Expression Sessions: AllSwell x Sterling Pierce Taylor

photo: Dana Felthauser

AllSwell Creative founder Laura Rubin looks for that spark

At AllSwell we believe that your life (that thing you’re living right now) is a creative act. It can be as contrarian, adventurous, and fulfilling as you choose. We recognize this can be kind of a daunting concept. Naturally, we’re curious about outliers, misfits and renegades—people who have crafted a unique experience that is a reflection of their passions and ideals. We’re talking with some of these rock stars, asking them nosy questions about their creative process and what fuels their self-expression.

“Expression Session” is a term first coined in 1970 on the North Shore of Oahu at a surfing showcase event without judges, scores, winners or losers. Featuring a select group of the world’s best surfers, the Expression Session was presented as an alternative to the standard surf contest and it seemed like an appropriately anti-establishment name for this series of conversations with risk-takers.

First up, Sterling Pierce Taylor, an accomplished rock climber with a fierce fear of heights and self-described “motorcycle dirtbag.” Traveling the country on two wheels or four (#vanlife), Sterling has prioritized having adventures outdoors over the typical accumulation of stuff.

There are few things more thoroughly badass than free soloing. No stranger to this pursuit, Sterling talks candidly about the current state of men finding outlets for creativity, having second thoughts at 1,200 feet off the ground, and what waits for him in a place called Squamish.

When your climbing shoes got you like… photo: Adam Prieto

Laura Rubin: Take us through your first climbing experience.

Sterling Pierce Taylor: My very first climbing experience was with my older brother Charles when I was 13 years old. It was my birthday and he selfishly took me to do what he wanted. I knew he wanted to see how I felt about it too. We hiked into the mountains, somewhere random in New Mexico, me with water and PBJ’s and my brother with 30 or so pounds of climbing gear. We approach a somewhat smooth, tall, vertical wall of rock with seams and small protrusions, deep inside a burnt orange canyon. I stood looking up at what seemed to be an impossible challenge with awe and confusion. My brother proceeded to Free Solo the seemingly impossible, the rope tight around his shoulders and waist, along with a few nick knacks of gear to set a top rope for me. I couldn’t belay my 6’3, 190-pound brother, so I’m guessing for him this method was the way to set the rope. After watching him climb like what looked like superman, I set toe and finger to rock. To this day, I remember the feeling of a place to be. It felt like a right to passage. I fell into a deep focus and from that moment forward all I wanted to do was climb. Now, today, I am the one setting the rope for my brother.

LR: Creativity isn’t just what happens on a canvas. We have seen surfers that are artists on a wave. What are some of the creative moments you’ve had while climbing?

SPT: It’s all creative. Like many sports, especially the ones that bring you into the outdoors with unforgiving challenge. There’s a collaboration to be had that goes deep and should be appreciated. Subtly looking at rocks, one may assume it’s obviously solid and won’t move, but that’s not the case. The earth is pushing these walls daily. These giant walls and mountains shaped by nature through time. In time, that’s also what happens to climbers. We use climbing to explore and create within ourselves, shaping our ideals and expressing what’s possible. The devoted climber has a grace that bends the rules of what society tells us creativity is. I believe this is why climbing has been a great tool for many with trauma, to find creative ways to understand that very thing ailing them. Every person needs a constructive way to struggle or else they’ll take unhealthy pursuits.

The devoted climber has a grace that bends the rules of what society tells us creativity is.

LR: You clearly prioritize spending time outdoors. How do you feel that shapes you as a person?

SPT: I do spend a lot of time outdoors. I believe in order for us to understand how to protect the outdoors we have to learn to accept that we are hypocrites. We have a part in the destruction, because it’s almost inescapable. Inflicting hurt by harshly displaying one’s opinion over another won’t get us anywhere. We need to form well-rounded opinions and listen to one another. Slowly but surely I think it’s the way to preserve. First we need to learn how to preserve a relationship with a stranger/foe before we are able to influence a positive worldview. Then comes an understanding of how to act together. Polarization is a scary place to find ourselves in and I hope down the line it doesn’t go one step further to demonization.

We all, no matter our opinions, will remember our first nature experience. Rather it be under a tree in our backyard, or the time we stuck our heads out of a burning hot car to feel the wind in our hair, driving through the desert on a family vacation. We all strive for the notion of the middle ground, and a society built upon mindfulness is an excellent way to learn about how we all fit with our surroundings.

photo: Sterling Pierce Taylor

LR: Scariest climbing moment?

SPT: Taking an 80-foot whipper/pendulum off the side of Half Dome. I was 1,200 feet off the ground at that moment. It was my first multi-pitch and certainly an unforgettable experience to say the least. Some ask why I didn’t just stop climbing then and wonder how it’s not reckless. Still, to this day, more people die having bad diets and from smoking cigarettes. I personally consider those to be way more reckless.

LR: If there’s one thing we should know about Sterling Pierce Taylor, what would it be?

SPT: What would be the fun in giving up the mystery?

LR: Tell us about the last time you put pen to paper.

SPT: Last time I put pen to paper was yesterday’s grocery list for a Memorial Day BBQ.

LR: Fact: journaling is scientifically proven to be more beneficial to men. Why do you think that is?

SPT: It gives us a time to reflect and feel. Sometimes as men we are taught to not feel and to appear tough. I once took a man up Denali who was tough as nails. He didn’t have an outlet for any weakness while being in this tough environment for his knowledge of surviving. When we got to the summit, he asked me “Is it ok to cry? I Feel like crying.” I said, “yes, this is where men cry.” I feel like that’s the case for men with journaling. We forget that sometimes the feminine sides we all carry feeds our masculinity, bulking up a stronger sense of our personal man.

photo: Taylor Michael Burk

I really enjoy people watching and sitting in silence for ten minutes a day, just feeling and observing.

LR: What other outlets or mediums do you use to express yourself?

SPT: I use a camera like many do these days. I can see why, too. It’s an excellent way to sway belief in a gentle way onto others. We all have a story that deserves to be heard or, in this case, seen. There shouldn’t be prejudice in that. Also, I really enjoy people watching and sitting in silence for ten minutes a day, just feeling and observing. Last but not least, mentoring. I find this to be very important with every generation and how we pay gratuity to our personal paths. I learned this from a mentor of mine, Alex Mcafee of Conrad Mens.

LR: What’s next on your agenda?

SPT: Next on my agenda is flying to Squamish with my girlfriend Jessy and teaching a few friends traditional climbing and crack technique. Also looking at a route called the Shadow. A super physical route that requires great balance from what I’m told.

LR: A spot called “the Shadow” sounds like a good place to confront some fears. Thanks, Sterling.


About AllSwell: In 2015 lifelong journaler Laura Rubin founded AllSwell Creative on the belief everyone has a unique creative voice, (regardless of whether they’re an artist or not) and the discovery that connecting with that voice through analog experiences has proven mental, emotional and physiological benefits. Now, she’s on a mission to help each person connect with their innate creativity in ways that lead to surprising, often profound, realizations. Using AllSwell’s Write-Draw series of notebooks as the jumping off point, AllSwell delivers transformative creative workshops for small groups and businesses, and crafts custom excursions to inspiring, off-the-grid locations to open travelers’ senses, all designed to help each person access their own particular genius.