Why I Have a Strong Need to Gaze at Mountains

I set off for the second morning working with the kids gazing at the mountains, as I effing, effing love to do every day.

That day, like almost every day in the 5-million-human-dense industrial capital of Mexico, a haze of pollution clouded the steep slopes on all sides. Their heart-machine-pulse shapes, occasionally brilliant clear and peacefully pristine between the advent of a rainfall, were just phantoms of themselves, shadows made by  3am quarry explosions and poor traffic flow, both dumping a veil of lime dust and Co2 in the valley. But somehow, I still couldn’t stop gazing at those mountains.

Sparkling clear with the air of plant farts, the mountains offer cost-free therapy, endless self-reflection and golden-ratio type inspiration for the masses milling below them, and sucking wind on them: mountains make us feel small; they are immovable, timeless, all-generational landmarks orientation in our lives; they remind us to stop pussy-footing and start Sisyphus-ing; and are the only thing aside from a beautiful human figure or a vast, lapping tide-oscillating ocean that can fill a thousand-mile stare. A mountain’s endless lines of detail and four-dimension shape – which I can attest for since to me a mountain never looks the same when I see it, especially if my tiny, relatively frail human matter is on top of it (or if I go through Google images) – captures the eye and engages the human yen of incurable curiosity.

When that veil is dropped by the mines and mufflers obscuring that vision, millions citizens, and the day’s IG sunrises, are robbed of something.

The heat of a Mexican summer, bustle of industry, and a big city and bright lights makes far and distant that feeling of coziness given to pea-soup foggy days.

Instead, a resident working inside their office and looking for an answer to a fax malfunction, sales call, or life, might glance out to see the mountains shrouded from view and feel trapped inside Plato’s cave. In this case, the most elite might be content with a view of the traffic below or of clean interior white walls, and just quietly losing it while they finished pending items and faxed forms. Those walls were probably plastered and built with the same materials contracted to put finishing touches on the local mental institution’s newest ward, which has a great view of the forest behind it the board had insisted it was valuable for the mind. At any rate, an under-paid construction worker who lives in extreme poverty – his family put up in a roofless breeze-block box with a dirt ground – would also probably look up at the skyline hoping for a break from his thoughts about the lack of safety equipment required on site, and his wife’s new baby. With only the ghost of a mountain to entertain his rooftop work, he would not feel any better for stopping.

Yeah, I mean… We’re not all suddenly jubilant when small palm trees and neon strip club signs become visible from across the valley. It sure gives you something to look at, though, right? Maybe that palm tree will make us think of Hawaii, and a happy place not in an office or sun-scorched roof-top.

My point is, both demographic extremes in the largest wealth gap in Latin America spend time in Plato’s cave, and with just a small opening: a screen that can be as small as a flounder or as big as a Maui Maui. That window has the incredible capability to feed the hungry mind with any information at all, but mostly is feeds us the past and only offers glances at the present, small moments of our friends’ lives on Facebook, and some perhaps disorienting marketing messages.

Mountains are pretty sweet advertisements, though.

Case in point, the mountains are the reflections of ourselves, and when we are trapped in our own minds with blurry outlines, the image is only a upside-down flipped silhouette – the sky has fallen, and the peaks deceivingly far above and out of reach like the surface of a world apart hanging suspended above us.

On the importance of gazing at mountain ranges, we can do what we can. E.g., IG: Instagram is full of mountains towering above gorgeous lakes, and if you follow Ozturk, NatGeo and sherpa cinema like I do, these are great substitutes for the real world in those moments you can’t be in the woods or on the trail, like when you sit on the ceramic bowl at work and it may be shocking to other humans if you choose to poop outdoors with a view, say, off the roof, or in the yard.
The way I can explain the importance of gazing at mountains is a part of Vonnegut’s book Slaughter-house Five, which came to mind every time I drove to Boulder for work in 2012. The best part of my day was seeing the sun set on the expansive Rockies range, and I felt small, grateful for the outdoors, and empowered to take shit from non-one: like an Tralmafadorian, two-feet-high, green, and shaped like a plumber’s friend.

“The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.

I am a Tralfamadorian, seeing all time as you might see a stretch of the Rocky Mountains. All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is.”

Chris Sharma: Wanderlust Interview

You may not know the interesting path that led Chris Sharma to where he is now.

Here’s a bit from the interview you can find in full at Wanderlust.

By chance, a friend had mentioned an opportunity to interview Chris, and as I’d grown up in the same town and stayed at his house in Spain a few days, though I was far too shy to talk to him both as a kid, and as a lost and hitchhiking 19-year-old teenager in Barcelona, I figured, well, here’s chance to talk to him and ask him about his past – and not hurt myself. (Out of nervousness I once actually dislocated a spinal disk while trying a hard move in front of him. When I say that I was a shy kid, I mean it.)

Some digging online found, comically, another interview with Playboy Italy, posted by Climbing. 

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Interview with Chris Sharma

To the audience of mass media, Chris Sharma is a fearless athlete who defies gravity with the strength of just his fingers on cliffs, high (very high!) above a dark crashing sea; though if you ask rock climbers who’ve followed his progress the past 15 years, what they will note is that the man who carries the monk-bestowed named Sharma has conquered some of the hardest physical landmarks in the sport with incredible modesty and playfulness. Under these layers, you’ll find a story going back to when Sharma was just 17 and suffered a major knee injury that opened the question: why am I doing this?

You undertook Japan’s Buddhist pilgrimage, the Shikoku, walking over 750 miles to 88 Buddhist temples. What was the inspiration for that?

When I was 20, I had all this success in my climbing career, and had done pretty much everything I had dreamed of doing. I’d even climbed the first ascent of Realization. [At the time, the sport’s hardest line outdoors in the world, 5.15.] Between when I was 17 to 22, I was having a difficult time. On top of that, I had some serious injuries, and was questioning everything that I was doing. So growing up not only in Santa Cruz, but in a household that was Buddhist, where that was our tradition… that was my way of trying to get to the bottom of it all. So I took a trip to India, and on one of my first trips to India, I met this Japanese guy, and he told me about this pilgrimage. It sounded amazing. Right after I had done Realization, I went to Japan and…I did it. It took me about 6 weeks, and was a really powerful experience. For a week I was shown the rituals that you do, the whole process, then I did it by myself for 5 weeks.

Those kind of experiences I fall back on when I’m having a hard time, you know, to figure things out. All of that had a big impact on who I am.

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Read the full interview here at Wanderlust.

Athlete Interview: Mar Álvarez

Below, the interview in Spanish.
For english speakers, here’s her interview in English on Rock & Ice

Some backstory. You can skip down to the interview if you’d like.

I wrote her in English and translated her responses from Spanish to English for R&I. The reason I approached Mar was because she’s the fifth woman to ever do 9a, I’d never heard of her before – and she had no sponsors, which resounded a part of my childhood. She’s also vegetarian, which is a surprise. Many of us can appreciate Mar’s focus, overcoming a lack of resources and sacrificing everything to pursue her passion. She has gone to great lengths to train better while keeping a job. Not many people can climb full-time without rich parents or moving their life into a car.

In summary, Mar’s vegetarian eating is great for sport climbing, where it is a benefit to be lighter. Her job also revolves around fitness, which as Udo Neumann once said is the basis to all climbing – it just depends what you do with it. If you listen to a lot of climbers’ interviews, you’ll see a common trend in training that focuses first on fitness. Then they add shoulder power and finger strength and the life. To conclude, if  you lift and move all day, hike mountains, and eat well, this sounds like work – but it’s great for fitness.

On a side note, very little climbing literature exists in Spanish compared to English. This seems to seriously blunt the growth of the sport in training circles in countries that don’t primarily speak English and in Mexico I continually find myself wishing Eric Horst was born in Spain.

Other links:
Crux Crush
Mar Alvarez Blog
Namuss Films on EpicTV: How to Climb 9a and Hold Down a Job



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Interview with Mar Alvarez

What city do you train in? Did you design your training area?

Entreno en el mismo pueblo donde vivo, en Estadilla (Huesca). Cuando me vine a vivir aquí con David, hace 4 años, no había ningún tablón ni rocódromo cerca, por lo que para poder entrenar teníamos que desplazarnos bastantes kilómetros y, por tanto, perder bastante tiempo en los desplazamientos. Teniendo unos horarios laborables que cumplir, se nos hacía imposible ir más de 2 o 3 veces por semana. Además, se trataba de tablones pequeños en los que, para nuestro gusto, faltaban ciertos elementos importantes para poder entrenar bien. Por todo ello, decidimos hacernos un tablón particular lo más cerca posible de donde vivíamos, lo que nos permitía a la vez hacerlo y diseñarlo a nuestro gusto.

What specific antagonist exercises do you do most?

Intento trabajar los antagonistas de los músculos que más influyen en la escalada, como pueden ser los extensores de dedos, manguitos rotadores del hombro, tríceps y pectoral. Los ejercicios los hago con gomas elásticas y con pesas. 

What is your training for finger strength?

Haciendo suspensiones. Son muy aburridas pero es lo que mejor me va para eso. La forma de hacerlas va variando en función del ciclo de entreno en que esté y de cómo voy progresando. En este aspecto me ayuda Pedro Bergua (escalador, entrenador y amigo), quien está metido de lleno en el estudio de cómo optimizar y hacer más eficientes los entrenos. 

How many hours a week do you train?

Según el ciclo en el que esté, entreno más o menos horas. Los ciclos más suaves pueden estar entre las 15-20 horas semanales, mientras que los más duros pueden rondar las 25 horas. A eso habría que sumarle el par de días a la semana que salgo a correr y los ratos que dedico a los estiramientos. 
Esto es lo que intento hacer y cómo me lo planifico, aunque luego no siempre lo puedo cumplir porque el trabajo no me lo permite.

What do you often eat for protein? Are you vegetarian?

Procuro cuidar la alimentación pero no hasta el punto de planificar la frecuencia con la que como unos u otros alimentos. Las semanas en las que más duro entreno o escalo sí que procuro comer más proteína, pero no es algo que calcule o planifique. 

Sí que soy vegetariana, De hecho lo soy desde casi siempre, ya que mis padres lo son. Es algo que ellos me inculcaron (nunca me obligaron, de hecho de pequeña comía carne en el colegio pero fui yo quien decidí no seguir haciéndolo), y como me ha ido siempre muy bien, he seguido siéndolo. Además de ser vegetariana, intento comer lo más natural y ecológico posible.

What education do you have?

Estudié la carrera de Administración y Dirección de Empresas y también  el curso de Auditoría de Cuentas. Durante unos años ejercí como tal, pero no acababa de llenarme del todo, así que lo dejé todo y me preparé para ser bombero (durante este tiempo de preparación, 3 años, tuve que dejar completamente de escalar). Y ahora trabajo como bombero.

Van, Life, Food: Coco PB Quinoa Bars

I fundraised, started, and promptly stopped talking about a climbing vanlife food recipe book last year just before August. At that time, I took on Move Mountains, a 3-month slideshow and gear-collecting road trip that increased the testing and experimenting of recipes while traveling with various friends in Squamish, Leavenworth, Smith Rock, Castle Rock, American Fork, the Rockies, El Salto, and Potrero Chico – to name a few crags – and squatting the climbing gym parking lots en route and between these areas in 8 states.

Here’s a new recipe made with just a stove and GSI Outdoors pan.

Coco PB Quinoa Bars
WallE’s trusty GSI pan

Coco PB Quinoa Energy Bars

It’s vegan, almost paleo, and easily varied for all you special types of foodivores. I’m lactose intolerant, gluten reactive, and transitioning vegan to paleo, but it doesn’t stop me from eating buttery cookies and adding milk to coffee.

I highly recommend having coconut oil and coconut butter in your kitchen, even if you love dairy and olive oil.

  • Toast Quinoa and Seeds on your van’s Coleman/Whisper/mini-kitchen in a dry pan.
    (Not gluten-free? Add oats.) Set aside.
  • Mix 2 spoonfuls of coconut oil with 1 spoon each of coconut butter (and/or real butter), honey/agave/maple syrup, pb/almond butter, and seeds –> chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame.
  • And add a pinch of salt.
  • Top off the wet mix with any whimful combination of the following: ground flax, cocao, cinnamon, bee pollen, vanilla extract.
  • Toss in toasted ingredients, mix.
  • Sneak into the cooler/fresh snow outside/your solar-powered mini-fridge/ or a friend’s refrigerator to set for about 1 hour.

Turning Injury Into Motivation

This is a common case:

Athlete hits a plateau in their many years of climbing and tries to push through it by doing pretty much more of the same thing. First, an injury significantly decreases their climbing capacity, and they take a little bit of time off. After returning to climbing again, and doing the same thing as before without physical therapy, they begin to experience subsequent injuries as a result of muscle imbalance and compensation. This leads to a host of chronic issues, a very long time off the horse, and in this time, the athlete spends hours scouring blogs, articles, and YouTube channels to beef up on injury prevention. They train with a plan, using their downtime to raise motivation, and train intelligently to come back stronger.

This is me.

I was a talented, bull-headed youth competitor in California who was proud not to have a coach. In 2008, much to my surprise, I won the 2008 North American Climbing Championship in sport climbing ahead of Paige Claassen and Emily Harrington, placed 4th in my first Bouldering World Cup, and went to the World Games in Taiwan. I trained, sure – but without any research, just guesswork and experimentation with workouts and diets. In 2009, I wandered abroad in Europe and climbed 8a+ in France, felt good about myself, and in 2010 I left California to live in Colorado and train with the best. Everything was going generally well, with just a few injury hiccups here and there.

In spite of being a decently strong female climber, making all the right steps getting a job at a gym and dropping out of college (twice), I stopped progressing. I couldn’t keep up with the other ladies, and the barrier was becoming something different.

Mistakenly, I thought 10+ years of climbing had taught me pretty much everything about the physical side of training. Six years later, I was making the effort to break what I thought was a mental plateau through trad climbing, when instead I broke my ankle.

Learning about injuries, I realized the problem was definitely mental, but it wasn’t fear.
My plateau was out of ignorance.

They say things don’t leave us in life until they teach us all they know. I made all the classic mistakes with the ankle break, and the path to recovery became much longer and more painful than it should have been – I had a lot to learn from the great teacher Injury.

I ran, like I used to – the ankle hurt worse, the knee and hips couldn’t handle it.
I climbed, compensating with my shoulders – a rotator cuff got inflamed.
I continued pushing through – the other shoulder began to hurt.
I finally strengthened antagonists – and sent 3 V9s in the gym.

I started reading more voraciously.

When I moved from Colorado to Mexico, from US’s competitive climbing hub to a country where climbing training material was not nearly as abundant in Spanish, I felt like a fountain of information. Only then did I realize all my answers were based on anecdotal evidence rather than research about climbing training and injuries; they were also asking a lot of questions I’d never thought to ask myself.

Sure, I’d read Dave McLeod’s extensively detailed books, and taken some wisdom from blogs, but they were not concreted in my memory and I had no technical sports training. I couldn’t even tell you the pulleys in the fingers.

Only then did I realize how diverse and specialized were the parts to a long and successful training career, and how much information there is.

This is fairly late in the game, since I started climbing 17 years ago, but it’s never too late to start climbing smarter. I’m proud to say that a month ago I sent a 5.13b third try, close to the personal record of 5.13c and V10.

I’m going to share some of my training findings here.

Thanks all for listening to my story.

Train hard, and \m/ on.



The Move Mountains Tour

The Move Mountains Tour: An Adventurous Road Trip in Philanthropy

Sponsored by: Mad Rock Climbing, KAVU Clothing
Supported by: Maxim Ropes, NiteIze Inc,  Petzl

Tour Map

My mail goes to my parents in CA, and my cards and license are attached to a PO Box in Boulder, CO.

However, Mexico feels as much as a home base as Colorado and California.

When Climbing Borders started in 2014, I climbed with kids and helped with USA fundraising. Now the program is grown, and we’re climbing strong as a climbing team, and building the gym in a 3-year donated space from the government. Move Mountains Tour was to help open a highly mis-publicized and poorly understood Mexico to climbers and clarify the over-hyped risks posed to visitors.

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Long story short, The Move Mountains Tour was a sponsored 3 months of slideshows, collecting $10,000 in gear and funds while I bounced my Sprinter van “Wall-E” from state to state. Myself, sometimes with Rory and Ramon, who flew out to join me for large sections of the road trip, talked to groups at gyms about building at-risk youth climbing refuges as a model for incredible NGO programs in developing countries, like Climbing Borders in Mexico. In the Bay Area, Squamish, even with booths at the OR Show’s Reel Rock Premier and Psicocomp in SLC, we educated the public about volunteering/climbing in Mexico with our youth program. We inspired a lot of people to go to Mexico, and answered a lot of questions – mainly, do you feel it’s dangerous to go to Mexico? Yes, if you walk across the border in a “I Heart Donald Trump” t-shirt. Otherwise, no. Oakland, CA was far more sketchy.

It’s a long story. The Move Mountains Tour traveled from Santa Cruz, CA (my hometown) over 4,000 miles, up north to Squamish, west to Colorado, and south to Monterrey, Mexico. We held a dozen slideshows, presented to hundreds, and twice partnered with bigger fundraising events. UrbanAscent in Idaho donated 50% of proceeds in their competition Urban Legends, where Rory and I gave our first stage-fright-fueled speech on the gym’s counter with a microphone, and Matt Fultz competed and gave the crowd an unforgettable performance.


The second, in climbing bubble Boulder, CO, BEYONDTalks with Asa Firestone, Andrew Lenz of Brazil’s youth climbing project, myself as a director with CB/EF, and one of our program founders, Rory Smith which presented in Boulder, CO at Twisted Pine Brewing and unveiled a part of Three Peak’s then-unreleased film “Hecho en Mexico”. Christopher Weidner wrote a piece about it that published in the Daily Camera.

Daily Camera – Climbing Out of Poverty by Christpher Weidner

Move Mountains Tour north shore final

Success and Impact: We were unbelievably successful, I think mostly in part because we kept ourselves open to unexpected resources (another of saying that we were, basically, desperate). Also, gyms are transitioning to color-coordinated setting to save tape and cleaning out their old holds. At the second slideshow, we walked away with 300 good climbing holds from GWPC. In Seattle the SBP gym gave us hundreds of shoes in ten large bags.

On a Friday evening, when Valerie and I sat in the Redpoint Depot in Smith Rocks, we were given a lead on EntrePrise. “Wow, it’s just an hour away in Bend? Wait a minute.” I called them.”If you can get here in an hour, we’ve got some stuff for you.” I look at my climbing partner, Valerie, this small German girl enjoying a spontaneous vacation away from the tail end of an obscenely boring, unpaid internship in Vancouver. “Can we leave, like, right now?” I ask. We didn’t even put down her light-weight tent, just threw in in the back of Wall-E and booked it to Bend.


That day, on another hunch, we called Bend Rock Gym. It was as easy as, “Totally. We have two big bins for you.”

I was so excited that I broke the window shield with my spine while taking a photo of BRG’s donations.

The Move Mountain Tour had a massive outreach in the global climbing community.

I feel as if everyone’s heard about us somehow by now, because we tried to hit the key nerves of the community, from the OR Show, Psicocomp, Reel Rock, and our incredible Ambassadors. We thanked Renan and Honnold personally for their support (though they were as tired of socializing at OR as we were) and garnered a lot of information about fundraising and events for the next tour.

We reached over a thousand, face-to-face, taking into account the Craggin Classic and other events we crashed, unannounced and sometimes without paying. And the crags of course. We reached easily a hundred thousand through media like Chris’ write-up in the Daily, from gym events, sponsors, web pages, and the social media channels of all of the above in the US, Canada, and Mexico. We promoted ourselves and other youth projects, with a mission of youth outdoor education and stewardship. We increased interest and gave information on climbing tourism in Mexico.

We even connected with similar NGOs like The Boulders and Climb’n’Conquer in Vancouver to swap notes and share psych.
I managed to squeeze in Episode 44 with ChalkTalk’s John Blomquist (it was hard to follow up the Ep.43 w/ Alex Puccio) somewhere on the side of Highway 5 in Washington, south of Seattle, on my way to the Portland Boulder Rally, where I got to sit with half of America’s strongest and interview them for the Live Stream, and mention our program in Mexico.

When Ramon helped me drive it all across the border to Mexico through the town of Laredo, fresh from picking up donations at ClimbTech’s HQ in Austin, the sprinter set off the weight alarm, and so we opened the back to customs. They had a field day: here were hangboards, ropes, harnesses, jackets, massive bin on top of massive bin, all well over the max import donation value. We could have brought more holds and donations, crash pad flooring, more workout equipment. We should have had a trailer. Maybe next time.


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So. Mexico. How did I get there? Here’s a longer explanation.

IMG_6918 copy

My first time in Mexico, I went on an initial scout with documenting-obsessed (typically British) climbing area developer named Gaz Leah, author of NY Bouldering Guide, who I had begged, pleaded, and coaxed into going with me for just a week, insisting that he needed to take a break from divorce problems and the NY grind. That week went well, he was stoked, but we weren’t able to meet with the youth project’s director, who was on vacation. I dropped him off in Austin to fly back to the big apple, and I considered going back south.

The suggested guidelines of travel in Mexico by the Mexican Embassy are: Don’t drive in the night. Don’t go alone. Don’t ask for directions.

I knew the second exploratory mission was a mess from the start. I had had a momentary panic attack in the McDonalds in Nuevo Laredo, just after crossing the border, when all the fears I had of Mexico ganged up on me – like how little money I had, that I’d forgotten to change for pesos at the border, and that I, really, had no idea what I was doing. Was this responsible? Was this the right choice?

After I got lost driving in the city well after nightfall, and asked strangers for directions, I thought – well, to hell with it. Just like the 6-month road trip I had come from, and everything else in my life at the time, visiting this project (and coming down a second time alone) was all on a whim. There was no serious plan here, so I may as well break all the rules and enjoy the fire-juggling happening at the intersection while I’m rapid-firing texting expensive messages to the US for directions.

But the full seriousness of the city’s problems, and the importance of this program, all struck home, all at once, on day one. Driving to the neighborhood, Nadia confirmed for me the corruption, the endless social and economic problems, including drug addiction. This was stuff I’d read about my whole life, as an unsocial introvert in a sheltered lifestyle in luxurious California. What would I see? As we walk up a dirt street, breeze block shacks on the sides, Nadia checks in on families like a social worker, asks about school, family members, and tells them I was a professional climber (which I could argue I wasn’t, but this obviously inspired the kids) and at last, my strongest memory. I bump fists with long-time drug addicts who are so far gone they look like zombies. (I still jokingly refer to them as zombies with the kids, though they are very often relatives of theirs.) The most profound element about the experience was seeing them actually in the vice of their addiction – they opening huffed paint thinner, like it was a cigarette, and we were in France. What. The. Fuck.

I had been intimidated by the concept of going south. Everyone – parents, friends, strangers – told me it was dangerous. They had seen headlines, heard horror stories about that one guy who was hacked to pieces. I was terrified at first to go to this Iran of the PanAm; I was white, a girl, broke, in an obvious van with ridiculous stickers, spoke piss-poor Spanish, in a van that didn’t even lock properly, with a just the bark of an excitable and harmless collie to protect it from marauders. But I know people are always afraid of things they don’t know enough about. So any threat of violence to myself was not actually scary. Isolated areas of poverty where harmful drug abuse was socially acceptable because education and development were blunted by a lack of resources – that was scary. The fact that it can happen, that you can grow up being that kid who is stunted emotionally and physically because of violence, neglect, and malnutrition.

The following 6 months after finishing the whimful roadtrip, I scrapped up money in the used gear store in Boulder (Boulder Sports Recycler) and slept in my van in the parking lot, emailing sponsors and planning to go back for four months, and use my van to help the program.

I thought the idea was crazy, and up in the air, until the day we left. I was broke still, paying to fix my van, and just three months before launch date I broke my ankle with a large flake on Rainbow Highway, on which we enjoyed a pleasant  3-mile hobble out in a thunderstorm, fortunately with the ever-ready, amazing, now YOSAR-employed Helen Sinclair.

That four month stint in Mexico turned into almost a year because I picked up teaching English. In case you’re wondering, no, I have never taken a teaching course. However, it paid 50% better than the intensely knowledgeable position at the used gear store in Colorado, and pretty much required no special academic expertise aside from making conversation about whatever (politics, religion, life, NPR articles, etc). As a plus, the moped commute between classes on Mexican highways was far more exciting than sitting behind the counter answering questions about the difference between water-proof and water-resistant TNF Mountain Series jackets.

(If you’re interested in working in the large city next to four major climbing areas, including Potrero Chico and El Salto, and speak English natively, just ask.)

I established a base in Mexico, and decided to do the reverse in 2015. I’d go to the States (which weirdly now felt like “abroad”) for 4 months to do a road trip and fundraising tour.

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THE MOVE MOUNTAINS TOUR: Organizing a 3-Month, 4,000-Mile Tour To Raise $10,000 In Gear

Why Move Mountains Tour? Well, I thought naïvely that I could easily combine the original impulsive dirtbag climbing road trip of North America with a philanthropic slideshow tour. I could use the same sponsors who promoted my climbing to now promote a climbing project, climbing a shit ton between presentations, and teach clinics to stay afloat. I’d start in Santa Cruz, CA where I grew up, go north to Squamish (because it’s Squamish) and hit Idaho and Utah on the way to the finale in Colorado. I was broke, and I was terrified of speaking. But forgetting all that…

Although ‘staying afloat’ and ‘climbing a shit ton’ is the dirtbag way, it was far from smooth sailing. Because I planned the events up the West Coast and out to Colorado so they were spread out in major cities with a few days in between, the trip offered very clear, inflexible deadlines. It was stressful to plan public speaking when I have severa stage fright, but I was also irresponsibly broke, and halfway through was obliged to sell my beloved Canon, which I’d bought half a decade ago. parting with my camera was necessary, though, to take advantage of detours to learn from NGOs similar to Climbing Borders.

One example is The Boulders on Vancouver Island, an UNbelievably successful (and possibly the only) not-for-profit climbing gym in North America. I’d only planned to visit the Climb And Conquer Project in the Vancouver on shore, for which I am an Ambassador, and I didn’t know The Boulders existed until a few days before leaving Canada, via the Climbing Business Journal. My college student Chase Bank account could barely handle the $12 overnight Park-and-Go fee at the Tsawwassen ferry port, so I cut the visit very short – 24 hours – and asked every goddamn question I could think of. My gracious and hospitable host, Kimanda Jarzebiak, founder, answered everything she could in a surprisingly transparent way. I sent all my notes in a document to the other directors, and it was an incredible resource. Well worth the last $20. I felt, at the time, that it even validated the whole Tour to see an NGO so focused, organized, successful. Here was a 3 million dollar gym, a model we could look up to, in a town with a population of 16,000 when our city has 1.4 million. The Boulders was physical proof that the sky was possible in the realm of NGO climbing gyms.

I also spent a lot of time on my computer doing emails for Mad Rock, interviews, and organizing slideshows, instead of actually climbing. Another 150+ of those hours was driving.

– – – – – – – – – –

Psicocomp & Reel Rock in Salt Lake City, UT
Before starting the trip, I flew straight from Mexico to Los Angeles, and sat for 3 weeks in the offices of my employer Mad Rock Climbing. For me, office work in a chair and cubicle sounds like living hell. I have nightmares of sitting in a cubicle that go back as far as first grade – though I have no idea why. Mad Rock headquarters, however, was not so bad, I know and understand the crew, and simply I slaved away to pay the over-worked credit card, bagging my first online-published interview on Rock&Ice for Mad Rock athlete Jesse Grupper, and creating a more enabled level of the Team for dedicated athletes much like myself (but far cooler) to pursue their dreams.

The three weeks finished in a fantastic blur of motion, with an incredible successful outdoor brands convention (Outdoor Retailer Summer Market) for both Mad Rock and the sponsorship of the Move Mountains Tour.

Ramon flew in to help with Climbing Borders, so after my allotted time at the MR booth, at 12pm we speed-walked to sponsors for the Tour and gave the shpeal. It went something like, “Our youth project in Mexico is Climbing Borders, we’re doing a 7-state slideshow tour at major climbing gyms and need gear raffle sponsors. Here’s the website, our email. We have a booth at Reel Rock and Psicocomp. Who do we talk to/ What can you give?” Friends introduced us to new connections, and we wrote emails on our hands. If we managed to talk to the marketing or sponsoring director, they always said yes.

Yes, we had a booth at Reel Rock’s premier in SLC and the Psicobloc Masters deep-water-soloing competition.

The Move Mountain Tour sponsors we collected in SLC are mostly brands I already know and work with. Mad Rock Climbing, of course, they had readily donated very essential gear for the program, mostly adjustable rental harnesses and shoes. Rob from Maxim Ropes promised giveaway ropes, the main lure to the Move Mountain Tour’s fundraising gear raffles. The up-beat brand KAVU said, “No problem, we’ll send a big box of stuff”.  Julianne from Voltaic Systems, our friend Matt from NiteIze, and even Petzl threw in.


“Can I stay at your house?”

My average day volunteering with a badass project, climbing with kids in marginalized areas. See more: http://www.escalandofronteras.org

“Can I stay at your house?”
“No, you have a mom and brother.”
“I don’t live with them.”
“Where do you sleep?”
“Behind the school. Can you give me 5 pesos for some water?” the fifteen year old runaway asked me today.

Holy shit.

One of those moments when you’re not sure if they’re telling the truth, and how seriously to take them. The other day a teenage runaway texted us “I’m going to be a dad” – and our hearts skip a beat, or three.  Then they say something that really takes the wind out of you, like, “I wanna go to Harvard.” And it’s a fucking sharp kid.

Sometimes when they aren’t yanking our chain, we glimpse the real truth behind the practiced levity. That glimpse has been visiting more and more often, in that way a photographer picks up on a pattern or style. I think it comes from seeing these kids actually entering serious, dangerous, high-risk situations, while seeing their futures standing next to them – I mean, ugly situations, ugly future selves. Like, I had to drop off the kids tonight 50 feet from the school steps, where a group of 20 addicts and a dealer chill…and watch these kids run over to them.

What would a normal parent do in the States? Let me answer. Totally not what we have to do: drop them off, the same way, every day we work with them. How the hell can we do that?

For Mel’s water I up-ended the coin purse and, in the process, accidentally dropped and lost a coin. All I had was 7 pesos, not enough for papitas.

“Why are you eating a lollipop? That your dinner?” “It’s bad for the teeth.” “So why are you eating it?” Mel crunched it down, threw the stick in my van.

Here’s the ugly future I saw of Melanie, that morning. When I arrived in Lomas to pick up the boys to go to the closest climbing gym, the first stop was Cesar’s house. He’s a young dad who acts like he’s 16, and takes a shitload of hilarious selfies every time you give him a camera. Hola! I shout on the steps, walking up slowly, while listening for his wife Heidy. I get to the door, and it’s opened by an old woman. She invites me in. Me llamo mama de Cesar, she says. Heidy and Cesar left to buy groceries. So we sit at the window, waiting for the young climbers. Cesar’s mother asked me if I was the one who gave Heidy the computer, if I was the one giving her graphic design homework. I replied yes. She said her younger daughter needed to learn English. (Education is a sore need here. We focus on rock climbing, and use it to connect to the younger population, but occasionally Nadia and I tutor.)

I’d taught English in the community room months back, and wanted to do the same again, so I began talking with Cesar’s mom about the new school director, the families, how she raises kids, the drug situation…

Mira, she said suddenly, pointing. She was looking a young woman hobbling slowly past the window outside. Clearly in her second term of pregnancy. Holding paint thinner to her face.

Pregnant, Cesar’s mom said. And she has 3 kids already. She’s a prostitute.

– – – – –

Side Note: If you grew up here, you’d kick dogs. You’d huff paint thinner like skittles in broad daylight, and get pregnant at 15. You’ll end up like this drugged prostitute. And your sons will have to depend on their aging illiterate and decrepit elderly; will watch while the mom whither away; will continue the cycle of neglect.

– – – – –

“A que hora tienes escuela?” I ask the 15 year old runaway, having seen her future some hours before. “When is school for you? At 6, too?”

“No voy,” she says sheepishly. “Me aburró la escuela.” School bores me.
She’s 15. She disappeared once for a month one time. She’s basically run away from home, and not the first. When she asked me my birthday, she showed me on her phone the sex position for my birth month. Like that time, I hound her. How are you going to have a job, if you don’t learn anything? “Tortillas”, she says.

“Tortillas?!” I reply horrified. You want to walk up and down the street all day without money to pay for the hospital, for a car, for your health? You’ll be stuck in a cycle. It’s a stupid cycle. But she’s already bored. She gets in my van, and looks for coins, finds a lighter, and plays with it.

“Want to study tomorrow, 12pm? Computer lab?” I see so much potential here. She is absolutely a disaster waiting to happen, if she doesn’t study. Other girls come up to us, and ask to climb tomorrow. I say yes, Mad Complex. Two groups, 2pm and 6pm. Life is real. Let’s just go climbing.

The Struggle Unplugging

It’s so hard for me to unplug. I’ve just received new emails, the coffee is only half-finished, and my friends are just signing onto Facebook, liking my Instagram photo, and sharing a new viral video about two guinea pigs eating a blade of grass Lady-And-The-Tramp style…in slow motion. I can sign off at any moment, but the red notification numbers in the upper right corner have become a simple game of Whack-a-Mole, and the world’s population is awake in every time zone, which gives us a reason to stay plugged in.

Yikes. At some point, I must use my legs, stretch, look at something 20 feet away to adjust my eyes to avoid a headache, drink water to resupply the empty reservoir of my stomach that was so quickly drained by caffeine 5 hours ago when I signed onto my work email. Even though I work online in a mobile job, I sit all the time.

I’ve begun to realize how addicted to being plugged in that I’ve become. How is that possible? I moved into my van to escape the grid! Sure, a job that requires 3 hours a day online still requires wi-fi, a bathroom, and some focused productivity on the keyboard, but to a life that is largely alternative – that is to say, I’m living in a van with a job that has no fixed hours, so I could field a Skype meeting in the middle of a World Word II re-enactment event unbeknownst to the caller, and let the booming of canons and gun fire be background music to my follow-up emails – it’s not easy to escape the convenience of staying in the city: I can shower early mornings in the restroom of a Starbucks, work to 4pm, then park and read a book just a Justin’s Nut Butter jar’s throw of the nearest Whole Foods, in case I feel the urge to nip in for the salad bar.

Here’s some things I find useful for stepping away from the devices.

1: Work standing up. Most cafes, especially Starbucks, have counters and I’ve begun choosing to push aside one of the high chairs in favor of standing.

2: Use the 20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, focus on something 20 feet away, even just to break out of the tunnel vision one acquires from working on a computer long hours.

3: Snack all the veggies. Controversial foodie opinions aside, stuffing your face with red bell peppers, kale, spinach, carrots or a salad over the course of the work period keeps me healthy, and negates bonking and hunger.

4: Solar panels rock. I can park and work in my van, and even if you don’t live on the road in a Sprinter can like myself, charging from my dashboard is useful for my phone.

That’s all, just some thoughts on recent habit’s I’ve made consciously to keep myself in shape while I’m on the road for the Move Mountains Tour. Thanks Voltaic Systems for keeping me powered!


Vancouver! Victoria! Squamish!!!

So stoked to be on the road in Canada.

I’m in Vancouver, about to check out the Boulders Climbing Gym in Victoria, a non-profit gym JUST LIKE what we were imagining in Monterrey, Mexico!

If you haven’t seen it, check out the Move Mountains Tour website I am slaving over these days. You can also win a MAXIM ROPE while we tour the country: just share an event or tour map, with the hashtag #MoveMountainsTour. We’re three shows in, and had successful slideshows in Santa Cruz, Oakland, and Portland! The BIGGEST sponsors Mad Rock Climbing and Kavu have given away chalk pots, sport climbing gear, and clothing at each event, along with two ropes from Petzl, headlamps and S-biners from Nite Ize, and more.

Tour Map

Interview: Revista Escalando

Recently Revista Escalando (Climbing Magazine in Spanish) did an interview with me about combining a traveling, professional climbing career with work for philanthropic programs like Escalando Fronteras.

Thank you so much, Camilo Castellanos and Revista Escalando! And thank you sponsors for supporting my passion in various ways, everywhere I go! Mad Rock Climbing, Kavu, GSI Outdoors, and Maxim Ropes.

Read the interview on Escalando.Org

English version below.

escalando org interview

Revista Escalando  – Escalando.org
Climbing with Tiffany Hensley

By Camilo Castellanos

For 6 months, this North American climber traveled together with her dog Tashtego to run through 30 states of the United States and more than 20 climbing areas, in a style of a simple life that gave her various life lessons. 

Hensley, like few climbers, has mixed hard competition training with a life of globetrotting. “Since I began climbing, at the age of 7, my life was balanced by the liberation of climbing and the weighted richness of learning. When the two sides are fully grown, they are dangling on each end of the stick I hold while walking the tight line above the world…”

What do you like about competition climbing?

Dedication. Since 1998, competing has taught me to dedicate myself, and has also taught me that we are all strongest when we share dedication with others, even our competitors. I believe this is the best way to channel our motivation, break our own boundaries, and push our own limits. 2. Which kind of climbing do you like the most? When I am completely in the flow of the movement, like when I think of nothing but the movement and the sequence. This a hard place to get to, and it feels like mediation, because climbing can compress the focus into a single focus on a single hard move, but as I explore the sport it seems to expand outward like the series of photos from the quark to the universe. I find bigger perspectives as I find bigger and bigger projects, ones that include more than climbing, but also people.

You went on a project and lived in your van for some months, how was that experience?

Incredible. It’s really hard to understand the vanlife if one’s never lived in a tiny space before. It feels like the world grows much bigger, because you spend so much more time outside your own “controlled space” and comfort zone. Traveling also really opens the mind to a perspective full of new possibilities and new resources, because it’s always solving small problems on the fly – and making decisions about what fits in your life. Also, to travel and see the difference organizations make in widely diverse cities, with entirely different cultures – like Canada and Mexico – opened my eyes to universal truths about community power and individual empowerment.

Which type of training do you think is the best for competition climbing?

The best training for competition climbing is found in The Circuit World Cup and Performance Magazine. If you haven’t looked at it, or heard about it, and you want to train for competitions, this has interviews with world cup competitors about the best way to train. In general, competition training is all-around training that works on your weaknesses. I have to train core and body tension, because I grew up climbing gymnastically and dynamically. And in general, the best thing to train are first, your finger strength, second, your shoulders and back, and third, your core. Bringing this all together with body tension and flexibility is a great start, if you are training to compete stronger. One last ingredient is the mind – as Fernanda Rodriguez, a climber in Mexico, says, “The only muscle you can always discipline, anywhere, anytime, is your mind.” And this is true – Eric Horst even says mentality is 30% of climbing.

How did you started climbing?

I start in a climbing gym when I was seven at a birthday part with other 1st graders. I didn’t want to leave the first day, and my mom obliged to bring me back the next day, and the next…until I went with friends, then got my own car.

What projects do you have now?

My projects recently have changed from short-term goals to long-term ones, mostly because school, injuries, and occupations. In August I broke my ankle, and 7 months later I’m learning to find meaningful life projects to substitute those hard grades. Currently I work a lot, because I love working for Mad Rock Climbing in the climbing industry, and when I’m not on a roadtrip or traveling, I hold a second job to pay the bills and save for the next big roadtrip. But my biggest project right now is Escalando Fronteras, working with a team that helps at-risk youth to grow a sustainable supportive community in the rough neighborhoods, beginning with Mexico. Although I’m training to come back to the World Cups one day, this is a project that means just as much to me, and part of the project is to bring some of those kids to competitive extreme sports, like rock climbing.

How have you seen the development of feminine climbing?

Women are closing the gap in climbing. There will always be the hard line between the basic anatomical differences, and we would not be women if we did not have our unique hormonal, behavioral and biological signature. But as rock climbing has as many styles and many disciplines as running, there are many chances for the development of feminine climbing to excel, primarily in endurance, the mental game, and perhaps just in my personal opinion, a certain beauty of style.

What do you think is the most important thing about traveling and climbing?

The education. Education is not a textbook, education is seeing and believing, living and experiencing, exploring with the hands and eating with the eyes. Climbing brings us traveling, and has the opposite extremes of a yen for the untouched and the competitive craze of the controlled urban closeness. I believe there are many sports in which we can explore the different disciplines and remain sheltered. Climbing is absolutely not one of them. Climbing gives us self-awareness, and traveling opens us to world mindedness.

Climbing Borders
How is working as a volunteer in Climbing Borders?

Working as a volunteer is a very genuine, life-changing experience; like workers in the “Banker to the Poor”, the local director Dr. Nadia Vazquez walked us through the neighborhoods on our first visit in order to see the world from the perspective of the kids. Genuinely hanging out with these kids brings volunteers into their world, their emotional turbulence, their frustration. Then makes me wholly aware of yourself and what you know or don’t know. The kids are always motivated to do something, and keep us on our toes.

What do you think is the most important thing of working with those kids?

For me, I see the most important thing is just being there, a mentor. It doesn’t matter who we are, or where we go – we could be skateboarders, or runners, or bikers – just that we are there for them. We talk, we listen, we guide them, and we’re there to offer a different perspective of the world so they can see outside their influences.

Do you think the project has saved those kids from involving with drug cartels?

There’s no doubt Escalando Fronteras makes a difference with the kids every time they go outside. From the first visit to the second, their behavior changes; their physical awareness grows; their attitude towards the mentors is tiny bit more open. I’ve taught climbing for 8 years to kids, adults, beginners, competitive athletes, and learned myself as a student from amazing teachers, and every climbing session builds character, strength, and self-awareness, because climbing is a channel for recreation, problem-solving, and self-expression. Even if there is no teacher in the room, the student needs to learn independently by adapting for each move, each problem, each style.

Which aspects of climbing do you think help the most to develop personal abilities?

Adaptation and self-awareness. Climbing helps them realize they can change, that the world can change, and that they can change with it by learning about themselves.

Do you think this program could be done in other countries?

Easily, I visited a program like it in Vancouver, Canada that worked particularly well, called Climb’N’Conquer, and was well directed by a community leader named Joseph Smith. With the use of any facility, even the outdoors (such as with CEU, Centro for Escalad Urbana in Brasil) anyone can be introduced to the sport, even once, and changed by the physical challenge, the community feel, and an unforgettable perspective of the world from above.

Which is the importance that famous climbers participate as volunteers?

The message: Don’t ever give up. Here’s proof you can be what you dream.

Famous athletes are only a part of the program, because volunteers are the labor of the operation and resources from donors keep the program working like a philanthropic machine. In fact, everyone who participates lends something of themselves to the mission, which is an incredibly selfless and thoroughly laudable.

The part about famous climbers in particular is that they are examples of dedication, they are heroes, they are role models. We follow their steps in our dreams; our heroes are who we think about when we are pushing our hardest. When we need inspiration, when we are starting to fail, we think of what our idols would do in that situation. My inspiration was Chris Sharma, and seeing him in my home gym regularly gave me an example to follow, which was that someone from a small town gym, a kid like me, could be the best in the world. A young snowboarder has a poster of Shaun White, a skateboarder of Tony Hawk, etc, and climbing has those same names for the growing climbing community that is reaching developing, rough and closed-off places.

Pro Climbers International was founded on this basis, that achieved athletes can impact and inspire those on their way simply by appearing in person – and it works. If a kids hears about someone being amazing, and they meet them, it’s a lifetime experience. It’s unforgettable, so it’s worth a lifetime of inspiration. And that moment stays with the kids whenever they feel tested.

The See-Saw

There are times in our lives when we are expanding the fastest, learning from our environment as quickly we can humanly imbibe these experiences and forging our path through the unknown of the future. In that endless moment, we don’t hold expectations, knowing that nothing is for certain, and we are small in this world.

This flow state is a balance, many factors in many sizes that counter and compliment one another, too many to count. We juggle these factors by tossing them in the air, some remaining in the air far longer than others and changing invisibly, while we catch and toss again those balls that came back to us. These factors may be focused to a balance of art and logic, business and pleasure, the taste of sweet and sour, in the simplicity of black and white.

Photos for Print Tiff File Format-1-10

Since I began climbing, at the age of 7, my life was balanced by the liberation of climbing and the weighted richness of learning. When the two sides are fully grown, dangling on each end of the stick I hold while walking the tight line above the world, I feel the flow: the liberation and richness in balance high on an independent point somewhere.

Photos for Print Tiff File Format-1-3

Here in Mexico I feel those sides balancing again. Almost every year there is moment where I feel light and full at once, with that liberation and richness, and as I sit high and see far from the elevated tip of the see-saw, the world becomes clear for a moment.

Praying to the wind.

Then the see-saw dips to the other side of the fulcrum. For the last 8 months, my ankle has been that fulcrum. My body impacts my mentality more strongly, sometimes, than my mind can impact my body. This is a strong connection athletes feel, grandly unique to people in a stage of a sedentary lifestyle.

When I feel pain, depression laps at the little island of my conscious and awareness dims like the screen on a cell phone, so after a long adventurous day of taking photos and moving non-stop, this ache pulls me from my mind into a cave that I can also explore, but in which I sometimes am lost.


As I become more familiar with this system of caves in the darkness, life becomes easier, and I learn to follow the fresh breeze back to the entrance where my friend self-awareness sits waiting on the other end of the see-saw.

Day with Paragliders

Praying to the wind.
Praying to the wind.

Today had a theme of discipline and caution.
Diego, Argentinian.

Diego, Argentinian.

I tagged along with Fer and Carlos to photograph their paragliding group in the pueblito Rinconada, west of Monterrey. Every launch held some suspense, and the Argentinian named Diego flipped up high and lost his helmet with a GoPro. I counted the seconds as the helmet dropped: almost twenty.

Check out the photos!

portrait old woman

The Fiercest Worrier

When I saw her, her face opined a view on the world,

As if on waking,
Was printed every morning at four am with lines of tiredness,
Blackened by the raise of a son.

At five, I see her stand on display,
Waiting for the commute train,
Her single headline furrowed
Above a flaring column from her temple,

At noon, the Business Section sniffs
The good taco stand gazpacho.

Dusk, the Obituary section crumples up
And soaks in relief in a hot pool of tears.

Ink runs south to her family in Mexico City
On two familiar railroad tracks across the bronze hilly desert.