Dirtbaggish – 2019

On the road to 5.11

This is the story of traveling for a year to climb.

As a sorta dirtbag. Like a dirtbag that has to pay the bills so he has a job. It’s kinda #vanlife without the van. Maybe he’ll have a bicycle. Maybe he’ll have panniers. Sometimes he’ll take a bus. You get the idea.

So, like, what are you doing?

Starting in April, I’ll be visiting climbing destinations across Europe and the U.S. with the intention of leveling up to a solid 5.11 climber. More importantly, I want to show that you can be perfectly normal and still go on adventures.

Here’s the deal, I’m quite ordinary.

Especially when it comes to holding myself back from pursuing those big ideas that scare and excite you at the same time.

But I got tired of seeing other people live with a fire in their belly. I wanted to do that too.

This is about living.

Why climbing?

Climbing has been beckoning call. In 2018, I began sport climbing, and it has been years since I’ve taken up an activity that makes me feel so engaged and which gets me so psyched to learn, grow, and explore.

These types of experiences had become few and far between. I left startups after seven years and subsequently felt a bit lost as a result of losing my identity of “entrepreneur.” The upshot was that it forced me to reconsider what really mattered. I’ve since tried things I’d wanted to for years.

In 2018, I learned to lead, spending about 14 days outside on real rock, and led 30 routes (from 5.10a-5.11a), more or less. That was fun, but it wasn’t so much climbing. I’d like to up the ante this year.

2019 is about climbing more (about 15x more) and sharing stories from the places I go. More importantly, the aim is to be of service to each climbing community I visit, whether by volunteering, donating, or contributing in some way.

I have some goals

My big objective is to climb the Diedra UBSA in Costa Blanca, Spain, an 8 pitch, 5.10a PG13 mostly sport route, in November. This will be part of a 30-day trip where I will also project on harder sports climbs to push my limits.

El Penon de Ifac – Parque Natural de Penyal D’Ifach

I chose this route because it combines skills I’m keen to develop: Multi-pitch climbing trading lead, basic usage of traditional protection, anchor building, rappelling, and climbing endurance (suggested time is 6-9 hours). The goal date allows for nine months to incrementally develop my technique and know-how.

I first came across the Penon d’Ifach, the massive limestone block that emerges from the Balearic Sea, while researching climbing in Spain last year. The striking outcropping has stayed on my mind since.

Breaking out this larger objective, there are milestones I will measure along the way:

  • Lead 5.11c/5.11d
  • 100 days of climbing outside
  • Lead 450 routes on real rock
  • Volunteer, donate, or contribute in some way to the local climbing community in each place I go

I’ll be documenting this

Each place has incredible stories that are worthy of being told.

Whether it’s Uta Ibrahimi, the first Albanian woman to summit Everest and working towards gender equality, or Günes Ergüden helping to save Turkey’s “El Cap” from being mined, or Fleur Derks following her dream of opening a climber’s hostel, there are quite ordinary people everywhere doing extraordinary things.

My aim is to share these stories with the hopes of inspiring others to pursue their own dreams.

On the Road


  • Locations: Good ol’ Boston, MA
  • Focus: Bouldering at my home gym: Central Rock Framingham!
Photo source: Central Rock Gym


  • Locations: North Macedonia (Skopje, Demir Kapija, Prilep, Lake Ohrid)
  • Goal # of days outside: 6
  • Grade aim: 5.10 low
  • Focus: Lead, bouldering
  • Events: Prilep Bouldering Festival (April 27-29)
Photo source: Prilep Bouldering


  • Locations: Albania (Tirana, Brar, Bovilla, Gjipe)
  • Goal # of days outside: 8
  • Grade aim: 5.10 low/mid
  • Focus: Lead, maybe try multi-pitch if I can find a good mentor
  • Events: Albanian Climbing Festival (May 3-5)
  • Community: I’m fundraising to buy bolts and hangers to help establish new climbing routes in Albania. Currently, they only have about 100 bolted routes in the entire country, so equipment and quality setters can make a meaningful contribution to their climbing scene.
Photo source: Climbing Albania


  • Locations: Montenegro (Bar, Kotor), Croatia (Paklenica, Hvar, Brac, Vis, Istria), Italy?? (Osp, Arco)
  • Goal # of days outside: 10
  • Grade aim: 5.10 mid, 5.6-5.8 multi-pitch
  • Focus: Easy multi-pitch routes, take a multi-pitch course or climb with a guide
Photo source: ResearchGate


  • Locations: Wyoming (Ten Sleep Canyon, Landers, Wind river Range)
  • Goal # of days outside: 10
  • Grade aim: 5.10 mid/high, 5.8-5.9 multi-pitch
  • Focus: Multi-pitch (2-3 pitch routes), follow 1 alpine multi-pitch trad in Wind River (hopefully), a few climbs following trad leader
  • Events: International Climbers’ Festival (July 10-14)
Photo source: Travel Wyoming


  • This is where things start to get hazy
  • Locations: Maple Canyon, UT or South Platte, CO
  • Goal # of days outside: 12
  • Grade aim: 5.10 mid/high, 5.8-5.9 multi-pitch
  • Focus: Multi-pitch (2-4 pitch routes)
Photo source: Geocaching


  • Things are still hazy
  • Locations: Eastern Sierras, CA or Cascades, WA
  • Goal # of days outside: 10
  • Grade aim: 5.10 high, 5.8-5.9 multi-pitch
  • Focus: Multi-pitch (3-5 pitch routes), 1 guided alpine climb, a few climbs following trad leader
Photo source: RootsRated


  • Yup, haze factor 2
  • Locations: Smith Rock, OR or Rumney, NH
  • Goal # of days outside: 10
  • Grade aim: 5.11 low, 5.8-5.9 multi-pitch
  • Focus: Multi-pitch (3-5 pitch routes), projecting for harder routes
Photo source: Access Fund

November: Goal Month!

  • Oh look the weather cleared up!
  • Locations: Spain (Costa Blanca)
  • Goal # of days outside: 15
  • Grade aim: 5.11 low, 5.9-5.10 multi-pitch
  • Focus: Multi-pitch (3-5 pitch routes), projecting for harder routes
Photo source: PJ Mountains


  • Locations: Spain (Malaga?)
  • Goal # of days outside: 10
  • Grade aim: 5.11 low-mid
  • Focus: Projecting for harder routes
Photo source: Moja Gear

Interested in following along?

Be sure to check this page each week for updates.

Want to sponsor Aaron?

You can reach him on Instagram or at his email gerry[dot]aaron[at]gmail[dot]com.

*Please note: In classic me fashion, this is all subject to change and end up looking nothing like I have planned. Except Spain in November if I receive an AAC climbing grant.