Writing has always been something that I’ve felt like I could do easily. It’s never really been something I’ve enjoyed, per se, however, it has been something that I have always regretted not doing enough of. So here I am now, twenty-six years young, laying down to go to sleep in the cottage behind my aunt and uncle’s house in South Lake Tahoe, when next thing I know, I am picking up my laptop following some stranger impulse to open this machine and strike away at the keys. I guess I should just roll with it.
Now, just what to write about? I guess since this may be something I do for a while, I should give whomever you as the reader may be some background information. I feel that in order to properly understand my approach to life, you should understand the foundation of me. It’s good to meet you, by the way.
First off, my name is Christian Cattell. I live in the mountains, I live for the mountains. The Sierra Nevada have always held a special place near and dear to my heart, since every single day afforded infinite opportunity to stare at the incredible ridge line of the Carson Range; a small spur of the Sierra Nevada standing just East of Lake Tahoe, marking the Westernmost boundary of the Great Basin. Having grown up in the capital of Nevada, Carson City, the mountains have always been a place of adventure, a place where my friends and I were sure to create the kind of lasting memories that have the most profound and lasting impact on our lives.
Ideal summer days were those spent with my mom, dad, three brothers and sister on the beach at Skunk Harbor in Tahoe, back when my parents were still married. Some of my earliest memories come from one family trip in particular, when my grandparents rented a cabin near Cave Rock for my entire family to spend a week enjoying each others’ company, “roughing” it in the retired chicken-coop turned vacation rental. I remember quite clearly my dad teaching me how to throw during this weeklong adventure, as every father does with their sons. Somewhere in the lesson, I decided to create my own technique. In an attempt to create as much energy as I could muster for each and every throw, I would spin my arm around as quickly as I could before hurling the stones as far into the water as gravity would allow. At the time, it was one of the most challenging things I had done in my three short years of life. My dad was, of course, always better at me than anything, managing to make the rocks skip what seemed like one million times across the blue water, something he’s still better than me at today. I remember being so ecstatic with each toss of my own rock, though, keeping a sharp eye on them as they gently splashed maybe ten feet from where I stood on the shore, occasionally letting out a childish yell as if attacking some beast with each throw. I would apparently do this for hours. Hours.
As I grew older, the mountains would increasingly overwhelm my imagination. I was a typical young boy in school, miles and miles away as my mind wandered about my daydreams; boyish fairytales which usually involved flying some fast aircraft in some epic low-level through narrow canyons and over steep ridge lines. Aviation was always very fascinating to me, and something I had always believed was my calling in life. I always thought I was born to be a pilot. I had grown up around aviation, since my dad has been a pilot since before I was ever even a twinkle in his eye. He spent twelve years of his life in the Army, flying Hueys and then Blackhawks in Germany during the end of the Cold War. To this day, his soul ignites and his eyes glint with that special kind of radiance as he talks about flying. He now a pilot for Careflight, an EMS service that operates helicopters out of Reno a job which he absolutely loves. The fact that I bare his name leads me to believe that we must have been very similar since even before I was born. As a child, every day spent with him would be sprinkled with aircraft identification pop quizzes. He would see a P-51 poster and ask, “What kind of airplane is that?” A 737 would be on approach to Reno, “What kind of airplane is that?” F-18s in wingtip formation would cruise West toward Tahoe, “What kind of airplanes are those?” It still happens to this day.
Flying has always been in my blood, and I had always been certain that I would follow in dad’s footsteps, there always seemed to be something else tugging at my soul. According to him, I could also recognize bomber hand jams at a very young age. As a wee little youngster, I would apparently climb the iron radiator in our house like a handcrack. I apparently found my way on the roof one time. I know I was quite a bit older, but my parents still have no idea how the hell I got up there.
When my mom is feeling her own glorFIX HERETo this day, she enjoys running and staying as active as possible. It’s something that she has always done, and more than likely, always will do. To demonstrate her energy and motivation, two years ago she brought my brothers and I together to form a team to run the Rockin River Half Marathon in Reno, which she ran along with us all. She was fifty-two when we ran that day, and she crushed it. She met my dad while she was also in the Army. She was a counselor during her twelve year enlistment, and made it to the rank of Sergeant by the time she decided that her time was done. She was eighteen when she left home, and spent quite a bit of time stationed in Fulda, Germany, where she met my dad and I was conceived. She was a mother of three already when my father came into the picture, and it blows me away to think that she was younger than I am now when she gave birth not once, but thrice. Amazing.
There are five of us total now, the eldest is my sister, Alana. She is a great mother and wife, and they are raising some tall children who are now both in their teens (my niece just turned sixteen and now possesses a Driver’s License! What?!). Then comes my brother, Micheal, who is also married and is raising one of the brightest and most vibrant infants I have ever had the pleasure of having in my life; my little nephew Sebastian. What a dude!! The next in line comes my brother Daniel. The only blond of the siblings, he is also a proud father, for less than a month ago, the amazing Andrea was born to him and his girlfriend. Then I come in, the year was 1989, and my mother’s fourth child came into the world with a mat of dark hair and feisty demeanor, as I apparently pissed on the doctor shortly after taking my first breath. Then finally comes the baby Patrick, the ginger, my best friend and sole younger sibling. This young man and myself are as close as brothers can get, he also beats me in broken bones by two (I still haven’t broken a bone in my life, believe it or not). He and I are the only of the five of us who are not providing our mother with grandchildren, thank god, and neither of us really expect to give her anything like that any time soon.
When my parents got a divorce, I saw less and less of my older three siblings, as Patrick and I were raised by our grandparents, Patricia and William, my dad’s parents. My grandpa spent a career as a telephone lineman, but spent as much time as he could with his sons and daughter in the Eastern Sierra backpacking. Nowadays, he spends a lot of his time in his small workshop behind his house, spending hours and hours delicately and precisely arranging small pieces of balsa wood to eventually produce a wooden model airplane. His creations display his knack for creativity, and ability to use his fine motor skills to produce these miniature, flyable aircraft. He really doesn’t fly them, too much. He mostly just enjoys the construction portion of it all. My grandma has always just been my loving grandma, one who never passes up an opportunity to let those she cares about know how much she loves them. And she means it each and every time. She has taught me more than she will ever know, and I love her very much for her endless kindness and unconditional ability to love. She always seems to leave a lasting impact on those she associates with, and is always starting pure conversations with complete strangers. Singing has also always been a very strong passion of hers, and she is always singing her heart out, no matter where she is or who she’s with. My fondest memories as a child are those where her and I are together in the kitchen, baking cookies or anything else she had an itch to bake. And according to her, those are her fondest memories, as well.
I was eight or nine when my aunt first brought Patrick and me to the climbing gym in Reno. Rocksport. I remember it quite vividly, it was exciting, it was fun, it was hard. I remember how badly my forearms burned as I pulled on the plastic holds, and got quite a bit of enjoyment from just swinging on the ropes. I went back once more a year or two later for a friends birthday, and remember that night just as equally for climbing, and for my friends throwing up after eating copious amounts of pizza and challenging each other to drink our body-weights’ worth in soda afterward. I went to the gym occasionally through-out middle and high school, and was finally able to pay for a membership when I got my first job at a Domino’s Pizza which allowed me to go as much as I wanted. I was stoked. My high school had a climbing club, and after going to one meeting, I never really went to the gym with anyone in the club because I guess I was intimidated for some reason. Nonetheless, I continued to pursue this urge.
After high school, I worked for the EMS service in Reno, REMSA, as a van driver for elderly and disabled patients. I went to the climbing gym on a regular basis while working there, as I was able to go there for free, yet had still never been on any real rock yet. Then, one day as I drove the white and blue van with a demented elderly woman in the back, I saw a C-130 take off and depart to the north of Reno. It sparked something inside me, and I then found myself in a recruiter’s office, signing the enlistment paperwork for the the Nevada Air National Guard, a branch of the US Air Force. Less then one year later, I found myself in Lackland Air Force Base, getting my head shaved and learning how to march. I was now an Airman.
The next six years saw quite a change in myself. I was a C-130 loadmaster, an aircrew member who flies in the back of the aircraft, responsible for computing weight and balance, and supervising anything and everything that takes place in the back of that aircraft. My short hair, glasses and overall goofiness earned me the nickname McLovin, a nickname which about 90% of the people I worked with referred to me as. We flew missions ranging from hauling VIP’s and humvees to conducting airdrops and troop jumps. I was young and full of piss and vinegar. I loved it all. Each and every day that I was able to go out to the aircraft and go for a flight, I was a happy camper. My energy and focus lay solely on one day flying the aircraft as a pilot, and I was certain that I was pursuing a life I wanted, and that I was following my calling. All I could think about was flying these large aircraft 300 feet off the ground, diving and yanking around canyon turns, as we did routinely throughout the Sierra Nevada, my home.
The military also allowed me the opportunity to travel. In 2011 alone, I went fourteen different countries. Unfortunately, most of these were during my short deployment to Afghanistan early that year, therefore I was not allowed any opportunity to get out and really see these beautiful lands.
Back home, I did my best to keep up with my climbing, and even purchased a harness, shoes, belay device and a set of draws. I didn’t have to buy a harness, as both parents gave me ropes for Christmas one year (for which I am incredibly thankful). It didn’t take long for my friends and I to go to Dinosaur Rock and test our meddle on Deadman’s Rappel and the likes. These little tests slowly led to bigger and better challenges and we slowly accrued more and more gear and gradually mustered up the courage to try our first multi-pitches at Lover’s Leap and Donner. I knew the whole time what was happening to me. There was a pull, a calling toward the rock that I could not ignore. Then, one beautiful spring day in April 2013, as I sat alone in the apartment I shared with my girlfriend at the time in Reno, I looked South, and knew that I had to leave. I threw all of my climbing and camping gear in my truck, and took off, heading South on 395 through Carson, Minden, Walker, Bridgeport and into Lee Vining. Just past Lee Vining, I turned right, and drove up the hill over Tioga Pass, through Toulumne Meadows, past Tenaya Lake (which is where I saw my first ever climbers, eleven years before on a trip with my mom when I was eleven, I was now twenty-three), and along the twists and turns of highway 120. Then, a moment which I can never forget. There is that one left turn in particular, just before you hit the tunnels, where any normal person is forced to stop and stare in disbelief. I abruptly stopped the truck as, some kind of howl left my mouth. I then stared, stupefied, for the first time in my adult life at Yosemite Valley.
I was never the same after that first pilgrimage to the Valley. From that very moment forward, there would not be a single day that this kingdom of giants would not cross my mind. I knew that I had to be there, the call of the Valley was so loud that my ears nearly bled. So one day, I applied to work for Delaware North Company, the concession provider in Yosemite National Park. I soon found myself working at the front desk of the Ahwahnee Hotel, living and working full-time in Yosemite Valley. It had happened, I was now physically living in the manifestation of my dreams.
My life in the Valley had a very profound impact on my life. I wish I could begin to explain how much I grew during that great summer of 2014. Yosemite Valley attracts the strangest, weirdest, kindest, most outstanding human beings that this floating rock has to offer. That fact, coupled with the infinite wonders and grandeur of the granite faces of the Yosemite Valley make this place a very spiritual, sublime Heaven. I have finally found my home. It was this summer that taught me that life really is in our own hands, and I had truly been building castles in the sky when it came to becoming a pilot. I had no real ambitions to return to college, and something inside me kept telling me that I would learn more from climbing than school ever really could. I decided to not reenlist, and to accept the fact that climbing is something that captures my imagination and opens these pathways to my creativity. I stopped going to school,and am now a full time climbing bum. I have never been happier.
My twenty-fifth year of life was, with absolute certainty, the best year of my young life. There is no possible way for me to write-down every experience that shaped who and where I am now. But I am here. And I am myself. I sometimes think back to one year ago, today. I was still in the military, I had never climbed a big wall, no facial hair, and had a nice haircut. I feel that now, although most people have trouble recognizing me, I look and feel more like myself than ever before; which is a new emotion for me.
There it is. My life. Having cranked out this first piece, I am excited to fill this site with adventures and the experiences that have shaped my life so far. I also greatly look forward to sharing those adventures which have yet to pass. Go forth and seek adventure, for it is out there patiently waiting for you. You need only to go find it.