A 5.13 life

During a presentation at Ouray Ice Festival, someone asked Conrad Anker where his favorite place to climb was, to which he responded with: “I can’t tell you my favorite place to climb. My favorite place to climb right now is Ouray, Colorado, because that’s where I am in this exact moment.”

Ouray Ice Park. Photograph by Savannah Cummins

The trajectory should have gone like this: drive west, climb some rocks, drink a beer and go home to NYC. This is how it actually went: drive west, heart gets clobbered (maybe a little bit), aimlessly wander the desert, unintentionally quit my job/life/leave NYC forever, get whisked away into a completely unplanned adventure.

Little Cottonwood Canyon with Ashley and Danny; their psyche has been the most inspiring

There is no life preserver. There is no back up plan.

I’ve decided that I want a 5.13 life, though. I know I can probably climb the other stuff. It’s fun and it feels good and it’s safe. 5.13 is the dream - but with it comes as many failures as it will successes. I know this, now, and not because I am a 5.13 climber but because I’ve attempted and I COULD be. The love of challenge is what triggers my insecurities as much as it feeds my soul.

The past month has been emotionally turbulent, to say the least, filled with good friends and laughs, sends, falls (and beers to celebrate both), meltdowns and lessons to carry with me, if I choose to walk away with a different attitude. It’s laughable, feeling homesick for something I no longer have - and the beauty of not having a mailing address at the moment means that I can park myself somewhere new at any given time. And new and different is scary only because it’s new and different. It will be scary…until it’s neither of those two.


Ashley was kind enough to show me how to train for Trench Warfare (5.12d), a proud send. Leon is a proud spotter

Some days, I felt like a big fish in a little pond but then I ventured to places unfamiliar only to realize I am but a tiny sea urchin in a vast ocean. My goal was never to become a shark, though.

I think that a lot of intimidation can be defaulted to our access to social media. I know it sounds silly, but a lot of insecurity is truly media based. Who we are perceived to be started changing the way I was looking at everything: myself and my climbing. Thoughts of “how am I going to compete?” or “how on earth will I keep up with the best?” started me down a spiral that I think I needed to be thrown down in order to see a few truths.

I’ve been rattled to the bones. I’ve cried; I’ve cried a lot. I’ve been scared. I’ve been more scared than I have ever been on any climb before. And I needed to feel all of these things in order to step outside of the box we all create for ourselves. What I’ve rediscovered is a balance between real life and internet world that’s allowed me to see that there is actually no such thing as “good enough”. You are enough.

One of the highlights of my trip was visiting Joe’s Valley with Katie Thorup. She is not only one of the most psyched climbers I’ve met, but she also introduced me to butterfinger doughnuts at the Food Ranch (yes, this was a life changing event). Most importantly, though, she reminded me of MY reasons for climbing in the first place. Katie showed me that bouldering is not about ego, a misconception that I think we’re all familiar with. I don’t often boulder outdoors, but the sense of community is inconceivable: you are one of many people who are building a community of climbing. Contribute to that community by being you.

Perfect temps in Joe's Valley. Photograph by Jon Vickers

And you won’t understand until you try it. You can’t know until you visit a place. It will be new and different and scary…until it isn’t. Until then, know your reasons for doing things and don’t second guess yourself. The rest of the world is going to do enough of that for you.

I’m going to be a little fish in the big pond for a little bit; it helps me understand the things that I’m ready for and those that I’m not. My goal was never to become a shark - but maybe this year, a very tiny and magical seahorse. I think I could be a seahorse.

Whatever you are, just go be it

Anybody can have a 5.13 life. It’s about not getting stuck in cycles and unraveling the pattern so that you can understand the way the world works around you, and then how you can work with the rest of the world. A 5.13 life is about waking up motivated, even though some mornings you don’t want to get out of bed. A 5.13 life is about allowing yourself to feel emotions, even the shitty ones, and letting other people feel what they are going to feel (because they are going to, regardless) and making peace with that. A 5.13 life is about being afraid and going ahead with it, anyway, because even if you’re scared and even though it hurts, you’re growing. You’re changing. You’re evolving. You are facing problems and being forced to solve them. You are moving with each and every rise and fall; forget the goal and find the flow of the moment. Answers come then.

A 5.13 life is not about making money. It’s about making art. It’s about getting off route sometimes and finding your way back, with a better head and more fight in you. A 5.13 life is about being good to you.

When I left Ouray, Bill O’Halloran kissed me on the cheek and said, “Keep living your dream”. The only life I know how to live (or want to) is 5.13 and above.