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TNB: The Apprentices

02-Jan-2013
By Alison Osius

Will Gadd, a.k.a. "Youth," in his Beatles-cut intern era, at the Garden of the Gods, near Colorado College, Colorado Springs. "Oh no!" Randy thought, or so he'd tell us later, as he skied down from the top of Sunlight Mountain at dawn in storm. "Alison's going to kill me! I've lost the intern!"At Rock and Ice we usually have an intern around, writing and helping in different ways; and intern mortality and well-being are good things to be concerned about. I have worked with many interns over the years in various offices, starting with a teenage Will Gadd, who camped stoically in his truck in the dead of winter. Interns are highly durable but also an at-risk species, for two reasons.

One, they are super psyched and energetic. Two, our editors and staff are also. Singly or in combination, the characteristics can be combustible.

Jeff Jackson here climbs every weekend at least, with an endless appetite for exploration and new routing. Many interns are delighted to participate, though once that led to disaster. Jeff and Jonathan Vick were brushing lines on a 20-foot boulder on rappel, and Jonathan's rope was only good for a straight-up toprope when he tried some moves around an arete and, in ardent absorption, leaned out too far, then fell. Jeff rushed over aghast to find Jonathan on the ground, putty-faced, asking for a helicopter. He'd fractured two lower vertebrae, as has already been written up in our Accident Report, and, thankfully, he recovered well, or I would hardly be able to stand bringing it up.

No such constraints stopped our irrepressible coworker Randall Lavelle: She walked in the next morning, stood squarely at Jeff's cubicle, and said, "You finally did it. You broke the intern's back."

Years ago, a coworker named Scott was energized for the long drives to, and approaches and multipitch routes in, Rocky Mountain National Park, and interns were the only ones who wanted to go with him. Interns are tough, too: Only when the Arctic Express, of minus 20 degrees, rolled into town did Will Gadd consent to stay in a paint closet at my house.

Interns are also generally invited on the usual forays to local cliffs. My colleague Andrew here has been known to suggest, tongue in cheek (mostly), that as part of the selection process any potential interns be given a belay test.

By then I had already tested two on site: Emily Stifler once held me in a fall close to the ground at Rifle, and Gentrye Houghton did the same a couple of months ago at New Castle, both day trips from our offices in Carbondale, Colorado; both of them flew up and we crashed in midair. In New Castle, a handhold had broken off and hit me in the face, right in the mouth. Gentrye peered calmly into my gullet and reported that my teeth were intact, and that the split lip needed no stitches, so we carried on climbing. Unfortunately, though, soon after that Gentrye sprained her ankle badly on a Tuesday evening bouldering session, though I have just heard from her that it has now been diagnosed as a distal fibula fracture. She is "slowly using it again" and improving soundly.

Last summer, on the first day Will Hummel and I went out, intended as a mellow day at the little local crag, he witnessed me nearly get nailed by rockfall. At least that time it wasn't the intern who was imperiled. Will did that well enough to himself. He got so psyched on the climbing at Rifle that we could not - Jeff and I both tried - convince him to take more rest days. Sadly, a torn labrum ensued, and Will went mournfully away back to LA and surgery. These varied mishaps remind me of a fave movie, This is Spinal Tap, in which drummers kept perishing in mysterious ways - one in, for example (insert English accent), "a bizarre gardening accent." Another of our apprentices broke his leg post-internship, when, on his bicycle, he was hit by a garbage truck.

Interns have certainly given me fits. One asked if he could take "a few days" off to go camping and climbing up at nearby Independence Pass with his visiting girlfriend, and then disappeared for weeks, with me worried and wondering whether I should be calling his parents or perhaps for some rescue dogs. He eventually turned back up, blithe and hungry, at an office BBQ.

A crack-climbing clinic by Steph Davis and Lisa Hathaway drew participants from Colorado, California and Oregon (l to r): Peter Horgan, Matt Pierce, Lisa Hathaway, Steph Davis and Cajun, Colette Whelan, Matt Yamasaki, Gentrye Houghton (intern) and Almine Barton. Photo by Chris Hunter, also a former intern, of Hunter Imagery.Of course, I feel for interns because, as at many places, ours are unpaid. It is best for them to serve for credit during college, when parents are often still footing the bill, but they also often come soon after it, and from coast to coast: from Pat Bagley at Colby College in Maine to Will Hummel from Pomona, LA; Mark "Scrappy" Synnott from Middlebury College, Vermont, to Teige Muhlfeld, Pepperdine, Malibu; with a whole horde, including Will Gadd and Emily Stifler, from the Colorado College mafia. Laura Snider was a Master's candidate at CU. We ask only parttime efforts so that they can work other jobs if they want. Courtney Belcher from Wisconsin demonstrated products in grocery stores; "Scrappy" literally dug ditches; and Tyler Stableford, then 19, delivered pizzas (in his father's car), with his manager at one point asking the 6'2" 200-pounder in consternation, "Tyler, did you JUST take this job for the free pizza?" We nonetheless get a host of applicants, and when here the interns sometimes rent rooms, other times camp. One was once telling my then coworker JT that he thought a certain waitress returned his interest. JT was dubious.

"No, I think she likes me," the intern persisted. "I really think we're going to hook up."

"Dude," JT said. "You live in a CAR. It's NOT going to happen."

Among the things that interns do or have done are: write and post articles, take photos, make films, proofread, discuss submissions; and attend trade shows, our photo camp or the Teva Games. Gentrye got to go to a crack-climbing clinic by Steph Davis and Lisa Hathaway of Moab B.A.S.E Adventures, held in Canyonlands, an incredible learning experience. "Minnesota Dave" Costello and Smilin' Wes Walker, both by then post- their own internships, traveled with Jeff Jackson to climb in Mexico, leading to a hilarious feature article. I enjoy discussing edits and grammar with the interns. They help me, too, usually the first I appeal to - "Hey, Smart Young Intern!" - with my technology blunders and questions.

The interns are motivated people, and I look around the office today and, while jobs at our small concern only come up rarely, realize how many of my coworkers are former interns either at R and I or our companion publication, Trail Runner. Andrew Bisharat, Jeremy Duncan, Jen Burn, Chris Parker, Ashley Arnold: That is a third of our employees. Others have gone on to local employment (Gentrye is about to start work at the Carbondale Rec Center) or perhaps work in the outdoor or media industry. Nick Chambers left our office a bit early for a job at Verde PR; Emily Stifler is managing editor of Mountain Outlaw; and others have used their clips or links while applying to graduate school. Alex Lowther, who wrote one of my favorite Spotlight profiles, of Nick Duttle (and his assassin stepfather, and a really good pit bull), was accepted to Columbia Journalism School, and our current intern, Shelby Carpenter, is applying there and to UC Berkeley. Alex (another CCer) has since written for the New York Times and others, and is working with Big UP Productions. Laura Snider is a science writer at the Boulder Daily Camera. "Minnesota Dave" Costello (as opposed to "Mississippi Chris" Parker), who wrote us a great story on getting stuck, alone and lacking food, on the wrong side of a flooded river in the mountains of New Zealand, was hired at Canoe & Kayak magazine, and is soon to come out with a book, Rafting Siberia's Kaa-Khem River.

 

Alex Lowther in the day, Red Rocks.Will Gadd went on to great glory as an all-around mountain athlete, competing in sport- and ice-climbing World Cups; and developing mixed climbing, spectacular routes, and his voice and authority as a mountain thinker and writer. Among his many articles for Rock and Ice, on fitness as daily lifestyle, was among our top five website stories last year. Mark Synnott, like Will, became a top professional climber-athlete, carrying out hard big-wall and alpine climbs all over the world, from Patagonia to the far Himalaya, Norway to West Africa; writing and making films.

Although getting free labor may sound imperial or at least great, many businesses cancel their internships because interns take, as they deserve, a lot of time. We wouldn't be without the program, though. We keep in touch with most interns, on a personal and professional level. Will Hummel just went to Argentina with the Petzl RocTrip, and you can see his story and photos in the issue soon to appear on stands. Many interns still write for us.

Oh, and back to that Dawn Patrol ski mission up Sunlight, 12 miles from here, on a recent day before work: Randy Levensaler, our art director, later told me of his near panic when separated for a time from our current Smart Young Intern (SYI), young Shelby. But Shelby came here to our office by way of Alaska, and she, like all of them, has her own skills up her sleeve. She appeared on a lower slope, all smiles, just fine.

They all find their way.

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