Thursday, January 9, 2014

Good Intentions

  On my most recent exploits through southern New Mexico and northwest Texas, I had the opportunity to indulge in my favorite past times on two radically different fronts. This past week has provided clear insight into a phenomenon that many of my adventurous idols have looked back on with sorrow; that is the transformation of once wild and unexplored areas into overdeveloped and heavily regulated parks. The irony here lies in the fact that while state and national parks are intended for the preservation of North America’s natural beauty, its visitors are finding that (at least among the contiguous United States) their freedom to explore these areas in the same way that our forefathers did is increasingly limited and controlled often with a police like force. It is assumed by the authorities that visitors will abuse their privileges and ultimately devour these areas, in the same way that a concerned parent would not leave their kid alone with a jar of cookies. While this protocol is not necessarily unwarranted, it is a fairly negative outlook towards humanity and I believe that there is a happy medium that can be reached.
   One example of this dilemma is the park system put in place at Hueco Tanks State Park nearby El Paso, Texas. This area is an ecological masterpiece in the desert, full of whispers from a previous era that are demonstrated by cave paintings, burial grounds and the like, left by cultures that once lived with the land instead of against it. This oasis in the sand existed before man walked the earth, but the fear is that man will be responsible for its’ demise. This argument is hard to refute when a greedy few have defaced the area’s natural beauty, and have effectively treated this fragile ecosystem as if it could be reproduced easily. The fact is however, that these places bear no similarity to anything man is capable of creating and that is ultimately why these vandal acts jeopardize their very existence. The need for preservation is undoubtedly necessary, however, most often times, the conservation programs put in place seem hypocritical and limited. 
Ken treads lightly on 'Best of the Best', another bizarre roof formation in Hueco Tanks.

   As a rock climber, it is not unusual that I get stereotyped before I even enter parks like Hueco Tanks. It is assumed that because I use white chalk and have a different perspective than that of historic generations, I must therefore have no desire to preserve the natural beauty of these areas. That could not be further from the truth. One of the fundamental reasons why I am passionate about this ‘sport’ is because it deposits me into the heart of mother nature; I can hear it beat life and death, feel the air flowing from her lungs, and can see her joy and sorrow when her children mistreat her. Nowhere do I feel her beauty, her strength, her resilience, and yet her delicate fragility more than when I am out with her, and not embedded in the illusion of a world that we humans have created for ourselves. That for me is the very foundation for my overwhelming desire to preserve her, and ultimately I believe true conservationism cannot exist without first being able to enjoy this wonder. In that sense, the establishment of park systems is positive in the sense that they are intended to allow people to feel this same phenomenon. But do they actually accomplish this?
   I would argue not. The end product of these systems does not allow people to freely explore and experience the awesomeness of Mother Nature’s anomalies in their own way. Rather, these systems tend to limit one’s ability to do so, and ultimately turn a once wild domain into an entrepreneurial opportunity. Are these programs really preserving the natural beauty of these areas, or are they essentially turning them into a business? I know that park and tour fees are designed to be invested in the parks’ preservation, but all I see as a result is more publicity, more asphalt, more concrete, more tourism shops and ultimately less freedom to explore these places as they once were.
  I am NOT advocating the dissipation of the park system, but I do believe that more often than not it does not accomplish its intended goal. My reasoning here is that, I am constantly a scapegoat because of my desire to experience the world in a more natural way than these park systems offer. I would be more prepared to deal with this label if there were not such a hypocritical demonstration of low impact ethics in these areas. For example, it is hard to accept criticism for wanting to carefully explore the amazing volcanic corner systems that make up Devils Tower by Sundance, Wyoming when the tower itself is surrounded by a wheelchair accessible asphalt road, and the area is littered with RV parks, hotels, and stores, amongst other things.  Tell me how does all this infrastructure preserve the Tower’s natural state for everyone to enjoy and recognize its significance, while my longing to explore it more intimately and my consequent decision to protect its magic by leaving no trace of my presence does not?
  The story in Hueco Tanks State Park is essentially no different. Park service officials now shake their fingers at climbers, essentially blaming us for the vandalism of Native American artifacts and cave paintings, and overdevelopment on top of a fragile ecosystem. Again, the good intention of the park service is there; they force visitors to watch an educational video that demonstrates the importance of preserving geographically and culturally significant areas like these. At the same time however, there is monitored road access, a dance club-esque entrance line at the gate, guard rails drilled into the rock, and with the exception of North Mountain, access is only granted through guided tour only. Where is the wilderness experience in that? It is hard to want to preserve an area’s natural beauty when immediately upon entering the feeling is anything but natural.  There lies the problem. Education is essential to conservationism. I fully agree with that. But to really establish a community desire to preserve a unique natural marvel, people have to be able to experience it for themselves.
  There is a recurring illusion throughout the lower 48 that wild places cannot remain preserved in their natural state without the implication of park systems. I can think of many places where that is hardly the case at all, and perhaps one terrific example of this was demonstrated to me just yesterday, on a jaunt through the Organ Mountains just outside of Las Cruces, New Mexico.  With huge lichen streaked granite walls amongst undisturbed wildlife habitat, this range has all the appropriate criteria that could result in the construction of a natural park and a world-class climbing destination. But this beautiful and majestic range has no park gates, no paved roads, has a minimum approach time of about an hour and a half by foot and is guarded by thick brush and loose rock. As a result, this place feels devoid of human intervention and truly does feel wild and authentic when compared to any natural park I have been to. My reaction to places like these is to cherish them, and to treat them with the respect and awe they deserve. Places like these feel so removed from the bustles and bumps of a material world, that to deface them in any way would be quite nearly sacrilegious.  The Organ Mountains are only about 10 miles away from a largely urbanized city, yet they seem so natural, and without any of the negative human impacts that park systems are attempting to prevent.
  Perhaps there lies the key to a more successful conservation technique. Instead of building better access roads, providing all the technological accommodations we are so used to, and essentially turning a natural wonder into a business, it seems that by leaving these areas alone and allowing people to be driven to their beauty independently, I strongly believe that the desire to preserve and protect these areas will come naturally.

Dan in a sea of perfect granite in the Organ Mountains

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Another Short but Sweet Trip to the Desert..

Another attempt at the painful ring locks on 'Slice and Dice'.

 I fucking love the Desert. Every time I go, I never want to leave. I might have to move to Utah. I like this place so much because it both humbles me and puts me in a domain where I feel comfortable pushing myself on vertical terrain. When I walk around the base of these cliffs and see perfect lines like 'Slice and Dice'  -geographic anomalies as I like to call them- I'm ready to sweat and bleed to work towards climbing these nasty little fuckers clean.
 What really make this place so special, and what ultimately keeps me coming back are the monster crack pitches that go on forever. Looming well over a hundred feet above the trail and sometimes visible miles away, these vision quests require a commitment to endure and eventually deposit you up into a sea of varying wing-gate sandstone.  Nothing creates an internal dialog more vividly or a sense of accomplishment here than these rope stretchers.
 Only had about five days in the Desert this time, but I climbed my ass off. And left battered enough to take a break but more eager than ever to continue climbing here..

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Cynical Pinnacle

 Cynical Pinnacle.  I'll never forget the first time I saw this cover photo on the 1998 South Platte Climber's Guide. While perusing through the narrow aisles of Red Letter Bookstore, I pulled out a weathered copy from a cryptically organized pile and was immediately in awe of this formation. The rounded summit, beige granite, its perch above the trees, and the mysterious fog that guards its detail. Right there, squeezed between the bookshelves, intoxicated by feigned existential confidence induced by the smell of stale books, a spark ignited a flame in the back of my mind. I was determined to climb this tower, without any idea of what that actually entailed...

  I poured over the guidebook's confusing topos, tried exploring other areas in the South Platte, but always returned to the cover and then to the page that contained the climbs on Cynical Pinnacle. As a young and aspiring traditional climber at the time, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I still had a lot to learn to make this a manageable and safe endeavor. But like any kid that wants glory without having to work for it, I managed to convince some of my close friends to share the load with me, with a little campfire lore and a bottle of whiskey. What I hadn't realized as I crawled into my sleeping bag that night, was that I had asked them for more than any of us were capable of at the time. And we quickly found that out the next day...

 The morning started cold, with a lingering resentment and slight hangover. Yet as we brewed coffee and ate breakfast in silence, I ignored all of this due to selfish ignorance. After the long, sweaty approach, we managed to waddle our way up to the base of Center Route and Wunch's Dihedral. As I sank my hands into the first 5.8 pitch, the size and vertical nature of the climb came crashing down on me. I hardly even new what I was doing, and had not only chose a climb above my skill level but brought my friends into the line of fire with me. As I sat and doubted my anchor building skills at the first chockstone belay, my fears were solidified when my buddy arrived and told me straight up,

 -"I'm not ready for this man"-

. So before digging ourselves deeper into the whole I had found for us, we made one of the hardest decisions that a climber's ego has to make, and bailed. As we sombered down the hillside with our tails between our legs, I swore I would be back, but I also new that I had work to do.

 The Pinnacle had reserved a seat in my self-conscience. I not only wanted to redeem myself but I wanted to exceed my expectations, and I used it (along with many other climbs) as a mechanism to train my mind and my body to be ready for a solid attempt. It would be nearly three years until that day finally came.

 While working trails with a diverse group of climbers a little over a week ago, Cynical Pinnacle came up in conversation, and I half-hazardly mentioned how I really wanted to climb it. Jeff, someone I had just met a few days prior, spoke up and expressed equal enthusiasm. Not expecting a partnership to form there, I suggested that we give Wunch's Dihedral a go, just to move the conversation onward. Only a few days later, I was picking Jeff up in Golden at Cafe 13, with a trunk full of climbing gear and a belly full of coffee.

 I started off the ground and dug my cuticles into the Breashear's finger crack feeling good and moving quick, with a grey camalot clenched in my teeth. I sunk in the cam about 20 feet off the deck, placed another nut and was almost through the major difficulties on the pitch when my foot popped and I fell. With an onsight in the dust, reality struck again, "Don't be a hero Maxito, just try to climb this thing".  I quickly pulled back into the finger locks and finished off the pitch. As I sat on the huge belay ledge about 100 feet up, and Jeff pulled over the lip and sat there with me, the sun disappeared behind wispey grey clouds and would not provide us warmth for the rest of the day. Our attempt had officially begun.

- "I'd trade my sunglasses for a beanie right about now". -

 While Jeff moved into the unrelenting hand crack that followed, I sat on the comfortable ledge looking out. He sunk in a cam about twenty feet from the ledge, and kept moving. While he pulled out slack to clip his next piece about seven feet higher, his foot pooped and he came sailing down at me. Before I could pull in not more than a foot of rope, there dangled Jeff, right in front of me, about six inches from cracking his ankles on the very ledge I was sitting on. Hardly phased, he quickly pulled back up to his high point and safely finished off the pitch.

 As we both squeezed into the tight bombay chimney that guarded the final crack climbing pitch, I struggled to rack our cams on my harness, with the cold and fatigue wearing on me. Fisting my way out of the roof and into the dihedral, my confidence dwindled as I awkwardly tried to walk my feet up the smooth face while placing gear and sinking my fingers into the good but distant finger locks. About fifteen feet out of the chimney, my foot slipped and I went airborne. I new the rope would catch me but I was still scared by that fall. I scurried back up to the cam that caught me and fought and cursed my way up that pitch, trying to rest but unable to shake the icy pump that lingered in my arms. After what felt like an hour I finally pulled over the bulge to my belay. Snowy clouds had descended upon the formations surrounding us and appeared to be closing in.

 By the time Jeff arrived, it was evident that we needed to move quick given the clothes we had on and the dropping temperatures. My plan to attempt free climbing the final head-wall guarding the summit was shrouded by our concerns for warmth and safety. We switched to aid and were quickly on the summit.

 Rapping down the face past a few precarious hanging belays, I felt both defeat and success. I was glad we had made it, but I knew that I would not be fully content with this route and with Cynical Pinnacle until I was able to free every pitch. Just like years before, that flame still burned in the back of my mind, now brighter than ever...

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Some Days...

I'm a slave to my conscience. I often look to far into my interactions with others. You could say I'm self conscious. I get butt-hurt about stupid shit. I've been this way my whole life, and despite what I've done in attempt to suppress this attribute, pretty sure I'm going to die this way.

Good thing I've got these puppies to make me normal...
 Just kidding. I'm not a pill popping machine. Luckily, I was forced to confront my demons before being offered this escape, and I am thankful for every day that I can be ME instead of just a xanied out drone.  But its a hard road, particular because I have no sympathy for my kind. I've spent enough time in 'impoverished' areas to know that I really, truly, should not be bitching, about anything, ever. I've got things pretty fucking good compared to a lot of people out there. But, alas, I'm only human. I still get bummed out when things aren't going my way. It sucks, I'm not to proud of it, but I tell you what, confronting this part of myself has so far been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
 For years, I've tried to deny this part of me, and in doing so, began to wither away into nothingness. I was a sorry sight. The Lost Boys Years:
'The Lost Boys Years' By Maximilian Barlerin 2005. Pen and Ink on Paper.
A dark period of my life. Came out with a pretty negative outlook towards humanity. I still shudder thinking about it...
It's almost 10 years now since those days, and I have spent that time trying to rebuild myself from the ground up. To do this I had to dig deep to confront the very source of the issues that were having the most negative impacts on my life, and I'm still digging...

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Magellan Straights...

While driving around the Coast between Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales, Nechi (my sister) convinced me to take a quick dip into the Straights of Magellan.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Torres Del Paine

Pretty much what I came to Chile to see. As crazy as this place seemed to me, I couldn't help but notice how worn the trail is to this very site, where probably thousands of photos get taken every day. But fuck, the sheer size and raw nature of the Torres are enough to clench the butt of any rock climber. I would love to one day put up a route in Alpine style on Torres Central, but as with any magnificent wall, talking about it from the warmth of my home, or even while standing at the base amongst a throng of diverse tourists, is entirely different from actually committing to such an endeavor. In that sense, I found a similarity between Torres del Paine National Park, and say, Rocky Mountain National Park in my home of Colorado. Both places have been on the public radar for decades now, so much so that one half expects to see a restaurant and souvenir shop around the next bend, and sometimes there is.
 I find this a little discouraging, especially when prior to my coming here I dreamt of this place as wild country that only permits a determined, if not deranged, few. Yet like both places, I've noticed that a very wild world does indeed exist, sometimes even alarmingly close to the well worn trail. Like a coy spirit that follows you and feeds on crushing your foolish pride. I see the vertical domain as a sanctuary of that mysterious wild environment that I dream of. The experiences high on a wall feel almost other worldly. For better or for worse, I have caught a faint glimmer into this other world and I feel that I will spend the rest of my life trying to look further into it. 

 It excites yet also terrifies me to think about one day sitting on the top of that tower, yet it's also what I came for. It will both haunt my dreams and inspire the choices I make. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

On the Road to Patagonia...

Nothing like a race through a handful of airports to remind you of how small one is in a world of so many. Here I sit, three flights down, an over-priced microwaved panini in one hand and my first cervesa in South America shining like an oasis in a desert of endless layovers, tacky carpets, uncomfortable leather seats and guys toting drug sniffing dogs that make me nervous although the only dirt on me right now is already coursing through my veins and on its way out of my system.
Yet despite being expectedly hungry, tired and unable to stop speaking French to Mexicans, I can't help but feel excited about being on my way to Chile!