The sky is a great blue dome encircling us. I travel, from Oman to Mongolia, Italy to California. Everywhere I go, the same sky, an azure that reminds me we are all on one Earth…
But this world is changing. Billions are clamoring for lifestyles they see on TV and the internet. They want malls and bars, smartphones and cars. In these places, the sky turns from blue to a frightening gray, forests disappearing and deserts spreading. Jungles turn to apocalyptic concrete sprawls and rivers to sewers.
It doesn’t really matter what happens in the Americas or Europe… Because if three billion people in Asia chose to start consuming like the developed world has for the last half-century, the planet is doomed. I’ve seen this happening, in the last fifteen years of living between the developed world and the developing, between Asia, America and Europe. How do we change it? How do we change human desire?
“Nationality” is an artificial construct. Today, we’re better connected than ever, yet free movement for most of humanity is harder than ever. This should be a post-national century. The outdoors is the whole world, our planet. Climate change is affecting everyone, whether they live in India or the United States. We mark lines of ownership on maps, but pollutants drift across the planet without hindrance from such petty notions, and oceans rise to swallow every coastline on Earth.
A Nepalese climber shares the same love of the mountains as a climber from Colorado. But why don’t we hear their stories as often? The Outdoor Journal is beyond borders. We look for stories of the outdoors from everywhere in the world and seek to share common human experiences that unite us as a species, as inhabitants of this spaceship called Earth. How can we change what people want? Through storytelling. Stories are a force for change, a virus of art, culture, emotion, desire and all that makes us human. The Outdoor Journal is not a magazine. It is a vehicle for change, by whatever means necessary. We believe we need to change consumption patterns and growth models in developing countries. We believe in influencing new generations of humans across the planet. We understand that it will be a long battle. But we’re ready to fight.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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.