This spotlight is shining on not one, but two employees (Software Architect Charlie Shannon and Staff Software Engineer Neal Erikson) who literally live life on the edge.
Charlie and Neal were co-workers a number of years ago at a company in Boulder, moved on to other companies, and met again coincidentally at a venue where Neal’s band was playing. They started climbing together and Neal got a position at the HomeAway Denver office, and they’ve been co-workers and co-climbers ever since.
How did you become interested in sport climbing?
Charlie: A good friend from high school approached me one day raving about a new sport he'd fallen in love with. Little did I know how much I'd come to love it too. I've now been climbing for nearly a decade (since 2005).
Neal: I began rock climbing in the spring of 2011. An old friend whom I had been in boxing class with was excited about climbing in a local gym. I had always had a latent interest in climbing, and it turned out to be something I really enjoyed. Now it takes up a good fraction of my time, between going outdoors on the weekends and training!
What is your favorite peak?
Neal: My favorite climb so far has to be La Peña de Bernal, in Querétaro, Mexico. It's the world's third tallest monolith, behind the Rock of Gibraltar and Sugarloaf Mountain in Brazil. I took a bus from Texas down into south central Mexico to meet up with my friend Bernardo, who was in the area for his brother's wedding. We ended up summiting on the Ides of March, 2011.
Charlie and I primarily do sport-climbing, which isn’t so much going to peaks, but “crags” or climbing areas where we climb routes that are extremely technical and demand gymnastic and precise movement. My favorite crag is a place near Canon City called Shelf Road, which has an amazing amount of top-notch sport climbing on these desert mesas. The rock there is a type of limestone that’s extremely strong and grippy, and forms with interesting features and challenges. The only downside is it’s really hot there…and 3 hours away!
Since the HomeAway Headquarters are in Austin, what was your favorite local climb when you've been in town?
Charlie: Instead of going to one of the classic Austin destinations like Reimer's Ranch or Enchanted Rock, we opted for a newly developed area called Monster Rock. It's on a piece of private property near Briarcliff, TX owned by this eccentric millionaire, John Hogge.
Neal: Monster Rock was hilariously strange. The routes were named almost completely after Lord of the Rings characters and places, and many had handmade wooden placards explaining the route.
Tell us about one of your scariest moments climbing?
Charlie: Well, I’ve broken off handholds 100 feet up and seriously injured a finger or two, but by far the scariest moment for me happened last year in Austin. I had just been lowered after finishing a climb and was explaining to my younger cousin, who was climbing outside for the first time, how the sport may seem dangerous but is actually quite safe as long as you have the proper training and use common sense. No sooner had I finished saying that when I grabbed the edge of a large boulder and leaned hard, stretching to my left. *CRACK* The rock unexpectedly crumbled in my hands and I plunged headlong towards what must have been a 40ft crevice below us. Had I fallen anywhere else along the crack’s seam I’d have ended up at the bottom, very badly hurt, or worse. But as it happens, I landed on top of a small boulder that had, maybe eons ago, rolled into that exact part of the crevice and had been just wide enough to get stuck in the opening. I’ve never felt so lucky!
Neal: Charlie and I once mistakenly ended up at a crag above the river that was extremely intense. We had to do some dangerous scrambling to get up to a ledge, then did a roped traverse on slippery, mossy rock that would have resulted in a huge (>25 feet) swing out over the river if we had slipped. After that, we attempted several climbs that were too difficult for us, and when we gave up we had to retrieve our gear, which involved some extremely awkward downclimbing and repeating the traverse.
* Sport climb routes are usually a quick 10-15 minutes but can take many hours and repitions to do a complete difficult climb without stopping or falling. It's common to return to the same crag many times in a climbing season.
What are your favorite climbs?
Charlie: Penitente Canyon in the high alpine San Luis Valley of south central Colorado. It gets it's name from the Penitente Brotherhood of Catholic monks who fled there to escape persecution in the 19th century. It's hard not to feel a little enlightened after a nice long weekend there.
Neal: Living in Colorado, Charlie and I are spoiled for choice of top-notch climbing areas of all types. My top three are Shelf Road, Boulder Canyon, and Clear Creek Canyon. I also love bouldering in Carter Lake and Evergreen.
If you could choose one super-hero power while climbing, what would it be?
Neal: Wolverine: Adamantium skeleton+quick healing=wife worries less
Charlie: Telepathy with my belayer