I started rock climbing when I was in my mid 20s and had gone back to school to take machining, welding, and drafting while I worked towards an engineering degree that I never completed. My first exposure to climbing came in 7thor 8th grade when my math teacher showed the class a climbing video instead of lecturing. It wasn’t because he was a climber, I don’t think he ever did anything athletic, he would just show extreme sports videos one Friday a month to break up the monotony of jr. high math. This was in 1988 or 89 and at the time I had never heard of a climbing gym and had no idea of the amount of climbing that was available within driving distance of the LA area. None of my friends or family were into the outdoors with the exception of my mom that loved to go hiking and camping. The desire to learn to climb just kind of smoldered inside me till I saw it on the coarse schedule at the jr. college I was attending.
I definitely got my love for the outdoors from my mom, she loved to be outside. When her and my dad divorced we went to live with my dad and we would visit her on the weekends which were usually trips up to the Mount Baldy area for hiking and picnicking. I remember one hiking trip up the Ice House Canyon trail we were passed by two climbers, with ropes and gear dangling, they left the trail and headed straight up the hill to climb (possibly here). I wanted to follow but my mom called them crazy and kept us hiking up to the saddle. I can’t remember if this was before or after the climbing video, it was 20+ years ago, but it also stoked the embers. In high school I watched K2 with Michael Biehn, Matt Craven and became enthralled with mountaineering.
I was the black sheep of the family and as such had a pretty rough child hood. This combined with the loss of my mother at the age of 16 led me to a series of bad choices that lasted till I was in my early 20s. Around 23 years old, having not done any hiking or back packing since high school, I read somewhere that Mt Whitney was the most climbed mountain in the world and that it was a relatively easy mountain to climb. This sounded like the perfect place to start my climbing career though at this time I only had hiking to the top in mind. This was in the winter and I decided I would climb it that summer. I tried to convince everyone I knew to do it with me but no one was interested. I didn’t climb it that year or the next but then I started rock climbing through the college at Rock City Climbing Center in Anaheim Hills CA. I met my friend Brian and started climbing with him pretty regularly.
One day I brought up my desire to climb Mount Whitney and he said he would be interested in rock climbing to the top but not hiking which sounded amazing to me. Having one partner committed I reserved 6 permits to enter the Eastern Sierra through Shepard’s Pass with the intention of also climbing Mt Tyndall, Mt Wilson, Mt Russel, Mt Whitney and finally Mt Muir over 9 days. Over the next few months we recruited 4 more people to take the trip with us giving us 3 two man teams, two teams that would do class 5 climbing and the other team nothing more than class 3. As it turned out I misread the guidebook and Mt Wilson was closed for big horn sheep that time of year so that got scratched off the list. We climbed the other 4 mountains by class 3 routes except for the Fishhook Arête 5.9 on Russel. We climbed this route a year after I started rock climbing almost to the day.
This trip was exactly what I wanted in my life. It had everything I was looking for but I had trouble finding partners that had common desires and or ability in LA. I went through a few different partners with several failed attempts on other California 14ers. Some of the failures were as much my fault as my different partners. After a few years I moved to Grand Junction CO to get out of the city and be closer to the mountains.
Being from a big city like Los Angeles everything seems impossibly expensive, even being a welder the best I could afford was a studio apartment in a shitty neighborhood. When I got to Junction things started to seem more within reach. The local climbing gym at the time was poorly managed and really run down so I came up with a plan to build a brand new gym. I buried myself in plans for months and pretty much stopped climbing. At some point I backed down from these plans and bought a house that was built in 1938 and needed a lot of work. So I buried myself in remodeling this house. I started tearing each room down to the studs one at a time and completely rebuilding the house bringing it up to modern codes for framing, electrical and plumbing. During this 5 year period I worked full time as a welder, started a side business doing drafting and worked on the house, climbing happened but hardly ever. In 2009 I was completely burned out and on a whim bought a white water kayak and became as obsessed with kayaking as I used to be with climbing.
As the kayak season came to an end for the winter I started to go back into the climbing gym. In January of 2010 the owner of the gym mentioned that he was trying to sell it. This wasn’t the same owner from when I first moved to town, this guy was doing his best to turn the gym around but he bought it right when the economy crashed and had a few personal things go on so after only a year he was looking to get out. This was a real bummer because he was an awesome guy and was doing a lot for the climbing community in Junction. It turned out to be a real blessing for him though, he got hired on as the assistant director for the outdoors program at Colorado Mesa University and is now the director, a job that fits him perfectly. He’s doing an awesome job of introducing college kids to all sorts of outdoor activities.
Only having it for a year he hadn’t paid off the loan yet so I actually bought the gym from the owner that had it before him. On St Patrick’s Day 2010 I signed papers to buy the Grand Junction Climbing Center from a guy named Patrick , the day after I got married to my now ex-wife. For almost two years of owning the gym I still worked full time as a welder. I would work from 8-4:30 then come to the gym and build new walls and a training room, set routes and well, run the business. In Nov of 2011 I quit my day job and ran the gym full time until Jan 2015 when we closed the gym for good.
During my time running the gym I focused on bringing the local climbing community together with the help of the Western Colorado Climbers’ Coalition, of which I still sit on the board. I worked hard to properly train new climbers and became a certified instructor through PCIA. I helped organize for the western slope region of the Colorado High School Climbing League as well as host comps. I organized trail building and trash pick-up events as well as fundraisers for the WCCC.
I also continued kayaking through my time owning the gym. We ran an adaptive climbing program for Colorado Discover Ability and I became friends with the program director of the time. One day he mentioned that he was taking a group of Veterans from the VA down the Moab Daily in duckies that weekend and I volunteered to be a safety boater in my kayak. My job was to sit in holes in the middle of the rapids and assist any swimmers that fell out of their boat. During the trip I met Ryan, the director of the VA program and he told me of a new hard shell white water program that he was starting and asked if I could help. Always excited to introduce people to my passions I jumped at it. Along with the VA program we also started up a local chapter of a national organization called Team River Runner. TRR works with veterans with disabilities and there families to promote healing through kayaking. Through this I became an ACA certified kayak instructor. I acted as Chapter coordinator and lead instructor until Mid-2016 when I came out to LA. I am still heavily involved and I’m currently in the process of organizing a regional event for Memorial Day weekend 2017. I got involved with this program to help others but over the last few years as I went through a divorce, lost my business and my house, TRR has helped me far more than I have ever helped them. I remember at one point, during the height of my divorce, going down the river with a group of vets and all I could think was “I have an amazing life” and everything else was a little easier to deal with.
With the closing of the gym I went to work for Halliburton as a frac-tech. Long hours out of town most of the time but I had hoped that I would make enough money here to pay off all my debts and then move on with my life. An industry slowdown meant that we didn’t get that many hours and the hourly rate without a ton of overtime made working there really not worth it. Yes, I am actually complaining about “only” working 90 hours a week. From here I took a job at the local outdoors shop, Summit Canyon Mountaineering as a climbing/ kayaking pro. This was a fun job and it was a good place to be while I figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up.
In June 2016 I came out to LA to help my dad re-roof his house. While here I stopped by to visit my old boss and friend at the welding shop I used to work at when I lived there. He told me that 4 of his 6 man crew was going to the Cayman Islands for a big job for a couple of months and he had work still piling up in LA. I offered to come out and help him for a month or two but that was 7 months ago. I’m not complaining though, he’s a great guy and I would do most anything to help him. While I’m here he has been letting me use the shop and tools on the weekends and after work. I built a fire pan, a couple of dry boxes and now a camper for the back of my truck. It’s turned out to be a pretty good deal and is helping me out a lot as well.
In my 20s I had all kinds of dreams of mountains I wanted to climb and places I wanted to see. In my 30s I put those dreams on hold to build a life. As my 40s approached everything I was building crumbled away. I worked so hard for so many years, and I was unhappy pretty much the entire time. I had a dream life with a great wife, the gym, the kayak program, the climbers’ coalition, the climbing team, I was establishing new climbing routes outside, I wrote a guide book. I never took the time to appreciate it all while I had it because I was working so much. I lived in GJ for 11 years and drove past Zion and Red Rocks at least 20 times going to visit family and I’ve never been to either. I bought all kinds of gear to fill the hole in my life and hardly used any of it. I was fucking miserable.
Sometime in early 2016 I starred kicking around the idea of living on the road for a while. Not to be homeless but to roam around without direction or a plan of any sort. I don’t even want to give myself a duration of time that I will travel or a list of places I will visit. The only goals I will have will be to climb, kayak, and all the other outdoor activities as often as possible and to see as many amazing places as I can along the way. This wasn’t a decision I took lightly. I still have responsibilities and I intend on seeing them through. In 2013 I bought a company that makes plastic holds for commercial climbing gyms called PUR Climbing Holds. I have built up a descent catalog with the help of three world class shapers but I really want to expand on it with some shapes of my own. I started a publishing company, Junktown Guides, for outdoor guidebooks in early 2016 when I published my first book that took me 4 years to complete. I am also relaunching my drafting company with my current boss as my first client. With these three businesses I can work from anywhere, so I’m going to work from everywhere.
I’m not hitting the road a broken man; I have more optimism today than I ever have. I’m not doing this to run away from anything, I’m doing this to run towards something. I’m running to a life full of mystery and adventure. I want to wake up in Bishop and get a morning bouldering session in before getting on my computer to put in my 8 hr day. I want to visit all the places in between that I always continued to drive past because I had someplace I needed to be. I want to chase powder in the winter, white water in the spring and good climbing temps in the summer and fall. I will still be putting in a 40 hr work week, but I will wake up in the shadow of Denali or Old Faithful to do it.
I am more afraid of getting to the end of my life and regretting not doing this than I am of the uncertainty of what I am getting into. Life is short and I’m not looking to die doing what I love, I want to keep doing these things into my 90s. I am however looking to live doing what I love because I’m going to die anyways… And so are you…
- Climbing: since 2001
- White Water Kayaking: since 2009
- Owner Chapman Drafting and Design LLC: 2007-2010, 2017-curent
- Owner PUR Climbing Holds LLC: since 2013
- Owner Junktown Guides LLC: since 2016
- AWS certified welder: since 2001
- Professional welder/fabricator: 10 years
- Professional Draftsman: 10 years
- Board Member Western Colorado Climbers’ Coalition: since 2011
- Former PCIA certified climbing instructor
- Former ACA certified white water kayak instructor
- Former Chapter Coordinator and lead instructor for the Grand Junction Chapter of Team River Runner: 2012-2016
- Former owner of the Grand Junction Climbing Center: 2010-1015
- Former volunteer instructor American Red Cross First aid and CPR from: 2000-2009