Back in the canyon

So where was I? Standing on a ledge shivering sound right? Well there I was perched 80ft up on the side of a whispering waterfall. The mossy walls of silver schist making them far more slick than they already looked under the pearl sheen of the water way. The ledge that I was on was under constant bombardment from what Chris Atwood aptly called a rooster tail, the same effect is easily observed by a water skier who’s carving into the wake super hard. Unfortunately for me this rooster tail was aimed directly at my back. Fortunately for me I had a 70L pack with a cover that was taking the most direct hit. But it was constant. Always trying to drown me or dislodge me from my already terrible footing. Anchored into the wall as I was I wouldn’t have fallen more than a few inches before my sling caught me and I smashed my shins on the ledge, but that was not something I wanted to experience so I attempted to keep my feet.

The rooster tail in full effect; water spraying every which way and splashing on two the only necessary lens of my glasses. (For those of you haven’t read anything else by me or don’t know me, I have one eye.) And I suddenly had an immense burst of energy and yelled, mostly to myself, “LET’S GET WET!!!!”

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The level of endorphins soaring in my body,  warmth returned to the tips of my fingers and I began to slide as smoothly as the water below me down the face of the cliff. About 60ft down this awesome face I came back into the line of site with my partners Chris and Kathy. Chris was posted up knee deep in an eddy off to the side of the creek and his camera raised to the right eye while the left eye was shut tight. Snapping a few slow exposure shots, which I’m excited to see, he had me pause in the more diffuse water tumbling down over my feet. I was still perched about 30ft from the base of this particular rappel and at Chris’ request to pause so he could take a photo I also remembered to slow down. To enjoy myself.

I looked up then for what felt like the first time since I entered the slot. My comfort with my surroundings growing with every passing second, while my appreciation for where we were swelled as well. Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 8.13.22 AM

Intermission/ A real update:

Wow! What an unreal few days I’ve had! I finished my WFR, Wilderness First Responder, went canyoning in the Grand Canyon into a slot known as Garden Creek, and in what is perhaps the biggest deal for me I landed my first professional writing job! It’s pretty simple, I’m working as a freelance writer for a larger company that specializes in academic writing. So basically they connect clients with writers. Its super simple but its a foot into an industry I never thought I’d break into. So to say the least I’m beyond excited right now. Not to mention I only have $1000.00 left in my account soooooo I kinda need cash in a real bad way! I’m hoping that this gig will help keep me afloat for the next several months. And if I get good at it maybe even longer. I don’t see a reason why I couldn’t crush it thought, it seems like it is right up my alley.

In other news I’m headed down to Phoenix this afternoon, meeting up with my new friend Zach O’donnal from my WFR course. After which I’m heading over to San Diego, CA to stay with Jamie Sullivan and Courtney Clark for a week or two and hopefully get my feet under me and start to generate some income.

The weather in Flagstaff is hard to leave though, we experienced a really wet snow last night, about four inches of it, and I really feel at home here. It’s easy living but I guess that means it’s probably time to go.

It is amazing how many transformations this trip has taken on in its limited three month duration. I’ve learned a lot and experienced a ton while at the same time feeling like nothing has changed. But what I once thought was going to be a journey of outdoor shenanigans has now become more about people. Meeting new friends and seeing old ones. I think it has turned out this way in part because I can’t stay quiet  in new places and as some of you know it is people that light my fire! That being said I’m still getting out and doing awesome stuff in the backcountry. (i.e. the overly dramatized story about the WFR and canyon I’m interrupting with this piece of writing here.)

But to say the very least, I’m beyond stoked to be able to write for a potential living. I’m also beyond excited to be making my trip about people. And especially people that mean something to me. The friends and family that I have been able to connect with thus far have really made this trip. And I think the best part about that is that I was planning on doing this trip with the majority of time spent  isolation. It is definitely the unexpected things that makes life worth living.

Get outside, meet great people, and live the best life you can. Also chase what you want. (I’ve sent out probably close to 50 copies of my resume in order to get this one intro writing gig. So worth the work!)

Kathy Gonzalez and I posted up with fresas con crema after hiking 15mi together the previous day.

WFR and some other fun stuff.

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 9.37.43 PMThe schist in the canyon had a white silver sheen to it, punctuated by swaths of darker blacks, the greens of mosses and the red strips of sediment from up stream. The sound that a river makes in a slot canyon is intense, perhaps only reminiscent of something like an arena concert, where the sound stops being a sounds and becomes a reverberation; finding its way into every fiber of your body and every corner of your mind. When you’re alone on a cliffs edge in a class C canyon, class C being a canyon with flowing water, the position that you’ve placed yourself in seems ridiculous and the fact that you’re being totally self reliant is seems even more ludicrous. Thank god I wasn’t 100% self reliant. Chris Atwood, the 32 year old explore from Arizona had quickly invited me to go explore one of his favorite canyons once he had heard I’d dabbled a little in slots previously. With the company of Katherine Gonzales, a high mountain guide from Chile, the three of us departed from Flagstaff, AZ and with a few minor hiccups drove the 75mi to Grand Canyon National Park.


Saturday 3/11/17


I’ve been sleeping alone in the woods for the last four days. Tucked back into the shelter of the Coconino National Forest I’ve become a bit of a recluse. I’m anxious and quite excited for my WFR, wilderness first responder, course to start today. It’s been a few years coming, ten actually. Ever since 2007 when I took that National Outdoor Leadership School course, NOLS, and got my first taste of wild, but more importantly my first taste of emergency. At 16 years old when a can of bear mace goes off there is not much you really know how to do beside trying to calm down your screaming friend, or to try to drag them out of the unassuming hanging cloud of orange vapor. But seeing three others rush in and act with selflessness, caution, and calculated force changes your opinion of how you should act in the future. It’s not to say that this one moment was a life changing moment for me, but it has absolutely informed who I am today. It absolutely informed the out come of the car accident from 2011 on Valmont and 30th.  Since that day in traumatic or urgent situations I’ve learned how to slow my mind and act logically and safely. And now starting today I have the opportunity to learn how to act not just with more knowledge but more deliberateness.


Back in the canyon:


The rope bag Chris had asked me to carry was not that heavy dry, probably around 10lbs. That being said it was bulky as hell and really threw off my center of balance. But more then that, it further inhibited my already weak peripheral vision on my right side. The first down climb into Garden Creek Canyon is on that can be taken face first, but you need to turn around and drop your right foot about four feet in order to get purchase on a small ledge that when edged to the right even further leads to a larger shelf and the bolts for the first rappel. For all intense and purposes I did this blind. Unable to relinquish my pride and throw the rope bag down I hefted it over my shoulder and proceeded into the down climb. Slowly and painstakingly controlling my shaking legs, placing them in just the right spots.


Saturday 3/11/17

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Prevention. Prevention is all you here about in wilderness medicine. In Grand Canyon NP there are rangers posted at the entrance to rim trails called PSAR rangers, preventative search and rescue. These guys and gals literally try to dissuade anyone form going down the trails who might be going in over their head, pun intended. The trail has signs posted everywhere that, “Down is optional, but UP is mandatory.” The SAR teams in any area don’t want to have to come get anyone, they want everyone to know their own skill level, physical ability, and comfort zone. They want people to be safe, but they also want you to enjoy the outdoors. But its when people make poor choices that the men and women that comprise SAR teams are more often than not rallied. Folks who have no real level of fitness, hiking experience, or who just flat out are not prepared make the trek into canyon every year and every year when folks have become a danger to themselves, there are the SAR teams to pull them out. According to one flight medic I had the pleasure of talking to, “99% of rescues are because of preventable and poor choices made by individuals who did not think through their actions.” PSAR teams in GCNP are the very embodiment of the preventative wilderness medicine. They are not there to prevent people from checking something off their bucket list, but they are there to remind you that this is in fact a very difficult thing to do and to be smart about it. Chris Atwood is one of 12 people in the world to have done a threw hike of the Grand Canyon and even he says every time he hikes in the canyon he is reminded of how unforgiving, indiscriminately, and how quickly the canyon takes its toll on even the most experienced there.


So prevention becomes the name of the game. If you feel like you’re having an off day, slow down re-evaluate and maybe change your plans. If you don’t have enough food to hike all 14.5 miles don’t. If you don’t have the level of fitness to walk down a trail don’t. Be accountable for yourself because when you put yourself in danger there are people who care enough to help you. But by helping you and by initiating a rescue, they put themselves in danger. Don’t waste resources, don’t waste lives, check your ego at the door. Prevention is the key to successful trip of any kind.


But prevention often times is over looked. Most folks, myself included won’t check their egos at the door. We think we can more than we can and often times bite of more than we can chew. And sometimes we just have bad luck, we trip, slip, fall, or make any number of easy mistake and find ourselves in a position where we need help. And here is where course like the WFR, and any emergency medical training finds its home. How can we help reduce the loss of life in the wild places we love so much? This is why WFR is a thing. But before our instructors teach WFR content they teach prevention. Check your ego, reduce the risk, reduce the need.


Back in the canyon:

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I’m tired. The rock is slippery and I’ve already eaten three of the five bars I brought that day for nourishment. God I feel like an idiot. I’m making stupid mistakes, having a hard time with the physical demands of our descent and remembering how to tackle a class C canyon is kicking my ass. Luckily for me I’m with two others who have not only a phenomenal amount of experience between them, but also have extra food as well. While noticeable my errors are effectively corrected by the planning of others. The water is cold spring water, the sun is unrelenting. The white in the schist is reflective and amping up the brightness in the canyon. The rock can be hard to look at directly without sunglasses, the water is very much the same. That being said, the beauty of Garden Creek is overwhelming. The green moss on the wet north walls, the slick polished quality of the stone, and the views that spill down into the bottom of the Grand Canyon itself. What an incredible place to be an idiot.


WFR Course 3/11/19


With no real medical experience, the beginning of an academically intense and practical application filled WFR course seems more like a fun filled two weeks with fantastic people and that’s exactly what it was minus the fact that the training is the real deal. How do you deal with the big issues you encounter in the backcountry as an enthusiast, a novice, a professional, or an officiator? By falling back on your most basic training. Recently posted on Our Way Out West was a list of seven reasons why one person thinks that nature lovers should peruse a Wilderness First Responder cert, the most notable is that knowledge is power. The writer of this article shared his instructors saying of, ““You do not rise to the occasion; you fall to your level of training.” NOLS Wilderness Medicine shares this idea. There is no substitute for knowing how to act. And NOLS Wilderness Medicine curriculum is focused on the idea that once you’re in hot water, your going to fall back on something you’ve had drilled into you. And they drill in the PAS. The PAS or patient assessment survey, is a logical step by step evaluation of any patient in any context in order to thoroughly evaluate and identify any issues. If nothing else learn how to be thorough and systematic. Rule out possible options, list more plausible ones, identify major issues, and address the most threatening ones. Work quickly, systematically, and with confidence.


Back in the canyon:

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Weird how you can feel so utterly crushed by something without any physical issue. Canyons can have that effect. The tight walls, the clear air, the open sky, you feel trapped and free at the same time. It’s not that I’m claustrophobic or scared of heights, but when you make a few bad decisions back to back its hard not to feel trapped by them. I had in essence built my own prison. I was the one who did not get enough sleep the night before. I was the one who did not pack the appropriate gear, I was the one who did not bring enough food. I was the one who put myself in the position that I was in trapped in a canyon with only one way down. And an easy way at that. A way I’d taken before. Not to say that I’d gone down this very canyon before, but I’d done similar things. rappelled off of high cliffs, swam through cold water, hike 15mi in nine hours. I’d done these things before. But I was adequately prepared for them. This time I was down on energy, lacking gear, and in a new environment with two new but great friends, and the cumulative experience of my previous adventures. But sometimes you decide to leave knowledge at the door. At that’s just what I’d done. I’d created a far more difficult situation for myself by not preparing adequately. By not being systematic.


Back to the WFR 3/14/17


Once your systematic, you need information. Everything has its own demands, its own need to knows. When you’re talking about a potential patient in the backcountry these things to know are possible injuries and illness and vitals. The PAS that NOLS teaches demands a thorough examination of the patient. Searching their body for possible trauma. Asking all the right questions about an individual’s history to suss out any possible medical issue. A head-to-toe is physical exam for a potential patient, while the S.A.M.P.L.E. history might lead to more information about someone’s medical status. In the head-to-toe a responder will thoroughly go over a patient’s entire body, checking for an  physical abnormalities. The S.A.M.P.L.E. history stands for: symptoms, allergies, medications, pertinent medical history, last ins/outs (consumptions and waste), and events leading to the situation that patients and the responder are now facing. This systematic approach to a patient evaluation leads to the isolation possible issues, and their potential causes. It does not diagnose anything definitively but it can however lead to preventative measures and appropriate action to slow the cause of the malady or injury.


Back to the Canyon:


I found myself facing a 180ft drop in the canyon. Not a straight drop off but a few steps cut into the rock by the passing of the ages and the flow of the creek. The three steps down to the pocket where my two friends waited for me to arrive after cleaning the gear and lowering myself down seemed so far away. The rushing roar of the water grew to such a pitch I could not imagine a world where it did not exist. I shook violently from the cold, a blast of water from a nearby waterfill pounding into my back and over the top of my head nearly drowning me while I waited for a whistle blast that would signify Chris had gotten off rope safely. Hands shaking, I examined my anchor, the thin strap of webbing connecting me the rock face tight under the pressure from my weight. Prepping for my descent I unclimbed our pull line from the anchor and clipped it to my harness, checking the lock on the gate and finding it secure I turned my attention back to the rope Chris had just rapped down. It was slack. Waiting for the whistle blast to let me know he had gotten off safely, I began to shift anxiously and from the cold.

To be continued…


Starting in Flagstaff

I’ve been in Flagstaff, AZ for the last two days. And what a two day period it has been for me! I woke up yesterday with a dead car battery, started writing an audition paper to try to get work as a writer, met some kids at the coffee shop who took me climbing, went back to my neck of the woods where I fell asleep in short order, woke up to sunshine and a headache. Now back at the same coffee shop I realize how much I enjoy the lifestyle I’ve begun to cultivate for myself. Amazing how quickly and seamlessly we adapt to new things.

So Flagstaff, AZ located at 7000 feet above sea level with excellent climbing and hiking options it seems to be a less cosmopolitan Boulder. With large mountain peaks in view of the city, a university located near the center of town, a reputation for outdoor enthusiasm and excellence Flag, as the locals seems to call it is an easy place to be. it takes no effort for me to exist here. People seem to be like minded and well educated and committed to a lifestyle that ensures prosperity for themselves and those around them. While it is obvious that this could just be the niche I have fallen into here because it’s what I am used to back in Boulder, I find it more likely that people everywhere are looking for similar things while they are executed in different ways. With similar topography, climate, and population these towns have created very similar cultures and breed very similar people.

But no matter how similar lives of people seem to be, the individuals themselves are all radically different. Perhaps one of my favorite observations, especially in the adventure sport world of climbing, snowboarding and skiing, mountain biking, kayaking, and a variety of others people seem to be in a constant search for that next thing that’s never been done. The peak that has thus far gone unclimbed, I look to Jimmy Chin and his partners Conrad Anker and Renan Ozturk and their 2011 expedition on Meru. The mountain range that has thus far gone untapped, see Travis Rice and So Far Gone Range in Alaska. It is the indomitable spirit of the adventure who seeks these new summits. But, simply because these men and women add their names to the registry of famous explorers does not make their lives any more meaningful. To emulate such a lifestyle for most would not just be impractical but down right impossible. And so what are we left with? To patch together our own unique set of experiences that lead to a overall unique person and life even if the experiences have been had by countless others.

The life of monotony is no less noble, however uninteresting, than a life spent in constant pursuit of new and unknown. It takes a uncommon soul with an uncommon set of experiences that lead to someone who can pursue a life that allows them to go where no one else has, look at John Wesley Powell and his exploration of the Colorado River and beyond. Who’d have known that such a limited education would lead to such boundless curiosity and thirst for knowledge? We celebrate the grandiose but often times forget to celebrate ourselves for the doing the things that we do everyday. Tyler, the barista at Late For The Train, the coffee shop where I am writing, is like most baristas I’ve meet, friendly intelligent, and committed to a certain lifestyle. But if I were to sit down with Tyler and poke and prod my way into his life I’m sure, just like I’m sure with everyone, that I’d find a story worth telling.

The life that I have been enjoying, over the last month especially, has been filled with new faces, new places, and lots of reading. It’s been filled with reflection, and a thirst for knowledge I did not know I had until I removed myself from a world in which I was forced to choke on it. We are not just a reflection of our surroundings and experience, there is something far deeper and immeasurable that makes us who we are. It has been quite fun to get to know myself in this way.

To observe my casual encounters in an unbiased way, to attempt to see the world through their eyes for the time that I spend with them proves to me that every life is worth of its own celebration. Pages on Facebook like the People of New York, highlight this. But more often than not we are so caught up in our own day to day that it is easy to forget and easy to devalue the experience of someone else.

Climbing at Priest Draw yesterday with Eli, not sure of his last name, was one of the moments that I was able to appreciate the lifetime of effort that goes into who we are at any given moment. Eli, like so many others that I know, studied molecular and cellular biology and the University of Colorado at Boulder, he loves climbing and being outdoors, and has long hair and shares Boulder impeccable sense of style, i.e. he had no fashion sense. But Eli was a very strong climber, a light hearted and fun persona to be around, a committed friend, and devout worshiper of wild places. Eli’s list of experiences that made him is to long to be quantified in any real way. However, even with the number of similarities between Eli and the countless others I’ve met who have studied the sciences, love climbing, and have no fashion sense, he was very much so his own unique person. No doubt about it. Someone who is worth of every second spent with him.

Eli helped to push me to climb harder than I ever have in my life, which was both a pleasure, and today a pain. (I’m sore as shit) But regardless of all that I had a day with a guy I meet in a coffee shop that was as good as many of the days I’ve shared with the best of my friends. We create the value we want.

Anyways that probably enough of a ranting of what is on my mind today. Cheers of now and I’ll see you soon!





Did you know that Colquitt is an Irish name?

Life as we all know is filled with unexpected yet sometimes welcome and sometimes horrible surprises. Sometimes these surprises really aren’t surprises but rather small detours off of our original paths. I think perhaps some of the best advice I’ve ever been given was given in a rather informal way by a dear friend John Ryan.

About a week ago I decided to join my friend Lauren and her father up in Glenwood Springs in order to hike to Hanging Lake.

Hanging Lake on a beautiful blue bird day at the end of February.

This 156mi detour seemed to sum up and answer exactly the kind of questions I’ve been dealing with for the last two months. I left on this trip for no clear reason besides to change things up and learn a little bit about myself. And in doing so I have become occupied by several other aspects of solitary travel and adventure. Learning to prioritize the things that are important or necessary over the things that I simply want. When John Ryan texted me after we skied together at Keystone on Monday the 27th,  it sounded a little like this,

“It was good seeing you. Don’t lose yourself in the struggle to find yourself

Enjoy it all

Or maybe that’s exactly what you need to do, to lose yourself to find yourself… I don’t know?”

This advice why slightly cliched through the years of adventure seekers, soul searchers, and religious zealots is about as true as anything I  have ever heard. I am already relatively aware of what it takes for me to be happy, and I know the things that I love. To run away or deny myself these things in the search for who I am is basically saying that I wasn’t happy with who I was at my core and I wanted to reinvent myself. Well I actually don’t want to reinvent myself. I’m perfectly happy with who I am. Which is someone who loves people, interaction, social dynamics, and challenge. Perseverance, humor, time in the sun, academic pursuit, and emotional connection are other things that I also value very highly in myself . Among other personal qualities, these are the ones that I find define me most.

I am not out here to find myself. I know who I am. But I am out here to see what I am capable of. These traits that help to define who I am, like everything, seem to exist in some sort of scaled way, were we all are made up of certain percentages of these traits. I want to know just how I work with these qualities under all sorts of circumstances.

So this past week when I joined Lauren for a hike to Hanging Lake, and then moved on to see my friends John, Jen, and Chris in Silverthorn, and then finally meeting up with Greg Colquitt in Keystone it is because I am acutely aware of who I am. I love people, I love my people. Even though Greg and were not particularly close before I called him I was still welcomed into his place with open arms. That defines my kind of people. Folks who have no better reason to trust someone than because they have given them no reason not to trust them. (Paraphrased from “LIFE” by Keith Richards.) 

I’m not trying to find myself. I’m pretty damn comfortable with who I am. If I lose myself it’s to test myself. To see how far those qualities that I use to define myself run. And if I do discover more to who I am that is excellent and welcome side effect of adventure.

But sometimes an adventure doesn’t have to have a focus, it doesn’t have to be about finding, discovering, or even pushing anything. It can be pure and utter fun.

As you know, I’m James Hansen and I’m having a blast!


Also did you know that Colquitt is an Irish name? I had no idea.