The Year of the Snake

FORWARD

   The past year was epic. So much so, that the climbing centric narratives can no longer contain the scope of what i want to express. The meat of the story surrounds the effects of the snake bite but smaller stories will ensue with either a lot of action, a minor tremor of excitement or intense introspection. It won’t be linear either, that depends on the motif of each story and the relevant space and time. Either way, i just want to share stories and encourage people to share their own.

Henceforth, there will be an arc of stories over the duration of July 2013 to April 2014 under what I’ve called the ‘Year of the Snake’. The title will make sense to readers eventually but it’s also a nod toward an extremely talented person called Jeremy Smith who put up a bold new rock climbing route in the enchanted forest of Squamish, Canada.

 

The Chief, Squamish

SNAKE BITE

   During the last days of August, there was a tepee. A circular space large enough for about 20 people to enter and sit inside. Surrounding it were structures just like it, brimming with hundreds of people coming in from all directions and flying away on their merry way. You see, this bustling encampment was just one ‘block’ inside of many others, all with a different purpose and theme. 

If you float into the sky and look down from a birds eye view, you’ll see an enormous sundial forming 10 o’clock to 2 o’clock with the centre circle called ‘The Playa’. Maybe a mile in diameter. Branching out from ‘The Playa’, the ‘blocks’ go about 13 deep (using letters). Sweep across the curvature of the sundial and somewhere in this iridescent metropolis, our little tepee stood amongst kindred clusters known collectively as the Shaman Dome.

 

Yes, we’re at Burning Man.

 

The scorched earth surrounding us is located deep inside the Salt Flats of northern Nevada, known as Black Rock Desert. At it’s height, 68,000 people gathered here in 2013 for the ongoing experiment of ‘radical self expression and reliance’. A temporary city. Nothing here grows from the ground. Only Sun, Moon, Earth and us to create and reinvent.

 

Aerial shot of ‘The Playa’.  (Googled, I  take no credit and own Nothing obviously)

Inside the tepee, it’s late morning and the baking oven is gently wafting hot air under the tarpaulin into the calm space of gathered seekers and veteran practitioners. To my left is Kyla from Canada. A real gem. We crossed paths rock climbing in Utah during the winter of 2012 and has been a spiritual counterpart ever since. At the time of our meeting, the tendrils of winter began to spread it’s frost over the valley bottom of Indian Creek and an exodus for warmer temps began. Our tribe ended up flying south to Mexico (See previous post; Running out of Time). And a crazy and joyful exploit it ’twas. When the time eventually came to grab contact details, she mentioned her Facebook was named after her shamanic power animal, the Eagle. A spark of curiosity came into being right there and 6 months later, it’s time for Spirit Connection.

 

The shaman starts by blessing us all with incense. Feathers and animal bones are placed in the centre. He explains that a drum will beat in a consistent bum-bam-bum, bum-bam-bum for 10 minutes, followed by a short breather, then another 10 minutes. Sit up in the classic meditation pose, eyes closed.

He begins by asking you to think of somewhere you went as a child that was a place of trust and safety. I remembered the woods above my mothers house. The lush countryside of Britain. Memories of walking our family dog, climbing trees, crawling through the undergrowth, the rich palette of flowers in bloom during the spring. The inner sanctum. “Look for a door” he says. A muddy hole under my favourite oak tree appears and a staircase leading down into the void. Your subconscious? 

I can’t tell if it’s imagination that will appear or that I’ll have to try and make sense of an endless flow of shapes and symbols swimming through me like a river of thoughts. All i know is to relax and be open. The one question radiating; “Are you out there?”

 

Ten minutes is up with nothing  We listen to peoples parables of what they experienced during this time. Some of them are vivid and i marvel at what they claim to have seen and felt. Some say they also didn’t find anything.

The drum starts again. Time to give it another try. Sanctuary, calm, open. I fight the thoughts of frustration and stay relaxed. The subsequent minute or so was the most mind bending thing I’ve ever witnessed. How can i put it? Think of the geometric framework that we as humans have created in terms of mapping an environment, structure, anything really. From right to left, an image projecting onto the back of my eye lids with this structure was an Eagle swooping down to land exactly where Kyla was sitting. On my left.

This released whatever shreds of doubt i was harbouring. It’s real. Subsequently, scales materialise, ebb and flow like a reptile is draped across my eyes. Upon notice, the scales move away with fluidity in an arc and come around to face me. The Snake. We acknowledge each other but i don’t do anything, i don’t want to. I’m in awe. It opens its jaws slowly and purposefully before swallowing me whole.

Boom. The session ends with smooth synchronicity but I’m a little lost for words…stunned actually. It didn’t feel hostile at all…but what did that mean? The shaman explains that it was a good sign. A message of welcome and total embrace. I wanted to reciprocate fully. The two of us together, united in essence. To fully ‘grok’ each other as Valentine Michael Smith puts it. In what way i wonder.

 

Sean Renwick’s Photo of The Temple

The next day, at ‘Sacred Spaces’ i was admiring some art work on consciousness inspired by the brilliant artist Alex Grey. ( www.alexgrey.com). Under the multi coloured awning of the atrium, a group was congregating next to a sign posted ‘Discover your Inner Being’. Naturally i was drawn to participate. It ended up being pretty simple. Again, a circle was formed. “Do any of you guys know each other?” The lovely woman leading the session asked. Two women smiled toward each other, one fully ordained in silver head garments that reminded me of a Buddhist deity with glitter sparkling up along her royal cheekbones and a mane of brown hair beautiful and long. Her friend was blond and fair with wooden bracelets, dream catchers, feathers and shimmering blue eyes. Both had kind faces and carried an air of a clairvoyance. They knew each other. No one else seemed to though.

 So, we are instructed to take turns, one at a time, to sit in the middle for others to say what they see in that person’s face using brief adjectives. Various individuals eagerly take turns to convey their insights. Words like “playful” “nurturing” “sexual” and “introverted” start to fly around.

 

It’s been a fun hour. Our guide has shown or reminded us rather, that we can make astute observations of each other if we can look past quick judgements based on our concepts of identity and the resulting prejudices. The ego and it’s projections. Expressing ourselves from the heart whilst welcoming from the heart. The key, i suppose, is observing these initial impressions before letting it guide your subsequent thoughts, letting your sunshine burn through the gloomy cloud of cynicism. Of course, there will always be an infinite amount of scenarios that say something different but it should be something encouraged nevertheless.

During the last 60 minutes I’ve been a little distracted though. Still smiling and participating yet retaining a minute here, a minute there to ponder and churn the events of the Shaman Dome over in my head. The water was still muddy from the disturbance and would take time to settle. Turning around, we notice the next group filtering in and the vibe says our session is coming to a close. I didn’t go but hey that’s OK…

 

Surprise meeting with Patrizia. (We met in Red Rocks NV, years before)

“Yo, what about Toby? We haven’t seen him yet”. Spinning back to the group, the clairvoyant duo’s eyes beam over in my direction with an inquisitive smile. Being the only one left from the group our guide ushers me into the middle. Plodding myself in the centre, in nothing but my jean shorts and scarf, i look around at the beautiful people we’ve been talking with this past hour. A searching look over my companions saying So, what do we have here? followed by a bashful glance at my hands. The calloused scars of crack climbing in Squamish still fresh and embedded in Playa dust like talcum powder. Again, the observations were astonishing. The preliminary comments like “thrill seeker”, “playful”, “sexual”, “deep thinker”, “nomad not yet settled” and  “self disciplined” were all kind and surprising especially when i heard “cute”. Yet the home run came from the oracles in the front.    

 

“I can see wisdom from past lives” the woman with earth tones said. Interesting. “Hmm” continued the sparkling brunette “I can also see transmutation occurring in him, hmm yup, like a snake” We lock eyes and she smiles at the acknowledgement. How? This happened yesterday?!


Stepping back out onto the Playa with yet another dose of wonder, the sun begins to set. Gentle gusts of wind send clouds of dust into the expanse above, turning the sun into a tangerine orb. Thousands of people on their multi coloured glowing bicycles are roaming in all directions. Trance and techno beats gently initiate their nocturnal ritual. The sun eventually dips behind the horizon and is met with hooting and hollering from the night owls. I think about this confirmed transmutation. Maybe I’m getting ready to settle in the United States? I miss Diana with a pang. I wish i could share this with you, and start to think about what life would be like in the future with her, rope access work and climbing on the road.  A dream for an idealist like me. It didn’t occur to me that knowing the path and walking the path is something different entirely.

 

The snake bite will manifest all. 

 

The man burns in 3 days.

 

 

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* Normal text – Hampi*                                                                                   *Bold text – Back in time*

 

   7 months later, I’m lying down like a starfish on a raised plateau in between two big boulders feeling the heat of the day radiating into my aching frame. The air is still and doesn’t help to cool my body that’s glistening with sweat. It’s sunset once more but the temperature remains high around 38’C. It’s quiet too. Tranquil. A faint reverberation can be heard from the local evening drum circle higher up. Their daily salutation to the falling sun and an ode to the rising moon.

I could hear the vibrations peak and lull when i was climbing earlier. In my little snow globe, i imagined it as my tribal soundtrack as i explored the scattered sugar cubes of rock deployed all over the surrounding plateau. Alone, choosing established boulder problems that didn’t look too hard to climb was wonderful. To feel your fingers latch those little crimps and crystals again, the dance of orientating yourself to the holds, the unique positions you find yourself in the middle of a rock face. Full body awareness. I will always be thankful for climbing because of that. The way it helped me take my first steps toward manifesting a more astute consciousness.

Sitting up, there is just beauty all around. The little creek below flows through the meandering valley, nurturing the thirsty palm trees and keeping the rice paddies lush and green. Leaning over top, jumbled heaps of bulging boulders stained in peach and orange sit silhouetted against the fading sky. Within this delightful palette of colours, something stirs in my soul. It’s time to return to the ‘Healing Hexagon’ of Manju’s Guest house. I felt like sharing with the beautiful beings that have coalesced in this place.

 

Climbing the ‘Warm up’ on Rishimuk Plateau

 Hampi, Southern India.

April 2nd 2014

 

3 weeks before this exceptional happening however, my head was reeling like a boomerang still in flight. Personal circumstance had not unfolded as i thought at all. 3 months of climbing and being on the road in California was bliss in the afterglow of Burning Man, especially when we returned to my favourite place in the United States. Joshua Tree. 4 months in SE Asia after that, tapping into the wonderful world of the climbing community, mixed with bountiful blends of cuisine and architecture on our ‘cultural’ down days. Other times the big chill. Great fun in both Thailand and Laos

But something happened when we crossed the Pacific. A shift i couldn’t put a finger on. It started subtle though but we felt it. Diana and I. For me, it felt like a block of communication. With this resistance growing in strength i became angry on two fronts. Why can’t i articulate myself? Why was this happening now? Resulting in a slow downward spiral into a self imposed prison. We did have amazing days though and those memories i shall cherish. But the my inner self at the time? Was losing cabin pressure. 

 

Wandering & Pondering in Ton Sai

It was like riding wavesLeading an overhang without taking a fall, dancing on the beach or watching the sunset and discussing the mechanics of life were and are of course, fantastic. But again, with one on one engagement, inter connectedness at an intimate level grew dimmer and hazy with time and space. My ego jumping and stomping in a tantrum, as my conceived notions of the future don’t go as i want or expect. Yup, we’re breaking down. Climbing becomes my only respite. I’m always psyched to move on the rock but it wasn’t enough. I had to fix something but i didn’t know what. Perpetual cycles. What a weight.


It’s dark by the time i stagger from the night into the light of the Hexagon. The vibrations from the music and the people within the nest are perfectly in tune. Hanging lanterns of different shaded colours dance and sway in the gentle breeze. Harmony. Many conversations are had. Track; Desert Raven by Jonathan Wilson. Learning, sharing, having fun. At some point in the night i find myself sitting with Sam and Jackson in a state of such contentment that i found myself having some kind of revelation.

Two and a half weeks in India, where interaction with people is constant, nothing goes the way you think it will and really money is just a game when travelling on a shoestring. It all helps you to work on some core skills such as keeping a bag of tricks for bartering and being open in an honest and responsible way. And the latter, really worked a number on me.

 

Back in Chiang Mai, Diana’s about to catch the bus to Bangkok and take a flight back to the US. We figured that this parting would also serve as a metaphor for our relationship, as a ‘couple’ that is, good friends we shall remain. What a year though. During that time we climbed the Incredible Hulk together with ‘that scramble’ down in hail and freezing rain, we had vehicle breakdowns on major highways, an episode with a black bear that ripped all our food apart, moon flooded nights in Joshua Tree, trekking the jungle in northern Laos, motorbike night rides from the crag, braved illness and my damned Ton Sai abscess..Unique experiences shared together. 

Looking at her radiant face through misty eyes and quivering chin, I’m filled with a real sense of gratitude, betrayed however, by resignation and fleeting thoughts of ‘what if’. 

 

Diana and Wade climbing at the Furnace, Chiang Mai

Thai people mill around the truck, inhibiting what might have been an emotional scene. Fortunately, we had a chance earlier that day to talk. Ironically, its was one of the best dialogues we’d had in weeks. The thing was, that during this Asia trip, i was often left at a loss for words, i couldn’t understand what i was feeling let alone express that to her. So many times I wanted to tell her that i loved her and tell her she was great just by being her but i would also be absent minded and miss obvious chances to express that through actions instead of words because i was thinking thinking thinking about how and why our situation had changed, totally missing the present.

That morning however was different. Upon separation a weight was lifted and we started talking, recounting stories, laughing and crying. The most open communication we’d had in a while. Tremendously therapeutic. A sign that all was not lost, i could still speak from the heart but the root of the problem was not solved. It was clear that i couldn’t move forward until i found the source of this disquiet.  


With emotion somewhat purged, i felt hollowed out but good, it felt right. She fades away with the traffic and that was it, she was gone. But not lost.

 

 If you love somebody you have to be willing to set them free.

 I will always love you Diana.

 

Inside the Hexagon, i feel my vibration increase. I close my eyes and sit for a while, focusing on awareness. The energy in here tonight is amazing. How 8 inhabitants can create a flowing feeling of loving and healing, like a Burning Man cell is incredible and shows what each of us is capable of creating. Conscious creators. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a state quite like this. My engrossed, albeit excited, mental chatter evaporates leaving fresh thoughts and sensory input to be viewed objectively. I notice these thoughts but i am not my thoughts. I amNext track; The Sense I Am by Mooji.

 

“Just the feeling i am, is present…but it’s not attached to any condition or any thought. If Spirituality or religion has any significance, its only such that when its sieved out, the feeling ‘I amness’ stops associating with other concepts and ideas…and simply marinades in its own self….and then great peace…great joy..” – Mooji

 

The gurus words emanate from the sound system. It feels like he’s talking directly to my consciousness. Synchronicity is met with a blissful smile. A warm sensation begins to glow in the centre of my chest. 

 

On March 14th, I touch down in Kolkata with my ‘water brother’ Mona. Yes, we’re here! Before we even leave the airport, it begins. “OK, so lets use the ATM so we can get into the city”…Only, one machine is out of money, the other out of order and the currency exchange won’t accept anything under $30. We meet Daniel, a Danish fellow in the same boat. The three of us converse with a cohort of attendants and eventually we are guided out of the airport, past the bus station to a tiny building near the airfield. Inside this dimly lit shack is a machine. Weird

A little while later we are in a taxi heading to our booked hostel in Dum-Dum. Nowhere near the centre of the city. The rickety white tin box, bumbles along through tight lanes heaving with people, rickshaws, cows, blaring music, colourful buildings and rapid fire honks from every vehicle on the road. There’s traffic going in all directions, even sideways. 

But it goes slow enough to let everything flow. Amazing to witness. People definitely get knocked around if you’re not careful but for the most part it works. It feels like swimming with multiple interconnected shoals of fish. 

 

Sensory overload. I loved it.

 

 

The Victoria Memorial, Kolkata

 

10 days later, a camel lumbers past laden with smiling Indians swaying this way and that. We are taking a last look at the aquatic expanse of the bay of Bengal from the beach in Puri. A lot hasn’t made sense to me up to this point. Nothing happens the way you expect, people seem to eventually ask for money or act without any kind of forethought of their actions. Sacred cows eating in mountains of trash and the spectrum of poverty astonishing.

Almost every financial interaction ends with confusion for everyone involved and always scraps of paper with sums and division with individual taxes for every item included afterwards. It took us days to leave Kolkata due to the Holi festival and had to pay a travel agent in Puri to wake up at 4am and get us tickets, as our entire day before at the ticket office and trying online ended in vain. It’s hard to be introverted and think. I just wanted to be in Hampi to climb with Liam and Mona. 

 

Puri’s Beach

We board the train the following day at dawn, drink some chai and let the next 25 hours float by. Hot drinks, Biryani, beggars, water..it keeps going. Someone always has something sometime. I feel like this is the first time i can relax and just take everything in, apart from the transvestites who want money to leave you alone. Quite strange.

 

Mona the Sunflower

Looking over at Mona on the other side of the sleeper carriage, i’m met with her primrose perplexion smiling back at me, loving this place she had visited many times before. Knowing the process i’m going through getting to know this place too. Hey, it’s not for everyone. You either love it or you…find it frustrating. The sun rises and sets in the same day of our long journey and rises once more as we enter Hospet. A short distance from Hampi.  

A few days later, we forgo our brief 05:30 morning ritual. It was fun, especially some of the cracked boulders, but lets face it. All too soon it’s too hot to climb. High’s of 42’C is too much and leaves you immobilised. Surrender, it’s OK. Submit to the day with the solace that i can climb for an hour or two in the evening. 

 

The young Wizard Liam having a good time on ‘Psycobloc’ 6b+. Thank you Dana Wang for the photo.

 

My philosophic counterpart, Liam, and I spend our days instead discussing in analytical cycles about India and the human condition with our pocket book scepticism. A time of council and meeting of minds. Wonderful of course but i still felt i wasn’t shining the light in the right direction. Illumination had not occurred lately. A few days later, Liam must go North. Good timing to. The hostel we are in is closing down due to domestic issues with the married owners. The latest argument could be heard from every corner of the place, almost personifying my own back and forth of late. The next day, i bid my old friend farewell at the ‘ferry’ and move into Manju’s Guest House down the road. Bags are dumped into the new room. It’s quiet here, how refreshing. Time to walk over to the Hexagon and meet the others.  

 

The Hexagon

Next Track; ‘You are Awareness’ by Mooji  

 

“Both the ego and the consciousness refers to themselves as ‘I’. You see, God says ‘I’ and the Devil says ‘I’……You’ve fallen for it, you the consciousness has fallen for your own projection” – Mooji

 

Wind inflates my lungs as i take a slow deep breath and maintain the glowing embers i can feel in my chest. ‘Maya’ is a Sanskrit term for delusion and that was just it. I didn’t think it was possible but it had happened to me. What had caused this state of delusion? The damn ego. And the reason for this? Lack of growth and imbalance. I had been living, on and off, in Western Canada since ’09 and have been helped financially from my parents. Yes i worked during the winter to pay for the ski lift ticket and for rent but without that flow of aid, a lot would not have been possible. So because of this, although i am of course immensely grateful for their support and understanding, i am left with a sense of shame. 

Shame that I’m not doing this completely off my own back. On the other hand, I’m pursuing travelling and climbing. The two vehicles that have introduced me to the mighty mountains, the supreme silence of the desert and people whom i love and would be strangers had i never jumped on that plane or never hitch hiked down that road. All of which have helped me to become more conscious but somewhere i faltered in that evolution.

 

Shining brighter. Yes, genuine reflection, finally. Alex Greys conceptual artwork of  ‘Sacred Mirrors’ suddenly becomes a little more understood. We are different aspects of the same entity. What    

 we see in other people reflects in us something we love or we hate (with various degrees in between). Why couldn’t I express myself to Diana then? Because of ‘poor little me’. That damn ego. She is smart, capable and independent. Self sufficient. This highlighted a gap in my life and i knew i had left that gap unfilled and unfulfilled for too long and as a result used accomplishments in climbing to try to heal that rift. 

I will always be thankful to climbing for forging my connection with this earth and creating my first ripples of awareness and it will remain a major part of my life but it can’t be everything. When i tried, my sense of self, my identity crisis, is what caused layer upon layer until eventually the voice of the heart was dimmed and i began to stumble in the dark.

 

Not anymore. 

 

It occurs to me how powerful perception is. Heaven and Hell is not some external world but right here right now. We are the creators of our own reality and if it’s run by the stroppy ‘poor little me’ primate ego constantly fearful and looking for validation we will get nowhere and live in these hateful perpetual cycles. Like the Ying – Yang, Vishnu & Shiva, Creation & Destruction, Love & Hate, Spring & Fall, they all go hand in hand, one cannot exist without the other but i choose to step into the light. Renounce the ego. I felt a rejuvenation in me once more, like getting shoved back onto the path and saved from stumbling in the undergrowth. 

 

The gravity of the Shaman Dome finally dawns on me. The snake bite had indeed poisoned me but it was necessary. I had to go through the delirium in order for that poison to be transmuted. I had finally shed my former self. Born again to to speak. Back to the feeling of simply being.  

 

 

I think now looking back, we did not fight the enemy, we fought ourselves. And the enemy was in us.” – quote from Oliver Stone’s film Platoon. 

 

 

Epilogue

The following morning, i take a stroll onto the grass and lie down next to Britta and Jackson playing the guitar. Bliss. It felt like the garden of Eden in this sublime afterglow. Like a veil had been lifted. The birds are chirping and the sky deep blue. The various forms and shades of green all feel vitalising too. Growing things in what Taoism calls ‘Wu Tze’. Orderly chaos. Perfection, forever changing forms. Breathe. I share with the others what  happened last night. When i spoke with Baba Sam before going catatonic he said;

 

 “It makes sense and feels right because it’s a state of remembering something you already know, you just forgot….Now you’ve walked through that door again, you’re ready for anything” 

 

 

The ensuing week was full of little miracles, they happen all the time. Seb comes back from the market bearing gifts of necklaces. One in particular stands out to me which he notices and gives to me. It’s a diamond shaped stone that has the same coloured consistency of a reptiles scale. A big one. He had no knowledge of the ‘snake bite’ which i told him about soon after accepting the gift. 

 

One night a man from London whips out a sidar and enters a musical trance. He plays like any brilliant artist who can use the instrument as an extension of his mind and delivers pure expression. During the second song, the owner of the place, Manju joins the beat with his mouth piece instrument (Morsing / Jew’s Harp) and plays so well that it isn’t just an accompany, it sounds like a layer of psy trance. Electric and met with a round of applause when the song fades. He’s not finished though. He goes on to say how much he loves the group that has coalesced in this place, that his family including the two Nepalese chiefs have stayed open an extra week or so because they genuinely enjoys having us stay and knows how much we love this place and the people in it. It was heartwarming.

Manju’s Family

I would like to extend a most sincere thanks not only to Manju and the infinitely kind family but also to all those rays of light that gathered in the healing hexagon. You are all special people.

 

And of course to Mother India. I admit my initial motivation was escapism, which isn’t the best, but i wanted it be a spiritual experience nonetheless. Having said that, at the time i did not conceive how profoundly powerful that experience was going to be. You helped me to open up again just when i wanted to stay in my fractured little shell and for that i am eternally grateful. 

 

Finally falling into the India’s rhythmic heartbeat, it was time to move on again. To each and every one of you, it will only be a matter of time until our next meeting. I take great comfort in that.   

 

The sunset from Hanuman Temple.

 Peace & Love

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Waking Dreams (Part II)

The following day i am standing in Madrid airport waiting for a soul mate to enter my life again. Her name is Jen and like me, she walks her own way on the quest for self discovery and connecting with the world.

 

Being almost 2 years since we first collided, you’d expect me to feel slightly nervous. Instead, it’s excitement and all I’m thinking about is how we can make it to Siurana by dusk. I’ve been waiting for this to fall into place for quite a long time.

 

At last she arrives and we finally have human contact outside the realm of cyberspace. The bus that will take us north east to Reus (Catalonia region), doesn’t leave for another two and a half hours but this is irrelevant as we play catch up and swap stories. When it’s time to move, we grab the tickets and hop on the bus with seconds to spare. From this moment, all the way to Reus, i was frequently reminded of how useful it is to actually speak the local language, instead of looking foolishly at your translator asking ‘What did they say?’ (Thanks Jen!)

 

We reach town and discover that some of Jen’s friends are in Siurana too. What a coincidence! We then go to the supermarket to stock up on supplies and ride the taxi wave all the way to Cornudella de Montsant (There’s only one bus..which we missed). During the journey, the sun sets as we twist and turn north west into the Monsant range of the Prades Mountains and are serenaded by the fabulously cliche tones of the spaghetti western soundtrack all the way until we reach town.

 

 Welcome to Catalonia!

 

Greeted by Ben and Gemma we switch vehicles and cram all the bags into their hire car and zoom up even steeper roads with incessant hairpins all the way to the camp site situated near the town of Siurana itself and on top of some of the best quality sport cliffs in Europe. They help us settle in with a meal and we get a first glimpse of the guide book. Hundreds of quality sport routes in such close proximity mean the salivating process starts again even though the food has long gone. They give us a spare mattress and say goodnight. We drag it to our tent tired but content to have made it. I snuggle down into the sleeping bag wishing i could blink and it was light already.

 

The stunning walls of Siurana. The same is below and behind us.

 (The road up can be seen on the right)

 

 

The following five days were some of the best days clipping bolts i have ever had! The immaculate limestone with bomber crimps and perfect friction enhanced performance so much it feels like this place can make you climb to your full potential. Climbing such a volume of routes day after day is excellent for fitness and endurance. If you wish to be a good all round climber you will begin to see that training in all the different disciplines complement each other. In this case, i felt stronger than ever from bouldering, mentally stronger from last years trad climbs and the ice climbing adventures in Canada. I could go for it and take whippers on shiny bolts, no problem!

 

Going for the near onsight of ‘Cojon Prieto’ 7a

 

 

Taking the Whip!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I love the climbing community because it’s a global family. We all have our own reason to pursue this life style or sport (depending on how you look at it) but each and every person understands what it is like to conquer their own demons and go for it. Whether it’s a nod in the kitchen, someones calming notes on a ukulele, sitting around a camp fire or a shout of encouragement from no one in particular at the crag, you understand that each and every person is on a journey psychically, mentally and spiritually on the rock and on the road. We understand each other just a little bit better. For me, when i walk into a camp ground and sit round a fire swapping stories i know i am home, wherever that may be.

 

 

 

Taking in the view with Gemma & Ben

 

The last day dawns and i know that the joy of re connecting with Jen and climbing in a stunning part of the world will be over soon..for now. We decide to have a little multi pitch outing to put a cherry on the cake and it doesn’t disappoint. The route is fun, but it’s more that we have the whole cliff under the village of Siurana to ourselves with a stunning view. We soak in the sun and stare at the vista with nothing but the wind for sound. A perfect way to end the trip. We walk out dragging our feet in the twilight, stopping periodically to take in the moment again and again.

 

Pitch 2 of 3 on our multi pitch

 

 

Last Day

 

The following day we all jump in the car bound for Barcelona airport. (Another great coincidence). After a nice afternoon on the beach, we say goodbye to Ben & Gemma and head into town for one last night. It’s late when we check into our hostel and we know that i won’t get to see the city very much. Might as well go to the beach with some wine. 


With the sand between our toes, the sound of the waves and the taste of wine on our tongues we stare at the horizon silhouetted against the moon lit sky. It gets me thinking. The last 6 days had been great, for so many reasons. The place and the climbing yes, but it was special to be with Jen again. When two people, born and raised on opposite sides of the globe, grow to have similar values, integrity for passions and love, it is something extraordinary. It is deeper than merely ‘getting on’. It’s soulful. But even after 6 days it was obvious that the two of us have got our own lives to live. Our own paths to tread. Even though i know in my heart that if we could find a way to stay together just a little longer, it wouldn’t be right unless our paths synchronised naturally.

 

Who knows when i will see her again. I just enjoy the time i got with a genuine ray of light and hope that our paths merge again in the future. The day that happens will be a good day.

 

We start back into town and take one last look at the moon lit horizon, with empty bottle in hand.

We will live on.

 

 

 

 
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Waking Dreams (Part I, 2012)

 

3 days. My solo part of the trip. 3 days, before im due to pick up a friend in Madrid for the main event in Spain. Siurana.

 

I am unconcerned about the future past this point however, as the granite dome of El Yelmo rises into view with snow capped mountains of the Sierra de Guadarrama dominating the skyline behind it. Snow? It’s late April. Thoughts of sleeping out now becomes slightly moronic as i didn’t bring any bivi gear! But doubt is quickly rationalised. 1) The snowline looks like it’s slightly above the elevation of El Yelmo’s summit and 2) The wind is blowing south west and will hopefully keep those gigantic puffy clouds hugging the mountain range and not south toward my intended sanctuary.

 

The bus takes the exit for Manzanares el Real and i stand to shoulder my bag and wait for the doors to ping open, like a horse ready to bolt at the starting gate. Let’s have some fun.

 

Manzanares el Real (left), the dome of El Yelmo (right)

My giddy excitement is noticed by a clan of Spainairds on board who seem to have similar intentions. (I assume this from muddy boots, rolling tobacco and weathered, deep set features one only gains from a lot of exposure to the elements). The oldest one of the three makes a walking gesture with two fingers and points at El Yelmo and i nod enthusiastically. The bus jolts to a stop and i jump out to grab some food and water before heading north.

 

Leaving the super market the old man is standing, by himself, on the opposite side of the road beckoning me over. i cross the road and say hello. He launches into a series of super sonic Spanish, in which i have to give him the unfortunate response of ‘Yo no intendo, soy de inglis’ (I don’t understand, i’m English).

Ah, so we’re down to hand signals then. Not deterred, we both gain the idea that we are headed the same way. He drains a beer and tells me to follow him. With good vibes at hand, i file in behind him. That’s one way to start a solo trip isn’t it?

 

After 2km’s we reach the northern end of the town. We are now surrounded by boulders and small cliffs. We turn west to follow a river. The valley is very windy now. So windy in fact there are snow crystals in the air, from the clouds on the range behind, glittering in the sun and swirling in the ocean of blue above us. The old man turns around and rubs his hands together to say ‘It’s a bit chilly isn’t it?’. I nod in agreement. ‘Tent?’ hes asks with his two hands pointed together. Nope. I shake my head and point to the under side of a boulder. ‘Bivouac’. He looks at me, frowns and then shrugs as if to say ‘Fair enough’.

 

Heading north out of town

Another kilometre goes by and we reach a small hut by the river. There we meet another friend. The old man hugs him and they have a quick catch up. The other guy has a kind face but makes the old man look positively metropolitan. He walks over and introduces himself. It appears he has lived in this hut or around the area for 20 years. To some people it would be hard to believe but behind his worn features he had deep, dark eyes that sparkled with a rich life in the mountains. He went inside and fished out a crumpled tourist map. It showed a trail that would head east up a valley towards El Yelmo in another kilometre north along the river. He then pointed to a junction of paths up in the boulder field. ‘There, many rocks. Maybe bivouac’.

 

With that in mind, i thank him and thank the fact that if i am to run away with the tail in between my legs, at least there’s a hut. Shameful but acknowledged all the same. We leave the friend and the old man goes with me to the turn off east. We say goodbye and good luck. He goes north towards the snow. I head up and east towards the boulders looking for a place to call home.

 

Higher up now, i am alone. The valley is bathed in sunlight. The wind is the only thing keeping my layers on as it increases in intensity with every step. Not so scary just excitingly turbulent. The only thing that worries me slightly is that the wind has turned more to the south, drawing a possibility that the snow could come my way. But just in time, my anguish is abolished. I’m standing next to a boulder with a huge roof, propped up against another. Literally, a lean to made of rock. A perfect shelter stone!

 

What’s more is that there are rocks lining both sides, making a good windbreaker. I guess something like this wouldn’t have gone unnoticed. The next hour is spent adding to the wall, plugging up holes. It’s still very windy but beneath the wall and under the roof this is much better than what i thought i was going to get. It’s a hotel in comparison. ‘The Hotel Bivi Boulder’ was now home for a couple of nights.

 

The bags are dumped. Time to climb something. Its sunset and there at least an hour or two of light.

 

 

 

 

 

 Inside the cocoon of my sleeping bag i stare at the ceiling and think ‘why?’ I just smile to myself. ‘Because i can, because i want to’. The insatiable wind rages on outside and lulls me into a deep sleep.

————————————————————————

The next morning dawns grey but warm. It didn’t snow. Today is for El Yelmo! On the map it looks simple. Head east on trail then turn north where the direct path intersects it. After an hour and a half I’ve walked to the top of the ‘hotels’ valley and traversed a plateau. Now I’m looking for the crossroads to no avail. But i can see the peak in front of me! In hindsight, if you’ve been walking on a good established trail and then you find yourself squinting for clues on where it goes, you’ve probably lost it.

 

 

By the time i came to this conclusion i realised i was following a direct path..for ibex. So, the next hour was scrambling and scraping my way through a thorny maze of boulders startling ibex at every corner it seemed. All i could do was stay quiet and give them a wide berth. Eventually i was at the foot of El Yelmo itself. The south face was steeper than i imagined, so soloing it was quickly put away and an alternative scramble up the eastern flank was made.

 

 

The last section looked like a shuffle up a chimney which proved amusing. When at last i was on the summit, albeit an extremely windy one, the recurring hikers high of a wide expanse, in this case snowy mountains to the north and the lake by Manzanares shimmering in the sunlight below can only fill you with love for all places like this. It’s just another reason why we come back time and again. The usual sense of achievement washed through me and i felt content again. (Sorry no photo)

 

The question is, ‘why on earth wouldn’t you want to do this?’

 

The way down is much more simple as i find the right path and arrive at the ‘hotel’ an hour earlier than expected. A little search for some unclimbed boulder problems proves entertaining till sunset.

 

 

 

 

Tomorrow i must wash in the river and get ready for my friend. Can’t be late, it’s important i get to her on time. It’s been too long since we last saw each other.

 

With that in mind i check into the ‘hotel’ one more time.

 

Thank you.

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The Mission (Awakening of 2012)

Today is the 27th of February and I’m due to be back in England in 13 days. After numerous trips away from the homeland since 2006, i get asked the eternal questions of “Well, how was it?, What did you learn? Did you have a good time? Hows it feel to be back in reality?” etc (Again & again)

 

These were met with the usual bug eyed bouts of enthusiasm and excitement, showing off a multitude of photos from the tumbling waves and tranquil forests to an increasing amount of rocks. It was clear from my absence from most of the photos that a chord was struck with the natural elements. (Unbeknown to me, embers were smouldering and spirals were turning).

 

I’d tell stories of all the craziness encountered with different cultures and ideals that only a babe, young and clean shaven could have thought was so alien from his normal reality  like a little lamb that wandered from its pastures for the first time.

 

But this year was different.

 

In 2011, after months of training, i left for Canada, alone with only my hopes and determination for company. Pretty soon, i learned that with a sense of purpose, the latter is a powerful thing.  I Spent the spring in Revelstoke, exploring the sport climbing scene and ate up over a hundred routes in under three months but this was not enough. I was working construction during the day, climbing by evening and consuming as much mountain literature as i could. I was hard on the few friends that i made here, if they had other commitments and lost them as a result. Clearly i needed a change of scene. This is where Squamish came into view.

 

Standing under the Chief which is 500m (1,640ft) of soaring granite walls and boulders from refrigerator blocks to houses, entangled within the sublime forests encircling the chief, it is quite the sensation. I was home. And it still is, in my heart.

 

From then on, i donned the trad rack and gave all my efforts to the mountain, looking to read all its intricacies and following its paths to the top. Some delightfully easy, some palm sweatingly hard but always i felt small and humbled. Having climbed over 50 routes (summiting 5 times) and just under 60 boulder problems i was the most content i have ever been in my entire life. Surrounded with genuine souls and friends that understand that unsaid motivation.

 

 

 

So, what is it then? That ‘unsaid motivation’? Many, many climbers have tried to explain this. Some can, some simply can’t.

 

For me, i want to spend my life trying to describe why. It is such a profound feeling, one cannot simply say it was ‘Awesome’. Not only is it physically challenging but the most important aspect of climbing, for me, is the mental and in turn, the spiritual aspect. Climbing is a deep commitment for those who take it seriously, in every sense of the word. On a dangerous route, for example, where a fall could mean broken limbs you must steele your mind and judge the situation to act as safely as you can. To go on, with courage, despite the exposure, because you know you have the strength or down climb (if you can reverse the moves).

 

On the other hand, true commitment extends far beyond the actual mountain. Every scrap of money made, every penny saved goes towards your ideal. Exposure to the natural elements bestows you with that forgetten respect for the old world, the love for other creatures and critters and unfortunately alarm bells, when our destructive tendencies reveal themselves. (I get the Greenpeace memos)

 

In our everyday lives, mankind strives to help make our lives easier by any means deemed necessary. But on the mountain it is YOU who must adapt and bring yourself up to its standard. Without risk, there is no adventure. Courage, real courage in the face of your greatest fears is something deeply rooted in my quest to find a persons soulful integrity. Just what are we capable of?

 

“Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves”. The legendary George Mallory said this while he contemplated their teams first ascent of Mont Blanc in 1913 and shows us that past adventurous had the same passion as we do today. To conquer what we thought was impossible. The torch is passed from the elders to the next generation to set a new standard. In this way climbing shows another form of evolution.

 

On this note i have a fleeting memory of a peaceful autumn afternoon. I’m sitting  in El Cap meadow looking up at the mighty captain, 900m (3,000ft) of sweeping, clean granite trying to imagine what Royal Robbins & Warren Harding must have thought of this unclimbed behemoth. All that unknown territory before them. Truly inspiring, as they wanted to do it! Despite the enormous uncertainty. This is where we see the question as to why come up frequently. At this moment, all i can say is that climbing is not just an exciting past time, it’s a profound journey, and every time you go out on adventures, you learn something new. Lessons that can’t be taught, only experienced. (e.g, Removing the ego for the best decisions, the bond between you and your partners and your actions have consequences).  The mountains will always be the most noble and wise mentor if you want to listen.

 

So, after being ensconced with the climbing fraternity and a climbing partner during the fall, events lead to a bitter end and a lonesome dark start to the winter. Alone, where i started 8 months ago, i had to climb my way out of self doubt, anger and bitterness.The self can be your worst enemy at times and your shining armour when you need it most. You are strong and have the tools to save yourself. As long as your honest.

 

Along with a new friend, we start the rappels off Cascade falls (a classic WI3 ice route) with a stunning back drop of the bow valley and I’m calm. My soul is free again.

 

 

 

Which brings me back to the present. Ive just finished Reinhold Messner’s ‘All the 14 8’000ers’ and am ploughing my way through ‘Voices of the Summit’. A collection of famous alpinists thoughts of the progression of this art / sport / way of life. (Another post is needed for this topic). These heroes are truly an inspiration and it baffles me how these people are not national icons. But that is also the appeal, i suppose. It’s not for stature, it’s for the self. It’s from these mentors that i believe completing a journey under your own steam, without bringing the mountain down to your level is surely the purest form of adventure and spiritual illumination possible.

 

Being recognised and respected among these brave souls would be a huge honour. Time will tell. Its a long and amazing road i don’t want to rush.It is through this ideal that i hope to be strong in the mind, honest with my achievements and in what style i do it in.

 

Alpine climbing in 2012 will bring me one step closer to my ultimate dream, which is materialising on the horizon. But first, i look forward to touching base with family and friends.

 

Love to you all!

 

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