Matt Segal - Finding Psyche in Sweden
"Skiing slowly filled the void, the physical and mental challenge that I wasn’t getting from climbing..."
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It was as if I was cheating on my one true love with a sneaky snowy mistress. I felt weak in the arms and was only enjoying the kiss of the sun from my skis. I maintained a mediocre relationship with climbing only by a few gym days or hang board sessions a week. It felt stale; my 20-year love affair with climbing had become monotonous. At the age of 32 was it coming to an end? I was bored, but unwilling to give up hope, I mean- I’m one of the few lucky bastards that’s a professional climber. Day in and day out I continued maintaining with climbing but ran wild with excitement in the winter playground of the ski slopes.
I grew up in Miami, FL and didn’t start skiing until well into my 20’s when I moved to Colorado. Before this winter I had probably skied 50 days in my life; winters were always for road trips to Hueco Tanks or Euro limestone missions in Spain, but this year was different. But with record snowfall across North America I couldn’t ignore the call of old man winter. I skied in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and California, taking every opportunity I could to rip down snow.
Skiing slowly filled the void- the physical and mental challenge- that I wasn’t getting from climbing. It was a fresh love filled with the exhilaration that accompanies learning something new, and a feverish excitement from moving too fast.
January rolled into February and I had gone the longest time without actual rock climbing in over 10 years. My friends thought I was crazy. “You’re a professional climber! Why spend so much time skiing?” “What are you doing?” The doubt began to sink in, what am I doing? I would log an extra gym session to make myself feel better but the motivation just wasn’t there.
I eventually got an email from my good friend Will Stanhope inviting me to come to Buhäslan, Sweden with him. He was super excited to check out the area, and I couldn’t say no. Maybe it was just what I needed, a good ole trad climbing trip to respark my love for climbing. Plus, Will and I have traveled the world together on random climbing adventures from China to Mexico, mostly me dragging Will to some obscure area on some insane mission. Most recently I somehow convinced him to go on one of the dumbest missions either of us have ever taken on, a winter scooter trip in Colorado, from Boulder to Aspen (TK miles?). Yes, you read that correct, a winter scooter mission. So needless to say, I felt I owed him a proper adventure.
I knew I wasn’t going to train much for the trip, I mean it was in April and there was still so much snow! I needed to milk every last bit of winter as possible before leaving, but I also knew I couldn’t show up too weak, so I mustered all the motivation I had and logged some days in dingy climbing gyms.
Before I knew it, I was on a plane Sweden-bound feeling a mixture of emotions. The new age affliction FOMO (“fear of missing out”) sunk in when I landed and realized it was still dumping snow at home, and the fear of taking a leg snapping fall settled in when Will showed me this video of Leo Houlding on his test piece “Savage Horse” (5.13XXX).
Photographer Cameron Maier and old friend Charlie Long also joined Will and I on our Swedish granite mission. We stayed in a classic Swedish style Hutta (small cabin) in the woods. I dropped straight into our Swedish domestic life cooking Scandinavian Salmon on a charcoal grill for the team. One of my favorite things about traveling has always been cooking with local ingredients.
Segal climbs “Walk the Line” (5.13 R) during a sunny day on the farm at Bohuslän's Häller crag, one of the world's most stacked areas for traditional climbing with numerous 5.13’s on pristine granite protectected only by natural gear.
Stanhope didn’t waste any time. Still jet lagged from the trans-Atlantic flight, he wanted to try the “Savage Horse” to immediately, on top rope of course! We spent the day top roping on a few other head points and though Will was super psyched I still felt a little in over my head. Quickly I realized the “Savage Horse” was just a little too savage for me.
I ended up trying a route called “Walk the Line” (5.13b R) and the motivation began to creep back into my bones. Though not nearly as dangerous as the “Savage Horse,” this route also required top rope rehearsal, the reason being that the gear is very tricky and often times you have a single piece keeping you from splatting onto the granite talus bellow.
After a few goes on top rope the time had come to pull the cord and give it a go from the ground. I meticulously racked all the gear on my harness in the exact order and tied into the sharp end. I sat at the base and laced my rock shoes, heart beating so fast it felt like it was going to explode from my chest. Then, the rambling in my head began… Was I in over my head? What am I really doing here? It’s still snowing back home! I could be joyously skiing! What if that piece of gear rips? Am I too old for this shit?
I close my eyes, taking a deep breath to calm my nerves, and turned off all the negative, insecure chatter running through my head. Before I even had the chance to start convincing myself this was I good idea I hear Will:
“Segal, you good?”
“I’ll be fine, what could possibly go wrong?” I joked just like I had numerous times before. Will and I have always found it helps to have a sense of humor to ward off the nerves. We both laughed, I wiped the dirt off my shoes and pulled on the rock. Once my fingertips held the sharp granite, it is was as if my body just knew exactly what to do. As if my mind remembered all the previous head points I’ve climbed, and I knew exactly what needed to happen. I executed the crux sequence with ease placing the smallest cams I own and before I knew it I was mantling over the final bulge and clipping the anchors. The trip had begun. I wasn’t quite ready to drop the hammer on the ole “Savage Horse” but I quickly began trying other test pieces like the famous “Electric Avenue” and “Reck Let.”
"Rätt Lätt" (5.13a R) is as good as granite gets! After climbing an amazing corner you place a bunch of gear and scape right to the arete, runninging it out while doing a very physical, insecure boulder problem. Definitely one of the most exciting moments of the trip when I realized a fall from the Boulder problem would be catastrophic.
Fortunately, the weather gods were kind and we were able to climb as much as our skin and muscles could handle. We ate like kings and in the end, we all went home sore and wanting more- a perfect way to end a trip.
This trip wasn’t about ticking names and grades or even traveling to one of the best single pitch traditional climbing zones in the world, but rather about rediscovering a love for climbing and getting scared shitless! We had goals, some of them accomplished and others waiting for a return trip. Not going to lie, on my flight home I was looking forward to getting back to the snow but was already dreaming and scheming up my next climbing trip! It became clear to me that there’s room in life for both. I’ll continue my affair with snow but there’s nothing that will ever replace my love for climbing. Everything about it, the projecting, the traveling, the camaraderie is simply irreplaceable.
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Photos: © Bearcam Media
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Matt Segal is a member of the La Sportiva Climbing Team.
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