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El Sendero Luminoso

On January 15, 2014, Alex Honnold free-soloed El Sendero Luminoso (The Shining Path) in El Portrero Chico, Mexico in a little over 3 hours. The climb rises 2,500 feet to the summit of El Toro. It could be the most difficult rope-less climb in history.

Behind the Scenes with Renan Ozturk

Repost from NeverStopExploring

Climber, artist, filmmaker: The North Face athlete Renan Ozturk always has his camera rolling, and earlier this year he traveled to Mexico to document teammate Alex Honnold’s free-solo climb of El Sendero Luminoso. Alex’s accomplishment is arguably the most difficult free-solo to date — yet safely and successfully filming the endeavor was an equally technical challenge. Travel back with Renan as he recalls the challenges faced and is reminded of why we climb. (And remember to join us on Tuesday, August 19 as we live stream the first top of the 2014 The North Face Never Stop Exploring Speaker Series, featuring Alex Honnold in “Relativity of Risk.”)


Documenting free-solo climbing is the most difficult endeavor I have ever taken a part in. And to add, it gets particularly serious when one of your good friends and teammates is Alex Honnold, and he tells you about a personal project that will push the limits of what has previously been done before.

Shooting rope-less climbing is taxing, both mentally and physically. I don’t want to affect my subject in any way, but the best angles are close and intimate. The risk of falling is always there. Is documenting these ascents the right thing to do?

Hidalgo, Mexico. Credit: Renan Ozturk

It’s January 2014, and the weather in Hidalgo, Mexico, is just about perfect. The mornings are brisk, chilly even, especially in the shade. The days warm up though, and the afternoon sun creeps around the 3,000-foot looming walls of Potrero Chico and hits the top of the peaks, though just for a brief few hours each day before the shadows return and night falls.

Fellow The North Face teammate Cedar Wright and I went down to help Honnold prepare for what could be one of his greatest free-solos of all time. And, if it happened, we were poised and ready to capture the achievement as part of Alex’s ever evolving story.

This is an off-the-radar ascent that is serious and difficult. It’s humbling to hear Alex assess the possibility of soloing El Sendero Luminoso, a sustained 5.12 sheer line, rising 2,500 feet to the summit of El Toro.

“It may be too scary,” he mentions casually as we walk the dusty path to the base of the climb during one of the early prep days. “I’m going to put a bunch of work into it, figure out if it’s even possible.”

We all sometimes think Alex is some breed of super-alien, but then realize he is very much human like the rest of us. Calm, calculated decisions. Sometimes a free-solo project looks like it goes, and sometimes it doesn’t. At this point, not even Alex was sure if he would make the attempt. There is inevitable pressure of having us come down to film to add to the mix, but probably also a sense of support.

Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright relax after a day of route cleaning. Credit: Taylor Rees

For a few days, Cedar and Alex clean the route, and it was no small feat. The limestone cracks were thick with cactus and debris. While the work was laborious, Alex got more psyched on the project, and Cedar got more concerned for his friend’s life. Every move was precise, and many holds were small nubs and flakes as thin as fingernails. But we all support Alex achieving his goals, especially knowing that he doesn’t do it for the risk or the glory — he does it purely for the challenge and the joy. We tried to have the video work stay in that same headspace, being all in it together.

In the early morning of January 15, Cedar, myself, and our small film crew were casually eating oatmeal and drinking black coffee. Alex had a look in his eye, just a bit of mischievous joy: “I’m going up now guys. See you in a few hours.”

The line. (Credit: Renan Ozturk)

And with that, he walked out the door and headed up, alone, to free-solo El Sendero Luminoso. We scrambled, quietly as possible, to get our gear together and document Alex’s attempt.

Ultimately, Alex hiked it gracefully. He sent the 1,500-foot wall in under three hours, untethered and unafraid. The sporadic wind on El Toro can be gusty, increasing the challenge not only for Alex, but also for our R/C heli crew from skysight who battled through the jungle with Cedar to meet Alex at the top to get the summit shots that are in the video. Flying a RED camera on an R/C heli way out there is part art, part science, and part “go for it” — the same as with climbing.

The R/C heli filming Alex on the wall. (Credit: Camp 4 Collective)

Capturing this perspective of the climb was really important to me, but at the same time I knew that I needed to not push them to fly too much and increase the odds of things going sideways. After a few takeoffs from the high ridges, the crew successfully avoided any crashes and landed. Securing our shots, I pulled the plug on the heli to ensure safety, especially given all the variables, and everyone came down on a high note.

The following days Cedar and I ascended hundreds of feet of rope with our heavy camera gear to shoot segments of Honnold soloing from above, recreating some of the hardest moves. In this way, we were able to get some of the best action of the climb authentically without a rope, but at the same time not impacting his actual experience of the continuous solo. Alex would slither out of his harness and onto the hair-raising terrain and joke with us as we tiptoed around him to capture the magic.

Renan Ozturk sleeping during an overnight time-lapse. (Credit: Renan Ozturk)

Renan Ozturk sleeping during an overnight time-lapse. (Credit: Renan Ozturk)

This required complete trust between all of us, which as friends, has developed over years and years of climbing together. The vibe stayed light and we all just enjoyed being high up on the wall, creating art. Alex picked the section he wanted to climb and we only had one continuous take to document. Normally for climbing photos/video you will ask your talent to reclimb sections many times and in the best light, but this was a different animal. One take was all we had.

All in all, this was a best-case scenario for a short, intimate video story. There is a lot that could have gone wrong, but we mitigated our emotions and the risk with a similar approach Alex took for the climb. It could be the hardest free-solo climb in history, and it’s cool that in the end the video was shared around the world. For me, documenting Alex’s accomplishment was a reminder of why we climb — for the pure joy.

What is the Purpose of Society?

{Repost from The New York Times}

by Mark Bittman

11 February 2015

The world of food and agriculture symbolizes most of what’s gone wrong in the United States. But because food is plentiful for most people, and the damage that conventional agriculture does isn’t readily evident to everyone, it’s important that we look deeper, beyond food, to the structure that underlies most decisions: the political economy.

Progressives are not thinking broadly or creatively enough. By failing to pressure Democrats to take strong stands on everything from environmental protection to gun control to income inequality, progressives allow the party to use populist rhetoric while making America safer for business than it is for Americans. No one seriously believes that Hillary Clinton will ever put the interests of Main Street before those of her donors from Wall Street, do they? At least not unless she’s pushed, and hard.

It’s clear to most everyone, regardless of politics, that the big issues — labor, race, food, immigration, education and so on — must be “fixed,” and that fixing any one of these will help with the others. But this kind of change must begin with an agreement about principles, specifically principles of human rights and well-being rather than principles of making a favorable business climate.

Shouldn’t adequate shelter, clothing, food and health care be universal? Isn’t everyone owed a society that works toward guaranteeing the well-being of its citizens? Shouldn’t we prioritize avoiding self-destruction?

Plenty of Democrats, even those who think of themselves as progressive, would not answer yes to those questions. Some would answer, “Don’t be naïve, that’s impossible,” and others would say, “All we need to provide is equal opportunity for all and let the market sort it out.” (To which I’d reply, “Talk about naïve!”) I’m fine with disagreement, but I’m not fine with standard public questions like “How do we create a better climate for business so it can provide more jobs?” Consider what this implies about the purpose of people, to say nothing about the meaning of life. The business of America should not be business, but well-being.

Think about it this way: There are two kinds of operating systems, hard and soft. A clock is a hard system. We know what it’s for, we know when it isn’t working, and we know that 10 clock experts would agree on how to fix it — and could do so.

Soft systems, like agriculture and economics, are more complex. We don’t all agree on goals, and we don’t agree on whether things are working or in need of repair. For example, is contemporary American agriculture a system for nourishing people and providing a livelihood for farmers? Or is it one for denuding the nation’s topsoil while poisoning land, water, workers and consumers and enriching corporations? Our collective actions would indicate that our principles favor the latter; that has to change.

Defining goals that matter to people is critical, because the most powerful way to change a complex, soft system is to change its purpose. For example, if we had a national agreement that food is not just a commodity, a way to make money, but instead a way to nourish people and the planet and a means to safeguard our future, we could begin to reconfigure the system for that purpose. More generally, if we agreed that human well-being was a priority, creating more jobs would not ring so hollow.

Sadly, even if we did agree, complex systems are not subject to clever fixes. Rather, changes often have unexpected results (that shouldn’t happen with a clock), so change necessarily remains incremental. But without an agreement on goals, without statements of purpose, we are going to continue to see changes that are not in the interest of the majority. Increasingly, it’s corporations and not governments that are determining how the world works. As unrepresentative as government might seem right now, there is at least a chance of improving it, whereas corporations will always act in their own interests.

It’s been adequately demonstrated that more than minor tweaks are needed to improve life for most people. Let’s try to make sense of where the world is now instead of relying on outdated doctrines like “capitalism” and “socialism” created by people who had no idea what the 21st century would look like. Let’s ambitiously and publicly philosophize — as the conservatives do — and think about what shape a sensible political economy might take.

The big ideas and strategies for how we should manage society and thrive with the planet are not a set of rules handed down from on high. To develop them for now and the future is a major challenge, and we — progressives and our allies — have to work harder at it. No one is going to figure it out for us.

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The reasonable man adapts himself to the world unreasonable to himself [progress depends on the unreasonable

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tom robbin quotes. skinny legs and all. religion is nothing by institutionalized mysticism. The catch is, mysticism does not lend itself to institutionalization. The moment we attempt to organize mysticism, we destroy its essence. Religion, then, is mysticism in which the mystical has bee killed. Or, at least diminished.

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How not to apply for a job in development

{Report from The Guardian from Stuffexpataidworkerslike – the famous “Cover letter from underemployed overachievers” #aidspoof}


Dear Hiring Manager for [insert International Humanitarian Organisation],

I would like to apply for the position of [insert vague sounding job title that has no meaning outside of the given organisation]. I believe that my educational background and skills make me uniquely suited to this position. So far in life I have proven myself capable of taking on the challenges required for this position, which I understand pays under $20,000 a year for working in one of the most dangerous countries in the world and undertaking tasks that no one else wants to do.

As you can see from my tiny-font, two page resume, I attended a top-level undergraduate university where I excelled at taking on more than I could possibly handle while maintaining a high GPA, completing 12 internships, and finding opportunities to travel to western Europe where I was enthralled by the ancient architecture and many art museums. My travels prompted me to do a semester abroad where I discovered a disdain for “tourists” who travel in packs taking pictures of 50 monuments in a single day instead of spending hours at cafes drinking wine and smoking like real Europeans. After my study abroad experience, I completed my senior honors thesis on the topic of [insert esoteric topic of no interest to the majority of the world].

Upon graduation with highest honors, I took a year to backpack around the world to extremely poor countries where I spent most of my time drinking local beers and posing for pictures with street children. This experience led me to want to help alleviate poverty. I therefore obtained a volunteer position in which I dedicated a couple of years of my life to living in a mud hut. While I did not have cable television, I was able to use this time to learn curse words in five tribal languages, grow dreadlocks, drive a motorbike, learn to drum, and discover the real Africa. These skills will undoubtedly prove essential in my future career.

After this unique experience, I attended an ivy league graduate school where I obtained a masters degree in appearing humble while actually making other people feel inadequate and uninformed. From my peers I soon learned that there is a hierarchy to international work, and I became determined to not just help poor people, but to help the poorest and most desperate people, preferably those living in war-torn countries under military dictatorships where the chance of being kidnapped, blown up, or summarily executed is very high. Only by working under the very worst of conditions can I prove to myself and my peers that I am in fact as ballsy as they are and just as willing to die for a project that is under-funded, poorly planned and probably has little chance of actually helping anyone.

This experience will allow me to live on a permanent adrenaline rush, which will mean that I do not need to use drugs the way my over-privileged peers do. At the same time, it will allow me to become more arrogant and cynical and give me the credibility needed to scoff at anyone who questions the effectiveness of my chosen career. Following this, I intend to return to my home country where I will land a cushy job at a university or thinktank and get paid an exorbitant amount of money to create policy guidelines that are not possible to implement in the real world.

As you can see I have spent the past seven years of my life working unpaid internships for the friends of my semi well-connected parents, and am enormously in debt as a result of my determination to live in the world’s most expensive city while attending the world’s most expensive graduate school. While my high school friends are married with kids, houses, and cars, I am still using my parent’s address and couch surfing in a city where a glass of wine costs $12. However, a position at your organisation will enable me to add to the number of visas in my passport, give me stories to tell about being shot at by rebel armies, and imagine that I am helping people by living in poverty with them.

Thank you for your consideration, I look forward to hearing from you.

P.S. Do not ignore this cover letter because I have cc’d my professor who used to work for your organisation as well as a family friend who is on your board of directors.