Nick Duttle: What I’ve Learned

Nick Duttle, 30, All-Around Rock Crusher, Las Cruces, New Mexico.

By Nick Duttle | August 15th, 2017

Nick Duttle. Photo: Keith Ladzinski.

This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 199 (January 2012)

Imagine not being able to sweat when it’s 120 degrees outside. I was born with a genetic condition called hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia—I do not sweat. This has been a life-long challenge, especially growing up in the extremely hot and dry climate of Las Cruces. My body holds in heat like a glove.

Keratoconus and lattice degeneration are two of the eye disorders I have in addition to my genetic condition. At one point the Commission for the Blind told me it would be a good idea to start learning braille. I simply refused to believe I would lose my sight. Who knows if that really works, but I sure want to believe that it makes a difference. The chances of full blindness are low for now, but blurred vision and surgeries are for sure down the road.

Las Cruces is the land of mañana, where time flows at a slow pace. Even though it was a terrible place to grow up not being able to sweat, at least we had the best green chili in the world.

The open starkness of the New Mexican landscape, and perhaps any desert, encourages creativity and curiosity. As a child I explored the Organ Mountains outside of Las Cruces, one of the most rugged mini-mountain ranges I’ve ever played in. I had more than a dozen encounters with mountain lions since I started hiking there with my mom. My first face-to-face sighting was right before my first day of high school. The mountains reminded me of a wild place outside the bounds of school and society, a place where I was free from social constraints and discrimination. Mountain lions don’t care what you look like.

I always wanted to believe that people aren’t shallow, but to advance in society, it really does matter how you look. Although my appearance defines me to many people, it hardly encompasses who I am.

My most intense encounter was out hiking in the La Sal mountains, being circled by a cat in the pitch-dark for hours, the whole hike down from Mount Peale. I could hear it panting and following me, and I finally got rid of it by leading it into a field of cows at the base of the talus and getting them to stampede.

Coming close to death teaches you to appreciate the exquisite beauty of being alive. Several times as a kid, I had fevers of 108, and my organs were shutting down. One time the hallucinations led to blackness, and though I thought I was only out for a couple of hours, it had been two weeks.

When friends tell me about their problems, I remind them that you can’t put a bandage on a turd. You’ve just got to flush that shit.

Envisioning goals is an important part of life. As a kid I drew pictures of myself as a professional athlete and a scientist. To this day, I still plan to accomplish both.

Being a pro climber is not as glamorous as it may seem if you don’t have a trust fund. I’ve spent many nights sleeping next to railroad tracks like a hobo.

I climbed my first 5.14 on a 100-degree day in the sun in Southern New Mexico. I’m stubborn.

My stepfather, Joe, taught me a lot about human nature; he taught me to see people’s motives for what they are, to see straight to their core. He could size a person up and cut right through the bullshit. Even though I only knew him for about 10 years, he was an incredibly powerful influence in my life.

When I found out Joe had died, it was hard for me to believe that he was gone. The last thing I remember was when I was 15 and he hugged me and told me how proud he was. Years later, I finally shed tears while looking for mountain lions in the full moonlight. A part of me is wild because of Joe being my father, and I will always return to the wild to walk with the moon and visit the lions.


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