June 28, 2021
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. Afterwards, 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 when he mentioned that he was going out on a limb and opening himself up to potential backlash, I wasn’t surprised. 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 so that he can 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 in that he agreed to take me on and resolved in 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 simply upload the videos to GDrive and we review them together.)
(Jordan and me outside of Movement Climbing + Fitness in Baker)
Though the readings and gear have been important 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 added 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 just get a solid recommendation that you know you can trust.
To me, climbing is an activity where you definitely 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, and Golden, Colorado, as well as 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 a variety of 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 7:30am, discussed our gameplan, and made our approach to the first pitch in Chautauqua State Park.
When we reached the base, I looked up at a 10 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 really isn’t much that can prepare you for climbing outside aside from climbing outside, so throughout my first adventure, I did my best to not be too critical of myself. Of all the pitches on the route, I found the first two to be the hardest. 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 difficult 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 it was 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 a really fun 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 a good 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 in the event that 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 elation 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 talk 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 “+” or “R” 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.
Stevie Kremer is a professional ski mountaineer and ultra runner for Salomon. In addition to being a back-to-back Skyrunning World Series Champion (2013, 2014), she's also a mom and a middle school teacher. During our conversation, we talk about a race Stevie won at 20,000 feet in Tibet, the mental talk she uses to stay positive, and the principles that keep her life balanced.
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!
During my podcast with Max King (@maxkingor), we talked about a trail running camp he has been leading for the past five years. Throughout Max's career, it has always been a dream of his to put together a running camp focused on the fun aspects of trail running and also provide the skills required to be self-sufficient in the forest and mountains.
For both adult and youth runners
Envisioning programs for both adult and youth runners, he finally made it happen – a true trail running camp that does not just take you on guided trail runs, but actually teaches you more than you ever thought you needed to know about being outdoors.
And for those who do not have access
When making his dream come true, Max also thought about how he could pay it forward. During our conversation (43:00), he talked about a Salomon sponsored camp he organized for disadvantaged youth in Central Oregon.
This program, like others he has organized with Mario Mendoza (@mendozarunner), was focused on helping those who never had a chance to experience the outdoors. Here’s one of the excerpts he shared about the program:
“There was one kid who joined us from a Native American reservation called Warm Springs in Bend, Oregon. He went from being on the reservation, not seeing a lot in his future and being kind of stuck there, to gaining confidence, hopefully through the sport of running, to get out and go to college. To know that he continued running and used it as a way to advance himself, that was pretty cool to hear. He went to college, is still running, and doing good things.”
Making friends, taking in the views, and gaining confidence
As Max emphasizes, these camps open dialogue, build bonds, and change lives. You will take away memories of not only great trail runs with new friends but skills in map reading and navigation, how our trails are made and maintained, and an appreciation for your role as a steward of wilderness and trails from wherever you hail.
If you are interested in attending Max's camp, he has two scheduled next year at Mount Shasta, CA from July 6-10 and September 17-20. If you would like to learn more, checkout his website at www.maxkingtrc.com or let him know on Instagram @maxkingor.
I plan on attending one myself, so let me know too. I may join you!
Jacob Mellish grew up in Cape Town, South Africa (SA). By 12, he was travelling the world surfing professionally. During this time, he won some of the biggest surfing comps in SA. By 20, Jacob lost his drive to surf professionally and started teaching yoga. During our conversation, we talked about Jacob’s early beginnings in Cape Town, his surfing career on the World Tour, and the transition he made from riding waves to pursuing his new passion on the mat.
I have learned that all of us have a sense of adventure within us, a kind of spirit that, by being outside, has slowly been unlocked within me. I never thought that I would ever want to travel, trail run, or climb a mountain. I never thought that was something that I would really embrace. It all goes back I think to that sense of adventure that I think we all innately have.
That is the physical part. Spiritually, I really like my connection to nature. I am usually in Central Park. It is not the woods proper, but there is so much life – people, trees, flowers, animals, dogs – you learn to appreciate your connectivity to your surroundings much more. It has also done wonders for my mental health. To get fresh air every day, meet people, and explain what I do, there is so much to appreciate.
"Mindset in Action" came about through a dear friend of mine, Mitch Aguiar. He and I connected via Instagram. He is a former-Navy SEAL and he is an entrepreneur now. His credo is "Mindset is Everything," and I got to thinking about that. I thought, "Mindset is Everything" is a very inspirational quote. However, inspiration is perishable. In other words, if you are not going to do anything with that inspiration, it just goes into thin air.
Mitch and I have been good friends and he has helped me a lot, so I was thinking about gratitude and thanking someone for helping me along those lines. I thought to myself, people always say, "How can I ever thank you?" or "What can I ever do to thank you." To me, that is BS. The way you thank someone is to embody what their philosophy is, make it your own, and show that person, through your actions, that you are thanking them and that they have made a positive impact on you.
So "Mindset in Action" really came about as a logical step from "Mindset is Everything." Without action, it does not do anybody any good.
Their sense of accomplishment, especially when there are freezing cold temperatures and snow. I think it comes from a sense that they got out and did something different, above and beyond what they would have experienced in a gym.
The rocks I work with range in weight from 10-100lbs. You cannot compare them to balanced implements like a barbell or kettle bell. A 50lb rock is going to feel like an 80lb dumbbell. It has to do with their random distribution of weight and composition. Two rocks may look the same but when you pick them up, they feel completely different. This lack of even distribution makes movement harder and works muscles you would not normally work in the gym.
“The great part about being outside is that you are not compartmentalized. You look around and you see possibilities. You get more creative and start to think about how to use objects that, in everyday life, you would just walk by. When it comes to training outdoors, the sky is the limit.”
There are fewer modern distractions outside. In a gym, there are sounds systems, machines, Wi-Fi, televisions, monitors, mirrors, and LED lighting. When you are outside, it really becomes about the people around you. You feel more connected and in it together.
Training outdoors prepares you for life. It is about doing the hard things and seeking adversity. Most of my clients start in the warmer weather, so it is a gradual progression into the winter. Once that winter loosens its icy grip in March and April, I see it on their faces. They can appreciate the warmth, the sun, and the light because they have gone through the cold, the rain, and the hardship.
When it comes to training through the winter, you burn so many more calories, it is unbelievable how much more you burn, just through the effect of your body trying to stay warm through the cold.
Max King is an American ultra runner. In 2014, he won the 100K World Championships and was crowned World Mountain Running Champion in 2011 – the first American to capture that title in 14 years. During our conversation, we talked about a passion project Max did on Route 66, his formative years as a track athlete at Cornell University, and a series of youth trail running camps he’s been running in Oregon and California for the past five years.
Living and working in Manhattan, Joe Sinagoga has 25 years of experience training in Central Park. His philosophy, "Mindset in Action," encourages everyone to get outside the artificial environment of the gym and experience training in nature, using what the landscape provides for a mind and body elevating experience.
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