Wind-Whipped and Soul-Struck

On a cool November morning almost exactly one year ago, my husband and I woke up to the sounds of rustling sleeping bags as a few of our fellow hut-dwellers slithered out of their bunks, grabbed their cameras, and headed out to catch the dawn. We had hiked nearly straight up the aptly named “Billy Goat Track” in pouring rain the afternoon before, gaining 2,000 feet in elevation in less than four miles. We’d managed to dry most of our things in the backcountry hut beneath the summit, but needless to say, leaving our mummy bags to venture out into the pre-dawn chill sounded less than appealing.

Given the previous day’s weather, our hopes of watching the sunrise seemed slim at best, but I crawled over to the window to check the sky anyway. At first glance, the uninterrupted hazy grayness suggested heavy cloud cover, and I almost rolled back into bed. But then, in the upper corner of the window, I glimpsed a morning star, shining out from the haze just above the horizon, beckoning us out into the cold. And we had no choice but to follow.



“I can see a star,” I whispered to Alec. “It’s clear. We need to hurry.” He knew I was right, and we both rushed to pull on our coats, boots, and headlamps. The last stage of the trek to the summit was a sheer climb straight up the Pinnacles themselves, a towering rocky crag jutting up from the mountain with views stretching all the way across New Zealand’s Coromandel Peninsula. If we wanted to beat the coming dawn, we’d have to make the 40-minute climb in 25.

So we ran till the altitude took our breath away, then walked, then ran again until we reached the base of the Pinnacles, where we started to climb. As I shimmied up the metal ladders fixed to the rock, I felt distinctly thankful this ascent wasn’t in the rain. We reached the summit faster than we’d expected––those estimated hiking times are pretty generous, aren’t they––and as we scrambled to the top of the crag, I thought I’d climbed straight into heaven.




The sun was just peeking over the Hauraki Gulf, and as we watched, the black mountains faded into a rich green and the grayish clouds turned a brilliant rosy pink. We stood and marveled with the half-dozen other brave souls who had wisely given themselves a bit more time to reach the top. No one spoke. Not a word. We stood in silent communion, wind-whipped and soul-struck. A moment earlier, I’d been scrambling in the darkness for hand- and footholds with a vague hope of reaching the sun. Now here it was, in all its glory, blinding and brilliant and painting the world with living color.

Standing there, light on my face, hope in my heart, my thoughts turned to another risen Son I almost didn’t chase after, and I thanked Him for showing me this one. Who are we, I thought, stuck in the hazy pre-dawn of reality, to say the sky is clouded over? How can we let ourselves ignore the morning star that so clearly tells of the coming dawn? When we start out after it, do we run until we lose our breath, then walk, then run some more? And when the path turns into a sheer upward climb, do we keep scrambling, hand over hand, holding on to that faint hope of the glory that awaits our arrival?



Guest Writer: Linnea Peckham Geno

In The Network 5.12, many of us have experienced nature in a way that has sparred on our spiritual growth.  Hence, guest-writing is welcomed on our site.  Linnea’s journey  is a beautiful example of how your simple stories can encourage our network.  Please feel free to submit your own via


Sorry Photographers, You’re not Original

Sunrise, Palestina de los Altos

Getting out of your sleeping bag isn’t ever very attractive when you can see your breath in the air.

I was in Palestina de los Altos, Guatemala in a house that, by American standards, was bare minimum. I was just grateful for the four walls and a roof. On a mission trip last April I was getting my first dose of sleeping in the mountains; even with the shelter of the house, it got pretty cold at around 8,000 feet. After a very long day’s travel and very short night’s sleep, the prospect of getting up early to shoot the sunrise had lost its appeal for me. I could tell it had done the same for my friend and fellow photographer Nick, who was going to join me.

But my excitement returned as soon as we got up to the roof of the house, as the glow of daybreak started to illuminate the surrounding mountains above and sleeping city below us. We had taken quite the gamble with this plan – mountain sunrises are not usually the best, and it was far too cold to just lounge on the roof. Our gamble paid off, though, as light streaks of pink began to illuminate the wispy cirrus clouds above the ridgeline. I snapped my first photo, completely guessing on the exposure time and how much light I would allow into the camera. I greatly underexposed the photo, making it much darker – and far more beautiful – than in real life. As I looked at the preview on my LCD screen, I wondered to myself, “This is better than the real thing. Am I cheating?”

Then in a moment of revelation, I realized the answer was “no.” With my camera I could manipulate light, but it was still light that was already there. Just because our human eyes only see certain wavelengths doesn’t mean there isn’t more to that beautiful sunrise; just because we can change what we see through a camera doesn’t mean that we’re creating something new. I realized all this later, when I had time to process that morning, but in the moment my thought was, “That picture is how God sees this sunrise.”

That morning ended up being the single most glorious sunrise I’ve ever seen, even if I hadn’t had my camera. Never have I seen a sunrise light a sky on fire like this one. In addition, that morning changed how I view photography as an art. As with that sunrise, there are infinitely more ways to see the rest of creation than just how we see it with our own two eyes. Imagine a landscape, any landscape: the way you imagine it is different than how it looks in reality, guaranteed. There are details we cannot see, natural processes happening that we are unaware of, and laws of physics occurring that will make your head explode if you try to understand them (if you’re like me, that is). Photography can capture these aspects of creation better than us sometimes: a macro lens can expose more detail than our eyes, a time-lapse can capture the movements of the heavens, and different focal lengths on convex glass prisms can change the amount of light coming in contact with a photo-sensor. The point is, even if a camera exposes things our eyes can’t see, those things are still there.

My take on photography since that morning has been this: I cannot create beauty, only capture it. Photography only captures different aspects of the beauty of creation. That’s why I love this art – it doesn’t let me suppose I am a creator. Instead it humbles me, forcing me to realize that I am part of this beautiful creation. Who am I to think I can create something more beautiful than what is already out there?

So I’m sorry photographers, but you’re not original. And there’s so much beauty in that.


Matt Bye

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Matt Bye is obviously a talented photographer, and we feel blessed to have his involvement in The NET5.12.  His recent focus on photography has been displaying the beauty of creation through the lens depicted in this post. Matt will now be SELLING some of his works!  The main pieces for sale are the ones displayed above, but to view more, you can visit his Flicker account (  Inquiry about prints and prices can go through the contact page of our website!  Just let us know you’re interested, and we’ll put you in touch with the artist.  For anyone who purchases his work from our site, he will be donating a percentage of the profit to our organization.  Thanks for reading folks, and happy photo shopping!

Climbing The Nose of El Capitan

Climbing can mean many different things to many different people: it is a physical, mental, and spiritual activity mixed in with countless other aspects of life.

From a physical perspective, climbing is scaling a mountain, ascending a rock face, or even hauling your tired body up the front porch steps after a long day.

In the mental realm, climbing often references self-motivation, the process of rising above unfortunate and trying circumstances.  From climbing out of bed and pressing on through a tough day to grieving the loss of a loved one, being able to climb over mental obstacles is a necessity in this life.

And through a spiritual lens, climbing takes on yet another context: it is the choice to have faith and hope in something bigger than this world, to grow in communal love with those around you, and in our lowest moments, to reach past feelings of abandonment and alienation in order to find God faithfully waiting on the other side.

Climbing, in short, takes on a lot of different meanings. But no matter how we look at the journey, it always describes something beautiful, some powerful moment of rising above the ordinary. In fact, I’ve never heard someone say, “He climbed his way over that obstacle—I sure wish he hadn’t done that.”

Buck to Sickle

Buck on the first pitch of The Nose

This past week, I was incredibly blessed to go on a three-and-a-half-day climb up The Nose of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.  The climb was magnificent.  The weather was perfect.  The company, my partners Dave and Buck (Buck seen in the picture above), became like family.  And I was pushed to new limits I never knew I could reach.  The aspects of life I mentioned before (the physical, mental, and spiritual) threw down their challenges before me, almost taunting me, shouting, “Let’s see you handle this!”

Now, there is a reason that this post covers aspects of climbing beyond just the physical realm.  For not only was I ascending through the corporeal challenges of climbing The Nose, but moments before we started our journey up this granite wonder, I was informed by my family that my Grandmother would pass away sometime while I was on the wall.  To be honest, I almost didn’t go.  But encouraged by my family, friends and climbing partners, I decided that embarking on this adventure would be the best way for me to deal with such heart-breaking news. In the words to follow are just a few moments from my physical, mental, and spiritual climb up The Nose of El Capitan.

Day 1.  The first night was actually quite laughable.  We wanted to “fix” the first 4 pitches of the climb (meaning that we would climb the first few hundred feet and send anchored ropes back down to the base of the wall).  That way, we could have our haul bags already sitting 300 feet up on Sickle Ledge on Day 2, allowing us to wake up and take off.  But the weight of our haul bags and a touch of inexperience proved to be points of comedy.  Dave, the most experienced of our crew, having just finished another multi-day climb, was leaving the first day’s task (fixing and hauling to the top of pitch 4) up to Buck and I, both of whom had never hauled with a 2:1 system before (a pulley system necessary for hauling that much weight).

After getting to the top of these first four pitches and rappelling back to the base, it was time for Buck and I to haul “the pig” (our 2 bags weighing somewhere around 90 lbs) up to Sickle.  So we set up our haul system and began trying to pull…trying being the key word.  Something wasn’t right: our system of pulleys seemed to be set up well, but the bag wasn’t budging.  Buck and I put our heads together for a long time trying to find a solution only to become super frustrated, tired, and hungry.  The bags were still hanging a foot off the ground!  Finally, around 8:30 PM, we decided to come back later that night with Dave, who could mend the system.  So after grabbing dinner and letting some of the steam Buck and I had built up while “hauling” our bags 12 inches into the air, Dave came back to the base with us and began the grueling task of fixing our mess.

To sum up that night, hauling is an exhausting task, and making things worse, knuckleheads like Buck and I don’t always get it right the first time.  A rough evening ensued, but we pushed through–all the way ‘til 3 am, we climbed on.  And after finally reaching Sickle, I went to sleep very quickly, psyched to be done for the day and excited for a new morning.

Picture taken of us by Tom Evans, author of the El Cap Report

Picture taken of us by Tom Evans, author of the El Cap Report

Day 2.  The next day (our first full day) went rather smoothly.  Between Buck and I, we freed every pitch, with an occasional “French-free” move (pulling on gear to help us past the harder cruxes and such).  Our second day consisted mostly of mental challenges: I was thankful to be with Dave and Buck, high-spirited guys who kept me cheerful and psyched on the climb, despite the news I had received the day before.  That night, we slept on Dolt Tower, extremely satisfied after a nearly perfect day.

Day 3.  The third was similar to day two, but was full of some classics (world renowned portions/pitches of the climb) that tend to give people trouble.  Buck got us started by crushing the King Swing, a part of the climb in which the climber lowers down from an anchored point to swing 30 feet to the left, reaching a different crack system in order to continue climbing upwards.  This was quite a remarkable feat to watch, and he nailed it on his first attempt, even pausing for a second after grabbing the intended corner to chalk up and mantle his way around the side, reaching the new destination.

Soon afterward, we hit our main obstacle of the day.  While lowering our gear and maneuvering it over to the new crack system, our bags got stuck in a crack.  A stuck bag or rope often becomes a huge point of frustration for climbing teams.  Retrieving it can result in hours of delay.  But thankfully, in this situation we reacted quickly and were able to pull a few shenanigans to get back on track quickly.

Soon after moving again, the afternoon brought my favorite moments of the whole trip: I was able to aid through The Great Roof, a section of the climb rated C2, and free through the Pancake Flake, rated at a solid 5.10.  Both went super smooth, and day 3 was another huge success.  We slept at Camp V.

Our bivy from the last night on the wall

Our bivy from the last night on the wall

Day 4.  The final day was going to bring some more challenges.  I was getting tired, but that day was mine to start off leading.  I would be mostly aid climbing, going through 4 pitches of overhanging rock, the last of which was the well known pitch Changing Corners.  This is another C2 pitch that holds a move in which the leader must delicately stand in one aider (a webbing ladder) while reaching around an arête (corner) to place a brass micro-nut well above his or her head into another crack system.  For any non-climber reading, that last sentence translates to this: Changing Corners is hard.

My first attempt actually failed.  As I dropped my weight onto the nut I had placed, it stripped, and I took a 7 foot fall onto the last piece I had placed (still connected to my daisy chain).  It hurt.  And having already been on this pitch for an hour, baking in the sun, it took every bit of drive I had to push past the fall, get back into the aiders, and start again.  But I did.  And I finished the pitch without any other mishaps.  It was incredible: my portion of leading on The Nose was finished!  Dave took us the rest of the way up, and we topped out the 4th day to see a remarkable sunset sprawling out all across the Yosemite Valley.

It was under this sky, at the top of El Capitan while calling my folks to give them news of our safe ascent, that I received word of my Grandmother’s death.  It immediately felt like the climb wasn’t over.  Struggling to swallow and gather my thoughts, I was overwhelmed with so many competing emotions: a deep longing and loss, a remarkable satisfaction from finishing the climb, a brotherly love for my partners who had just gone through it all with me, and a yearning to be home with my family who would be grieving in the coming weeks.  It was hard to process.  But as time passed, and I’ve been able to sort through the muddiness of that moment, I’ve come to new understanding of what it means to climb.

We all do it.  We climb every day.  In order to overcome the obstacles that life presents, we honestly aren’t left much of a choice but to climb.  On El Cap, it feels physical, like heaving heavy haul bags, unfixing a stuck rope, and continuing on in the moments after a fall.  But physical moments of climbing aren’t the only challenges we face: just as tangibly, life brings tough days at work, family arguments, messed up travel plans, unpaid bills… or the loss of a loved one.  And each of these circumstances requires climbing.

So how can we climb through them?  Perhaps it is quite similar to what we do as rock-climbers.  We relish in the difficulty.  We learn from our mistakes.  We celebrate once we’ve made it through.  And then we brace ourselves for the next obstacle.

Life is full of climbs, and we almost always make it through them when we set our mind to it.  So my encouragement in this post is this: Relish, learn, celebrate, and brace.  Then, when all else fails, dig deep, and keep climbing.  Because when you do, when you gain the other side of the cliff you just climbed, you will find the deepest and most remarkable satisfaction in the fact that you are living your life to the fullest, embracing all it has to offer, and accomplishing climbs you once never thought possible.

So keep climbing.

Andrew Bellisle

Founder of The Network 5.12

Climbing Halfdome

After a two and a half mile hike referred to as “The Death Slabs,” an approach gaining 3,000 feet in elevation, there stands another 2,400 feet of raw granite cliff towering over the Yosemite Valley floor.  The Northwest Face of Halfdome is a 23 pitch route that climbs free at 5.12 or aids at 5.9/C2.  For anyone reading who does not know what any of this means, it is simple:

Climbing the Northwest Face of Halfdome is not exactly easy.  Up to date, it is the hardest physical feat of my life.  I hope the following words neither sell short or boast of the send.  Many have achieved far greater climbs or have climbed this particular route with far more excellence.  But I loved the adventure, and even more importantly, I learned a lot along the way.  So here is a taste of climbing up the granite wonder.  Here is climbing Halfdome.

Sunday, August 4th

6:30 pm

Given 70 degree weather and an encroaching darkness, Dave and I began to knock out the approach up the Death Slabs.  We chased the sun for every second it would concede, but 3,000 feet of elevation gain over only two and a half miles with a thirty pound pack of gear on my back beat my chicken legs to jelly!  Easier put: I was slow.  The sun escaped.  Night fell.  Meanwhile, the presiding emotion up this grueling trail was turning to a fear that I would lack the energy in the morning to actually climb the face.  Thankfully, this changed.  A moment of pure encouragement, emotional refueling, and spiritual renewal awaited me at the base.

10 pm

Throwing our packs down at our bivy (our campsite at the base), I dragged myself to the source of this incredible moment.  15 feet right of the first pitch of the climb, Halfdome conceals the most pure and quaint spring right out of its base.  If water is a symbol of life, this spring could reveal one’s purpose.  I wish I could send you each a bottle of this spectacular energy.  Sitting at this spring, guzzling its gifts, thinking of all the climbers who have been given their water out of the very wall we climb, blew my mind.  I was overwhelmed with how perfect that moment was.  Nothing else mattered.  Minutes before, I had been mentally and physically destroyed, apprehensive of the following days task, and now, with simple sips of water, I was psyched for the adventure and keenly aware to the beautiful metaphor that this spring painted of life’s purpose.  Halfdome, the very climb that yearned for my attention and devotion, was willing to give me the source of life I would need to finish the task it called me to.  It gave me more than water.  It gave me energy.  It gave me life.

10:30 pm

I fell asleep to the stars.  A years worth of reading could be written about the stars in Yosemite.  For the sake of your time, I’ll leave it at this: THEY NEVER QUIT APPEARING!  I think new ones came into sight until the moment I last closed my eyes.

Monday, August 5th

4:30 am

It didn’t take long for Dave’s wake up call to get me into a seated position.  I was psyched.  Breakfast.  Gearing up.  Filling water again.  Calming down.  The norm.  Here we go!

Northwest Face 2

The Spring at the Base

5:35 am

I began leading the first pitch.  Early.  Nervous.  5:35 am.  Still warming up.  The first pitch goes at 5.8, IF you stay on route.  Unfortunately, a deceitful crack and a lack of good beta resulted in me heading up a very stout hand crack.  Well protected by a red #1, I was pushing through to a tree that was clearly on route, but took a pretty unexpected fall before I could get there.  To say the least, it shook me up!  This was supposed to be a 5.8 easy pitch, the FIRST pitch of the biggest climb I had ever attempted, and I already fell!!…But I was more than safe.  I had just simply veered too far right.  Resulting was a quick painless whipper on that strong #1.  That’s all.  No big deal.  I took in more life with a few sips of water, and I began again…this time, on route.  Pitch 1 down.  Pitch 2 and 3 linked easy.

7:25 am

We sat at the top of pitch 3.  My rhythm was restored.  We weren’t exactly breaking a speed record, but things were locking in along with the assurance that I could do this.  Having chosen to lead pitches 1-9, pitch 4 would hold the crux of my block of leading for the day.  Now Dave and I made the decision not to fully aid any of the climb.  We would either free climb anything in our realm or French free (pull on gear) anything above our grade.  Pitch 4 starts with a 5.11 lieback and turns to a 5.10c fingers section.  This was it.  If I could climb this, I knew I had it.  And I did.  Pulling on gear a few times, I was able to cruise quickly through pitch 4, keeping rhythm as we also linked pitch 5.  The groove was set, and I was now fully psyched!  This was gonna happen!  We were climbing Halfdome!

My portion of leading ended without much other delay.  I slightly got off route again while simul-climbing pitch 8 (we simuled 7, 8, and 9 for those wanting beta), but it was an easy fix and we regained a lot of time before pitch 10.

11:30 am

Dave took over.  What can I say?  He’s a champ.  I won’t give as much detail for the rest of the climb, for he led the rest, but he absolutely crushed.  The only hold-ups were me getting a rope stuck while jugging pitch 13, a 5.9 squeeze/chimney with a couple of snags at the bottom and Dave putting in a number 2 that walked itself into an over-cammed position on Thank God Ledge, pitch 21 (see picture below).  Both would be easily avoidable the next time but good lessons learned.

8:35 pm

We topped out to the best sunset I’ve seen here in the valley.  The Valley, never having much cloud cover and engulfed by cliffs, doesn’t lend to the most breathtaking sunsets, but on top of Halfdome Monday, being above the cliffs and having a partly cloudy evening, our eyes sponged in the fiery glow surrounding our summit.  And while standing on the granite peak before this splendor, I took my last sip of water.  My 2 liter had lasted me perfectly through the climb.  The spring had given me exactly what I needed to top out.  It was time to hike down the 9 mile trail.

The Summit at Sunset

The Summit at Sunset

11:00 pm

After 2 hours of hiking without water and a very physically demanding day, dehydration set in.  Cotton mouth reigned to say the least.  But hope was to come.  Another source of water existed 1 mile from the finish.  We just had to get there.


The story comes full circle.  We arrived at the water filling station just off the bridge below Vernal Falls.  I pounced at the spicket and was reminded of the Halfdome spring.  This water was not as natural or spectacular in theory, but never the less, it was water, the source of the life I would need to hike the last mile to the valley floor.  It seems the fuel we need is always right around the corner when we need it most.

Tuesday, August 6th

1:30 am

A shower had been surreal.  Food had been devoured.  And the warmth of my bed was again embraced.  I was safe.  The climb was complete.  This was the moment of full satisfaction.  I wish I could gift-wrap this feeling and send it along with the bottle of Halfdome spring water, but I am sure you too have done something in your life that has brought you this feeling of contentment.

People are built to be incredible beings.  We can do amazing things.  This has been said before, and I might not even need to tell most of you.  But the one thing I believe I learned most from this journey, the thing that is perhaps good for all of us to be reminded of is this: When we are accomplishing the unthinkable, whether ticking off our hardest sends as climbers or attacking life with more vigor and love for our neighbor than ever before, we must remember our source of energy.

Much like the water taken from the source of Halfdome itself, the water that sustained me to the end of the climb, I feel that the God in charge of this all, the one who created that water in the first place, has called me to a purpose, and He gives me the energy I need to complete each step of the plan.  All I have to do is drink.

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Andrew Bellisle

Founder of The Network 5.12

Is Faith Just a Box?

Can I be honest?  I hate being told what I cannot do.  Period.  There, I said it.  Being told I can’t do something is never fun.  The words “You can’t do it” tend to precede a flailing and often failing attempt to do it anyway. This may sound juvenile, but it’s not just me!  I’ve watched friends do the same.  I’ve watched limit-pushers talk to strangers, chug hot sauce, and eat live goldfish, all just to say, “There.  It’s been done.  The world is in order.  Now, give me a cookie.”  There’s a switch that goes off when we are told we can’t do something, a simple beckoning turns on to prove that we can.

I find this to be especially true of outdoor adventurists.  We want to break limits, move boundaries, and overcome obstacles.  This is perhaps one of the number one reasons I climb.  If you climb rocks too, maybe you can relate.  Think about it, we climb up a rock, we look around for a little bit, and then we come back down.  That doesn’t exactly make a whole lot of sense…until one has climbed.  The finish of a route is where lies the understanding.  Perhaps this is because at that point, you have done it.  You have proven that you can.  There’s no greater feeling than accomplishing something that did not seem possible.

My friend Lillian pushing through a difficult route for her.  Great moment to witness!

My friend Lillian Brace pushing through a difficult route for her. Great moment to witness!

But unfortunately, the need to prove we can do stuff is often paired with hesitation in other arenas of our lives.  In attempts to prove we are capable of anything, we keep ourselves from committing to anything with the appearance that it will box us in.  I find our generation to be terrified of commitment; we are scared to give ourselves to one spouse, stay with one job, or believe religiously in one thing.  We say things like:

“But what if she isn’t THE one?”

“What if the lousier job pays more?”

“What if I am wrong?”

Could passionate commitment be dying?  Spiritual commitment is certainly gaining the appearance of putting people into a coffin.  Not only with religious faith is there the question looming, “What if I am wrong?” but people also view religion as a list of rules, restrictions, and do’s and don’t’s.  The consensus I hear from most people unwilling to step into a spiritual journey is that faith puts people into a very tiny, unsophisticated, restricting box; so distrust in the spiritual often exists because most people hear from faith whispers of “you can’t” instead of “you can.”

But no.  Am I allowed to say that this has not been my experience with faith at all?!  My beliefs in a creator and in Jesus are constant reminders of what I have done, what I can do, and what I will accomplish through my continued understanding of who God is and the spiritual realm that flows through out this world.  When exploring the wild, my faith binds me with nature, giving me the full abundance of life when I hike or climb because I understand the interconnectivity of the creation of this world, from ground to plant to rock to me; a comprehension of nature’s existence elevates my experience as I work my way up the granite cliffs of Yosemite, the red rock of Colorado, or the sandstone in the Red River Gorge.  In the monotony of cashiering at a grocery store (my current job in Yosemite), I am able to still enjoy a spiritual experience in every moment, because I have a faith that I was created as a communal being to be in relationship with each person coming through my line, whether they are from the United States, Korea, Germany, or Australia.  In attempts to love and encourage others living in the tent village where I sleep, I am motivated to selflessly give and serve more and more because of my developing understanding of who I believe Christ to be and what He has called us to do.  So no, my faith does not hinder me by throwing me into a self-destructive box; as I continue to embrace and learn about it, my faith encourages me to go at life with more vigor and more adventure than I ever have before.

The start of my recent first trad lead, "Bishop's Terrace" 5.8 in Yosemite National Park.

The start of my first trad lead ever, “Bishop’s Terrace” 5.8 in Yosemite National Park.

My experiences climbing have no doubt helped to bring about this perspective on faith.  I know that as I both climb harder and higher, I am learning to believe deeper and follow more faithfully the words of Jesus, truly liberating ideas brought forth by an incredible man.  So my challenge for people who say faith is just a box is simple.  What if faith is exactly what needs to be embraced in order to live in life’s full abundance?  That is exactly what I believe faith has done for me.

Embracing faith,

Andrew Bellisle

Founder of The Network 5.12

Following Fractals – Order verses Disorder

In our last post, Fractals and Fractures, my friend Matthew Dodson shared beautiful prose, laying out an age-old battle between order and disorder:

 “There are two schools of thought when it comes to patterns and how they relate to the world.  One school says that everything happens for a reason, that patterns are made for us to decode, that rock face was designed by a Creator specifically so that we could climb it…”

“The other school maintains that there are no patterns, that life is a series of chaotic instances coagulating into primordial nothingness upon which we project our invented realities so that we might feel a little better…”

I love Matt as my friend for many reasons, but one of the most prominent is his earnest quest for truth paired with prodding questions that heave me deeper into the meaning of life.  Since reading his post, I have wrestled with many wonderful thoughts about creation and its display of pattern and chaos, order and disorder.  What does this tell us about the wilderness?  Does it support a Creator?


Matthew and I beginning a climb together.

As Matthew has pointed out, we can clearly observe naturally formed patterns in this world; to deny their existence would be foolish.  He also revealed it to be impossible for us to see everything in this world as fractals.  But to dig a little deeper into the battle between order and disorder, I am not sure that the dominance of one or the other proves or disproves a Creator or a meaningful purpose for our lives.  Maybe both order and disorder have something to teach us.  This world is formed with intricate detail, sometimes revealing fractals, sometimes displaying chaos, but both are beautiful.


Men like to think we created order.  I don’t buy it, and nature doesn’t either.  The existence of fractals in nature prove to me that people did no such thing.  Order exists beyond human hands.  This helps me want to believe in and follow a Creator, a God, something bigger than me that was capable developing such order.


Webster’s dictionary defines chaos as “a state of things in which chance is supreme,” leaving no room for something in a chaotic state to have been designed.  Men attempt to describe disorder in nature to be this type of chaos, disproving the existence of God.  But I do not feel that such disorder, in which “chance is supreme,” is found in nature.  The disorder I find in astronomy, physics, and the like seems to point to an extremely intelligent design that perfectly creates the environment necessary for life.  Earth may not be entirely made up of patterns, but it is certainly where and in the form it needs to be for humans to live on it.  That disorder is beyond what any human could develop.  It points to a designer who is bigger than our own understanding.  If we are going to believe in and follow a God, I would hope He would hold such a quality, being bigger than our own understanding.

So whether order or disorder, pattern or chaos, nature continually points me back to believing in the intelligent design of the universe, our world, and the life within.  I’ll wrap up with the following verse, one that I believe holds great value regardless of what you think about Jesus.

“For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” – Romans 1:20

Climbing "Best Seat in the House" in the OBED Valley.

Climbing “Best Seat in the House” in the OBED Valley.

People often ask me why I love climbing so much.  Well this verse gives one answer.  On a cliff, birds soaring level with my chest, wind seeping through the fabric on my back, and a vast array of colors oozing through my sight, I feel like I am literally soaking up something bigger than myself.  And as much as I love studying science and the facts about what I observe out there, nothing in a textbook can explain what I feel in those moments.  It becomes harder for me to believe that the wilderness being sponged in by my senses is happenstance than it is for me to believe there is something beyond our understanding, capable of such intelligent design.

Andrew Bellisle

Founder of The Network 5.12

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Fractals and Fractures – by Matthew Dodson

We were floating in Clear Creek under a half-moon, watching adolescent trout swim aimlessly through the autumn-cold stream, as unafraid of us as we were of them.  As usually happens when I end up near the Obed River, the Lilly Pad campground at Del and Marte’s, or really whenever I am climbing, I found myself talking with (but mostly listening to) good friends who say interesting things that make me reconsider life, the world, and my place in both.

“Isn’t it amazing,” Kate said as we nursed our bruises and sore limbs, “how thousands of miles of cliff face, solid sandstone, are filled with neatly placed holds, little imperfections perfectly spaced out at person-sized intervals in neat, concise patterns—just like we were meant to climb them?”

the OBED Valley

the OBED Valley

There are two schools of thought when it comes to patterns and how they relate to the world.  One school says that everything happens for a reason, that patterns are made for us to decode, that rock face was designed by a Creator specifically so that we could climb it, a challenge, a provocation that cries out, “You can’t climb this rock—don’t even try!” in hopes that we defy it.

The other school maintains that there are no patterns, that life is a series of chaotic instances coagulating into primordial nothingness upon which we project our invented realities so that we might feel a little better about how, for life to have meaning, we have to create meaning for ourselves.  I lean toward the latter school, but Kate’s question challenged my skepticism in a very significant way.


We climbed that day at a cliff called “Lilly Bluff.”  There was an overlook at the top with signs for tourists who would rather read glossy print on a sculpted-wood boardwalk than gasp in awe at the breathtaking birds-eye view of a wilderness as wild as it gets in Tennessee or walk alongside craggy cliffs and raging-foam rivers with deer and trout and spiders the size of your fist.  Down below the boardwalk, at the base of the cliff, you realize the chaos of it all, the disorder: in the hills of rural Morgan County, there lies a spot where hippies show up in swarms to sweat through their tie-dye and Mountain Khakis while they perform the monotonous task of ascending a cliff over and over again, leaving snail-paths of magnesium carbonate behind them.  It makes no sense—it’s a culture shock to say the least.

The rock is a raw sandstone with bits jutting out all over, just solid enough to hold up through twenty-five years of heavy climbing, but just soft enough that fifty giant boulders have broken off over the centuries to create, down in a tree-veiled valley, a huge boulder field.  It’s a tangible contradiction, those enormous chunks of eternity standing so precariously close to the proofs that nothing is forever, not even stone, not even solid rock.

And we hippies climb it all, finding where we can a place to latch on with a few fingers, glancing down at our rubber-coated feet to find a place to step, looking up again for another fracture where the next hand might eventually land.  The whole thing is a contradiction, a paradox etched in stone, but we climbers move beyond the paradox to find beauty and pattern.


There we were, Kate and I, floating in a still pool in the midst of raging rapids and talking about how we are living a little kid’s summer dream—swimming in a wild river after dark, recovering from a day spent climbing things we shouldn’t be climbing and pretending to be magnificent beings we could never hope to be, great kindergarten explorers on safari in the playground.

And in the middle of this contradiction, as the trout nibble at my toes, Kate asks:

“Isn’t it amazing?  There are easy routes and hard ones, but all of them have something there to climb, some little imperfection in the rock, some pocket or slot or flake or ledge that some climber, somewhere, will someday climb.  It really makes you think, doesn’t it?”


A fractal is an intricately-patterned geometric shape that repeats its pattern endlessly in smaller and smaller iterations, so that at nearly any degree of magnification the pattern is visible.  The smaller piece is an identical, reduced-size copy of the whole.  These shapes are everywhere in nature: start looking and you’ll find them at every step—it’s the obsessor’s curse.  A snowflake is a fractal.  A fern leaf.  The one cloud in the sky above us as we climbed that day.  The coastline of Britain.

But take a complex enough fractal, reduced to a small enough scale, and you won’t be able to identify any pattern, any guiding principle.  Chaos would be the only visible aspect.  You could look for eons and the pattern would never show its face, always hidden beneath the random curves.  But take a step back, zoom out to worldview.  Suddenly you see that with each random event there is a connection, a faint trail of imaginary yarn that leads to exactly where it needs to lead, and when this tangled mess is viewed from God’s eye, the shape can be traced into an intricate and beautiful spiral, a hurricane shape made of a true beauty that cannot be created on earth, that does not need to explain itself.

And maybe that’s nature, too.  Where once chaos was all, now a pattern emerges.  The world as a reflection of itself, synecdoche at its simple finest.  Maybe these random fractures in the rock, little imperfections set at person-sized intervals—maybe these are just tiny iterations of a larger order that we cannot see from down here on the ground.

Perhaps there is a pattern that I cannot see from my seat here on the earth.  Based on the little fragments of beauty I see around me—baby trout circling my aching toes, towering sandstone cliffs, ripples in the cold stream, the stunning view from the Clear Creek overlook—maybe I need to take a step out on faith and trust that the pattern I cannot see really is that beautiful.  Or even more beautiful.  Because it is complete, it is whole, it is God’s, and I just can’t see it from here.

Matthew Dodson

For those of you who do not know Matt, he is a devoted, loving friend who is always willing to lend a helping hand.  Currently a graduate assistant professor at Oregon State University, he lives with eyes wide open and provokes incredible thoughts from what he observes.  This post and the questions within are a glimpse of his curious mind, continually diving into more understanding of creation.  In a week, The Network 5.12 will release a follow-up post digging deeper into the questions just presented.

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