I first met Harrison at a Crossfit class in Park City. It was 8am and frigid cold and I was in no mood to be awake let alone exercise. But his energy was contagious. There was a warmth to him that lifted the veil of my early morning grog.Read More
Words by Andrew Somps
Photos by Flip Mayernik
Backpacks have always been synonymous with school for me. My relationship with its typical items – textbooks, pencils, notepads, that sort of thing – has always been tinged with a slight feeling of worry. These were the tools that I would use to succeed or fail and therefore carried with them a reminder of what was at stake. As a kid who cared deeply, often too deeply, about his performance in school, my backpack would often feel much heavier than it actually was. Knowing I carried papers and projects that would either get the stamp of approval or the painful branding of rejection, I felt a tremendous weight throwing those black straps over my shoulders every day. I hated how I allowed the contents of my backpack, designed to imbue me with knowledge, instead fill me with the ugly angst of success at all costs.
It took 25 years for my relationship with the backpack to change. It required a radically different environment, one far from the polished confines of a classroom, for me to appreciate the true value of a backpack and its integral role in human connection and survival. As fate would have it, I traded textbooks for extra socks, pencils for extra water, notepads for sleeping pads. And in one week, camping and hiking in the Yosemite wilderness, I learned that what one carries on his back means so much more than a good grade. And for me, that was everything.
I awoke abruptly to the sound of Flip’s alarm. 3:30 am. Frozen toes. Biting wind. I scrambled from the tent, pacing aimlessly to shake the sleep from my weary bones. We boiled water, made coffee, and drank our fill but I owe this wake up call to the stars. They woke me as tenderly as my mother. I looked up in disbelief, completely transfixed. This was a new beauty, a new feeling, and I was seeing the world with new eyes. This was awe.
Four miles separated us from the summit. We wanted to be there to catch the sun red-handed as it stole the darkness from the night. With one large pack and some head lamps to light the way, we hit the trailhead. With each step, we felt the praise of the elements. The wind blew, the trees swayed, and the dirt cradled our feet, moving in harmony with one another, pushing us through the night.
It wasn’t long before we arrived at the crux of the hike: a formidable and unforgiving 500m stretch of granite that rose steeply, almost inexplicably into the realm of the stars. Steel cable hand rails, running parallel to one another, lined the way to the top. There lay a large pile of gloves at the base of the cables which, for some reason, seemed an eerie sign for the ascent ahead. We continued on, cautious yet intrepid, exhausted yet thrilled. And one by one, we took those first, triumphant steps onto what felt like the surface of the moon.
The sun was just beginning to creep over the horizon. Slow and welcomed was its crepuscular light into the fading darkness. I had never witnessed such a friendly introduction to the day or impressive ending to the night.
In a mad world, governed by clocks and calendars and deadlines, we had somehow crossed into a more expansive, slower world – one where time did not matter but operated perfectly within its essence. It was a rhythm I had never felt before, never taken part in. And yet, somehow, some part of me recognized it. Maybe I have that – maybe we all have that – that rhythm inside us. I think there are things we know, feelings inside that have yet to be realized or spoken into existence, until life aligns with us and we allow ourselves to fully play our part in its masterpiece.
When we finally sat down, I took a sip from our jug of water and threw some trail mix into my mouth. The mixture was salty and sweet and cool and danced on my tongue. As I chewed and stared out into the unfolding day, I found myself relishing in this moment of glory. I looked around, baffled by the joy of simplicity. A rising sun, some good friends, water and some trail mix. It was upsetting to think I had ever over-thought happiness beyond such a scene as this.
And it was in this moment as well, when my relationship with the backpack changed forever. Worries about its arbitrary standards of success were whisked away by the very real measurement of its capability to ensure our survival. We had all shared in the awesome responsibility of transporting the pack and its contents, which sustained us through the night. How beautiful – to know that what was in the backpack could, in more dire circumstances, keep everyone alive. In an instant, I felt lighter just thinking about the symbolic sacredness that is the backpack.
I wish I could better describe the scene as the sun came up that morning, but sadly, I don’t think language belongs in the same ring with such immense beauty. It seems unfair. Maybe one day I’ll find the words. All I know is this was more than a hike. This was a transcendent experience in love, in friendship – in beauty. All of this, all of this, through the night.
Flip Mayernik. Explorer.
Interview by Andrew Somps
Photos by Flip Mayernik
Tell us a little more about the roots of MTW. How did it all start? What inspired you?
Well, I guess it would make sense to start off by mentioning where I’m originally from. I grew up in the suburbs of Fairfax, Virginia and it wasn’t until I moved out to Park City, Utah that I realized there were all these people, this whole new culture I guess you could say, dedicated to exploring and climbing and hiking. It was a culture shock really. I wasn’t used to mountains – seeing mountains, climbing mountains, or anything of that nature. I remember climbing the Grand Teton in Wyoming with my friend Cameron and from there I was pretty much hooked. MTW was born right after that trip. Everything that started MTW started out here.
You've been to a lot of cool places. Hawaii, Nepal, El Salvador to name a few. What’s the most rewarding aspect to traveling for you?
Definitely that sense of discovery. That thrill of being in a new place. I’ve always been a visual learner. I think that’s why traveling has been so exciting for me. Right after I turned 21, I went to Croatia with my friend Jack and that experience made me realize this is a big world we live in and there’s a lot of places to go to. Croatia was the first but I remember saying to myself, “I gotta keep exploring.”
You just gotta start somewhere. I joke around that we’re taking over the world but seriously, you can do anything you want to do.
You've said before that you're attracted to intimidating challenges, be it physical or mental. Why is that? What compels you?
When you set these high standards, there’s obviously a lot expected of you but I don’t know, it’s all part of my own growth. Like going through a tough time, it’s hard but it will make you stronger. Climbing an unbelievable mountain, it makes you stronger. You’re tested. I accomplish more, or at least I feel I accomplish more when I’m pushing the limits. You don’t just climb one mountain and think you’ve climbed them all. You don’t just go to one country and think you’ve seen them all. They’re all so different and have their own unique challenges – I like that.
What do you think it means to be a mountaineer of the world?
We’re global citizens. I want MTW to be a global tribe of nomads. Of wanderers and explorers. We chase our dreams, conquer our fears. You just gotta start somewhere. I joke around that we’re taking over the world but seriously, you can do anything you want to do.
I don’t think of myself – I’m tuned in, connected to the task at hand – the climb or whatever, and that is the emotion.
We all can feel stuck at times. What would you say to someone who is feeling stuck?
I think it’s all about fear. The things we’re afraid of can really keep us tied down. I don’t like being tied down, so for me those things that I’m afraid of, I actively pursue. Like climbing the Mt Olympus west slabs was kinda scary but I wanted to do it, and when I finally made it to the top – oh man, that feeling – it was incredible. It’s the idea of doing something different, its trying new things that keeps me going.
Our emotions can have quite the pull on our behaviors. Being an avid traveler, constantly exploring new places, how do you use your emotions to your advantage?
Honestly, it’s complete optimism. Like you just get into this flow. I don’t think of myself – I’m tuned in, connected to the task at hand –the climb or whatever, and that is the emotion. You’re only adapting, reacting to your surroundings, your senses, your gut. Things are constantly changing out there. I don’t have a formula.
What is it about being outside, exposed in the wilderness, that pulls you in? What are some of the lessons you've learned from nature?
That feeling of connection. I feel connected in nature. I’m present. Like if I’m in the Sawtooths, I’m not like ‘oh I wish I was in Nepal or Mexico or anywhere else. This lake right in front of me – here, right now – is all that matters. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I feel like I’m achieving something bigger, way bigger than myself, when I’m outside.
I feel like I’m achieving something bigger, way bigger than myself, when I’m outside.
Words by Jack Arpert
Photos by Flip Mayernik
The world turns. The seasons change. The wind blows, the rain falls, the sun burns, and the snow cools. Mountains rise and fall. The leaves die, fall, and grow back. The rivers come and go. What more do you need?
We should be trying to fill our lives with the most inspiring exhibitions of our existence. Sure the things we create and control are extraordinary productions. Yet while we are remarkable entities and creators, we must remember that we are not the only entities, and we are ourselves still just creations.
The countless components of our world individually exist, but they are all constructions of their coexistence. That coexistence, as well, is our creator. We have become so engrossed by the capacity of our creations, we neglect to explore the reason we are able to create. That which has allowed us to exist. NATURE. Which’s existence can only barely be explained. How are so few of us intrigued by that? How is that which gave us life not interesting enough to satisfy us in it?
Let me live with nothing but my own capabilities, like the other natural creations on this earth, and let me explore what it is to live.
Everything around us, that precedes our earthly presence, functions magnificently without our intrusion and has for billions of years. Why do we need all these “things” and all this organization?! What are they but evidence of our unnecessary manipulation of the sheer essence of our subsistence. The life processes of all raw existents, entirely unrefined, have produced the most phenomenal creation we have ever been presented to experience, our ability to exist in this world as we know it. Yet we strip natural elements of their ability to perform their congenital process, simply to fuel our unsatisfiable interest in our ability to create. To make unnatural from natural.
Our fixation with the capabilities of our existence has blinded us from the benefits of perceiving our existence for what we really are, elements of an extraordinary natural phenomenon. Natural constructions have managed to function on a cycle that’s agelessness has been threatened only by our interference. Even though they haven’t existed for half as long, our artificial constructions have already created the possibility of absolute global destruction. We kill each other over things that only have the value we put on them when we created them. We get lost in it all. We start wars over control of the natural elements that are necessary for us to continue creating. How did they become ours to control?
Why do we live this way? We are not all the same, but certainly none of us need all these “things” in order to live. One day we are going to let our creations destroy us and (more importantly) destroy that which originally allowed us to exist. We already let them control us. We let the industries that produce, distribute, and manage our creations decide where we live and define our individual experiences of life. But why stay in one place? Why spend your whole life doing one thing?
There is only so much to see, in one place, and there is only so much life to be lived. We should see the extent of this world we live in simply because it is so magnificently vast! Our creation of technology has, at least, allowed us to be aware of all that exists, out there, in this world. Which makes disregarding of the opportunity to explore all it has to offer so much more unsettling.
There is so much more to be learned by going out and experiencing the practically endless bounds of our world first hand, as opposed to voluntarily limiting the expanse of our one life experience. Sitting in the same minuscule portion of such an immense wonder, trying to learn about all it has to offer. How pointless!
The most genuine lessons we can take away from living are gained through exploration and interaction with that which is greater than we are. Remarkable as some of our creations may be, what is more worth dedicating your existence to? Examining the things which we can explain and control, or exploring those which we know so little of but offer us so very much.
Nobody sat you down and tried to teach you how to run and jump or have your own thoughts about things. We develop unbelievable abilities, simply by going out and attempting new feats. We had to be taught how to use the internet, Ipads, smart phones, but what is the point? So we can learn about all there is to experience in this life without actually experiencing any of it?
We are extraordinary creations with incredible abilities and we barely use any of them to survive! Instead we have fashioned all these things to do everything we “need” (in order to live) for us. What is the point of living if we aren’t doing the actual living for ourselves! What a waste of this unbelievable opportunity.
Our creations may make the “requirements” of our daily lives easier to accomplish, but there were no requirements for living until we created them.
Words by Andrew Somps
Photos by Flip Mayernik
When a group of friends and I set sail for the Mokulua islands off Oahu, Hawaii we had nothing but a couple kayaks and the shirts on our backs. The water that day, although unmatched in beauty, matched everyone’s feelings – rowdy and excited, loud and bright. Limpid aqua blues playfully swirled into deep stormy dyes of grey as our kayaks sliced through the unknown waters.
We were soon face to face with unrelenting six foot waves that had no pity for our plastic flotation devices. They jolted our kayaks and flipped us like pancakes into the savage depths of a perilous sea. We flailed and scrambled but ultimately rallied together and remounted our sea-faring steeds. Continuing on, with surprisingly little interruption, we finally made it to the islands. We set up camp and cooked a most-deserved meal of steak and pepper kabobs. We ended the day telling stories and sat in awe watching the mountains and clouds perform a delicate dance in the sky.
On our journey back home, we heard cries for help and promptly made a bee line for the desperate sounds of distress. A group of fellow kayakers had taken in too much water and were sinking quickly. The vindictiveness of the sea can be daunting but the combined efforts of men will often triumph, regardless of the challenge ahead. Calm, confident, and reassuring communication ultimately allowed for a successful, and safe, rescue. Fear has a funny way of disappearing when it hears people talking.
As human beings our ability to effectively communicate and problem solve as a group is very self rewarding. We can look back at what we’ve accomplished and proudly remember everyone’s contribution. And once an adventure is cemented in our memories, it never leaves. It’s the gift that we never grow tired of. It’s the gift that inspires the future, the lessons that prove time and time again that anything is possible.
Words by Andrew Somps
Photos by Flip Mayernik
My 21st birthday – the long-awaited, clichéd day of legal drinking and debauchery – was unconventional, to say the least. I didn’t partake in the usual rite of passage celebrations that come with turning 21. Instead, my friend Cameron and I decided to climb The Grand Teton in Wyoming. It’s the highest mountain range in Grand Teton National Park, rising to just over 13,700 feet. Seeing the Tetons for the first time will be something I never forget. Their immense size was humbling and awe-inspiring and has forever been cemented into my memory. As we drove through Jackson Hole, we stopped at a mountaineering shop. It was suggested that we invest in some approach shoes – a grippy hybrid of rock climbing and standard hiking shoes. We also bought a Grand Teton guide book to help us get acquainted with the formidable difficulties inherent to the Tetons.
That same night, we set up camp at The Colter Bay Campgrounds, where we both meticulously studied and prepared for the coming day’s ascent. The Owen-Spaulding route immediately jumped out at both of us. It seemed tricky but alluring, challenging but doable. And because neither of us had all the necessary rock climbing gear, we knew this climb was going to have to be done as a free-solo – no ropes, no harnesses, nothing. It had been free-soloed before but still, the thought of clamoring up 7,000 feet of rock with zero safe-guards was unsettling, to say the least. As we kept reading we wondered if this was a crazy idea. We didn't say it to each other, but we both knew it was.
The following morning we were awakened by a fox trotting around our campsite. A good omen of sorts, we thought, as we packed up our things and prepared for the climb. The clock struck 7 am as we hit the Lupine Meadows Trailhead. But we weren’t alone. An elk, standing alone in the morning mist, greeted us and let out a hellish scream echoing across the land. Quite the alarm clock that thing is. Sneaking past our antlered acquaintance, we began ambling along at a moderate pace. About four miles later we arrived at Garnet Canyon. Once in Garnet Canyon every step becomes slower, with an increasing probability of tripping. You’re too busy gawking and screaming at cruise ship-sized rocks to care what’s underneath your feet. We continued on the trail and scrambled up a boulder field until we finally reached the Lower Saddle.
We broke out the guide book to figure out our next move. We were about to embark on the final ascent and needed all the reassurance we could get. The most technical and dangerous sections of the climb, known as the Belly Roll and the Belly Crawl, are the last two major feats before the summit. Shortness of breath and a pounding heart took over our bodies as we slithered across a treacherously thin, five foot wide slab of stone, exposing 2,000 feet of nothing but space to fall. There is a strictly enforced, zero-tolerance policy for mistakes of any kind at 13,500 ft. And, as you’ll recall, we didn’t have ropes or harnesses which made the margin of error even smaller. Despite our lack of gear, we managed to safely execute The Belly Roll.
As adrenaline coursed through our veins, we continued on to meet up with our next challenge – the Belly Crawl – the technical crux of the climb. Cameron and I cautiously began traversing along the 20 foot ledge, looking down only to ensure adequate footholds. Any lapse in focus would have resulted in our demise. We were climbing the most exposed route of our lives. And yet, the prospect of sudden disaster, death itself even, did not dispirit our motivation or dispute our longing for the summit. This wayward mindset of course, working to combat human instinct for safety, works in mysterious ways in order to banish the timid mind of its thoughts and replace them with a body that has a mind of its own, allowing only those innate tingling sensations to propel the body forward – without thought, worry, or difficulty.
When we made it to the top, we were the only ones on the summit. We had done it. We had climbed the Grand Teton. We stayed at the top for about 15-20 minutes –gazing at the vastness and unparalleled beauty of our world. The stillness of that moment, the wave of serenity washing over us, served as a humbling reminder that we are but a mere piece to the puzzle. Everything falls into place when you’re cast into the throes of wilderness unknown. Nothing is certain, but everything is sacred. The morning after my 21st birthday, I didn’t wake up with an alcohol-induced headache or an aching in my bones. No, instead, I woke up with a fiery appreciation for the world in which I live, and for me, that is more than enough.