Jobs for the Traveling Climber: Niche Blogger

In this interview series we talk with people who spend their time traveling and climbing, while still holding down a steady income. From nurses to coders, writers to outdoor guides, we want to show that you don’t have to go full dirtbag to live the itinerant life. Because contributing to your 401k while seeing the world doesn’t sound so bad.

Name: Jacob Bushmaker

Job: Blogger


Editor’s note:

I came across Jacob’s blog, The Wandering Climber, earlier this year when I was researching cheaper travel/ climbing destinations in South America. There were surprisingly few resources, but I eventually landed on TWC’s The Top 6 Rock Climbing Towns in South America – Why Should You Go?. It was great! I quickly dove into the rest of his pieces on Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, and others. His articles are well written and full of useful bits.


1) What do you do?

I currently have two jobs.

1) I work as a sales agent for a company called Unbundled Attorney, where we connect people with lawyers who are looking for affordable legal representation.

2) I run a blog called The Wandering Climber, which focuses on providing climbers with beta on the world’s best rock climbing destinations [Editor’s note: Typically lesser known places].

I’ll be answering the questions in respect to my work with TWC. 

A view from Freedom Bar, aka “the office,” in Tonsai. Photo courtesy of Jacob Bushmaker


2) What are some of the perks of the job?

A few things. Probably the most notable is it is completely remote, meaning that I can work from just about anywhere in the world. This is pretty much a necessity for anyone who wants to travel long term… unless you have some other source of income!! 

Second is that I’m my own boss. I don’t have any set hours, deadlines or anyone to “answer” to. 

It is also great to be creating something. It has its own intrinsic value which is sort of hard to explain. [I like to be able to] look back and be like, “yea, I did that.”

Lastly, this is a way for me to give back to the rock climbing community with my unique experiences and knowledge. This is a perk of the job I really didn’t anticipate, but it has been awesome to get so much positive feedback from people who have read my blog and used it. 


“The only people who think this is easy are ones who haven’t done it before.”


3) What are some of the challenges?

There are a lot of challenges with running a blog as a business.

The only people who think this is easy are ones who haven’t done it before.

With the incredible freedom which comes from being your own boss comes the pretty obvious drawback that there is absolutely no one keeping you accountable.

This is particularly difficult when you’re posted up in one of the world’s top climbing destinations. As you might imagine, these environments aren’t exactly conducive to “hard work.”

Also, it is always an ongoing challenge that I have to learn how to do things on my own. I have never had a “teacher” [for this stuff]. At times things can be super frustrating.


4) What motivated you to pursue this path?

The whole journey started when I read the 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris. It really opened my eyes to what was out there and has fundamentally changed my life in just about every sense imaginable. 

I went from a 9-5 office job (I was a Civil Engineer) to working remote, visiting about 30 countries in 4 continents, and living abroad in South America. 

There were the obvious perks of living abroad, such as learning another culture/ language and meeting new people/ traveling which appealed to me.

In addition, there are also some financial benefits of working abroad which don’t get mentioned as much, such as having a huge reduced cost of living.

One Of Hatun Machay’s Mega Classics Highballs: The Rhino (v4). Photo courtesy of Jacob Bushmaker


5) How does this job allow you to travel and climb?

If I was just doing one of the two jobs, I would have plenty of time to dirtbag. I did so for about 2-3 years, but there sort of came a point where I started taking work more seriously again. 

Over the past six months I have been much more “buckled down,” you might say.

The site launched in February of this year, and [so far] I’ve always had another full time job which takes up a ton of time. If all goes well, within the next 6 months to a year, I’ll be able to comfortably support myself with the income earned off the blog. [At that point] I’ll be able to make the decision whether I’d like to pursue it full time or not. 

Right now, I work more than full time between my two jobs, probably in the 50-60 hours a week range.


“Travel and being an entrepreneur is romanticised, but I’m here to tell you that sometimes it just sucks.”


6) What do you wish you knew when first starting out?

The hardest thing about this lifestyle has always been things I left behind when I was an engineer: The “steady” job, “good” career, friends, family and security were all sort of thrown aside to live the dream. 

Travel and being an entrepreneur is romanticised, but I’m here to tell you that sometimes it just sucks. 

On Top of El Filo la Lete de Tiburon (5.10+) in Cochamo Valley (Valle Cochamó), Chile. Photo courtesy of Jacob Bushmaker


7) What is one lesson learned from your journey so far?

It is better to focus on the process than the goal.

Once you get going it just becomes another day in the life, and before you know it your on your way. 


8) Anything else you’d like to add?

You overestimate what you can do in a year, but underestimate what you can do in five.

My point: Just get started now, be patient and incredibly persistent! 

Thanks, Jacob!

You can learn more about Jacob, his work, and his travels:

Jobs for the Traveling Climber: Freelance Front-End Web Developer

In this interview series we talk with people who spend their time traveling and climbing, while still holding down a steady income. From nurses to coders, writers to outdoor guides, we want to show that you don’t have to go full dirtbag to live the itinerant life. Because contributing to your 401k while seeing the world doesn’t sound so bad.

Name: Jack Lyons

Job: Front End Web Developer


1) What do you do?

I’m a front-end web developer. That means I write code for basically anything you see and interact with on a web page.

Working on the front-end is fun because it’s really easy to impact the look and feel of a page just by changing a few lines of code. It feels more artistic because you literally start with a blank canvas with every new page you build.

Currently I work as a freelancer and have a variety of clients located all around the world. Every day is filled with different challenges and I like being able to switch between client projects whenever I like.


2) How did you learn about web development?

Back in 2014/15 I was travelling in China, teaching English in Hangzhou, a city just west of Shanghai. I was pretty miserable with my current situation: Teaching English wasn’t as fun as I thought, mainly because the working conditions were brutal. I really wanted to make a change.

The only reason I was in China was so I could climb at the infamous crags of Yangshuo (hands down, some of the best climbing in the world). After a few months of teaching, I quickly realised that it wasn’t a sustainable way to work and travel and so I started researching other options.

That’s when I stumbled upon the whole “digital nomad” scene. I would read blogs and follow all the cool kids online who were “living the dream” with just a backpack and a laptop.

I got chatting  with a colleague at my English school who had a background in IT. Funnily enough, he had a big fat book Chinese/English book on HTML and CSS. He let me borrow it and I immediately devoured it. For the next 6-12 months I just totally immersed myself in learning to code because I knew it would allow me the chance to create the lifestyle I always wanted: To work and travel on my own terms and without burning a hole in my savings.

Climbing “The First Full Moon,” 7a in Bali, Indonesia. Photo courtesy of Jack Lyons.


3) What are some of the perks?

For starters, I get to create my own schedule. I can work early, late, from a cafe, at home, on the couch, at the library…

What’s more, I can pick who I want to work with and what I want to work on. I use a freelancing platform called Upwork that allows me to have a profile and be contacted by potential clients who need help. This means that the work literally comes to me and I don’t have to lift a finger to find new work. 

And lastly, I can save money even while traveling. This is huge for me, because I can take my remote career seriously and contribute to my pension, as well as personal savings and investments.

4) What are some of the challenges?

I know this sounds like a “first world problem,” but traveling in developing countries or rural areas means little to no wifi. While this makes for a relaxing getaway for most, this can be a seriously frustrating experience when I’ve got deadlines to meet.

Other than that, all general travel issues apply. Being flexible comes at a price.

5) What motivated you to pursue this path?

My dream has always been to be financially free and able to live and work wherever I want. Second to that, I love rock climbing and want to spend my days out at the crag rather than in the office.

I wanted a career where I could climb by day and work at night, or just take a day off whenever and make up my hours later.

To me, it only made sense that I’d need to find a job that would be online. Coding suited my personality well but I certainly could have gone down the path of a blogger / copywriter / online marketer and gotten the same results.

Jack and his wife in the famous bouldering area of Castle Hill, New Zealand. Photo courtesy of Jack Lyons.


6) How has your life changed since you started this?

Well, for starters, I no longer have to go to an office from 9 – 5 every day. I don’t really have a boss and I can charge whatever rate I feel is acceptable based on the project at hand.

I love the fact that I am able to see so much of the world and still have money left over. I thoroughly enjoy my work and need to pinch myself most days. I’ve lived in Europe, USA, Asia and travelled to over 30 countries. I’ve climbed in some of the most beautiful places in the world ( Greece, China, Austria, Germany, Croatia, Slovenia, USA, Thailand, New Zealand, Australia).

7) What does a “typical” week or month look like?

It depends where I am. Currently I’m based in Boulder, Colorado. It’s nice to have a home base because it gives you time to decompress from all the travel. It also allows you to get settled and lock in when you’ve got some serious deadlines or big projects to tackle. 

When traveling or on a climbing trip I try to scale back my work commitments because I know how demanding and exhausting it can be. For example, currently I am on a two week road trip with my wife in Alaska. I decided to take the entire time off, which is very rare for me to do, but it was absolutely necessary because I had  been working on some big projects over the last couple of months. I needed some time out to recharge.

Coding is really, really mentally taxing. It requires a lot of brainpower. It’s hard to stay focused when your work environment keeps on changing. So I prefer to plan out my work schedule depending on where we will be and when.

Climbing in Moon Hill, Yangshuo. Photo courtesy of Jack Lyons.

8) What do you wish you knew when first starting out?

The matter of fact is this: Coding is hard and takes so so so soooooo many hours of dedication, practice and patience. It’s not for everyone and it can be an incredibly frustrating profession.

I think one of the best ways to accelerate your web development journey would be to sign up for a coding bootcamp (bonus points for an exotic location somewhere in the world). This won’t make you a coding wizard but it will help lay a solid foundation, to meet like-minded peers, and to have dedicated help from a mentor. 

Having a mentor helps a lot but you have to realise that no one is going to hold your hand out in the “real world.” You’ve gotta have grit and figure things out for yourself.

Know that there will be roadblocks, bugs, meltdowns and disasters – it’s going to be how you react to them that makes the difference. Keep calm, and know that you will figure it out. Just learn to do whatever it takes to get unstuck – even if it means paying an expert for their time. You’ll learn from your mistakes and grow rapidly if you have the right mindset.

9) What is one lesson learned from your journey so far?

Patience is an important “skill” that can be developed throughout difficult situations under high stress, commonly known as “stress inoculation.”

I’ve had so many moments where I just wanted to smash my computer and curse my code for not working. But over the years I’ve learned to channel this into a more relaxed state where I can work through the problems in a calm and focused manner (sometimes).

10) Anything else you’d like to add?

Yeah! If you’re interested in becoming a digital dirtbag then check out my blog over at Medium: Adventure In My Veins.

There I interview other wanderlusting climbers who have built a lifestyle and a living around their digital skills. If you know anyone who you’d describe as a “digital dirtbag,” then please get in touch!

Thanks, Jack!

You can learn more about Jack, his work, and his travels:

Mikhail Martin of Brothers of Climbing (BOC) on Leading by Example and Community Building

Pieter Cooper strode into a downtown Brooklyn gym and saw something through the chalky haze that made him stop in his tracks.

He was alone, but emboldened. With locked eyes he walked across the room. 

“Oh you do this too?” he offered. David Glace reciprocated.

“It was like Black Guy No. 1, Black Guy No. 2. That was the joke,” Pieter says. But where were the other climbers of color?

“We should form a group to bring more awareness that we are out there doing it,” they mused.

Martin and BOC members. Photo source: BOC



Mikhail Martin is the fourth musketeer of the team behind Brothers of Climbing (BOC), along with Andrew Belletty. He comes across like the mastermind of the jig, a willing leader with a programmer’s articulation for simple clarity and a Caribbean easy-goingness. 

Our call opens and it sounds like Mikhail had a long day. He’s not grumpy, but weary. It was Friday at 6PM after all. His straight-shooting questioning softens with a bit of banter and the jokester bubbles in with a chuckle that unveils his characteristic upbeat vibrato.

If you attend a BOC meetup you’re likely to hear Mikhail belt out Bieber, but he doesn’t sing today. Instead we chatted about what it’s like to build a community, and how the role has evolved over the years.


In the REI mini-mentary on BOC, Cooper, who eventually wound up as the Manager at Brooklyn Boulders, relays a story that catalyzed why they needed to form BOC:

“I’ve had black kids say, ‘nah, we don’t do this, we don’t do [climbing].’ That made me go, man, this kid is saying that, what else does this kid think he can’t do just because he’s black or he has not seen a black person do [you name it]?” 

“This goes back to not being exposed to the outdoors. The problem is we’re telling ourselves that we can’t do it, and on the other end, there’s no one telling us that we can do it. So it’s a problem on both sides of the coin, and we have to attack it from both sides,” Martin says in an interview with Off the Strength.

The quartet wanted to show that, yes, people of color do climb. The hope was to encourage others to give the sport a try. 

Mikhail, Pieter, Andrew, and David decided to start simply, informally at first, just a group climbing in the gym. The impetus was to “have a good time, and to try to be as welcoming and personable as possible,” relays Martin. 

Word spread, more people came and the community of Brothers of Climbing developed. 


On Community Building:

Establish a culture of inclusivity

“We were hooked on the sport, and we wondered why more people of color weren’t. We found it came down to the expense of climbing at a gym, the established climbing culture, and a lack of outreach. We couldn’t really do much about the costs,” Martin says. “But we could make a difference with the culture and outreach,” he notes in an Outside Magazine article.

BOC wanted to be as welcoming as possible for first-timers. Many members of the group are newer to the sport, and at their yearly bouldering festival (which they co-organize with Brown Girls Climb), most attendees are climbing outside for the first time. The initial impression could be the difference between one-and-done and on-going interest.

At the meetups, the more experienced climbers help out the newbies and the organizers make sure to establish a fun, relaxed environment. Martin credits having a diversity of interests among the group as a way to connect with members, “not all discussions are about climbing, we talk about new music, movies, etc.,” he says. Even something as simple as playing their own music at the gym sets a different note. 

Karaoke time. Photo source: BOC



Localize the group to local needs

There are now meetups in Chicago, Philly, DC and Oakland. Each locale has its own feel, but the common denominator is that everyone is happy to find community and come together.

“You really have to read your community. What do they need?,” urges Martin. 

In NYC, goofy and outgoing is the MO, including spontaneous karaoke sessions. In other communities, a different style of leadership may be needed. Every city has a unique history, varied experiences, and specific needs. The final “product” has to factor in the particulars of the local scene.


Listen to the community

The group has evolved over the years as the founders themselves have matured. 

“We started when I was 23, now I’m 29. As you get older, you start to realize other issues, other things become more important,” says Martin. In order to be role models for the future, the founders incorporate the concerns of the members into the direction of the group and their personal actions.

For one, communication and mutual understanding is key: Ask if someone is comfortable with you spotting them; Ask what someone’s preferred gender pronoun is. If someone doesn’t feel welcome, the founders want to talk with them to figure out how to fix it.

Since BOC started back in 2013, climbing has changed, the political landscape has evolved, and bigger concerns around equality in employment and representation have taken on a larger focus for the group.


More About Brothers of Climbing

The conversation expanded into a foray on fair compensation, the bigger picture for BOC, and Martin’s goals for the year. Another late night in the books talking about something he cares about. 

“BOC’s mission is to increase involvement of minorities in the outdoors. Right now we’re starting with climbing,” says Martin. Seems like they’re on the right track to do a lot more.


If you’re interested in learning about Brothers of Climbing you can visit their website. If you want to join an upcoming meetup, check out their Facebook group for a list of events. Color the Crag, their yearly bouldering festival in Alabama (how’s that for audacious?), will be held from October 17-20 this year.


Feature photo credit: The Joy Trip Project

Gear Review: Boulder Denim 2.0 Men’s Athletic Fit Jeans

I gave up on jeans in 2011.

No thanks to Boulder Denim, I’m reneging on that position.

Why? Simply, they are the most comfortable pair of climbing pants I own, and the best jeans I’ve ever had. They are lightweight, ultra-stretchy, and make my butt look good (probably). What’s not to like?

Boulder Denim jeans. Great for climbing and just hanging out.


Overview

The company, Boulder Denim (BD), has helped popularize the climbing-specific jeans trend. The basic blues have long been a staple of pebble wrestling, from old painter’s pants and Levi’s to Prana’s yoga-centric styles. However, these options weren’t designed for climbing, they were good enough options for the job. In dirtbag parlance that pretty much means climb on, because they are pants, and they cost me $5 at Savers.

Climb people did, not realizing what they were missing out on.

BD was started to change the palette from pants that were palatable to downright delightful. They launched on Kickstarter back in 2016 to wild success (raising over $90k), then had a second campaign of wilder success for their updated 2.0s, in 2018 (raising over $267,000).

People dig them. And I wanted in.

So I reached out and asked if I could test a pair of the 2.0s, and Taz and Brad were kind enough to oblige.

Anywho, I’ve been wearing them non-stop for over a month, making up for lost time since the last jeans to grace these thighs was over 8 years ago.

They’ve been worn on Rumney schist, Lynn Woods granite, Hammond Pond puddingstone, Smuggler’s Notch gritty schist, shitty schist, switch foot schisty and other such New England varietals. The climbing has consisted of a lot of bouldering, some sport, and a little trad.



Performance

My #UnecessarilyHighHeelHooks are NBD in these. They stretch in a variety of ways, from aggressive step-ups and twisty drop knees to split-like stemming IF I have them rolled up to below my knees.

I experience some restriction in movement when the legs are full-length (two rolls at the cuff, they sit just above the ankle). My knee gets caught in the fabric on big movements–which doesn’t prevent the action–though it does slightly encumber the motion. This is not experienced when they are rolled up (same two rolls, pushed to knee). They have much greater stretch horizontally and diagonally (i.e., pulling the pant leg apart width-wise) than vertically (i.e., trying to stretch them down the length of the leg).

Bouldering near Bolton, VT, with the pant legs rolled down.


It is unclear if they need to be broken in more because I’ve primarily worn them pushed up in the summer heat.

With that said, they are surprisingly elastic. If I pinch and pull, the jeans have the same give and bounce-back as my running tights, except these look better and don’t hug my junk. 

The seams are reinforced and solid so far, whereas I popped some stitching on my Outdoor Research Ferrosi pants when doing squats. I would squat in these.



Fit and Look

They are stylish in a relaxed, I just woke up and grabbed these, rumpled, off the floor kind of way. And they look good.

I received the 2.0 Men’s Athletic Fit in Newmoon Blue, the darker of the blueish options, and they go well with my wardrobe which mostly consists of tank tops at the moment. Because summer.

When I can get away with it, I wear these all day, from town to crag and back again.

The 2.0s come in two sizes: Slim and Athletic fit.

Slim on the left, Athletic on the right. Original photos taken from boulderdenim.com


The Athletic cut provides a slightly roomier leg circumference, but still maintains a thinner, tapered look common these days.

BD recommends sizing down one to two inches from your normal waist measurement. I got a 29″ (normally a 30″ or 31″) and they fit perfectly, resting at the top of my hip bones. The inseam comes standard at 32″.

The original Kickstarter video claims the fabric has “a 92% stretch retainment, compared to an industry average of just 60%.” I’m curious if the waist will bag out over time, as it is quite stretchy.

One minor complaint is about the hidden zippered pocket (which sits inside the front left pocket). The extra fabric doesn’t lay completely flat–given the additional material and bartack–which was noticeable in an, oh this is a little niggly here isn’t it? manner. The zipper also feels a bit stiff as it pressed on the crease where my thigh inserts at the pelvis (the area of the pectineus muscle and adductor brevis; look it up if you feel inclined). I feel a trifle like the Princess and the Pea with this fussing, but maybe it’s just flat pockets or bust for me.

The jeans out in the wild. Photo source: @smellybagofdirt


Durability

So far so good. Though this will take time to really tell.

One downside of the stretch is that the jeans sometimes snag on sharp rock, such as when knee barring. After a climb at Rumney where my thigh scraped against the schist, a thread was pulled out from my quad area. I snipped it off, no big deal.

The fabric is about as thick as found on Prana Brions, though more breathable and with a more attractive cut.



Uses

All climbing, though especially bouldering.

Bouldering because they can keep your legs from getting torn up. Way back when two months ago, my ankles, shins and knees were ivy draped in scrapes and scratches because I would wear shorts while climbing. The leg feature of the pants has helped bring the number of dings and dents down dramatically.

When the weather cools, these will make excellent travel pants because they don’t seem to carry stink (unlike my synthetic pants) and they have stain resistance. Sometimes I drink and sometimes I spill, but that’s been no my problem at all in these. 

Hardly a scratch to be found.


Features

The following is pulled from the Boulder Denim website:

  • Proprietary 360° EDS technology (extreme diagonal stretch)
  • Memory-Shape Denim
  • Trap Pocket (hidden zipper pocket)
  • No-Gap Waistband
  • Vegan-Approved
  • Stain/Water Resistant
  • Reinforced stitching
  • More durable
  • Ethically-made
  • Pre-Shrunk



Recommended?

Yes. They are a bit pricy (MSRP is $109), but if you are investing in a functional, multi-use pair of pants that you only have to wash every so often, it’s hard to go wrong here.

Note: If you’re an American Alpine Club member you get 15% off. Also, BD will give you a 5% off coupon for signing up for their email list.

To learn more about the company or to order your own pair, visit boulderdenim.com.

Climbing Access Is Not a Given: Tim McGivern on Starting SNECC and the Importance of Participation

The VW Passat barreled along the Pike, a last leg surge depressing the pedal. Tim McGivern, lanky, a quick-talker and antsy was careening back to his childhood home with his wife Syrah, and all their belongings in tow.

He wasn’t sure what to expect, it had been a few years since he left for California. But that was no more.

Tim had been counting down the miles since the Pacific, and adding up the road signs along the way: 90. 95 North. 128. 114 East. Then the familiar struck him: salt-tinged air wafted in through the open windows.

Some things don’t change much in your absence. Or they do imperceptibly like mountains; rocks might slough off but the general shape remains. Others turn course dramatically, like the development in up-and-coming North Shore towns near the Atlantic.

When Tim left, The Promised Land was one of the largest concentrations of boulders north of Boston. 500 problems, a gem, and his hometown crag. Now it was a bunch of townhouses. The subdivisions sprawled out like a swollen river after the spring thaw, submerging and washing away a once pristine boulder field. A permanent landscape alteration.


“I was incensed,” Tim says upon learning about The Promised Land.

“It bugged me. A lot of local crags around here, on the Eastern side of [Massachusetts], they didn’t receive much attention for clean up and care. I saw a void before I left, but didn’t do anything then,” he says. 

When he returned, the need for climbing area stewardship in Southeast New England became clear.  

“Advocacy doesn’t just happen.”

– Tim McGivern


Historically, the crags in the urban 95 loop around Boston were seen as a training ground for bigger objectives elsewhere. They were nice to haves and weren’t given the same oversight as better known places in Western Mass. and New Hampshire. Home spots like Quincy Quarries became tarnished and tagged with graffiti or remained underdeveloped like Lynn Woods.

Tim saw that if climbers weren’t paying attention the land that housed their beloved boulders and cliffs could get sold, fenced off, and even destroyed. 

So he took a stand. He wasn’t going to let what happened to The Promised Land occur again.

Spray paint at Quincy Quarries. Photo source: snecc.org


The Southeast New England Climbers Coalition (SNECC) was started by Tim and Dave Twardowski in 2017 with the mission to “preserve climbing areas for present and future generations of climbers.”

The group has grown to include Shannon McFarland, Ryan Bouldin, Courtney Cutler, Pete Sancianco and Patrick Montague on the Board of Directors, along with an active membership.

They are working towards efforts from land protection (The Promised Land, Quincy Quarries), to access, (Bartholomew Pond), to awareness (Lynn Woods Boulder Bash, New Englands first outdoor bouldering competition), and a Regional Stewardship Plan in order to effect change on a larger scale.

“Advocacy doesn’t just happen,” Tim says. “The more I talk with climbers the more I realize they don’t understand this.”

Regional territory under SNECC’s purview. Photo source: snecc.org


With the rise in popularity of climbing and ever greater attendance at outdoor crags, stewardship is more important than ever.

According to the Access Fund, “1 in 5 climbing areas in the United States is threatened by an access issue—whether its private land lost to development, public land managers over-regulating climbing, or climber impacts degrading the environment.”

The challenge comes down to one basic tenet: Climbing requires rock, which is often on private land and easy to lose. 

Tim advocates that protection requires participation, in being custodians to the areas we frequent, and supporting efforts like SNECC who work at a municipal and regulatory level for long-term solutions. Without engagement climbers have no voice and beloved climbing areas can be inalterably changed, like at The Promised Land.

Results of a hard day at Quincy Quarries. Photo source: snecc.org


Want to get involved, become a member, or learn more?
Visit snecc.org

Josh Cook: On Developing Crags, Self, and the Next Generation

The drill whirls about in place, boring into the soft limestone. Fine grit clouds kick out at the edges of the hole, puff, puff, puff. The walls echo with the ricochet of millions of years of solidity grinding back into individual particulates. Water droplets sizzle on stone from sweat trickling down forearm and dripping off at the wrist. 

The man at the helm is Josh Cook and he is bolting new sport lines. He’s an English teacher at an international school and he’s developing the first sport crag in Škaljari, Montenegro. 

Škaljari, Montenegro
Škaljari, Montenegro. Photo courtesy of Josh Cook.


Josh never thought he’d end up in Montenegro as a mis-fit kid in Denver, CO. 

When he told people he was thinking of going, the response was generally the same: “nobody knows where it is.” He continues, “That’s already cool. Anytime you hear of a country you don’t know anything about, then it’s very enticing. You know there’s something special there.” So off he went.

This type of adventurism is easy for him now—motorcycle trip across the Himalayas? Backpacking in the Andes? No problem—but things were different when he was young. It’s not that he was a misfit, it’s more like he felt mis-placed. 


Josh grew up as one of the few white kids in school. Not that he had a problem with it, he just stood out. Then he got a scholarship and was one of the few lower-income students in a fancy private high school. Not that it was an issue, he just didn’t quite fit in. Then he wanted to be a climber. Not that it should have been too difficult, but there weren’t many of those around.


At last, climbing was a place where he felt he belonged. He started when he was 6 and was obsessed by 16. Every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday: Morrison bouldering area. You know the drill.

At 18 he took a year off to travel the country and climb. He started in Yosemite. To boulder. Mis-fit as he was.

Josh in his element from a young age
Josh in his element from a young age. Photo source: On The Move


If you’re wondering how an inner-city kid from Denver ends up in Montenegro, you have to start with Yosemite. 

Yosemite Valley is an international port of call for climbers. In 2018, over four million visitors came through from 33 countries. Most come in the summer and it can be a madhouse. Especially for an 18 year old out on his own for the first time.

“I’m driving in and it’s just packed. There’s one way traffic, all these cars, rangers everywhere. I’m looking for Camp 4 and I can’t find Camp 4. At that point, it was briefly named Sunnyside Campground so I’m not seeing signs for Camp 4. I finally pull over then realize [I’m here and] you have to have to wait in a long line to get a campsite, and you have to share it with other people. I’m learning trial by fire, this whole rigamarole,” Josh recalls.

He continues, “I squeeze into Site 17 and there’s these scruffy, complete dirtbag-looking climbers. The youngest was maybe 5 years older, the oldest was probably 10 yeas older. I go, ‘oh, uh, I have to share this site with you guys.’ And they just stare at me.” The climbers were non-plussed but helped him unload nonetheless. 

Josh stayed a month and they got to know each other. They became friends. Turns out they were die hard trad climbers from the Welsh tradition. As they would go off to climb big walls, away for days at a time, Josh would be there wrestling pebbles. 

They couldn’t believe he was in Yosemite just for bouldering. Josh couldn’t believe they were climbing those walls. They opened his eyes to a larger world.

Josh's friend, Tania, bouldering in Kashmir
Josh’s friend, Tania, bouldering in Kashmir. Photo source: On The Move


One day, one of the guys hung back. 

“Neil goes, ‘I’m gonna take a rest day and boulder with you,’” Josh reflects. “I’m thinking to myself, ‘oh trad climber, he won’t know anything about bouldering, hopefully he can keep up with me.’”

Josh continues, “We’re at Curry Village, warming up on opposite sides of the boulder. He walks around to where I am, and I present what I’m working on. I was just flailing on this thing, it was like a V4 or something. When he got on it he flashed it. And not only that, he did it with such grace and ease that my jaw dropped.”

“I realized at that point my world of climbing had been all about the media and the value of recognition. [Basically,] you were a nobody if you weren’t in the magazines or at the competitions or whatever it was.” 

Of course, Neil wasn’t in the magazines.

“No one knew who he was,” Josh laments. “But he was the best climber I ever met, ever seen climb.” Back home he was known as a Dark Horse. “The best climber you’ve never heard of,” he says.

Neil still pops up from time to time in mentions, but not features.


That interaction changed everything for Josh. Neil and friends loved climbing for all that it was, and they climbed all that was available around the world. They didn’t seek notoriety, they simply did it for fun and self-improvement. 

“I really came to respect that, doing everything to the best of your ability, climbing all the different styles and disciplines, and to do it humbly. Not trying to seek attention,” Josh shares, admiration ringing in his voice.

“That shifted how I thought about my goals: to become more about being the best that I can be, and to not let it be about ego… I want to know that I can dedicate myself to challenging tasks and become better at them through the learning process,” he sums up.

Josh applies much of his lessons learned in climbing to his teaching pedagogy. 

He explains, “Teaching fits a lot of the same characteristics: constant problem solving and decision making, performance under pressure, mentorship, refining weaknesses, measuring growth and skill development (in the students and in myself), the list goes on.” 

And he teaches because in his words, “I influence the lives of youth, hopefully for the better. I help make them critical thinkers, lovers of literature, and attentive writers. I give them opportunities to be good people and work with them through the process of creating their own paths.”

He encourages that the beauty is not in the big send, but the progression towards the goal: “I describe this process to my students as: attempt, failure, reflection, refinement, and attempt again (repeat… forever). The signs that we have done that well, that we are conscious and attentive to our experiences, are what we call improvement. That awareness of our experiences is also just good living, I think.”

Josh motorcycling through the Himalayas
Josh motorcycling through the Himalayas. Photo source: On The Move


Josh has bopped around, having taught in Peru, Bhutan, Japan, Montenegro, and soon, Colombia. Wherever he goes he welcome new people into climbing, develops a local area, and finds connection through the sport.

“As you live this itinerant lifestyle, intentionally drawing away from people, it [can] prohibit you from being a part of community,” Josh says.

He goes on, “I found recently, because I’m always living everywhere, my community is climbers that I meet. It helps me feel connected to something larger.”

Climbers tend to be roamers and travelers, perpetual motion in new lands. It sounds like he’s found where he fits in.



You can read some of Josh’s writing on his blog, On The Move.

The Upshot of Migraines: How Juliane Fritz Found Relief in Bouldering and Podcasting

I. 

In May of 2017, Juliane Fritz awoke with a start and a pounding headache. It was like the world was collapsing in on itself, the seismic pressure squeezing her skull from grey matter to diamond.

She’d had migraines all her life, but nothing like this. Her pain killers, the only therapy she’d ever tried, were useless. She couldn’t move, couldn’t think; all she could do was lay in bed to wait out the pain. The attacks came and went over the next three months. 

When Juliane was a child the doctors couldn’t make heads or tails of her migraines. Nothing seemed to work and they had no answers. She had resigned herself to a life of pain. “I just felt that because it had been there all the time, it was a part of my life and there was nothing I could do. It was a feeling of ‘this belongs to me, I have to suffer,’” she explains.

Juliane’s engaging personality shines through the speaker, her steady speech and animated answers rise in a chittering wave that is often punctuated by a self-conscious chuckle. Her upbeat and level-headed persona makes it hard to fathom the dark period she had in her life.

As the months wore on each attack was a new worst. Finally, she couldn’t take it anymore. “I needed to do something,” she says, a tone of defeat rings in her voice. 

She decided to seek support from a place she had always been hesitant about.


Day 1: Walk into Berta Block Boulderhalle down the street. Intimidated. Start on the children’s wall. Fail.

Photo source: Juliane Fritz


II. 

Juliane was dedicated to her work. She’d always been good at radio production and took pride in the final product. She was conscientious, dedicated and a perfectionist. At times she would get carried away, feeling stressed and worn down. She never questioned why she worked so hard. Why would she?

Those three months were a wake up call, and out of desperation she started getting new forms of support from psychiatrists to physical therapists to osteopaths. She was uneasy about it, she recalls, “I always thought, psychiatrists, ‘oh I don’t need that, that’s stupid.’” There was a resistance and a harboring of pain, but something began to happen:

“Slowly I started to learn about me, about how my body works, how my mind works, that maybe the way I had been working for all these years I had been doing too much, working too hard. It was always, ‘I am in this world to make other feel good, but not me.’ And I really have to change the way I operate with myself.”

She started to see a connection between her mind and body, and then the osteopath suggested physical movement as a way to help with the headaches. “I have headaches almost all the time,” she says, and she wondered if bouldering would make any difference. 


Day 2: Encouraged to try again, I go back. Try some new routes. Still on the kiddie wall. Fail.

Photo source: Juliane Fritz

III.

The first day Juliane went bouldering she felt weak, nervous, and by her account, failed to get up the VBs on the children’s wall. Yet something about the movement, the way it made her feel, kept her attention. She decided to go back. And then again, and again, and again.

She stayed with it for years, but after her first session with a headache, it became a whole new ball game. 

“I was so happy to find out that after [that session with a headache] I felt pretty good.” She then started to go after migraine attacks had subsided and discovered it offered a mental convalescence as well. “It helped me to own my own body again,” she notes, you can hear the empowered feeling in her voice.

These sessions became a period of freedom from outside concerns, a flow; they were fun, they were cathartic, and taught her about herself in unexpected ways. 

“It made me love the sport even more,” Juliane says.

Down the rabbit hole she went. “I became a bouldering nerd” as she puts it. She began going every other day and consuming all things bouldering in between: Watching comps, reading whatever she could find, and even visiting the world cup in Munich.

Over the weeks the attacks lessened; from a few days in a row with no pain to long stretches of manageable headaches.

Through pain, Juliane had found something that called to her like the work she did in radio. And there was another interesting twist she discovered:
 
“I’ve been working in the media for years, at a radio station in Berlin. And I found out that sometimes I am free of pain when I interview people. [I thought,] ‘just combine the two things you really like, that make you feel really good, and do a podcast, interview people that have the same passion for bouldering and share it.’ That’s why I started the podcast.”


Day 3: Progress. Go back alone, and something special happened! I managed to send problems I couldn’t do the first two times. This is fun!

Photo source: Juliane Fritz


Bin weg bouldern

Juliane started her podcast, Bin weg bouldern in 2018 and is becoming known throughout Germany as the “bouldering podcast lady.”

She interviews pros, local crushers (in Germany, there are a lot), shares event recaps and educational material, and talks with climbers engaged in peripheral activities, such as Zofia Reych who started the first ever Women’s Bouldering Festival in Fontainebleau.

You can listen to her episodes here, though be sure to brush up on your Deutsch! (The links above are to episodes in English.)

For Juliane, bouldering has helped alter her perspective on work, life, and her relationship to herself. What started back in 2013 with three days of climbing — from flailing to her first send — has turned into a life possessed.

“You can learn so much about yourself, the mental aspect, your body,” she says. But most importantly, “You can just be free and have fun.”



Feature photo courtesy of Juliane Fritz.