We were watching Brad Gobright’s slide show at Climb Smart in Joshua Tree last year when he showed a picture of himself in a cast, and on it in black Sharpie someone had written “Safty Third.” It was a punchline to him, and the crowd roared with laughter. The next day I was sitting at some clinic, not climbing, and just really not psyched on sitting around, and “Safty Third” popped into my head. I left the clinic, went to my car to grab my shoes and chalk bag and went soloing.
To me, the margin of safety is often a psychological limitation–a bubble that restricts us to convention and keeps us from freely exploring the outskirts of what we think is possible or acceptable. I’m not conventional, but I’ve always tried to be. While I’ve always known this about myself, I never had the courage to just accept myself and let my life be directed by passion.
I started working on Safty Third the week that my good friend James died. It isn’t the first time that I’ve been inspired by a morbid event in my life, and it will likely not be the last, but I think it was one of the most significant. I left San Diego that Thursday headed for Red Rock in Nevada. It was the weekend of the Red Rock Rendezvous and I was a ticket holder. I had a feeling that something great was going to happen, but I had no clue what a truly defining experience it would become.
Within one hour of being in Red Rock I onsight free solo’d a route called Physical Graffiti (5.6). I had never climbed on sandstone before and it served as a perfect test piece. When I topped out and got back to the car I was on fire, and I think that was when I decided that I wasn’t going to participate in the Rendezvous. The whole social thing just isn’t for me.
I skipped my clinic on Saturday morning and headed out for Solar Slab. There is a 500ft approach climb called Solar Slab Gully (5.3), and I just wanted to climb up it and check out the terrace. A few hundred feet up I ran into some chimneys and wasn’t too keen on climbing them with a pack on, so I ditched it. I took a huge gulp of water and proceeded on with nothing but a chalk bag and shoes with one thought in my mind: Safty Third. I stood on the terrace for a few minutes staring up Solar Slab before I started climbing. I was the only person on route and enjoyed the summit in solitude.
By the time I left Red Rock Canyon that Sunday I had onsight solo’d nearly 60 pitches. It was the most liberating experience of my life. I said very few words, and I discovered the difference between isolation and solitude–a lesson only the desert could teach me.
Safty Third is not about disregarding safety, but rather defying convention. It’s not so much about climbing, but rather experiencing life through adventure. Climbing was just the catalyst that released me from the bondage of myself. That’s what I write about. Sometimes it’s serious, sometimes it’s satirical, but it always describes an experience that I think a lot of people can relate with. It’s not really about the amazing things that we do, but the amazing places in our minds that those things help us discover and the barriers we overcome on such endeavors. I am always surprised by how much of my life practices seep into my climbing, and how much of my climbing practices seep into my life, and together they are helping me overcome my past and find the courage to rediscover and accept myself.
This is my life, and I think it would be tragic to spend my time here as if sitting in some bland waiting room thumbing through some shitty magazine.