After 20 bags of hot Cheetos, Redbulls, perhaps some delusions and the open
road, Cole McCullough and a band of friends finally made it back to Fort Collins in the early hours of the morning after a spur-of-the-moment climbing trip to Banff National Park in Canada.
Within just a day from their return, McCullough moved into his new house and returned to Colorado State University as a horticulture major after taking the past spring semester off. For McCullough, leaving months of being in the wilderness to go back to tests and studying was a hard goodbye.
McCullough took off last spring semester with full intentions of never returning to CSU. The goal was to attend mountaineering school, but after his plans fell through McCullough found himself back in Fort Collins, but not before he spent the summer immersed in the wilderness as a wild land firefighter, something he has been doing every summer since he graduated high school.
“I have organic chemistry and some horticulture classes and entomology,” McCullough said. “So, yeah, it has been a pretty brutal transition. I was fucking around for a while and boom—I went right into it.”
McCullough’s roommate, best friend and junior business marketing major Brennan Dyehouse said he has witnessed McCullough create a balance between the outdoors and his studies.
“What’s great is his ability to put passion into what he studies,” Dyehouse said. “I think him and I are similar in that way. It will be 2 a.m. and I’ll tell him about business marketing concepts and he will tell me about the bugs he catches for his entomology class. His passion for both his education and love for the wilderness really go hand in hand.”
McCullough said he fell in love with mountaineering because it makes you forget about everything else.
“When you are hundreds of feet up on a rock face or on an exposed section of a gnarly peak, you have to free your mind of everything that is going on in the world and only focus on the here and now,” McCullough said. “You experience such a beautiful, mind-clearing feeling that helps you just totally recenter yourself.”
To make sure to get his wilderness fix, McCullough participates in the Outdoor Club at CSU as an organizational officer. The Outdoor Club is a completely student-driven club where students hang out outside together. McCullough himself enjoys leading climbing trips and teaching people the logistics of the sport.
“Basically, we are just a bunch of chill people who like the outdoors that go do outdoorsy shit together,” McCullough said.
There are no fees to join the Outdoor Club. McCullough said the only expenses required are pitching in for gas on trips and providing your own food and water. Climbing supplies can be rented, but McCullough said the club does a lot of sharing with gear. Anyone is welcome to join the club, no matter their level of outdoor experience. You can also choose any of the trips you want to go on.
“What is really cool is the majority of our meetings every week are more like social meetings,” McCullough said. “We all hang out at Avogadro’s Number and just B.S. and drink beer and eat ice cream.”
All the information about how to join and what trips the club will do next can all be found on the Outdoor Club Facebook page.
When McCullough somehow finds free time between climbing mountains and climbing piles of homework, he enjoys filling it by making art. McCullough describes his style as tattooesque, usually using pen or acrylic paint on wood as his mediums, or ironically with his firefighter past, wood burning. One of his wood pieces, a three-piece set of wavy trees, hangs in the Academic Village dining hall. The piece took 27 hours to complete.
McCullough says his art is inspired by tattoo and graffiti styles of work, and one of his most current doodles was inspired by Fort Collin’s artist Kaia Holdbrook of Story of my Life Tattoo Co., who tattooed a piece on McCullough’s upper arm. Within a few weeks, he intends on letting the artist tattoo whatever she wants onto his arm with no planning involved.
Due to the unexpected nature of firefighting, McCullough has adopted a life philosophy of little planning for the future. He has a general outline of goals for the future, such as finishing school and paying it off, but prefers to live his life with a high level of spontaneity. Although, this lifestyle has somewhat been altered for him with the adoption of his six-month old kitten, Sequoia.
“She is the love of my life,” McCullough said. “I do not want to get married or have kids or anything, but I’m like, fuck yeah, I got a cat. I am a parent. This is my kid.”
The new cat dad acquired his kitten from a woman in a Dollar Store parking lot. He has since encouraged the tiny fuzzy pet to become a climbing, camping cat by taking her on climbing and hiking trips with him and his friends. While McCullough climbs, Sequoia explores and does cat things while tied to an 18-foot leash that he made for her.
“When she gets tired, I sling her over my shoulders,”
McCullough said. “She is a freaking doll. She did good, she crossed her first river two weekends ago…She is my little adventure buddy.”
While Sequoia is McCullough’s black kitten, McCullough describes himself as a black sheep in relation to his own parents because they do not share his sense of adventure, love for tattoos and piercings, vegetarian diet and audacious tendencies such as dumpster diving.
“I love his look on life to make the planet healthier or greener, but the dumpster diving, all I can say is ‘ew,'” said McCullough’s mom, Lindy McCullough.
Although McCullough’s lifestyle may scare her, she appreciates the way he looks at life, she said.
“I love that Cole is free spirit and is living life to the fullest, seeing new places, new things and new cultures,” Lindy McCullough said. “I love to see the pictures and hear about the adventures, but only after he is back and safe on the ground. I love his outlook on life.”
Collegian reporter Miranda Moses can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @mirandasrad.