2021 Reflections, 2022 Goals

- 41 minute read

2021 Reflections, 2022 Goals

With every passing year, my life appears richer and fuller and more colorful. 2021 was another year packed with experience, growth, and connection. I spent a lot of time traveling on the roads of America, exploring the mountains and the canyons, and pushing my athletic and artistic abilities. I began the forging of a new bond with Shan through our engagement.

A vaccine for COVID-19 became widely available at the start of 2021, and knowledge of preventing COVID-19 transmission became more known. With these developments, it became more reasonable to travel away from home. I took the opportunity to hit the road, and was away on a trip nearly every month of 2021. The rest of this post details many of those trips chronologically, alongside other developments and events over the year.

March; Red Rock Canyon, Nevada

In last year’s reflections, I wrote about forming the PDX Send Train Crew, a group text for Portland-area climbers that like to get outside. The group chat grew over time and I decided to organize some trips together. The first of these was to Red Rock Canyon in Nevada. A bunch of us drove down together in the Delica to meet up with some more of the crew, and we proceeded to climb every day for eight days straight. Some highlights from the trip:

April; The Creek, Utah

I recovered from my trip to Vegas in time to begin preparing for another trip the very next month, this time to the deserts of Utah. We again drove down in the Delica together and climbed for seven days straight, until rain storms came through and forced us to take rest days hiking and traveling home. Here are some highlights from that trip:

April; Smith Rock, Oregon

When springtime came around, I decided to rent a little cabin near Smith Rock for two weeks and get some time in on the tuff. It was nice spending time traveling solo with my dog, and seeing various friends come through to climb with me during that time. Some highlights from that trip:

May; The Pacific Coast Highway, California

My return from my extended stay in Smith Rock coincided with Shan’s return from Spokane, WA, where she had spent some time completing her SLP externship. Her completion of this externship marked her completion of her SLP Graduate school studies. Her graduation ceremony was to be held online, so we took the opportunity to travel together to California and spend some time with her family, who we hadn’t had a chance to see in over a year and a half. Here are some highlights from that trip:

That night, I sat around a fire at Skull Hollow Campground with Lauren, her new friend Adam, and his friends Matthew and Brendan. I reflect on all those that I’ve had the opportunity to share a moment with this year, in previous years, in all my years. People from past lives of mine, people from future lives. Some of them I’ve wandered alongside for large swaths of time, and others for just an instant. Our threads weave in and around each other, and the impressions that we leave vary with significance.

I view my presence here as a metaphorical campfire, with a simple expectation that other wandering souls may stop by and warm their calloused hands and feet. I find comfort in this concept, and hope, that those souls have stopped by for however long they’ve needed, before they continue on their journey.

June; Ten Sleep Canyon, Wyoming

Shan was able to land her first SLP job soon after graduation, and she also decided to take some time off between grad school and starting her work and so moved her start date out a couple months to the beginning of August. We took this opportunity to do some (more) traveling together and road trip around the country. Since it was the summer, Wyoming was our destination. I wrote about Wyoming in last year’s reflections as a place that had captured my heart. Here are some highlights from our road trip there this year and the stops we made along the way:

July; Art, creation, and burning

Here is a selection of art I produced this year:

My physical art mediums took a back seat this year as I honed in on my photography and videography. I realized I could continue to practice my art during my climbing, and engage with the sport even more fully by also putting my creative energy into it. Being able to come home and edit photos and videos is very fulfilling for me and also allows me to reminisce and reflect on the trip, the climbing, and the memories I’ve created with others.

Something unexpected this year was that my YouTube channel grew as I released more climbing videos on it. Even so, I’ve found I’m not interested in the “YouTuber” side of things, but use it as a convenient means to share our adventures, and perhaps inspire.

Badlands Burn 2021

Last year I wrote about our crew getting together in the desert for a Burn event. We returned this year, again to the Oregon Badlands Wilderness Area, and got to again experience a weekend of immediacy, community, art, and music. I spend nearly all my time searching for a certain peace. There’s a comfort and sense of belonging that I’m able to find so readily by this group of people, and for at least one weekend those feelings are concentrated and focused.

July; Engagement on the Grand Teton

Shan and I did a lot of traveling over the summer between her finishing Graduate school and starting her career as a Speech Language Pathologist. We also worked on a lot of our climbing skills and techniques at various crags and multi-pitches around the Portland area. This all culminated in us driving out to Wyoming with the objective of summiting the Grand Teton. Unbeknownst to Shan, I would also be proposing to her once at the summit.

We planned the climb as a 2-day trip, where we would hike in overnight gear and sleep near the start of the technical climbing. We ended up scoring one of the last available backcountry permits, and made the grueling hike up to Camp Moraine, where we spent the night and prepared for our climb the next morning.

We took the Exum Ridge, and started it via the direct route, known as the Lower Exum. A monarch butterfly migration was taking place, so countless butterflies accompanied us on the ___ climb. The hardest climbing was the 5.7 pitches of the Lower Exum Ridge, and those pitches still stand out in my mind as some of the best climbing I’ve done yet.

On the Upper Exum, we managed to lose our way and missed some of the key sections of climbing, which led us off route and forced us to find our own way for some long stretches. I had remembered reading that most off-route paths would still lead to the summit with relatively easy climbing, which led us to continue pushing ahead, and luckily this turned out to be true as we made it to the summit with a couple hours of daylight to spare.

With the amount of effort that it took to reach the summit of the Grand Teton, Shan wasn’t quite expecting the proposal. We were happy to have made it to the top that day, and we also happy to return to camp as an engaged couple. The hike down was just as exhausting as the hike up, and so reaching the trailhead and setting foot back in town was a welcome relief. We took the next couple of days enjoying flat ground, seeing Yellowstone National Park, and then making a quick run up Morning Glory Spire at the City of Rocks on our way home. Our first major mountain objective together was a resounding success.

August; The North Ridge of Mt. Stuart

As we settle into the long summer days of the PNW, my brain catches fire with a crushing list of things to think about. What is the weather report this weekend, do I have the right climbing partners, how contained are the wild fires, am I physically prepared, can I afford a day of PTO, how much smoke is in the sky, have I read every available trip report. All in order to be able to get back to the places where my mind has far fewer things to think about.

I knew Igor would be leaving back to Brazil later this year, so before he left I wanted to get a big climb in with him. It was also the season for the Enchantments of Washington, so I sent him a few options. He chose the direct version of the North Ridge of Mt. Stuart. Even from the description, I knew it would be a pretty serious undertaking, so I did my diligence for the research and the prep. And in short, we did summit, safely. But the journey to reach the top and back would prove to be quite a formative one for myself and for the others too.

Here is a little video I made from the climb:

And a trip report:

We were looking at ~4,800 ft of gain over ~8 miles for the approach. Three pitches of ~5.9 started the climb, then ~1,700 ft of low-5th class climbing would bring us to the Gendarme, which was a tower standing high on the route, with two pitches of 5.9+ climbing protecting it. From there, 750 more feet of mid-5th class climbing would bring us to the summit. Quite the undertaking.

Jerrine joined us and partnered up with Igor, and I convinced Chris, Pat, and Paul to join us at the last second. Our friend Roland warned us of lightly stormy weather in the forecast. To my untrained eye, it just looked like some clouds and a bit of wind, but it also seemed like it would roll in well after we were done climbing.

We hoped to get through the approach and the first half of the route on our first day, but it took us about 9 hours to get to the base of the route due to frequent rest breaks and some route finding issues. Lots of steep passes and uncompromising boulder fields slowed us down. We ended up spending the night in a nice bivy at the base of the route, cuddled altogether for warmth in the freezing night.

We began the climb at 7am the next morning, with all three of our parties simul-climbing the long section of low-5th class. We made our way up the rock slowly and carefully along the ridge line, with incredible exposure daring our every move. The mystical setting of the Enchantments etched itself into our souls, our crew caught amidst, small and inconsequential.

As the sun moved across the sky, we became aware that our day time was running thin. And by the evening hours, the forecasted storm did indeed roll in, socking Chris and me in a cloud and hitting us with freezing 35 mph winds. The rock, our gear, rope, and my face and clothes became covered in rime ice, which put a serious damper on our ability to climb or belay.

As night fell on us, we were unsure how much longer we had until the summit. We also began to feel exposed to the weather, and we needed to find a place to hunker down for the night. I had remembered reading about bivy spots near the summit, and at that moment I just happened to look over a ledge and see a rock ring that was also hidden from the direction of the wind. Chris and I hopped down to the spot and we immediately felt safe enough to stay there. The crux of the route was supposed to be the descent, so we felt it was wiser to continue in the morning light, when the storm cleared.

We were lucky that we had the contingency to sleep along the route, so we still had our bivy gear in our packs. Chris and I zipped our sleeping bags together and huddled for warmth and looked forward to summiting in the morning. Our friends were ahead of us, and we hoped that they had either found their own bivy, or safely made their way back down from the mountain.

In the morning, Chris and I emerged in the daylight and immediately found the summit over the next crest, with Igor and Jerrine just hanging out playing ukelele. They mentioned that Pat and Paul had decided to descend last night in the dark, so we got ready to hike out and find them.

Seven hours got us back to our cars, where we found that Pat and Paul had left us donuts and beer. We then joined back up with them for some excellent burgers and shakes at the nearby burger shack.

Our drive home and the time since then gave me ample time to reflect…

August; I pushed my climbing abilities

I’ve written in previous years about focusing on bettering my climbing. This year I pushed everything to a new level. I put more time into climbing this year than I ever have, through frequent outdoor trips, local climbing with the Send Train, and later through focused efforts in the gym.

By August, I felt that I had hit a bit of a plateau in my climbing and that my endurance was becoming poor. So I decided to start up a climbing training plan through Lattice. They give you an assessment and ask your goals, then form a 12-week, hands-off training plan that you complete on your own. The training plan that was prescribed for me focused around bouldering, which would be used to develop my strength and power while also transferring that strength and power to climbing movement. I followed my training plan pretty closely throughout the rest of the year, and it was rewarding to see it all pay off with my send of Bela Lugosi at Broughton Bluff, my first 5.12c.

Here are some other numbers, graphs, and highlights:

September; The Liberty Bell of Washington

For Labor Day this year, we again went north to Washington and explored the Liberty Bell Group. I also brought a new digital camera on this trip to try out, a Sony RX100V. Here’s a video from our time on the SW Face of Liberty Bell:

When we were back on the ground, Lucas and I realized we still had a few hours of daylight left and so we made a run up the SW Rib of South Early Winter Spire. There were a couple highlight pitches from this climb, including the wavy crack and the bear hug pitch, but the 5.6 unprotected slab of pitch four (aka the Nervous Nelly pitch) was quite memorable to lead. Overall, we made quick work of every pitch on this climb as well, and were able to come down before sunset. We’re quite psyched to return here and link every tower on the group for the Liberty Bell Traverse.

September; I returned to Hell

I look back at 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell 2017 as the time that I became a climber, beyond just having been introduced to it. Chris and I would go on to compete again in 2018 and 2019, but sadly had to skip 2020 due to the pandemic. In 2021 we returned to Arkansas to again compete and be with the special community of Hell.

Chris and I had improved our climbing enough to be able to enter the Advanced category this year. And over the previous years we had developed some solid logistics knowledge for the comp, so we had some lofty ambitions for 2021. Our goal was to be 180 routes each in 24 hours.

Unfortunately, the day before the competition, I sustained a nasty injury in my big toe. An infected blister abscessed and rendered me unable to climb, let alone walk.

I decided that I still wanted to participate in the comp and run support and psyche for our friends, so I geared up to belay Chris for his entire comp. His goal remained 180 routes. I’m a big fan of running logistics and I have a solid mental map of the ranch and climbs, so this setup actually worked pretty well for us in that I could just point Chris at his routes and spray him down with any beta as he went. He didn’t have to do much thinking, just climb.

Chris quickly got into a groove and stayed there, never once slowing down. He ended up climbing 220 pitches in 24 hours. He climbed 9 laps per hour, and his vertical feet added up to 1.67 miles. He even put up two laps of 5.10d trad at one point!

A bunch of our other friends started in the same spot as us and traveled in the same direction, so we got to hang with our buddies almost the entire comp which ended up being a huge mental boost as well. We also had some amazing conditions with low humidity and fair temps. And over the years we’ve honed in on some good food caches for the comp.

All of this combined with Chris’ athleticism for an amazing performance, and 1st Place in Individual Advanced for both lap count and score. He even put our team in 10th place out of 22 in Team Advanced Score, single-handedly!

Even though I had some ill-fortune for my own comp, I loved that I was able to participate and witness such amazing feats, not just in Chris but all of our other friends that crushed this year as well. Lucas and Pat crushed a vertical mile in their first year of climbing. Everyone climbed their hearts out for 24 hours straight and it was so cool to see. And I got to film and edit this little vid to top it off!

On Pain and Injury

The injury that I sustained at Horseshoe Hell was pretty wild. A blister on my big toe that had existed for months, developed a deep abscess. It finally decided to show itself while I was in Arkansas, miles away from reasonable medical help. The pain was unbearable. Throbbing, high pressure sharp pain that I described as 10/10. It wavered at an 8 to 10 for at least 48 hours. The worst was during plane and car rides where I couldn’t elevate my toe. I felt every change in atmospheric pressure, even while going through our highway tunnel in Portland. I lost two more nights of sleep on top of 24HHH.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever experienced pain that severe and for that prolonged. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It was yet another exercise in resilience for me, and especially in the months after, where I couldn’t put a tight climbing shoe on for about two months. I managed to find other exercises and workouts to do while recovering, but mentally forging through the set back was work. Especially in light of having recently started up a training plan to better my climbing.

Practicing gratitude was one way to mitigate the suffering. I feel so lucky for the help that I had while at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch. At least three climbers that happened to be doctors helped me out with various procedures. Several EMT’s and nurses on the volunteer medical staff also helped. Thanks to them. I’m lucky that I still have my toe, that I would eventually return to climbing, and that I could still practice the sport that I love.

October; Bishop, California

In October, we again returned to California, this time to do some climbing in Bishop for a 10-day trip. Here are some highlights from that trip:

December; Joshua Tree, California

To top off the year, we returned to Joshua Tree National Park, where we had previously spent the holiday vacation back in December 2019. We again saw some old friends and got on top of some more rocks. Here are some highlights from that trip:

Media and books highlights

The state of my country; a decline of trust

On January 6th, 2021, a mob of 2,000 Trump supporters attack the US Capitol building in DC, hoping to overturn his defeat in the 2020 Presidential Election. Joe Biden is sworn into office shortly after. COVID-19 vaccines become widely available. An ice storm sweeps over Texas, knocking out its power grid. Texas passes a bill that bans most abortions. The NASA rover Perseverance safely lands on the surface of Mars. Mask mandates are gradually lifted across the country. The Pentagon confirms the existence of UFOs. Racial unrest continues in America. Mass shootings begin again. COVID-19 variants manifest. The Olympic games commence, and climbing makes its debut as an Olympic sport. President Biden withdraws American forces from Afghanistan. The economy takes a turn as inflation rises, supply chains are slow to recover, and labor shortages are reported.

I don’t have very good eyes for how the average person is doing in America, as admittedly my bubbles, my social circles, the city I live in, and the places I spend my time online and offline are “walled” off, in a sense. Even so, there are some concerning trends in my country and much of the world and that is declining trust, misinformation, and disinformation. I believe the internet, social media, and ad-driven algorithms are largely to blame for the decline, and I think they’re to blame for our increased polarization and a decline in nuanced discussion.

I’m mostly an optimistic person, and there are many things to be optimistic about after 2021, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore these problems in my country. Especially when those problems lead to needless death and tragedy. I’m not sure how we as a society are going to tackle this decline in trust, but I wrote about related concepts of dishonesty and self-deception in my 2020 reflections, and I think it bears repeating this year:

It’s very easy to accept dishonesty in real aspects of ourselves, of others, and of our environment. I’d even argue that it’s addicting. To this end, I think many of us in America have collectively, for many reasons, lost our way with some core virtues of honesty and integrity. Perhaps awareness is the first step. So, I’ll leave this section with an article about self-deception.

Things to think about for 2022

I have quite a few things to take away from 2021 that will help inform the things that I strive for in 2022. I’ve distilled those takeaways into the following thoughts:

  1. Life is a series of experiences

    I’ve begun to think of life as a series of experiences, and every person must find meaning in their life by either seeking out these experiences, or crafting them for others, or some combination of both. Every song, novel, and climbing route has been curated by one for another to enjoy.

    An exciting aspect of climbing for me is how many wonderful experiences there are out there that climbing allows one to access. Every individual pitch is a physical and mental journey. Every alpine route and multi-pitch is its own adventure. Deep bonds are developed alongside climbing partners when undergoing the challenges of climbing, and that forging becomes a meaningful experience in itself.

    For these reasons, I’ll continue to pursue climbing as a passion, as well as the road trips that go along with it. 2022 will include trips to Smith Rock, Bishop, Red Rock Canyon, Leavenworth, Yosemite, the Redwood Coast, Wyoming, the Enchantments, the North Cascades, and Arkansas.

    In terms of grades and climbing training, in my view grades act as the steps towards a pyramid of experiences. For me, it’s worth it to pursue training as a way to be able to access an even wider range of experiences. So I intend to continue my climbing training for a large percentage of the year in an effort to build strength, technique, and the mentality for the sport.

  2. Experience informs art

    For me, life is just as much about seeking out novel experiences as it is creating them for others. One carries all of the griefs and inspirations of their past and uses the sum of them as a paintbrush for the canvas of their future. I’ll continue practicing many forms of art through 2022, including photography, videography, and painting. Climbing movement itself may even be considered a form expression for me.

  3. Home offers experiences as grand as the ones found on the road

    I am continually awed by the natural beauty in the far corners of this country. Then, every time I return home, I manage to find stunning beauty right in my own neighborhood. Looking around at Smith Rock and I realize that it’s every bit as wondrous as the places I’d traveled 1,000 miles to see. Hanging out at Broughton Bluff with Lucas and Jerrine and the others, I remind myself that these are the good old days. A goal for next year is to not forget these musings, and to allow myself more time to enjoy the treasures right here at home.

  4. Chasing goals is worthwhile as long as you reflect on how those aspirations changed you as a person

    Having listened to so many episodes of The Nugget, I’ve realized that there’s a certain mindset for people where one feels the need to continuously improve themselves through a series of lists, benchmarks, and goals. And that the list is always growing, with new goals constantly being added. Not long after one arrives at their destination, the next one is already being drawn up. I’m not sure how or exactly when I became this way, but it’s something that I feel has always been there.

    There’s a few things I’ve learned from this relentless pursuit:

    1. Have acceptance that the list of goals may be ever-growing, and it’s possible the list may never be “completed”.
    2. Be kind to yourself when you don’t have the time or energy required of something. For any type of outcome really, it’s important to continue to take setbacks as learning experiences.
    3. It’s rarely the actual destination that is fulfilling. It’s the way that the goals change your life and change you as a person that makes it all worthwhile. So little of my reflections this year was focused on how I reached the next big climbing grade. It was more about everything else that went into reaching those summits.

    I’ll be going into the next year with just as much headstrong as the last year, but with just a little more kindness towards myself about them.

  5. Seeing others succeed remains a great joy in life

    If there’s one thing better than climbing, it’s sharing the joy of it and seeing others make strides in it. This goes for any area of life really, it’s been really great seeing the people in my life make the next step, no matter how small. In 2022, I’ll continue to look out for opportunities to foster growth in others, just to see those moments of success.

  6. Shan and I are getting married!

    Something to look forward to is bringing together many of the people that have touched our lives for one big party in a beautiful place here in Oregon. And to take away from it a new bond and a new era of our relationship. So much giddiness surrounding this special day and our honeymoon right afterwards.

    I’ll end this post with a few more of my favorite photos and moments from 2021:

    Hanging at Smith Rock with the Weirds.

    Hanging at Smith Rock with the Send Train.

    Tired Dog Ranch for Lauren’s birthday.

    Seeing Jayden in San Diego.

    Climbing at Promontory at the Redwood Coast of California.

    Cedar playing in the flowers of Wild Iris in Wyoming.

    Seeing the buffalo at Custer State Park in South Dakota.

    Climbing Beacon Rock with Lauren and Adam.

    The Black Face Pitch of the Lower Exum of Grand Teton.

    Summer climbing at French’s Dome.

    Bouldering at Lost Lake.

    Hanging out at the summit of Mt. Stuart.

    Meeting Rachel at 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell .

    Night bouldering at Bishop.

    Spooky concert for the Weirds.

    Voyage of the Cowdog with the Send Train.

    Winter climbing at Smith Rock with the Send Train.

    November days at Bat Wall.

    Whips and falls compilation from the year.

    Lucas on Bird of Fire at Joshua Tree National Park.

Ryan Westby

Ryan Westby

Coder, climber, artist, 21st century ghost

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