March 03, 2022
On Saturday, June 12th, I had my first outdoor climbing experience sending the First Flatiron Direct Route in Boulder, CO. At the same time, my climbing mentor, Jordan Cannon, and his climbing partner, Scott Bennett, were completing a triple link-up, climbing El Cap, Half Dome, and Mount Watkins in almost exactly 23 hours.
(Scott Bennett, left, and Jordan Cannon, right, during the triple link-up)
A little background on this route: Peter Croft and John Bachar did the first link-up of El Cap and Half Dome in 1986. Afterward, Peter imagined the Triple Crown – adding the 2,000 ft Mt. Watkins as the next logical step but never got around to doing it himself. Fast forward to today, six teams have followed through on Peter’s vision: i) Dean Potter and Timmy O’Neill ii) Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell iii) Alex Honnold again (Free Solo) iv) Dave Allfrey and Cheyne Lempe v) Brad Gobright and Jim Reynolds and now vi) Jordan Cannon and Scott Bennett.
Through accomplishments like this, Jordan has earned a reputation in the climbing community as someone who pushes the limits of what’s possible, season after season.
(Jordan on the South Face of Mount Watkins)
Earlier this year, on his 27th birthday, Jordan expanded the bounds of that reputation to his personal life when he became the first professional climber to publicly share that he is gay. When I first met Jordan, he seemed like a natural leader – confident, curious, and authentic, so I wasn't surprised when he mentioned that he was going out on a limb and opening himself up to potential backlash. In his article in Outside Magazine, Jordan notes that he wants to show up for the LGBTQ+ community, but for now, the best he can do is free himself to focus on what he loves. Perhaps that’s the best way any of us can affect change - by being exactly and unapologetically who we are. I would have to imagine and hope Jordan’s example will encourage others to do the same.
Since Jordan and I started working together in February, I’ve felt a sense of responsibility – ecstatic that he agreed to take me on and resolved that I didn’t want to let him down. After a few sessions in Denver, Jordan left for Bishop, CA, and we began collaborating virtually. During our weekly Zoom calls, we talk about readings (yes, Jordan assigns homework, we’re currently reading The Rock Climber’s Training Manual: A Guide to Continuous Improvement), discuss gear and apparel, and review footage of me bouldering throughout the week. (Although it may seem peculiar, self-recording attempts at the gym is incredibly easy. All you have to do is prop your phone against your chalk bag, press record, and start climbing. Then, when Jordan and I meet on Zoom, I upload the videos to GDrive and review them together.)
(Jordan and me outside of Movement Climbing + Fitness in Baker)
Though the readings and gear have been essential to my progress, I look forward to Jordan critiquing my climbing the most. At critical points, he pauses the tape and explains to me where I’m going wrong. He gets creative and animates how I should flag, back step, drop knee, lay-back, mantle, side pull, or Gaston. Think this virtual approach couldn’t possibly work? Thanks to our Zoom sessions, I went from climbing v1 to v5 in four and a half months.
Once my bouldering was sound, and I became confident top-roping, it was time for me to plan my first outdoor adventure. Another benefit of working with someone like Jordan is that when you need in-person guidance, you bypass the Google searching, review reading, and friend asking, and get a solid recommendation that you know you can trust.
To me, climbing is an activity where you don’t want to choose the wrong guide, and when Jordan recommended that I reach out to Smile Mountain Guides, I knew I was going to have a safe and rad experience.
Serving Denver, Boulder, Golden, Colorado, and Moab, Utah, Smile Mountain Guides was founded by Jeff Mascaro and is co-owned by Jeff, Mike O’Connor, and Meg Nickman. Their company provides various services, from technical instruction to guided climbing experiences. Since my objective was to get outside for the first time, I decided to book their experiences service, and when I saw that climbing the Flatirons was an option, I was sold!
When I called to schedule my climb, I spoke with Founder Jeff Mascaro. I was transparent about the level of my experience. He couldn’t have been more encouraging during the booking process. When the day came, we met at the Alpine Café in Boulder at 7:30 am, discussed our game plan, and made our approach to the first pitch in Chautauqua State Park.
When we reached the base, I looked up a ten pitch, 1,000 foot 5.6R called the Direct Route up the First Flatron. With Jeff leading the way, my job as his partner was simple, and after he showed me how to belay and remove trad cams, we geared up and were off!
There isn’t much that can prepare you for climbing outside aside from climbing outside, so I did my best not to be too critical of myself throughout my first adventure. I found the first two to be the hardest of all the pitches on the route. Both were slab climbs – a type of climbing where the rock is at an angle less steep than vertical and requires a lot of solid footwork on small holds.
Halfway up the first pitch, Jeff shouted down, “take small steps!” Moving quickly, I had been trying to make big moves and was compromising my footwork, but after finding some patience and listening to Jeff, I steadily made my way through the slabs.
(My guide and Founder of Smile Mountain Guides, Jeff Mascaro)
Even though the climbing became less complicated as we went up, my fear of heights quickly reminded me that there was still a long way to go. To manage my anxiety, I found that focusing my mind on tasks – whether paying attention to my breath, counting down from one-hundred, or having a conversation with Jeff – was essential to keeping my fear at bay.
Once I became more acclimated with the height, the rest of the way was a blast. The crux was an enjoyable traverse that flowed into a rock formation that looked a lot like angel’s wings. Mimicking Jeff’s beta, I moved through a series of underclings that swung me to the center of the curves and put me in an excellent position to Gaston my way to the top.
(Me, one pitch before the crux)
During a 10–15-minute rest, we filled up on Muir Energy, dried mangos, and gummy bears before approaching the final pitch. Because of how the Flatirons are shaped, our route had two false summits (to get a visual of what I’m talking about, you can take a look at the route map here). To navigate these two ridges, Jeff placed trad cams and wrapped our rope around pointed, sturdy rock if either of us slipped.
Even though there were a few sections with a lot of exposure, I had total confidence in Jeff. He made the last two pushes feel like an adventure and gave me the confidence that I needed to own every last bit of it.
I was so psyched to get to the top that the moments before summiting were a bit of a blur, but once I got there, it was hard to forget the view, the mixed feelings of joy and relief, and the appreciation I had for those who helped me get there.
(Summit shot from the Direct Route)
Language only goes so far when describing meaningful experiences. When I think about climbing, the words that come to mind are “defying,” “terrifying,” “elemental,” “inspirational,” and “unbridled” - descriptors that dance around the question of what’s possible.
One of the first things I learned about Jordan when I started working with him was that he’s a huge Indiana Jones fan. If you take a look at his Instagram, the first thing you’ll see is a quote that Indiana makes during Raiders of the Lost Ark: “It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.”
Despite getting a late start at 32, at no point has Jordan made me feel like I won’t be able to achieve great things. On the contrary, he’s made me feel like it’s inevitable as long as I try hard, have fun, and stay psyched. In some ways, I find it timely that we both reached milestones on the same day. For him, it was another bold adventure for the history books; for me, a thrilling start; and, for both of us, an opportunity to be proud of each other.
Listen to our episode with Mathilde Becerra: Mathilde is a professional rock climber for The North Face. She started climbing in her hometown of Toulouse, France, and by 16, she was a member of the French National Team. It wasn’t long before Mathilde became a National Champion in 2010 and then again in 2016. But as expectations grew, her passion for sport climbing diminished. During our conversation, we talked about why Mathilde eventually closed the chapter on her competitive climbing career and how she has opened a new one in the outdoors. To work with Mathilde, learn about her services here.
I got my first flapper last month. For those of you who don't know, a rock-climbing flapper is a piece of skin that is partially torn off of your hand and is only hanging on by an edge. I was bouldering on an overhang at Movement Climbing + Fitness in RiNo, Denver. While swinging toward the top, I tightly gripped one of the last holds. My feet cut, and that hand was all I had to support my weight. My forearm soon gave, and gravity pulled me down to the landing pad.
I didn't notice anything was wrong until I went to chalk up for my next try. I'm not going to say it didn't hurt (because it did!), but what bothered me the most was that it affected my climbing.
From what I've been told, getting a flapper is a rite of passage for every climber. Regardless, I wanted to do what I could to prevent it from happening again, so when I had my next video call with my climbing mentor, Jordan Cannon, we talked about skin care and the products that he uses to keep his hands in good shape.
Here’s what he recommended:
Want to do it like the pros? There you have it folks. I've been using these products for the past month and haven't had a flapper since. My calluses are much smoother and at less risk of getting irritated or caught on a hold as a result.
If you're having a hard time keeping your hands in good shape, you may want to follow Jordan’s advice and give some of these products a try. Happy climbing!
Listen to our podcast with David Goettler: Based in Chamonix, France, David Goettler is a professional mountaineer for The North Face. Focusing on projects for 8,000 meter peaks, David has summitted 5 of the world's 14 highest mountains, including Gasherbrum II, Broad Peak, Dhaulagiri, Lhotse and Makalu - and has also climbed to 8,200 meters on K2. During our conversation, we talk about David's childhood and how family vacations shaped his love for adventure, the importance of failure to becoming a professional mountaineer, and some of his favorite stories from his expeditions.
When I first went to the climbing gym with Jordan, he made it clear that I would not be climbing grades other than V0 and V1 for the first 3-4 weeks. The V-Scale, short for Vermin and named after a famous Hueco Tanks climber, is a simple rating system that grades boulder problems on a difficulty of 0-17. Occasionally, you may see a “+” thrown in next to a V rating, but these merely note the height dependency of a problem and are not widely used. Generally speaking, V0-V2 is designed for beginners, V3-V6 for intermediates, V7-V10 advanced, and V11-V17 for professional climbers.
Once I began solving problems, I quickly realized that sticking to V0’s and V1’s out the gate was fine by me. I was on-sighting a few – cleanly climbing a route on a first attempt – but the strain these simple problems were putting on all tranches of my fingers and forearms was intense.
I knew that the art of dancing on walls would ask a lot of muscles I seldom use, but feeling the weakness of my fingers and forearms at the lowest grade was humbling and gave me an even greater appreciation for the projects that professional climbers like Jordan send year-after-year.
The moral of today's post: don't be too proud to start at the beginning - the very beginning. Jordan has been stressing to me that quality attempts, regardless of their outcome, are much better than sloppy sends. They're better for my techincal growth, my tendon and muscle strength, and for the ambitious projects I hope to pursue in the future.
Over the past six months, I have heard mixed opinions on virtual mentorship and whether you can learn the technicalities of sports like surfing, cycling, or ultra-running through our digital consults.
To show you how virtual guidance is not only effective but rewarding, I have decided to blog about my climbing journey with my mentor and coach, Jordan Cannon.
Jordan is a big wall climber who spends a lot of his time in Yosemite Valley. Last November, he free climbed El Cap’s Golden Gate in a day: a feat that only four other climbers – Tommy Caldwell, Alex Honnold, Brad Gobright, and Emily Harrington – have overcome.
Last month, Jordan and I grabbed lunch in Denver to talk about him joining our team of athletes. I never intended on Jordan becoming my climbing mentor, but as we got to talking, I realized we had a lot in common – maybe not professionally, but philosophically – and I asked if he would take me on as a client.
Climbing is something I have always wanted to try but it always seemed too technical and out of reach. If you feel the same way about climbing or any other sport on our platform, I hope my blog offers you a sense of encouragement, helps you understand how our athletes can help, and shows you that it’s never too late to start.
Luckily, Jordan was in town for a few weeks after our lunch and we were able to get a few sessions in at the climbing gym. Here’s a shot after our last training day before he shoved off for Bishop, CA.
Here's to being a beginner again, finding joy in the process, and embracing the unknown of a new adventure. Look forward to bringing you along for the ride!
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