I’m making some life changes. Here is the quick and dirty followed by a more nuanced story.
- Monday, I gave two week notice at my cubicle job of 6+ years.
- Two weeks from now, I’m heading north to Nelson’s Resort in Crane Lake, MN to be a full time bartender while living in staff housing at the resort.
- During my free time, I’ll primarily be exploring, cleaning, and climbing a cliff line, known as M&M Hill by locals, that has long since been forgotten by climbers. I will also be exploring some other areas in Crane Lake that you can find on Mountain Project and hopefully make some new discoveries as well.
- In order to fund some of the development that I hope to accomplish over the course of resort season, I will be asking for donations via social media. All donations will be used for hardware that will benefit generations of climbers to come.
- In the fall, I will return to the cities to sleep on your couch and eat your Wheaties. (Actually, I can’t say what comes next. A plan will surely develop, however, as time moves on.)
There you have it. If you’d like to read on, a larger story will unfold. If you would like to donate to the development of M&M Hill, please visit my GoFundMe campaign.
A bolt and hanger for this area cost around $6 combined. 6-10 of them go into creating a sport route. More info about development and donations below.
Longer Story Chapters:
- Cubicle Life
- Memorial Day
- M&M Hill
- Nelson’s Resort
- Donate to M&M Hill Development
I don’t care for my job or my home.
For many years now, I have toiled in a cubicle world doing unfulfilling work in a secure, but passionless, environment. Simultaneously, I have been living in a condo, that I purchased whimsically after looking at two whole other condos, with loud neighbors who think cigarette butts make for great landscape accessories and that my patio furniture must be a communal area for late night gatherings. In a completely “first world problems” way, it has, at times, been stressful bordering on panic-attack-inducing.
Every day I arrive at work, I take the stairs to the 5th floor, pull open the stairwell door, turn into the long hallway to my office and sink a little more into despair. Pretty dramatic, eh?! It often feels that way.
One perk of my soon to be former job has been the time off. I have had the luxury of three day weekends, week long vacations, and spontaneous days here and there for family and climbing “emergencies”. For the past many years, I have made a Memorial Day weekend pilgrimage to either Rushmore/Spearfish, South Dakota or Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, Arkansas.
This year, however, I couldn’t seem to get psyched for any of the plans that were unfolding. South Dakota was calling me, but only if I had an adventurous partner willing to shake up the normal routine. That person never stepped forward, and so, I looked for other options.
Luckily, long time mentor and godfather of Minnesota climbing, Jeff Engel, turned me on to an undeveloped cliff line up north. He had mentioned it in years past, but this year, he really seemed to be saying that someone other than him should go and check it out and see if it was worth developing. Slowly, this idea took over any SD plans that were brewing and I shifted focus. I would head north alone and take a look at this cliff. If it was uninspiring, I was only a short drive from Duluth, MN, where Climb Duluth was hosting a local cleanup/climbing event, or, I was a few hours from Palisade Head, where I knew some Twin Cities climbers would be available for a belay or two.
I headed north on my own on Thursday night and found a secluded spot to sleep near the cliff line that I had been told about. Jeff and I discussed naming the cliff before I left. He suggested that if I did end up developing anything that I call it “Sean’s World” as a play on Jeff’s World. I said no. I felt that it should be called “Nelson” or “Nelson Road” as it sits along Nelson Road and that sounded simple and clean to me. In the end, he agreed. I further suggested that we should name routes after the songs of 80s/90s hair band, Nelson. Jeff liked that idea, but suggested Willie Nelson as a better Nelson to work off of and I concurred.
Friday, I awoke and toured the cliff. I felt lonely and unsure that I had made the right choice eschewing my friends and established climbs in a neighboring state, and my vision reflected this. I didn’t see much. There was a cliff alright, but what was so special about it? Not much. I returned to my car, loaded up a backpack with gear, and hiked back to the closest edge of the cliff. Here, I would spend the next three days setting up top ropes, cleaning rock, and climbing lines that seemed worthy of repeating while falling slowly and madly in love with the area. In the end, I put up five new sport routes and marveled at my handiwork. I would later walk the entire cliff line again, and with a new and accomplished mindset, I saw the cliff for what it was – a hidden gem.
Jeff passed through on his way further north and stopped to see me. We revisited the “Nelson” name for the cliff and he let me know that after talking to some locals, it turned out to have a nickname already; M&M Hill.
In the late 70s, it turns out, a youth group drew kids from around the country to northern MN for a summer camp. They would hike to this cliff and set up top ropes and aid climb on hangers that were modern in their time all over this rock formation. Locals would see multi colored helmets going up and down the cliff and nicknamed it M&M Hill. History wins out and we agreed to keep the name.
A mere mile and a half from M&M Hill lies Nelson’s Resort, a fishing based resort with cabins and boats and a restaurant and bar. Jeff had told me about the family that runs it and told them about me, a climber hanging out in the woods up the road who might stop in. Stop in I did. I had an amazing lunch there in the middle of my second day of development and returned that night for cold tap beer. I got to talking with some of the family that runs the place and it turns out they were looking for some seasonal help, and maybe I was the guy.
In the moment, it was a laughable idea. Leave everything behind to work at a resort for a handful of months near a cliff that I was developing a mad crush on. I returned to the resort again over the next couple of days. It was charming and near this new cliff and, with a boat, a gateway into Canada and to Jeff’s World. As I drove home on Monday, I wasn’t laughing anymore. I was stewing. Contemplating. Daydreaming. Wishing it was a real possibility.
Tuesday I returned to work. I exited the 5th floor stairwell as I usually do, turned into the 5th floor hallway as I usually do, and felt the despair of another day in the cubicle as I usually do. Something must change, I once again told myself. Crane Lake. M&M Hill. Nelson’s Resort. Maybe it’s not so laughable. I reached out to my ex-wife and best friend, Sherri, for some advice. She said to go for it. Life is short and when you see an opportunity that is based in passion, you have to consider it, follow it, not take it for granted.
I would later talk to my teenage sons. They too wanted to see me happy and reminded me that they are ok in life now. My constant presence isn’t as important in their lives as it was in years past. Taking a few months away wouldn’t be life shattering or implant feelings of abandonment.
Everything was falling into place and so I called up to Nelson’s Resort and the whimsical offer to work there was, in fact, a real offer. They truly did need help, they truly were offering, my reputation with Jeff’s family and my interest in climbing and developing the cliff was enough for them. Start when it’s convenient was the message I received. So, I put in my notice at work and a new chapter in my life is soon to begin.
Donate to M&M Hill Development
June 15, I will be moving north for a few months. I will tend bar in the evenings and be free most days of the week to explore, clean, and climb M&M Hill. It is located in State Forest land, which allows rock climbing as a recreational activity. There are questions still about fixed anchors, but a precedent was set decades ago and confidence is high that sport development is a legitimate use of the cliff.
I am moving north with ropes, top rope anchor gear, a drill, and lots of tenacity and vision. I am also bringing with me all the bolts and hangers that I can afford to buy before I go. Sport route development is a personal pursuit and is typically funded by the route developer. In Minnesota, for example, the Minnesota Climbers Association (MCA) does NOT pay for bolts that go into new routes, the developer does. MCA does buy bolts and hangers and anchors to replace old and worn gear, but development is the sole financial responsibility of the route developer. In this case, that is me.
I believe M&M Hill has a hundred or so routes to be developed. A bolt and hanger for this area cost around $6 combined. Chains, biners, rap rings, all that is additional. On average, a route at M&M hill will use 6-10 bolts/hangers, costing around $36-60. Last weekend alone, I installed 29 of them on five of the shorter routes the area will offer.
I am asking interested community members to help me continue this development. In return, I believe you will get a brand new climbing destination in Minnesota. The Crane Lake area offers climbing, biking, hiking, boating, swimming, bars, restaurants, camping, resorts, fishing, and more. Imagine being a part of creating a new cliff. How does that make you feel? Me? It makes me want to quit my job and live out a daydream. Will you join me?
Donate to M&M Hill development through GoFundMe.
All donations will be tracked and announced (unless you request anonymity) via my social media outlets. If you are a route developer and wish to join me, please get in touch. If you are a climber who wants to check out the cliff, please check out Crane Lake/M&M Hill on Mountain Project for ongoing updates.