• Patience by Chris Schulte

    Jan 18 • Locations • 2630 Views

    It starts with a plan like a break in the clouds. We set out thinking on the lines, the foods, the sunrises and campfires, the saving up. And then you set to with the forty-second aspen tree planted that day, the twenty-third special with sauce on the side, the eighty-first stone laid, the fifteenth pair of rental shoes sprayed and returned to the rack. We set out running by the time we’ve finally got the car packed, forgetting who-knows-what-you’ll-wish-you-had (read: propane) that puts a pinhole in the fiscal bucket that should hopefully carry us through the season. Weeks and months and a thousand specials, stones, shoes later: the drive, the flight, the list, the campsite just right, the first foray out to the warm-ups, and the first pulls on what will be The Work.

    by Chris Schulte, Senior Contributor to The Climbing Zine. This piece is published in The Climbing Zine, Volume 10.  Banner photo of the author on Arc Angel. Photo: Chris Schulte Collection

    Standing there in majesty, straining against the earth like a dog at leash, wanting to play and tussle, it very likely wants to savage you, hurt your feelings, kill you, change you, body and mind, for the rest of your life. So you run for it, straight at ’em, screaming entreaties: change me! Make me the person I will be after I complete this task: one who is surely different, more satisfied with life, respected by friends and enemies, equipped for more like this. Hurry up and allow me to forge myself as if by magic into the person I want to be while I ignore the very heat of the forge and the hammering I give, and take. Let me collect you, and so gather up all the energies and calories and emotions funneled into you like myriad rocket fuels. Let it be equitable. Let it be reciprocal. Please give me back what I put into you, my investment. Please give me the dividends of experience, confidence, and strength. Don’t be a waste, you bastard! What am I doing with my life, my time, you bastard?! Oh thank you, thank you, you magnificent bastards! To every split tip and permanently swollen knuckle, every dark and weathered day trapped in the car, every moment of toil to earn the money, health, happiness, determination, outside influences…thank you!

    Sent projects are enemies turned to loyal friends. You can’t force a friendship; you can only balance the ingredients with care.

    Today it snowed in a circle around me, which isn’t unusual here. We always joked that The Creek has a blue eye, looking out over the valley at the edge of the canyons and the plain, while all around the weather tumbles: flakes and drips and cloud-capped peaks. How? How does this wind scour out grooves and arches in the red rock but leave the low and out of season blossom behind? How do eggs remain in their swaying treetop nests? How do these aged and spreading trees stand in shaded clumps along the waters here, plump or desiccated by turns of season and geography, wide at the base where they swell from the ground, spindly at their growing ends, plunging toward and piercing the earth again where the fringe of their wide skirts finally touch back down. How did that huge and desiccated tonnage of Cottonwood branch hanging over my tent for weeks with one lone leaf like a rattlesnake rattle decide to come crashing down when I decided to return to the world?

    It’s what happens. As soon as you deal with things that happened, you can more easily accept what is happening, which is where you work, and rest, and play, and wait. What will happen next is anybody’s guess, but with what was behind you fortifying what you do, a foundation is laid for the future. Which is just dealing with whatever happens. Listen for a clock, a tick, and know when the chime sounds just for you. Maybe it’s because for me, everything has to be done just right, and the weather and moon and place in orbit around the sun must be just right.

    Stories play through the night to keep out thoughts and wind and bird shot hail. Shifting from one side, ouch, that’s the bad shoulder. Two posterior labral tears, lots of scar tissue. Had to sleep on one side for seven weeks in Fontainebleau once. Chewed on one side of my mouth for four weeks when a wisdom tooth split in Switzerland, once. Every meal, every day. I’ve lost sleep in the deserts of Utah, California, and Texas, thinking about the moves and the weather. That circadian displacement seems to float to the other side of the world, and so in winter, I don’t sleep much. I think, read, drink up, and curse the biphasic mitternacht. Or I shut it out with books on tape: Hesse and Mann and spy novels and fantasy and languages I attempt to learn by immersive repetitive exposure. I watch movies back to back, and make drinks to make the lightning mind syrupy and content, ’til the jam jar I drink from goes to a dry, sweet scent that trails into morning coffee. I run an ancient iPod on lowest volume through the earbuds next to my head, and the sensible and educated British-English voice of Steven Briggs assures me that, at least in a weird world populated with impossibilities made likely, the sun will rise again come 8:14 a.m. and light the candlestick tip of North Six Shooter, burning it down to the puddling pile of talus cone and crossing the creek to pour over the cliff top a frothing rapid having run the river rim. The dawn light fuzzing the top of the tent is plainly as they say it is: particle and wave, feathery and tumbling dusty in the icy air, and the sunshine finally falls upon me, and I feel its reassuring weight.

    Now a push. Coffee. Cawing crows. The sunshine fills my tank slowly, refueling from a long stretch of restraint.

    Know what it’s like to have nothing else? Nothing else to do, to rely on, to work for? Nothing else to distract you from the world, or satisfy the hollows? It sounds nice from behind a desk or a shovel: think about nothing but climbing. Concentrate on climbing. Clean out everything but climbing.

    That is a distorted mind, I promise. In this life, I’ve gone broke dozens of times. Broke my body, broke with family, friends, jobs. Broken holds that delay the FA. Broke trail through snow three miles deep to break a borrowed shovel on the early spring top out. Broke a sweat carrying out the rat-eaten remnants of somebody’s poorly stashed pads. Broke rocks and stacked ’em up at the trails in the Buttermilks, the Happies, the Tanks, Joe’s, Squamish, The Creek, and at a southeastern climbing area pretending to be a golf course. Fixed broken brakes in the Hueco Rock Ranch parking lot after the ’roo rats chewed through the lines. Been on summer break for ten years.

    So you can be damned sure I’ll wait awhile after a rainstorm so I don’t break a classic. You can bet I’ll break a new crack in my ass rather than turn the outdoors into a gym by building a huge platform under every kinda tall problem I find. You can be abso-fucking-lutely positive I’m not gonna break a hold with tools and the intent to make it better for me.

    For some reason, we gotta go over this stuff every few years. For some reason, people are wrecking Vegas boulders still, wire brushing soft sandstone slopers until they make edges, and putting the limits of their life decisions above the very element they claim to love. People still plug cams into Fingers in a Lightsocket hours after a rain, fiddling in lobes between the blown-out scars of pulled pieces. People still tap-tap and gouge away at granite blocks up twelve thousand feet in Lincoln Lake or on the side of the road at Little Cottonwood. Somebody chipped edges into the aged slopers of some of Fontainebleau’s most hallowed lines rather than learn the subtleties of masterful movement.

    This rock has sat here for time we can’t fit in our limited noggins. All that you could ever put into it is not a thousandth of a blink in its life. It’s not a reality that can be adjusted to your desires. Have some respect for that wide prairie of time.

    Who the hell do you think you are?

    Who do you want to be?

    Yesterday, I was close. The GoPro forgotten, iPhone froze to death. Almost sent. Frustrated, sick of the struggle of muscle against bone and skin and rock and the same same same same same night, same morning, same walk, same…

    I waited.

    I worked.

    I climbed the Thing.

    A moment later, it began to snow.

    And it was perfect.

    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 $36.99 for two years (five 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. 

    Check out our film, Last Thoughts on The Dirtbag, made with Cairns Film. 

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  • Review: Black Diamond Creek 50 Backpack

    Jan 17 • Gear • 53 Views

    The Creek 50 from Black Diamond was one of those pieces of gear I just had to check out. Since I climb in Indian Creek more than any other place, a gear review of this pack for The Zine seemed essential.

    So, for the fall season in Indian Creek I took the Creek 50 to every crag I visited, for a total of well, approximately 50 days. So I guess this review could be called 50 days of the Creek 50 in The Creek.

    I knew right away I liked the concept of a haul bag style backpack with the suspension of a normal pack. I reviewed the Deuter Haul 50 last year, and liked the concept, but felt like it fell short in a few key areas. I was hoping the Creek 50 would be a superior pack to the Deuter version.

    The interior of the pack was extremely thought out and tested, and works really well for the digging around to find what you’re looking for. There are two compartments in the interior: a small one in the front with two additional pockets, plus the main compartment where you’ll keep most of your gear. Both of these two compartments are easily accessible with a zipper that runs alongside the pack.

    The exterior of the pack is very much “haul-bag style”, as is the bottom. After a few months of fully loaded use (often times a full rack, rope, and bolt drilling kit) my Creek 50 has no signs of visible wear. The top of the pack has a strap for securing the rope, but nothing on the side to secure it. Some friends noted they didn’t like the pack because it didn’t have side straps for the rope, but personally it didn’t bother me. There’s also a stowable rain hood that doubles as a helmet or rope holder. That was the only feature of the pack that I didn’t feel was necessary, and I never used it.

    All in all this is my new favorite climbing pack, especially for The Creek. The main room for improvement, in my mind is the shoulder straps. When this pack gets really heavy those straps seem a bit thin and uncomfortable.

    The hybrid haul bag-day pack is a concept that works really well, especially for places that require a ton of hardware. The Creek 50 isn’t perfect, but in my mind it’s the best offering of its kind yet.

    The Creek 50 (on backcountry) 

    Please consider subscribing to The Climbing Zine. It’s $19.99 a year for three issues, and $37.99 for two years (six issues). 

    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 five books: Graduating From College MeAmerican ClimberThe Great American Dirtbags , Climbing Out of Bed, and Squeak Goes Climbing In Yosemite National Park (a climbing children’s book) .

    Check out our film, Last Thoughts on The Dirtbag, made with Cairns Film. 

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  • Fresh Zine Store and New Access Fund Member Discounts

    Jan 12 • Dirtbagging • 115 Views

    The Climbing Zine has recently updated our online store – with your experience in mind – and we’ve even added a few back issues in there that haven’t been for sale individually in a while.

    Our complete range of titles includes books by our Publisher, Luke Mehall, a climbing children’s book by Senior Contributor D. Scott Borden and our Art Director Mallory Logan, and “Dirtbag State of Mind” hats by Peter W. Gilroy.

    You can visit our store HERE. 

    We are also proud to announce that we’ve hopped on board with the Access Fund and their Membership Discounts program. If you’re a member of the Access Fund you can now get 20% off any item in our online store. We wanted to extend our thanks to the important work that they are able to do because of your support. So thanks Access Fund members! More can be found about that program HERE. 

    Oh, and Volume 12 of The Zine drops on March 1. Our subscribers are the first ones we ship to so make sure you’re subscribed to The Zine!

    Word.

    Please consider subscribing to The Climbing Zine. It’s $19.99 a year for three issues, and $37.99 for two years (six issues). 

    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 five books: Graduating From College MeAmerican ClimberThe Great American Dirtbags , Climbing Out of Bed, and Squeak Goes Climbing In Yosemite National Park (a climbing children’s book) .

    Check out our film, Last Thoughts on The Dirtbag, made with Cairns Film. 

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  • Brooke Sandahl on the beginnings of freeing The Nose

    Jan 8 • Locations • 2297 Views

    Man what a route! As a child, I remember looking at photos of it in my Dad’s climbing books thinking, It must be like outer space to be on a wall so gigantic, so remote and featureless. But that sweep of granite stuck in my mind, and as I grew older, its beauty never diminished. After many years of climbing in the mountains, trees, on small blocks, brick walls, and crags, I was finally ready to make the trek to Yosemite. It was 1977. I had waited a long time because I wanted to be climbing at a good level when I first arrived. It would be thirteen more years before I felt my level was proper to give it a try all free. To me, to climb The Nose meant freeing it. My own personal philosophy was such—either you climbed every move free or you didn’t. If you aided one move, you hadn’t climbed it free, thus you hadn’t climbed the route—a pretty simple philosophy.

    by Brooke Sandahl (Note this is included in Sandahl’s photo essay for Volume 8, The Old School Issue. All photos by the author.)

    Many people had worked at freeing the route and, bit by bit, individual pitches and sections were freed. Ray Jardine, inventor of The Friend, got quite high on the route but sadly lost his way and chipped the Jardine traverse, a free alternative to the thirteenth pitch. Stopped at the Great Roof, Ray’s efforts were shut down, and he never returned.

    The author on his foray into Yosemite wall climbing on Aquarian Wall, El Capitan in 1981.

    In 1990, I asked my friend and longtime climbing partner Scott Franklin if he would be interested in giving it a go. We packed two weeks’ worth or gear and winter clothing and borrowed Greg Child’s two-person portaledge and brought a drill for free climbing alternatives. I hoped to climb each pitch free and in order, from bottom to top—Scott was in full agreement. Each pitch would be lead and followed free! Scott was psyched, and we readied by climbing the lower pitches and getting some gear stashed up on Sickle. A huge storm came in—it was late October, perfect temps for free climbing—and hammered the wall, rain then snow and ice. Most parties rapped, but two parties were rescued high on the wall in dramatic fashion. As the storm cleared, it left the entire Captain devoid of people. Scott and I seized the moment and had the crag to ourselves. We made good progress freeing everything till we hit the Great Roof, which was soaking wet from the last front! Although much of the upper dihedrals were wet too, we had a good look around and had high hopes for a free ascent.

    The following year, 1991, I went back with my friends Dave Schultz and Adam Grosowsky. We would come from the top down to save time and all that nasty hauling of the lower pitches. We set up a comfortable camp and started scoping the remaining four pitches that hadn’t been freed: Great Roof, pitch above Camp V, the Changing Corners, and the final one, the Harding Bolt Ladder. We found a circuitous path that wove from one side of Harding’s Bolt Ladder to the other; it was a stunning pitch and overhung all the other pitches on the route. I would win the toss and get to make its first free ascent on my first try. All things considered, history, location, climbing variety, and movement, made it one of the best pitches I’d ever done. We also rebolted many of the aging anchors (some z-mac star drives from Harding’s original ascent—scary) and added all the bolts for the free variations. The following year, Dave and I would return to explore farther down the big upper dihedral. The Changing Corners looked burly, so we shot down to the pitch above Camp V—without a warm-up, except for the rap in, we gave it a shot. Dave got the honors and came very close to sending his first try, just popping off one of the final pin scar finger locks. That got me really psyched! My turn was next, and I was able to fire it first go! Two down, two to go. With the Great Roof wet, again, we went up to try the Changing Corners pitch. The Changing Corners, like a few places on the route, was pin scarred, something I didn’t like, as you wouldn’t be doing it in its natural state. I spied an alternative way left of the Changing Corners and together, with Dave, bolted it. It went straight up off the belay and climbed a section of perfect natural edges till you got to a stance where you could stand no handed. (The Huber brothers would add a belay here.) Then it cut dead right onto a V12ish boulder problem; stomp the accelerator, full revs, drop the clutch and go! With temps too hot, we played on it a bit but really couldn’t hold the crux piano move due to the heat.

    I saw Lynn at the trade show the following year, and she asked if I would be interested in giving it a go. Always psyched to huck a lap, I eagerly agreed. And deep down, I knew that Lynn would be one of the most qualified and capable of freeing the remaining pitches. I had climbed with her on many occasions, and she was the first woman to ever burn me off, something I would learn to live with repeatedly when climbing with her! She had recently freed the Great Roof with Simon Nadin—in a day! Only the Changing Corners remained. We rapped in from the top. She was too short to reach the holds on my alternative, so she was forced to follow the original corner. While we were there, again it was into the nineties—perfect weather for Lynn, but for me, I start sweating hard above fifty degrees. She worked the Changing Corners, and I remarked at her crazed sequence of cross stemming, arm barring, arête pinching, pin-scar jamming in a dynamic tango that I’d never seen the likes of before or since. It looked like she was bloody Houdini trying to escape from a straight jacket. Hence the name, The Houdini Pitch. In typical Lynn fashion, she dialed and sent.

    Lynn Hill on the “Twister Move” on The Nose.

    We spent the next five days coming from the ground. I would finally get to try the Great Roof, dry, and after Lynn redpointed it, I would pull the rope and have a play—doing all the moves within the hour. Admitting that it would probably take me a couple of weeks to send wasn’t easy, but for Lynn’s sake, I suggested we should keep the ascent moving. One by one, the pitches fell, and we raced a threatening-looking storm brewing over Tuolumne, as we hit the final anchor before the Harding Bolt Ladder pitch. There were a couple of guys there quasi-epicing, midtangle, and I asked if we could climb through. If they did, I entertained, they would get to see the first free ascent of The Nose. Wide eyed, they agreed, and Lynn, who had the next lead, fired off for the summit. As you do, I asked the one longhaired cat where he was from. “Olympia, Washington,” was his reply.

    “Cool,” I said, “that’s where I grew up too!”

    I asked, “What’s your last name?”

    “Wilfong.”

    I drew in a deep breath. “Seriously?” I answered. I filled in the next blank. “Your old man wouldn’t be John Wilfong, would he?”

    “Yep,” was his reply.

    I had to let out a roar and then let him know that I had had him for PE in eighth grade! As the rope came tight and I left the belay, I called down to him and said, “Tell the old man I’m staying fit.”

    Please consider subscribing to The Climbing Zine. It’s $19.99 a year for three issues, and $37.99 for two years (six issues). 

    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 five books: Graduating From College MeAmerican ClimberThe Great American Dirtbags , Climbing Out of Bed, and Squeak Goes Climbing In Yosemite National Park (a climbing children’s book) .

    Check out our film, Last Thoughts on The Dirtbag, made with Cairns Film. 

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  • J Tree Dreaming by Brooke Sandahl (from the old school photo essay)

    Jan 7 • Locations • 133 Views

    Steve Byrne on Equinox, Joshua Tree – CA (1986)

    Photo and Essay: Brooke Sandahl

    Note: This is included in Sandahl’s photo essay for Volume 8, The Old School Issue. All photos by the author.

    Because I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, the amazing rock, weather, and landscapes of California were always a massive pull. Generally, each winter or spring break—if we weren’t ice climbing or alpine climbing in the Cascades or doing a ski tour in Canada—we’d head straight for Yosemite or Joshua Tree, depending on the weather. Winter break usually meant Josh. It truly was the California-dreamin’ effect. We’d either hitchhike or pile into one of our rigs that seemed most capable of doing the big drive south. We’d load skates, surfboards, slack lines, and climbing and camping gear and head for the desert of southern Cali. After a rainy, cold fall, that dreamy Cali sun would feel so righteous, and like clockwork, the usual suspects would slowly turn up one after another. The Canadian brethren would drift in, as would the Oregon cats and the Valley boys, making their annual migration. The Rocky Mountain crew and even the Gunkies/East Coasters would do the big journey, seeking sun and crystalline rocks. Pretty soon, most everyone you knew would be chillin’. The community back then was so small and tight!

    Then, as now, there were some pretty fringe characters living life in the dirt in the Joshua Tree desert. Special K (Karl with a K) was one such dude. Even with all his quirks and idiosyncrasies (okay, he was freakin’ nuts), he was tolerated and allowed to join in. He lived primarily on Monkey Chow—from big bags. The crew would look out for him. I remember taking him to town one time with John Bachar and going shopping—poor Karl didn’t have enough money for his purchase and started to melt. John and I ponied up for him to keep his mind from total failure.

    Then, there was the classic Boom Boom Room, where thirsty climbing crusters went to slake their thirst and get bent. Others, like Bwana Dik, aka Dick Ceilly, would wander the campground with a climbing store literally on his back and within his trench coat. He sold chalk, Kinnaloa chalk bags, ‘biners and minicams, et cetera, making enough to feed himself, stay liquored, and keep the dream alive.

    Finger cracks were like the sport climbing of crack climbing, before sport climbing existed. We’d seek those bad boys out and try to send as many as possible on our vacations. The Equinox was one of Josh’s very finest. I had saved it for years hoping for an onsight, as had Stevie. We both got beat—that thing is no frickin’ joke.

    This piece was originally published in The Climbing Zine Volume 8. 

    Please consider subscribing to The Climbing Zine. It’s $19.99 a year for three issues, and $37.99 for two years (six issues). 

    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 five books: Graduating From College MeAmerican ClimberThe Great American Dirtbags , Climbing Out of Bed, and Squeak Goes Climbing In Yosemite National Park (a climbing children’s book) .

    Check out our film, Last Thoughts on The Dirtbag, made with Cairns Film. 

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  • Old School-South Face of Mount Watkins by Brooke Sandahl

    Jan 1 • Locations • 214 Views

    The single most important choice you’ll make before any big (or little) climb is your partner. The right partner hopefully brings skills that you don’t possess, is someone who you love to be around, and has the same motivations as you. You trust them implicitly. Together, your partnership is more than the sum of the individual pieces. That’s what a strong team is. Most probably haven’t heard of Steve Sutton, but he is a straight-up legend from back in the day and one of the most talented, hard-driving, indefatigable cats I’ve ever met.

    by Brooke Sandahl (Note this is included in Sandahl’s photo essay for Volume 8, The Old School Issue. All photos by the author.)

    Canadian born, Steve-o cut his teeth on the walls of Squamish and was one of the original Squamish Hard Core. But, like a few Canadians I’ve known, he ended up migrating to the States and essentially lived in California for many years. As we all know, it’s hard to beat that clean granite and Cali sun!

    In the Harding-Robbins era (1960s), there would be a definite machismo associated with big walls and with some an ugly competitive vibe. I think this was born mainly out of fear, but some of these guys were just super competitive and brought a somewhat unhealthy aspect to climbing. As things progressed and the next generation came in (think Burton, Porter, Sutton, Bridwell, 1970s, flower power/age of Aquarius), there was more of a brotherhood forming, and this strange machismo started taking a back seat.

    Steve Sutton and Hugh Burton, another Canadian transplant, were among the first to eschew this type of behavior and instead brought a refreshing attitude that embraced the natural world and sought to harmonize with it. Completely uninterested in notoriety, manliness, sponsorships, or other ego-driven thoughts and pursuits, they were satisfied to just go live on a big wall and enjoy each moment as it presented itself. To quote Ken Wilson in Yosemite Big Walls, “Burton and Sutton are more preoccupied with the aesthetic and metaphysical experiences during their long ascents.”

    I think that line says a lot about what these guys were up to. This philosophy of living and existing in the vertical—bringing books, good foods, maybe a pipe, and taking days off when you were tired, or just deciding that the bivy was too cool to leave—was a revolution in thinking. Having grown up in the ’60s, timing was obviously a big influence on their thinking—together they would put up Mescalito and Magic Mushroom, with Charlie Porter and Chris Nelson, two of the most cutting-edge routes in the world at that time. There would be mind-expanding forays high on the granite walls that nurtured an alliance with nature. Conquest never entered their minds.

     

    Steve Sutton would be an obvious choice as my partner for a free attempt on the South Face of Mount Watkins. He had done the third or fourth ascent decades before and was keen to have a look at freeing it. To me, it was a chance at a dream, to walk up and free climb a grade VI big wall onsight, and coming from the ground. Eight days later, our free bid would end a mere sixty feet from the summit anchor. Having run out of water that morning, in blistering heat, we inched higher till we hit the final aid section. Sadly, we had to aid through it. Our bid for an all-free ascent, coming from the ground, in a push, would end here. A few days later, we returned via the Tuolumne high country and were able to put together an amazing final pitch (12a), thus making the wall’s first free ascent (albeit discontinuous).

    Please consider subscribing to The Climbing Zine. It’s $19.99 a year for three issues, and $37.99 for two years (six issues). 

    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 five books: Graduating From College MeAmerican ClimberThe Great American Dirtbags , Climbing Out of Bed, and Squeak Goes Climbing In Yosemite National Park (a climbing children’s book) .

    Check out our film, Last Thoughts on The Dirtbag, made with Cairns Film. 

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  • Silent Partners by Luke Mehall

    Jan 1 • Locations • 1187 Views

    I know he knows. Adam Lawton is proud. In every group of adventurers, there is a leader, and every great leader must be a visionary. Adam dreamed the dreams for the entire crew. He found excitement in little breakthroughs, like the time I got a job dishwashing at Crossroads Cafe in Joshua Tree—he couldn’t have been more stoked. I was elbow deep in suds when I heard his voice on the other end of the line. This was still in the days before everyone had cell phones, and the manager told me I had a phone call in the middle of a busy Friday night. There he was, full of admiration. I was living the dream, and he called me to proudly announce that.

    by Luke Mehall, publisher of The Climbing Zine. This piece is published in Volume 11, now available. 

    Banner photo: Adam Lawton in Indian Creek, circa 2011

    I was “living the dream,” but sometimes living the dream feels like living the nightmare. To LTD can be lonely AF. And, what was the dream? Adam knew long before I did, and he was right. I was on the path to freedom: the freedom to climb and move about, the freedom to think fresh thoughts and to envision a life that was our little version of the American Dream. Before he died, Adam articulated to me his vision for our group of friends—it was simple: in each and every adventure town in the West, someone from our crew would live, and we would do all the adventures, from hopping trains like hobos to first ascents on desert towers. And everywhere we would go we would have a couch (or at least a floor) to crash on.

    Adam is gone now, well, gone in the sense that he is no longer living in the flesh with us. “In the flesh” is a strange phrase, isn’t it? I still feel his presence, or the memory of his presence, all the time. I don’t try to act like I know what happens to us after we die—I don’t think anyone really knows except the dead.

    Adam was killed in an avalanche. His motto was “ski fast; take chances,” and he lived up to it, right until the end. I never skied with Adam; most of our shared adventure time in the outdoors was spent climbing. We had future adventures planned, as all friends do, waiting for that time when something synched up, and we would have The Greatest Adventure Ever.

    art by Rhiannon Williams

    As a climber, I came of age with an ethic to seek out adventure. We sought the best of times—times that have nothing to do with the grade, only the challenge our abilities. To adventure is to enter some sort of unknown. To emerge successfully from an adventure ideally means that there has been some sort of growth in your soul. To do that with another human being ensures a bond is created, often lifelong friendship. My climbing memories are the best of times with the best of friends.

    I like to believe that Adam shares these experiences with me, that somehow he knows. The day he died, I felt his spirit so strongly, so strongly it confirmed my belief in a higher power. I feel like he’s guided me, to the climber and writer I am today.

    Digging deeper into the recesses of my memory, I am reminded of the many who have influenced my path. No human is an island; the interconnectedness of our paths runs deep. As climbers, we owe much to many, from the first climber who pounded a piton to the brave soul who tied a hemp rope around their waist with a bowline and set off into the unknown.

    I can place my climbing partners in three categories: those who are no longer living, those who are still climbing, and those who no longer climb. It is easiest to stay in touch with my friends who still climb. We’ve stayed the course, on the path. Climbing is still one of the most important aspects of my life. I need climbing. I need that connection to the outdoors, the physical activity, the adventure, and the camaraderie. There are a couple of partners though who seemed to abandon “the path,” or they diverged from it, taking a fork in the road and ending up at a destination that designated our friendship to the past. That happens. I think climbing is an unusual glue that forges friendships in a very strong way. But when climbing is taken out of the friendship, two people can easily drift apart.

    I haven’t talked to the first person that took me climbing in well over a decade. I met Caleb in high school, back in Illinois, and I sought him out because he was an obvious member of a counterculture. He wasn’t labeled as a dirtbag though; it would be years before I’d hear that word. He was a hippie. There were two hippies at my high school, and I was determined to make friends with both.

    Like so many things in high school, it was an awkward friendship to start. We both had visible anger and angst. He could get away with smoking weed in his basement, so I’d go over and smoke weed there. I’d ask him questions about the Grateful Dead. He saw the very last Dead show in Chicago. I got turned on to the Dead a week before Jerry Garcia died, and for years I thought my true life path had been denied. Following the Grateful Dead around the United States seemed like the coolest existence ever. In fact, it seemed like it was my life’s purpose that had been altered by fate (or Jerry’s drug addictions). Oh, the dreams of adolescence. If Jerry had lived longer and The Dead continued to tour, I could easily be serving time on a drug sentence somewhere.

    Caleb was a climber, and he mentioned it from time to time. It would be a couple years down the road before he ever took me. Eventually we went to Jackson Falls down south, and to our local gym. He had a cargo van and waxed poetic of van life before it was ever a hashtag.

    We were friends of circumstance and interest. In many ways, I owe it all to him, this life I get to live now. I don’t believe in a lot of things, but I do believe in karma. I’ve since taken a few hundred people climbing for the first time, during my days as a guide. Climbing is this light that we share, a torch that must be passed, if only to one other person.

    I can’t even really say why our friendship parted ways. There wasn’t a big falling out. We just seemed to lose our camaraderie when we climbed together.

    I pride myself on maintaining friendships, but as I mentioned earlier, when climbing is the glue, it’s a lot easier to stick together. I guess we all have someone like that in our lives, someone that formed who we became but didn’t join us on the journey.

    Occasionally, I’ll drop by that old gym; it hasn’t changed much in nearly twenty years. I never climb there; I’ll just leave a zine or a book I’ve recently published. Sometimes the past is simply the past; it’s not nostalgic. And, sometimes the feeling of absent nostalgia is sadder than nostalgia itself. The torch of climbing was passed to me while I was in a deep darkness, and I did see the light, I really did, and I still see it today. So for that, I owe Caleb everything, but I know that everything is something I need to pass on to someone new.

    Jerid was a wild man. He had the crazy eyes. We met on a mountain-rescue-team training in college. I wanted to be friends with him right away. Without any conscious effort, Jerid seemed to embody the essence of searching for adventure in climbing, what would now be considered old school but then was just normal. His tale of starting climbing was like something out of the 1960s. They bought a rope from a hardware store and climbed without protection, trying to lasso features, a reckless male teenager way of learning to climb which probably rarely happens anymore in the States. Insanely stupid and dangerous, and when he described it, it sounded awesome.

    Jerid’s best friend Josh, a bold climber himself, died within the first year of our friendship. I had been suicidal the year before, and this death wrecked me. I barely knew Josh, but that death cut, and I finally learned the purpose of crying.

    I don’t know how Jerid coped with that loss. To lose your best friend at twenty-one, goddamn. They were those two best friends who seemed to speak another language, the talk of madmen; they reminded me of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady. They shared an insane enthusiasm for life itself. Jerid’s grieving period seemed to last the length of our time in college together, as if Josh were the one person in life who truly understood him, and now he was gone.

    We carried our adventures into the sky together after Josh was gone. Misadventures seemed to be the rule, half-completed climbs, following the mantra of “if you go down, you can always go back up.” I think that’s a good motto.

    I recall being scared shitless by the exposure on Castleton Tower. I recall Jerid’s fondness for sideways-placed nuts and hexes, pieces that were the definition of bomber and took some time to clean. I recall how slow we were as a big wall duo sometimes; I don’t actually think we were ever successful on a wall together, but we learned to bail, which is an invaluable skill. You never see photos of people bailing with haul bags in magazines, yet knowing how to do that will save your ass.

    What we lacked in big wall skills we made up for in enjoying the car rides, smoking the devil’s lettuce, and blasting Led Zeppelin. I remember one time he rolled his old Ford Ranger on a dirt road by our local climbing area and didn’t want to call the cops, so we didn’t. Luckily, that thing landed right side up, and we easily towed it to a friend’s house.

    Jerid had spent a summer in Yosemite. So Yosemite was always on the backburner as a conversation topic. One time, we loaded up a haul bag that weighed way too much and set off for Washington Column. Like usual, we were a shit show of astronomical proportions, probably didn’t even learn the lower out, and rather, just swung over violently into space like a chuffer. For some reason my biggest memory of that climb was one of his leads that took hours, and I got hungry. Peanut butter was our only food left, and it was at the bottom of the haul bag. I remember being almost upside down digging for that peanut butter and finally grabbed it. For the rest of the belay, I greedily ate peanut butter with my fingers until I heard, “Off belay.” Then we bailed.

    Success feels the best in climbing, but I’ll never stop climbing with someone because we are both shit shows and don’t succeed. If the camaraderie is right, I’m always down. Laughter is success, and I know Jerid and I laughed a lot together. Success in other aspects of life has always been more important to me than success in climbing. So it wasn’t our failures that drew us apart; it was something else.

    Jerid had a fondness for the booze. It’s hard to tell who has a problem, and who doesn’t, when you’re in your younger twenties. Basically, everyone who parties hard in college seems like they’re a candidate for alcoholism.

    Jerid seemed to sink into drinking, and when he came to visit me in Joshua Tree one winter, it was very apparent. I picked him up at the airport in Palm Springs, and he promptly bought a bottle of whiskey and a guitar. An odd combination, I thought, to start a climbing trip, but hey, it is J Tree—I’ve seen weirder shit. These were the days when climbing was a number one priority, and I was in the best health and shape of my life. Jerid seemed more interested in substances than climbing, and I was annoyed by that.

    One night, I checked in early to the tent. Jerid asked me if I had any weed, and I did, but I wasn’t in the mood, so I told him no. He started playing the guitar loudly, and I asked him to quiet down. Then it was real quiet.

    In the morning, there was no trace of him. He was just gone. I was bummed and shocked. I was looking forward to climbing with my friend.

    I didn’t have a cell phone and rarely checked a computer in those days. Some time later, I’d learned that he hitchhiked into J Tree, went to the J Tree Saloon with aspirations of playing his guitar, and then ended up hitching back to Palm Springs to catch a flight back home to Oregon. And we’ve never really hung out since.

    Some time later, I heard that he got sober. I think he got more into biking than climbing. I got more and more into climbing, and thus the friends I am closest to are my climbing friends. That seems a little shallow to write, but it’s the truth.

    Jerry Seinfeld has a bit about how an adult only really has room for four or five friends in their life. I think, for many, the peak of having a lot of friends is in college, and then it slowly goes downhill as free time dwindles. Part of the magic that is being a climber is that we never close that door on new friendships. And once we tie in with someone, it’s different than just a normal, casual friendship.

    We all have people we’ve lost touch with, and we’ve all lost people close to us, or if we haven’t, we will. Those who we failed to remain close to make us appreciate those we have stayed close with. And those we lost, well, I like to believe they are right there with us when we tie in, embodied perhaps as the lone raven in the sky, freer than we are, but still close.

    Luke Mehall is the publisher of The Climbing Zine. He is the author of four books, including American Climber. In 2018, he will publish his fifth book, The Desert, and release his second film, Just A Climber, with filmmaker Greg Cairns. More of his writing can be found at lukemehall.com.

    Please consider subscribing to The Climbing Zine. It’s $19.99 a year for three 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. 

    Check out our film, Last Thoughts on The Dirtbag, made with Cairns Film. 

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  • La Petite Grimpeuse for President, a profile of Melise Edwards

    Dec 29 • Locations • 4919 Views

    In the land of sugar maples and Carolina silverbells, snails and lungless salamanders, a young girl clung to the rock as if her life depended on it. She wasn’t scared of falling, just determined to grip every ounce of joy from that five hundred million-year-old Appalachian gneiss.

    by Joy Martin, Senior Contributor

    This piece is an excerpt from Volume 10, the Raw issue, now available 

    Volume 10 is now available. Get a copy or subscribe here.

    After months of learning how to climb indoors, Melise Edwards was finally outside, sending the crux of her high school senior project: a study about the psychological effects of extreme sports. The now twenty-seven-year-old remembers her debut multi-pitch in the Pisgah National Forest as “one of the most beautiful and challenging experiences” she’s ever had.

    “Climbing is a sport that I shouldn’t love,” says Melise, who abhors heights. “It is not in my nature to willingly chase adventurous or scary moments, but through climbing, I have unexpectedly understood and cherished how to deal with fear and failure.”

    Since that formative high school assignment nearly ten years ago, Melise has moved from her home amongst the oak-choked forests of Boone, North Carolina, to the dripping evergreens of the Pacific Northwest. Along the way, she’s had her share of fearful and failing moments, learning financial realities the hard way and not always holding glamorous jobs. Like most young Americans seeking independence, Melise struggled through bouts of depression that kept her humble and fighting to “cherish” the adversity, fodder she used for climbing harder.

    Like most dirtbags at heart, Melise has created her own dirtbag style. Not that dirtbags can’t be hot, but she’s absolutely stunning, with smooth, brown skin, wild, curly black hair, almond eyes and teeth whiter than the chalk on her hands.

    And not that dirtbags can’t be geniuses, Melise is also wicked smart. A scientist by trade, she puts just as much spirit into understanding the workings of the brain as she does into exploring crags and crannies. She pulls overtime as a lab technician at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, and in her spare time, she’s the chick reading chemistry textbooks or Michael Gazzaniga’s autobiography about his work with split-brain patients. One of her many life goals is to earn a master’s in cognitive neuroscience.

    “I used to think that science was something too ‘big’ for me,” says Melise. “I never had a supreme amount of confidence in the field, and still really don’t, but I love it more than anything. I think something that generates that much happiness and excitement is a good place to start.”

    Like a classic dirtbag’s tale goes, most of Melise’s life decisions spring from her thirst for happiness and excitement. Only instead of possessing a ‘Freedom Mobile’ or ‘Gertrude’-personified vehicle to chase those intangibles, Melise doesn’t own a car at all. Rather, she relies on the bus for commuting to work and her friends and boyfriend for rides to the crag.

    This lack of such a first-world token has deepened her appreciation and awareness of the privilege it takes to be a climber. “Not everyone can afford to pursue a hobby that spends so much money on gear and transportation,” she notes.

    Photo of Melise by Stefan Baatz.

    “This year, I’ve had many conversations with people who seem to think that everyone has equal opportunities to reach the outdoors. One man even told me that iconic climbers in the 1940s and ’50s were doing iconic feats because they were bold, dedicated and badass—not because they possessed a certain amount of privilege to be unemployed, drive their paid-off vehicles to the mountains, and climb for extended periods of time with absolute freedom from discrimination based on the color of their skin. I think they were bold, dedicated, and privileged.”

    Even still in the twenty-first century, the same rings true for anyone who can afford the time, energy, and finances to pursue outdoor adventures, says Melise. It’s a luxury to recreate in this land of plenty and one that Melise refuses to take for granted.

    Maybe this fierce resolve stems from genetics, for behind her slightly Southern accent is a semi-fluent French speaker, a language she picked up from her mother and grandmother, a native of St. Etienne. These matriarchs instilled more than un amour pour le français in Melise; they taught her about grace in strength, a tenet Melise carries to the rock, along with her crash pad and homemade strawberry-Nutella cupcakes—stellar crag food, she says, and totally acceptable calories, even in a sport that highlights trim physique almost to a fault.

    When she first got into climbing, Melise noticed climbing media focused on skinny as a positive attribute for both female and male climbers, so she craved to be pencil-thin like those body types the magazines touted. She fell for the allure but soon realized that success in climbing springs from overall health, technique, and strength—not thinness.

    “Being thin should not be equated with beauty, betterment, or health. Yes, shedding pounds can make climbing easier, but it does not make you a stronger, smarter, or better climber,” she says. “Strong is definitely the new skinny.”

    Melise is also quick to acknowledge that women often face unique challenges in their climbing experiences, but she thinks that being a woman is still an amazing asset in climbing.

    “Women possess an immense amount of power in climbing,” she says. “We have such an intuitive style…so much ambition and determination. Having to be more creative and dynamic are seemingly our biggest challenges, and those can be remedied through training, experience, and forcing ourselves out of our comfort zones.”

    Mind you, her biggest concern is not in a woman’s ability or potential.

    “It’s in the subtle cultural notions others carry that lead to women feeling unsafe, heavily critiqued, or unsupported in their climbing.”

    These days, her petite frame ripples with muscles she’s worked hard to build. Her training secret is no secret: she prioritizes exercises that help her climb better and not just build strength. Her regime involves two to three hours a day at the gym doing fitness drills, hangboarding, moonboard climbing, weighted pull-ups, free weights, one-arm work, campusing, and cardio. Rest days are spent trail running or reading in bed—science books, of course.

    With this recipe, she’s comfortable sending V9s, has found success on V10, and this year aspires to send The Practitioner, a V11 in Leavenworth, Washington.

    “As a woman, I often feel we get placed in this box of only trying the climbs with small holds or moves, so it’s always been a priority of mine to try climbs that are tall or have dynamic movement. If I know I have a severe weakness in one area, the fun for me is in diminishing that weakness and making it a strength.”

    For example, when people comment on her tiny fingers helping her crimp better, she uses the critique to fuel her training.

    Melise on Vigilante (V10) in Red Rocks, Nevada. Photo by: Stefan Baatz

    “I don’t accept excuses people offer for me and my successes,” she says. “But I do see value in taking notes from criticism. I don’t see the point in having a mentality that suggests that ‘anyone who criticizes me is wrong or just jealous.’ That strips away all responsibility and safeguards us from differing opinions that may hold some truth.

    “Acceptance of another’s thoughts can actually benefit someone immensely in their climbing or life…something that rings true in this political climate, as well,” says Melise.

    In regards to being a minority in climbing, Melise says that it’s hard to feel completely at ease in a predominantly white community that (with few exceptions) generally promotes white climbers in media.

    “Neither race nor gender hold me back in my personal climbing, but race will absolutely be a massive hurdle the climbing community as a whole will have to overcome,” she says. “I would hope that all different colors, body types, backgrounds, and cities would be represented in the near future.”

    Melise walks the talk of promoting diversity in a predominantly white, economically sound sport by spending time volunteering with Vertical Generation, a group that strives to get underserved, low-income youth into climbing. In short, the Seattle-based nonprofit strives to reduce welfare dependence and create a supportive community that keeps kids curiosity “high for life.”

    Their hope is to “eliminate as many barriers as possible to provide access to climbing” while inspiring future generations to develop problem-solving skills, confidence, and self-determination. Engaging minorities in climbing isn’t the sole focus, but some VG groups that partake in the mentoring program reveal the lack of diversity to be stark.

    “Maybe it’s overstepping my boundaries or the extent of my knowledge on the subject, but it seems that history is fresh with regards to oppression of minorities and women,” says Melise. “I would assume that there is some catching up to do before climbing isn’t seen to some as a hobby for a privileged majority.”

    Although it’s been a source of peace, support, and joy for Melise, “the climbing community is not a magical bubble void of widespread societal issues,” she shares. These cultural pressures range from socioeconomic status to body, gender, and race matters. It might be the vertical world, but it’s still of this world.

    In this time of flagrant Tweeting and disheartening politics, Melise chooses to focus not on the negative but on her role as a positive, rousing voice for equality in an empowering sport. Her blog is rife with stories of women in science and climbing, delicious recipes, and random tidbits about snakes and other curious wildlife, highlighting that, in her short time on Earth, Melise has already grown into a true Renaissance woman. She’s a breath of fresh air in each of her circles, from the climbing and science communities to kindred spirits with a sweet tooth.

    “I want to have a contagiously positive attitude at the crag, whether I climb well or not,” she says of her biggest goal this year. “I respect someone for their character and the way they make you feel over their climbing ability. I value humility, kindness, compassion, and an ability to laugh at oneself. It would be a great achievement if I could consistently do the same.”

    For the young girl that launched into womanhood on a slab of rock in the Appalachian Mountains nearly a decade ago, the effects of climbing ended up reaching beyond the psychological, shape-shifting her body and overarching purpose. Leaders and followers alike would be wise to heed her insights.

    “Never allow someone to define what your hobby—your source of joy—should be for you,” she says. “Your approach is your own; your goals and aspirations are your own…and chocolate chip cookies are a life staple.”

    Basecamped in Durango, Colorado, Joy Martin survives as a freelance writer who occasionally guides, ski instructs, delivers flowers, and whatever else it takes to maximize time outside. She’s partial to road trips, alpenglow, Nick Martin, and Jameson on the rocks. More about Joy on www.joydotdot.com.

    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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