Must Love Powder

This profile appeared in the the November 2016 Family issue of Backcountry Magazine

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The two days before the April 2015 storm had been perfect—sunny skies, stable snow and endless Tordrillo spines. On the third day, the wind began to blow and the skies grew overcast. Spouses Zach and Cindi Grant, along with longtime friend Kelly Gray, went to work, digging a cave and building walls around camp, later taking turns shoveling and listening to avalanches when the snow began to fall.

 

On the sixth day, an aircraft was dispatched to retrieve them, but there was a problem—the soft landing and takeoff conditions required a lighter plane, a Super Cub, with room for only one passenger. And in this case, there was only time for one trip during the break in the weather. At first Kelly insisted Cindi go, but when the bush plane lurched upward into the clouds, Kelly was aboard, leaving Cindi committedly standing beside Zach on the Triumvirate Glacier, hoping the weather would hold.

 

“They’ve been like that ever since the beginning,” says Sheila Roller, Cindi’s mom. In 2001, when Zach and Cindi, met as high-school freshman in the Salt Lake suburbs, Sheila was concerned with how inseparable they were. Over time her concern has faded as she’s realized just how aligned they are. And what started as a friendship became an affair that revolved around snowboarding.

 

The duo began exploring the Brighton and Snowboard sidecountry in high school, but their interest in riding backcountry lines became ignited while attending Salt Lake Community College.

 

One of Zach’s first bigger Wasatch descents was the Northwest Super Couloir on Box Elder Peak, a 2,700-foot, 50-degree line that he brought Cindi to the same season for one of her first tours. “I felt like I had been snowboarding with blinders on,” Cindi recalls. “With a splitboard my peripheral vision opened to all the possibilities.”

 

Over the next few years the couple took avalanche classes, gained experience and ticked off lines in the Wasatch and across the Intermountain West almost always together. Then in 2011, after a 10-year courtship, they tied the knot below the peaks of the northern Wasatch and began dreaming and living bigger, driving from Utah to Alaska the following March to ride around Haines, Valdez and Anchorage. “That trip put the Wasatch in perspective,” Zach shares. “We realized that there’s so much out there and that we needed to travel and explore more.”

 

Back to the Wasatch the couple settled into careers – Cindi as a programs director of a guide service and Zach signed on to a trails and grooming crew at a local resort – that maximized their time on snow. In summer 2012, they purchased a backcountry cabin that was in bad shape and had no running water but was located in a basin surrounded by backcountry terrain. With the help of friends and family, they rebuilt. “Someone once told me that if your marriage can survive a remodel, then you have a solid relationship,” Cindi says. “It was definitely a test,” admits Zach, “that took us back to the fundamentals where we had to focus on communication and working as a team.” Four years later their simple shed-frame home, nestled off unimproved roads, has running water, is filled with natural light and beckons visitors to rethink their city lives.

 

copyright 2016 Louis Arevalo

Honestly

“Truth is a point of view, but authenticity can’t be faked.” Peter Guber.

I have always wanted to share stories. In school I chose journalism as my focus, but the idea of becoming a copy editor at the local paper was unappealing so I embraced blue-collar work and played as hard as I could.

For ten years I bumped along occasionally having a story or essay published, but mainly just struggled to find my voice. During this time I would consume periodicals and throw them to the recycling bin in disappointment. While there were a few writers and magazines that totally blew me away the majority of what was read felt disingenuous. I craved and still crave things that are genuine. Anything that resonates or connects with me is a winner. We could all use more honesty in our lives.

I totally agree with the quote above. Although my work fluctuates at times in its truth the pursuit of the authentic is what motivates me to continually improve my writing and photography.

Setting sail in the North Sea onboard the Anne Margaretha.
Setting sail in the North Sea onboard the Anne Margaretha.

What scares you?

Somebody once said that climbers DO get scared because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t continue climbing.

Scenic Cruise, Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
Scenic Cruise, Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

The sun sagged toward a forest of juniper and pinions that surrounded the rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It was the first week of October and having passed the Fall equinox, daylight had transitioned to the lesser half of 24 hours; this fact had been ignored when Paul and I decided to climb Scenic Cruise, a thirteen-pitch route that slithered up to the north rim. Cams slotted into granite eyelets and small flakes for my over gripping fingers kept my exhausted body from falling 1300 feet to the river below. Pausing beneath a bulge and asking no one in particular, “When will this climb end?” I extended my hand West measuring two fingers between the sun and the horizon. It would be less than 30 minutes before it set.

I was nervous about falling from the bulge, but I was more worried about being stuck on the wall after dark. Out of water and food and with only light jackets we’d survive, but it wouldn’t be fun. So with arms cramping I groveled upward. Paul arrived as the sun set, quickly took the rack, and beneath a sky of glowing pink clouds stretched the 70-meter rope to its max. Squinting in the pale light we wandered through cactus-filled ledges, squeaking onto the North Chasm View Trail as the rising moon bathed us in its cool, indifferent light. The moon didn’t care whether we spent the night on the wall or not.

North Chasm View, Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
North Chasm View, Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

Some climbers say they’ve never been afraid, but I don’t know them.

Castle Valley, Utah.
Castle Valley, Utah.

A few days after escaping the Black Canyon Paul and I joined some friends in Castle Valley, Utah. One pair in front of the other we all climbed a route named Crack Wars on the west side of the Rectory. The first three pitches were quality. Only a little dirty and if you’re into wide hands and fist cracks it could be described as enjoyable. Then above a roof on the fourth pitch the solid sandstone gave way to something closer to the consistency of Graham crackers. After tiptoeing through 50 or so feet of crumbling rock only a short bulging off-width remained. Moving gear, adjusting my knot and thinking of skinny things, I repeatedly tried to squeeze into the slot. It was useless. A bold lieback was the only option I could fathom. Falling from the lieback would be messy. If the cam wedged in soft stone at the base of the bulge actually held then the flake that I was standing on would likely grab a leg and try snapping it. Down-climbing could provide okay rock to build an anchor affording the possibility of a retreat to the ground, but failure would be a disappointment.

The final off width of Crack Wars.
The final off width of Crack Wars.
Diving in to get some protection.
Diving in to get some protection.

Trying one more time to fit inside the slot I recalled a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Always do what you are afraid to do.” Damn it! Would Emerson really tell me that if he saw the situation I was in? I took a deep breath, pulled my head out of the slot and told myself not to fall. The slowest moving lieback possible commenced, which if anyone had been watching they would have mistaken me as a statue attached to a cliff, but after what felt like an eternity the lip was reached. Once we were all on the summit plateau I joked about the climbing phenomenon of moving at a snail’s pace when you’re petrified, “I climb that slow so I can savor the moment… To be sure and never forget that six feet of rock.” I am certain within a matter of months that sections will be buried and forgotten by better memories.

The six foot lie back that feels like 1,000 feet.
The six foot lie back that feels like 1,000 feet.

The following weekend on Bottleneck Peak in the San Rafael Swell Paul and I received yet another lump from climbing. Torrential rains from September, which flooded the town of Price 30 miles to the north, had left the cracks frosted in layers of sand. Jams that typically felt bomber were now insecure. Leaving our egos at the base we immediately resorted to pulling and tugging on gear to get through the first two pitches. But it was the third and final pitch, which was rated the easiest, that proved most memorable.

Paul following the first pitch of Tippin the Bottle, Bottleneck Peak, San Rafael Swell.
Paul following the first pitch of Tippin the Bottle, Bottleneck Peak, San Rafael Swell.

Above a fist-jam roof, which I stuffed full of gear leaving little for the remainder of the pitch, one six-inch cam protected twenty feet of climbing above a flake that sounded like a gong when I tapped it. Next was a choss-choked corner. The stacks of rubble that were loosely collected in cracks and on shallow ledges required precise movements and my undivided attention. A tipped out cam was followed ten feet higher by a tcu nested beside a chockstone that appeared to be floating in the crack without a single point of contact. If there was faith in any of the cams to hold body weight I would have bailed immediately. Falling was way too gnarly to think about so instead, while stemming gingerly upward, I began a conversation with Bottleneck.

“I think a break would be healthy. Really… It’s not you, it’s me… It’s over between us.” Passing the hallowed chockstone I placed my foot on it; at first with no weight, but slowly, ounce by ounce, I transferred onto it. To both my disbelief and relief it stayed in place.

The San Rafael River in the late afternoon.
The San Rafael River in the late afternoon.

From the summit we soaked in the day’s light, which cast a warm glow to the surrounding peaks and walls. Below, in the shadows, was the glimmering water of the San Rafael River reflecting back to us through stands of cottonwoods and tamarisk. Despite the drama of the climb everything in the world around us carried on as if nothing was wrong.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

Rap station number two on Bottleneck Peak. Star Drives and interesting hangers.
Rap station number two on Bottleneck Peak. Star Drives and interesting hangers.

Back at the car, after rappelling the north face of Bottleneck Peak using corroded ¼ inch star-driven nails and homemade hangers from the 1973 first ascent, each station backed up by a single 20+ year-old oxidized 3/8” inch bolt, I asked Paul what he had planned for the next weekend. “Sport climbing!” he replied speaking over the last couple words of the question. I was in complete agreement, but I wonder if Mrs. Roosevelt would approve?

Paul clipping bolts in American Fork Canyon.
Paul clipping bolts in American Fork Canyon.

Thoughts on the Outdoor Life.

Heading into the storm on the Anne Margaretha.
Heading into the storm on the Anne Margaretha.

At the beginning of the year I was asked to write about my work and how it corresponds to adventure by my agency Tandem Stock to go along with their new book “The Art of Adventure, Outdoor Sports from Sea to Summit”, which I am honored to have a handful of images in along with some truly talented folks.  As I am sure it’s the same for everyone we all have our reasons and motivations for doing what we do, but being asked to share and clarify these things was a little intimidating. Ultimately the following essay didn’t make the cut, but it was good exercise that helped me focus on what was important. 

Looking for Common Ground in the World of Adventure – Louis Arevalo March 2014

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity…” John Muir.

Undertaking adventures outside, in the wild, far from the safety of civilization brings profound moments of clarity. There’s something about a pursuit in which the outcome is uncertain that not only drives adventures, but also compels, through image and story, narratives that inspire those who otherwise might never venture beyond their comfort zone. An image of a skier slashing deep powder, a climber cresting the summit, or a runner on a sunlit trail might be all it takes to evoke a long-dormant desire to get outside and explore, and it’s this collective desire that unites us into a community. John Muir understood this connection, explaining, “When we tug at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to the rest of the world.”

For me, it was a conscious decision to pursue a career as an outdoor writer and photographer. It’s only through getting out, off the beaten path and into nature that I regain the simplicity needed to live a beautiful life. The focus of my writing and photography is to make something honest in the same way that connecting with the outdoors makes me honest. I’m continually striving to generate work that will resonate true to everyone. From the sponsored athlete to the armchair enthusiast, if they can see a little bit of themselves in the work then it’s a success. It may be an unobtainable objective, but everyday, week, month and year, as soon as I have revised the last draft or edited the last image on a project I always see room for more authenticity in the work. The desire for this truth, that we all are connected, drives me to go out and produce more.

I’ve been wandering through forests, mountains, rivers and deserts for most of my life. I’ve climbed, skied, boated, swam, surfed, biked, loved, hated, and slept outdoors. Through all of these escapades I’ve found the most enjoyment in doing them with those who have the same passion and sharing them with everyone attempting to have an outdoor life.

I believe in wilderness. What about you?

larevalo_perch_0814_0214-2In 2014 the Wilderness Act celebrated 50 years with 109,511,966 million acres of protected wilderness in the United States.

“If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.” Lyndon B. Johnson

This August I had the chance to head into the Sawtooth Wilderness of Idaho for an alpine climbing, backcountry camping and hiking experience. Joining organic chemistry PhD student Shiho Kobayashi and English Professor Bo Earle at the Redfish Lodge near Stanley, Idaho we boarded a motorboat carrying packs filled with food, camping gear, ropes and random items to see us through the next few days. Dropped at the Redfish Lake Inlet we entered the Sawtooth Wilderness Area and began the approach to Saddleback Lakes home of Saddleback Peak, aka Elephant’s Perch.Shiho Kobayashi and Bo Earle backpack into the Sawtooth Wilderness, Idaho.

On the trail our conversation drifted from literature to poetry to philosophy and even to beliefs. When asked what I believed in I could only respond, “Energy.” Personally, I lean toward the Buddhist thought that everything in the universe is connected. I even wear a tattoo on my back of an endless knot as a reminder.

In the morning twilight we awoke in camp high above the lowest of the Saddleback Lakes. Coffee was brewed and our spirits were high. Up to the golden wall we started up the line named Myopia. Climbing as a party of three could have been a struggle, but it wasn’t. “We’re a well oiled machine,” became our mantra as we managed the constant cluster of two ropes, dehydration and nerves while committing to the climb.larevalo_perch_0814_0031

Looking out from the belays we could see the other lakes and marveled at their marine color rimmed by a surreal turquoise. The jagged ridgelines surrounding us held occasional pine tree that stood in utter defiance of the inhospitable terrain.larevalo_perch_0814_0051

The next morning had us up early and to the rock for another route. I traveled only a couple pitches up before descending. I’d climbed the Beckey route before and with a forecast of afternoon thunderstorms I didn’t want to slow Shiho and Bo down.larevalo_perch_0814_0103

From camp and the lakes I watched their progress as clouds rolled in. A brief shower fell from the sky.larevalo_perch_0814_0171 Thunder rumbled from the unknown to the south. Pitch after pitch they continued up. The thunder ceased and the ceiling of clouds lifted some. As they disappeared on the summit dome a gust a wind rippled over the dark surface of the lakes. Hail fell from the sky then the sun appeared. The west face of Saddleback Peak burned amber in the late afternoon light while they made their final rappel.

The following day we managed one pitch before being rained off the wall. We rolled our camp into our packs and shouldered the weight. Walking down, out of the Sawtooth Wilderness we wore content smiles. I was still thinking about the question of what I believed and recalled a quote from Aldo Leopold.

“Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants and animals.”

Lessons

Did I ever tell you I studied journalism in school? Yeah, and somehow I ended up taking more photography classes than writing classes. It was something I’d always been interested in and during school it became the fun easy class I looked forward to each semester.Skiing Seduction Drainage, Icefall Lodge, BC Canada, February 2014.

Out of school instead of finding a job at a newspaper or magazine to refine the writing and photo skills I chose to keep my job as a deliveryman and play hard. Climbing, skiing, backpacking and traveling became the main focus of life for over a decade. During this time I’d browse through magazines then say to myself, “I can do better than that.” It was complete arrogance and ignorance.

It wasn’t until my thirties that I decided to walk the walk. I blew the dust off my film camera then after much resistance, purchased a digital one and began writing regularly. I was going to do better. Guess what? I fell flat on my face.

Turns out making better photographs in the outdoor realm was not as easy as understanding iso, shutter speeds and f-stops. And writing… what can I say? Nobody wanted another trip report to Indian Creek and leads, nut graphs, body, structure, they all felt so impossible. I should have quit, but somehow didn’t.  One photo eventually turned out and one editor took pity on me so I slowly limped by.Skiing Seduction Drainage, Icefall Lodge, BC Canada, February 2014.

It feels like yesterday, but somehow years have passed. All the lessons from school make more sense. That whole shooting a white egg on a white sheet is brilliant. The mantra of one of my writing professors, “Focus! Focus! Focus!” is louder today than it was in the classroom. And the current lessons, the ones they couldn’t teach in a classroom are a daily occurrence.  The difference now, even though I still regularly stumble, is that sometimes I don’t, but mostly I still do.

Yeah, so I studied journalism in school and now I’m learning how to make better stories one face plant at a time.Skiing Seduction Drainage, Icefall Lodge, BC Canada, February 2014.