Stan, Cochise Stronghold
“It wasn’t just the biggest thing we’d ever climbed. It was always the goal; I wanted to do it and had been thinking about it for eight years… It was a weirdly powerful moment for me. I didn’t cry or anything, but I thought about it.”
Stan’s main outdoor objectives are climbing big-walls, but that’s not really an option in the middle of winter. However, climbing the lichen-streaked granite domes in Cochise Stronghold is the next best thing. Stan and I did some multi-pitch rock climbing there last February, where the winters are forgivable yet fickle. While climbing a dome dubbed Sheepshead, direct sunlight made us sweat and cloud cover made us shiver.
On the hikes back and forth from the parking lot, I bugged Stan on his gear, techniques, and personal experiences on big-walls in Yosemite and Zion National Parks. Since I was planning a trip to Yosemite, I wanted to find out all I could from him. He typically climbs big-walls with his younger brother, who he mentored when they were just getting into rock climbing. Since Stan’s brother had recently moved away, he told me about his plans to do a solo big-wall in Zion.
When night descended on us after our first day together, Stan joined me in my van and I asked him about fulfilling his big-wall dreams, how climbing makes him feel more connected to a place, and what he loves about the outdoors. After we went our separate ways, we made plans to climb a big-wall together in Zion. The weather shot us down each time we talked about going, but I’m sure that at some point this year Stan will be back on a big-wall, having a grand vertical adventure.
How did you first get into the outdoors and rock climbing?
My dad really likes camping and hiking so we used to go camping as a family like once a month. I liked it because he would let me make the fire and that was my favorite thing for sure. And so I just always liked being outside and climbing was a good fit. The thing that caught hold of my mind first was the places it could take you. I saw pictures of people climbing El Capitan [in Yosmite] and people climbing in Zion. Basically, my desire to learn how to trad climb and progress was because I wanted to take it to the big mountains one day and do big-wall climbs.
Me and my buddy, neither of us had ever trad climbed before, we went and climbed a hand crack and I stuck a cam in and pulled on it, and was like ‘I think it’s good’. We were pretty cavalier about it. Nobody showed us how to do it; we just looked at pictures online.
Haha, that’s one way to do it. Did anything bad happen during that time, any big falls or injuries?
Not related to that, but when I started climbing, I was 16. My little brother, he was 12 back then, would come with me and my friend outside and he dropped me once belaying with an ATC [belay device] from the top of one of those 15’ or 20’ crags in Texas. It was short but I hit the ground. I think he just stopped paying attention and didn’t realize what was happening. It was nice because I landed in the only flat area under the whole climb and rolled on my butt, I just had a bruise on my butt. But now he’s 20 and a responsible guy. He’s a good little climber in spite of that, we climbed El Cap together.
So El Cap had been your big goal when you started climbing right?
Yeah. We started training three months before, just trying to get in good shape. But in terms of how to do everything like him and I started doing that together since I was 16 or 17. So it was a long time in the making. Before we went to Yosemite to try El Cap, we climbed a couple routes in Zion. So we did a failed attempt of one route. And then we went back and we did it, and then we had a failed attempt of another route. And we went back and we did it. So we have like a batting average of .500 in Zion for big walls.
What happened with the failed attempts?
We just had too much crap—it barely fit in the haul bag. We probably had too much water and clothing, stuff like that. So we learned to go light and fast. We ended up doing the second one, Space Shot in Zion, in a day. We topped out just as the sun was going down. There’s this long rappel route where you have to hike in between each rappel to find the next one. We got back to the car at 12:30 because it was so hard to find all the rappels in the dark. It was kind of sketchy, like all these cliffs where we’re trying to find little 2 bolt anchors that were hidden in the corners. It was an experience.
When would you say you felt the most accomplished outside?
At the top of El Cap, definitely. It wasn’t just the biggest thing we’d ever climbed. It was always the goal; I wanted to do it and had been thinking about it for eight years. It was awesome, I led the last pitch and got to free climb up to the top. It was a weirdly powerful moment for me. I didn’t cry or anything, but I thought about it. I was like, ‘Is this when you’re supposed to cry, should I cry right now?’ It’s not really my move. [Laughs]
Do you have a favorite outdoor trip you’ve had?
[I had a] really fun trip to Yosemite with my wife two years ago. We didn’t climb, but we did a lot of hiking to cool lookouts. That was the first time I ever saw El Cap. She got annoyed because I just wanted to go sit in El Cap Meadows and stare at it.
Would you say there’s something that inspires you to climb?
I don’t know, I think about it sometimes. Because it’s kind of a useless thing to do, it’s not contributing to anything, right? I think it’s the desire to improve yourself and accomplish things. I like learning about the systems and the gear and all that. The movement’s fun and it feels good to be outside and really get to know new places.
Right, you mentioned earlier that you feel like you get to know an area better from climbing on its rock, cliffs, and walls rather than driving up to and looking at it.
I definitely feel that way. I remember the first time I went to Zion National Park I didn’t climb. We just camped out and hiked and [as] we were leaving, I was sad because it was like ‘We were here, but we weren’t here’. But after the first time we climbed a big wall in Zion it was like ‘I’m ready to leave. Let’s get out of here, take a shower. We experienced it, we’re good for now, we’ll come back in a few months’. I like that about it—that you feel like you really get to know a place when you climb there.
Last question, what do you love about the outdoors?
I noticed that if I spend like a whole week where I don’t do something outside, like if I’m not mountain biking or climbing, then I start to feel weird and antsy. I think it’s all this stuff that we have now, like you have your phone and your computer. It starts to weigh on you, it feels like a trap. And when you come outside you feel a release. That’s how I feel. It’s almost like getting back to how we’re supposed to be.
Like I joke with my wife about how cavemen were like every other animal, they just cared about food, shelter, and sex and that was all they did. But then at some point we diverged from other animals and we just have all this stuff now and I feel like you get too caught up and it bogs you down. That’s why I like going outside, it helps me feel relaxed and keeps me focused on not getting too obsessed with material things, but more [focused] on experiences and relationships.
This interview has been trimmed and edited to fit this format. If you would like to access the unedited interview audio and unposted photography, see my Patreon page.