• ISO: My Dirtbag Princess

    Apr 21 • Locations • 839 Views

    Note: this piece appears in the Off Route column of the newest Zine, Volume 10, The Raw Issue. 

    Hello, I am looking for my dirtbag princess. Have you seen her? Qualifications include living on the cheap, adventuring every damn day, and having more fun than anyone. The ideal princess will love splitter cracks, getting scared, and beautiful desert sunsets. If you don’t have much experience in the desert, fear not. I also enjoy high alpine places, deep canyons, and beautiful rivers.

    My dirtbag princess should be self-sufficient and awe-inspiring. A strong and witty personality is a must. Other interests should include beer, sliding on snow, “your mom” jokes, and all the foods. Insta-famous or spotless puffy owners need not apply. I prefer women rough around the edges. I know you’re out there, so keep on adventuring, and hopefully one day, we’ll have more fun than anyone, together!



    Albert Kim lives in Telluride, Colorado, and can also be found getting sendy, taking whippers, and looking sexy in Indian Creek.

    Please consider subscribing to The Climbing Zine. It’s $17.99 a year for two issues, and this greatly helps us produce free web content like this. 

    About us: The Climbing Zine was started in 2010 by Al Smith III and Luke Mehall. It continues to the day with the mission of representing the true essence of climbing. Our crown jewel is our printed version, but we also do the interweb thing, and Kindle

    We have also published four books: Graduating From College MeAmerican ClimberThe Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed, written by publisher, Luke Mehall. 

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  • Volume 10 – The Raw Issue

    Apr 18 • Dirtbagging • 562 Views

    Well, we did it, we made it to double digits. Volume 10, The Raw Issue, will come off the press next week. In just five years we’ve gone from a black and white skate-punk rock style publication, to one that is easily on par, or better than any of the other American climbing magzines out there.

    by Luke Mehall, publisher of The Climbing Zine, author of American Climber.

    That said, our intention is, and has always been, to simply do our own thing. I think that will particularly ring true with this issue. We’ve got such a wide range of stories, from a climber wedding atop The Hulk — to a young woman who found enough self esteem in climbing to face her own destructive eating disorder.

    It seems impossible to try to summarize this issue, so I just wanted to leave a few quotes from some of our writers, with some art and photography.

    And, with this message: people often ask the best way to support the Zine, and my answer is to subscribe. At the moment it’s on sale for $32.99 for two years, and will be until Volume 10 comes off the printer early next week.

    The Pope’s Nose art by Rhiannon Williams

    From Up (and over) the Pope’s Nose by Josh Smith:

    “Think we could throw a haul bag out of an airplane? That would make the approach really easy.”

    Kennan was looking at me and Jeff with a twinkle in his eye, and unsure if he was serious, I asked, “Can you even open a plane door in flight, and if you could, wouldn’t it destabilize the plane and make it crash?”

    Jeff chimed in on Kennan’s side, “I think it will work, and it’s a great idea! I once pitched bags out of a plane when setting up resupplies in Alaska. Of course, the planes in Alaska had the doors taken off—and we never found one of the bags—but if we don’t try, we won’t find out. And I know just the pilot.”

    The Black Canyon (and our cover shot) Photo: Shay Skinner Collection

    From Fill The Void by Shay Skinner: 

    For the entire hour it took me to drive along the byway that sided with the Colorado River, an entropic catharsis ransacked everything I knew about life. Where was the negativity? I realized I had never lived in a moment, let alone days on end, where absolutely no negativity existed. No, not even in thought. Never was I once told I was not going to be able to climb a crack. Never were there any utterances of not being strong enough, not being capable enough, not…being enough. Instead, there was praise and support, laughter and enjoyment. And then came the kicker, a more profound recognition: I ate. I ate and I digested and I did not analyze it once.

    Royal Robbins on Mt. Hooker, Wind River Range, Wyoming. Photo: Royal Robbins Collection

    From Reflections on Dad by Tamara Robbins

    My dad, Royal, turned eighty-two just this week. He is dying. Dying at his age is not so unusual—the remarkable aspect is that he has been living with the effects of a rare condition called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP) for about seven years now. As is usually the case with PSP, it was initially misdiagnosed. This has gradually taken his mobility, speech, and some cognitive function. He has managed to outlive all predictions of longevity with PSP—as his doctors say, “No one but Royal Robbins would have endured for this long.”

    In addition to Josh Smith, Shay Skinner, and Tamara Robbins, our other contributors are: Sara Aranda, Cyrena Lee, Michelle Dedischew, Vic Zeilman, Drew Thayer, Joy Martin, Chris Schulte, Elliott Natz, Georgie Abel, Jack Larkin, Ana Ally, and Albert Kim.

    Order Volume 10 now


    Please consider subscribing to The Climbing Zine. It’s $17.99 a year for two issues, and this greatly helps us produce free web content like this. 

    About us: The Climbing Zine was started in 2010 by Al Smith III and Luke Mehall. It continues to the day with the mission of representing the true essence of climbing. Our crown jewel is our printed version, but we also do the interweb thing, and Kindle

    We have also published four books: Graduating From College MeAmerican ClimberThe Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed, written by publisher, Luke Mehall. 

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  • For The Love of Indian Creek

    Apr 10 • Dirtbagging • 688 Views

    “Holy, shit!” was all anyone of us could say.

    A buddy of ours was showing us a ring off an anchor he’d recently replaced on Incredible Hand Crack, perhaps the most climbed route in all of Indian Creek. It was nearly worn entirely through.

    by Luke Mehall, publisher of The Zine, and author of American Climber

    An old bolt and rap ring cleaned from Incredible Hand Crack.

    We were out at The Creek last weekend teaming up for an informal anchor replacement weekend, a small gesture to give back to a place that has given us so much. That ring seemed to be a perfect metaphor for the increased use that Indian Creek has seen over the last few years, and Sam fixing that anchor with some bomber new glue ins, provided by the American Safe Climbing Association (ASCA) was also a great example of the power of the climbing community: he fixed something very dangerous, and left an anchor that will be safe long after any of us are still alive.

    Giving back to Indian Creek has become more and more alluring to me over the last few years. I’ve been climbing there since 1999, and I’ve noticed the increased traffic and impact that has— but also I’ve noticed how others have improved the area for the better. The beautiful trails that have been constructed by Rocky Mountain Field Institute and other groups, the conservation easements between the ranchers and groups like the Nature Conservancy and the Access Fund that allow us to climb on the walls, and the toilets that Friends of Indian Creek and many other individual donors helped pay for to reduce human waste in the ground there. (Note: all human waste should be packed out of the desert, it simply just doesn’t break down there. Bring a Wag-Bag out if you’re not using the provided receptacles.)

    An old Banditos hanger.

    So, fixing an anchor here and there is our tiny way to give back. Drilling bolts in sandstone is serious business, and I’ve noticed some terrifying things in the last few years, including a bolt on South Six Shooter that my friend pulled out with his hands. The direction of pull, and force over the years will move a normal expansion bolt out of its hole, which is why glue ins are the best long term solution for popular climbs (especially ones that are steep or overhanging and get a lot of top rope use like Scarface or Annunaki).

    More and more people are fixing anchors at The Creek, and we’re keeping a database of what needs fixed where. (Feel free to add to this thread on MP if you come across a sketchy anchor.) Or, if you have the knowledge and skills and would like to replace some anchors yourself give me a shout and we’ll send you the database.

    A second, very memorable moment happened to us this weekend at The Creek as well. We were camped in Creek Pasture, and noticed a ranger doing his rounds. We didn’t think much of it until he asked us if we had paid our camping fees yet. We were sharing a site with another friend of a friend who had already left for climbing, and he hadn’t paid the $5 fee. The ranger explained that all the money stays within Indian Creek and help pays for the maintenance of the campground (read packing out our poop). We felt embarrassed, apologized, and quickly paid the fee.

    Hopefully our little mishap will help remind folks to pay the mere five dollar charge upon arrival to avoid conflicts with the rangers there.

    Now, more than ever I feel like I need places like Indian Creek to unplug and recharge. I imagine if you’re reading this you do too. And, if you’re feeling the call to give back, I’m sure you’ll find your own way to do it. Below I’ll leave some information and links to help out. See you at the walls!

    My email: luke@climbingzine.com

    American Safe Climbing Association 

    The Access Fund

    Rocky Mountain Field Institute 

    Friends of Indian Creek

    Nature Conservancy 

    Please consider subscribing to The Climbing Zine. It’s $17.99 a year for two issues, and this greatly helps us produce free web content like this. 

    About us: The Climbing Zine was started in 2010 by Al Smith III and Luke Mehall. It continues to the day with the mission of representing the true essence of climbing. Our crown jewel is our printed version, but we also do the interweb thing, and Kindle

    We have also published four books: Graduating From College MeAmerican ClimberThe Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed, written by publisher, Luke Mehall. 

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  • A Narrow Escape on Mt. Kenya by Jason Haas

    Apr 4 • Dirtbagging • 1107 Views

    “Hey, wake up. Wake up!” Brian whispered harshly. “There’s someone out there.”

    I half opened an eye and begrudgingly listened to the deafening silence. “I don’t hear anything man, I’m sure it’s nothing.”

    “SHHHHH!!!!” Brian’s face was pressed against the mesh fabric of the tent, as he peered out into the darkness. I thought of making a smart-ass comment, then thought better of it. I closed my eyes and started to roll over as the cacophony of falling pots and pans bolted me out of my sleeping bag. “I told you!”

    by Jason Haas

    Spoiler altert: This piece is an excerpt from Volume 7. Get your own here. 

    “Get the zipper!” I barked back. Clad in nothing more than shorts, we tore out of the tent and into the moonlight. Our packs were gone.

    Brian Young and I were graduating college from the flatlands of Michigan and in dire need of an adventure. We had been sport climbing for about two years and just started to learn how to trad climb. While pitching ideas to each other, Brian suggested clipping bolts on the shores of Thailand.

    I countered with a fading ice runnel up Mt. Kenya in Africa. I don’t remember how we decided, but somehow I won. Brian had never been out of the country before and was nervous about going to a third-world country. I did my best to calm his fears, but my carefree “The Dude abides” attitude was no match for Murphy’s Law. The airlines lost our bags, forcing us to roam the streets of Nairobi for several days before boarding the bus to the mountain.

    Being days behind schedule, even as the sweltering equatorial heat broiled the flesh on all eighteen of the oily, unbathed, musty people crammed into the passenger van jostling down dusty, pothole-riddled roads, our excitement remained high. But just as the heat and smell from our human jambalaya became too much, the van would pull over to the side of the road, the stifling air would stagnate from a lack of motion, and another person would literally shove their way into the van. This went on for hours until finally, like an overstuffed burrito, we split at the seams and oozed out of the van. Like leaving a greasy spoon diner, the stench stayed with us long after we’d been dropped off at the park gate to the mountain.

    We filed the necessary paperwork, paid our fees, shouldered our packs, and looked to the north – the mountain was socked in with bad weather and ominous clouds threatened to rain down in a torrential furry. It wasn’t the kind of rain where you get soaked and are annoyed at how wet your stuff gets. It was the kind of rain where the evaporating oasis mud pools flood into great lakes and rivers and villages are swept away. We had ten miles to hike through the jungle before reaching camp. Our enthusiasm drained and without words, we disappeared into the jungle. As the miles slowly ticked by, the clouds darkened and a clap of thunder nearly knocked us off our feet. Dead serious, I turned to Brian and said, “If it starts raining, we’re making camp right here.”

    “Hell no we are not! Things live in the jungle, man. I mean big things. Look at that!”

    Brian pointed to massive elephant tracks running perpendicular to the trail, emerging from, and then disappearing back into the jungle, branches and bushes snapped all around and footprints large enough to sit inside. The thunder clapped again and we both shook. We looked to the sky, then to the ground, and then simply plodded on. As lightning whipped across the sky, bright enough to momentarily blind you and thunder cracked around us, loud enough to briefly deafen you, miraculously, rain never fell.

    After a few hours of tense hiking, we emerged from the jungle onto a sprawling savannah and the most curious site – a porter hut. We chatted with a few locals who were hanging around, looking for work after a guided trip had fallen through. They recommended a beautiful flat spot near a stream a few hundred yards away to make camp and we graciously set up. The clouds cleared and we got our first glimpse of Mt. Kenya as the sun began to set.

    That night Brian woke me in a panic and as our “burglar alarm” of cooking pots went off, we tore out into the night in search of the offenders. Ignorantly and audaciously, I blindly yelled into the night to the perpetrators, “I’m going to kick your ass!” as I marched up to each of the few existing bushes surrounding the camp.

    Brian dug our headlamps out of the tent and tossed me one as I approached the last bush. As the shrub shook and emitted a faint rustling noise, I clenched my fist and pulled my arm back, anticipating the ensuing brawl that was about to take place. “All right, now you’re gonna…” I froze as he swaggered out from his hiding place.

    For a brief but eternal moment, we stared each other down.

    “Hey, hey Br, hey Brian!” I harshly whispered, half cocking my head over my shoulder. “I found it!”

    Brian came running toward me and then froze when my words began to sink in.

    “What do you mean it?”

    The well-lit eyes four feet off the ground turned and disappeared as Brian’s sentence trailed off into nothing. The beast sauntered away while we stood there stunned. And then, 20 yards out, the eyes reappeared. And then another pair. And another. And another. A row of yellow eyes looked at us, single file, shoulder to shoulder. Without thinking I picked up a rock and threw it at the eyes.

    “What the fuck are you doing!?” Brian growled.

    I didn’t know, but I threw another. And another. I threw every rock that was around me as the glowing eyes simply looked back at us, unflinching. Again, time seemed to stop. I could hear each passing heartbeat with a slow, rhythmic thump, thump, thump.

    “What should we do?” Brian asked.

    As if answering his question for me, the illuminated eyes started to go out. One pair at a time. One from the left end, then the right end, then the left end again, until a single set was looking at us. And then it too went out. Were we being circled and hunted? Just one of those things was larger than a Great Dane and there must have been a dozen sets of eyes. We worked our way back to the tent, arms up in karate possession and legs stealthily creeping like a wide-stanced ninja. Brian had found our bags, and for the moment, more importantly, our ice axes.

    We hesitantly crawled back inside the tent, armed to the teeth with ice gear, waiting for the battle. However, nothing happened and the only sound you could hear was our nervous breaths. I looked at Brian, tense as could be and white as a ghost, and realized there was nothing else to do but go to sleep. And that’s what I did. After an exhausting day, I slept like a rock, dead to the world, until the heat of the morning sun woke me to the sight of Brian, still gripping the ice axe and peering out of the mesh fabric. He looked like a shell-shocked marine, still alive after watching a friend die in a gory, all-night battle. I placed a hand on the axe and lowered his arms, then worked my way out of the tent.

    The carnage from last night’s attack was all too prevalent. Our trash was still strewn about and our backpacks had puncture wounds outlining the beast’s jaws. My Gore-Tex pants and jacket were ripped up, and most crucially, my CamelBak bladder had been punctured leaving me without a water container. A porter strolled over and asked what happened. “We were attacked by leopards!” I exclaimed.

    “No, no leopards here. Elevation too high.”

    “Lions then, I don’t know. It was this high.” I held my arm to my upper ribs as a measure and went on describing the yellow eyes, the massive, dagger-like teeth and the mangy fur.

    He nodded, “Hyenas.”

    “No way, these things were way bigger.” I had seen the Lion King and hyenas weren’t that big.

    “Hyenas. They attack people sometimes. Two of them can take down a lion. They’re bad. Stay away.”

    “Hyenas, huh?”

    “Hyenas. You should move on. They’ll probably come back.”

    I went back to the tent and looked at Brian, lying in a pool of sweat and in no shape to hike. I told him what the porter had said and we decided, against our better judgment, to push on.

    There weren’t any clouds like the day before to block the equatorial sun from beating our spirits down, and breaking our bodies under our overly stuffed packs. We went up and over ridges, down into valleys, and back up again. We’d gain a thousand feet, lose eight hundred, and climb again.

    Mile after mile, we slowly and methodically gained and lost elevation, creeping our way toward our objective until it became too much for Brian. He collapsed under his pack, exhausted from lack of sleep the night before, the sweltering heat, and from being at high altitude for the first time in his life. We rested on our packs until it became clear we were in trouble. Brian’s state was quickly deteriorating and we couldn’t stop in the middle of the hill. Without anymore water, we weighed our options – go back the way we came, up and down ridges and valleys to get back to the previous day’s camp and the hyenas, or push on in hopes of things getting better. I climbed the next ridge and saw we’d drop about a thousand feet down to a stream and decided that was our best bet. I helped Brian to his feet, shouldered our two packs, and we inched our way up the ridge and down the other side. Several hours later, as the light began to fade, we made camp alongside a creek and Brian collapsed in the tent.

    By morning color had returned to Brian’s face and his altitude sickness subsided. Still, he needed to rest, and so as he slept, I hiked up the valley to scout our path. I returned late that afternoon to a revived and jovial climbing partner. We laughed about the start of our trip and how the climbing part would be so easy after this and made plans to keep hiking the following morning. As we went to sleep that night, life had returned to our adventure and nothing could take that away. Or so we thought.

    Clang! Clang! Clang! Cooking pots were banging together, jolting us awake again. We rocketed out of our tent, donning headlamps and gripping axes. It didn’t matter. The hyenas had tracked us up into the rocky moraine and had made a more organized attack. The packs were gone and no animals could be found despite the lack of boulders and bushes to hide behind. We frantically searched for our stuff. Minutes passed and things began to look desperate. Finally, Brian found his pack, ripped and torn, but still (semi)intact. I also found my pack – but it had not been abandoned. Naïve confidence and anger swelled up inside. The hyena, clear as day and only a body length away from me easily outweighed me by a hundred pounds. I let out a primal war cry, “Agggggghhhhhh!!!!!” and swung my ice axes like nun chucks.

    As if amused rather than afraid, the beast conceded and left me to my pack. Pumping with adrenaline I didn’t know what to do – pursue it and end this game of cat and mouse, or be grateful for my pack and slink back to the tent. I chose the latter and we licked our wounds in the false security of the tent. Enough was enough; we were getting the hell away from these things. We packed our stuff, and as the sun began to rise we set off down the trail, exhausted but determined.

    We marched in anger and silence as clouds swirled around. The landscape became more barren and ominous as we passed an old plane wreck. But as the mountain began to take on the feel of Mt. Doom, it simply brightened our spirits and we joked about how worse things could possibly happen. We wondered if we could check a hyena skull on the plane, confident it would be ok once we showed the airlines our battle scars. Two more days of non-eventful hiking got us to the base of the retreating glacier and the start of the real climbing. We made plans for the following day, repacked our gear, and settled in for yet another restless night of sleep.

    The alarm went off at 3:00 a.m. and we started hiking out across the glacier. It turned out the ice couloir we had come to climb had melted out a decade or so before we arrived and we were forced to pick a new line.

    We followed the line of least resistance, climbing what felt natural, as we weren’t on an established route as far as we could tell. An hour after sunrise, a heavy, dense cloud settled on the mountain and visibility reduced from miles to yards, to feet, and finally to the end of your arm.

    Experience would have turned us around hours ago, but we had the pleasure of having none. So instead, we pushed on, going higher and higher and getting more and more committed to the unknown. At some point it began to snow and still, we pushed on. Retreat was an option, but it hadn’t really occurred to us. Even though, by then I had been climbing in a down jacket under my Gore-Tex coat (which was ripped up thanks to the hyenas). When the teeth chattering became too much and the hypothermia was setting in, we decided to head down, unable to tell how far from the actual summit we were.

    Again lacking experience, as well as even what most would consider a “light” alpine rack, retreat became instantly complicated. We had learned how to tie two ropes together via double fisherman knots from a book the day before we left the States, but we hadn’t practiced on two different sized ropes. We fumbled with the knots as our fingers became wooden blocks and semi-useless from the cold. Annoyed, Brian decided to lower me down to see if we could reach what we thought was webbing on a ledge with a single rope. He lowered me down, going well past the halfway mark of a single rope, necessitating the use of the other one. I stood on a ledge, not much bigger than my feet, unanchored to the non-existent webbing, waiting for Brian to rappel down to me.

    We stood still. Time did not.

    The mountain turned to a waterfall, and water sprayed off the rocks, finding its way into every torn hole in my clothes. I lost feeling in my legs from being unable to move and visibility was still nonexistent. Finally, Brian dropped through the veil and joined me on the ledge. We tied some slings around a nearby block and re-threaded the rope. As Brian loaded his belay device, I stared at the knot, unconfident it was tied correctly. I started to ask Brian about it, who quickly barked, “It’s fine! It held me once didn’t it?”

    Still, I stared at the knot as Brian quickly disappeared back into the clouds. And then, like a scene out of Cliffhanger or Vertical Limit, I watched the knots start to slip in terrifying, jerky motions.

    “Get off the rope! Get off the rope RIGHT NOW!” I screamed into the void.

    Answering my plea, the rope went slack at the exact moment the knot came fully undone.

    I grabbed each rope just as they fell away from the anchor. I tied a knot as fast as I could as Brian started to yell unintelligibly up to me. And just like that and without warning, the ropes went taught again. Minutes past until they went slack a second time and I headed down. I met Brian again on a ledge, where a nasty argument ensued. Brian had been near a dihedral and had stemmed between the walls as the ropes cut loose, but was growing tired and re-weighted the ropes just as I reset the anchor. Tension was high and mistakes were happening faster than we were descending. We left more gear and rapped again, this time over a big roof crack. We arrived on a huge ledge, but as we tried to pull the ropes, the knot got wedged in the roof crack. Holding only one end of the two strands and not knowing what to do or how to retrieve the ropes, I opted to solo as high as I dared back up the wall and cut the line, leaving us with about sixty feet of rope and more than a thousand feet of mountain to descend.

    The clouds continued to swirl and blocks careened down all around us. The mountain had warned us from the beginning we were not welcomed here and it was only now we were realizing it. We began to solo down the mountain, carefully creeping our way down ledges and crack systems for hours. A gully came into view off to the right, but as we debated trying to make our way over to it, a bus-sized boulder rattled down the couloir, cleaving the snow off on each successive bounce. The mountain shook and we searched for other options. Occasionally we passed old, torn and faded webbing anchors and chopped out what we could, taking the pieces with us. At some point I passed an ancient fixed pin and removed it with my fingers and stashed it in my pack.

    We continued in this fashion for nearly 700 feet, never seeing more than a few feet in front of us and completely uncertain of where we were downclimbing to until we reached a dead end. Standing on a twin mattress sized ledge over a body-sized roof, we sat and studied the air below us. The cloud would swirl and sometimes, if only for a moment, we could see a little bit farther down below. We thought we could make out the glacier. Or was that just the cloud still? No it’s whiter than the cloud, I think it’s the glacier. Is that a ledge below us?

    I never thought I’d die of hypothermia at the equator while wearing a down jacket. Night was going to be here soon; we needed to move.

    Brian and I built an anchor with our last remaining gear and then, as if breaking out of a prison with bed sheets, began to tie the pieces of webbing together in one long daisy-chained line. We drew straws for who had to go first: Brian was up. Silently, he headed down into the white fog, lowering himself hand over hand down the knotted line as pieces of nylon stretched and ripped. Eyes glued to the anchor, I solemnly stated, “Go faster Brian, go faster.”

    The “rope” began to sway a bit as I could hear (but not see) Brian start to swear. “Oh God, please work! Oh G….O….O…O…D…..D…D…!” Thump! Then silence!

    “Brian! Brian!!!” I shouted into the nothingness as the rope hung limp and unweighted.

    Finally a voice answered, “Come on down!”

    What!? Come on down? What the hell was that all about!? But what choice did I have? I headed down, arms clenching each knot to keep from slipping, legs squeezing the rope like a fireman’s pole. The webbing creaked and eeked, stretched, and frayed. Time to move Jason, time to move. I slid down the line until Brian emerged as a dark figure on a hazy ledge, fifteen feet below the end of the rope.

    “Just let go, I’ll get you.” He reassured me.

    “Are you serious right now!?” I yelled back.

    If I dropped straight down I might hit the edge of the ledge, but if I go out just a little I’d certainly overshoot it. I started trying to swing back into the wall and drop as close to it as possible. The rope creaked and popped as it continued toward its inevitable failure. My wooden hands gave out as I aimed my trajectory toward the back of the ledge. Brian slammed me into the wall and I gasped for air. I was safe, for the moment.

    After calming my nerves we began to assess the situation – we were still nearly 300 feet above the glacier and now without a rope. The clouds sill hindered our vision, but had let up enough to occasionally make out a line of weakness. We began to downclimb again as water and snow and ice and boulders continued to fall around us. In the fading light, we reached the glacier. Much of the descent had been done in tense, awkward silence as we focused on survival, but now, back on solid ground, emotions and words came flooding back.

    I erupted in anger and shoved Brian. “What the fuck? You almost died up there man!”

    Brian was scarily calm. “You done?”

    “What are you talking about, done? What was I going to tell your mom, man? And that’s only if I would have lived since you would have taken both the ropes with you!”

    “Let it all out because we are never going to talk about this again.”

    “Serious? What’s wrong with you?” The rant went on but Brian was already tuning me out as he plodded back across the snow toward the tent.

    I was still fuming and yelling when Brian cut me off. “Look – the mountain has cleared.”

    I spun around to see a picture-perfect view on the mountain, cast in the beautiful light of the setting sun. I tore through the pack looking for the camera. As I stood back up, taking the lens cap off, the mountain socked back in with clouds as if sneering and denying us our one last request. Totally defeated, I slumped into camp.

    The hardening of my alpine soul continued for days on end as we hiked away from the mountain, torrential rains literally beating us into the ground as we fell, more than hiked, down the “vertical bogs”. The grassland turned to rivers of mud and every slope was a never-ending and unwanted waterslide.

    I lost a shoe at one point and didn’t even notice until Brian gave it back to me. When we finally reached the park gate a few days later, we discovered our paperwork had been altered, making it look like we had not paid upon entering. Out of money and far from town, we had to barter with the thieves in order to leave. From there, we traded the remaining climbing gear we had for a fifteen mile car ride back to town to catch a bus back to Nairobi.

    An experience like this leaves a lasting impression, but there’s only one of two ways it could really go. One is to solidify why you climb and only strengthen you adventurous spirit. The other, to realize you nearly died, thus leaving you wanting nothing more to do with climbing like that again. I chose the former while Brian chose the latter. We were each other’s main climbing partner, an activity we did seven days a week, and a lifestyle we embraced fully by being unemployed, full time dirtbags.

    In the months and years that followed, my hunger for climbing and adventures only grew, while Brian climbed less and less, and never alpine or really even trad climbed again.

    Today, more than a decade later, the experience (and some of the clothing) stays with me. My wife even still likes the story.

    While sitting on a ski lift chair with strangers, my wife often enjoys pointing to my faded and patched Gore-Tex pants and jacket and asks, “How’d you get those holes?”

    Just as we exit the chairlift, I smile and say, “Hyenas attacked me.”

    She turns to the stranger and smirks, “True story.”

    As we part ways on the slope they always yell the same thing, “Wait, what? Are you serious?”

    Jason Haas still has the fixed pin from that fateful trip to Africa and was the inspiration behind the name to his publishing company, Fixed Pin Publishing, which he runs from his house. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife and two kids. 

    This piece is an excerpt from Volume 7. 

    Please consider subscribing to The Climbing Zine. It’s $17.99 a year for two issues, and this greatly helps us produce free web content like this. Check out the FREE preview


    About us: The Climbing Zine was started in 2010 by Al Smith III and Luke Mehall. It continues to the day with the mission of representing the true essence of climbing. Our crown jewel is our printed version, but we also do the interweb thing, and Kindle

    We have also published four books: Graduating From College MeAmerican ClimberThe Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed, written by publisher, Luke Mehall. 

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  • Explaining a Memorial Toilet

    Mar 30 • Locations • 2943 Views

    A memorial toilet is a hard thing to explain.

    But that’s exactly what my friends were constructing last weekend, a new toilet in the Super Bowl campground in Indian Creek, Utah to honor a fallen comrade, Kevin “K-Bone” Volkening, who died doing what he loved: climbing.

    by Luke Mehall, publisher of The Climbing Zine. Banner photo by Kolin Powick

    It all made sense to me, I’d heard about the project months beforehand. The campground where the toilet was placed gets a ton of traffic, and only had one toilet for everyone to use. I’ve personally stood there while nature calls, behind a lengthy line of others who are heeding that same call. But when I try to explain the memorial toilet to others, it always comes out strange.

    Me: “Yeah, it’s a toilet they are building as a tribute to a friend of ours that passed away.”

    Random person: “So, they are honoring his life by building a toilet?”

    See what I mean?

    I’ve been traversing the land between Durango and Moab so many times this fall to the casual observer I surely appear obsessed, inflicted with a healthy dose of masochism. Climbing the unforgiving red rock Dakota sandstone cracks was my number one on my agenda for October aka Rocktober; and I’ve given that pursuit priority over every thing else in my life. The only thing I’ve probably done more than climbing in Utah last month was my other passion: sleeping. God, do I love to sleep. And while we’re making lists: women, I love women. Throw some food and water, a 40 plus hour work week into that equation and that’s my life. Happy, like that catchy gets-stuck-in-your-head-when-you-don’t-want-it-to Pharrell song.

    Anywho, while content as a pig in shit most of the time, I am not without my own demons and doubts. As a failed environmentalist and former Catholic you can only imagine the guilt that I feel, even in the most day-to-day activities. I feel guilty that I’m burning through fossil fuels like it’s my job just so I can merely recreate. There are rocks right here in Durango that I could climb. And why I am I so obsessed with these particular rocks in Utah? Shouldn’t I be doing something more meaningful with my life?

    But, save for some moments in a lover’s embrace, nothing does feel more rewarding than climbing these rocks. And, it does put food on the table, I have the luxury of writing about my experiences, and occasionally getting a paycheck for it. So, I continue on.

    And, I do feel like there’s more of an exchange than mere physical gratification. I feel a connection with my creator out there. I love the joy of letting my mind become meditative, and not sending fifty text messages, a hundred emails, and checking my Facebook thirty times a day. Perhaps I am afraid of becoming a machine, so I must go where I am a man again, where I must rely on my inner strength and survival instincts.

    And, if I can dare go deeper, and quote the climbing legend Royal Robbins, who is to say that climbing isn’t a search for God? We, lovers of nature, hold the wild lands of the earth near and dear to our hearts, and would not want to live life without them.

    But, wait, this is supposed to be an article about a toilet, and I’m writing about God? Back on track, let’s go to Castle Valley, the day before the toilet was installed.

    coiling rope

    Shaun Matusewicz coiling ropes after climbing The Priest in Castle Valley. The Convent sits in the distance.

    If Indian Creek is like living in a painting, Castle Valley is the masterpiece. Castleton Tower, the first in seven iconic summits on a ridgeline, is a perfectly square castle made of Dakota Sandstone, which stands so prominently it is a natural lightning rod. The other towers and buttresses, given the names such as The Rectory, The Priest and The Nuns, suggest the place is a spiritual haven, and in this environment, it’s impossible not to feel inspired. As a side note, this area has seen more than one television stunt: Bon Jovi made the music video to “Blaze of Glory” on the summit of The Rectory and more than one car company has helicoptered vehicles to the top of Castleton for commercials.

    So my buddy Dave and I are in Castle Valley, for Halloween, because I didn’t want to party on Halloween this year, and we’re climbing towers. Dave is one of my favorite climbing partners because he’s mellow, safe, and smart. He’s also getting married, and he just bought a house and got a cat, and well, I know these signs, I have to climb with him when he has the time, because he’s just going to get busier and busier with life. The call from my climbing partners saying that they are either getting married or having kids is getting to be quite routine these days.

    Splitters for days on Fine Jade, 5.11. photo by Dave Ahrens

    Splitters for days on Fine Jade, 5.11. photo by Dave Ahrens

    After climbing our first tower, The Rectory, I hunger for more. Dave seems content. I feel like a puppy dog that just has to be ran a little bit more, or that energy is going to get him in trouble. And, we begin a negotiation of sorts. “Well, I want to keep the fiancé happy, I shouldn’t get back too late,” he says.

    “You can blame it on me,” I suggest. “Throw me under the bus, I don’t care.”

    “That’s not how it works bro,” Dave says knowingly.

    I play my cards carefully, “Well, how about we just do the first pitch”, (kinda like the climbing version of ‘just the tip’).

    And somehow he agrees. We climb Castleton, and then I’m happy, and so is Dave, and we are standing on a beautiful summit, with views of Arches, the La Sal Mountains, and even a peak into Colorado on the horizon. Stunning. We rappel off the tower, and then I have to make a decision: to drive back to Durango that night or roll down to Indian Creek and hang out with the crew that is installing the memorial toilet that weekend. I’ve got to be in Durango for work the following afternoon, so I didn’t have time to actually lend a hand, but I wanted to hang out with everyone and show my support.

    Indian Creek wins. A campfire with many new faces, and it’s that same ritualistic, timeless desert fire, while flash lightning lights up the night. K-Bone’s spirit is felt, as new friends meet and old ones unite. His infectious, friendly personality made K-Bone an instant friend for countless people.

    In the morning I meet Kolin Powick, who helped spearhead the project. Powick was able to put the memorial toilet into words better than I was, in my stumbling explanations.

    Marge Volkening helping with some installation for the memorial toilet. photo by Kolin Powick

    Marge Volkening helping with some installation for the memorial toilet. photo by Kolin Powick

    “The goal was to create something long-lasting in K-bone’s name and honor at his most favorite climbing area on earth,” he later wrote. “We ended up with one of the most unique and special outhouses anyone could have imagined.”

    And they did. With over 40 volunteers, including his wife Marge, his Mother, his sister and his brother in law, the toilet was constructed in about four hours.

    I can’t wait to sit on the throne.

    This story is also published in Mehall’s fourth book, Graduating From College Me, A Dirtbag Climber Grows Up, available in print and on Kindle. 

    Please consider subscribing to The Climbing Zine. It’s $17.99 a year for two issues, and this greatly helps us produce free web content like this. Check out the FREE preview


    About us: The Climbing Zine was started in 2010 by Al Smith III and Luke Mehall. It continues to the day with the mission of representing the true essence of climbing. Our crown jewel is our printed version, but we also do the interweb thing, and Kindle

    We have also published four books: Graduating From College MeAmerican ClimberThe Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed, written by publisher, Luke Mehall. 


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  • Review: Deuter Gravity Haul 50

    Mar 29 • Gear • 223 Views

    The Deuter Gravity Haul 50 is advertised as a backpack that can turn into a haul bag. That’s a combination I haven’t come across in my two decades of climbing, which includes a lot of cragging and a few walls here and there. After using this pack for the last month I realized I like it quite a bit, but not exactly for its main selling point.

    Retail: $169.00

    I’ll start with what I liked about it. I’ve always been a fan of the fit of Deuter’s packs, and the Gravity Haul 50 is no exception. Most of my heavy use for this pack was in Indian Creek (read large amounts of cams and usually an 80 meter rope). The spring steel frame shouldered the load just as their other crag packs do and combined with the back mesh, and padded hip belt makes for a very comfortable fit. Basically the fit is identical to the Guide 45+, a pack I’ve used for years.

    I especially liked the haul bag style DuraCoat exterior, which seems resistant to the wear and tear that packs loaded to the brim inflict on normal crag packs. (Usually the first thing to ruin a climbing pack for me is a hole wearing through on the exterior.) Lastly 50 liters seems like the perfect size for a climbing pack, especially at Indian Creek, it fits everything inside and only the big cams won’t fit and can easily dangle on the daisy chain outside.

    I did see room for a few improvements. First off I think the hauling feature for a 50 liter pack seems unnecessary. Any multi-day wall climb will need a much bigger haul bag. I’d rather see this pack suited strictly as a very durable cragging pack (which it already is). For me, that would mean including a few more pockets for essentials (the valuables pocket in the interior is not enough) and a large pocket for a hydration bladder. (Deuter’s Streamer is the best bladder in the business in my opinion.)

    All in all this is a solid crag pack for heavy loads that should last the test of time.

    Deuter Gravity Haul 50  on Moosejaw.com 

    In the vertical world, quality gear is as important as good weather or the right partner.  At the Climbing Zine, we review gear that we put to the test in our personal climbing pursuits, over months of use. If we like it we’ll tell you, and if we don’t we’ll tell you. That’s our policy…If you have gear for us to consider for a review please contact us at luke@climbingzine.com. 

    Please consider subscribing to The Climbing Zine. It’s $17.99 a year for two issues, or $34.99 for two years, and this greatly helps us produce free web content like this. 

    zine_cover8 (5)About us: The Climbing Zine was started in 2010 by Al Smith III and Luke Mehall. It continues to the day with the mission of representing the true essence of climbing. Our crown jewel is our printed version, but we also do the interweb thing, and Kindle

    We have also published three books: American ClimberThe Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed, written by publisher, Luke Mehall. 

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  • Old Becomes New in Indian Creek by Chris Schulte

    Mar 28 • Dirtbagging • 1341 Views

    November is closing in fast, and on this turn around the fireball, we reach a strange and interesting milestone in American rock climbing. Forty years ago, Earl Wiggins shouldered a rack of hexes and set out on the FA of a smooth and parallel-sided crack situated just up the hillside above a small cattle ranch in southeast Utah.

    by Chris Schulte (note: this piece is  from Volume 9, The New School Issue.)

    Subscribe here.  

    (Banner photo of the author on Boy With Apple. Photo: Chris Schulte collection) 

    A decided push, a scratchy bit of 8 mm footage, and Luxury Liner, aka Supercrack, was on line. In the following years, anchors would sprout high and low, spring-loaded camming devices would open the gates of the desert wide, and the Creek would burn sweet and dry on the palette with a juniper finish, hints of wood smoke and horseshit. Over a thousand lines would trace the weaknesses of the clean-cut cliffs, and still folks stream from the four corners of the globe to the Four Corners of the American Southwest for a taste of the coyote-and-roadrunner life, tape gloves, sandy burritos/butt cracks, and absolutely perfect splitters. After forty years of exploration and development, of stewardship and traffic, of grade-chasers and vision-questers, Indian Creek has become The Best Crack Climbing in the World.

    In the hours leading up to that pivotal and visionary ascent, almost no mention is made of what that party of adventurers did with their time.

    Deep breath, trad crusties: apparently, they went bouldering.

    Let that out slow.

    Camping just down the valley from Supercrack Buttress at the Fringe of Death Canyon, the merry band awoke, warmed, and stretched fiber and sinew on a collection of blocks that season the sage slopes and flats just outside of Canyonlands National Park. This stock of tilted roadside blocks is still an obvious attraction, with whispers of chalk beckoning. It’s the only place cited when I ask the springtime hordes that split the seams of the Donnelley parking lot if they’ve ever gone bouldering in the Creek. “Oh ya, we go, like, on a rest day, take a six pack…sometimes your gobies need a rest!”

    Jimmie Dunn feeling the vibes and Stewart Green sampling some bouldering in the Fringe of Death Canyon, Indian Creek, circa 1976. Photo: Stewart Green collection

    Somehow that morning’s motions, performed to calm the mind and lighten the spirits, went forgotten for decades, interred without ceremony beneath tangles of budding history, overshadowed by the ascent of a perfectly parallel crack once thought to be unprotectable. Oddly, today we say “visionary” and mean a splitter handcrack as obvious as a slap in the face, and not one of the subtle, balancey, powerful, flowing test pieces that enrich the valley floor. It was the question of protection that helped make the ascent of Supercrack so very visionary. In a time where American climbing was focused on Yosemite and still battled with the use of pitons as removable protection, one of the greatest concerns was whether the pro would hold in the soft Wingate. It was a bold, face-melting, determined lead, heavy with possibility and hexes and the whole of the future.

    1976, and Indian Creek was new school as fuck.

    Only two years later, cams changed the desert game, and folks flocked in to follow splitters to the sky while hawks wheel, and crows caw, cows moo, and the neck cranes upward. The pioneering crew of Wiggins, Webster, Becker, Green, Dunn, and Jackson carried on far beyond Supercrack, and new faces scribed their lines up leaner and longer splits. Hong. Porter. Savelli. Rodden. DeCaria. Bigwood. Leaner, longer, tougher cracks sprouted anchors on walls ever farther from the road, and plums ripened round the campfire and in sleepless nights were picked, sometimes sweet, sometimes sour. Kinda out of the blue, Steve Petro (“The potential for new routes is truly unlimited.”) lit a spark when he opened Let ’er Buck (5.12b) with Lisa Gnade and Gordon Douglass; I remember hearing the scandalous chatter that went about still, even a couple seasons later: “Someone’s definitely gonna chop it”; “this is a crack-climbing area.” I like to think that the route remains, on one hand, as a gesture of respect and, on the other, as a testament to the route’s quality. Nice intricate climbing, reads one Mountain Project comment. Some of the best arête climbing I have ever experienced, says another. Really, really fun, great change from tight handcracks

    So, what happened? There is an endless supply of cracks out in the Creek and an arête to pair with nearly every one. Nigh on twenty years passed after Luxury Liner before Let ’er Buck went in, and another decade before the next overt proposals blurred the implied lines of demarcation. Pat Savageau opened an extension to Swedin-Ringle (5.13R), dubbed Air Swedin, that carries on up the arête before rejoining the crack above for a hundred-foot pitch. Cedar Wright’s Half Man, Half Alligator Shark (5.13-) went in just a few feet down the line. With a span out a steep roof to a balancey arête sequence protected by fixed knifeblades, HMHAS was a bit of a bell, tolling out a reminder for some that this is a rock climbing area, after all. Hayden Kennedy upped the ante when he opened another Creek benchmark with questionable pro, the Carbondale Short Bus (5.14-). The trick is: you switch cracks. This is the technical crux; the redpoint crux comes with the sideways dyno at the top (again, where the crack stops), flying away from a pair of fretfully placed Black Diamond #000 C3s (the “Gray Ghosts”) toward a big, sloping jug on…the arête. Will Stanhope later added Down in Albion (5.13R), a wild and runout climb up an arête feature that links to Ruby’s Cafe, a heinous crack in its own right. The Creek was new school again, with the trappings of trad to maybe help you forget you’re arête and face climbing.

    Chris Schulte, The Wolf AKA Air Wolf V?, Indian Creek, UT. Photo: Andrew Burr

    I grew up skateboarding, you could say. New school was the word at the beginning of the ’90s: flip tricks, switch stance, huge pants, hip-hop. Old school was dropping boneless down the Biology stairs and railslides. That shit was had. Old school bro featured hair like Def Leppard and a leather motorcycle jacket. Wore shades indoors, holey jeans, and Chuck Taylors, smoked Reds and schwag. Smelled like Jack Daniels in class. But he was kinda cool, just a bit of a joke…his time was past, and in his revelries, he maybe just sounded a little funny, waxing on in what was likely a refined appraisal of the finest highlights of yesteryear. We’d giggle and humor this remnant, sifting through the bullshit for some occasional pearl of great value, some timeless ethic they’d impart through the smoke.

    And yet, just a few turns around the sun can bring even dinosaurs back to life, and suddenly, anything can be cool again, if the timing and the proper analogous placement are considered. Old school became cool. Serpico. Cowboys, Pall Mall clubs with leather and libraries. Funny thing is, nowadays old school stays cool. Grandpa’s hat, loungey jazz, and martinis. Old school came also to mean tougher, rougher. Mobsters. Spies. Cedarwood dove-handled short-barreled Peacemakers. Or, V neck sweaters and pilot shades. Vespas. Pirates. Pool halls. Those 1950s 5.8+ offwidths that were easier in boots became hard in modern climbing shoes and easier in approach shoes again. Kids rock hair with sides shaved cuz dudes in WWII movies look cool. We did too, around 1985, but I think it was because of Depeche Mode, who probably resurrected it from WWII-era photographs or Andy Warhol.

    The usage of style is a social tool, a language. Style in climbing is an act often indistinguishable in any way other than through the imagination: e.g., toproping vs. soloing. It can mean taking a pause from evolution and progress, a step back from forward motion when moving forward begins to mean moving for the sake of moving on. Style often means looking back and appreciating the roots in a new light. The traveled city kid comes home to the farm just dying for Momma’s cooking, though sometimes Mom’s cooking sucks. Mom Shorts aren’t cool, and neither is Dad Bod. Some people shouldn’t have handlebar moustaches. Fixies are kind of unpleasant to ride. We recombine, refit, refine, like Mr./Mrs. Potatohead, looking for the essence of whatever it is we’re looking for that’s us. Old and new school are an interchangeable process, which tells us everything about the guts of a trend, and our guts…I wander…point is, nostalgia is the flavor of old school. It is often fortified with irony.

    “Isn’t bouldering just practice for Real Climbing?” the bearded, taped, and Carhartt-armoured Real Climber once inquired, smiling and valiant behind his PBR shield. The crew laughs.

    “Ah, sure?” I reply a bit sheepishly. “The bouldering scale starts at 5.10; what are you getting into today?” The crew laughs harder, and we head uphill to Coyne Crack. When I boulder up and down the first twenty feet in my approach shoes, a Real Climber declares he’s going bouldering this evening. The rest of the crew makes plans for tomorrow, mentioning a pint of whiskey.

    Eh. Close.

    Apropos of nothing, Splittervision is a malady that affects desert climbers after a while, making it impossible for them to see gigantic features or holds just a couple feet outside of the fissure before them. I suspect the defect can cause complications that can extend to other forms of climbing. It also works in reverse. I know of a V13 having been downgraded to about V9 when someone went ahead and used the lean locks at the back of the slopers.

    I’ve bouldered in the Creek now for near twenty years. When I first arrived, riding shotgun before a trailer of dirt bikes and lugging a rack of singles, it was hard to believe that no one was out on those blocks. No one had cleaned and climbed any of the arêtes and faces. Rock was everywhere, and in most every way, the blocks were more solid and attractive than my home bouldering area. I’d never been to anything but what I’ll call Regular Climbing Areas, with sport and trad climbs side by side, even a boulder or two on the way in. Of course, I hadn’t been anywhere then…I thought all climbing areas were full-tilt, get-what-you-can Climbing Areas, where all disciplines and pursuits could be expressed. All the things had to be climbed, yes, “Because it’s there,” to quote Hillary, and “because the climbers are there,” to quote LeCarré. Hell, I’ve seen a crag with a practice rivet ladder, a boulder with a seam that folks would practice traversing tied-off knifeblades. I have to remind myself that that was in the halcyon years of absolute noobdom, where I still held that if someone was a climber, they must be a cool person, and we had lots in common. That climbing in the sun was a good idea. That I’d want to bring pitons to Yosemite. Soon enough, I learned that there were Big Wall areas, Ice Climbing areas, Sport Climbing areas, Bouldering areas, and Crack Climbing areas. “Indian Creek is a crack-climbing area,” a mentor explained to the untutored twenty-year-old me, confused, agape at wasted potential. It was like looking out over an orchard of ripe peaches rotting on the branch; his explanation was like my mother trying to explain faith to the six-year-old me: thin skin of substance, bones of dogma. Zero muscle. This is how it is, because it just is that way. The lure of sacrilege was too great: I headed out in the fields to go bouldering after three routes.

    Intermittently I returned, always en route: a pause from the long strip of road between Colorado and the Buttermilks, a rest for skin worn thin and crimp-split by Joe’s Valley sandstone to the north, a dose of sun, and warmth, and dryness after a long winter in Font or the Front Range. I never had a lot of pads, never with enough gear to get back up onto the vertical jogging of the skyborne splits, never taking more than a day or two to sun up before returning to the mountains for the season opener or ender. I was a boulderer, exclusively, and for nearly fifteen years I was too bored with or scared of the things that the Creek had to offer on a rope, and too scared and lazy to assemble pads, drop ropes, clean up, and climb the stunning, ginormous boulders that are everywhere out there.

    Years passed in this fashion until another midpoint stop after a winter trip to SLC. I’d told enough tales to spark some interest among Durango friends Mike Vice and Richie Hum to whet their appetites for sunny sandstone slopers and techy arêtes. Several seasons hence, and with the love and vision and turbo-overstoke of folks like Kyle O’Meara, Connor Griffith, Nate Davison, Wes Walker, and more, there are over 250 problems flung way up side canyons and over the plains and many, many more to find, clean, and climb. I’ve had to impose limits on myself for the boundaries of exploration: This is Indian Creek Bouldering. This is just more Random Desert Bouldering, ’cause wow: don’t worry; the desert is Big. Indian Creek is but a fraction of the wealth of the desert Southwest, if you like the stone.

    Last winter, I spent 120 days in and around the Creek. Based nearby, I roamed mostly solo, climbing and exploring up and down the valley, in and out of the canyons, walking the ramparts and the gulches, feeling the flow. Eroding like the drainages. I found a rhythm, found myself at home, found myself comfortable. I found myself looking up at the cliffs. I began repeating boulders I’d opened, climbing slower, pausing for the imaginary clip, wondering how it would feel to climb V-blahblahblah after a length of splitter, or before, or by itself with a .75 Camalot waaay down around the corner. I visited far-out crags with little traffic; no one walks out this far, not with the hipness of the ol’ standbys and that newnew collection of hushhush cliffs the “locals” call secret, but you can see from the car. A while back, I put up my first anchors in the Creek, twenty years after my first visit, and TR’d the line with difficulty. This season, I tied in and did some 5.11s on the Cat Wall, kept it cool. Ennobled, I came back and sent the project: Moonlighting (5.12?), a left-facing fingers to tips in a black corner that peters out into edges and stemming before a wide lurp to a jug up top. It was my first trad FA in fifteen years. Wow, let me tell you: I was hooked on Indian Creek all over again.

    You’ve heard that tired, old phrase about “taking the skills learned on the boulders/cliffs to the cliffs/big walls,” and it rings true here in the desert. Once again, the broad promise of the future is all around us, for the Creek has new runout routes that abandon the cracks and quest up grips and geometry. The Creek has 5.15 arêtes and 5.11 slabs. I confess, I went out looking for a sport climb to bolt, something perfect and in the backcountry where it could go unmolested and outside of scrutiny, laying up a stock of merit through reports from repeaters and so armoring it from the depredations of the uninformed and uninitiated zealot. I ended up finding one that fit the bill, and it ends up going on gear, which is just dandy. The Creek still provides, and that lifetime of crack climbing is now paired with another lifetime of arêtes, maybe another of faces. The finds are getting harder, weirder, scarier. Gritstone-style headpoints and multi-pitch tradventures to the rim. My kettle of bouldering projects simmers on the back burner where I can throw in the occasional dash of spice or hunk of meat. I scan cliffs now, looking for hanging blocks and seams offset just enough. I scroll through a bank of project pics on my phone on cool Colorado nights, zooming and scrolling, wondering if the yellow X4 would go in that seam, feeling like all the climbing I do now is just keeping busy ’til the desert chills out.


    Bouldering has become Practice Climbing for me. In the words of Darth Vader, “The circle is now complete.” Maybe soon it’ll be new school to be well rounded, even out here. Which is, of course, old school as fuck.

    Chris Schulte has been on a weird vision quest for over twenty years, one of those where you’re not sure if you’re on the right track, but then suddenly it’s wide and easy and opens up to one hell of a view.

    Please consider subscribing to The Climbing Zine. It’s $17.99 a year for two issues, and this greatly helps us produce free web content like this. 



    About us: The Climbing Zine was started in 2010 by Al Smith III and Luke Mehall. It continues to the day with the mission of representing the true essence of climbing. Our crown jewel is our printed version, but we also do the interweb thing, and Kindle

    We have also published four books: Graduating From College MeAmerican ClimberThe Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed, written by publisher, Luke Mehall. 

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  • Hear Mehall on The Enormocast

    Mar 27 • Climbing Culture • 2991 Views

    Check out Climbing Zine publisher, Luke Mehall on the Enormocast with Chris Kalous. Please throw the Enormocast a buck or two if you like what they’re doing by clicking on the “Donate” tab on their site (upper right hand corner).


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