A little over a month ago I turned 36… WTF! I don’t feel that old. As a matter of a fact, I feel as young as I was when I first went rock climbing. Aside from the obvious physical changes through the years. My hair has gotten shorter, I’ve gained about 45 lbs (I’d like to believe all muscle), and I began decorating the temple that is my body.
It was just under 20 years ago that a dear friend of mine Sean Kenny asked me if I wanted to go rock climbing..? We were chillaxing at school, before chillaxing was even a word, when he and group asked me to join them. I agreed, though truth be told, I was rather nervous of the thought. You see, I grew up with an insanely desperate fear of heights. I wouldn’t even ride a roller coaster until I was in middle school, and even then I was terrified. So this was a BIG commitment on my part. But I’m pretty “the guy”, as I now call him, was stoked. Sean has grown into a world-class climber, making his way across the globe. Seeing beautiful destinations and climbing in spots only most dream of.
Let me back up and give you some back story. I met Sean in the 1st grade, he is a year older than I, and we grew up 2 houses apart. I was just wee lad walking down the sidewalk when he approached me and asked if I wanted to play G.I. Joes. A friendship was born… Through the years, we played street football, playground basketball, skateboard, camped and climbed together. When we first began, Sean fashioned a woody on his basement wall made from sanded down nubs of wood screwed into the 2×4’s. we traversed that things for hours trying to build strength. His parents were pretty cool, cuz mine would’ve killed me if I did that. He can be a bit intense, and over bearing, but once you get to know him, he’s pretty rad. There’s no one I’d rather climb with, and I trust him as my rope gun above everyone else.
Anyways, my first climbing experience on Pete’s Rock was topping out on #9 & #14. That was the name of the routes as this entire crag is a TR area. Routes are graded #1 easiest, #15 is the hardest. I was quite proud of myself on how successful I was, only 3 people were able to top those out that day and I was the only first timer. My love for climbing had emerged, I had discovered my niche. I finished out the wrestling season at school and decided I wasn’t coming back to that sport. My focus would be solely on climbing, a fine choice considering my career in the WWE would’ve been short lived I’m sure. I even convinced Jeremy and Tommy to come along and they also caught on quickly, and made similar choices. We had our core unit of young climber gaining momentum everyday. We ventured to the rock 4-5 times per week. Our goal was to get strong, stay strong, and push our limits.
It was still winter time when we began climbing, but we cared not. We found semi-dry crags that faced south, with ice-cold rock and we started sending. Anything and everything we could try. Within 6 months, we were pushing 5.12’s. just a bunch of punk 17-year-old kids sluffing school to go crush, and dreaming of world-class climbing. We were a group within a group. Best friends and competitors at the same time. These moments still live in my mind of a time when our innocence was unbounded and the future was infinite.
We climbed at Pete’s, onto BCC, but left LCC alone, as it was mostly trad at the time. You see we were sport climbers, still are. We had no desire to do one long drawn out climb of pitch after pitch. Our hearts dwelled on multiple climbs, 3 a day, 5, or even 8 climbs a day… Every route getting more difficult, pushing ourselves, getting stronger. Setting our sites on redpoints. It wasn’t long before we discovered AF. A sport climber dream. 60-80′ routes of steep, over hung limestone. Wall after wall of climbing potential, with some of the classic sport routes in the US. Our ticklist began. Platinum blonde, License to thrill, Caress of steel, Suicide blonde, Liquid oxygen… The list goes on. There wasn’t enough days in the week or hours in day to satisfy our need. No near death experience could detour is from getting our climbing fix. And every time we drove in Jeremy’s car was a near death moment.
It was a passion that quickly turned into a competition. Thus making climbing not as fun as our intentions were set out to be. We lost site on what originally made our hearts fall in love with this unique sport. And worst of all, we began to take on an arrogance that affected our friendship. That summer, Sean and I went to Wild Iris. Joined by our friend Daniel, we had our hearts set on crushing some new rock. But our bouldering skills were not up to par, and anyone who has climbed Iris knows, it’s a sport area for boulderer’s. it consists of pearl white limestone, smooth as a baby’s bottom. Not many edges or much smearing, just tracking your feet on steep, pure rock. I was immediately humbled… Having to hang-dog 5.10’s. I admit, my fragile ego didn’t handle this well. So I slowed down, lost sight of my goals. And climbing was put on the wayside.
My senior year of high school began, and winter came faster than expected. I soon discovered gym climbing. We had heard of a new gym that opened in SLC, and had visited it before, but were more focused on the rock. The Wasatch Front Rock Gym, it was the original Front Climbing Club. Owned and operated by Dave Bell. Memberships were cheap, day passes a mere $7, and the owner fraternized with climbers. It was a community of lost souls. Lost in the world of climbing, long before climbing was cool. We had discovered our meaning and people with shared interests. I had only been to this gym once before when I was just beginning and had never belayed on a lead. When Cale Berg asked me to belay him. I dropped him when he was clipping the anchors on a route in the cave. He took a 20′ in the gym and I was dubbed “the shittiest belayer in the world” by Dan one of the gym workers. That stuck with me, and motivated me at the same time. I take responsibility for that awful belay, and thankfully no one was hurt. Cale just laughed. But because of that, I have never been involved in a climbing injury were I was the belayer. And I ‘m quite choosy on who belays me. I took a fall my first summer, a 20’er that ended with my side scraping a boulder and a permanent scar to remind me. Always communicate with your belayer and always pay attention to your climber. Luckily I didn’t deck. But anyways, as kids we set a problem in the gym that only 4 people could send… Sean, Jeremy and I were 3 of them. We were damn proud of ourselves. Even Dan respected me, though I don’t think he remembered calling me “the shittiest belayer in the world”.
I climbed throughout my senior year of high school and went to class just enough to get my diploma. I was done with school, a choice I know regret. I wanted to work enough to climb and had no plans for the future. Except climbing… ALOT. The following winter, everything changed. I met a girl, and she didn’t climb. But I fell in love, and within a year we were engaged, married 6 months later and pregnant with Kemry. I wanted to spend every waking moment with her, and I did. And I fell away from climbing for a time… My life consisted of work and family. No time for climbing. Leaving a giant hole inside of me. I was unhappy, I had given up something I so desired to do, to be, that I grew to resent my entire situation. Sean continued on climbing and I would see him occasionally. Usually consisting of a wave from down the street as he jumped into his new climbing partners jeep. And though I loved my family with all my heart, a jealousy grew in me, making me not an enjoyable person to be around. I couldn’t find a herby balance between work/family/climbing. This was ultimately the downfall to my marriage, leading to divorce and even more unhappiness. These were the darkest years of my life. I was lost completely. Leaning on the only person I had my 1 year old son. This entire process was the most unfair thing my child could ever have placed on his shoulders, and I knew I was responsible. Though his smiles guided me through this time, my soul was forever darkened. I was changed in a way you can not imagine until you’ve been there…
Apart for only a year, my sons mother and I decided to give it another chance. We got back together, had our second son. But realized we were 2 different people. We came from similar walks of life, but were headed in separate directions. We ultimately opted on being apart and chasing the dreams we had in our youth. Though we had our battles, and time certainly changed how we saw each other, we are good friends today. Doing what is right for our 2 wonderful boys. And through this all, my heart still longed to be on the rock. I changed jobs, changed apartments, even changed my style. But one thing never changed, my desire to climb. I finally had a job where overtime wasn’t needed or required. So free time fell into the positive side of life. I rejoined The Front Climbing Club. Now the new Front, in a new location and u see new ownership. I even got Jeremy to sign up with me. We quickly regained strength and were pushing V4/V5 problems in the gym. My heart began to heal. I realized my mistakes and corrected them. Vowing never again to walk away from what I loved.
One afternoon, while working problems at The Front a loud, somewhat annoying and intense guy came in and was working the opposite end of the wall. Jeremy and I looked at each other and in unison said “I think Sean just walked in”. When he saw us, he wasn’t the least bit surprised we were there. It had been nearly a decade since I last seriously put climbing to the forefront of my schedule. I think he always knew we would return to the rock… Eventually. Jeremy still having his wife and family as well as a full-time job, didn’t have as much time to focus on climbing. So Sean and I took inning trips to Wild Iris where I sent my first 5.12A at the crisp age of 32. I was climbing stronger than I ever had. We went to 10 sleep, Maple canyon, he showed me Echo canyon and Sinks canyon near W.I. As I still have a full-time job, and my shared custody of my children, I had to pass on joining Sean in Thailand (twice), Greece and Spain. As I said before, “the guy” is world-class, motivated, and cares most about climbing. My time will come when I am able to experience these destinations… Until then, I remind myself that patience is a virtue.
Through climbing I have met some amazing people. I was introduced to the world of climbing by Sean. But in return, I brought alone Jeremy, Tommy, Dan and Willie. I’ve been on dates with girls where climbing was our first date, in most cases our last. If we can’t share that passion, I’m not sure I can share my life. On twitter I met climbers like Steve, Gina, Kristie, Haley, Jacalyn, Katie and Niko and now recently I met Eileen. At the gym I’ve made great connection with Chris, Chad and Nate from the Front and the great folks at climbOn! And I’ve even met some adventurers from another walk of life, like Shawn, Erika, Paul, Heather, Jon and Heidi… I love climbing, but most of all I love the outdoors. I find passion in all things adventurous, and I’m motivated by challenge. A little daring, and a bit on the edge, but for my children and my mother’s sake, always safe. The connections I’ve made through out my life are unmeasurable. But I find familiarity we are drawn to. And we always go back where we belong. The core group in which I grew with, the ones who know me as well as my brother. These are the people I find myself picking up with, even when time separates us.
Though the dream was lost for most of us, Sean was always the original spirit of our group. Driving us all to our potential… He lives that dream to this day, traveling to world-class climbing destinations, still pushing his own limits… My admiration for his abilities and his climbing style is paralleled with no other climber I’ve met (including pro athletes). He is a visionary who knows what he wants and works daily to achieve it. I have learned much from “the guy” who is close enough to be a brother, he is a teacher, supporter and my friend. At times misunderstood, but when it comes to climbing, he is the first person I ask for advice, and my motivation to send. For I know, no one is completely syked like Sean is when I fill him in on my accomplishments. Thanks for everything friend…