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.

 

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!

 

Weekly Round-Up #7

In this week’s news:

Agnes Vianzon worked with the California Conservation Corps for over a decade where she learned the basics of trail work, backcountry ethics, and the importance of LNT. These experiences lead her to create the Eastern Sierra Conservation Core, a non-profit dedicated to “building a stronger and more inclusive community,” who aims to “provide opportunities to experience and better understand wilderness and natural resources by providing a transformational backcountry experience.” This summer they have multiple all-female trail crews, and Women in the Wilderness backcountry experiences. You can listen to the podcast on the She-Explores site.

Feel like you’re using your phone too much? You probably are. In this tech-ridden era, it’s hard to find the fine (and quickly disappearing) line between our phones and our independence. It seems the two are so intertwined to be nearly inseparable. Brad Stulberg thinks it’s high-time we start monitoring and limiting our techno-use. Here are some tips on how to do that.

She Moves Mountains gives me chills. These two women, Lizzy Van Patten and Carey DeVictoria-Michel, are concretely pursuing a dream that’s been in the works for a while: teaching women to climb. Last year, the duo partnered with a local climbing company in Smith Rock to provide all-women climbing clinics. With the help of a recent crowd-funding event, they’re now able to kick off their own guiding company. In Lizzy’s words: “I began guiding in hopes of showing people, especially women, how powerful they are.”

Legendary mountaineer, Katie Bono, set the women’s speed record on Denali on June 14th. She had a round-trip time of 21 hours, 6 minutes, and reportedly “crawled into basecamp on Alaska’s Mount Denali, frostbitten and exhausted.” Hell yeah, Katie!

Sustainability and Trail Work

A couple weeks ago, after the devastating news of what our new president has planned for our environment, I decided to take action. The SLCA (Salt Lake Climber’s Alliance), along with the Access Fund and the Forest Service, are developing the largest trail network on Forest Service land. Pretty cool, right? It’s called The Grit Mill Project and you can check it out here.

Except, at first, I didn’t think it was cool. My knee-jerk reaction to trail work was negative because I viewed it as:

  • A disturbance to the natural environment
  • A money-suck, especially in labor
  • Making approaches unnecessarily long
  • Less natural
  • Making access easier (and could bring in graffiti artists *anger, anger, anger*)
  • And, of course, it pissed off die hard climbers who want to go back to the 1960’s when LITERALLY NOBODY ELSE was out climbing. (I feel you.)

But, I wanted to volunteer with an open mind, so I strapped on my work boots and hit the trail.

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I hadn’t known much about the Access Fund. I’d heard their slogan to “Protect America’s Climbing,” but I didn’t know how they achieved that. What does sustainable trail work look like and how are they advocates?

They are advocates by supporting local initiatives through grants and loans. They use their platform to rally signatures for petitions. They organize adopt-a-crag events and help other passionate, local climbers do the same. They spend their workdays literally protecting America’s climbing from getting snagged up in public and private land swaps and sales. On top of all that, they also create sustainable ways to access the crags we love so dearly.

I’m going to take it back to high school and throw down the actual definition of sustainable:

Sustainable: (adjective) capable of being supported or upheld, as by having its weight borne from below.

Trail work employs natural elements to create a trail that can withstand the weight we stress on it every day. Through trail building, volunteers help make crush that fills in gaps between rocks to form stairs and solid retaining walls. They widen already existing trails or clear the way for new ones. They remove root systems that would eventually impact the trail. It’s a process of reinforcement that maintains the trails for years.

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The trails that snake their way up Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons (as well as hundreds of other climbing areas) don’t have the capacity to support themselves with the amount of force we put on them. Think about it! A rope alone weighs about 10 pounds, add to that draws, food, water, and god-forbid a trad rack, PLUS your body weight—we’re easily packing up hundreds of thousands of pounds on these little deer trails. No wonder the Access Fund and other sustainability groups are worried about erosion. With the amount of weight we’re pushing down on the soil I’m surprised we haven’t destroyed the trails and mountainsides sooner.

I learned that I am undereducated about sustainability and the environment. I am, however, excited to learn more and become a better advocate.

As a concessionary note—trail work shouldn’t (and I don’t think it will) become necessary in more remote, alpine environments. We all want those places to remain wild. But, if I’m going to my local crag, and I know there are going to be a bunch of people with their dogs and their beer and their boomboxes, then I want to know, that as the sport grows, we’re doing our best to protect the places we love.

Four Resources For People Who Love the Environment and Want to Protect it

I don’t know about you, but as I watched the election results streaming in on that fateful November night, I grew more and more fearful about the state of our world and what would happen if a climate nay-sayer became President-elect. And then it happened.

After shedding a few well-deserved tears I decided it was time to pull myself up by the bootstraps and finally put my words into action. I love the natural world, and I value all the work that’s been put in to protecting and preserving the places where I send my hardest routes and face my demons. Unfortunately, those places are under threat now more than ever.

So what can we do? Turn that frown upside down! While the people running the country may reject facts, there is a movement happening at the local and state levels and it is currently being fueled by anger from the recent election. So hey, at least something good is coming from it!

Here are four fantastic resources if you want to get involved. There are many ways, most obviously by donating your time or money. But another great way to make an impact is through conversation. Tell people about these great organizations. The more people know about these organizations, the more who will fight against climate deniers.

(And a big shout-out to Sarah over at Girl on Rock, for inspiring me to write an article like this!)

Protect Our Winters (POW): Protect our Winters is an awesome coalition of people who love winter and want to keep it coming back with high snow accumulations. They have the POW7—seven ways you can help in the fight against climate change, as well as a webpage with all 100 senators names, states, and contact information. You can also find a script for your call incase you’re a bundle of nerves when the phone starts to ring.

The Access Fund: While not necessarily dubbed an environmental group, the Access Fund has been protecting and sustaining America’s climbing areas for 25 years. From buying the land to protect it, to developing trail systems, to being advocates for the places we love to climb, the Access Fund is an incredible voice for the climbing community. On their webpage you can find a list of organizations in your state to volunteer with.

Greenpeace: While Greenpeace doesn’t acknowledge the burdensome role that Methane gasses play in our changing climate, they are a voice for the environment. They work to keep Exxon Mobile Accountable, to take action against the Dakota Access Pipeline, and in general they fight against the fossil fuel industry. There are many ways to volunteer your time, or just get educated with the many resources and articles on their website.

Patagonia: Hands down one of the best companies I’ve come across. Patagonia has been an advocate for the environment for decades. They started the “worn wear” movement—a movement that is counterintuitive to the money-mongering companies across America and the world. On their website you can find The Activist Company, which provides small loans to hundreds of nonprofits and NGO’s across the country. Finding that information on their website is a great way to figure out who’s doing what in your area. In Salt Lake alone there are 18 environmental grantees from the Salt Lake Climber’s Alliance to the Wasatch Community Gardens.

In straight terms of education, check out www.grist.org to keep up to date on what’s happening around the world.

I know a lot of people believe they can’t make a difference. I beg to differ. I also think now’s not the time to have that sort of attitude. In the least, we can cause a ripple affect, and if there are enough ripples, we can cause a tidal wave of change.

Corny, I know, but I love it.

What organizations do you love and stand behind?

The Vegetarian Choice

Statistically, I’ve been a carnivore for 94% of my life, and a Vegetarian for about 5%, Vegan for <1%. I’m fascinated that I can be defined and labeled by my food choices. That choosing to not eat meat has brought on livid conversations from people I’ve not tried to attack. And yet, here I am, writing a blog post, about my choice to pursue Vegetarianism, and part-time Veganism.

It all started with documentaries and the gruesome reality of factory farming. If you can’t put a picture to the term, I recommend you search Google images to get an idea. And then I recommend doing a little more research to learn how animals are treated in these environments. How they’re injected with copious amounts of antibiotics. How they are packed into warehouses and forced to live on piles of feces. How they’re fed only to make them plump so they can be butchered.

What a life, right?

After realizing the ethical impacts of factory farming I decided to forgo the meat aisle in the supermarket. If local beef weren’t so expensive I may have incorporated that into my diet, but I was in college and it wasn’t an option.

Fast forward to early 2016 when the documentary Cowspiracy loaded onto Netflix. If you haven’t watched it yet, open a new tab, type in Netflix, and search for it. It’s the most incredible look into the impacts of factory farming on our environment.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a pretty big fan of the natural world. I’ve been fortunate to visit Europe, Asia, Canada, Central America, and all fifty of the United States. I’ve traversed ridgelines in the local Wasatch Range. I’ve hiked in the Great Smoky Mountains. I’ve stood on the rim of the Grand Canyon. I’ve looked out onto the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range from Granada, Spain. With each experience I’ve gained perspective and a deep love and respect for all the beauty we take for granted every single day.

It’s now a known fact that we are depleting our resources. California has been plagued by drought since 2012. Our rivers are drying up. Our winters are becoming milder by the year. Each day the rainforest loses upwards of 80,000 acres. Our earth is experiencing abnormalities across the board. The reasons why are lesser known, or incorrectly reported.

Greenhouse gas is the term swirling around in our minds when we talk about Global Warming. For years we’ve been under the impression that these Greenhouse Gasses come from the transportation sector. In the past few decades the focus has been on Carbon Dioxide, and for good reason. Consistently Carbon Dioxide ranks as the highest emitted greenhouse gas. It’s a byproduct of the transportation industry as well as power facilities: coal mines, electricity plants, and the like. What we don’t hear about, though, is the level of Methane, a lesser-known and downplayed greenhouse gas that is 23% more powerful than Carbon Dioxide. So even though the statistics on the EPA website show Agriculture as a 9% impact on greenhouse gasses, it fails to take into consideration the fact that those 9% of molecules are packing a punch 23 times that of their carbon counterparts.

Beyond the rise of greenhouse gas due to agriculture, factory farming and the raising of livestock for food accounts for 55% of water usage in the US! It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. California is experiencing a severe drought, and we are using 2500 gallons of water on one pound of beef. This blows my mind! If you’re looking for an even more mind-boggling number, animal agriculture accounts for 34-76 trillion gallons of water annually. In numeric terms, that’s 34,000,000,000,000 to 76,000,000,000,000. Even on the low end, that’s 93,150,684,931.5 gallons of water PER DAY. I can’t even comprehend how much water that is.

These are just a few of the growing number of statistics in relationship to factory farming. Head on over to Cowspiracy.com to check out their facts page and references. This is a growing muddled debate that impacts not only our world, but every person in it.

What do you think about factory farming?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/earth-talks-daily-destruction/

Our Accidental Environmental Impacts (And How to Avoid Them)

Unfortunately, we waste a lot. We waste food, and money, and resources. We treat our environment like it’s an endless Eden, which it could be if we weren’t depleting resources at a break neck speed.

I won’t spend a ton of time on this though because I think we all know that whatever it is we’re using (water, grain, soap, etc.) it won’t be around (as we know it) for us to continue consuming into the next few centuries.

So, I’d like to offer some simple day-to-day solutions to reduce our impact on our bountiful mother earth.

  1. Bring your own mug to Starbucks
    1. Or Dutch Bros or whatever small local coffee shop you visit in the morning. Even if you only go once a week that’s 52 cups being sent to a landfill somewhere. Over the course of a lifetime that’s 3,900 cups. If half of America drinks only one cup of coffee each week for 60 years of their life, that’s 468,000,000,000 cups in landfills. And I know from working as a barista that many Americans indulge in their favorite latte more than once a week, and sometimes even more than once a day.
  2. Use your own water bottle. Always.
    1. It blows my mind how many people still purchase water bottles when our water is clean and free. And now it’s easier than ever to find a refillable water station or a plain old water fountain. Not to mention sinks…
  3. Buy reusable Ziploc bags
    1. Although it may seem like an initial investment you don’t want to make (I fought this one for a while) in the long run you’ll save money and feel better not wasting a plastic bag every time your PB&J gets smashed in your lunch box.
  4. Buy (or make) Reusable grocery bags
    1. To me this seems like a no-brainer. Although it took a while to get used to, we now keep our reusable grocery bags near the front door and in our cars so we don’t have the guilt and burden of 10,000 plastic bags under our kitchen sink.
  5. Ridejahbike!
    1. We’re inundated with the “easy” thing in the 21st We have escalators and elevators and buses and trains and taxis and whatever else you can name that makes us not depend on our own two feet. But nothing compares to riding your bike in the nice summer air with the wind blowing through your hair and your lungs feeling like they’re on fire. It makes me feel alive, and that’s enough for me.

Simple, right? These are five little things that all lessen our impact on the environment. Five simple, easy things that can help you transition to a less impactful existence.

Happy recycling!

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**For more information on how to reduce your impact on the environment head on over to http://wwf.panda.org/who_we_are/wwf_offices/armenia/help_us/eco_help_living/ and http://www.instructables.com/id/100-Ways-to-Reduce-Your-Impact/ I also recommend checking out the slew of documentaries on Netflix. My current favorite is Cowspiracy.