A post where things get heavy: On life, death, and life-and-death matters

Until recently, I’ve spent very little of my life thinking about death. It was pleasantly abstract; a concept with which I was lucky enough to have almost no personal experience. I have four living grandparents. I can count the funerals I’ve attended on one hand.

As my interests in climbing and skiing developed from infatuation to lifestyle, though, I’ve been forced to come to grips with the harsher realities of my chosen professional and recreational pursuits.

I first realized it when I was an intern at the American Alpine Club. As I pored over old editions of Accidents in North American Mountaineering, tallying the ways in which climbers had been hurt or killed in the preceding decades, it dawned on me: Statistically speaking, if you do this long enough, you or someone you know will die.

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It’s hard out here for a plant: A (very tentative) guide to surviving harsh and hostile lands

“The living organism stands out bold and brave and vivid against the lifeless sand and barren rock. The extreme clarity of the desert light is equaled by the extreme individuation of desert life-forms. Love flowers best in openness and freedom.”

—Edward Abbey, 1968

A fine layer of red dust covers everything in the tent. It’s the same scene I imagine would greet campers waking up in the vast red desert on the surface of Mars, were they lucky enough to survive a windstorm there.

I unzip the door and thrust my head into the landscape outside the tent. The vista from here is similarly Martian: gargantuan red cliffs tower overhead; craters two, three, four thousand feet across fall away from the red dunes of fine sand across the mesa. It is eerily silent.

The only distinguishing factor—all that stands between us and the Mars rover, it seems—is the series of scrappy juniper and sage bushes dotting the landscape as far as the eye can see. Squatty, hardy, and with a low center of gravity, they appear to have withstood last night’s dust bowl better than we have. Then again, it’s taken them untold generations to get it right.

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Free soloing the First: A story in which I make a few good and a few bad decisions, and ultimately am a little smarter.

Near the end of my twenty-third summer, I got it in my head that I should try free soloing. It wasn’t in a single moment that the idea came to me, but rather over the course of a disaster-style summer, punctuated by a series of nudges in that direction.

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To Alder Hell and Back Again: Alderfest 2013

Summer has (kind of) arrived in Alaska, and not a moment too soon. Temperatures soared above 80 degrees last week, and while that may not exactly sound like a heat wave to people who live in areas with normal weather patterns, I’ll remind you that we experienced forty degrees below zero this winter. My friend Hannah’s doctor fiancé told me yesterday that he diagnosed several cases of heat rash this week, which I’m taking as proof that Alaskans have devolved into cold-bloodedness and are not meant to be warmed above about 60 degrees. Still, my friends are loving it: we are jogging on the formerly-Nordic trails, canoeing around the lake rather than skiing across it, and climbing rock instead of ice.

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