Perceiving Her Perception: Achieving Acceptance

Through a recent self-realization, I’ve concluded that I suffer from extreme judgmentalism. (<– Not a word).  I think if it was an actual disorder psychologists would coin it “Chronic Judgment Disorder” or (CJD). As with all problems of the self, only thy self can fix the problem.  I’ve decided to spearhead an internal movement to correct what I’m now considering to be a major social flaw.

The problem is that I judge too many books by their cover.  “Books,” of course, being metaphorical humans in this case.  I put labels on people by their appearance, their lifestyle choices, their tattoos, their baggy pants, their flat brimmed hats, or more commonly, the things they say.  I spent this past week in Red Rock Canyon, Nevada with a wild, hodgepodge group of climbers running the gamut of climbing dedication or lack thereof. For those of you climbing layman, Red Rock Canyon, or just Red Rocks, is a world famous climbing destination just outside of Las Vegas.  Most of the rocks are brown, contrary to its namesake, and the climbing is amazing.  It’s one of the few places in the country where you can climb trad/sport big walls one day, trad/sport single pitch the next, and boulder on the last day.  For those climbers on a mission, Las Vegas is merely an afterthought, a place to visit quickly on a rest day.

The red rock group that drove down in a van together. Three more flew in to meet us

The red rock group that drove down in a van together. Three more flew in to meet us. From left to right, Tony, Myself, Jake, Nagy, Jerra, Logan, Mikaila

However, a few of us were die hards; fully committed to climbing as a lifestyle choice.  Enjoying every aspect of climbing and pursuing outdoor climbing more regularly than any other venue.  Some of us were gym climbers, more excited by the movement and challenge of climbing and less enthralled with the full dedication of hard outdoor climbing, approaches, and time spent on the stone.  Some of us treated climbing as a mere pass time; using it to fill the void of boredom but not interested in a full dedication.  And lastly, some were merely just along for the ride, for the joys of vacation; because it’s not just Red Rocks, it’s Vegas! Right?

I pride myself on sitting comfortably in the first category.  Climbing has swiftly become the only real reason I do…well, anything.  I dream about big days where I come home tired, and I’m excited about every aspect of each climb.  I love the grind of the approach, the cold, the heat, the hurt, the sore and the scare.  Not everyone does though and I quickly became annoyed with those of my friends who weren’t as dedicated to climbing as I was.  I was once again being unnecessarily judgmental towards people who were just that, people.

I had to remind myself that they were great, kind, and happy people with different interests.  Just because their level of dedication was different than my own didn’t change that I cared about them for who they were, not for how much they climbed.

One specific occasion stands out to me more than any other during the week.  After that long-winded introduction, I have now finally reached the reason for this rant that I am dubbing “Perceiving her Perception.”

Mikaila is the girlfriend of one of my very best friends, Logan, and is now also one of my friends whether she likes it or not.  It’s really hard to dislike Mikaila.  She exudes a glow of happiness with an undertone of giddiness with an undertone of bubbliness with an undertone of a Rugrats character (I’m going with Lil).  Her soft eyes find their way into a near squint when she giggles as her high cheekbones are forced up by her big warm smile. I imagine Mikaila walking into a forest and blue birds come land on her shoulder and sing songs.  Even when she tries to say something mean about someone it sounds like she’s complimenting them, mean just isn’t Mikaila’s thing. She has the voice of an excited Disney princess, making everything she says sound like it’s the best thing that has ever happened to her, even when she’s complaining about every aspect of rock climbing.  There, in lies the source of the judgments I was so quick to pass.

I took Mikaila and Logan into Juniper Canyon last week to climb an ultra-classic 5.9+ called “Armatron,” which I have lead previously. This six pitch mixed route has some of the coolest features I’ve ever seen on rock.  The third pitch will always remain one of the best pitches I’ve ever lead in my life and it has nothing to do with the difficulty but rather the rock itself.  The rock is water worn into crazy grooves on black stone.  The grooves form deep fissures behind the outer layer of rock that take nut placements like nowhere else I’ve used a rack of nuts.  It goes at only 5.6 but will be burned into my head for the rest of my life.

The day starts at 445am in our dark, Wyndham Resorts timeshare condo a block off the Vegas strip.  Some people are just stumbling away from their slots, White Russian in hand, trying to remember how to get home.  Mikaila, however, is just waking up wondering what in the world she’s doing going rock climbing before the sun.  The van takes off heading southwest towards the iconic Red Rock canyon still shrouded by nighttime. A day’s worth of adventure lays hidden behind a veil of emptiness, awaiting seizure.

As the sunlight kisses the tops of Mt. Wilson high above us, our shoes press hard into the desert sand under the first steps of our 2.5-hour approach.  Chola and yucca cacti threaten our soft skin as we brush past on a mission into Juniper Canyon.  The weather is near perfect for the hike, just chilly enough to keep us from sweating like Obama in Texas, but not so cold that we have to wear gloves and baselayers.  Mikaila breaks the silence of the morning stillness with a single sentence that immediately makes me question her dedication to the day.

“I hate hiking!” She exclaimed in a way where I wasn’t sure if she was happy that she hated hiking or that she was upset that she was hiking.

Mikaila hiking in the desert sun with Mt. Wilson towering behind her. Photo credit: Jake Murray

Mikaila hiking in the desert sun with Mt. Wilson towering behind her. Photo credit: Jake Murray

Every fiber of my being began to twist inside.  My heart wilted a little and my mind immediately judged her character for the proclamation.  I laughed and told her we weren’t even to the hard part yet and we pressed forward.

The approach is deceiving because the first mile is a flat hike through the shallow desert vegetation at the base of the canyons and peaks.  However, once you reach the actual mouth of the canyon the hike turns to steep scrambling over smooth, water-worn sandstone boulders and calf burning presses up loose dirt, and rock capitalized by a grueling 4th class trudge up a giant slab of stone to the base of our route.

I stopped just at the start of the uphill battle to snap a few photos and prepare Mikaila for what was to come.  She sighed a long “Ugh, that looks terrible,” followed by, “this is why I like gym climbing.”

I about melted into a puddle of shame to be absorbed by the desert forever.  Looking up at the morning glow slithering down the beautiful desert sandstone walls above us, I couldn’t imagine someone choosing a gym over this beautiful battle of light and dark that makes its way down those craggy peaks every morning.  I once again laughed uneasily at the comment and we leaned forward charging upward.

Oak Creek canyon on the left between the two major peaks (Mt. Wilson left, Rainbow mountain right) Juniper canyon is the small canyon to the right of rainbow mountain with the large black varnished wall at the back of it.

Oak Creek canyon on the left between the two major peaks (Mt. Wilson left, Rainbow mountain right) Juniper canyon is the small canyon to the right of rainbow mountain with the large black varnished wall at the back of it. Photo Credit: Jake Murray

The rest of the approach was filled with groans of how much longers?, hurt joints, grunts, and comments like “why is this trail so loose?” and “I hate this.” Another popular observation was that everything looked like “snake territory.”  By the time we reached the base of Armatron, high above the flatlands we had started in, Mikaila had just about caused me to lose all faith in those who aren’t outdoorsy.

desert bighorn

A rare desert bighorn that silhouetted itself agains the Mojave Desert high above the valley floor. This was the final push of the hike, you can see the steep petrified sand dune slabs we were “trudging” up

three of us blog

The Three of us right before we moved into Juniper Canyon, Rainbow Mountain behind us.

three of us blog2

Sitting at the base of Armatron, the route towering behind us, you can see the black varnish of pitch three way up at the very top of the visible portion of the route. We had to wait for the older party ahead of us to close out pitch one before we could move forward, putting us behind even farther still.

All was well as we moved slowly (as expected with three) through the first two pitches.  The sun began to slide around the west side of our face and ever so slowly our warm black rock became a cold wind tunnel of discomfort.  While waiting for Logan to lead the money pitch I got Mikaila back for her comments on the approach with some stagnant butt trumpets which caused her to inform me that I fart more than anyone she’s ever met.  I’ll proudly accept that title.  Mikaila began to follow Logan through the incredible third pitch with style.  Twenty feet from my anchor she paused and appeared to be scared as she scrambled for a foothold until she uneasily yelled for Logan to “Take!” leaning back white knuckling the top rope with both hands until her weight rested comfortably in her harness.  “I can’t find a foothold!” She yelled up to Logan.  I tried my best to encourage her from below but realized there was no way Mikaila was going to enjoy this pitch as she struggled a few more times with the thin footholds on the route before finally gaining the next set of anchors.  By the time I reached the anchors a few minutes later, we were all shivering 450 feet up with three more pitches to go and the rest of the route would be in the shade.  I made the call to rappel once realizing that it was only going to get worse for everyone from there.

Mikaila climbing towards the small dot at the top that is Logan. You can see the dark varnished "Alligator Skin" plates that make this pitch so phenomenal.

Mikaila climbing towards Logan. You can see the dark varnished “Alligator Skin” plates that make this pitch so phenomenal.

On the hike down my mind reeled with the memories of Mikaila’s differing opinions on the outing, my inner thoughts only interrupted by a few “I hate going down” comments.  By the time I reached the van I was singing songs and skipping with delight because I had rationalized my opinions of Mikaila.  This next paragraph is for Mikaila herself.

Mikaila, let me start by saying you’re such a sweetheart and also more of a trooper than I first acknowledged.  Climbing has become such a staple in my life that I always expect it to go a certain way and I have a preconceived notion for how each outing is going to go.  I’ve done it so much that it’s become second nature to me.  I expect the approach, I know it’s going to be hard and I train to make it easier.  I know the gear and I move quickly with it on my back.  I have developed a creative mindset on outdoor climbing, seeing the holds and understanding how to use them and where to position myself on them.  I understand what you mean when you say “I just wish these holds had tape on them” because I remember my transfer from gym climbing to outdoor climbing years back.  I did my best to be accepting of your handicaps during our trip up Armatron and I hope I wasn’t a negative person but I realize now that climbing may define who I am, but it doesn’t define others.  What defines you, Mikaila, is your docile nature and your kindhearted personality, not your dedication to climbing.  I have to start looking at climbers for who they are as people and not for who they are as climbers and I’m sorry I passed negative judgements in your direction and I want you to know that you’re awesome!  Thanks for going up Armatron with me and allowing me to reconcile my negative thoughts towards climbing dedication.  I hope you keep crushing and enjoying whatever happiness that climbing gives to you.

For those of you other folks, not just in climbing but life in general, who find yourself being more dedicated to something than others.  Let’s stop this elitist asshole outlook on newbs, or weekend warriors or anything of the sort. This is my first step in the process moving forward, I hope you’re taking those steps with me…without complaint.

Lastly, for all those folks on the trip last week, I had a grand time and if at any point I seemed negative please accept this as my apology for you were all great people and I appreciated your diverse personalities and outlooks on life, whether I showed that or not.

Once you’re done reading this I want you to listen to this song, I had it on repeat for the majority of the time I was writing this. They stream their music, and give free downloads to all songs on

Then watch this: Credit Mountain Hardwear

<p><a href=”″>Days You Remember</a> from <a href=””>Mountain Hardwear</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>