Conquistadors of the Useless, or Pursuers of Passion?

 

“Don’t try to change the world, find something that you love
And do it every day
Do that for the rest of your life
And eventually, the world will change.”

––Growing Up, by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

Millennials get a lot of flack.

We’re dubbed lazy, entitled, useless.

Our work ethic is questioned, our desire to live in vans reviled, and our love for the outdoors?

Useless.

But is it?

I’ve wrestled with this question late at night with wine in hand, mile 7 of a trail run, and over countless cups of coffee. It’s clear that our society, so centrically created around capitalism, values what we produce. In fact, so often, our value is determined solely on what we create.

In terms of money, it’s easy to define. As a society, we value wealth, and those of us who choose to claw our way up the corporate ladder will, usually, be rewarded for our time and dedication to the man. Whoever he is.

This idea is something I understand well. Working my way through secondary and higher education, I knew following a specific path would ensure my success. I knew how to do exactly what I was told to do.

I soon realized, though, like many of us do, that continuing to pursue that life would be empty. While the security of money is nice, and up to a certain threshold ($75,000 to be exact), can actually make you happier, sacrificing happiness to get to that point isn’t necessarily worth it.

So, when I chose to study creative writing in college, I knew I was setting myself up for societal failure.

 

When I decided I wanted to focus my efforts on writing in the outdoor industry, I laughed at my silly masochistic self.

Because if writing isn’t enough to sustain yourself, or prove your worth in society, playing outdoors is even worse.

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Desert trail and sandstone towers in Moab, UT

My feelings of uselessness increased the more time I spent outside. Days passed without a single thing to show. I hadn’t written anything. I hadn’t changed anyone’s life. I certainly hadn’t made any money.

But I felt so much happier.

What came next was an energy for preserving our wild and beautiful places. This energy evolved into passion, which included writing to government officials and advocating for public land.

It still made me wonder if spending all this time outside––climbing, skiing, running, and whatever else––was actually worthwhile.

As it appears, rock climbing is useless. And despite various attempts to justify the sport, many people continue to agree that nothing good comes from climbing rocks.

It might be true for some people. Maybe there is an entire branch of the climbing community that doesn’t see the value of public lands, refuses to attend crag clean-ups, and will go on their merry way never giving back to the community.

Beneath their inability and lack of desire to give back, however, lay the seeds of passion.

Although I don’t know many (if any) people in the climbing community who do not care about anything and anyone besides themselves, there is something within them that draws them to the sport. This passion, I believe, is exactly what the world needs.

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Anger, resentment, jealousy––these emotions often stem from an experience in our lives that told us we couldn’t. Whether it was society, our parents, our significant other, or a complete stranger. At some (or many) points, we decided to let someone see the fragile, brilliant dream inside of us, and they laughed, or doubted, or overran us with their sarcasm.

Along the way, so much of our passion died because of doubt.

What I love about the climbing community is that “no” isn’t a reasonable answer, and we continually rise to a challenge. We spend our summers waking before the sun, and our autumns climbing in headlamps, because we just want the thing to go. We spend days, weeks, months, sometimes years, climbing the same damn route because we’re too stubborn to admit defeat. We suffer flesh wounds, centipede bites, rock fall, numb toes, tendonitis, rolled ankles, broken ankles, whippers, and thirty-foot run-outs.

In climbing, we shape our character, we define what is and isn’t possible, and we refuse to back down.

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Red Rocks, NV

The same is true of any sport. It’s in the face of adversity that character and resiliency grow. So maybe, on the surface, climbing seems useless.

After all, we’re spending years of our lives hanging off the side of cliffs.

But when you look into the benefits the sport creates, and how the fissures splay throughout our society––the activists it creates, the stories of endurance and the human spirit it tells, the passion it inspires––it’s hard to say the sport is futile.

 

Outdoor Retailer: Condensed Overview

Outdoor Retailer came, and then it was gone, nearly as fast as that.

My first OR experience was a collision of ideas, free beer, and networking. The week started on Tuesday where I attended Camber Outdoors “Pitchfest.” Pitchfest exists for female entrepreneurs to get their product/business in front of a board of influential members in the outdoor community. Each finalist had five minutes to give their pitch, and then the panel questioned them for seven minutes.

Following Pitchfest, I went to join my fellow Outdoor Women’s Alliance team at The Front Climbing Gym for a Wine, Dine, and Climb event.  The keynote speaker, Shelma Jun of Flash Foxy, made a group of us wonder how much more effective it would be if she were speaking in front of mixed company. Her speech essentially reinforced ideas we’ve been thinking and talking about for months. (It also lead me to dive deeper into the role female-only organizations are playing in the outdoor world…more on that later.)

Two out of town friends, Sara and Emma, stayed on my couch for the week. We woke up early on Wednesday to attend the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) breakfast, with former Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel speaking, as well as Alex Honnold, Cedar Wright, and Montana Governor Steve Bullock.

Some clips from the breakfast:

Sally Jewel: “There’s a lot of problems with [President Trump’s] review…President Trump is putting himself on the wrong side of history. If he acts to revoke National Monuments, he will go down as one of the most anti-conservation presidents in the history of this nation. Our National Parks, our National Monuments, our public lands are what helps make this nation great.”

Gov. Steve Bullock: “Transferring those lands out of public hands would be damn foolish, not only for today but for future generations as well.”

The breakfast left me in a sober mood. Starting in 2018, Outdoor Retailer will no longer make it’s home in Utah due to our government continually refuting the value of public lands, which lead to outrage in the outdoor industry. At the OIA breakfast, despite the recent tension between Utah and the outdoor industry, terms like positivity, graciousness, and opportunity, created a theme that was easy to track throughout the week.

I spent a good amount of time wandering around the floor, checking out new products, and making connections. I quickly realized, though, that Outdoor Retailer exists for companies to meet with other companies, for contracts to be formed, and for new relationships to be forged. Though I fell into the latter category, I often felt out of place.

After speaking with Sarah Smith, founder of The Dyrt, I realized this feeling is normal, and almost essential when first attending OR. In many ways, it helps fuel you forward. For me, it projected some future goals, like coming to OR as someone in the outdoor industry. I can’t, however, expect that to happen overnight.

OR has an exhaustive, infectious energy. I volunteered at the Gregory Packs booth, and was constantly ferrying people to and from meetings. We had a steady stream of vendors, exhibitors, buyers, guests, and non-buyers, coming by the booth asking to speak with so-and-so, wishing to drop off business cards, or asking if we had anything for free. OR was capitalism at work.

This is a compressed version of Outdoor Retailer. It doesn’t include the panels, the This Land is Our Land march, nor can it honestly capture the post OR exhaustion. These topics will all come later, as they each deserve their own space.

Overall, I am so thankful for my first OR experience. The generosity shown to me from professionals in the industry, the connections with media I formed, and insightful conversations for a path moving forward were worth every hour of sleep I lost.

Cheers to OR January 2018 at it’s new Denver home.

 

Weekly Round-Up #10

They say nature heals. For 24-year-old Alexis Alzadeh, nature saves. After being sent from Atlanta to Utah for detox and rehab, Alexis discovered parts of herself she never knew existed––like the desire to ski, summit mountains, and climb rocks. Moving to Utah and completing her recovery program included “setting fire to the old parts of [her] that no longer worked.” This poignant and powerful essay shows, candidly, how nature saved Alexis’ life.

Many backpackers consider themselves ultralight, but Clint “Lint” Bunting takes it to the next level. He drinks straight out of streams, uses sticks to pitch his tarp, and chews his vegetables before boiling them to cut down on dish use. Although his style may not resonate with everyone, it’s interesting to put a new spin on “fast and light.”

When I first started climbing, the idea of falling on bolts terrified me. Six years and hundreds of falls later, my bolt-angst has decreased, until, that is, I see some gnarly, rusty, decades old spinner on an exposed bolt. We can all make a clear distinction when it’s that obvious, but what about all the bolts that look like they might hold? Here’s a quick and dirty guide to knowing when to trust a bolt and when to back it up.

In America, we are obsessed with productivity. We need something to show for our day, and ultimately something to show for our lives. Oftentimes, the third question asked during an introduction is “What do you do for work?” We structure our cultural norms around it. So what about those of us who like to climb rocks? Who live on the fringe? Who forgo 401k’s, affordable health insurance, and steady paychecks? Climbing doesn’t pay the bills, and initially only offers something to the climber, not the world. But maybe that’s enough. These moments of introspection and reflection throughout our international crags may be what our generation needs. Check out this thought-provoking essay on Mojagear about being a “Conquistador of the Useless.”

Is the Future Female?

There’s a lot of hype right now in the outdoor world about women in the outdoors.

And for good reason.

The tides are finally changing, and woman are stepping into bold new roles. We’re seeing more women in the outdoors, more women (and men!) advocating for women in the outdoors, and more non-profits, organizations, and companies dedicated to woman than I can keep track of.

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Photo by Utomo Hendra Saputra on Unsplash

It. Gets. Me. So. Stoked.

Because when you look back over the course of history, the sh*t women had to put up with is pretty abysmal.

Like when Arlene Blum wanted to trek Denali and was told women weren’t allowed past the kitchen at base camp.

Or when Margaret Smith Craighead, Margaret Bedell, Ann Sharples, and Mary Whittemore made the first female ascent of Owen-Spalding on the Grand Teton, and the Salt Lake Tribune wrote, “Another successful invasion in the field of sport by the weaker sex.”

WHAT.

Yeah, it was a common thing.

Even earlier this year, when Austin, TX mayor, Steve Adler, decided to host an all-female showing of Wonder Woman, a livid man sent in a letter saying, “the notion of a woman hero is a fine example of women’s eagerness to accept the appearance of achievement without actual achievement,” and “achievements by the second rate gender pale in comparison to virtually everything great in human history which was accomplished by men, not women.”

I literally cannot even. Literally. Cannot. Even.

Even looking at our political landscape: our current Vice President OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA thinks women shouldn’t be paid the same rate as men for the same amount of work.

Sigh.

I promise you, though, we have come a long way.

Because despite the amount of backlash women’s programs have received in the past year (and the past entire history of mankind), women have defended their rights, and gained momentum. The Women’s March garnered at least 3.3 million protesters across the nation.

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Photo by Roya Ann Miller on Unsplash

H O W E V E R

We may be doing ourselves a disservice by saying the future is female.

For too long, women were undervalued. Their opinions weren’t respected, they couldn’t run/swim/bike fast enough, and they didn’t ‘deserve’ the rights of men. I want to be very, very clear here, I am 100,000% for women’s rights, for equality across the board, and for every woman who believes she can. I am not, however, about promoting women in a way that demotes men.

Men are pretty awesome. I think they’ve gotten a lot of flack for their past transgressions (and by “their past” I mean all the men who made a bad name for the lot thousands of years ago). Take my husband for example. He’s a feminist. He supports my career. He washes the dishes and does the laundry. He’s kind, generous, strong, empathetic, and courageous.

The future, I hope, is symbiotic. I hope this movement empowers women to come alongside men so that both genders are recognized for their strength, courage, and all the talents they bring to the table. We’re not one better than the other, but we are better together.

So yeah, the future has a lot more female influence (THANK GOD), but I hope we can play to the strengths of both genders to create a more peaceful future.

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Photo by Matt Heaton on Unsplash


Photos courtesy of Unsplash

Why You Should Learn to Lead Climb

As with any sport, climbing follows a natural progression.

First you learn to boulder. Then you try out top-roping. Eventually you muster up the courage to try lead climbing. And once the fear from lead climbing subsides, you test your luck on gear. Generally. I know people who have done this in reverse, or skipped an element all together. It’s all in the eyes of the climber.

For about four years I was content letting someone (usually my boyfriend or another really strong male friend), lead the climb and set up the top rope for me. Then I’d willfully flail around on the thing for however long, maybe make it to the chains, maybe not, be lowered, maybe get grouchy for being such a terrible climber, rinse, repeat.

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Let me say, there is nothing wrong with top-roping. In fact, top-roping is an essential and useful aspect in learning how to climb. The falls are more protected, you can hone in on your technique, and it requires little know-how. Top-roping plays a vital role in climbing.

This is sticky, so bear with me.

Before I learned how to lead climb I was always dependent on someone else. I needed someone with a higher skillset than my own to hang draws and set-up the rope for me. Climbing wasn’t my own. I couldn’t call up just anyone to go climbing, I had to call someone who would be willing to take me out and do the work for me.

The more I went out and lacked the skills to set-up my own climb, the less empowered I felt.

In fact, I started to feel everything but empowered.

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I understand teamwork and collaboration. I value the power of we. And climbing is far from a solo endeavor. You need a partner. You need a catch. You need a spotter.

Like every good partnership, however, it can easily become exhausting when one partner is doing all the work. I noticed this in my relationship with my husband (who was my boyfriend at the time of these revelations). I wanted to be this strong, independent woman, but I was unable to own my climbing. And it was so easy to use him as a sort of crutch. I started thinking, if he hadn’t come into my life, would I be climbing at all?

I needed climbing to be a thing for me. I needed it to be something I did because I could. At that point, I couldn’t just go out and climb because I lacked the skills.

So, I learned to lead climb.

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And yeah, lead climbing is terrifying. While it gets less terrifying over time (and then ups the terrifying levels when you least expect it), learning to lead climb is scary and uncomfortable and if you’re anything like me, can be downright paralyzing at times.

When you’re first starting out, it’s type II fun, for sure.

But once you start hitting that flow on lead, and you realize that every fall won’t be your last, you tap into a part of yourself that believes you can.

For the first time in my climbing career, I’ve been able to go out and project 5.12 with some incredible, crusher, badass ladies. I’ve introduced women to the sport. I’ve been able to setup top-ropes for beginner climbers on routes they wouldn’t have been able to try otherwise.

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I love this circle.

So to all of you out there, who want to try lead climbing, but are maybe scared (or, like I was, downright terrified), I encourage you to try it. Take a class. I know the gyms in Salt Lake offer lead climbing classes on a regular basis. There are also dozens, maybe hundreds of people in climbing communities who are more than willing to mentor and encourage new climbers.

So get out there, and get scared.

 



 

**All pictures courtesy of my dashing, and incredibly talented husband, Coby Walsh. You can follow him on Instagram @icoby24

 

Weekly Round-Up #9

The Down to Earth expedition is doing something the world needs a lot more of: using passion to influence change. Michaela Precourt is a visionary, she hopes for the children of the future, and wants to “instill hope back into education.” This hope lead her to found this expedition where she and a team of athletes are creating real-life curriculum through studying the effects of climate change in the arctic, recording it, and sending the videos back to schools. Their mission and its effects are authentic, “Down to Earth is filming a series of human-powered expeditions dedicated to education, effects of climate change, and how to live sustainably.” Here’s part 1 of their film series:

In response to last week’s blurb about women choosing not to have children, here’s another thoughtful and funny article defending procreation. Katie Arnold highlights the positive in raising children, and how bringing children into an adventurous life can be difficult at first, but pay off later. She also doles out a few tips, “Once a month, enlist the kids to help purge the toy bins and donate to those in need. Your minimalist obsession equals their real-life lesson in sharing and compassion.”

Sarah Castle and Alison Wright didn’t just want to hike the John Muir Trail, they wanted to give back while they did it. Over cups of coffee and topo maps, The Cairn Project was born. The non-profit exists to get teenage girls, of all backgrounds, outside. In one year, the duo have raised over $30,000 to be distributed to partner organizations through small grants.

Should wilderness be free? I’ve thought about and researched this topic quite a bit in the past few weeks. In Utah, there’s long been debate about a toll in both Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. Essentially, the amount of users far outweighs the resources, and taxpayer dollars don’t bridge the gap anymore. Heather,from Just a Colorado Gal, shows that Colorado is experiencing similar issues: too many users in too little space. Are we entering a new era where we have to pay in more places that we play?

 

Basics and Importance of LNT

Who’s favorite thing about hiking is finding trash on the trails?

It’s such a far cry from the truth, and yet a common issue throughout our trail networks. With the uptick of users in the front and backcountry, there needs to be an uptick in education. In Utah, the proximity to the foothills and the Wasatch front make access easy for virtually everybody in the valley. Oftentimes I see groups of people enjoying our trails who are either unaware or uneducated about the ethics of backcountry and front country use.

So, let’s start here: what is LNT?

LNT stands for Leave No Trace, a non-profit created in 1994 to educate users about their impact on the environment. At the time, their main focus was on backcountry users, to educate them on the best practices they’d discovered through scientific research. Since then, LNT has created a front country program to address the issues facing day-use facilities.

Before I dive into the main principles of Leave No Trace, I want to highlight why it’s important.

Our wilderness areas are precious, beautiful ecosystems. For as long as mankind has inhabited the earth, we’ve enjoyed the simple pleasure of venturing out to a stand of pine trees and feeling utterly at peace. As our population continues to grow, our wild areas continue to shrink as we break ground for apartment complexes, housing developments, and strip malls. Thankfully, private and public organizations, along with federal employees, are continually fighting land access and purchase battles to preserve these places.

With all the time and money that goes into protecting these primitive areas, it’s our duty, as users, to maintain and respect the land. Realistically, the more people who are venturing into alpine environments, the more people we need to proactively make minimal impacts on the environment. That’s where Leave No Trace comes in.

These seven principles aren’t rocket science, or even that hard to follow. The more closely we follow them now, the longer we’ll have to enjoy our mountain environments.

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1. Plan Ahead and Prepare

This is as simple as checking the weather, obtaining a map of the area, and letting someone know where you’re going. It follows the line of thinking, “prepare for the worst, and hope for the best.” Most of the time you won’t need your rain jacket, but the time you do, you don’t want to have forgotten it.

2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces

I know that pitching a tent in the middle of a field of wildflowers sounds picturesque, but if everyone did that, we’d have no wildflower fields left to enjoy. If you’re going backpacking, chances are someone has been on that trail before you and has set up camp in a similar location you’re looking for. The emphasis is on finding already established campsites instead of creating your own. Think flat, dirt or rock surfaces at least 200ft away from any body of water.

3. Proper Waster Disposal

If your bladder is bursting, ensure you are at least 200ft away from any body of water so as not to contaminate it. If it’s your bowels, dig a 6″-8″ hole, hunker down, and fill it in with dirt when you’re done. If using toilet paper make sure to pack it out instead of burning it. Bring an extra ziplock bag for this purpose!

4. Leave What You Find

This is the hardest principle for me because I love wildflowers. I wish I could come home with a bundle after every hike. But the more I take the fewer there are for others to enjoy. The same goes for rocks, branches, and animal remnants (antlers, bones, etc.).

5. Minimize Campfire Impacts

If possible, use already existing fire rings. If there aren’t any near your campsite, keep your ring small, and try to use dead and down twigs to stoke your fire. Make sure the coals are out before you go to bed, and when leaving the site, it’s recommended you scatter the cooled ashes. The motto with campfires is, “if it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.”

6. Respect Wildlife

It’s their habitat, we’re the visitors. Bears, Moose, Deer, Mountain Goats, Bobcats, Squirrels, all of them, we are visitors in their territory. Respect their distance. Here’s a funny video that I think is neat and relevant:

7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

A lot of people head to the mountains if they’re seeking solace. Solace, however, can be quite hard to find when someone is blaring their boombox a half-mile down trail, or if someone’s over-friendly border collie won’t stop sniffing your junk while the owner thinks it’s hilarious. Think about disconnecting and not disturbing other users, it’s pretty simple. Take your boombox to the lake, and we’ll all probably be a little happier for it.

 



 

If we think of the wilderness like a co-op, where we’re all part owners and members of this incredible collective, it’s a little easier to enact these principles. You wouldn’t visit someone’s house and trash it, and the same goes for wilderness. Let’s all become more sustainable users.

Any tips and tricks for LNT practices? Leave them in the comments below!