HMI Gap 2016: Lessons from the Desert

Hello from the desert! Since transitioning from the mountains overlooking Moab, Utah, we headed down to Indian Creek, the mecca of sandstone crack climbing. After one week there, and a short canyoneering adventure, we finished our time in Utah camped by the Colorado River north of Moab. We have been focusing on learning traditional rock climbing technique and going on multi-pitch routes. The following two excerpts are personal student reflections from our time here. A common theme portrayed is the crossover of lessons learned from the desert to our everyday life.


I expected the transition from Colorado to Utah to be monumental and a step outside of my comfort zone. Being from the Pacific Northwest, I’ve never been anywhere like the desert, seen anything like the canyons, or climbed anything remotely as inspiring as the sandstone crags. What I didn’t expect from the past five weeks was a passion to blossom and develop. This section of the trip has been climbing intensive, which was both exciting but nerve-wracking, as I  started HMI gap with little climbing experience. Traditional climbing especially was a whole new ballgame. Traditional, or “trad” climbing focuses on crack climbing and placing our own safety gear on the wall. Camelots, cracks, and towers were all in my future, and I was in way over my head. But with the encouragement of friends, some of the best teachers out there, and lots (and lots) of athletic tape, I started scrambling up crack after crack. I’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to trad climbing, but I love what I’ve learned and can’t wait for more.
My weekly phone calls home consisted of updates on the group, descriptions of scorpion sightings, what sort of foods we were eating, and dumbed down explanations of climbing. What I can’t seem to translate into words is the impact that climbing has had on my life and the inspiration I’ve drawn from all the pitches and hard days I’ve had.

A little while back, after a long day at the “Ice cream Parlor” Crag in Moab, Becca (our instructor) said something that has stuck with me. She presented us with the idea that climbing puts conflict directly in front of our faces and forces us to go about solving a “cruxy” problem. Sometimes it’s a dynamic move, or pinchy holds, but whatever it is, it’s a metaphorical way to view your approach to conflict and challenge in your day-to-day life. Personally, I become consumed with the problem and frustrated with myself. The climbing problem physically and mentally tolls me until I’ve gotten passed it. In “everyday life” I similarly feel overwhelmed by resolving whatever conflict I’m being faced with. Once the climbing, or everyday problem has been overcome, I understand why I choose to face the challenges that I do, why I start climb after climb, and why I’m going to continue to push myself on and off of the wall. I am grateful for the lessons that the desert has reminded me of.

Looking forward, we are all nervously awaiting what Patagonia may hold. It will turn our routines upside down, but the fourteen of us undoubtedly will continue to laugh, learn, grow closer and make limitless memories.

By Macy Cunningham


Sometimes I feel like surrendering. Giving into the easy things, the comfortable things. The things that I am lucky enough to have been presented to me: may it be college, a relationship or a way of life. Sometimes all I want is to be hugged and kissed and live in a place of certainty. But something inside of me doesn’t let me fold into myself. Because I know at the pit of my stomach I was not made for the simple stuff.

And thus the life choices that has led me to stuffing my hands into little cracks to wiggle myself up a 70 foot sandstone wall asking myself (out loud), “why the heck do I even like rock climbing?!” Tears come to my eyes, in part because of general exhaustion, and in part because it feels like my shoes are peeling off my toenails. But then I reach my anchor – the holy grail of suffer fest erasers.

Take.” I shout. I should lower. But instead I look over my shoulder to take in the view. Only at this height does it seem I can look into the eyes of the sandstone towers that loom behind me like friendly giants. In the distance snowy clouds sink low around the La Sals. The sky is a wash of gray and purple. I wonder if it will rain later. There is no sound besides that of my breath. And for a moment everything is still. And quiet. And calm. It’s then I realize this view is indifferent to me, to the level of pain and try hard I just put into climbing that crack. It’s indifferent not only to me, but this desert beauty is indifferent to the pain in the world. The sandstone towers continue to stand, the small waves on the Colorado River continue to turn in on themselves, and the sun will continue to rise despite war, poverty, and heartbreaks. Just as my breath, and my heart beat will continue to prevail no matter the amount of obstacles I encounter. The world is not made up of the simple stuff, and neither am I.

By Heidi Williams

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