Friday, May 6, 2011


sunset off the coast of the Dominican Republic

Last year at this time, I had just returned home from sailing the Caribbean on the Research Vessel Heraclitus and wandering 'round Guatemala for a few weeks. I started off that trip with hopes of finding direction, yet as often happens, my expectations were unfulfilled and I was met with the exact opposite of what I had planned. Rather than returning home steady, motivated, and fired up with purpose, I collapsed onto my couch, horrendously ill, with my ego even more shaky than when I had set out.

the shores of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala

Looking back at that tumultuous time, I'm immensely grateful for the collapse of my rigidly constructed paradigm. The rubble of my old self made room for new experiences and a more authentic version of me to emerge from the ruins. The phenomenon of "failure" and struggle bringing immense gifts is something that I have experienced so much that I've become more able to appreciate it in the moment, rather than only being able to see the benefits with the clarity of hindsight.

Speaking of hindsight and failure and all that- I guess I should rewind a bit to cover my last trip to Vegas. After all that talk in my previous post about 'High Flames Drifter,' I decided not to go to the Virgin River Gorge to try it again (at least not until the cliff is in season again).

Until we meet again High Flames... (Andy Mann photo)

This was a hard decision to make, but while I was camping and climbing amid the deserted quiet of the Cathedral in Utah, I decided that I didn't miss the roaring highway noise of the VRG and that I should spend my ten day trip trying some new routes.

lovely desert desolation

As much as I wanted to send High Flames, I'm really happy I decided to stay at the Cathedral instead. The atmosphere there is in many ways idyllic- quiet, lonely desert views with cliff swallows and kestrels swooping down through the dry breeze. Not to mention amazing climbing.

My good friend Katy Dannenberg climbing at the Wailing Wall

Not obsessing over sending High Flames also allowed me the time to climb a multi-pitch in Red Rocks, something I've wanted to do again ever since climbing the ultra-fun, classic 'Prince of Darkness' last year. Superhero climber Jonathan Siegrist and I decided to try 'Rock Warrior' a 5.10 R/X on the Black Velvet Wall, just next to 'Prince of Darkness.'

a stormy day at the Black Velvet Wall

Before I even left the ground, I was stressed and adrenalized from belaying Jonathan on the first pitch. He unknowingly started at the wrong place, putting himself on an incredibly run out 5.11 slabby pitch of sloper crimps and smeary little feet. The remaining five pitches also were almost as run out as the first, making me very happy that I was leaving the leading to a pro.

Red Rocks beauty

We also spent a day climbing at Arrow Canyon, a really unique little crag that you reach by hiking through a beautiful limestone slot canyon, complete with petroglyphs.

'Tangled Up in Blue,' 12a, at Arrow Canyon

Since then, I've been back in Boulder packing up my life in preparation for my move to San Francisco in the fall to attend grad school. I've finally found that sense of purpose I was so desperate for last spring, but it only came after I surrendered to the unfolding process of decay and regeneration.

As one of my favorite Buddhist teachers, Reginald Ray, says, "You can either strive to be perfect or you can strive to be whole. If you strive to be whole, you have to surrender to your process. You have to surrender to the seasons of your own psyche, of your own internal working. You have to give yourself room to be in darkness, to be depressed. You have to give yourself room to be tired. You have to give yourself room to be completely uninspired. And you have to realize that allowing yourself to be depressed, tired and totally uninspired is the ultimate trust in the universe."

Friend of Salvador Dalí, former apprentice of Ernst Fuchs, and husband of artist Martina Hoffman, Boulder painter Robert Venosa has lived his life in the sort of rich artistic atmosphere that few ever experience. As he says on his website, "At various times I had Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Jackie Kennedy and the good doctor Timothy Leary himself peering over my shoulder to see what I was up to.”

Read my article on Venosa's life and work here.