Once a climber, always a climber

~ Fitz Cahall

On paper I probably had the worst climbing year since I bought my first pair of high top climbing shoes at the REI garage sale 15 years ago.

Fitz Guest blogger Fitz Cahall, creator of Dirtbag Diaries. Photo by Jeff Johnson.

I had a kid at the start of the year. I tore my meniscus in the spring. Recovered. On one of the few days where I got to enjoy a personal day of climbing, I went out with my close friend and cameraman/climber extraordinaire Mikey Schaefer and promptly snapped a hold with no gear in, 25 feet above the anchor. The resulting whipper could have killed me—the three sizeable core shots in the cord punctuated that thought.

I was fortunate. I broke a few bones in the foot. The fall’s force left my spleen bruised and swollen. Doctors compared it to being in a car accident. My stomach swelled making sitting difficult. In the two months following the accident, the best part of my day would come in the morning when my nine-month-old son would crawl into bed and we would listen to music. For the first time in my life, I had no interest in physical activity.

And yet this year, I made a leap as a climber.

For 15 years, I’ve harvested from climbing. Through time spent on the sharp end, I grew into the person I thought I could be. I learned that success for me would be a function of tenacity, commitment and creativity rather than talent. Climbing introduced me to lifelong friends. It provided a lifetime of memories. I collected stories. I crafted them for my community. It became my career. It is and always will be an undeniable part of who I am.

I decided to start giving back this year. As some climbers age, they invent new gear, go on to work in the industry, or coach the next generation. Their tasks are unique to a skill set, just like some climbers like crimps and others are offwidth fiends. I decided that my path would involve giving back to the places that left an impression on me.

When the Access Fund’s Executive Director Brady Robinson contacted me about creating a video series highlighting the organization's recent efforts, I had to pinch myself. Thirty-four years into my life I can still proudly say that I’m an unrepentant fan of climbing. By default that also makes me a fan of the Access Fund.

Why did I take the time to volunteer? Because I can’t help myself. If you love something, you look forward to giving back. Some people, like Joe Sambataro (Access Director at the Access Fund), know how to finance a complicated land trust deal. Others, like Brady, are gifted in beginning conversations and quietly influencing on a large scale. Affiliate Director Zachary Lesch-Huie is good at shaping connections and fostering alliances. I bring storytelling to the table. Mikey is a wizard behind a camera. Austin Siadak makes it rain in the edit suite. We brought our skills together to work towards a common goal. And so I hobbled out. First to Jailhouse, then to Rumbling Bald and finally on to Red Rocks.

It’s been a year since I’ve embarked on creating Open Access and I can honestly say that many of the people at the Access Fund have become friends. They’ve shown me the products of their multi-year efforts. I’ve seen them smile like proud parents as they point to a cliff line. For a guy who spent the last year listening to music and telling stories about when he used to climb, it felt so good to be a part of that enthusiasm.

With Open Access we could have warned you that the Access Fund won’t make it without you. It’s easy to present membership or volunteer hours as dues we pay or even as overly reactionary “If you don’t do ‘Y’ immediately, than ‘X’ will happen.”

Yes, the Access Fund is better off with you as a member or volunteer, but the truth is—if climbing has shaped who you are as a person, what you do with these moments, days and years of free time, and who you spend your time with, the Access Fund has played a small part in your life. If you’ve shared the warmth of a campfire at Indian Creek, called Camp 4 a temporary home, or looked up in amazement at the Elephant’s Perch, the Access Fund has played a part in your experience.

Please take a moment. Get to know the people who power the Access Fund. Even if you don’t know them personally, they are your friends. Check out these areas. When you plot your next road trip, put Jailhouse, Rumbling Bald and Red Rocks on the tick list. Be grateful that you found climbing. And when the time comes when you are asked to give back, take stock of those skills you’ve developed whatever they may be. Swing a pickaxe. Write a check. Volunteer with your local climbing organization.

I don’t know if I will always need to climb and I’m not entirely sure if my body will grace me with that pleasure, but I will always be a climber. And I will always be an Access Fund member.

I hope you enjoy this first installment of Open Access. Stay tuned for the next two videos this spring.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/52560143 w=500&h=281]

The Secret is Out: Jailhouse Open Access from