. I mean, any time my body got the chance to stop—I was out. It was bad. Like, I was falling asleep driving. I was falling asleep in class. I was falling asleep taking exams—like, I used to put my head down in the middle of an exam and take a nap.

(KK): Not only are you tired all of the time, but your risk of osteoporosis is also a lot higher. The medical complications that result from bulimia can cause severe dehydration, damage to endocrine glands, and ultimately, will lower your bone density. This was something that Sabine had to find out the hard way.

(SC): So yeah, you have the brittle bones of a sixty-five-year-old woman and I remember running on the treadmill. I was twenty, and I got this hip pain one day and it wouldn’t go away. And, you know, I’d been popping Advil for all of these insane overuse injuries over the past years. Like, I ran through a broken ankle, I ran through a torn something in my knee—I never even got diagnosed. And then, I ran through this hip pain for two or three weeks in my left hip and it was bad—I was dragging my leg. And, of course, I wasn’t going to drive to campus because I only lived half a mile away. Why would I waste burning fifty calories driving to campus when I could just walk there? And I remember, just dragging my leg to campus and back and getting on the treadmill and trying to run. And one day, the hip pain was too bad and I hadn’t taken any Advil so I couldn’t really run through it. So, I got in my car and I was like, “God. I’m going to go home and take some Advil and then I’m going to come back and run.” But I got in my car and I was like, “Oh my god. I can’t push my clutch in. Like, I literally can’t move my leg.” So, I called my dad, and my dad was like, “Ok. You just need to go to the doctor. You probably hurt something. You run a lot. You know, you’re hard on your body.” Like, very gentle dad-like. He knew I was just screwing my body up.

Within five seconds, my MD weighed me, asked me how much I ran, did one test on my leg and was like, “You broke your hip. You need an MRI.” I fell asleep in the MRI—immediately! No earplugs needed. And they called me and they were like, “Crutches. Don’t do anything. If you actually fracture this hip all the way through—this is a bone in your body that can and will die.” The hip bone and a bone in your hand are the two bones in your body, if you break them—they die. So, I was twenty and I turned twenty-one with a broken hip at the Red, because, of course, I climbed through it—like an idiot. I went to Hueco with a broken hip. And to this day, I have really bad left leg issues. My left leg is an inch smaller around than my right leg. I don’t know, it’s just depressing—like, you’re twenty and you have a broken hip. And then, your metabolism takes an awful hit from it, too. It’s taken years for my metabolism to bounce back. Your body essentially goes into survival mode. Laxatives were a huge problem for me for a long time—it was a thing I tried to hide. And I had to get colonoscopies every six months as a twenty-five-year-old because I wrecked my colon so much. Just laxatives, laxatives, laxatives. I have done things like, shit the bed and pooped myself out climbing because, you know, laxatives—you don’t effing know when it’s going to hit you. It’s just frustrating to know that everything that I was doing to myself has impacted me just so much more down the line.

Climbing is the one constant through all of this. I think I put a lot of pressure on, eventually. I was like, “Oh, you know, you should send. If you’re lighter, you send harder. You can crimp harder. And then, it turned into this thing that was routine. It wasn’t necessarily because I loved climbing, but it was a routine. That’s what we did: we went outside, we climbed on the weekends. And it’s only been in the past year or two that I feel like I have really come out of the throes of everything. Like, I still struggle. You know, I had a really good day of climbing the day before and was like, “Oh my god. You’re not going to climb that hard again if you eat an entire box of pasta.” That’s the kind of stuff that runs through your mind—who knows why!

But, the climbing was the one thing that was always there for me. You know, when I broke my hip—you can’t run, you can’t get on the elliptical, you can’t do anything. But I could hangboard and I could do pull-ups and I could do that kind of stuff. And climbing has become one of those things where you are so rewarded for being healthy. You’re just so rewarded for being good to your body that it was one of those things that I definitely grew to love the whole process behind climbing. And when you fail at climbing, you succeed at something else. If you fail at one thing, then you kind of succeed at another. Like, if you fail at this long route because you’re pumped and you’re tired or you didn’t pull hard enough or you can’t pull hard enough, you’ve succeeded in that you’ve learned more about yourself and what you need to do in order to do it. There’s a process with every sport. Like, there are just as many variables when it comes to running or when it comes to anything else, but climbing is one of the ones where I’ve come to love the process.

(KK): I think that, in a lot of ways, we’re still pretty surprised when we hear about eating disorders among climbers. And maybe it’s just sort of assumed that, aside from the occasional injury, climbers are all young and healthy and gunning for it. Rock climbing as a whole is considered one of the healthiest, most active sports—both mentally and physically. And that isn’t an untrue statement, but it also isn’t completely accurate, either. Even if you haven’t been climbing for long, chances are that you know someone who has struggled with an eating disorder. (In fact, I am willing to bet money on it—and I don’t have a lot of money to be making bets on!)

Confronting an eating disorder, whether it’s you or somebody you love, means being brave enough to recognize that there is a life-threatening problem. And, yeah—it’s a process: climbing, recovery, all of it. Having an eating disorder isn’t a choice, but challenging it and the monsters that it manifests is.

(SC): One day, I was like, “You know what? I’m a fucking adult and I am good enough in my own skin now that I see what I need out of the world.” The day that it all just kind of kicked off was when I just kind of nutted up enough to kick myself in the ass and be like: “You are going to be fine if you don’t run today and you’re going to be fine if you’re single. It’s fine. It’s going to be fine. Just eat the cookie.” I started climbing for myself and through that, I started doing everything else for myself. And it all just kicked off with leaping off into the unknown and just nutting up enough to kind of discovering the world without a crutch.

(FEMALE VOICE): I have struggled with eating disorders since I was fifteen. I’m thirty-three now. It comes and it goes, you know? I know bodies don’t matter. What you look like does not matter. But for some reason, gaining those five to ten pounds spins me around a million thousand times. So, I’m here and I’m still dealing with it—but this time it’s more me wanting to maintain things so that I continue to climb how I have been and it’s definitely a fight.

(FEMALE VOICE): Climbing helped me realize just how out of control my eating disorder had gotten. Put on my shoes one day and got on a V0 I used to run laps on. Halfway up, I started seeing black spots. By the time I got to the top, my head was spinning and my total intake for that day after working a twelve hour ICU shift: four hundred and eighty calories. My climbing partner hatched me out of that hole. Even now, he still checks almost every day to make sure that I’ve eaten enough, that I’m not filing back into the same patterns because they’re easy to go back to. My biggest triumph so far? My weight hasn’t changed in two months. I have reasons to fight, and that’s all thanks to climbing.

(FEMALE VOICE): So, I still struggle with body dysmorphia. It’s difficult to remember what I look like or am in my head, or believe what people say in regards to how small or fit or beautiful I am. Especially when I’m surrounded by and admire really fit, athletic people. I guess, basically, it’s difficult to maintain a sense of self when I’m surrounded by people in general. I think it’s because I tend to place others before me, even to the point of making myself disappear in my own head. But instead of finding an answer or a single point of perspective, I just let it flow. As in: it’s ok to feel what I feel as long as it doesn’t become detrimental to what I need or want to get done.

(FEMALE VOICE): I just wanted to share that I struggled with an eating disorder starting in high school and while I am way more compassionate to myself now than ever before, I still struggle with these things. Especially when life gets rough, which of course, it does. I think growing to appreciate my body for what it’s able to do and where it’s able to take me has empowered me on levels that I never thought were possible.

(FEMALE VOICE): The biggest issue I have dealt with in climbing is the feeling of imposter syndrome. And this often has to do with how I and how I perceive others to view my body. I’m curvy and athletic, which is not often the lith, spidery and tiny look I often see of other female climbing sensations. This has made me feel self-conscious when I’m not strong enough to pull certain moves and then I feel self-critical of how I’m built. This isn’t something I’ve entirely gotten over, but I believe that recognizing that I feel this way and talking about it with others helps open the dialogue. By surrounding myself with partners that don’t define my success by my body or my feats in climbing have made me feel more comfortable and successful, on and off the wall.

(FEMALE VOICE): I’m not naturally athletic and it’s taken a lot of work to get to where I’m at. And then I see all these amazing athletes on social media and in my gym, and they’re in the best shape ever. And there’s even weekend warriors that are just like, sculpted. And here I am, trying to hang with the big guys, and just runnin’ around with my jiggly little legs and a big ol’ butt. It just sticks out, it’s not muscular, it makes leggings really hard to find—and it’s just there. You know, and you move down a little bit and you get to my hips and then there’s these things. And they’re just like—saddlebags?! Saddlebags! What? How do you get these? Where do they come from? Why don’t they go away? They never go away—no matter what I do. They’re just these pockets of jelly and I don’t know what to do with them. But they’re just there to annoy me and frustrate me that I don’t look like or climb as hard as the people without big butts and saddlebags. But maybe, it’s my big butt that’s pulling me off the wall when I try to climb hard things?

(FEMALE VOICE): I looked over and there was this typical gym crusher girl in her racerback tank top and she could do stuff like, upside down and dyno to things—and I didn’t even know what a dyno was—I just knew that this girl could fly. And instead of being awed by her climbing ability, I remember just staring at her back muscles and her biceps and her forearms and being like, “Oh, I will never be a climber. If that’s what happens if you get these muscles, I don’t want it.” And I remember being really bummed because my body dysmorphia was going to ruin all this fun I was having at the gym. But then, moving from that and now that I climb all the time and it’s such a huge part of my life and my body has changed so much and I’m proud of my muscles—it’s so helpful dealing with body dysmorphia and body image issues—to learn to just love that your body does this rad thing for you.

But I did have the experience where I went and visited some friends who I hadn’t seen since I started climbing. And one of my friends was like, “Oh my god! You got so buff! Like, not like gross buff. Not gross. But, super buff! Holy shit.” And I was really taken aback, because, what do you mean, “gross buff”? Like, how could my muscles be gross? They do all this cool stuff for me. And then I caught myself looking in the mirror and wondering like, “Am I that girl now from the gym that people are looking at and are like, ‘Oh my god. I do not want to climb ‘cause I don’t want man arms, or I don’t want crazy big blood veins,” or something, ‘cause my own friends were telling me that I was “so buff” but not “gross buff”. I was like, “Well, you know, shit. I don’t want to be ‘gross buff’. I do want to climb hard.” And then it became this battle in my mind of, “Ok. I want to climb hard and the tradeoff might be getting ‘gross buff’ and, you know, having big back muscles or big shoulder muscles or whatever.”

And just trying to come to terms with, my body isn’t going to look the way our society thinks that women’s bodies are supposed to look. And my body’s going to be able to do really cool things and take me places with really cool people. And I’ll get to experience all these amazing views—like sunsets off of Tahquitz and really fun campfire conversations and I’ll get to feel this dopamine dump in my brain if I am able to push past my body dysmorphia. Just feeling that rush of projecting a route and then finally sending it and you’re just like, “My body did that! That’s so cool!” That’s so much more exciting and validating and worth it to me than when I would meet my calorie goal or be the skinny one at the party or something. And now I’m like, I want to be the one who can put up topropes and the one who’s strong and encouraging and sends my projects and gets to feel that celebratory rush where I’m just like, “Oh my god. That was amazing and so worth all the work I put into it—even if my muscles are scary now, or like, I’m the buffest girl at the party.” (laughs) It’s so much better and so much more fun.

(FEMALE VOICE): Body positivity can be a really hard concept to really understand and accept. I mean, I’ve struggled with this idea of being happy with my body for a really long time and, honestly, I still do struggle—especially when I’m climbing. I don’t envision wanting to have this model body. Like, I envision wanting to be these badass women who can send these amazing routes and have strong and lean bodies. And in the outdoor community, there are so many of those women and that’s kind of what I aspire to be: a badass strong woman. And then, there’s this image that I have of what that looks like and sometimes I see these women in the climbing community who are just lean, toned, and so damn strong. And I’m constantly comparing myself to them and thinking, “Should I even be here at the same crag that they are, trying to climb the same routes? Like, am I even strong enough?” So, I’m just always struggling with how my body is and where I want it to be. I mean, I want it to be strong and lean and what I envision what an “outdoor body” should look like.

So, I’ve had this idea in my head for a really long time. And then, a wonderful woman came into my life who is a dear friend of mine now and the idea of body positivity changed completely for me. I mean, she’s this badass, strong, skilled woman that I’ve always looked up to but she doesn’t necessarily fit the stereotype that I had in my head. And she taught me that it’s not about who was the strongest, who was the best—and instead, it’s about having fun and trying hard and being with people that you love and can support you and encourage you, and most importantly, she taught me that it’s about feeling good in your body. If you feel strong and love what your body can do for you—like, get you to the crag, up the rock, across rivers—whatever it may be. I mean, our bodies do so much for us! And now, I tell myself every day that my body is a temple. And sometimes, I still do struggle with body image. But, I love my body and all the places that it can take me and I’m so fortunate to have a capable body and to love what it does for me.

(MALE VOICE): I went through an eating disorder that took me about four years to recover from. It’s something that we don’t talk about as much, but we should ‘cause it’s a sport very prone to inducing people towards this kind of behavior.

(FEMALE VOICE): So, I took a little while to finally sit down and record this, I guess because, talking about eating disorders is not really easy—which is silly, because it should be something that we can talk about. Like, I don’t think that it should be a taboo subject anymore. The thing about eating disorders is it’s not just physical; it’s a mental struggle. I would look in the mirror and I was just never really happy with myself, and so I would choose not to eat thinking I would feel better and that maybe, I would be more lovable. But, you know, the thing about it is that it wasn’t even just that I wanted to lose weight or wanted to be skinny; it was the one thing that I could control. And I got really bad. You know, it got to the point where I would almost pass out while doing silks or rock climbing. It was making me not as strong as I should have been. So, luckily I got out of that relationship. I was finally learning to love myself for me and got a hold of my life. I had told myself that when I finally was able to kind of overcome that and be happy with who I was and where I was, no matter what, that I would get a tattoo. So, I did—I got the NEDA symbol. So, the National Eating Disorders Association with a blue lotus. Lotuses bloom out of the mud, so for me, it kind of symbolizes overcoming obstacles and blooming through them. So, I have this tattoo now on my side and, I think for me, it’s just a really good reminder of what I’ve been through and what I’ve overcome. And so, anytime I look in the mirror and I want to think negative thoughts about myself, I see that and I’m reminded of everything that I’ve been through. It helps me open up more about my past struggles and I think that it helps other people. ‘Cause you never know who else is struggling with it, and if you’re open with them to talk to them about your past and be like, “Yeah, if you’re still struggling with it—it’s ok. You’re not actually alone.”

(FEMALE VOICE): I remember one time, I had only had Triscuits and an apple all day. And I collapsed with stomach pains. But I became a rock climber and when you’re climbing, you’re burning so many calories. You’re needing more food, and I didn’t recognize that because I was thin. I continued to feed my eating disorder through climbing, and I think it really affected my performance, my relationships with my climbing partners—especially living on the road with someone who expects you to perform at a high level and you just can’t because all you had was potatoes that day. And they don’t understand; they don’t see that. It’s another reason to hate yourself and another reason to keep the eating disorder going. I’m really working hard to force myself to eat more, especially when I’m climbing. To eat a lot of healthy foods, but not really care about if it’s healthy or not—just to eat. And that’s my main goal. And I think when I can get to a place where I can go climbing and have enough energy to do what I want to do and have fun with my friends without feeling left behind because I’m so low in energy—I think that’s when I’ll know when I’ve truly made it. Anyway, love you, Kathy. You’re such a bright light and I’m so glad you’re doing this podcast. It’s so cool.

(FEMALE VOICE): I am proud to say now that I sought professional help for my mental health issues. I am in remission from anorexia. I kind of hate the word “survivor”, but I am an eating disorder, I don’t know, kick-asser? (laughs). And I love my job in the climbing community and I climb again, and I get up on the wall and I make friends—and I don’t panic. And—that’s pretty amazing.

(FEMALE VOICE): I think while climbing can be so positive like, learning to view your body as this amazing tool who does this cool shit for you and pulls you up these really beautiful climbs. Climbing can be so positive—and all of that positivity can so easily be undone with social media. It seems like the trend lately is just climbing pictures are just another advertising model. And so, it’s less about what grade that climber might be able to climb or how much work he or she has put into it. And for me, climbing was this cool escape where I could go climbing and not think about the way I look and not think about how I’ve been pressured since I was a little girl to be beautiful. Disney movies and our whole society and basically everything we’re told from the time we’re little is that our value comes from our “beauty”. And the main character, the main woman, is always beautiful—and that’s her defining characteristic. And I know that was part of my eating disorder and my body image issues is, I don’t look like a supermodel. I look like a person! And I thought that that was wrong ‘cause all I’ve ever seen in media was these beautiful women and I thought I was a supposed to be them.

And then, climbing happened and all of a sudden, I could just exist out in the woods with no reception and just drink beer and goof off and go climbing and my body felt so cool because it could take me to these beautiful places. And I’ve watched sunsets off of multi-pitches and slept on crash pads with my friends, and climbing was the one thing where I didn’t have to worry about being beautiful. What mattered was: was I safe belayer? Was I good friend? Was I fun to be around? And I didn’t have to worry about being beautiful. That was not the requirement.

And now, when I look at social media it’s like, “Oh—it’s not enough that you climb hard. You also have to be hot.” Like, you’ve also gotta be a babe. I don’t know. I was talking to someone and she was talking about how when someone’s taking pictures of her, she’ll have to make sure the way she’s climbing doesn’t obscure her face and she doesn’t put her arm up above her face and block the camera view. Whatever. And I was just like, “Fuck that!” I just want to rock climb. All I care about when I’m climbing is the movement and the flow and sending, hopefully. And there’s all this pressure to prove on social media that we’re cool and it just sucks because I want climbing to be about how much effort I’ve put into it and the community I have in climbing. And it’s, lately, becoming just another tool for beauty brands and we all want our sports bras to match our cute pants and our harness has to be clean. And, I don’t know, I look at those pictures of those models climbing and I don’t see fat rolls hanging over their harness which I see when I look down if I’m hanging on a route, and I’m like, “Ah, fuck. There’s my fat hanging over my harness.” And I used to not worry about it too much. Now there’s just more pressure, I feel like, to be beautiful while I’m climbing when I used to just climb.

(FEMALE VOICE): I suffer with anorexia and bulimia and have since the beginning of high school. I ran track at the time but was actually removed from the track team for being so anorexic. What I think about is, I’ve had an important discovery that my eating disorders are emotional manifestations of my anxiety and depression. Essentially, when I feel out of control, I can control my food intake and size. So, fast forward: rock climbing now changed my perspective on my body. I have found strong beautiful, rather than small. And to be strong, I have to be nourished. And to be nourished, I have to digest good food. While I’m definitely not cured and I’m not really sure if I ever will be—I am healthy. And I am getting stronger. Thank you for letting me share my story.

(FEMALE VOICE): I chose to take a gap year

and fill it with

everything but me

But when I started the tale

the spaces

were all I wanted to see

The letters were all wrong

I hated

how I write

But the spaces between my words

were a stunning

intriguing white

And so I figured out

that my talent

lies in between

So why bother about the letters

when there’s such

blanks to be seen

I eagerly developed

this wonderful talent

I saw

The fulfilling in-betweennesses


any flaw

If I tell you about my gap year

or describe who

I am

It’s three times, long and hard

the space key that

I slam

The story of what was happening

Under my hands started gappening

The font of my writing

once strong

and bold

Blurred to pencil strokes

ghostly intruders in the Holy Gap’s

Wide Stronghold

On my every train of thought

a singular announcement

echoes on

…mind the gap, mind the gap, mindthegap…

Subconciousness’ Subway Headquarters’

monotonous jargon

My legs racing to

keep up with the

train’s carts

Keeping my feet drumming along

until my knees blow

to shards

I chose to take a gap year

to open up

my view

But into the gap I  t







now my perspectives

are few

The gap’s sides, sharp

and cold

at contact

But I shall recover them all

cushioning the hurtful


Thus I’ll close off my gap year

close it off

in style

I’ll start out by

(don’t get this wrong)

making my legs cross that extra mile

This is something I wrote a couple of years ago about how I got obsessed with the thinness of my own body. The “gap” I’m talking about is the well-known “thigh gap”. It wasn’t about body image. It was about challenging myself and willpower and pushing through obvious cries from your body that you’re in need. So, I decided to just stop eating and I pushed it further and further. And to this day, the decision I made as a stupid, bored teenager who thought she could make herself more interesting by becoming complicated and by having issues (sigh) have really affected the course of her own life ever since. Climbing was this new challenge. It was this new thing that I could challenge myself with and it could take up the space of this eating behavior…addiction. Climbing was going to save me.

(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. And a big shout out to Roaming Ingenuity, a team of outdoor enthusiasts and tinkerers based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. 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:

National Eating Disorders Association: 1-800-931-2237

This helpline offers support Monday–Thursday from 9 a.m.–9 p.m. EST, and Friday from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. EST. You can expect to receive support, information, referrals, and guidance about treatment options for either you or your loved one. You can also contact this helpline through its online chat function, available on its website. Additionally, there is an option to send a text message if you are in crisis by texting NEDA to 741741; a trained volunteer from the Crisis Text Line will get in touch with you.

Something Fishy: 1-866-418-1207

This eating disorders helpline offers treatment referrals nationwide. Its website also provides a wealth of information and resources about eating disorders and eating disorder treatment. Through its website, you can join an online chat group where you can speak to others in your shoes to gain support, advice, and hope.

Hopeline Network: 1-800-442-4673

This is a hotline dedicated to serving anyone in crisis. Sometimes, people with eating disorders might feel so full of shame or self-hatred that they contemplate hurting themselves. If this is true for you, this hotline offers nationwide assistance and support from volunteers specifically trained in crisis intervention. You can talk to someone day or night about anything that’s troubling you, even if it’s not related to an eating disorder. You can also call if you need referrals to eating disorder treatment centers.

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders: 1-630-577-1330

Currently serving people in the United States, the hotline operates Monday–Friday from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. CST, with plans for a 24/7 hotline coming soon. Trained hotline volunteers offer encouragement to those having problems around eating or binging, support for those who “need help getting through a meal,” and assistance to family members who have concerns that their loved one might have an eating disorder.

Overeaters Anonymous: 1-505-891-2664

This hotline is available to people worldwide who need a referral to an Overeaters Anonymous support meeting in their area. Contrary to popular belief, Overeaters Anonymous is not just for people who are concerned about eating too much; it is also intended for those who have anorexia, bulimia, food addiction, or any other type of eating disorder. If you are reluctant to attend an in-person meeting or are not geographically near one, its website offers you the option to participate in an online- or telephone-based support group.

Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association (formerly the Massachusetts Eating Disorder Association): 1-617-558-1881

This organization offers education, information, referrals to clinicians who specialize in eating disorders, support groups, and additional services for people with eating disorders in the New England area. It also offers information about nationwide treatment centers and is available between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. EST, Monday–Friday.

The United Way’s 211.org: Call 2-1-1

The hotline is intended for anyone living in North America who has any type of crisis or who needs help locating specific resources, including information and referrals for eating disorder treatment. Available 24/7, it can offer information and referrals to treatment organizations in your area.

Crisis Textline: Text CONNECT to 741741

Available 24/7, 365 days a year, this organization helps people with eating disorders and other mental health issues by connecting callers with trained crisis volunteers who will provide confidential advice, support, and referrals if needed.

More information on eating disorders

8: The Heart of the Matter

Matt is the editor-in-chief of Climbing Magazine, a published author, a husband, a father, and a pretty well-seasoned climber. And even though most of his life has not been easy, Matt has found his answers—beyond benzodiazepine addiction, beyond mental distress, beyond chasing dragons of treating it—to get down to the heart of the matter.

This episode is brought to you by Deuter, Gnarly Nutrition, Roaming Ingenuity, and Dirtbag Climbers. Music by: “Jazzy Frenchy”, “Cute”, and “Funny Song” by bensound.com, “Ichill” by Kakurenbo, and “Pives and Flarinet” by Podington Bear, “Curiosity” by Lee Rosevere, “Collective Decision”, “You Are Not Alone”, and “Calm” by Borrtex, “Drift” by Daniel Birch, and “Play Pelagic” by Little Glass Men.

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(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 because even though my advice and opinions are free, I am improvising the whole thing. Better Help lets you message a licensed therapist, day or night. 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.

– Have you ever cut an exterior hole in your van? Me neither. Building out a van can be hard work, not to mention that table saws have a funny way of leaving you with fewer fingers than you started with. (We’ll ask Tommy Caldwell all about it when he returns my emails.) I really can’t be trusted with power tools since a drywall incident in 2005—but Mark and Anthony can. Roaming Ingenuity is a team of outdoor enthusiasts and tinkerers based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. Whether you are looking for a custom van build, or just need a little help with installing a roof vent, they can help. PS—I never actually emailed Tommy Caldwell.

– Hey. Before we start, I wanted to say a few things. First, I wanted to say thank you to Peter Darmi for his help with this episode (I seriously could not have done it without him), and to Matt, as well as everybody who has been brave enough to come on this podcast and tell their story. I also felt like it was an appropriate time to say thank you to all of the people who have really been looking out for me these past few months. I’ve had my own personal sadness to carry and process this winter, and I just want you all to know how much every message, every email, every phone call—even just good thoughts—mean to me.

The last few months have only emphasized the importance of sharing these kinds of stories—unscripted, painful, and painfully honest. Nine months ago, I acknowledged that the difficult things can be hard to talk about, but when we talk openly about our pain and weave it into a story—something really powerful happens. I really do believe that there’s value in struggle—that’s not just something I say. Nine months have gone by and I am blown away by how well-received this project has been, and I’m grateful that so many of you share the same vision.

A quick heads up: nobody dies in this episode, but there is a lot of heavy discussion about drug use and addiction. We will talk a lot about mental health and eating disorders, and there is also brief discussion about suicide. Go to http://www.fortheloveofclimbing.com to see the resources available at the end of the transcript. Here is episode eight:

(MATT SAMET): Boulder has definitely grown a lot. But I mean, the climbing is eternal. It’s one of the few places in the country where you can live as a climber and also have decent economic opportunity, I think. You know, if you come to Boulder and take it for what it is and take what you want out of it—I think it’s a wonderful place. If you come here and you’re like, “I’m the best climber at my gym and wherever, and I’m going to go to Boulder and crush and get sponsored, and this and that—you’d see a lot of people come here and they’re like, “Oh fuck this,” you know? They’re kind of in and then they’re out. Because it is a huge climbing scene and there’s a ton of talent.

(KK): If you stay in any place too long, you know, you start to feel like a big fish in a little pond. But yeah, you come here and you’re just like, “Oh my god, I’m, like—

(MS): I’m nobody.

(KK): —kelp.”

(MS): Yeah, I’m kelp! At the bottom (laughs) swaying in the sea breeze while the fish come by to nibble atcha.

(KK): Matt is far from kelp, though. He’s been climbing for thirty years and is the editor-in-chief of a small publication called Climbing Magazine—maybe you’ve heard of it? When you have things like “editor-in-chief” on a resume and you’re living in Boulder—one of the most well-known climbing meccas in the US—it’s sorta easy to just assume that you probably have your shit together. But we tend to forget to look past surface level things, like status and job titles. It’s pretty easy to get caught up on the every day things that are in plain sight. You know, normal life stuff.

(MS): I have two young boys now and, you know, I need to earn money. The days of living in a Toyota and eating ramen are over.

(KK): Kids love ramen.

(MS): Yeah, that’s true! Well, you know, maybe I don’t need to be working, then. Although, there’s trans fats. So, really, if I wanna actually look after my kids, I probably shouldn’t be feeding them trans-fat-filled ramen.

(KK): Does your wife climb?

(MS): Oh, we used to climb together a lot but then we, you know, had two kids. Sometimes we meet at the gym, like, maybe once a month if we’re lucky (laughs). I assume that we’ll climb together again someday, but I don’t know when. But it would be lovely.

(KK): Beyond a full-time job, raising a family and having endless climbing at his disposal—Matt doesn’t live the quintessential Boulder-dweller’s life. And he’s pretty candid about it.

(MS): You wanna hear about suffering.

(KK): I do! I want you to emotionally gut me, and also all the people who will be listening to this. I…yeah (laughs)

(MS): Just say: Tell me about your suffering (laughs)

(KK): Like I said, I came here to be emotionally gutted.

(MS): Just gotta get right to the heart of the matter.

(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.

– A recent study found that one in six adults in the United States take psychiatric drugs for the treatment of mental health conditions. Among the most commonly used medications are benzodiazepines. When these sedative drugs were first introduced, it was widely claimed that they were non-addictive. This claim has since been proven false. Prescriptions for benzodiazepines increased by sixty-seven percent between 1996 and 2013. Benzodiazepines, which are typically used for the treatment of clinical anxiety and other conditions such as panic disorders and seizures, have become one of the most commonly prescribed and misused classes of drugs. They operate widely in the brain, affecting things like emotional reactions, memory, thinking, muscle tone and coordination. So, a question: what are the real dangers of benzodiazepines? Because it sounds like they treat a lot of things that need to be treated. And, are they dangerous? Matt, like so many others, knows firsthand the true impact that benzodiazepines have. Here’s his story.

(MS): You know, I deal with basically long-term neurological issues that were caused by being on benzodiazepine tranquilizers for years. You know, these are sedatives that are used to tamp down the nervous system. They go by common brand names: Valium, of course, is the one most people know. But these days, people definitely know about Klonopin and Xanax. You know, you hear about klonnies and xans, because people abuse the shit out of these drugs. They really have a nervous system muting effect. So, if you have trouble with anxiety or seizures or sleep—these drugs will lower you down. And in that sense, they’re effective, right? But in the other sense, like any drug, they’re highly addictive and over time, your body becomes habituated to their effects and your nervous system stops being able to regulate itself.

And then, when you do go to get off the drugs, your nervous system rebounds in a huge way. And that damage is really long lasting. I haven’t taken any of those drugs since 2005. So, we’re talking thirteen years now and I still deal with symptoms. I was also on a lot of other psychiatric medicines that complicated and damaged my nervous system and sort of during all that, I had issues with substance abuse, too—with pain pills and alcohol, to some degree. You know, marijuana, too. So, I was definitely a toxic sewer. See, the thing is, this was so long ago that you would think I would be better. And I think that that is the struggle that I deal with—is that I probably look ok to you—but I actually am in a lot of pain, almost all the time. I just have learned not to—what’s the word I’m looking for? Manifest it, really. You know, I just kind of stuff it down and get on with my day.

(KK): You just don’t react to it.

(MS): I don’t react to it. There’s not much I can do about it. Some days are good and some days are bad.

(KK): We’re talking physical?

(MS): Physical pain and often a lot of emotional pain, too. Because, I mean, these tranquilizers—what I’m saying is, you go off of them and you need to go really really slowly. But the medical community doesn’t support that and that was certainly my experience, too. I was yanked off them really abruptly. And when that happens, your body doesn’t have time to sort of re-regulate itself and it gets into this mode where it can just kind of stay there for years and years and years until you heal. So, you know, I’ve been slowly getting better again and actually, had gotten a lot better. I’d stopped the pills in 2006 and up until 2013, I was probably like ninety percent of my old self. And then, in 2013 I had a big setback and so, I’m five-plus years into that now and still dealing with it. The main thing that I think I deal with is disbelief.

(KK): I mean, if you take a really bad climbing fall and you’re on the ground all fucked up and broken—it’s pretty clear what happened. And people will rally and there will be hospital visits and fundraisers—that sort of thing. But if you have something that’s internal, and essentially, invisible—that’s a whole different story.

(MS): You know, it’s an entirely subjective experience. I’m the only one who can feel it. People are just sorta like, “Huh.” So, I’m very selective about who I climb with. Like, you know, just make sure they’re people who are supportive no matter what. Because there’s days at the cliff where I’m just fucked. Like, I might be physically fucked or mentally fucked because of this. You know, like I said—it’s nervous system hyperexcitability. It feels like I’ve been plugged into a wall. So, I’ll wake up on a bad day and I’ll feel like electricity is coursing through me. Anxiety is off the charts—vibrating—like I have an internal tremor that’s basically my central nervous system just firing, firing, firing, which in turn makes my muscles fire, which in turn makes them feel like they’re on fire, and I’m all locked up. You know—horrible anxiety, can’t think. And it’s like, shit I gotta get through the day somehow.

And then, if you go climbing in that state—like sometimes climbing makes it better. It kind of can break me out of the pattern. Sometimes, it makes it worse and I just don’t know. So, I think the big thing, as a climber, is just people who I climb with know about it so that they know I have this limitation.

(KK): So, no Mountain Project partners?

(MS): (laughs) Partner finder? I think you’re rollin’ the dice on that one, no matter who you are. Yeah, yeah. And I think, I mean, maybe you’ve encountered it, too. I mean, I think you’ve sort of talked about it some on your podcast: there’s just this sort of this machismo in the climbing community where people—it’s just sort of assumed that we’re all young, healthy and fucking going for it all of the time. And that’s sort of the default. You know? And that’s sort of a portrayal in the media and that’s sort of the lore of the sport—sticking your neck out there and manning up and sacking up. And it’s like, it’s not that black and white. Life is never that simple. So, I think, you know, that’s the one thing that’s been challenging for me—is finding how to live within my story, within kind of a culture that’s a little bit macho.

(KK): Being hard and soft at the same time—that’s so much of who I am, but I would say that that is not the norm in climbing culture, and just society in general.

(MS): Right.

(KK): You know? People can’t comprehend how you can do that—how you can have those two things coincide.

(MS): Yeah, like how can you be a rock climber and be scared? It’s like, well how can you not be scared? And then, if you have a nervous system on top of that that won’t let you not be scared—yeah, what do you do with that?

(KK): Thirty years a climber, Matt grew up in Albuquerque and he later moved to Boulder for college.

(MS): I landed myself in this mess. You know, I don’t blame anyone else, but this, I think, all started with an eating disorder. So, when I was in my teens, I really got heavily into rock climbing. There were no gyms at that point, but I’d always kind of wanted to climb and I’d done some climbing with my dad’s college roommate. Like, starting from age twelve, I’d go out to Olympia, Washington in the summers and climb with him. And I’d come back to Albuquerque and there was nowhere to climb. And then when I was fifteen, I was enrolled in one of those things in the eighties. It was called the “challenge program”—like, I stopped going to school. It was basically through a psych hospital. It was like an outpatient thing. Because I’d transferred from a private school to a public school, and I got to the public school and I was just like, “Holy shit. This is overwhelming.” Like, I felt like I was going to get beat up all the time. I was kind of like a punk rock kid with a mohawk and stuff.

(KK): I could see that.

(MS): Yeah, it sucks. Right? Yeah, you’re a target if you’re walking around as a punk rock kid. And I just got really gripped and I wouldn’t leave the house and I got terrible agoraphobia. So, they enrolled me in this program. And the program sorta helped me and I just really, was like, “Oh this is it.” Like, I’d climbed some before that, but as soon as I was able to go climbing regularly, it was clear that that’s what I wanted to do. So, I got heavily into it and probably around the time I was sixteen or seventeen—I mean, this was the eighties. People were emaciated. You know? You’d pick up the magazines—it was definitely even worse than it is now. And I think it’s still a thing now. No one talks about it, but obviously, it’s still a thing.

(KK): What Matt is referring to is the relationship between body image, weight and performance climbing. There was, and still is, this misconception that people have to be skinny or a specific weight in order to climb well. And I am neither confirming nor denying that doughnuts probably don’t actually help you send, and things like strength-to-weight ratios can be critical physical benchmarks for climbers with bigger goals. But there are good ways and bad ways to get there, which Matt had to learn. And—he did.

(MS): I think Christian Griffith came to Albuquerque and he was one of the first Americans to go over to Buoux, France and climb. And he did a slide show and he had all of these photos of him and he wanted to do this route, Chouca. And he talked about dealing with his own eating disorder and having to get really skinny for this route. And I think it was Jean Tribout, who was the leading sport climber at the time, at one point told Christian that he was too heavy to do Chouca. So, Christian goes on these crazy diets at the crag eating these little ziplock baggies full of dried oats and milk powder or something. They were choosing starvation rations in order to do these routes. And they did—they came back having done all these 13d’s and c’s and 14a’s—like, stuff that was really cutting edge at the time. And I remember seeing this slideshow and I don’t think Christian was necessarily espousing having an eating disorder, but it certainly was on the table. And same with that article—if you can go back and find that article of Climbing, you know, it’s a pretty seminal article, because it was one of the first ones that sort of introduced the whole concept of European sport climbing to American readers.

But I remember I just sorta was like, “Oh. Ok.” And I really, around age sixteen or seventeen, started eating in a fucked up way. Like, starved myself for four or five days, then binge and overeat. You know, food limiting. Just kinda the standard stuff. And yeah, I kept it pretty well hidden—I think my parents suspected to a degree because my mother had had an eating disorder. But I kind of hid it. And I did that for a long time. And then I moved up here to Boulder in the early nineties. And, you know, it’s like we were talking about—Boulder’s a pretty overwhelming, concentrated climbing culture with lots of very good climbers. And I remember my freshman year in college, I think I dropped down to a hundred and twenty-five pounds. I was the wrong weight for a male who’s five foot seven and, you know, I’m kind of a stocky Russian guy. I don’t think I knew how fucked up I was. I would look in the mirror and I was like, “Yeah, I still gotta lose a little weight.” I don’t know what I woulda lost, you know? But I think just years of the bad eating and my weight bouncing around, by that following fall, I started getting really bad anxiety and I started to have panic attacks.

(KK): If you’ve never had a panic attack before, it is really hard to know what it’s like. I definitely remember my first and only one:

(heart beating rapidly)

my heart was racing, I was flushed and lightheaded. I thought I was having a stroke or a heart attack and I remember being on the phone with a friend at the time, who assured me in a very calm voice: “You are ok. You aren’t having a heart attack.” (Later, only to tell me that he totally thought I was having a heart attack.) But the important thing to know is: you’re not going to die, even though you might feel like you will. The hard thing to know is that it can take years of therapy, education, and understanding the cause before you can really grasp what’s going on.

(MS): It’s horrible. Yeah, it’s a horrible thing and then you kind of quake in fear at the specter of it. Yeah, I think the first one I had, I was on the Stairmaster at the health club where I was living and I just kind of went too hard. And I came home and I was kind of dizzy and sweating and I just started sort of hyperventilating without realizing it, freaking out. I’d almost kind of died of dehydration a couple of months before that, so I was like, “Oh! I’m really dehydrated again.” I called the ambulance

(ambulance siren)

and they took me in and I was completely fine. And the nurse was like, you know, they’re ER nurses—they’re annoyed when you come in for a panic attack. ‘Cause I’m sure they see a lot of drug-seeking behavior malingering, and she just kind of kicked me out on my ass. She was like, “You had a panic attack. Get out of here.” And I was like, “What the fuck is a panic attack? I don’t know what that is.” You know, but I was really freaked out and I went home—I think it happened right before Christmas break. I went home over Christmas break and I didn’t leave my room. I didn’t want to exercise ‘cause I didn’t want to get my heart rate up, like, I was just terrified of stimulation. And I had to work through that. I stayed in college and I went back, started therapy. And at that same time, I also started to see a psychiatrist, which I think was the, you know, the biggest mistake I made.

This was the nineties and this was the whole listening to Prozac, all these SSRI’s are new—like, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, you know? There’s all these quote, unquote new cleaner anti-depressants and drugs like that. And I sort of bought into that whole myth—that you need those, you know, because of these quote, unquote chemical imbalances or you need these in addition to talk therapy. If I could go back now, you know, twenty-six years ago, I would say: go to therapy—but clean up your diet, do yoga, stay the fuck away from those quote, unquote medications because they’re gonna unravel you down the road. But that was sort of my entry point into psychiatry.

At that same time, you know, I think I started to take Paxil, which is an anti-depressant. But the doctor also gave me Ativan, and he was good and thoughtful about it and he said, “Only take these as needed. You don’t want to take them every day. If you’re having a really high anxiety day or you can’t sleep—take these.” And I kind of kept that relationship with them, but I also noticed I had an affinity for these drugs. But I don’t think that that’s unique. You know? I don’t believe necessarily that there’s an addictive personality or that if you’ve abused other substances you’re going to latch onto it. I mean, so much of it is biochemical. Like, take a Mormon grandmother who’s never had a drink in her life and you can give her these drugs for two weeks and she will be physically addicted. And they sink their hooks in you—they work on you on a neurochemical level, and sort of no matter how strong a proclivity you have towards substance abuse, at a certain point, your body will need them in order to not go to into withdrawal.

I definitely noticed an affinity for them—I liked that they knocked out anxiety because—who wants to feel anxiety, you know? Nobody. It’s horrible. You know, I didn’t always just use them—I definitely sometimes would stockpile them and take more than I needed, or I would kind of ask the doctor for more. You know, I’d get into that kinda behavior. And then, my senior year in college, someone I know was getting Valium and I just don’t think I really knew the dangers, but I started really abusing Valium. Like, going to raves and, I don’t know, it was just this nihilistic period, you know. A bunch of us were in on it and became really addicted and then stopped, cold turkey.

(KK): Going cold turkey means quitting abruptly, with no weaning period and no professional help. Most people assume that they can stop using a drug just as easily as they started taking it, but that’s not the case with benzodiazepines. Going cold turkey is a shock to the system. It puts your body into overdrive while your brain tries to reset its normal neurotransmitter production levels. And what we’re trying to say is: when it comes to tapering, you cannot stop cold turkey. It’s really risky. People can have seizures, convulsions, paranoia. They’ve had heart attacks. It can even trigger psychosis. Benzo withdrawal has even been linked to death, as reported by the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology.

(MS): And that’s what it did to me. I stopped taking them and three or four days later, I stopped sleeping and I was like, “I’m losing my fuckin’ mind.” I didn’t know what was going on; I didn’t know that I was taking so much of these drugs—I think I was sometimes taking eight or ten a night—that I needed to taper. And because I was young and physically strong—my body could withstand it. Fortunately, I didn’t die. But, yeah, I really lost my mind for three, four, five days—something like that. I was hearing my voice kind of being called out from random places in the sky, seeing things, not sleeping, felt like the ground was kind of made out of tar—like when you walk on a really hot street in the summer? And ended up going to my therapist. I finally admitted what had happened and he’s like, “Oh. You can’t do that.” And I ended up in Boulder Community Hospital. I got free of all that, but I should have known then. It took me months to feel better again. And that time, I was only twenty-two or twenty-three.

(KK): That’s scary when you’re that young.

(MS): Yeah, it was not a good experience. Because you just wonder, “Am I gonna sorta be out of mind for the rest of my life?” or “What’s going to happen?” But yeah, it took a really long time to heal. I moved to Europe and my sleep was all fucked up and then I had jet lag and then I wasn’t sleeping. That initial experience, I remember some nights I wouldn’t fall asleep til, three, four, five a.m., you know, just—it totally messes up your biorhythms. So, I dealt with that then, and then I stayed away from those drugs, for the most part, for a while. But then, I moved back to Boulder in ’97 or ’98. And I’d been clear of all psych meds and I was feeling anxious again, I think, probably because I was really skinny ‘cause I’d been climbing at Rifle. Got back on Paxil and then back on benzos, and then I started taking them daily and, you know, I just don’t know how complicit I am. I mean, a part of me was probably like, “Hey, cool. I don’t have to deal with this anxiety problem anymore.” There was no long term thinking. But, at the same time, the doctor, you would hope, would be aware enough to think that, “Here’s this guy in his mid-twenties. He can’t be on these things all his life. We have to figure something else out.” And we never really did.

But, over time on those, you know, I was taking two milligrams of Ativan—so it was one milligram twice a day. Over time, my anxiety started to get worse and worse. And what happens with these drugs is you go into something called “tolerance withdrawal”, which is where you basically have built a tolerance to your dose, which means your body is kind of in an acute state of need of a higher dose. So, you have withdrawal-like symptoms, but you mistake those for a worsening of the condition that you’re trying to treat. So, I would have much worse anxiety, horrible panic attacks, sleep issues. But, you just sort of accept it and, I mean, the mainstream narrative is that some of us are born with chemical imbalances and that we need to treat them all our life with drugs—which I don’t believe to be true. But, I didn’t know at that point to really do any sort of deeper research. You go to doctors—you trust doctors—and then, after they damage you, that’s usually when you find out they actually don’t know what they’re doing. And a lot of them are taking big pharma-money or they’re not really researching the drugs they’re giving out and, you know, that these pharmaceutical studies are totally skewed. It’s a for-profit industry and the best way to make money off of you is to keep you perpetually sick and to keep you perpetually yolked to their chemicals.

You know, it certainly could have been on me to get in more of the bullshit—you know, but a lot of the bullshit was me. So, I wasn’t mature enough to face it. I was like, “I’m a climber.”—I was doing a lot of risky stuff, I didn’t want that to change, you know, I was smoking a lot of pot. I was taking these pills. It was comfortable. It was warm. It was cozy. You don’t want to get yanked out of that. You don’t want to be told, “Hey—you’re going to have to go through years of horrible fucking withdrawal and you’re going to have to suffer.” And—no. You’re like, “I’ll just stay here. I’m good!” You know? I mean, and I’m sure there’s a lot of denial about having a problem, anyway. But, you know, there’s this whole kind of oleo of different things. It was like, prescribed drugs, psych meds, my own drug abuse, the risks I was taking out climbing—at that point, I was doing a lot of high ball problems and free soloing and long things alone in the mountains. So, I think if anyone could have extricated from that, it would have been me.

You know, over the years I’ve built a tolerance to those pills, and then you start to get something called “interdose withdrawal”, which is withdrawal symptoms between each pill. And I was just sorta living on this roller coaster of like, I’d take the pill—I’d feel pretty good, and then it would wear off and I’d have horrible anxiety and I just couldn’t…I never, I don’t know why I never put two and two together. I’d be like, “Every day around two, I have horrible anxiety.” and it didn’t occur to me—I’d take the pill at like, nine when I wake up, or eight. It wears off by one and at two, I need another pill. I was just like, “I don’t know. At two, I get really anxious.”

You know, so it just kept worsening and worsening and worsening, and then eventually working with this doctor, my dose of these benzos climbed until it was four times what it had originally been. Until I was taking four Klonopin a day, and then there was like two of the big Xanax, which was the equivalent of the amount of Valium I’d been abusing. And then I began to take a bunch of Vikatin, too. I mean, it all just kind of came to a head. I was like,  “Ok. No more.” Like, I was fat and moody and not really anchored in reality and angry a lot of the time and couldn’t climb and I’d sort of lost everything. So, I was like, “I gotta get off these drugs.” So, I got off the opiates myself—and the benzos, I was like, “I’ll work with this doctor to taper.” And I was like, “It shouldn’t be too bad. Maybe these aren’t as bad as the opiates.” And I just had no idea. So, in 2005 I began to taper—going pretty rapidly, but at that point, you know, I’d been on them every day for seven years. There wasn’t much information. There’s a lot of information on the internet now.

(KK): The “Ashton Manual”, which is available online, gives an overview of what benzodiazepines do to your body, how to withdraw from them, and offers tapering schedules. It also describes the problems with the cold turkey/withdrawal method and gives acute and protracted symptoms. In addition, there are Facebook groups that can help you figure out how to titrate your drugs and how to taper slowly and safely.

(MS): People now, when they find the support, they go really slowly and a lot of them do ok. But I didn’t, and I went really quickly and it just turned into this absolute nightmare because as I tapered, again—I had that nervous system hyperarousal and all of these horrible symptoms, and I’m going to this psychiatrist and he’s saying: “It sounds like you’re bipolar. It sounds like you’re having mixed states,” which is a cross between depression and mania. We were trying these other different antidepressants and mood stabilizers, and you know, the thing is, all I was was chemically sick. And more chemicals were being poured on and this led to these sham diagnoses. Ended up in, you know, it was three different psych wards that fall and at certain points, I was on five or six different medications that I didn’t need. And by the time I left the last hospital, they’d gotten me off of benzos, but I left there on Lithium which is a horrible, terrible drug—and really dangerous if you’re a climber because it gets in your bloodstream and if you get dehydrated, you can get lithium toxicity. So, I mean, completely risky for the kind of life we like to lead.

I was on Neurontin, which there’s been a huge lawsuit over the company. I forget who made it, but they were just pushing it on dementia patients and they were pushing it on everyone for anything. So, it was just sorta this catch-all drug. It was like, “Oh you don’t feel good? Take Neurontin.” So, I ended up on that and a really dirty old antidepressant—a tricyclic antidepressant. They’re the ones that cause heart problems and heart palpitations and dry mouth and dizziness—like, these old, dirty drugs from the fifties and sixties. I’d finally started to do my own research to read a lot of these anti-psychiatry books and things like that. And I was like, “I’m pretty fucked. Like, if what these books say is true, I’ve dug a really deep hole here. Or, a really deep hole has been dug.”

And I came out of that hospital and I flew back here to Boulder and I was alone over Christmas and I tapered the Lithium, I tapered the Neurontin, and then nine months later, I tapered the antidepressant. And meanwhile, I was in the throes of acute benzodiazepine withdrawal. I mean, it’s just, it’s really hard to describe, but it was way worse and has been way more terrifying than anything I’ve ever encountered out climbing. I mean, one of the worst things I’ve encountered. I mean, I’ve spoken to other people who’ve been through it: people who’ve lost their children, people who’ve survived cancer—this was worse (big sigh). For a year and a half, I probably only slept for two or three hours a night: auditory hallucinations, hyperacusis, which is just your senses are too sort of finely attuned—so bright light really hurt, strong smells are really overwhelming, obsessive thoughts, sweats, shaking, tremor, muscle weakness, heart palpitations, tinnitus—you know, that ringing in your ears. There’s lists of hundreds of symptoms and when you’re in acute withdrawal, you’ll have dozens of them at once.

(KK): It must have felt endless to you.

(MS): Oh, it did, and it still does—because I still deal with it. But yeah, there’s nowhere to hide. I think that’s the big problem. Imagine that you’ve just topped out a really long alpine route and you’re on a summit with no trees and you’re in the middle of a lightning storm? It’s that sort of feeling—except constantly. Especially when you can’t sleep, because sleep, at least, is some sort of psychic relief. You’re like, “I can have dreams and I’m not going to be in pain when I’m asleep.” But sometimes I didn’t even get to sleep. It’s a lot better now. A lot of people who go through this, what I’ve seen and talking to people and what you read about—is there are a lot of suicides. And there’s also a lot of people who don’t escape because they continue to believe the conventional narrative—that this is the return of your original problem. You know, they’re in this state that is indescribably bad—way beyond anything they’ve ever experienced and they’re still going to their doctor whom they trust, and the doctor’s like, “Oh. This is just who you are.” and people lose hope and they end up believing the doctor’s rhetoric and they end up poly-drugged.

I mean, we’re so complex—all of us. There’s so much been written about this, almost all of it is trauma—childhood trauma. Like, people disassociate, they get lost in their own thoughts. And all these fucking imaging studies where they’re: this is the brain of a schizophrenic, this is the brain of a depressed person. It’s all horse shit. They don’t know. They don’t know the barest thing about the human brain, much less the soul. I mean, the psyche and the soul. Psychiatry is so rigorous in this sort of chemical approach to things. It just doesn’t account for anything else. A lot of people find their way to these drugs through general practitioners—people who don’t even have any experience with helping someone who’s in emotional distress. You know, things like that. And I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault in particular, but I think there is also a lot of greed and evil. There’s definitely a lot of complicity, too. You know, it’s like if you do a lot of research the way these drugs are marketed and tested—and the way that they present the fact that we all quote, unquote need these drugs. I mean, everyone makes their own decision, but you know, you watch the nightly news and they’re pushing psychotropic medications on people. You know, us and New Zealand are the only two countries in the world with direct consumer advertising for pharmaceuticals. I mean, a lot of the motivation is profit—it’s not helping people. And you know, maybe this drug helps one person—maybe it gives twenty other people awful side effects—like, kills their liver.

(KK): Or ruins their lives.

(MS): It ruins their life, like mine, yeah. It’s completely changed the trajectory of my life. And you know, I think a lot of these doctors, these psychiatrists, maybe believe they’re helping—but their toolbox sucks. You know? Their toolbox is full of poison.

Until I started to really have acute tolerance problems and things like that, I was pretty functional. Like, I was somehow functional, you know. But when they really stopped working and when I was totally strung out—my anxiety was crippling. I had to leave a job—I was working at Rock and Ice at the time—and I had to leave. I was like, “Maybe this job’s giving me this anxiety.” And then I left and the anxiety was still there. Like, 2006, when I was incredibly sick one month out of the hospital, I took a job back at Climbing. Jonathan Thesenga came back on as editor and he hired me and I was like, “Well. I’m really sick.” And I told him and he’s like, “Yeah, I want you there.” And I was like, “Well, maybe the structure will help.” And it has. You know, for a while there, it took me a while, like, you really have to bring your brain back online, too. Like, you know, when I was acutely sick, which was over Christmas 2005 into the new year, 2006, I couldn’t do much more than watch television. And even that, I had trouble comprehending it. It was often too disturbing for me. Like, you’re really, really sensitive. I was just reading stupid little articles in dumb magazines, like Parade Magazine. And then, over the months I was able to start to read stuff in the New Yorker again, and then I was able to read books again. But your attention span is just shattered because you’re in so much pain and so much information’s coming at you. So, you know, in the face of all that, it was certainly hard to work, and still can be, but I find it also gives me at least some structure, something that’s sort of outside of the suffering that lets me reorder my mind.

(KK): Professionally, it was hugely disruptive. It affected Matt’s jobs and relationships ended over it. In 2007, Matt met Kristin, his wife, and told her what he was going through. By then, he had begun to heal. But then, he got sick again in 2013.

(MS): I was freelance at that point, and luckily most of my work was at home and I was able to just, like, “Ok. You’ve been through this before.” and just get the work done. You know, but how does it affect me now, on a day-to-day basis? There’s days, sometimes when I still have to go home early, mid-afternoon ’cause I feel too sick. You know, and I’ll go home and I’ll lie there and maybe take a twenty-minute nap which I’m really lucky to be able to do. That’s the other fucking torture, too, is when you can’t sleep, you also can’t nap. So, at one point, I remember—I think some of the worst periods—I would go a week without sleeping. I couldn’t even nap during the day. But now, at least, I can go home and take a nap and then feel a little bit better afterwards. It really was hugely disruptive and when I had the setback, it was really disruptive too, because our son was only a year and a half at that point. And then, a year and a half later, our second son came along.

(KK): He’s not sleeping, you’re not sleeping!

(MS): Yeah! Exactly. You know, you have the logistics of having two kids, the stress it puts on a marriage. I also got very, very sick then. My immune system kind of went south on me, probably because of the stress of going into a setback again and, you know, the kids bring home viruses and stuff. And I got so sick. You know, definitely, during various points of this, I’ve had to quit climbing. And not just for a like week: “Oh, my fingers are kinda sore.” It’s like, a year, a year and a half. And at the worst, I think in 2015, I didn’t climb for about a year and a half. I couldn’t. I mean, at one point, I was too weak to even walk around the block. So, this stuff—it lays you out, and until you get better, you have to sort of restructure your life around it. And it’s very variable, too. You don’t know how you’re going to feel on any given day, so it’s hard to sort of like, lock into plans. I mean, I don’t really ask people for support. All I ask at this point is that they believe me. That’s all I care about. That’s the one thing I can’t fucking deal with. It’s like, when people don’t believe me, again—I don’t need to be validated. I just need to not have to defend myself.

(KK): Not that it’s necessarily important to Matt that people empathize with what he goes through, but it does provide a context in which he has to operate—and when he comes up against people who don’t believe him or worse, use it against him, it not only impedes his healing, but it can also be infuriating.

(MS): There’s nothing wrong with mental distress. It’s there for a reason. I mean, that’s the thing I’ve learned through all this—through trying to chase these dragons of treating it. There’s a reason we feel these things, right? I mean, there’s a reason that people have psychotic breaks. It’s trauma or some sort of dissonance in their life. Or maybe someone put LSD in their orange—you know, I mean, things can go south. And there’s a reason people get incredibly depressed or anxious. I mean, look at how we live—it’s out of whack with nature. And, I mean, I think, as climbers, in particular, we understand that. As a climber, you can go outside and you feel really good simply because of where you are and what you’re doing. And we’re incredibly lucky to have that, right? And I think that is mostly what people felt until the Industrial Revolution. You were outside, you were moving your body, you were connected to the earth. I mean, we’re animals and we have this sort of non-animalistic way of living and all these rules that we’re supposed to follow. And then, there’s countries and places in the world where people are a lot happier, but America is completely fucked up. I mean, I just don’t know how you could live here and not be depressed or anxious—unless your head is up your ass and you’re not paying attention to what’s going on and you’re not informed. I mean, it’s a travesty, right? I mean, modern life is kind of a travesty. Like, the things that I have to think about are whether my children are going to be shot at a playground or going to a mall. That’s not right. And how could you be aware of these things in the world and not feel anxious?

So, what I’ve learned is it’s a very natural and almost a healthy thing, you know. There’s a reason we feel what we feel, and if you try to medicate that away—the feelings won’t go away, but the manifestation of them in your body will go away—while the drugs are working. And then, when the drugs stop working or when the drugs make you really sick, you’ll be dealing with chemical withdrawal and unresolved emotional issues. You know? It’s just, it’s really hard. And I mean, you know, I don’t think that the climbing community is necessarily any better or worse than other communities. I mean, obviously, there’s a lot of darkness in it and a lot of people I think sort of use climbing as a catharsis, but, you know, might as well—could be shuffleboard (laughs). I don’t know. I mean, I think it’s just one more tool that people use to escape, and it’s just sort of hard to blame people for wanting to escape.

So, you know, I think, yeah, I mean, some of what I did—I triggered these panic responses in my body by starving myself. But I think a lot of it, too, is just at least for me, is having an outlook in which, you know, I’m trying to pay attention to the world around me. And the more you pay attention, sometimes the harder it is to not feel darkness.

(KK): It can be difficult to pick up the phone and ask for help, but calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always free and confidential. 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.

– 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. And a big shout out to Roaming Ingenuity, a team of outdoor enthusiasts and tinkerers based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. 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:

The Ashton Manual contains information about the effects that benzodiazepines have on the brain and body and how these actions are exerted, as well as detailed suggestions on how to withdraw after long-term use and individual tapering schedules for different benzodiazepines are provided.

World Benzodiazepine Awareness is solely an activism and awareness effort and its mission and objectives focus on public education and awareness alone. Their website contains general information about medical conditions and treatments. The information is not advice, and should not be treated as such. World Benzodiazepine Awareness educates communities on the dangers of prescribed benzodiazepines.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)‘s mission is to advance science on the causes and consequences of drug use and addiction and to apply that knowledge to improve individual and public health.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) is an international non-profit membership organization (with more than 1,800 professional mental health members) and a leader in education, training, and research for anxiety, depression and related disorders.  More than 38 million people from around the world visit the ADAA website annually to find current treatment and research information and to access free resources and support.

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.

These institutions, many of which study anxiety disorders, can provide information on the nature of these conditions and how to cope with them.

Gear Review: Outdoor Research

My Outdoor Research Helium II became an essential part of my climbing day necessities. It’s received numerous mentions and awards, from Runners World to Outdoor Gear Lab. Here’s what the royal “we” at For the Love of Climbing think about this piece of gear:

Some of my favorite climbing is multi-pitch, which means you need to be prepared and have your shit together. Prepping water, food, and for the weather can sometimes feel like a daunting task. But the Helium II helped take some of the weight off of me—ironically, because it clocks in at an incredibly light 5.5oz.

The Technology + Specs

This layer consists of fabric constructed of Pertex Shield, 100 percent nylon, and 30D ripstop. What are these words, and what do they even mean? Well, it essentially means that this combination creates a waterproof jacket that is also compressible and lightweight. Pertex Shield is what makes this jacket waterproof but breathable so you won’t sweat to death in it. The ripstop fabrics are woven fabrics that use a special reinforcing technique that makes them resistant to tearing and ripping. Reinforcement threads are interwoven at regular intervals in a crosshatch pattern.

The stretch fabric will easily accommodate a full range of motion, which is essential when being active in the outdoors—especially when you are climbing and trying to clip that almost-too-high piece of gear. The hood is adjustable and doesn’t compromise visibility; fits well over my climbing helmet. The YKK Aquaguard center-front zipper and elastic cuffs both complete a seal between you and the weather outside and will help prevent water from getting in. This jacket packs into its own pocket with a webbing/carabiner loop that easily clips to any harness or pack.



I’m a smaller-than-average-sized human (AKA I’m the size of a large child), so fit is always a challenge for me. The Helium II fits true to its size, as do all of the OR products I have tried, which was a huge surprise to me. This isn’t true for most apparel companies, so taking the guessing out of the sizing made this easy for me. I’ve heard some complaints about not being able to wear a puffy underneath, but I don’t necessarily think it’s that kind of shell. There is plenty of room underneath for a single baselayer, and I anticipate not wearing the Helium II for colder weather, anyway.


It keeps me, works well for keeping the rain and wind out. This layer was created for flash-storm performance, and it lives up to its expectations (especially when I am mid-way up a route when a storm comes in—it’s perfect in a pinch!) Waterproof and windproof—what more do you need?

Screen Shot 2018-08-20 at 5.24.19 PM


The Helium II is a great all-year-round jacket, although I might consider something more heavy-duty for the winter months. This jacket makes a wonderful outer layer for my multi-pitch adventures, is durable, lightweight, kicks ass in the wind and the rain, and packs to the size of a bagel. The only thing it can do better is: be a bagel.

This jacket retails for $159. You can purchase your own Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket here.

Disclosure: I am currently an ambassador for Outdoor Research. These opinions are my own, are the result of thorough testing in the outdoors, and are no way influenced by the fact that the product was complimentary.

All photographs courtesy of Outdoor Research.

Climbing Doesn’t Change You

I recently had the privilege to be a social media guest contributor for the #alpinistcommunityproject. Over the course of a week last March, I shared a series of images that chronicled my journey to solo big-wall climbing.

I began my first post with an image from an unsuccessful big-wall expedition in Africa the previous year. In May, I had traveled to the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Principe, an island nation off the west coast of Africa, to attempt a first ascent on Pico Cão Grande: a needle-shaped volcanic plug that sits in a constant, thick cloud. I wrote in my first post that I was tremendously unprepared for the weeks ahead, as I stumbled through the process of learning to aid climb on a big wall in the thick of the rainforest. In later updates, I explained that, despite failures, obstacles and injury, I wouldn’t let anything cause me to lose sight of my new goal: to aid solo my first big-wall route after I returned home.

This comment appeared on one of the posts: Usually really like this climber spotlights but this one is a little over the top. “Such strength was always within me.” Gag me. Please let’s talk about rock and ice—not feelings.

The following week, Georgie Abel, a writer and yoga teacher in the Bay Area, shared excerpts from her recent book of poetry along with images of her climbing. In response, someone wrote: Wtf is all this spray lately. I thought this was a climbing magazine not a women’s issues blog. He later added: These Instacam climbing celebs absolutely nauseate me with their self aggrandizing emotional posts and shameless hawking of whatever book or sponsored product is paying their gas bill at the time. It’s extremely boring and I find it’s usually the female climbers who talk less about the rock and more about their feelings.

Something beyond the blatant stereotyping in one of the comments stuck with me: This is rock climbing it’s not supposed to be nice or safe or accepting of who you are and your ~feelings~.

As Reddit users have observed in the past, my own blog, a personal collection of stories that goes beyond ticking off projects to delve into the climbing lifestyle, generally “walks the line between poetic and overly saccharine.” After I released a short film called “For the Love of Climbing,” negative comments flooded the forum pages in response:

Why does every climbing video feature someone babbling about their philosophy/lifestyle/overcoming challenges/etc/etc. I don’t need a motivational speech from someone who lives in a van. I clicked on a climbing video to see some bloody climbing, just climb.

Yeah, I’m an asshole who, while spends a lot of time thinking about climbing (philosophy major…), also recoils against this… It’s climbing and you aren’t a better person because you do it and don’t have a moral high ground over people who prioritize work and “traditional” success.

I dirtbagged for a bit (all self-funded). I got some nice sends but it became depressing after awhile. Climbing is a leisure activity like golf; there’s nothing special about it.

Maybe I’m getting bitter as I get older, but I can’t stand all of this fake and manipulative altruism.

Everyone is on a journey to something. Weight loss journey, climbing journey, school journey. It’s tied in to people’s need to make mundane things seem extra important in their own little story. You’e [sic] right, climbing, at its core, is fucking stupid. I still don’t understand why I like it or waste my time with it.

Oh for fuck’s sake, what is with all this self-realization. Climbing is still as useless as it has always been. It’s not your fucking journey to enlightenment, it’s just…climbing.

 Climbing doesn’t change you.

During my mid-twenties, much to my parents’ dismay, I moved into my car to pursue a life of rock climbing. My father, a mathematician and former college professor, made it clear that he disapproved of my guileless approach to life. My decision to quit my job and leave New York City was a final act of rebellion that didn’t make sense to my parents: they were both taught to work hard to achieve their goals and to live a modest life, not to follow whimsical dreams across the country. But for twelve months, I drove through the red deserts of Utah and Arizona and down old Wyoming country roads, fully embracing the dirtbag lifestyle with a belief that some truly satisfying things in life might still be free—companionship, love and laughter.

In the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, a deep and narrow chasm with mysterious, dark walls and an unwelcoming reputation, I found a wild nature that drew me, despite my fear. One evening, after five long days of climbing over shaded, pink-streaked granite, my partner and I tried to scrape our way to the North Rim before daylight expired. The skin on my hands was wrecked and raw. I felt exhaustion sinking into my bones, and I didn’t have much fight left within me, but the only passage out of the canyon was up.

We had two more pitches before we could crest the rim. I brought my partner to the belay station as the sunset flickered in the distance, darkness on its tail. I was afraid to lead the next pitch with only one small orb of light. But I racked up for it anyway, and as I entered the leaning crevice, I felt a strange and foreign sensation. It went as deep as it could into the cavity of my bones and nestled somewhere in my brain, sending vibrations throughout the rest of me. Then, with a single breath, I released my fear. My fingers tingled while I placed a piece of gear at waist level, my desire to gain the summit grew much greater than my apprehension, and I continued up.

Climbing weaves together personal experience and nature. It becomes an emotional exercise when we apply the lessons of scaling a rock face to everyday life. We don’t just reach the top for the sake of triumph, and how we get there counts for a lot. In her piece, In Climbing, as in Life, New York City cartoonist Connie Sun says: “One aspect of climbing is holding on with all of your strength. The other side, just as essential, is learning to let go to begin again.”

What is it about sentimentality that turns people away? A Dictionary of Literary Terms defines sentimentalism as “a superabundance of tender emotion, a disproportionate amount of…feeling.” Critics, as Robert C. Solomon explains in his book In Defense of Sentimentality, claim that sentimentalism distorts reality with “a ‘saccharine’ portrait of the world”: it manipulates the reader by appealing to what we generally consider shallow emotions, rather than exploring the “facts” of the story. When sentimental work plays with our feelings, it seems contrived and dishonest, a ploy to exploit our reactions. And many have declared that feelings have no place in climbing.

Yet we can trace strands of sentimental writing back to mountaineering’s early days. As the Canadian scholar Julie Rak explains, in eighteenth-century Europe, essayists and philosophers regularly invoked the trope of sentimentalism. “At the time,” Rak says, “it was called sensibility and it referred to investigating the world using the senses, which included feelings.” When explorers took to alpinism for science, they also kept notes on the inner effects of the experience. In A relation of a journey to the glaciers in the Dutch of Savoy (1775), the eighteenth-century mountaineer Marc-Théodore Bourrit observed that leaving the summit of Mt. Breven elicited deep pangs of regret: “We threw one parting glance over all those magnificent objects; which we never could be tired with surveying. We looked at one another, in expressive silence; our eyes alone could speak what we had seen, and told what passed in our hearts; they were affected beyond the power of utterance.”

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, sentimentalism became linked with women and the domestic realm. Nevertheless, sentimental writing about the Alps by some climbers, both male and female, persisted. In the Victorian Age, as David Robbins points out in Sport, Hegemony and the Middle Class, “For the romantic, the essence of mountaineering lay in an unmediated and intensely personal relationship between the individual and the mountains, on which competition and technicality were unwelcome impositions. Taken to its logical conclusion this implied the rejection of mountaineering as an organized sport and the radical recasting of its institutional practices and cultural traditions.” In other words, when mountaineering literature focuses on personal experience rather than on technical accomplishments, an author’s approach could be seen as subversive and, oddly, threatening to a status quo that valued things more easily measured and ranked.

Meanwhile, accusations of sentimentality began to appear in climbing publications. Published in 1883, Elizabeth LeBlond’s The High Alps in Winter was the first guide to winter mountaineering ever written in English. While LeBlond described some of her serious winter ascents, she tended to understate their actual risks; instead, she devoted more lavish prose to the beauties of the frozen landscape. That same year, an Alpine Journal reviewer noted: “After searching in vain for more satisfying matter, [the critic] has to remind himself that he is dealing with a lady’s book, and the book of a lady who has written to amuse an idle hour. Her narrative, he gladly allows, is simple, intelligible, and, as to difficulties and dangers, free from most of the exaggeration of tourists…. She has chosen to record them in a volume which is probably the flimsiest and most trivial that has ever been offered to the alpine public.”

The blanket dismissal of romantic writing is frequently imposed on women. As Brian Wilke points out in an article for College English, stories accused of sentimentality tend to be those with “a subject that involves not the grand emotions of the public hero but rather the intimate, intensely personal domestic emotions.” In other words, the sentimental is still often construed as a traditionally “feminine” and “inferior” realm. Similarly, in Poets & Writers, Nate Pritts notes: “Sentimentality is inherently seen as a weakness…. Critics use the term ‘sentimentality’ recursively, to indict writing that presents unwarranted sentiment, passages of unmoored or unjustified feeling.”

Male authors have, at times, also been subject to this criticism. In Eric Shipton: Everest and Beyond (1998), critic Peter Steele accused the famed mountaineer and adventurer of bouts of “purple prose.” Steele partially excused Eric Shipton’s offense, explaining that explorer was perhaps influenced by Frank Smythe’s “notoriously verbose” style. Still it would seem that, according to some modern mountaineers and critics, not only is there no place for feelings in climbing writing, there never was.

And yet emotionally saturated mountain literature maintains both defenders and practitioners. In his biography Shipton and Tilman, Jim Perrin argues that so-called “purple prose” is occasionally necessary: it represents “an attempt at expressing a mood that is essentially enraptured. It is a type of near-mystical perception.” Current climbers, too, try to capture spiritual or quasi-spiritual moments at altitude. In his essay, “Breathe Deep,” renowned alpinist Jeff Shapiro recounts, “By climbing in the mountains, I realize I’m small, insignificant and vulnerable. My ego crumbles, and my perspective expands. The borders between myself and my surroundings appear to dissolve…. I feel sunsets instead of merely seeing them: the ripening of their colors seems to evoke the scent of flower blossoms. A particular peace fills me, elusive, indefinable…. And [I] recognize how I fit into the natural world.”

The act of navigating with words through complex emotions has made me aware that what I’m doing goes beyond the technical movements of climbing. It’s about the elements, the seasons; it’s about life. It’s experiencing the quiet excitement of packing up a car and driving away, knowing that you will be gone for a very long time. Stumbling up steep switchbacks to giant granite cliffs that endlessly stretch on. Beating up every muscle in your body from sunrise to sunset, then watching embers glow in a dying campfire while you receive the last swig from the bottle making its way around. Taking a huge gulp of cool desert air and sinking into the calm of the evening. And waking up to do it all over again.

Despite a year of steady climbing, when I arrived in São Tomé in 2016, I felt both physically and mentally inadequate. After working for almost three consecutive weeks, both on and off the wall, our team of three dwindled to two when my partners told me that I should remain at the base. Filled with a sense of anguish and failure, I waited alone into the early morning hours as they made their push for the summit. Having already been dubbed an overly “sentimental” person in the past, I wondered whether being open about what happened on the trip and about my embarrassment would result in similar criticism. Perhaps exposing an instance of weakness implied that I wasn’t strong enough for this pursuit. Perhaps I was just another “female climber” who spoke less about the rock and more about her “feelings.”

Upon my return from São Tomé, I published an essay called “Do Not Go Outside to Cry.” I concluded: “Failure gives you depth. It gives you mental tenacity. It shatters the expectations we often feel trapped within, the expectations that our perceptions of ourselves create. Exposing our failures lets us fearlessly show the world that we are human…. Nobody walks up the mountain to the top with a smile on their face the entire time, or without shedding a few tears, a little blood.” I felt painfully exposed, but when readers responded to my story with benevolence, I realized why I had shared it in the first place: to cultivate empathy and understanding not only for myself, but for others who might have had an experience. I remembered that sentimentality helps me dwell in that sweet spot where I’ve encountered something so big that maybe words will never do it justice. That feeling is humanizing to me, and it’s there, in the act of vulnerable writing, that I see the importance of honesty.

In the past, like many climbers, I was reluctant to accept that vulnerability wasn’t always a flaw. I believed that strength meant wearing a ten-ton shield of mental toughness and achieving perfection in all aspects of life, from my relationships to my climbing goals, and everything in between. I’d convinced myself that my value was based on my accomplishments. Over time, however, my fear of rejection and judgment morphed from a shield into an encumbrance. It was then that choosing vulnerability became an act of courage.

For me, anything powerful enough to awaken sentiment is worth a dialogue. Such conversations can build intimacy with others, a sense of overlapping stories: even on Instagram and Facebook, I like to think of my words as tiny notes and letters between pen pals I have yet to meet. Perhaps sentimentality is not a distortion of the real world, but something that allows us to see life from a different perspective. It’s an appeal for feeling things freely without censoring our own tenderness. From love songs to great literature, it is the sense of love and happiness, pain and suffering, empathy and compassion, that transforms us. The way the earth looks after rainfall, sopping wet and glinting with newness, stays with me long after the moment is gone. The sound of gear clanking above as I hold the belay rope in my hand. The fear before an airy fall, and then the sudden sensation of taking the plunge. The sweet smell of sagebrush that always reminds me of Wyoming.

Any person who thinks that it’s a waste of time to treasure these things is welcome to their opinion, but they’re missing out. We all have emotions that eventually bring us to self-awareness, if we let them. Beneath every curmudgeonly old soul is the ability to share a passion and appreciate something that makes us feel deeply, often in ways we can’t quite explain. It’s true—climbing does not change you. But having a passion for something is what will.

 This article was originally published in Alpinist Magazine Issue 61 – Spring 2018

7: Why Not Now

Fact: fear stops so much of what we do. But after one life-altering day in the Gunks, Caitlin stopped putting things on hold and made some big changes because she saw what happens when you lose the chance—when you always think, “I’ll do it later.” and then later doesn’t exist.

This episode is brought to you by Deuter, Gnarly Nutrition, Roaming Ingenuity, and Dirtbag Climbers. Music by: “Jazzy Frenchy”, “Cute”, and “Funny Song” by bensound.com, “Ichill” by Kakurenbo, “Trippin at the Party” and “Pives and Flarinet” by Podington Bear, “Brave” by Borrtex, “The Flight of Lulu” by Possimiste, “Southside” by Lee Rosevere, and “Twinkle Twinkle” by David Mumford.

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(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 is known for fit, comfort, and ventilation. Stay tuned for a new line of women’s climbing packs, coming out any day. I can’t tell you which one, but stay tuned for more about Gravity SL line–made by women, for women.

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.) 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 because even though my advice and opinions are free, I am improvising the whole thing. Better Help lets you message a licensed therapist, day or night. 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.

– Have you ever cut an exterior hole in your van? Me neither. Building out a van can be hard work, not to mention that table saws have a funny way of leaving you with fewer fingers than you started with. (We’ll ask Tommy Caldwell all about it when he returns my emails.) I really can’t be trusted with power tools since a drywall incident in 2005—but Mark and Anthony can. Roaming Ingenuity is a team of outdoor enthusiasts and tinkerers based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. Whether you are looking for a custom van build, or just need a little help with installing a roof vent, they can help. PS—I never actually emailed Tommy Caldwell.

(CAITLIN MAKARY): Every step of this till now—it’s all new. I mean, working with another facility—that’s new. I’ve never done that before. This is the first time—we’ll figure it out. I was definitely pretty anxious about the break in delivery service from my kitchen shut down because we never missed a delivery since we started—no matter what was going on. Didn’t matter the weather, the staff, someone was sick—we always delivered.

(city traffic in background)

(FEMALE NEWSCASTER): Santizo was one of a hundred and eighty-five small business owners from bakers to chocolatiers who work out of the 200,000 square foot shared commercial kitchen. But now, she and other tenants can’t fill their orders. Many of these startups say they’re still scrambling to find a new workspace and this could put some out of business. Others worry about the ripple effect this closure will have on the entire local food industry. In Bushwick, Brooklyn. Natalie Duddridge, CBS2 News.

(CM): So obviously, that hurt really bad to feel like I was unreliable to people or they were expecting something that they didn’t get. My accounts have been massively understanding. It’s been so nice and really reaffirms to me the type of people that I work with. Because I do know a lot of other small food producers that sell to bigger companies—and not that size is a problem. You know, you look at Newman’s Own—that’s an amazing company that’s a big company. Patagonia: I think their hearts are totally in the right places. So, it’s not about a size thing; it’s about an intent—like, the intention of the company. And so, I’m just always trying to be aware of what our intentions are, how we’re getting bigger, and so, you know, I hope that I can just kind of keep that guideline there. But yeah, I don’t know. We’ll see what happens. It’s kind of crazy that it’s just that—like, it’s just banana bread.

(KK): Ok, so if you’re wondering what banana bread has to do with rock climbing…well, maybe nothing. Maybe everything? Let me back up. Caitlin Makary is a climber and the founder of DANK Brooklyn, a company that she started in 2016 with no prior experience and only eight thousand dollars to her name. But she wasn’t always a climber and she didn’t always own a banana bread empire. For a decade, Caitlin has worked in corporate fashion and clothing design. She has done everything, from factory sewing to selling vintage clothes to designing clothes for puppets. So, how do you go from working in corporate fashion for ten years to…banana bread? And again, what does becoming an entrepreneur have to do with climbing?

(CM): I had all these other business guiding points that I looked at for different reasons. Like, one of them is that company Baggu. Emily Sugihara, the founder, and I actually interned together at Proenza Schouler when we were both in our early twenties. And when I had heard that she started this company, at the time I’m still working in design and I was a little bit like, “Oh. That’s—I mean, that’s cool that she has her own company, but it’s just like a bag.” I thought that, you know, as a designer, you’re like, “I’m going to be making all these different garments and people are going to be wearing my clothes.” But she just did everything about that in the perfect way. It was before everyone and their mom was offering a free tote bag with stuff. It was when people were starting to realize that using plastic bags wasn’t a great idea. She made this single item in a bunch of different colors that she could probably source pretty readily. She understood the manufacturing aspect of clothing design and so, she could get it done. And because it’s dead simple, you don’t need to have things in size buckets. And she’s expanded the company a million times over since then, but just having an idea where it was the right time for the market and it was an accessible price point. I mean, everybody has Baggu stuff. It’s so ubiquitous. You see it walking around the city in New York every single day, and to have that much product that you put out there—that’s huge.

That was one of the companies where I’m like, “You just have to keep it really simple ‘cause you’re not going to be able to afford a lot of stuff at the beginning.” And so, having it be one item was really the only way that it worked for me—and that only worked because I wasn’t a baker. I know other bakers who have businesses that are trying to go after the wholesale market. So, when they have a sales meeting, someone will be like, “Oh—well, could you also do a corn muffin?” or “Could you also give me a croissant or something?” And they’ll say yes ‘cause they wanna make the sale—and I would have said yes, too. But I couldn’t—‘cause I didn’t know how to do any of that shit. So, I was like, “Oh—banana bread’s our specialty! It’s really just the thing that we’re best at.” And then, you know—go from there. But having it be so streamlined for me was the only way to make it work. Because I wouldn’t have been able to juggle the rest of that stuff.

(KK): Yeah. Also, who eats corn muffins?

(CM): (laughs) Well, they’re good with chili.

(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.

– Caitlin and I started climbing around the same time when we were both living in Brooklyn, New York. For Caitlin, it was like flipping a switch. She loved every aspect of climbing—she loved being outside and learning new skills, and climbing taught her that she wasn’t fully happy unless she was trying new things and being challenged. Caitlin learned how to trad climb in the Gunks, which is where she and her partner, Casey, were on November fifteenth—the same day as Heidi.

(CM): I was talking about it with one of my bakers just last week. And so, somehow that story had come up. And we were driving to the train and he asked me about it. He wanted to know more about it—if I hadn’t minded talking about it. And I told him, “Dude, this changed everything for me.” Along with a couple other things that happened: I had an uncle that summer that passed away super suddenly. He’s in his late sixties but he was a pilot, and you know, would have regular checkups every six months. He was always healthy—didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, active, everything. Goes to the hospital for chest pains and he died three days later and no one saw that coming. It was a really horrible, very unexpected situation. So, those two in the same year—it was just like, it just made me look at everything in my life because at that time, I had been a designer at Nautica for seven years and I was in a relationship about the same amount of time. And I honestly just wasn’t happy with any of it. I wasn’t happy at work. I had moved up a lot in the company—I was started out as an assistant designer and by the time I left, I was the senior woven’s designer for the entire international and American divisions.

(KK): So, just kind of a big deal.

(CM): (laughs) I mean, I had a boss there for the first five years that I just loved. And so, that was why it worked for me. She’s the person I look at now whenever I’m trying to be a good boss to my employees ‘cause she was one of a couple that I’ve had that are amazing. And so, that was really worth it for me ‘cause that company’s a lot more conservative than I would normally go to, but with her, it kind of worked. And so, there was that. But I mean, I was even up for the design director position and I went to school for fashion design! Like, I was working in my industry. You know, my grandfather was a steel mill worker in Pittsburgh and had six kids and would still come home after a twelve hour day and be present as a father, and it’s like, I feel like I’m being a little bitch. I’m working in my field. Like what else do I want kind of a thing? You know, it was a very cooperate company, but I’d worked high end before, too—and there’s pros and cons to both. And I just didn’t know if I was being a baby. I’m like, people would kill for this job. It’s safe, I get paid all the benefits, like whatever, it’s great. Technically.

And then, my friends over the years had been getting married. You’re kind of taught to assume that you’ll get married—not even expect it or want it, but it’s just something that happens in life. At one point, you get married. At one point, you have kids. And I was totally on that track. Like, there was one time when I was not not trying to have kids ‘cause I was in my late twenties, I’d been with my partner for five or six years at that point, I love kids—I love being around them—and I’d just think, “Ok. This is kind of the time in life when you do this thing.” And so, I wasn’t not trying and it was just luck that I didn’t get pregnant then because that year my sister got really ill and moved in with me and so I helped get her healthy over the next year and a half. And having that level of responsibility for another person made me realize that I didn’t think that I wanted kids. And I would have just done it otherwise.

So, all these different factors are basically looking at what’s expected of you. I had a great job, I had a good person—it just wasn’t working for me. And I had to decide whether or not I felt like those concerns were valid. The experience with Heidi in the Gunks and my uncle—I just thought, “You know what? They are valid. I’m not happy. It doesn’t matter that it looks good to somebody else or that I should feel happy according to someone else. I’m not.” Climbing was so integrated in the reasons why I decided to change everything in my life. And everything changed.

(KK): Heidi Duartes Wahl was considered one of the strongest female climbers from Chile and she was living in New York at the time. She and her partner were starting up the infamous Yellow Wall, a 5.11 Gunks classic, when she took a fatal ground fall on the 5.7 pitch. Heidi wore a helmet that day and took a twenty-foot fall that any of us could have easily taken, which is maybe one of the hardest parts of her story to reckon with. This tragic accident affected so many people, as tragic deaths will so often do, but it also did something else. It sparked a change in a complete stranger’s life and sent Caitlin on a new path that would change—and continue to change—her life, forever.

(CM): While we’re up on the wall, someone comes running down the trail yelling that there was an accident. And so, we simul-rapped off and Casey ran ahead while I pulled the rope because we didn’t where or what had happened, and so we didn’t know if we were going to have to climb to someone and get them off the wall. Once I pulled the rope and I started running down that trail, I somehow realized that she was on the ground, so I just ditched everything as I was going. And then we get there and she was getting CPR from one of the rangers. And I knew her partner—not well, but I knew him. And so, they told us all to just stay there and wait because the paramedics were gonna come and they were going to need help getting her off the trail ’cause it was up a steep approach trail that was covered in leaves and everything. And so, we waited and it just really looked bad. I’d never seen an accident before like that and her hand was just paper white. They were doing CPR the entire time, but it just didn’t look—I mean, she definitely was unconscious, but I couldn’t really tell other than that what was going on. And weirdly—didn’t really feel anything. And I remember thinking about that—just thinking, “Why am I not freaking out right now? This is kind of crazy.”

And so, the paramedics get there and we put her on a board and then, basically, all the hikers and climbers that had gathered around stood shoulder to shoulder and passed it down the trail and then I helped put her in the truck. I remember seeing her harness laying on the ground and it was in pieces and I was just like, “Did her harness fail? What happened?” And then I realized they’d cut it off of her and the helmet, too. And Casey and I went back and all our stuff was still on the wall. So, we went up Andrew to the ledge ‘cause we had a haul bag—we were practicing hauling and everything. And we hadn’t eaten or drank anything since we’d started super early in the morning. And so, we sat down for a minute on the ledge and then I just totally lost it. That was the minute when I was just like, “This is what she wanted to be doing right now.”

You know, you don’t even think that it’s gonna look like what it does. Like, you think about falling when you climb, especially when you’re learning—it’s scary as fuck. And, you know, even when you’re good at it and you’re doing a hard climb—like, you always think about what the consequences are and you should. It’s dangerous. There’s reasons why people wear helmets and have good partners that they climb with and, you know, all that stuff. But yeah, you just don’t think about what the reality of it is gonna be. And so, that really affected me and it still does daily, I mean, I don’t think about Heidi every day anymore—but I think about it a lot.

(KK): Witnessing a traumatic death would make any human contemplate the flickering nature of life. But, it’s almost a too-easy thing to ignore in day-to-day life, when we’re busy making plans and checking Facebook statuses and thinking about which takeout place to not order from this week so that they don’t start to think you can’t read a cookbook.

“A death is considered traumatic if it occurs without warning.” That’s a pretty broad definition, and we’ve heard a lot of stories from people about loss and death but—what about grieving the death of someone…you didn’t know? Caitlin had never met Heidi before, but she had essentially witnessed her last breath of life. While the specific nature of Heidi’s death is traumatic by definition, how we process these things will inevitably always come down to how the event is experienced by the individual person. Seemingly, at first, not much in Caitlin’s life had actually changed. Big picture? She still went to work every morning, she still lived in Brooklyn, she still ate pizza and she still had to feed her cat. In between all of those moments, there was still a lot of change happening. Even if she didn’t know it. But, life went on and Caitlin didn’t stop climbing, either. Climbing and baking are directly related for her. In the past, she would bake banana bread to use to bribe friends with—that and a little gas money in exchange for rides up to the Gunks.

(CM): It started from this vegan recipe that my sister had, and I never had all the right ingredients in the house. So, I would just use what I had and substitute ingredients and just cut certain things out completely, which with baking, you’re really not supposed to do that. But I cook for myself a lot and I never bake, so it was just more that approach of, “Ok—eyeballing things and throwing them in a bowl.” But everyone always really liked it.

(KK): Fast forward a couple of years later when a new guy Caitlin had been dating one day suggested that she sell the bread. Caitlin’s response?

(CM): No. Like, how? What do you—I mean, I’m—I had no experience in food—ever. Never waitressed, never bartended, never worked in any food service industry—ever. And there’s rules for that stuff. You know, like you can’t just randomly start selling something. I’m not someone who loves baking, like, just gets a whole lot out of it. It was more just like, “I like how this tastes and my friends like it, too. So, when we don’t feel like bringing lunch to climb, we’ll just eat this instead.” (laughs). And so, yeah. I never thought about it—even considered it. And then, I started freelancing at this other job that my old boss from Nautica had basically poached me for this company and it was full-time for a while, but it was horrible. So, I was like, “I’ll give myself a year here.” ‘cause a year off is a reasonable amount of time on a resume. And so, then in that time, basically the company wasn’t doing well. They decided to cut staff and so, I kind of started thinking about the bread. ‘Cause I was like, “Well, ok—let’s pretend that this is an idea. What would I even call it? What would it look like?” I kind of looked at it from a visual standpoint just ‘cause that’s what I knew.

Then I broke up with this guy—it was insane. Like, the most traumatic crazy break up experience ever and I just went into a hole. I didn’t want to talk to anybody, I wasn’t eating properly, I lost weight. I was just in this crazy state of mind and that’s when I just like—I think I spent four days in the house. Just like, I would go to work and I’d come home and I just, in four days, created the LLC, I made a website, I did all the graphic work, got the whatever initial permits I needed and I just threw myself into work. It was just one of those moments when you’re like, “Who cares? Like, why not? Like—why not.”

(KK): It was the culmination of everything that had happened in those two years that made Caitlin really and honestly ask herself: why not? It was Heidi, it was climbing—

(CM): And also, my mom in the last couple years—and this could be literally its own podcast on its own—but my mom had to start over her life. And she, at the age of sixty, went from volunteering at a food bank to being the garde manger, which is the chef that’s responsible for all the bar items and salads and appetizers at one of the fancier restaurants I’ve ever been to. She was second guessing her worth and all the stuff that she brings to the table and her experience and I was just like, “Dude, you work on the line with men that are half your age and you’re one of their best employees.” She ended up getting another job and now she’s lead line chef at this other incredibly fancy restaurant, and she did this at sixty. So, I was like, “If she can figure that out, I think I can try it.” (laughs). Yeah. You don’t ever have to stop learning new stuff. You can literally start over whenever you feel like it (laughs). That was a really good thing to realize.

I’ve also spent a lot of time thinking about why people stay at jobs that they actively hate for years—and it’s fear. And I’ve asked other bosses, I’ve asked other people along the way: “Why do you think that that happens?” ‘Cause I was right there, you know? And I was doing that exact thing myself. But it’s fear. And so, if you can get over being afraid when there’s no real danger, then that makes everything more possible. But, I have to say (just so everybody who happens to hear this knows): I don’t have kids. I don’t have anyone I’m responsible for financially. I don’t own my house; I rent. You know, there’s all these factors that made it work for me, personally. And I do know other business owners that, you know, have whole families and have different financial obligations to other things and, you know, it does change it. It doesn’t make it impossible. I know tons of people that do that. But I’ve had a very fast and light approach to it. I’m not responsible for much else besides me and my cat.

(cat meowing)

(KK): Caitlin told herself that she wasn’t going into debt over this, so if she couldn’t make it work and make ends meet, that’s it. The company’s done. But, with a little bit of moxie and a lot of grit, she put her head down and got to it. There was a parallel between entrepreneurship and climbing for her; because climbing has so many parallels to everyday life, Caitlin saw that. Having the experience of learning how to lead mentally prepared her for the challenges of becoming a business owner and a baker.

(CM): Even things like assessing risk and dealing with fear—climbing taught me so much of that. Because you get in situations when you are genuinely scared and you’re like, “Am I scared or am I in danger?” ‘cause there’s a difference—and if I’m just scared, I can work through it. That skill was valuable so many times. Like, I learned how to ride a motorcycle when I was in my thirties—I mean, I am in my thirties now. But that was scary! But I just thought about leading, you know, for the first time and I remember taking thirty minutes to build an anchor ‘cause I was so freaked out that it wasn’t going to work. And you’re like, “Ok, I can learn that. I can figure it out and I can keep myself safe and I can do it here, too.” And then, same thing with the company. It’s like, just mitigating fear and that anxiety response in your body or just dealing—having it, but just doing it anyway. You know? That has helped me in every aspect of my life.

(KK): All of that hustle has paid off. The banana bread is now sold in over forty coffee shops, climbing gyms, and stores in the greater New York City area. Caitlin created a product that people love and a company that gives back to a community that has supported her these past two years. DANK sponsors initiatives such as the New York City Adventure Film Festival, Adaptive Climbing Group, Gunks Apps, Project Girl, and more. DANK may have started as collateral for rides to the Gunks, but it’s grown to be much more than that. It’s a community. It’s a lifestyle product. It’s vegan.

(CM): We sell to thirty-five places in mostly Brooklyn and Manhattan now, but there is the Cliffs in Queens, which is awesome—love those guys! And yeah, I mean it started out just walking around and going to coffee shops and giving samples and talking to people. And it’s definitely growing all the time. Two of our newest spots are Brooklyn Roasting Company—five of their shops have the bread and The Elk in West Village just picked it up. But we have places like all the Little Skips stores in Bushwick. They’ve been around forever and the owners are amazing. They have a real family for their team, and a lot of my shops are like that—where people work there for years. Most of the time, a good metric for me, if I think the space will do well or not, is if it’s a place I genuinely just enjoy being in. If it’s a spot where I would hang out and do some work or meet up with a friend for coffee or just go there on my lunch break ‘cause it’s nice to get out of the office for a minute and be in a good space. That’s where I sell to.

Yeah, we’ve been in business since—I started the company in January 2016. The first week of sales was the first week of March in 2016. And our first account, Yours Truly: I cold called them on the very first day I did sales. And actually, the owner, Fabrizio—I introduced him to climbing and he loves it—a lot! So, (laughs) that’s been super cool. I am actually going to do a day where I reach out to my stores and see if people are interested to start climbing, ‘cause I’ve gotten a lot of questions about it from places that I sell to and people are really interested. One of my bakers wanted to come for sure, one of the managers at Happy Bones is gonna come, and I just talked to one of the managers at Sey Coffee in Bushwick and he’s interested, too. And so, I’m gonna put out a couple dates where people can come and then I can show them how it works. So, it’s been really cool that there’s been both ways. The climbing community has been ridiculously supportive of me the entire time. It’s been so cool.

(KK): We love you.

(CM): Aww! Thank you! (laughs). But like, yeah. It’s really cool to see the other side of it now, ‘cause I do have, now, a community in the food industry. It’s so cool that I get to be a part of the New York City coffee scene because I just think there’s so many genuinely creative, interesting, hardworking, and driven people in that field. So, the fact that they’re kind of getting interested in climbing has been really cool.

I’ve lived in Brooklyn since I was eighteen, so I grew up as an adult in the city and I didn’t start climbing until 2011. So, it’s really funny because when we were climbing at Brooklyn Boulders and everyone was learning and people started going outside and kind of figuring it out—like, we are the babies of the climbing scene. Because other cities, this is just what you do: everybody trad climbs, everybody’s really good at it. There’s probably just, like, the level gets ratcheted up. But, the cool thing about the New York community is that I feel like there was a second wave of it around 2010, 2011. It’s super interesting to see how it’s developed because even things like all the new gyms opening up, it’s super interesting. It’s becoming a much more widespread thing. It’s really not that much counter-culture anymore. It wasn’t even when I started, I mean, I’m not kidding myself. It’s not like it’s the seventies or even earlier or whatever. Those people were so hard (laughs) you know?

But I think that the community on a personal level is really special. I always assumed if I moved somewhere else, that climbing would be the in: that’s how you meet people, that’s how you make friends. And I know people that have moved to, you know, Colorado, to Vancouver, to California and they just say it’s not the same thing. I do think New York is a transient place. Not that many people are really from there and so people are just more open to making friends, meeting people, doing different things. And then, when you take that tier of people in that community that are adventurous and like to take risks and learn new things, it is a really special group of people. So yeah, I mean, they’ve been there for me from the beginning—like the gyms that I sell to: Brooklyn Boulders and The Cliffs, friends at GP81 opening up their new gyms. It’s really cool to see how it’s progressed over such a short amount of time.

You know, it’s cool that it’s accessible. I love climbing. I love showing people climbing. I love bringing people outdoors for the first time or putting them on their first lead, which I’ve gotten to do a couple of times. And that’s always really cool just to see people learning it. I think it’s such a valuable skillset because if you get to the point where you are climbing outside and leading, especially trad, there’s this level of care and consideration that you have to take with doing things the proper way. I feel like a lot of times, especially within certain age brackets nowadays, there’s not ever a real sense of consequence with anything because you can undo so many things, you can change so many things. I just think that making a decision and having to really stand behind it and be like, “I did this the right way. I’m positive of it. Because if I didn’t, something bad’s gonna happen.” You know, climbing teaches you that, which there’s not that much else in day-to-day normal modern life that will do that.

(KK): A few years ago, I was really struggling with my writing career. I remember calling Caitlin up—and I feel like I’m always calling her when I’m having a crisis or a business question. And she told me that there was a shift once she was able to start identifying herself as a baker. And that carried a lot of weight for me. I stopped thinking of myself as a two-bit hack wannabe, and you know what? She was right. I was a writer as much as I was a climber, as much as she was a baker.

(CM): Yeah, you don’t have to really care what other people see you as. I mean, even other people, which is funny, saw me as being a baker ‘cause I own a baking company—that seems logical. But, any time I had thought about my career now being in food service, it would just stress me out ‘cause I just don’t know that the way that I knew designing. I worked in that industry for ten years. I knew a lot about that field and I knew nothing about my new field, so.

I hope my mom’s not listening to this (laughs). So, this is probably two summers ago and it was such a really difficult time because I had come into working for DANK full-time. I had this awesome girl, Camille who, that was my first hire, who basically had been doing the baking for me while I went back to work during the day. ‘Cause at the time, we were baking between 2:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m., three nights a week. So, you can imagine just how that throws your entire life off. And at the beginning, when you have no resources and no money, everything’s hard because you just have to be super scrappy and just do most of it yourself. So, that’s where I was at and Camille got another job which was super great for her, but she had to stop baking. And so, I had a meeting with my financial advisor and was just like, “Is it ok if do this right now? Is this a good idea?”

On top of all of this, I have no money. Like, I’m paying myself a hundred dollars a week. Like, I can’t go out to a bar and buy a single beer with friends. So, one of my girlfriends is having a bachelorette party and luckily, it was in the city. But they still had this whole itinerary of different things that they wanted to do—and all of it cost money. You know, you can explain to people that you’re broke, but even if they’re your best friends, unless you’ve kind of been there recently, it’s hard to remember what it’s like and I was totally there myself when I left Nautica. I mean, that’s why—I would have quit that company minimum two years earlier, but you get comfortable with the money and it’s hard to picture cutting back. And I had cut back so hard that people my age with careers had a hard time really understanding what I meant when I was like, “I’m broke.” It’s not like, “Oh, I’m broke till I get paid next week.” It’s like, “I actually don’t have money right now.” (laughs).

So, at one point in the daytime—I don’t who started talking about doing mushrooms, but people decided that they wanted to do that. We get some. And the part of the night that I was going to do was this cruise thing. It was like a—you get on a boat. There’s a dinner component to it. It was like eighty bucks and the food was horrible—and, you know, that’s what I pay myself in a week. That was a really hard blow. Then, we spend a million hours running around Greenpoint trying to find a bar to go to. I pay the six bucks it costs to get a beer—

(cash register opening)

—which—again, this is literally knife in the heart every time I have to exchange money that night. And then, the minute I get a beer, everyone decides that they don’t feel like being there anymore.

(murmuring crowd at bar and background music playing)

Even while we’re at the bar—at the time, I’m single and this guy is chatting with me and he asks if I’m a teacher and I’m like, “No, why? Are you a teacher?” And he was like, “No, you just look like a teacher.” And I’m like—

(record scratching)

—“That’s not a compliment! Like, what the fuck is going on with this night?” I was just over it. I was over everybody. I was just so filled with anxiety, stressed, and whatever. So, my girlfriends leave and they were all going to go to one of their houses, but I was like, “I need to just go home.” I’m like kind of over everything right now.” And so, I call a cab—

(fast whistle)

(cash register opening)

—of course, more money. There you go. And when I get into the cab, I start to trip a little bit.

Ok, I’m like, “These mushrooms better kick in because something needs to happen tonight. Like, something interesting just needs to—whatever.’” (laughs). So then, I get out of the cab at my house and because I’m tripping I look at my apartment door—almost don’t recognize it because it’s so ugly and dirty looking and just horrible and I’m like, “Is this where I live?” And I walk into my house and the hallways are so scuffed and terrible and I’m just like, “Oh my god. I live in a shithole. I have no money. I can’t even afford to go out with my friends for one night. Like, what the fuck. I’m working at night. Like, what is wrong with my life right now?” And I’m in my apartment—same thing—everything just looks hideous and I just can’t deal with where I’m at in life (laughs).

And so, then, I just take a shower because I’m like, “You know what. I’m just gonna take a shower and hopefully, things will feel better.” And while I was in the shower, it started to feel a little better. I don’t know, just things kind of seemed more positive and the bathroom’s kind of steamy. And it’s so weird because in my memory, I come out of the shower and it’s all steamy and everything’s really clean and sterile, but in a comforting way, like in a 1950’s hospital where things are still homey looking but it’s very clean. It’s not like how hospitals are now. It just felt like—ok. I kind of realized that if I just kept working, like if I just put my head down and I just kept working so hard, I’d be able to work my way out of the situation. That was the first thing. And then, the second thing is because everything was all clean and white—ok, my bathroom’s not white by the way, it’s teal. So, I don’t know where the whiteness came in (laughs).

Everything was so clean and nice feeling that I had this feeling of being reborn into this role and for the first time, I’m like, “I am a baker. I just need to become a baker.” (laughs) and I go to lay down and it’s really getting late and then, after a second the money part just starts weighing on me again. And I spent the next five hours awake in my bed doing calculations on my phone calculator of whether or not I’d be able to make ends meet (laughs). So, it kind of took another turn, but it was genuinely productive. I don’t think I need to be endorsing everyone to go to drugs or anything, but it was just a genuinely productive time and it kind of just did shift my headspace a little bit about it. It wasn’t any easier or I had any more money the next day, but we did work out of it.

I still say “we” every time I talk to someone because I’m making people think it’s not just one person doing all this stuff. And now, I pay my bills, I pay my rent, I pay my insurance, I pay my employees, all the payroll taxes, workers comp insurance on that, rented the kitchen, storage. That’s all from the company. Like, all of it. That was the switch, which is kind of funny ‘cause I probably shouldn’t even be telling this in a public setting, but whatever.

(KK): I’m not cutting this.

(CM): That’s ok (laughs).

(KK): All deaths have the capacity to shatter us, to shatter our worldview. Caitlin didn’t let the incident in the Gunks shatter her, though. Instead, she took one big moment in her life and let it be part of this catalyst of change for her, and in a lot of ways, become a part of her. Caitlin had a choice—she could stay at a corporate job in fashion or give DANK her all. She thought of herself in twenty years saying, “Remember that time I owned a banana bread company…?” and it just seemed like the more interesting path to take.

(CM): You know, I really still look at every day as if, you know, anything can happen at any time. In two weeks, I could be dead. I don’t know. It’s not like I walk around with a shadow over my head or I’m freaked out by it at all. But, when it comes time to making certain decisions, I mostly will just be like, “Yo, let’s do it. Let’s go for it—because why not?” I think a lot of the fear that came with messing up or things not working out went away because I saw what happens when you don’t get a chance—when you always think, “Oh, maybe I’ll do it later.” and then later doesn’t exist. So, why not just do it now? Being able to just be like, “Yeah. Let’s try it.” I think I’d be happier to try and not make it than to just wonder if it would have worked forever.

(KK): It can be difficult to pick up the phone and ask for help, but calling a PTSD hotline number is always free and confidential. If you or someone you know is dealing with a traumatic incident, consider speaking with someone about the treatment options available. If you experience suicidal thoughts during a PTSD episode 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.

– 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. And a big thank you to everybody who knows how to speak another language. You are infinitely cooler than I am—I gotta get Rosetta Stone.

– 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. And a big shout out to Roaming Ingenuity, a team of outdoor enthusiasts and tinkerers based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. 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.

Gear Review: Deuter Climbing Rope Bag & Accessories

I think it’s safe to say that not all gear is made of the same quality, and that definitely holds true for rope bags! Oh, the trusty rope bag. It can be the quintessential piece of climbing equipment that you’re missing on all of your cragging days. And so, long gone are my days of using IKEA blue bags (although, for you dirtbags out there, it can still work in a pinch!) The Deuter Gravity series focuses on being minimalistic but functional. The entire line is designed to be light enough for alpine endeavors but also, with durability in mind.

image2 (3)

The Deuter Gravity Rope Bag is made of a tough high density, macro-lite 420 denier polyamide that features high abrasion resistance, due to its tight weave, as well as being coated with a polyurethane compound for weather resistance. No matter the weather, this bag’s contents (be it a rope or snacks, or both) will stay safe and dry inside. This kind of quality of fabric is often used for guide packs.

The Gravity Rope Bag will also comfortably carry your rope to its destination. The bag is a navy/granite (blue/gray) with long, brightly colored adjustable straps that make it comfortable when hauling around. The shoulder loops don’t dig into your skin, which is a huge deciding factor for me. It will hold a rope up to 80 meters, no problem. (Siurana, here you come!)


Included inside is the Deuter Rope Sheet, which weighs only 11 ounces. The Rope Sheet can be used separately from the bag and is not connected to it, which is practical and convenient. Say goodbye to tangled up ropes and sighs of frustration with these color-coded corners (to indicate the orientation of your rope stack). Purchased separately, the retail price for the Rope Sheet is $35. The bag itself (with the sheet included) clocks in at 1 pound, 6 ounces and retails for $60.

The Deuter Gravity Rope Bag and Rope Sheet will keep your rope safe, help keep YOU organized, and are must-have additions to your climbing gear, with their incredibly durable and well thought out design.

The Deuter Gravity Rope Bag retails for $60, and the Deuter Rope Sheet retails for $35.n You can purchase your own Gravity Rope Bag here.

Disclosure: I am currently an ambassador for Deuter and the gear has been provided for this review. As always, all opinions are honest and my own.

All photographs courtesy of Deuter.

Climbing Helmets: Love Them or Hate Them?

It was summer of last year, and my buddy Evan Raines came out to Wyoming. We had planned a week sport climbing in Ten Sleep, something I always greatly looking forward to. I’d just been in Wyoming two weeks ago, climbing with another group of friends. I’d been in the middle of the podcast launch and hadn’t been climbing much, if at all. I watched everybody warm up on 11s and 12s and while they were projecting much harder grades, I projected the warm-up routes. It was fine, I told myself. Climbing outside, no matter what the grade, was the best way to start feeling strong again. It never really bothers me, but I was aware that I was the weakest one in the group. Not only that but as I pulled out my helmet and strapped it on, I started to feel like the dorkiest one, too.

Who brings their helmet sport climbing? I asked myself. Dorks do. Dorks bring their helmet sport climbing! But I wore it with pride as I struggle-barged my way up routes at the Shinto Wall.

I didn’t always wear my helmet climbing. In fact, I am guilty of being one of the most inconsistent helmet wearers I know. My partner in the Gunks when I first started climbing never wore one, and even though I’d purchased one my first year climbing, I didn’t feel obligated to wear it. In fact, I usually carried it up to the crag and it lived in my backpack the entire day. A really useful way to spend 100 dollars, right? As time went on, I started to wear it more religiously. I would tell people, “I always wear it on trad routes.” which was mostly true, most of the time. I never wore my helmet on off-width routes, which is a judgment call I have to make. On occasion, I would forget it at home or in the car and shrugged it off as a one-time thing. When that happened, I climbed without the restriction of the annoying buckle at my chin, the wind in my hair, and my head completely unprotected. But I didn’t care–it felt so free!

But as more time goes on, I have begun wearing it with more consistency. I started to realize that when I was mid-route and fumbling with gear, I wasn’t afraid to death of taking a fall. Having my brain (and glasses) strapped in, I actually found that I felt much braver. It sounds silly, but having to worry about one less thing getting damaged in a fucked up fall made me feel more confident—and I could climb through cruxes with more fluidity and assertiveness.

During that trip, I joked and said I was completely aware that I was the dorkiest person at the crag one evening to Kelly Cordes, referring to the fact that I had brought along my brain bucket. He laughed and told me, no, that he was actually feeling a tinge of guilt for not having his with him when he saw me with it.

Two weeks later on the drive back up to Ten Sleep, I mentioned that I admired Evan for always wearing his helmet while climbing. I’d noticed that he hadn’t brought his helmet with him the last few times we’d climbed together in Tennessee, which I casually brought up. We discussed this and caught up on some other life things for a little while driving up 80. Having not seen each other since last winter, there were so many good updates to swap: I was launching the podcast that I’d been tirelessly working on all spring and summer, my partner was in Pakistan and we were both feeling pretty good about our relationship, I’d moved to Salt Lake City (a dream) and was in love with my work more than ever before. Evan was graduating from school that year, had started dating someone new, and just seemed so happy.

I commented on how happy we both seemed and that life was looking pretty bright for both of us, holding new and exciting things in the near future. That’s when I concluded that if wearing my helmet meant that I could extend the duration of that happiness by any means, I would. Both Evan and I have been climbing long enough to know that anything can happen, anywhere, anytime, and often without warning. “I really like my life right now,” I simply stated. “I feel happy with where I’m at, and the people I get to share my time with. Getting fucked up or worse, dying, would really throw a wrench in those plans.”

Now, more than ever, I see more climbers wearing their helmets—even at sport crags, which is really encouraging. And yet, I don’t see it as often as I should. What I do see or hear are the same excuses as to why people aren’t wearing them:

“I don’t like the way that it feels/looks.”

“Wearing one reduces my performance.”

“It gives me helmet hair.” or “Helmets don’t look good in climbing photographs.”

“I climb hard enough to not have to worry about falling.”

“The quality of rock is solid.”

“Helmets are expensive.”

“I always wear a helmet. Except when I am sport climbing.”

And so on and so forth.

But the thing is, when things go bad, it always happens fast. Rockfall is unpredictable. Weather is unpredictable. Gear pulls. Belayers make errors. Old/fixed gear can be unreliable and dangerous. Parties above you drop things, sending gear or rock careening down at high speeds. Shit happens.

I had a roommate who was climbing something well within her limit once, but the rope got caught around her leg and she fell on something moderately easy—I think a 5.6 or 5.7. She was fine, but she lost her sense of smell for a while–and she eventually got it back but it will never be the same. On that very trip to Ten Sleep, after declaring my stance on helmets, I wound up taking a whip on Captain Insano (5.11d). I was pumped in a section and before I fell, my foot was not behind the rope. When my arms were too tired to hold on anymore, I fell off and my leg caught behind it. I took a huge ride and was flipped upside down. Ultimately, I was fine because it was just overhanging enough, but just the act of being inverted for a fall was not a feeling I’d like to repeat any time soon.

EVERY climber’s foot will find its way behind the rope. I’ve watched it happen a million times. It’s usually only for a nanosecond, and it’s always fine. They don’t even notice it (or at least, they don’t acknowledge it) and quickly move to a new stance. I have become so hypersensitive to it that I notice it almost immediately. Although the chance of falling at the exact moment that happens might seem very small, every climber should acknowledge the fact that it could happen. And it probably will when you are least expecting it to.

I agree that helmets are not going to save a life every time. The argument that climbing helmets aren’t going to save you from an 800-foot free fall, for example, are legit. And no, donning a bucket is not going to save you from something like spraining an ankle. But the idea of wearing a climbing helmet every time you tie in, whether following or on lead, seems pretty sensible to me. We can always, always speculate about safety in climbing—and every climber’s standard for safety is going to be different than the next. But wouldn’t you rather err on the side of caution than to find out firsthand what it’s like to live with a traumatic brain injury? Or a post-concussive syndrome or skull fracture? While some may argue that head injuries are actually pretty rare in climbing, the fact that it could happen—shouldn’t that be enough?

In any other sport that you can risk falling and hitting something, a helmet is worn. In fact, in many of them—it’s a requirement. Nobody thinks twice about seeing a cyclist or skydiver with one. It wasn’t always a standard practice to wear a helmet when snowboarding or something as simple as riding a bike, but now it’s a standard across the board. Even helmets worn for skiing wasn’t typical until professionals began actively promoting them, making them seem almost “cool”. I would rather see this practice amongst professional climbers to make wearing a helmet more of a standard than to see more people get injured to start a trend.

Another thing I often ask myself is: why don’t we see professional climbers wearing their helmets more often? Does it really come down to wearing them in photographs just doesn’t look as good without? I’ve seldom seen photos of the pros wearing them in mainstream climbing publications. Kudos to moments where someone like Sasha DiGiulian sets an example and wears one on bigger objectives—can we see more pros wearing them for sport climbing as well? I’ve heard the defense: “I always assess the risk, and if I don’t feel like it’s that bad, I won’t wear one.” But climbing is inherently risky, whether you are clipping bolts or plugging gear—whether you are single pitch cragging or on a big wall.

I understand that even professional climbers are still just people and that if you want to be a role model, then you (the un-professional climber) have as much power as anybody else to become one. A lot of this comes down to outreach, though. And the more people who see climbers wearing their helmets, the more normalized it becomes—especially when it’s a well-known professional athlete with a big following or social media platform. How we change the culture of not wearing helmets starts with each of our individual decisions.

Here are a few personal thoughts on how to make climbing helmets more widely accepted:

Encourage your peers and partners to use one.

Wearing one yourself only encourages other people to. You don’t even need to say anything.

Make it a standard for all new climbers and especially, younger ones. Let that be the norm that they learn with. Too many people head up the crag from indoor climbing with a gym mentality.

Buy and use a climbing helmet that feels comfortable to wear. If it doesn’t feel good or is too heavy, you’ll never wear it. Technology has really changed a lot and most companies have managed to maintain impact ratings while decreasing overall weight.

Remember this for every excuse you might have to not wear one:

“I don’t like the way that it feels/looks.” – You’ll like the way that it feels/looks if you are badly injured or paralyzed even less.

“Wearing one reduces my performance.” – Wearing a helmet can lead to increased confidence on a route. Maximum sendage, bro.

“I climb hard enough to not have to worry about falling.” – Everybody falls.

“The quality of rock is solid.” – Even the most solid climbing areas that I can think of have had holds break off. Whole features of the wall have broken off in the past in well-trafficked areas you might not think it could happen, but it does.

“Helmets are expensive.” – So is an ER bill.

“They look dumb.” – So does an injury that you could have potentially avoided.

“I always wear a helmet. Except when I am sport climbing.” – I still don’t understand the difference.

Most of the time, you have little to no warning that something is about to happen—it just does. Even in something that seems as safe as sport climbing, there are plenty of things that are out of the climber’s control that could happen. We say that if we climb “in control” and do things such as watch our lead rope in relation to our legs, we can be preventative of an accident. But because it’s life and we live in the real world, so much will always be out of our control. One thing that is well within it is wearing a helmet and regardless of choosing to wear a one or not will send a message to others.

Climbing safety is ultimately a matter of mitigating risks. There is no way to eliminate all of the risks in climbing. But is wearing a brain bucket really going to risk me not sending? Because I’d rather risk that than risk a head injury. I haven’t been climbing even a full decade yet, but I’d like to at least make it to ten years. Like I said, I really like my life right now. Being dead or suffering from a brain injury would undoubtedly make that tricky. Veterans of the sport say that when they began climbing twenty, thirty years ago–it wasn’t cool to wear a helmet. People rarely used them. Now, that’s changing. Being alive is definitely much cooler.

Photograph courtesy of Alma Baste.

6: #NWS

Angela has loved to the end of the earth, which is exactly how far she would travel in order to say goodbye to Scott. After two flights that covered every aspect of the Ogre II, search and rescue could find no trace of Scott and Kyle. Adventurous souls leave broken hearts behind, but what about the aftermath? This episode is in loving memory of Scott Adamson and Kyle Dempster, who left the world with the question: What will you do with the days that you have? #NWS

This episode is brought to you by Deuter, Evo Hemp, and Dirtbag Climbers. Music by: “Jazzy Frenchy”, “Cute”, “Enigmatic”, and “Funny Song” by bensound.com, “Ichill” by Kakurenbo, “Hélice” by Monplaisir, “Our Home” by Borrtex, “Bloom” by Jahzzar, “Eastern Thought” by Kevin MacLeod, “Tech Toys” by Lee Rosevere, “Pandora’s Delight” by Krackatoa, and “Arboles” and “Pives and Flarinet” by Podington Bear.

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(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 is known for fit, comfort, and ventilation. Stay tuned for a new line of women’s climbing packs, coming out any day. I can’t tell you which one, but stay tuned for more about Gravity SL line–made by women, for women.

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.) 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 because even though my advice and opinions are free, I am improvising the whole thing. Better Help lets you message a licensed therapist, day or night. 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.

(ANGELA VAN WIEMEERSCH): Oh, Scott. Yeah so, I met Scott in 2013 and I was super new to ice climbing. Nobody would go climbing with me. I was at the Ouray Ice Park and I was gettin’ ditched every day. They’re like, “Oh yeah, there’s that gumby chick with the core shot rope and a helmet that’s falling off her head.” You know?

(KK): It’s so hard to imagine you getting ditched!

(AVW): Oh yeah, people loved not climbing with me right at the beginning there.

(KK): The reason it’s hard for me to imagine Angela getting ditched is because she is probably one of the most prolific and tenacious climbers in the US. Not an exaggeration. If you’ve had the pleasure of meeting her IRL, then you know that she absolutely lives up to her reputation. And if you’re lucky enough like me, to be able to call her a friend means you’ve got someone pretty solid in your corner. And—did I mention this girl can climb?

Her adventure resume isn’t limited to first ascents in the alpine, though; Angela has ice skated, bike toured, paddled, and hitched hiked her way through life (and Canada) before she learned how to swing picks, which is how she met Scott Adamson. And was it fate? Or just happenstance? Who knows. Like most things in life, true love is unpredictable. It’ll find you when you aren’t looking, and usually in the most awkward moments at the most inconvenient times. And, hey—sometimes it even shows up in ripped Levis.

(AVW): So, it was super funny ‘cause I was begging people. I was like, “Will you take me climbing?” and they’re like, “Yeah, maybe Thuuursday.” And I was soloing the kiddie wall just trying to figure out how to kick and swing. I was just so desperate to try to get on some ice. And somebody came over to me and was like, “What are you doing? Like, what are you doing?” I was like, “I’m learning how to be an ice climber.” And they were like, “Do you wanna actually get on a rope?” and I was like, “Yeah!” Then they were like, “Ok, well we’re going to rap in over here.” I was like, “What?” They’re like, “We’re going to rappel in over here.” And I was like, “What’s rappelling?” And he was like, “Oh god. I don’t wanna deal with this.” I was like, “No, no, no! You invited me to go ice climbing.” He was like, “Scott, can you teach this chick how to rappel?”

So, Scott comes over and he’s wearing a pair of Levis. And he tried to put his harness on and he tripped and he fell face first into the snow and was like, “Don’t worry! I’m a guide.” Anyways, we go to rappel off this little tree and I’m all freaked out—so he puts in a bunch of ice screws. It’s so funny: I’m rapping off a tree and three ice screws ‘cause I’m like, “This is so scary!” Anyways, we go in. We climb and over the next couple days, basically I climbed with this crew and I just was so keen that I think he was like, “Aw man, everybody’s really busy with the ice festival competing and sponsor obligations and slideshows and this girl has nothing to do. She can belay me on all this backcountry ice.”

And so, I think it might have been like my fourth day of climbing or something and we did Gravity’s Rainbow, which is a super cool backcountry ice climb that never comes in. And I’m hammering out pitons and I’m like, “How do I work this thing with the lever that you pull?” and he’s teaching me as I’m climbing how to take out cams, you know? Super fast-tracked. But so, we went on to climb, I think seventy days on of ice climbing? And I moved into his truck without even asking. We weren’t even romantic at that point. It was so funny. It was like, everybody was going to Cody, Wyoming to climb and I just wanted to be part of the gang. And I had this rent that I was paying in Ouray—I’d paid cash. And I went to the real estate lady and was like, “Can I get my money back? I don’t actually want to be here anymore. You see, these climbers are going to Wyoming and I want to go, too.” And so, she gave me my money back and I got to bail out of rent and moved into his truck and then I was like, “I hope this guy doesn’t mind that I just totally moved into his truck with him.” And off we went, and we climbed in Cody, we climbed in Santa Quinn, we climbed in Maple, we went to the Vail cave.

And then it was time for Alaska and he was like, “Well, I got big objectives but if you can wrangle a partner up, you should probably come to the central Alaskan range.” So anyways, this was my foundation for meeting him. And I also had no clue that he was “cutting edge”. I didn’t know that he was sponsored. He didn’t tell me any of this. I mean, he gave me Conrad Anker’s biner and I’ll never forget this ‘cause now it’s super funny: he was hooking me up with stuff ‘cause I didn’t have anything, like biners and slings and just things that a climber should own, you know? And he was like, “Oh. This anchor’s Conrad Anker’s.” and I was like, “Who?” And he was like, “That’s awesome. Hang onto that one, ok?” And I was like, “Ok!”

It wasn’t until days before Alaska that I realized that he was super cutting edge and sponsored—not that being sponsored means anything. It just was like a certain stature. I had no idea when I was getting dragged up all these water ice sixes that he was the bee’s knees when it came to climbing. Then I got mad at him and I was like, “How come you didn’t tell me?” and he’s like, “Tell you what?” And I was like, “That you’re this dude with these big goals and these things and you’re cutting edge in this sport.” And he was like, “‘Cause it doesn’t mean anything about me.”

Sure, everybody was like, “Yeah, well you’re a blonde chick. Of course, he took you climbing.” But it wasn’t like that. He took gumbies out all the time. That was why I loved him so much, you know? There’s these kids in Provo that would look up to him. It’s like hometown, small-town Provo, Utah. All the climbers know everyone and he’d be like, “Yeah? You want to go ice climbing? Let’s go.” He’d take out kids that couldn’t climb water ice two. What pro athlete do you know that’s making an effort to go to the local climbing shop and pick up some kid who doesn’t know how to put on his crampons? Scott was always like, “Yeah if you’re psyched—let’s go.” And, I don’t know, he was always like that.

He was always really sarcastic, really funny—his sense of humor was really dry, though. People didn’t get his jokes half the time. He had a flip phone and his jeans were always ripped. The back left pocket of his pants on the seam always ripped. He had five pairs of Levis that were all ripped on the back left pocket and it was so signature Scott. You’re like, “Oh. I can see his underwear.” But he never got new pants and, I don’t know, he was just so Scott. He always came up with these little sayings like “chimpleton”—like when it was really easy. He’d be like, “That’s chimpleton!” and I’d be like, “What are you talking about?” and he’s like, “A chimp could do it! It’s easy!”

(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.

– Before we start this episode, I want to take a minute to emphasize the impact that Angela’s story has had on me. There is a pretty lengthy list of people who are definitely responsible for this podcast, but Angela was the one gave me the guts to actually do it. Just as I’d sort of finalized what I wanted the podcast to be, I thought to myself: “NOBODY IS GONNA TO WANT TO TALK TO ME ABOUT THEIR SHIT.” Like, their life shit. And I went back and forth in my brain for days and weeks, thinking I couldn’t possibly ask people to share these deep, dark feelings. Those feelings belonged to them. I had no right.

But shortly after, I read a blog post that recapped Angela and Jewell Lund’s trip to Pakistan. In 2017, the girls crossed rivers and glaciers to commemorate Scott Adamson and Kyle Dempster’s memory. It was incredibly hard to read, but I felt like I was fat biking down the same roads, indulging in the same fields of wildflowers, and staring up at the same daunting peaks.

Angela wrote: “Pakistan is a beautiful place full of beautiful people. I’m eternally grateful I got to go see the place that brought so much magic to our boys. I hope for all of you close to the boys that I run into you and share all that I can. It’s hard for me to write about because there’s so much I don’t even know where to start. So, don’t be scared to ask. I want to share.”

(AVW): The thing that’s so crazy about all this stuff is that you don’t know how you’re affecting other people. I would have never, ever assumed that somebody reading it would find their own meaning or whatever. It’s funny—the same way that you felt about me writing that, I felt about coming to Hayden’s service and seeing all the people who had gone through so much shit. And everybody was there and strong and trying to be present with it, and that was why I was like, “Oh my god. I have to write something.” You know? And I haven’t written a post since. Great blog. A once a year blog.

(KK): I don’t know anyone who can keep up with a blog.

(AVW): It’s just—I know. But, yeah. I guess you just never know who you’re affecting by just doing what you’re doing or sharing what you’re sharing.

(KK): Definitely. Yeah. There’s a whole ripple effect that I think we’re just completely unaware of, all of the time.

(AVW): All the time.

(KK): Is my light blinking?

(FEMALE NEWSCASTER): It’s been thirty-nine days since the search for two alpine climbers from Utah was called off. Kyle Dempster and Scott Adamson were trying to conquer a Pakistani peak that had never been summited.

(MALE NEWSCASTER): The sport of alpine climbing can be extremely dangerous, even deadly. As one Utah doctor knows personally. Kathy Aiken has her story.

(RECORDING OF KYLE DEMPSTER): Risk is—it’s synonymous with life.

(FEMALE REPORTER): The life of an alpine climber is risky. A journey Kyle Dempster knew well.

(KD): On that journey, you go through the feeling of fear to an eventual outcome.

(FR): Dempster made those comments a little more than a year ago, just before he and fellow alpinist, Scott Adamson, attempted to climb the north face of a 23,000-foot mountain called “Ogre II” in Pakistan. It had never been done before, and the outcome last year was nearly fatal. Both men survived falls of several hundred feet.

(KATE WILSON): Ogre II is one of the most challenging and inherently dangerous peaks. It’s not just something that you can walk up.

(chatter in the background)

(FR): Dr. Kate Wilson knows all about the dangers alpine climbers face. Her son, Drew, fell to his death on Baffin Island in northeastern Canada in 2005. Dempster, her nephew, was Drew’s climbing partner that day.

(KW): This is where Drew landed and where Kyle, at great effort, retrieved him. I used to say, “If Drew lives to be twenty”. A good friend told me that I should quit putting that out there, which I did, and he made it to twenty-four.

(FR): Dempster continued his adventures even after Drew’s death. For years, he’s traveled the world and climbed some of the most dangerous peaks.

(KW): Life with passion is the way we should all live—and not everyone has the opportunity to do that.

(KD): I’m loving life, for sure, right now.

(FR): On August 21st, Dempster, age thirty-three, and thirty-four-year-old Adamson wanted one more try on that Pakistani peak. It was supposed to be a five-day trip.

– What was your greatest fear when you knew that Kyle and Scott were going back?

(KW): Certainly, there were fears of an accident. There were fears of weather systems. It’s certainly something that you have to think about when you consider that mountain range.

(FR): The two were last seen August 22nd. The cook at basecamp saw them near the summit before a terrible storm engulfed the mountain. A helicopter crew could find no sign of the climbers. Dr. Wilson’s sister, Terry Dempster—Kyle’s mother, spoke with a climber she knew at the scene.

(KW): She asked him if it was a beautiful place and he assured her that it was. And I think she was comforted in that image of him being lost in a part of nature that he would have cherished. Adventurous souls leave broken hearts behind.

(FR): Kathy Aiken, KLS 5 News.

(wind howling)

(KK): Sunday, August 21st, Kyle Dempster and Scott Adamson started up the North Face of the Ogre II in the Karakorum. The Ogre II sits over 22,000 feet. Their intent was a five-day climb and descent, however, the following day Ghafoor Abdul, their Pakistani cook, spotted headlamps roughly halfway up the peak. One day later, a storm moved in.

On August 28th, Scott and Kyle were overdue. Climbers from all over mobilized in an effort to initiate a search and rescue effort. A fundraising page was launched and raised almost $200,000, which was critical in covering significant costs incurred in the search and rescue effort. Despite the gravity of the situation, there was hope.


(Facebook message alert)

People posted thoughts and encouragement all over Facebook and social media: “Kyle and Scott, get your asses out of your tent or snow cave and get back to camp. We need you back home!”

A rescue helicopter was launched early on September 3rd, 2016. Given the complexity and scale of the terrain, as well as the weather, the family called off the search. After two flights that covered every aspect of the Ogre II, search and rescue could find no trace of Kyle and Scott.

(wind howling)

(AVW): So, in 2017, the summer after the boys had gone missing, Jewell Lund, Andrew Burr, and Steve Fassbinder (also known as “Doom”) trekked over to Pakistan. And the whole meaning behind the trip for me was some sort of intimate experience with this place that Scott and Kyle had felt super close to. More so, I had this compelling feeling to be where Scott was and as the whole rescue was going down, we were orchestrating it out of Salt Lake City. And, I mean, I got overnight visas through the embassy in Pakistan. I was like, “I’m going!” And they were like, “You can’t just go. We need to be on the phones. We need to be dealing with the bureaucracy. We need to be dealing with visas, long-line rescue, helicopters, you know? And it was really hard for me ‘cause I just thought, “Well, if there’s any chance of them being alive, I want to be on the ground. Like, I want to be there.” And so, going back a year later, even though obviously, the search was inconclusive, was a really important thing for me ‘cause I just wanted to be closer. I had this like, “I just really wanted to be there” feeling.

(KK): Physically close. The distance, I mean.

(AVW): I don’t know why. But the physical was so huge for me.

(KK): Angela and Jewell are both well-seasoned climbers. And neither of them had ever imagined going to Pakistan and not climbing. But that’s exactly what they did. With the help of Andrew Burr, “Doom”, and others, they organized a trip to establish a memorial at the base camp where Scott and Kyle stayed. They rode fat bikes up to the Choktoi Glacier, navigating cobblestones and steep cliffs, where they eventually had to carry the bikes.

Jewell and Angela spent days walking around the glacier, talking to someone who wasn’t physically there, sleeping in Scott’s tent at basecamp, listening to old voicemails, and piecing together parts of the boys’ time in Pakistan. Because Angela struggles with high altitude, she thanked the universe for keeping her healthy enough to get her there. She was as close to Scott as she could be. Even though the summit of the Ogre II sits in a thick fog of clouds, they lifted for a few days and the girls felt lucky to see the summit. Angela had dreamt of traveling there with Scott, and it was bittersweet to be in such a beautiful, mountainous place without him.

(AVW): It’s the Karakorum. We’ve looked at objectives, looked at Laytok II. I mean, these mountains weren’t unfamiliar to us. These were also dreams and goals that we have had. And so, deciding to not climb was a really hard thing, which seems funny ‘cause we already had irrational and rational fears about the alpine since losing the boys. But it was just strange. You know? You dream about climbing somewhere and then you’re going to go there and not climb. But we wanted to make sure that it was an adventure and that we were doing something besides sitting and crying in Pakistan. And so, we decided that we would fat tire bike, which was super hilarious. We became the first people in the world ever to take our bicycles up to the Choktoi Glacier, which for a good reason, we were the first people in the world to do it. But it was an adventure. I mean, we basically carried bikes for a long way.

(KK): In death and loss, we find ourselves in a tunnel of grief. Like with most traumatic events, we can actually function pretty normally, at least—part of the time. Making breakfast, answering emails, driving to work—because we have to, right? It’s life. But then, sadness creeps in or the feeling of loss is suddenly overwhelming, and we feel like life will never be unclouded again.

People talk a lot about closure, but closure is pretty prescriptive and tries to put a limit on grief. And I get the feeling that the people who talk the most about closure are the ones who might not understand it, or haven’t necessarily experienced deep loss. Instead of understanding that grief is a part of mourning, and life, people want to timetable it (such as: you have to see the body at a funeral, otherwise you can’t accept the finality of death.) But mourning isn’t like a singular event that eventually comes to a close. This isn’t some Beyoncé concert; it doesn’t sooner or later come to an end—it’s a long, complex, and individual process. And part of it involves working out what aspects of someone you’ve lost are, and which aspects endure.

(AVW): So, my biggest struggle—I mean there’s a whole list of struggles that I’ve obviously had—most of which, just being super fucking sad. Just sad all the time and just missing him a lot. But I think a hard one for me has been kind of realizing that I don’t have what I used to have and having a relationship with someone that you love so much—like having that person to talk to, all these things that you have when you are in a relationship—you get to see these people and create memories with them and watch them grow and you’re just proud of who they are. Something that was really hard for me through this whole process was realizing that that was gone and that his spirit and his energy and all that we’ve learned will live on, but I don’t have that anymore.

You know, I still call him my boyfriend even though there’s…what do you call someone who you spend the longest period of your intimate life with and then they pass away? It’s not like we broke up. It’s not like he’s my ex-boyfriend. But I think a lot of people were like, “Ang, you gotta move on. You can’t keep calling him your boyfriend.” I was like, “Well, he is.” And I still very much talk about him in the present tense and it’s ‘cause I just feel like I wanna keep him present in that sense, you know?

My good friend Thad, who’s really wonderful, also lost his girlfriend, and it’s been a really interesting and beautiful friendship and I think we understand each other a lot. But he told me that people die twice and they die in the physical when they leave us and then, and then they die when their name is said for the very last time. And I feel that we don’t have to lose these people twice and that it’s important to cherish and honor and keep their spirit alive. So, going to Pakistan made me realize that I didn’t have that and that even though he was gone and I didn’t have this relationship and we were no longer us, it was still really beautiful and I was so grateful for all the time I spent and I’m so lucky to have met him. It just helped me be like, “Ok—that was what it was but you don’t have it anymore.” And I don’t think it’s moving on, but I think it’s having a little more grace with the situation and just being honest about it. And being like, “Ok—this sucks so much but it’s the card you’ve been given and there’s so much beauty that’s happened in my life and maybe it’s a tradeoff, you know? Like, you can’t have it all. Like, at least I got to know him. And, I mean, he essentially has made me who I am. So much of him is me. So, I’m really grateful for that.

I think what people don’t know, too, is: people know you at a certain point in your life. Like, nobody knew me in the industry before Scott. And so, I’ve gotten this a lot since he’s passed—everyone’s like, “Oh, I just thought you followed Scott around.” And I was like, “Well, yeah—he taught me essentially how to be an alpinist, per se but before I’d met him, I had paddled four hundred thirty miles of an arctic river and gone on a bike tour. I was hitchhiking solo for four and a half years before I met him. I was planning a trip to Antarctica. I mean, I essentially have been in motion since I was nineteen. So, a lot of people, when he passed, were like, “You’re running.” I was like, “No, I’m just doing the only thing that I know.”

(KK): The frustrating thing about grief and losing someone is that physically you’re fine. Like, you can’t just walk into a doctor’s office and get diagnosed for “heartbreak”. But emotionally, it’s all fucked up—and not all of the time. There are so many different feelings working in conjunction with one another. Like, you can be sad, but still have these little bursts of happiness. You can still laugh and smile and walk your dog and sneeze and go grocery shopping—and still be mourning loss.

(AVW): I went through this period of time where I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t do much. And you start to be like, “Ok—I have to do these things.” And I think the hardest thing was: I would go through a few moments without thinking about the loss, without thinking about Scott being gone, and then I would immediately feel guilty about not thinking about it, for like, literally I’m talking like, thirty seconds, like, a minute and a half. And that’s been a really hard process. You just feel, I don’t know, like you should be keeping these people super present, but I think part of dealing with it is giving your mind a little bit of break.

You know, there’s honestly not an hour that goes by that I don’t think about him. But sometimes, you just have to be present and I think for me, being in new and different situations was a really essential part of my healing. I left Salt Lake City when shit hit the fan. I moved into my truck. I went from place to place and everybody told me I was running. And I was like, “I’m creating something new. I can’t go back to an empty house with his dirty socks on the floor and this void.” So, I created new experiences and new memories and I met new people and it’s not like I don’t still obviously cry all of the time and deal with this. It’s an ongoing thing but it’s definitely in shorter frequency and there has definitely been people that have been monumental for me.

There is somebody right now who I’m starting to see. It’s been an ongoing, kinda interesting situation where I met him back in 2015 when we were climbing the Hulk and I was together with Scott and he had a girlfriend and whatever—it was totally platonic. We had kept in touch over the years and his name’s Dave and he is an avid big mountain snowboarder. And he’s lost eleven friends now, you know? And this is something we all deal with in these sports. And so, he reached out after things went south and was like, “Hey, I don’t know where you’re at, but if you need an out and you wanna go climbing, my friend Gavin and I—we’re on a road trip. You’re more than welcome to come.”

And so, I took him up on it and we met up. It was huge for me because I didn’t know Gavin and I didn’t know Dave, and they were just being themselves and not treating me any different because they didn’t know me before. You know, my friends were like, “You’re so sad and you’re not laughing and you’re not bubbly and you’re not you.” And I think it was just hard for my friends, but these two perfect strangers could just treat me how it was and give me shit for stick clipping and gave me a hard time for not keeping up with them on the trail. I mean, it was really good for me. That was a huge transformation because—I mean, I always tell people this story, but it’s such a big deal. Nobody will ever know how much this small act meant to me.

So, I would sleep in my truck and Dave has his truck with Gavin and then, every morning when I would wake up, I would feel like I was living this recurring nightmare, you know? Like, I’d wake up and Scott was gone and my life had fallen apart and I’d lost him. And it would just crumble me, you know? I’d just sit there and bawl my eyes out and it’s like I didn’t want to wake up. So, at some point during the trip, Dave would open my tailgate

(tailgate creaking)

and he’d put a cup of coffee on my tailgate for me. And he would put a song on his phone and he would leave the phone there and just let me cry it out. And it went from me, not wanting to wake up, to me, wondering what song was going to play in the morning. Like, I’d hear the creak of the tailgate open and I’d be like, “Oh, I’m going to get a song. This is so great!”

You know, it’s such a small gesture but it meant more to me than anything. It shifted not wanting to essentially be alive to having something really small to look forward to. So, it’s things like that—that’s kind of how I started with the little moments of clarity and moments of, I should say “lightness”, you know? You sending a climb you like brings you a couple minutes of peace or seeing a really beautiful sunset or, you know, whatever. Life does move forward. Sometimes my hardest days are my best days—like when something really great happens that I just really want to share it with Scott and it’s a weird feeling to not be able to. Oh man, like the Dawn Wall got climbed? I was like, “Fuck! I wish I could tell Scott. What would he think of this?” Or even more so, Laytok just got climbed. Like, I started bawling when I found out Laytok got climbed. I mean, it’s been this unclimbed mystery for years and years and it’s taken a bunch of lives and it’s honestly been the sole focus for so many alpinists all over the world. I mean, all their hopes and dreams and everything that they put their time and effort into has been to climb Laytok—and it’s finally been climbed. Not being able to share that has been a trip. I’m just like, “Babe, all this shit’s happening.” You know?

(KK): You’re missing it!

(AVW): ”You’re missing it! People are climbing shit! Donald Trump is president! What is going on?!” You know? Ugh, so crazy.

(KK): Road tripping with Dave and Gavin gave Angela something that she needed: the chance to just be herself and feel whatever she needed to feel. She could be who and how she wanted to be in any moment and didn’t have to try and put a face on. It turns out that the essence of what Angela had with Scott could be found in other things and places and people. And it doesn’t mean that it was replaced, or anything was taken away from what they had. You know, my theory about love has always been: as long as you have love in your life, it doesn’t really matter where it comes from or how it’s dispensed—all that really matters is that it’s there.

(AVW): And it was the most fun thing ever. And it was nice to not be bawling every minute, you know? It was nice to play a game of, I don’t know—it was like this putt putt game they play in Canada with these wooden mallets? I don’t know—it was like croquet, kind of. But, just to spend time with those boys and to see the evolution of who they’ve become and who I’m becoming, and how we all harmonize now. The same thing that I was so excited to see with those boys is the same thing that I lost with Scott, and it’s just made me realize, “Man, that is essentially what I love about my friends and my people. You get to see who these people are and watch them grow and it’s super beautiful.

(KK): I’ve always noticed how climbers often comment on how many people we’ve lost. Like, “Man, we lost a lot of good people this year.” But I just keep going back to—that number didn’t just randomly increase. We’re always dealing with death and loss in these sports, but I think that we tend to notice more often when it’s “mainstream” news or relevant to our own lives. I don’t know…

(AVW): No, that’s exactly what it is. You don’t have to sugar coat it. It’s exactly what happens.

People think that it’s happening in these outside reaches—that it doesn’t pertain to them and then it hits home and they’re like, “Oh my gosh, everybody’s dying!” Everybody has been dying—they just weren’t your friends. Months before Scott and Kyle passed away, somebody else had passed. Chad Kellogg, I believe, was a year before the boys, and then there was another loss and I just remember Scott being like, “Man, we haven’t had a loss in almost a year.” He was like, “I wonder who’s going to be next. It sounds bad, but I just know that somebody I love’s going to die.” And then it was him.

We talked about it all of the time. I feel so lucky that I had as many conversations as I did. And our last conversation from camp was so good, and he told me how much he loved me. He’s not as a mushy gushy dude for all the people who know Scott. To get a phone call from Scott being like, “You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me!” I was like, “Wow! He’s really maturing out there in Pakistan.” (laughs) I was like, “This is great news. He’s going to climb safe, he’s going to come home.” I don’t know if he somehow knew, deep in the bottom of his heart that maybe this was the time, but it felt like he was at some apex of understanding of his friends and his family and that’s what he talked about on the phone to me—in three-minute intervals with the satellite phone cuts out and he’d call me back and kind of reiterate the same thing. And I feel so lucky to have had that. You know?

(KK): Yeah. Definitely.

(AVW): Yeah. Ugh.

(KK): When she started climbing, Angela always prided herself in having a good head. That was something that was always relatively easy for her.

(AVW): I soloed big alpine routes my first and second year of climbing and I just remember so many people being like, “Wow that’s really crazy.” and I was like, “Nah, it’s not that crazy. You just don’t fall and if you get hit by a rock, well—that’s your time. It is what it is.” And I think at the time, I didn’t have that much to lose. I know that sounds crazy ‘cause life is valuable—but I hadn’t loved someone to the end of the earth. I hadn’t experienced something like that. And my friends, believe it or not, just a few years ago—I didn’t think that they were the most important thing. I thought whatever vision quest I was on was the most important thing to me. And as that shifted, I still love going to the mountains and I still love climbing but I have these moments where I’m like, “I don’t give a shit that it’s proud. I don’t give a shit that I can brag about it. This is where I draw the line. This isn’t worth it to me anymore.” I don’t think it was till I took basically a whole summer off climbing that I’ve kind of moved past that expectation a little bit.

So, the summer before Pakistan, I trained my ass off and ran marathons above 10,000 feet and lived outside of Durango, Colorado. I was actually working for Alpaca Rafts to help pay for the trip because Pakistan’s not a cheap trip. I have health issues and I actually can’t go to altitude, really, which I am still dealing with. But I wanted to go where Scott was and that was between 18,000 and 19,000 feet at the base of the Ogre II. And so, anyways I just ran and biked and did big link ups where I’d ride a hundred miles, then I ran from Telluride to Ouray up and over this mountain pass. And I was ok with not climbing. And I was like, “Weird.” because I still wanted to go climbing, but I was just like, I can’t deal with this right now. I mentally don’t have the capacity to deal with this because my identity is wrapped up in it, you know? When you place importance on your accomplishment in climbing—it’s a kind of messy thing and I think that’s really common. And some people talk about it, some people don’t. We don’t have to talk about everything. But I think that that’s really common. You see people rupture a pulley tendon and they are a mess of a human being. You’re like, “Dude—you ok? It’s just your finger.” They’re like, “Who am I? What am I doing with my life? Am I living the way that I am meant to live out my existence?” And you’re like, “Dude, it’s just a pulley.”

(KK): Ok, be honest—like half of you can relate that. Anyway, taking a step back from climbing isn’t the worst thing in the world. Maybe the reasons why aren’t always so fun but someone once told me, “You can’t hold climbing too close to you—it becomes like anything else in this life. If you hold it too close, you can’t see it for what it really is and truly love and appreciate it for the same.”

Stepping back was necessary for Angela in order to train for Pakistan last year, but she’s back and she’s still climbing. And she, like so many of us, asks herself: why do we continuously stack the odds against us like that? And I think the answer is: because that’s the whole point. To go big, and be bold. We’re all bound by the same thing: mortality. It’s a pretty glum truth. And like most of us know, there is a risk that comes with doing something we love. But nature, at its core, is unknowable.

(AVW): We had a close call this winter and that was really hard. I was climbing with Sasha DiGiulian and I was doing everything textbook safe—as much as you can when you’re trying to put up first ascents and it’s all unknown. Really, I felt like I was doing so good—I was picking routes that didn’t have overhead hazards and if it did, I was making sure the daggers got kicked down before I put her on the route. I just don’t want to take somebody who isn’t signing up for the risk fully, ‘cause, you know, with every style of climbing, you accept a certain risk. Whether it be a runout pitch or an ice climb with a dagger overhead or whatever. There’s acceptable risk. And then, there’s risk that is only acceptable if you know it’s there. So, as a new ice climber, I wanted to kinda child proof it so that she didn’t have to make those decisions.

And, ironically enough, a climb we were going to get on just fully collapsed. And I was like, “Wait, what did I do wrong? I’ve been doing everything that I can to make sure this is as safe—“ and I mean, I’m like, paranoid trying to be safe. Everyone’s like, “Whoa, Angela. You can chill out. She’s a pro climber. Like, one of the best climbers in the world. I’m sure she understands.” I was like, “Yeah, she totally understands, but I don’t want to put people in objective hazard.” So, it was a really tough call.

We’re coming on this hovercraft boat essentially over open water to an ice climb. I spot it and as we skim close to the corner, the ice climb goes out of view, you know, there’s a big bluff in front of it. And then, as we pop out around the other side of the bluff, the climb’s gone. And the water’s just a huge wake, and I’m just like, “Where did the climb go?” And what had happened was: the lake freezes over and the temps had warmed up, and underneath this pillar, there was no rocks, whereas these other climbs that had formed around it, they had rocks underneath the pillar, and so they were supported. So, this was essentially on a veneer of thin ice on open water. And so, it collapsed under the pressure. I had a camera crew above and I had somebody dropping daggers. I called Jackson and was like, “Yo, Jackson. Can you drop daggers so that they’re not in the way of the belayer?” Ordinarily, we don’t have this privilege as an ice climber but on a big feature production, it was so nice. I was like, “Yo, make this thing safe! Just get rid of some objective hazard.” People are probably like, “Those girls had people getting rid of the dangers?” but it’s kind of a nice luxury. I’m not going to say that if I had people on the rim that I wanted it to be just as dangerous as normal. Get rid of that stuff!

So anyways, a dagger got dropped and that shock loaded the base and the whole pillar collapsed. Basically, what it was standing on gave out. And this thing is tons and tons and tons of ice. It would have killed the film crew, Sasha, me. And I just was like, “Oh my god. There’s no winning. You can’t avoid the risk in these sports. You just can’t mitigate it, and if you can—there’s always a freak accident. You’re signing up for it and whether you wanna keep on doing it or not, that is your call, but sometimes I’m just like, “Yeah, if you don’t go alpine climbing you might not die, but you might accidentally get dropped at the crag. Shit just happens. It’s no one’s fault, it’s just part of it.

You know, a lot of people are like, “Are you going to stop alpine climbing?” and there’s not a way in hell! If I stop climbing, my friends are gonna still keep on dying. I’m already in too deep. Every single person that I love is doing the craziest shit in the world. And I am super proud of them for it, but I’m not going to stop experiencing loss and I don’t want to waste a minute away from these people that I love so much. And really, I don’t want to waste a minute away from climbing. It brings me a huge amount of joy in my life—a lot of challenge and a lot of focus. There’s not much out there that brings you to these incredible places—ridiculously beautiful shiver bivvies, which I experienced just a few days ago. But, you know, that’s all part of it.

(KK): Do you use the internet? Of course, you do—you’re human. If you’ve spent any time on Instagram, you’ve probably seen some pretty great hashtags. And then, you’ve also probably seen others and wondered, “What the hell does this mean?”. “Stay shitty” and “NWS” are two hashtags that Jackson Marvell adopted and popularized. Angela tells us the story behind both:

(AVW): So, this has been super funny because hashtags rule the universe. So, “NWS” has been this thing “no weak shit” that Scott had as a child. Him and his brother have done an immense amount of climbing together and some really badass stuff, like expeditions all over. And when they were learning how to climb with their friends, you know, partially homemade gear or whatever they could scrounge up, nuts on limestone, like they were just going for it. And they would shout up to each other, “No weak shit, dude! Finish your pitch! You got this!” type of deal. And it became this theme and there’s a party every year in the desert that was for his brother’s birthday and everybody would climb a tower, and it’s the NWS party. And so, that was my first desert tower. It was on top of Castleton for the NWS party, which happened to be on my birthday. So, it’s this big group of mostly Provo climbers that adopted this saying of “no weak shit” and it had always been this thing in Scott’s life. It’s not like he ran around being like, “Oh, I live by this.” But it was just like this funny thing where he would write it on my tools and so when I was scared, I could look at my tools and be like, “Come on, Ang. You got this. No weak shit. Finish your pitch. Dig deep.”

And then, Jackson Marvell is a local Provo climber. Jackson, I think, is Scott in a younger form. When Jackson was working in a little gear shop, Scott would be like, “Man, that kid’s gonna do things.” And when Scott passed away, the first thing I said to Jackson was, “Scott told me that if you could make it through your twenties, you’re going to be one of the most prolific climbers of our generation.” And I still feel that way about Jackson. He’s one of the most talented people I’ve ever come into contact with, but he had the same rowdy, desert, sarcastic, dry, politically incorrect essence that Scott has. And so, I think I’ve latched onto Jackson super hard because he reminds me of Scott a lot and he’s become a really dear friend.

But there’s this rivalry between snowboarders and skiers. And the whole thing was that the snowboarders were always shitty. They were always gettin’ a little tipsy or smoking pot. And the skiers were all prim and proper and at the resort being like, “Those snowboarders—they’re dangerous! They’re like torpedos going down the hill!” You know? And so, it’s kind of like the skiers versus the snowboarders, or like the trad climbers versus the bolt clippers, or the people driving four by fours versus van life, you know? And it’s not saying good or bad, but it’s like: keep it shitty, keep it old, clip rusty pitons, whatever. You know? Just like keep it shitty. And it’s transcended the friend group, so it’s been like “no weak shit”, try hard, and keep it shitty: like, “stay true to your routes” kinda like in this olden world. But oh my gosh, Jackson’s friends got “stay shitty” tattoos on their thighs! I found out. It was so upsetting.

It is funny though ’cause I did an Enormocast—it must have been of my first year climbing or second. And I’m sure the contrast is hilarious because I remember Kalous being like, “It will be interesting in a few years when uh—“ (laughs) I think essentially what he meant was like, when shit gets serious and you start seeing the impacts of the sport, you know? ‘Cause I was just so sparkly-eyed and was just like, “This is the best thing ever!” And it’s still the best thing ever! But there’s a weight that comes with it for sure, and I couldn’t possibly feel that way without experiencing stuff.

(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. And a big thank you to everybody who knows how to speak another language. You are infinitely cooler than I am—I gotta get Rosetta Stone.

– 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 to Evo Hemp, who is on a mission to bring you quality hemp products that are both affordable and accessible. What the heck is hemp, anyway? We’ll have to tell you next time. 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.

Gear Review: Misty Mountain Silhouette Harness

Hark! A harness with women-specific versatility? Sign me up. The Misty Mountain Silhouette Harness is specifically designed for the ladies! Women have been asking for far too long: Shapes! Colors! And HEY: Not all women are designed the same way. And we are also tired of the goddamn color lavender. The Silhouette lives up to all of these challenges, and more.


The Silhouette is constructed of abrasion-resistant 500 denier nylon Codura fabric and has additional foam padding that provides exceptional comfort with minimal bulk. Because of the fabric technology, the Silhouette offers long-lasting durability for any type of climbing—from long hanging belays on multi-pitch routes, trad and outdoor sport climbing, and even a romp in the gym. VERSATILITY, BABY.

This harness has quick-adjust buckles at each leg loop that will allow for a variety of sizes to fit with ease. The Silhouette is designed with a force transfer layer in the waist for more back support, and there is a quick-adjust buckle at the waistline, as well. It has a longer rise as well as a slightly larger leg loop, which is wider in the back of the harness for even force distribution. I could sit in a hanging belay for days if need be (but please, don’t make me–as my age increases, my suffering threshold decreases.)


With four large, upturned webbing reinforced 1/4 PE tubular gear loops on either side of the Silhouette, you can rack all of your gear–from alpine draws to number 6 cams. In conjunction with a cambered waist belt, this design is to help prevent any annoying slippage. A 3/4 flat nylon haul loop is featured at the backside of the harness.

The Misty Silhouette clocks in at 16.4oz, 465g and is available in sizes XS through L. Here are some specs on the sizing to help you figure out which one you might be (post-doughnuts): Extra Small: (24″ – 26″), Small: (26″ – 29″), Medium: (29″ – 32″), Large: (32″ – 35”). You can order a standard belay loop or spring for the extra one. And for things like gear loops and ice tool slots, you can custom tailor those easily as well.

Customization is one of the best parts of owning a Misty harness. I’ve been wearing Misty Mountain for at least five years now and have never considered climbing in anything but. Their gear is versatile, durable, and proudly made in the US. Every piece of gear is hand-sewn in the rolling hills of Western North Carolina, and you will be extremely hard-pressed to find another harness as comfortable as this one. And personally, any company who designs gear for women outside of seventeen different shades of pink is going to score some mega points and my respect.


This harness retails for $114.95. You can purchase your own Misty Silhouette Harness here.

Disclosure: I am currently an ambassador with Misty Mountain Threadworks and the gear has been provided for this review. As always, all opinions are honest and my own.

All photographs courtesy of Misty Mountain Threadworks.

*This website and its owner are not responsible in any way, shape, or form for anything that happens to you. This review was compiled by both opinions and information/research. Do not use this review on this website or any information contained herein unless you are a skilled and experienced climber who understands and accepts the risks of climbing. Rock climbing is inherently dangerous and you should always climb within your ability, after carefully judging the safety of the route and personal gear. Failure to follow these conditions may result in injury or death. If you choose to use any information on this website to plan, attempt, or climb a particular route, you do so at your own risk.
You are responsible for knowing and respecting your gear’s capabilities and limitations. Always know the maintenance and use history of your equipment and destroy retired gear to prevent future use. Your safety is your own responsibility and no article or video can replace proper instruction and experience. If you choose to use any information on this website to plan, attempt, or climb a particular route, you do so at your own risk.