Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Son of the Irish

In May of 2004 I made the decision to move to California to climb. I had good friends in Madison and Menomonee and was overall pretty happy with life in town. I wasn't exactly sure where my life was going or what I wanted to do but I could have seen staying in Madison for a long time.

More and more though I started to think about what it would be like to live near an area like Bishop. I made the choice and decided to go for it. I was going to move to Mammoth Lakes, an hour north of Bishop. Having merely lined up one interview and a possible place to live I loaded up my Mazda MX-3 with everything I could and drove for three days to get there.

As soon as I got to Mammoth I found my pad and made my way down to the Buttermilks. It was beautiful. I couldn't have been happier to have these as my local boulders.

I spent a couple weeks trying to line up a job and a place to live. With a little bit of luck I was able to secure both. I was set.

On one of my first few trips down to the Buttermilks I was working the Cave Problem on Grandpa Peabody and a man and his wife came around the corner. He started to fondle the start holds for Evilution and muttered something about them being greasy. I was, and still am, enthralled with this line. Jason was one of my climbing hero's and I was in awe of the problem. I couldn't believe that this man could do the moves and I went over to him and scoffed something like "You gonna try it?". I tried to be as sarcastic as I could since I saw the man as inferior to the perfect climb.

I was wrong, obviously, and very naive. I learned more about climbing, trying hard and so much else that afternoon climbing with this mystery man. He took me around the Buttermilks showing me classics, must do's, what not to do's and future projects for me. He insisted that I needed a tour and that he was the man to do it. Off we went.

He first showed me the Birthing Experience which is hands down the craziest problem I've ever done. You start by crawling into the start hole and sitting in a giant hueco. He gave me no beta and told me to just "get in it!". After humiliating myself thoroughly he relented and showed me how it was done. I followed after him.

He took me over to the shrimp boulder and really started to teach. He said I should get on Perfectly Shrimp. It was a V6 and therefore out of my league. After I said that he laughed and told me that if I can fall on a V4 I can fall on a V6! I started to get the painful moves and couldn't believe it! I was climbing on a V6!!!!! It was mind blowing.

After a while I was falling at the crux, just slapping at a sharp crimp. It's funny that I can pinpoint such a major point in my climbing to this period. It's exact. He changed how I climbed with two simple pieces of advice.

"Look at the hold and just grab it!" he said. "Don't slap the hold, you gotta grab it with your fingers! And stare at the thing. Don't let it out of your sight. Ever." I came back a couple days later and did just that. It was almost liberating to climb the problem and realize that there should never ever be ceilings with climbing. I wish he had been there to enjoy it with me.

My mystery mentor, his wife and myself continued on to the Buttermilk Stem and we both climbed this amazingly fun problem. He of course did the sit and I did the stand. It was there that I finally learned their names.

Marci and Michael Reardon.

It was months later that he had his massive soloing day in Joshua Tree and his name would become synonymous with free soloing. I truly enjoyed following his exploits and looked up to him in most everything he did. He had strict ethics and I respected that even if I couldn't abide by them.

Without him knowing it he changed how I climbed and how I looked at so much of life. We exchanged a random e-mail here and there for a while until his untimely death. I've still got the last exchange saved and I look at it every now and then. He ended with the phrase below. I wish I had another chance to climb with him.

"See you out there, just remember to never say, "Take!"

All best,


I wish nothing but the best for the families of Jonny Copp, Micah Dash and Wade Johnson. Climb safe everyone.


  1. A really touching post bro! I am sorry for the loss of your mentor a while back and also send my deepest regrets to everyone that lost friends in China this week. It can be such a sad world with harsh realities sometimes. It's so important to be able to hold on to those few brilliant times you had with those people and live by the lessons they taught you.
    lots of love,

  2. great post, steve. encounters like yours are what make climbing so special and losses so profoundly and widely felt amongst the community.

  3. Thanks guys. It's always incredible to me how small the climbing community can be. This week has been rough on a lot of people. It's always so hard to hear about things like this.

    Just drives home the fact that what we do can actually have consequences.

  4. Damn. Great, sobering story. You have a fantastic writing style. More please. ce

  5. Thank you very much Chris. It means a lot coming from you.

    Thanks for following along with my ramblings here! I enjoy everyones comments and am glad that you take the time to contribute.