Through climbing and the outdoor industry I’ve been introduced to many different kinds of people over the past decade and have heard quite a few crazy stories. From stories of heroism and survival to stories of caffeine fueled stupidity and everything in between.
A couple weeks ago I heard a story about a climber who is battling Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. An event was being organized to help raise money to offset treatment costs. I contacted him and asked if he would like to take some portraits for the fundraiser. He immediately agreed so we met up and spent a few hours talking, climbing and taking some photos. Here is the first installment of Erik’s story in pictures. His openness and willingness to, not only document his struggle, but his desire to share his story have reminded me why I became a photographer. I hope you find inspiration in his story and images.
I would like to take a moment and tell you about Erik.
Erik was born and raised just outside of Portland, Oregon in a town called Lake Oswego. His parents brought him and his sister up in an environment that strongly encouraged the outdoors and a healthy diet. In a time when the cool kids brought "Lunchables" to school he would show up with a bag filled with a brown bread, almond butter and clover honey sandwich, fresh chopped celery and broccoli sticks and a jar of carrot juice. As is typical of all youths he fought his mom on this but in the end her will carried through and started the foundation for Erik's healthy lifestyle. This lifestyle has helped Erik bounce back (faster than doctors expected) from over a year of chemotherapy and other treatments without a single blood transfusion.
Around the age of 8 Erik started climbing the trees around his house. His parents recognized that his desire to explore and push himself wasn't a passing phase and they strongly encouraged him to pursue his passion as he grew into a young adult and a climber.
For most "Climbers," it isn't just a sport. It becomes a way of life, a driving passion that influences every decision on a day to day basis. "How will eating this make me feel while climbing tomorrow? How will this extra beer make me feel on my project in the morning?" Even to the point where choosing where to travel to or live is based on the climbing around that area. After traveling around Europe and building his own house near Portland (at the age of 19) Erik moved to the Mammoth area in central California with the mindset that life wasn't to be read about or studied but to be lived and experienced. Mammoth is located in an ideal setting for a climber; summer climbing in the higher altitudes of the Eastern Sierras and winter climbing in the Owen's Valley and what has become the west coast climbing mecca of Bishop. It is also only a few hours from LAX so an easy launching point for any world traveler.
Around this time Erik's climbing talent was brought into the public eye and he picked up several sponsors, including the North Face. He traveled to Argentina solely to climb on the boulders at the base of the Andes mountains near Patagonia (with a broken wrist and separated shoulder from the half-pipe in Mammoth) and fulfilled a climbing dream of exploring uncharted rock in an unknown country.
And then Erik met Robin... Robin, like Erik, had spent much of her life traveling and by 21 had lived in Australia, Hawaii, California, Italy and Costa Rica. After what can only be described as a few non-traditional dates; meaning he guided her and her family climbing and swimming in crystalline blue pools near Tuolumne they fell in love. Like all great love stories this one takes some time and has a few twists and turns. Their relationship grew quickly, a bit too quickly. With strong spirits it takes some time to find balance and peace, so Robin called Erik before a planned trip to Oregon and called it off.
Erik was crushed. But unlike most people in the modern age who seek solace in the comfort of wine or a rebound girlfriend, he signed up to volunteer for six months in Guam. While in the South Pacific he took the time to travel to the Philippines, Rota, Japan, and Palau. He dove with reef sharks, swam in a salt water lake with jellyfish that don't sting.
After returning home Erik felt the call of the road after only two weeks. He then headed to Australia, New Zealand, Bolivia, La Paz, Columbia and the British Virgin Islands. He hiked to Machu Picchu, mountain biked the "Death Road" that connects La Paz with Coroico.
Mixed in with these trips Erik started to reconnect with Robin. After the bitterness of the breakup faded their friendship started to grow. They met in Redondo Beach (where she now lived). She came to Oregon so he could show her his home town. After several months they were engaged and married in Mammoth California. Both families descended on the town during one of the heaviest snowfalls of the year.
Their pace didn't slow down after marriage. They both decided that living simply and traveling were the priorities. For their first anniversary they went to India and Nepal. after a short return home they headed to France, Spain, Norway and eventually settled in Australia for a few months.
The road warrior years couldn't last though and they went back to Erik's hometown of Portland, Oregon. While home Erik came down with a cold that he just couldn't shake. For an extremely healthy athlete spending four months fighting a cold was unnerving to say the least, he felt that he was "definitely in a funk." So they headed back to sunny Southern California to enjoy the warmer climate and reconnect with surfing and climbing.