Is God in Noodles?…Seeing Beauty Everywhere

Sitting on top of El Capitan.

Manning a cash register.

Climbing in Eldorado Canyon, Colorado.

Serving noodles at Olive Garden.

As you read the list of experiences above, you likely place them into categories.  Makes sense right?

Climbing vs. Working.

Outdoor Fun vs. Indoor Misery.

Or if you’re like me, you may produce the following:

Spiritual Renewal vs. Time-sucking, Life-draining, Soul-Stealing Monotony.

I now work at an Olive Garden where the wretchedness of the Never-Ending Pasta Bowl exists. Tell me that serving 4 bowls of soup, 3 baskets of breadsticks, and 8 bowls of Fettuccini refills to a table that snaps fingers, yells across the restaurant, and leaves a 5% tip can’t steal your soul.

But to teach myself a lesson, I’ve decided to break down these carelessly constructed categories: (1) Climbing vs. Work, (2) Fun vs. Misery, and (3) Spiritual vs. Not.  I’m going to look at their common ground?

Two summers ago, when working in Yosemite National Park, I would climb towering walls of granite and in the same day step into work as a cashier at the Yosemite Village Store. The moment I finished a climb and entered the doors of my job, my attitude morphed from pure, spiritual enlightenment into a defensive brace against the upcoming 8 hours of torture.

But about halfway through the summer, a fellow coworker and I began discussing what makes a moment “spiritual.” We discovered something frightening:

Our own poor attitudes were ruining moments intended to reveal God’s beauty.   We realized the potential for spiritual awakening behind our registers through conversing with real-life, beautiful people. And in the same way the crystal clear waters of the Merced River revived our skinny-dipping souls, serving noodles in my current job at Olive Garden can kindle my spirit.

YosetmitePines_MattBye

Photo by Matt Bye (http://matt-bye.smugmug.com)

There is the potential for beauty in every moment, but if our eyes are closed, we’re guaranteed to miss it.

So what do the four experiences (El Cap, a register, Eldorado Canyon, and noodles) all have in common?

They provide opportunities for God’s beauty to shake something in us. Embracing them as His offering provides a state of remarkable peace and equilibrium.

I often fail to live out this faith in practice, quickly becoming frustrated at guests, coworkers, and the tedium of noodles. But ultimately, I am responsible for intentionally focusing on how God reveals Himself and His beauty in every circumstance.

The potential is there. Embrace each moment.

With eyes wide open,

Andrew Bellisle

Founder of The Network 5.12

Completing Halfdome: “Finish the Dome Initiative”

Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 5.20.45 PMA new initiative has been formed to complete a world wonder, Halfdome of Yosemite National Park.

The US government has debated for decades whether completing the monolith would be worth the increased visitation from tourists.   With the recent fires of California and last year’s government shutdown, the Disney world of national parks is at a lower attendance than norm, so congress unanimously allocated funds to begin adding granite to the other side of the dome.

The largest challenge of the construction process will be the introduction of cranes to the park. Each crane must reach 5,400 feet tall and hold up to two tons of liquid granite to be poured into the cast that will form a second half. Conservatives estimate the process to cost around $712 million.

Building will begin next Spring, around April 1st, 2015 and end 6 months later, by October 1st. This would be a record for such a humongous undertaking.

As of now, Yosemite Valley will remain open during construction, but experts are considering the dangers of bringing tourists into such a large construction zone. More to come on this later…

– The Network 5.12

Clearly, there is no actual “Finish the Dome Initiative.” This joke arose from a conversation amongst friends while living in Yosemite National Park. It amazed us that tourists would arrive to the park asking questions like, “When do they turn the waterfalls on and off?” or “When will they finish Halfdome.” The over-arching idea of such a satire is meant to encourage an appreciation for how creation is already displayed, and to remind us that it is our job to protect this planet, guarding such wonders as Yosemite and Halfdome.

More on The Network 5.12

Driven by love, The Network 5.12 aims to build a community of outdoor enthusiasts encouraging physical and spiritual growth.  Our blog is one way that we fulfill this mission statement.  To join in that network of enthusiasts, please subscribe on the left side of our home page, read more of our blog, and share with those who would be interested.  Thanks for reading!

From Boulderer to Big-Waller: How to Climb Taller

Our bivy from the last night on the wall

If I had told my college buddies that I would one day be heading up the Nose of El Capitan, they may have immediately laughed in my face.  Big-waller?!  Me?!  No way!

…at least not a couple of years ago.

But a year after graduating, I spent a summer in Yosemite.

And while there, without even meaning to, I learned a few things about how to transition from the small stuff to the big stuff.  Having now climbed Washington Column (via The Prow), Halfdome (via The Northwest Face), and El Capitan (via The Nose), I guess I could say I’m becoming a big-waller.  I feel like I’ve made a solid progression, and perhaps a couple of things that I picked up along the way could be of help to you.

So if you find yourself about to tackle the intimidating task of your first big-wall, here are some thoughts from a climber who just went through a serious transition:

For Starters

In college, I was hands-down a boulderer/sport-climber.  I was terrified of placing gear, and never climbed more than two pitches back to back.  But personally, I would get a little frustrated when old traddies would throw out claims that their level of commitment was above that of us “pebble wrestlers.”  I didn’t see them projecting a V10 for months to stand proud 15 feet off the ground.  At the time, climbing wasn’t about elevation for me, and the long fight of a boulder/sport project was (and still is) in my mind a rewarding, worthy commitment.

But the reality is, that there is a DIFFERENCE between committing to a big wall and a boulder.  No duh.  You can’t deny that.

And while I wouldn’t belt out that either is more difficult than the other (I’ll leave that argument to the Mountain Project and Rock and Ice forums.), I did drastically change my mindset to make it up the walls.  Here’s what I mean:

Mental Change

1.  Learn the technical!

Come on people!  Sure, Alex Honnald is cool.  Yes, free soloing makes you a stud.  But big-walling, most often a combination of trad and aid climbing, requires a great amount of technical knowledge to be done safely.  This past summer, I hit the books as hard as I hit the cliffs.  DON’T SKIMP ON LEARNING THE ROPES!  Knots, anchors, hauling techniques, self-rescue possibilities…learn them all.

Tip: Living in Yosemite, I would supplement rest days with reading time.  Not only did it force me to take days off, but I learned a ton and could keep my psych up during the rest!

2.  Embrace the suffering

Yep.  I said it.  YOU’RE GONNA SUFFER!  And yep, you should suck it up.  I’m not gonna pretend I never let out a complaint.  In fact, I was probably the worst climbing partner ever on every approach (two words: “Death Slabs”)!  But I always found the suffering to be worth the accomplishment.

Tip:  Change a complaint to a joke.  Negative grumbling can wreck a trip.  But light hearted sarcasm about how much you love it when your big toe breaks is better for both your own mental state and your partner.

3.  Work up to the heights

Big walls are…well, big.  And I’ve now heard story after story of climbers being caught off guard by exposure and then trapped in a panic.  My progression to the Nose was not an overnighter.  I worked my way from 1 pitch, to 2, to 5, to 12, and so on.

Tip:  Get accustomed to the exposure before adventuring on your first multi-day, tough-to-turn back wall.

Dave at the end of "Thank God Ledge"

Serious exposure under my climbing partner Dave at the end of “Thank God Ledge” on The Northwest Face of Half Dome.

Physical Change

On top of the mental difficulties of big-wall climbing, there is obviously the physical battle.

After spending 5 months climbing in Yosemite, my body actually changed.  Now understand, I’m 5’8” and a pretty a small guy.  At the beginning of the summer, I only weighed 140 lbs.  I didn’t think I could lose any more weight…but I did.  I actually dropped 10 lbs, both in fat and muscle.

For big walling, you want to be light, lean, and enduring.  Here are a few physical changes I adopted in order to embrace big-walling.

1.  EAT!!!

If you’re used to cragging around boulders or southeastern sandstone, you’re in for a shock when you discover how many carbs you burn on a big-wall.  From what I heard in the valley, climbers will drop anywhere from 5 to 15 lbs on a 3 day climb alone.  You just can’t always replace what you lose up there.  So carb-up before and after climbs!  You’re gonna burn it off. Myself…I go “healthy” with pizza.

2.  Endurance/Stamina

Everyone who has talked to a big-wall-monkey has heard it, but it’s true.  A day on a wall is like doing 1,000 pull-ups, 2,000 sit-ups and running a half-marathon in a day.  ENDURANCE. STAMINA. ENDURANCE. STAMINA. ENDURANCE. STAMINA.  Embrace and obtain them both.  The boulder in me was particularly caught off guard by the level of cardio-endurance I needed in Yosemite.  Get it done.  Go train!  If you aren’t willing to build the stamina, you’re not in for a very fun time.

And Spiritual Change

Sitting and meditating before sandstone boulders in Tennessee brought a spiritual focus to my life that has transformed me as a person.  With intense focus, I would summon the determination and physical strength built into my bones to grab sends with the hardest moves I had ever accomplished.  This would test my design to reach its full potential.

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This is very different from the spiritual journey of climbing a big wall.  To understand more of where I personally am coming from, you’d probably best benefit from reading another of my posts, “Climbing The Nose of El Capitan.”  But to try to sum up my thoughts on the spiritual journey of a wall, I will say this:

If you’ve never embraced the connectivity of this world, if you’ve never thought about how you are engrained into the existence of the universe, you will.  As your fingers meet rock, your breath seeps forth, as you wake up on a ledge and fall asleep to the stars, as you meet hardship and overcome, you will battle through a life-changing experience that will not fail to spark spiritual curiosity.

I myself find answers in the belief of a created world and a man named Jesus.

But from wherever you are coming, allow the curiosity to grow and truly wrestle with your place in this world as you find your place on the rock.  It will only add further growth to the experience.

Andrew Bellisle

Founder of The Network 5.12

So there it is.  If you are about to embark on your first big-wall adventures, I hope this has helped channel your focus to where you could use more commitment.  In fact, the word commitment might sum up what you are about to experience the best.  So go do it.  COMMIT.  To mental, physical, and spiritual change, COMMIT.  Get out there, and big-wall.

If you’re already a big-waller, let’s hear it?  What are other preparations you made in becoming one?  We’d love to have your input!

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.

Midnight

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