Climbing, Race and a Thunderhead

Brianne Thomas, a new-found climbing friend, tackles a 5.7-rated route at the climbing gym several months ago. She puts most men to shame, conquering routes with power and grace. Rock on, Bri.

At the moment I’m working on the third and final installment of “Three Days on the Canyon Rim,” my photo-narrative of last year’s backpack on the West Rim Trail of Pine Creek Gorge, Pa.

But I’m always reading other outdoor magazines and blogs to keep myself occupied between my own trips. July is too far away; that’s when I have a two-day backpack and climb trip scheduled with a fraternity brothers Josh Stadler and Adam Juliano along a section of the Appalachian Trail.

I’m also trying to schedule a climbing day with my sister’s fiancée, Ryan Mattern, who I only just learned did some climbing in Turkey when he was about 13 years old. He wants to get back into the sport, and I can always use another friend to go with to the rocks.

It’s a strange coincidence that he has climbed in Turkey. I was just reading this blog about a woman who was climbing there and was the unfortunate victim of a ground fall. Here is her story about the fall, recovery and reintroduction to climbing.  As she notes, complacency is the enemy of all climbers.

I can’t even imagine what it was like for her husband to watch her fall, helpless to do anything until the worst was in front of him.

Race and the mountains

Mountaineering, climbing, and generally most outdoor sport is a relative egalitarian pursuit. You don’t have to be of a certain class, social status, or race to enjoy the natural world, to camp, fish, hunt, backpack or hike.

But as noted in this National Geographic article, when it comes to the great mountaineering feats, white men dominate the sport. To help inspire young folks from other races to become interested in adventure, wild places, and conservation, the first all-black American team will attempt to summit Denali (Mt. McKinley), the highest point in North America.

Mountaineering, like soccer, is an international pursuit. It’s no strange thing for a single team tackling a mountain to have whites, blacks, Asians, Americans, Italians, Russians, men, and women. Because outdoor sport is such a cooperative melting pot in that regard, some folks might see this all-black attempt as divisive.

I tend to see the team’s point for doing it. It’s less about breaking a color barrier than it is about inspiring young people from their communities to get off the couch and embrace challenges that from a distance might seem insurmountable.

If a consistent makeup of the team helps that message resonate with young people who’ve come to think much of America would rather not see them, then I hope they are successful. But I also hope the team shows those young people the cooperative and egalitarian side of the outdoors. Because when you’re faced with putting your life in another person’s hands, or with conserving the planet that sustains our life, then the small surface differences matter much less than the content of character.

Rain jacket review

Modeling my Thunderhead in February. ~Photo/Mandey Ryan

Today, the family and I hopped in the car to drive a short distance to our son’s elementary school for an annual fundraiser called May Days. Games, face painting, bake sales, raffles, dunk your favorite teacher in the tank of water. You get the idea.

On a nice day, we probably would’ve walked since it’s only a couple blocks away. But it was raining, so we drove. When we got there, not a parking space was to be had. I dropped off the boys and wife, drove back to our house, grabbed my rain jacket, and walked back to the school.

In the first part of “Three Days on the Canyon Rim,” I wore a green Columbia rain jacket. But I bought it for about $30 at Gander Mountain, where some inconsiderate stocker used a box cutter to open the package and slashed two cuts across the chest. I didn’t notice until after my trip, so I returned the jacket, got store credit, and bought some other gear. I was highly disappointed.

In February, I bought a Thunderhead II jacket from Eastern Mountain Sports. I wasn’t enthusiastic about the $100 cost, but so far the jacket’s superior engineering was worth the money. Multiple pockets, tons of draw strings to custom fit the jacket to your likes, and it was a great shell over some fleece during the winter.

On my walk today, not only did it keep me dry in a steady rain, but when I realized I was getting hot, I quickly unzipped the large underarm vents to cool off. It worked well even with jeans and two shirts under the jacket on a day that was warm for spring, and certainly humid.

Later, I walked back to get the car to pick everyone up. I kept the vents open, and was cool and comfortable beyond my expectations. In short, I love this jacket. If you have the means, I definitely recommend it.

I have to see how it does with a pack on, but I don’t think that will be a problem.

Next time: the third part of “Three Days on the Canyon Rim.”

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