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The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.

- Alexander von Humboldt


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Editor's Letters

Mar 14, 2017

Editors Letter. Issue 13. Spring 2017.

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” JRR Tolkien

WRITTEN BY

Apoorva Prasad

You can subscribe to the Outdoor Journal here.

Gold paints Ushba. The autumn sunset washes color on the double-headed peak of rock and ice rising above the end of the valley. Remote, wild places uplift me, and wash away the fears I live with every day. I have many… but the biggest of all is that I’m always faking it. I call myself a climber, yet pulling on easy plastic moves draws throbbing pain in my left shoulder, the one with the torn rotator cuff (yes, torn while climbing four years ago). I’ve spent months of my youth living in the mountains, yet hiking twenty kilometers in the Caucasus one day leaves me with a limp, the iliotibial band on my right knee. An expanding arc of fire between skin and bone. My business card says CEO and Editor-in-Chief, yet I have no degrees in media, journalism, technology, finance or management.

As 2016 draws to a close, it’s been four long years since I embarked upon this adventure, which I began so naively then. Every day still feels like the first day of a startup, replete with all its chaos, heartbreak, moments of joy and exhilaration, deeply tempered by ever-present, constant fear. Fear of failure, fear of the unknown, of every new step taken into the unknown, and behind it all, the biggest fear — that I don’t really know what I’m doing. In a sense it’s very true.

Everything I know today and practice in running this company, I’ve taught myself. Some from books, some from raw experiences, and much from people I’ve met along the journey of life. Yet at every step of the way, serendipitous encounters (or fate, if you will) have lead me by the hand and helped me make my own hero’s journey a hundred times over, if not yet a thousand.

From discovering the Nepalese Himalayas (with my parents at the age of four) to learning to rock climb (with Mohit Oberoi at 12) to understanding how to create a global adventure startup (with Mandip Soin and Susan Hunt) in the last few years, I have always depended on the help and guidance of mentors. Today, we have a new advisor in addition to the others. Olivier Fleurot, ex-CEO of the Financial Times, is helping us understand how to drive a growing media and travel company. Today, the cloud of thoughts that had always guided my actions have been crystallized into real words, a real purpose: “To become the leading and most trusted partner to educate, inspire and enable all peoples to enjoy, experience and protect wilderness”. That’s it. If you notice, we do not call ourselves a media business or a magazine, or an events company, or a digital platform. We are all of those things, yet none of those things.

As a business, we do whatever it takes that answers the above purpose. We have a strong new leadership team that believes firmly in what we’re doing and following this path. Every decision we take must answer this: does it fit in our purpose? Today, we have explicitly stated core values and beliefs. We believe in ecocentrism, not in humankind’s domination over nature. We believe in helping peoples’ skills. We believe that authentic content inspires and educates. We believe in integrity, quality and careful reasoned thinking. We believe that following our path will lead us to achieve what we always set out to do: build a successful profitable business while saving the planet. As I leave Svaneti in a small turboprop plane, Elbrus comes into view, just twenty kilometers behind Ushba, across the border. There are more adventures to come, more experiences, more to live. This is why I do this, despite the fear, embracing the unknown, and what is to come. For me, this is the meaning of life.

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Athletes & Explorers

Dec 13, 2018

Steph Davis: Dreaming of Flying

What drives Steph, to free solo a mountain with nothing but her hands and feet, before base jumping? “Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear."

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WRITTEN BY

The Outdoor Journal

Presented byimage

In the coming days the Outdoor Journal will release an exclusive interview with Steph Davis, follow us via our social networks and stay tuned for more.

Do you have to be fearless to jump off a mountain? Meeting Steph Davis, you quickly realise: no, fearlessness is not what it takes. It’s not the search for thrills that drives her. She’s Mercedes travelled to Moab, Utah to find out what does – and to talk to Steph Davis about what it takes to climb the most challenging peaks and plunge from the highest mountaintops.

Steph Davis, getting ready to jump. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

At noon, when the sun is at its highest point above the deserts of southeastern Utah and when every stone cliff casts a sharp shadow, you get a sense of how harsh this area can be. Despite Utah’s barrenness, Steph loves the orange-gold landscape with its towers and elegantly curved arches of sandstone. But Steph is not here because of the natural spectacle. Here, in this area which is as beautiful as it is inhospitable, she can pursue her greatest passion: free solo climbing and BASE jumping.

Castleton Tower… Look closely. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Today, Steph wants to take us to Castleton Tower. We travel on gravel roads that are hardly recognizable, right into the middle of the desert. Gnarled bushes and conifers grow along what might be the side of the road. Other than that, the surrounding landscape lives up to its name: it is deserted. Steph loves the remoteness of the area. “One of my favourite places is a small octagonal cabin in the desert that I designed and built together with some of my closest friends. It’s not big and doesn’t have many amenities but it has everything you need: a bed, a bathroom, a small kitchenette … and eight windows allowing me to take in nature around me. That’s pretty much all I need.” Steph Davis cherishes the simple things. She has found her place, and she doesn’t let go.

No ropes, no safety net. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Castleton Tower is home turf for Steph. She has climbed the iconic red sandstone tower so many times she’s lost count. The iconic 120-metre obelisk on top of a 300-metre cone is popular among rock climbers as well as with BASE jumpers. Its isolated position makes it a perfect plunging point and it can easily be summited with little equipment – at least for experienced climbers like Steph Davis.

“It would be reckless not to be afraid. But I don’t have to be paralysed by fear.”

Steph is a free solo climber, which means she relies on her hands and feet only – not on ropes, hooks or harnesses. She loves to free solo, using only what’s absolutely necessary. She squeezes her hands into the tiniest cracks in the stone and her feet find support on the smallest outcroppings, where others would see only a smooth surface. Steph climbs walls that might be 100 metres tall – sometimes rising up 900 metres – with nothing below her but thin air and the ground far below. She knows that any mistake while climbing can be fatal.

Flying. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

The possibility of falling accompanies Steph whenever she climbs. Is she afraid? “Of course – it would be reckless not to be. But I don’t have to be paralysed by fear.” She has learned to transform it into power, prudence, and strength. “It’s up to us to stay in control.”

“You have to learn to face your fears and accept them for what they are.”

That’s what, according to her, free soloing and BASE jumping are all about: to be in control and to trust in one’s abilities. “It’s not about showing off how brave I am. It’s about trusting myself to be good enough not to fall. It takes a lot of strength, both physical and mental. You have to learn to face your fears and accept them for what they are.”

Touchdown. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Steph Davis likes to laugh and she does so a lot. She chooses her words with care, and she doesn’t rush. Why would she? There’s no point in rushing when you’re hanging on a vertical wall, with nothing but your hands and feet. Just like climbing, she prefers to approach things carefully and analytically. That’s how she got as far as she did. “I didn’t grow up as an athlete, and started climbing when I was 18,” she smiles, shrugging. But her work ethic is meticulous and she knows how to improve herself. Whenever she prepares for an ascent, she does so for months, practising each section over and over again – on the wall and in her head – until she has internalised it all. She does the same before a BASE jump and practices the exact moves in her head until she knows the movement is consummate.

Steph loves the orange-gold landscape with its towers and elegantly curved arches of sandstone. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

“Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear.”

Would Steph consider herself brave? She says that she wouldn’t know how to answer that, you can see the small wrinkles around Steph’s eyes that always appear whenever she laughs. In any case, she doesn’t consider herself to be exceptional. “I’m not a heroine just because I jump off mountaintops,” Steph says she has weaknesses just like everyone else. But she might overcome them a little better than most of us do, just as she has learned to work with fear. “Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear. It is brave to accept fear for what it is, as a companion that you should sometimes listen to, but one you shouldn’t be obedient to.”

She slows the car down. We have reached Castleton Tower. It rises majestically in front of us while the sun has left its zenith. If Steph started walking now, she’d reach the top at the moment the sun went down, bathing the surrounding area in a golden light. She takes her shoes and the little parachute; all she needs today. Then she smiles again, says “see you in a bit”, and starts walking. Not fast, not hastily, but without hesitation.

All photos by Jan Vincent Kleine

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