April 14, 2016

I met Cheyne the night of the Meru film event, one of many events hosted by the Gear Co-op for the local climbers of Socal. Before the movie started, while the sun set and climbers conversed, swigging from Hydroflasks filled with beer, he took the stage to present a film he had been working on. As he walked up I noticed he was nervous. Soft-spoken but confident, he introduced himself and shared his passion for climbing through the art of documenting it. You could hear his love for videography in the way he talked about his fresh new film which he had just finished editing that day. Then he revealed his creation.

What proceeded was some of the most scary and brutal climbing footage I’ve seen. He was big-wall climbing in a remote and icy location, trying to log first ascents on a magnificent rock wall that shot toward the heavens from the icy terrain. I was amazed that someone so normal could get into such wild adventures. Through ice, choss, and freezing rain I saw him smiling and laughing with his partner. It was the sort of chuckle you hear from someone like Conrad Anker or Shane McConkey after something sketchy happens. You feel that any other mortal should be switching into a fight or flight response, but they sit and laugh -unmoved and focused on their objective.

I wanted to get to know this Coop athlete a little better so when I was asked to interview him about a recent trip he took to India, I jumped at the opportunity. This trip was a little different from past epics for Cheyne. He didn’t set out to search for first ascents on remote big walls or even scope out a mountaineering route in the Indian Himalaya, but what he did find was something beautiful and deeply relatable to each of us.

Shravana is a Sanskrit word that means hearing, but not in just a simple sense. Hearing in this case is ‘understanding’. Capturing hectic beauty, sensory overload, and peace in a place that is so far different than anywhere I’ve ever been was enlightening. While traveling around India with my wife, there were times that incredibly saddened us by what we saw, and others inspired us more than ever.

Why did you choose to travel to India?

Lempe: I have always wanted to check out India, but in previously knew that I might not be quite ready to travel around that country. I only got my passport a few years ago, so most of this was pretty new to me. I’ve heard from friends that going to a place like India is pretty intense, and was pretty psyched to check it out after traveling other parts of the world.

Did you have any expectations for the trip?

Lempe: I expected to go into the trip with an open mind. Not judging the experiences as good or bad, but just experiencing them. That definitely set me up for success in the way of having an awesome time, and being really excited to make a short film about such a vibrant place.

What to you, personally, was the most meaningful experience you had on the trip?

Lempe: I think being able to connect with people who have lived a completely different world than you is pretty cool. We met this super nice family that ended up inviting us to their cousin’s wedding. It’s quite different there than in the US. It was a ‘smaller’ wedding that consisted of a 3-day ceremony and 1500 people. Fireworks, a horse mounted groom, sleepless nights chanting, incredible food. It was a very vibrant experience that I’ll never forget.

Is it hard for you to adjust to a different culture? How were you forced to step out of your  “comfort zone”? Name a particularly culture shocking experience?

Lempe: You definitely are on sensory overload when you first get there. Being jet-lagged on top of that when you first get there intensifies everything also. The smells, the tastes, the noise, the pollution, the visually stimulated traditions. It’s definitely intense, and you have to be aware of what’s going on around you. You have to imagine that there’s basically too many people in too small of a place in a city like New Delhi. For some opportunities to make money are almost non-existent, and to survive, sometimes they see a white person with a fancy backpack and see you as a way to feed them and their families. That’s not always the case, but everywhere in the world, even where I grew up in Colorado, there are good and bad people.

Did you travel with anyone on this trip? Do you prefer to travel alone?

Lempe: I traveled around with my wife Jess (girlfriend at the time). We’ve done a ton of traveling together, and it’s great. It’s not always easy spending every second of every day with someone, but you develop a certain type of closeness with whoever you’re with that you would have never otherwise been able to experience. I definitely think it’s important to travel around with your significant other! It’s basically the best possible teamwork and patience testing exercise!

What motivates you to document your travels?

Lempe: Wherever I am, I always have a camera with me. Part of traveling and exploring for me is documenting it. Something about capturing a place allows me to fully experience it, and it’s how I get the most out of it. Especially going on intense climbing trips like to a place like Baffin Island or Patagonia, being able to document it and bring home a story is pretty incredible.

Describe the climbing scene out there. Was it your ultimate goal to climb?

Lempe: The climbing in southern India is mostly made up of foreign travelers, but I did meet some local climbers as well. At one point this little kid came up to where we were bouldering, looked at me, then just proceeded put my climbing shoes on and went for it! Our goal wasn’t just to climb but to experience everything as a whole and see the beauty of it all.

What was your favorite and least favorite moment of your trip?

Lempe: Definitely the worst part was me being stressed out about potentially getting sick.. Since I was a kid I’ve always been pretty paranoid about getting sick or even having an upset stomach. No matter how hard you try, you’re likely to end up getting some sort of stomach bug or GI distress. I sort of had to let go of those fears, do my best to not get sick, but know that it was pretty much out of my hands if I did.

How does traveling challenge you and help you grow personally?

Lempe: I think traveling is super important in life. You are forced to get out of your normal way of thinking, and to see how other people live their lives. Being from the US, sometimes you can get a little close minded and scared of other people. You have to ask people all the time for help or directions. It’s also really cool to realize how much you can communicate when you don’t speak the same language. So much is said without words, and it’s pretty interesting how much you can actually understand. Though… universally English is pretty much spoken everywhere so that definitely makes things easier.

What sort of advice would you give someone who wants to step outside their comfort zone and start their own adventure?

Lempe: Just go! Buy the plane ticket, pack your car, or fill up your backpack and go! Lately whenever I’m trying to figure out which decision I to make I ask myself this: “will I regret it if I do this?” I’m often times surprised to find out that my answer is usually “no, I probably won’t regret it”. Yes, it is important to keep yourself safe, but to take calculated risks that could potentially open up rad and exciting things for you is pretty awesome. Don’t let fear control the things you do, but let it keep you out of harm’s way. You don’t need to change your entire life to be able see and experience new things, but you do need to commit to trying something different even if it’s scary.

Cheyne Lempe

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