Helping Malawi Become a Climbing Destination

The Global Climbing Initiative originally came to Genevive Walker and Mario Stanley, asking them to work as a guides and mentors for a trip they were planning for this year. Genevive was excited to teach the local climbers, increasing their climbing knowledge and skills and helping them to be able to mentor the next generation of Malawian climbers. GCI brought me on board to mentor budding climbing photographers and offer instruction in climbing techniques and development for the Malawian community. Our main goal was empowering the locals to take ownership over their amazing natural resources and control the development in their own country, so it’s not just foreigners coming and exploiting those resources without giving back to the communities they’re impacting.

From the moment we met the children, we were welcomed into their fold like family members. Their warmth and receptiveness made us feel right at home. It was truly heartwarming to see how eager and receptive they were to absorb every bit of knowledge we had to share. Our chosen venue for the clinics was Mulundi, a local climbing area about two hours from the capital city. Here, Genevive provided comprehensive instruction, covering everything from the fundamentals of climbing to advanced techniques. Mario, on the other hand, not only added seven new sets of anchors for fresh routes but also established teaching stations for practicing anchor techniques in close proximity to the ground. Mario also led a two day bolting clinic, instructing the climbers in how to develop new climbs.

On our day off from instructing climbing in Mulundi, we wanted to see more of the country. We traveled to Liwonde to do a safari and saw elephants, lions, antelope, baboons, and warthogs, and then went to the beautiful Otter Point on Lake Malawi.

After spending a week and a half in Mulundi, we journeyed to Mulanje, a colossal massif extending over 20 kilometers and rising more than 2,000 meters above the plains. Its sheer magnitude was awe-inspiring, to say the least. We went with the goal of establishing a new big-wall route up the massive Chambe face, but the reality was we did not have nearly enough time to even attempt this. We ended up finding a large boulder in the foothills of the mountain that could provide multiple climbing routes that we hoped would be easy to access for novice climbers. The rock didn’t form as easy of climbs as we had hoped, but they are of good quality. We were able to establish three 5.10s and two potentially difficult climbs that need to see first ascents.

Despite our best efforts, time ultimately proved to be a limiting factor, preventing us from accomplishing all that we had set out to do. Nevertheless, we envision this partnership with Climb Malawi as a long-term commitment. With this in mind, we are eager to return next year to conduct further training sessions and contribute to the ongoing development endeavors in this remarkable community.

Enjoy some highlights from our trip!

Yosemite with Genevive and Carey

Last spring, Genevive was hit up by her friend, Carey de Victoria-Michel, inviting her to go to Yosemite Valley to try and send her long-term project, Separate Reality, a beautiful roof crack high up on the road to Tuolumne that overlooks the entrance to Yosemite Valley. Genevive was excited to go play on the crack and support her friend, and she would get to experience the magic of Yosemite for the first time!

Our plans hit a minor hiccup when Yosemite temporarily closed due to flooding. We were concerned that the climb might not dry in time for us, but when Yosemite reopened, we decided to take a chance on the still-moist conditions.

If you’ve never approached Yosemite from the west, you’re missing out on the awe-inspiring sight of El Capitan presiding majestically over the valley. Genevive’s wide-eyed wonder captured that feeling perfectly. It’s the kind of place that can turn even the most seasoned traveler into a wide-eyed child, utterly captivated by the sheer grandeur of the surroundings.

On the drive into the valley, we made the mandatory stop at the Fern Spring, a freshwater spring that flows into the Merced River. You can fill your water bottles, or just splash some cold water on your face.

During our time in Yosemite, I focused on capturing lifestyle & climbing photos for Genevive and Carey’s sponsors, Title Nine, Mountain Hardwear, Evolv, and DMM. But in between, I couldn’t resist snapping a few shots of the stunning landscapes around us.

Both Genevive and Carey put in the hard work on climbing Separate Reality, and both proudly sent this iconic test piece in great style! I had the opportunity to give it a couple of tries and I figured out some great beta that would work for me but I was focused more on capturing their experience than climbing it myself.

A friend from the Bay Area paid us a visit during our Yosemite adventure, proudly showing off his new Ford Bronco. I managed to convince him to drive back and forth in front of me while we were on Big Oak Flat Road.

Our Yosemite excursion was a success for both Genevive and Carey’s climbing objective and capturing some great lifestyle photography. The magic of Yosemite definitely sticks with you after you leave, and we can’t wait to come back soon to experience more of what the National Park has to offer.

Willard the Red Whale – A Ram Promaster Vanlife Conversion

I bought a 2014 Ram Promaster 159″ 3500 Diesel and moved into it with my girlfriend. This was my first time really building anything, and I’m psyched with how it came out!

Introducing Willard the Red Whale!

I was driving down a dark road in Kentucky last fall thinking about my living situation and what I wanted to change. I calculated that I was spending $10,200 each year on rent alone and wished I could buy a house in Colorado to stop the flow of cash into the great void, but buying in Colorado is quite cost-prohibitive. Half a million dollars is a pretty high barrier to entry. In the climbing area I was in, Red River Gorge, there were more converted vans than I’d seen before. Every crag parking lot was overflowing with white cargo vans. I started calculating how much I could afford to put into a van and live in it.

In January, I started looking at pre-built options – the $120,000 Winnebego Revel and a sixty-some thousand dollar build by VanDoIt, but none of the prebuilt options really satisfied my vision for a van I’d live in. (I seriously don’t understand RV designers’ use of space. There are so many unnecessary things and they waste so much precious space without giving you any storage options. I don’t want to sleep 9 and drive 6, I want to sleep and drive 2 people and have the most possible storage.)

I was going to be moving into the van with my girlfriend, Genevive, and she didn’t like the feel of either, they were too industrial – they didn’t feel like home. She pushed me to do the build ourselves. I was hesitant since I’d never built anything before, but after checking on financing and realizing that pre-built wasn’t even an option, we started looking at vans we could build out.

I had a deposit down on a 2019 Ram Promaster 159″ 2500 gas, but the dealership screwed up my financing application. They initially told me that no one would finance me for less than 13% interest. So I started looking at used Promasters and found a rare diesel down in Colorado Springs that was bright red! I’d heard some really terrible things about the gas Promasters reliability, but reading the forums about the diesels, the owners seemed to love them. This was enough to convince me to spend $13,000 less.

We bought the van March 15th and unofficially finished the build June 28th or so. In that process, I learned a hell of a lot. Firstly, you can learn to do almost anything on Youtube. Second, take your time and measure the hell out of everything. Also, having a pretty good idea of where you want everything to go before you start is quite helpful.

We made one major mistake, we insulated the entire thing before knowing how we were going to install the walls…and we had to tear out a ton of insulation to put framing in to attach the walls and ceiling to. Definitely frame out the walls before you do almost anything else. Also, use star-bit wood screws; Phillips head screws strip worse than your adopted daughter. Other than that, I’m extremely proud of what Genevive and I built!

Some stats:

  • 2014 Ram Promaster 159″ turbo-diesel 3.0-liter four-cylinder (Fiat Ducato)
  • Cherry Red
  • 560watts of solar (2 x 180w, 1 x 200w)
  • Goal Zero Yeti 3000 (280ah lithium, 1500w inverter)
  • 2″ of Polyiso insulation on walls and ceiling, 1/2″ of XPS on floors. The fiberglass that came with the van was stuffed into the ribs. I would definitely do something different in the future, but this was “free” insulation. We taped off all the holes in the ribs to limit the amount of fiberglass that can travel through the cabin.
  • CRL Awning style bunk window (Highly recommend!)
  • CRL OEM style frameless clamp-style window for sliding door. I would probably go with the glue-in if I were to do it again. It looks much better.
  • 1/4″ Knotty Pine Tongue and Groove 8ft planks for the walls
  • 1″ Pine Tongue & Groove Shiplap 12ft Planks for Ceiling
  • I custom built the upper cabinets and put Ikea doors on them. Highly recommend.
  • Base Cabinets are Ikea Sektion with custom 1×6 bases so it got us to 36″ height with a 1″ (3/4″) stainable pine countertop from Lowes
  • 130L Truckfridge. Highly Recommend!
  • 6gal water tank with Bayite water pump (would not recommend the pump)

Here’s the build process! I’ll add videos later.

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