• luke_college_cover-copy

    Graduating From College Me, Mehall grows up (and embarrasses himself)

    Oct 17 • Locations • 315 Views

    When I was 33 I set a goal to write five books by the time I was forty—for a while it was a nice thing to say at a party or on a date, but then, damn, I had to do the writing.

    by Luke Mehall, publisher of The Climbing Zine 

    So, I’ve been writing, ferociously. Fortunately the writing gods have blessed my work with productivity—writing is kinda like climbing mountains, you can blah-blah-blah about it all you want, but the proof is in the doing. But I’ve sat down every morning I’m at my home office and written. Nothing crazy, just solid consistent effort.

    “Another book?” is the response I’ve been getting a lot when I’ve been telling people about Graduating From College Me, A Dirtbag Climber Grows Up. I get it, I just came out with my memoir, American Climber less than six months ago, and I don’t exactly have the reputation as an excessively productive writer. But, you gotta make hay when the sun is shining, and lately, well, the sun has been shining.

    About the book—it is a collection of short stories, vignettes, and poetry—and to me it is the rawest writing I’ve ever done. The premise of the book is to write about life lessons I’ve learned since I graduated college a decade ago. The book has more poetry than I’ve ever published in a book, as well as a heavy focus on the American southwest desert that has captivated my soul so much since moving to Durango six years ago.


    As with anything raw in nature some of the writing in this book is embarrassing to me. There are chapters about love I’ll never read aloud to an audience. When I skim over them they surprise me by how honest I was, which is exactly what my job is to the author—to deliver honest writing. So, instead of hiding them away somewhere, I decided to go on and publish them, with hopes they might help someone else relate to my own struggles.

    In addition to writing about love, I’ve realized how much I love climbing. These words, from the final series of vignettes in the book about Indian Creek sum up where I’m at with my climbing these days, trying to keep it personal, to break through my own ceilings, and in the end, realizing when climbing is done for the love of it, it is the best. Thanks for reading, and hope to catch you somewhere out on the road, for the book tour this fall/winter.

    Climbing is this yin and yang thing. Knowing when to fight and when to back off can be the difference between life and death, success and failure. And, never forget that the best climbing moments kinda feel like floating anyways, a profound act of trying without trying. Just doing. Like love. Becoming one with something else.

    Luke Mehall is the publisher of The Climbing Zine, and author of American Climber, The Great American Dirtbags and Climbing Out of Bed. 

    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

    zine_cover7 (4)

    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, both written by publisher, Luke Mehall. 

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  • Bromancing The Stone

    Free Moab (and Boulder)

    Oct 5 • Locations • 761 Views

    Utah and Colorado. We are neighbors, and many of us go back and forth between our borders so often it’s hard to know which place to call home. Sure, the government makes us all have an address to claim, but that feeling that overtakes you when you arrive at your favorite red rock destination feels a lot like home too, doesn’t it?

    by Luke Mehall (Note, this piece was written for the current issue of the Utah Adventure Journal)

    I call both places home in my heart: the campsites, washes, and walls of Indian Creek provide a true sense of place and meaning during the spring and fall, and the house I rent in Durango provides a more permanent sense of establishment when the desert is either too hot or too cold. I still hold down a couple steady-paying gigs in Durango during desert season (writing and rolling burritos), so that two-and-a-half-hour drive is like a weekly commute. It’s a lot of driving, but there are worse commutes in the world, don’t you think?

    This is what it would look like if Colorado and Utah united!

    This is what it would look like if Colorado and Utah united!

    Growing up in the Midwest, I’d heard of Colorado, of course, but I don’t know how much I really knew about Utah, other than it was that place Jerry Garcia sang about in “Friend of The Devil” where he “spent a night in Utah in a cave up in the hills.”

    Come to think of it, some twenty years after I first heard that lyric, and of Utah, it still rings true—it’s a place, once you know that red rock matrix well, you could do such a thing, and no one would ever know you were there.

    Once you come down to town, back to that so-called reality, Utah shows a different kind of flavor, one rooted in weirdness, a religiously conservative nature, and harsh laws if you are a hedonist, like many of us Colorado folks are (read: you like to smoke weed and drink beer). You want to buy a beer? Too bad it’s warm. You want to smoke some weed? Well, there’s a $1,000 fine for that here.

    That’s something we Colorado folk learn as “part of the deal” in Utah. Be careful. They are looking for you and want your money. And really that’s all you have to do: be careful, don’t give them probable cause, and you’re good to go.

    In the last few years since Colorado legalized the devil’s weed and created an empire around the plant, boosting our economy, and keeping people out of the criminal system that should have never been there (you should try it, Utah), the philosophical gap between the two states seems to have widened. This became evident in the most concrete of ways a dirtbag philosopher such as myself happened to notice: a bumper sticker. It read: FREE MOAB, set inside a mock-up of the Colorado flag.

    And, while we’re talking about us sinners, can I take a tangent to mention a section of highway that takes one from Durango to Indian Creek used to be called 666 before they renamed it, for a variety of reasons, one of those being that 666 is the “number of the beast.” Oddly enough, 6 is my lucky number, so I’ve never been afraid of the dreaded 666—in fact, I kinda like it.

    Anywho, what were we talking about? Weed. Yeah. No, wait Moab, and the people who want to free it, which I imagine some longtime Moab folks felt quite amused by. Who do these Colorado folks think they are? They don’t even live here, and they want to shape the culture. They define our seasons, as in the old joke: How do you know when the seasons are changing? When the license plates start turning green.

    Much like Austin seems to be for Texas, Moab is for Utah—a relatively hip place in an overly conservative state. And that’s what the true differences are in Colorado versus Utah, right? A difference in political beliefs. Utah’s history is unique to any other place because it was shaped by the Mormon religion (you know, the LSDs), a group of people who fled persecution all the way from the East Coast to the Wild West, where the founders discovered a place that would let them have forty wives (well, for a little while). You can still see the sad remnants of that lifestyle in places like Colorado City.

    So, now we have a movement, albeit a bumper sticker movement—in the interest of full disclosure, my friend made said stickers—to Free Moab from the unjust laws and odd culture of Utah. (Warm beer is un-American, dammit).

    At the same time while all of this is going on, you have the Republican Congressman Rob Bishop advocating a bill to turn over federal land to the state of Utah, so that the state can develop this land in a variety of ways. And, all of this got me thinking; maybe Utah and Colorado could work something out with this Free Moab movement. Maybe we could give Utah something in return.

    How about Boulder?

    Now don’t get it twisted—I like Boulder. It’s a cool mountain town that was probably cooler before it became defined as a cool town, but it’s still a great place. But, Boulder suffers from a phenomenon I’ll greatly reduce for the sake of brevity: “too many pretentious hippies.” You see, hippies, like the Mormons, are great. They are nice, and although they don’t always smell the best, they usually have good intentions. They have their own unique set of beliefs and want to save the world in their own little way. Hey, at least someone’s trying to save this damned planet! (Let me also add that if I have to decide on a religious belief, I’m going to pick Hippie. If I’m going to be in eternal heaven, I think I want the noodling of Jerry Garcia there.)

    So, Utah is too stiff, too rigid, and too conservative. And, Colorado, especially Boulder, well, sometimes we are too loose, too stoned, and on the verge of too liberal. Why don’t we mix it up? Nothing good has ever happened from large groups of hippies. Well, maybe except the Grateful Dead and Dr. Bronner’s soap. Which begs the question, if so many hippies use Dr. Bronner’s, why do they always smell so bad? If a hippie takes a shower in the woods and he still smells, did that shower actually happen?

    What I’m getting at is that these two cultures (the Mormons and the hippies/dirtbags) are bound to clash, and maybe if we got together and comingled these cultures, there would be a better balance.

    If I can digress, the native people of these lands used the land in a much more natural, effective way, in a similar yet less-destructive and environmentally consumptive way, migrating to the mountains when it got hot in the desert and back to the lower elevations in the winter. They had shit figured out, that’s for sure, ’til the white man and his crazy ideas came along.

    Now, as I’m finishing up this article, and doing some research, aka Googling, and wait, Brendan Leonard, that Semi-Rad guy, has already thought this subject through more than I have. (Insert, my fist shaking at the proverbial sky with Brendan’s face in the clouds.) His idea: a megastate, Utahlorado. Just merge it all. No more Free Moab. No more stereotypical Coloradoans. Just one place of awesomeness.

    “And think about the license plate options,” Leonard writes. “Peyton Manning throwing a football through Delicate Arch? Or maybe the green mountains of Colorado’s current license plates with “UtahloRADo” on them, celebrating the addition of the word ‘rad’ to Utahans’ new home state? Musicians covering ‘Rocky Mountain High’ would only have to add one syllable to the chorus, which wouldn’t be so awkward. Try it once: ‘Rocky Mountain High, Utah-loradooooo.’”

     This piece was originally published in the Utah Adventure Journal. It will also be included in Mehall’s upcoming fourth book, Graduating From College Me, A Dirtbag Climber Grows Up, coming out on October 18th. 


    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

    zine_cover7 (4)

    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, both written by publisher, Luke Mehall. 

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  • IMG_9688

    Review: Yeti Tundra 50 Cooler

    Oct 4 • Gear • 367 Views

    The longer I review gear, the more jaded I become. It’s hard to be impressed. I’ve become more selective about what products I want to review. But when the folks at Yeti Coolers reached out before the summer Outdoor Retailer show I knew I had to check them out.

    Retail: $379.99

    Just a week before on a summer road trip to Lander, Wyoming, I told my friends, “I’ve got to get a new cooler, I’m tired of wasting food in the hot summer temps.” So, I got a Tundra 50 to replace my old crappy run of the mill cooler, and I’ve been testing it out all fall.

    If you want to make your friends jealous get a Yeti cooler. Their reputation precedes them, and it’s a product that is on everyone’s radar, a sort of benchmark purchase for the outdoor enthusiast. With such high standards, I wondered if it would live up to them.


    The first thing I noticed about the Tundra 50 was that this was a well thought out product. I wanted a cooler that would keep the contents as cold as possible, and would also not waste food. The Tundra 50 easily achieves that with its roto-molded construction, heavily insulated walls and lid, and freezer-sealing gasket. I also like the small basket for veggies and other softer products to keep them out of the water when the ice does melt. Simple yet elegant ingenuity.

    When you get a Yeti cooler there’s an extensive set of directions to ensure the contents stay properly cold, for as long as possible. This includes using dry ice, rock salt, not draining the water, and pre-chilling the contents. Because I wanted to test this out the way I think most climbers would use it, I simply used normal ice and a couple four pound Yeti Ice packets, which are impressive in their own right. Most of my uses of this cooler have been two to four day trips to the desert. I’ve properly frozen the Yeti Ice, and thrown in some ice from my freezer.

    Each time I took the Tundra 50 out to the desert my expectations have been met or exceeded—in layman’s terms, I’ve had cold beer on the last day on each of these excursions. I also didn’t follow the directions to a T, I often left the cooler sitting in the sun, or used it as a chair next to a hot fire at night. Despite my laziness the Tundra has delivered as promised. It is one badass cooler.

    With its reputation amongst the outdoor community, the price is often remarked on. One friend joked that “those coolers are a hundred bucks a letter”. It’s true, they are not cheap. How many other coolers come with a five-year warranty though? This thing does. I’ve also thought about how much food I waste in a given year, and how much money I spent on ice a year. I’ve already noticed significantly less food waste and ice usage.

    Bottom line: This product, and others that Yeti offer is definitely for the refined outdoors person, not that dirtbag living hand to mouth. That said, I’m getting the feeling that in five years it will more than pay more itself with money saved on food waste and ice. The Tundra 50 is a perfect size for a weekend trip, but if I were doing something longer, I’d likely want a slightly bigger size. All in all, the best cooler I’ve ever used.

    Yeti Tundra 50 on backcountry.com 


    Note: We are now on Backcountry.com affiliate links program, by purchasing the product through the link we provide we get a percentage of the sales, so if you’d like to support The Zine and get some great gear clicking on the provided link helps us out greatly! 

    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, and this greatly helps us produce free web content like this. Check out the FREE preview

    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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  • married people

    Minivan Adventures With Married People

    Sep 26 • Uncategorized • 941 Views

    It was a sign of the times, a turning of the page, a shift in aesthetics for these two climbers. No, we weren’t off to the Himalaya or a new route on the edges of civilization – Dave and I were pushing the limits of our 15-year friendship by getting into a minivan together and heading west to Reno – with his wife.

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

    Dave and I are like peanut butter and jelly; we go well together. His demeanor is calm and cool; I’m often hyper and passionate. We have the ability to not only survive a 2,000-foot wall together and still be friends, but also survive a long car ride. We don’t argue about who smells the worst, what kind of music to play or what fast food restaurant we’ll resort to when the times get tough (In-N-Out Burger).

    Dave’s wife, Brittney, on the other hand, is like me: occupied with an internal restlessness. We were roommates for two years and had more than one heated argument, but I can’t remember what we fought about. We’re good buddies now. This was during the same time period these two fell in love. Dave would couch surf in between guiding gigs and would always surprise me with a newfound interest in five a.m. runs, crunch workouts and green smoothies. I just thought he wanted to be more fit, but what he wanted was Brittney.

    All sorts of my college friends have these stories of how they got together, drawn out over many years of friendship, before finally falling in love. That’s the reason we’re in the minivan on our way to Reno: Brittney’s sister Amber is marrying our good friend Phil, and they asked me to be the officiant. It will be my second time this year doing something I never thought I’d do once. If you would have told me I’d be an ordained minister in the state of Nevada by the end of the year, I would have responded with speechlessness.

    The minivan is from 2004 but it seems futuristic since the newest car I’ve ever owned is a 2000 Subaru Outback. There’s even a DVD player.

    “So, like, we could be driving and watch ‘Seinfeld?’” I asked excitedly.

    I immediately go into a fantasy of buying one so I can sit in there with a special ladyfriend and watch “Seinfeld” or “Dave Chappelle” on a cold night in Indian Creek. That sounds like heaven.

    We start to get into a rhythm after the first In-N-Out Burger, and I realize I’m being used as a card in Dave’s dietary requirements. See, Dave is a voracious carnivore and Brittney is a vegetarian. He likes burgers, she likes kale. With myself, a carnivore as well, in the car, it’s 2 to 1, meat eaters victorious. We get double doubles while Brittney eats milkshakes and fries. And we also eat milkshakes and fries.

    We examine America from the vantage point of a minivan. In interstate traffic we count way too many people texting and driving and question the sanity of five-lane highways. From the land of the Mormons, we cross into the land of sinners – neon lights with promises of … something. I’ve never been sure what.

    Utah’s Mormon dominance and Nevada’s acceptance of sinners have always been an interesting intersection. Both make me a little nauseous and long for the mountains of Colorado. Somewhere on Highway 50, so-called the “loneliest road in America,” is the strangest and saddest part of the West.

    In Nevada, we go into a grocery store and an employee asks me if I’m a Burner.

    “Well, on the weekends,” I reply, and then I realize she’s talking about Burning Man. “No, we’re on our way to a wedding” I tell her and see a hint of disappointment in her eyes. Just a crew of boring people in a minivan.

    Dave puts in a marathon shift of driving. He’s in the zone. I read David Sedaris and imagine, if he can make it, I can make it, too. I DJ up new music that Dave and Brittney have yet to hear: the new Beyoncé. Brittney decides she doesn’t like it. “What happened to the little, innocent, charming Bey? She’s all angry now. Could you imagine the guy who wrote ‘Big Pimpin’ cheated on her?” Dave bobs his head along with the new Chance the Rapper mixtape, and I try to catch him up on all the news that’s happened in the world of hip-hop since we took our last road trip two years ago.

    Once in Reno, we collapse into the pre-wedding insanity of Amber and Phil’s apartment. Dave, ever the genius, suggests we kidnap Phil for a 1,000 foot “bachelor party” climb in the Sierras. Phil hasn’t climbed much in the last decade, but Dave still believes in his future brother-in-law.

    The minivan becomes the manvan, and the three of us explode into its confines. Hard to believe a perfect alpine paradise exists a few hours from Reno, but it does. In-N-Out Burger stop No. 2 starts out this bachelor party climb of “The Hulk,” one of the biggest granite walls in the High Sierra. In addition to the climb, the day included but was not limited to: road sodas; an endorsement of the party from Alex Honnold, whom we ran into on the hike in; me basically crying because it was so cold; drinking from alpine streams; finding a Hulk-themed Pez dispenser in the summit register; getting lost; and finally, at 1 in the morning, In-N-Out Burger stop No. 3. Yes, I’ll have a milkshake, too. Please.

    By the time In-N-Out Burger stop No. 4 happens, we’re homeward bound. We find ourselves contemplating covered-wagon travel, mostly because we stopped for some climbing on Donner Pass. It was here that the Donner Party spent their epic winter, which ultimately led to well … much worse than In-N-Out Burger.

    By now, we are jonesing to be back in Colorado but try not to lament the next day and a half of driving. That would have been a lot of days in a covered wagon. We discover a hot springs near Wells, Nev., which also serves as a sleeping spot. In the morning, we have a quick soak for our weary bones and make the last push to Ridgway – with the grand finale of a Subaru solo adventure over Red Mountain, Molas and Coal Bank into the midnighthour, back home into the arms of a sleepy Durango.

    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

    zine_cover7 (4)

    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, both written by publisher, Luke Mehall. 

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  • drilling with bandana

    American Climber Fall Book Tour

    Sep 21 • Dirtbagging • 499 Views

    Co-founder and publisher of The Climbing Zine, Luke Mehall will be embarking on a fall tour for “American Climber” starting this week in Denver, and going through November to Fayetteville, West Virginia.

    Christopher, dude you're stepping on my rope

    Christopher, dude you’re stepping on my rope

    Here’s a look at the schedule:

    Thursday September 22nd, Rab store in Denver, Colorado. 6:00 p.m. 

    Thursday September 29th, Jagged Edge Mountain Gear in Telluride, Colorado. 7:30 p.m. 

    Wednesday October 12th Bent Gate Mountaineering, Golden, Colorado 6:00 p.m. 

    Tuesday October 18th, Western State Colorado University, Official release of “Graduating From College Me” Mehall’s latest collection of short stories and poetry. Gunnison, Colorado. 6:30 p.m. 

    Early November (TBA): A reading at the Durango Public Library. 

    Thursday November 10th, The Crash Pad, Chattanooga, Tennessee 

    Thursday November 17th, Water Stone Outdoors, Fayetteville, West Virginia 7:30 p.m.

    Read more about American Climber

    Jeck dogg

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    Thoughts on the Passing of Scott Adamson, an extraordinary human by Drew Thayer

    Sep 12 • Locations • 620 Views

    Scott Adamson and Kyle Dempster no longer walk among us in this life. They died in Pakistan some time in the last two weeks, attempting to climb one of the great mountaineering challenges of this generation, the north face of the Ogre II. The Ogres are formidable mountains, and even to gain entry to the ‘easier’ routes on that massif one must be numbered amongst the world’s elite. These guys were the real deal: strong, well trained, experienced, and committed. And now they are gone.

    by Drew Thayer, Senior Contributor 

    As always happens in the aftermath of death, many people are left with questions and introspection. Scott and Kyle were well loved and integral members of the Salt Lake City and Utah climbing community. I never met Kyle, however I shared some special times in the desert with Scott and always considered him one of my mentors. I should say I still CONSIDER him my mentor, because today I got my ass out of bed and drove over to the gym and did a workout, with proper integrity, because that’s what Scott would do, and want me to do.

    Scott hucking inverted laps in the Crack House, near Moab, Utah. Photo: Courtesty of Drew Thayer

    Scott hucking inverted laps in the Crack House, near Moab, Utah. Photo: Courtesty of Drew Thayer

    We shared some great adventures in the desert, like the time we were camped at the Creek and it dumped rain all night, one of those intense fall rains. Scott didn’t hesitate to wade out into the swollen river in his skivvies and check the depth, then proceeded to ford it in his truck as muddy water seeped around the doors and up through the floor. Needless to say, 12 hours later his alternator died…sending us on a midnight run through the star-studded desert canyons.

    There was another time on a Zion wall when we arrived at a gaping offwidth that none of our gear would fit. It was my lead so I started up, but quickly got mired in hesitation as I assessed the obvious ledge-fall I would take if I fell. “Gimme the rack,” he said. Scott just took the gear and sent the thing without gear, executing with perfect form.

    Another time that comes to mind is on the infamous ‘Ear’ pitch on Primrose Dihedral on Moses, one of the tallest towers in the desert. Scott fell while transitioning from an awkward sloped undercling to a lieback around the Ear. I expected him to pull back to the bolt. “Man, what is this? Hanging on towers? Lower me!”

    Surprised, I lowered him to the anchor, he pulled the rope without saying a word and then fired the pitch. I heard him hooting from the summit and realized what a guy I was climbing with.  Whenever things got burly, Scott’s answer was “Yarrrr!”

    Scott is a mentor for me not because of his climbing skill, but for the way he WORKED. His talent in the vertical world may have been natural, but his strength and tenacity were hard-earned though sweat and effort. Scott truly believed that he could realize extremely long-shot goals, and make himself a better person in the process, by devoting tremendous energy and heart to the betterment of himself. He trained really hard, and often while working in the construction trade, or as a wildland firefighter. He was a true blue-collar badass, proof that you don’t need a fancy gym, money, or status to be a successful athlete, all you need is tons and tons of heart. He loved it. All of it, from the truck bivies to the daily pain fests to the cold belays and suffering to the satisfaction of sending hard, mentally demanding pitches. And he did it all without apology, refusing to shoulder the burden of other people’s judgment like so many of us do. Beyond his strength and stamina, he had a rock-solid sense of himself, and you could take it or leave it. He didn’t bother bullshitting anybody – he had no need to, because he knew who he was.

    Scott set an example for me by his two main strengths: heart and discipline. He is an example for how hard he was willing to work, and how he refused to let fear cripple him once he committed to seeking the limits of what is possible. He knew as well as anybody that when you really are searching for that limit — the boundary of what a human can do — truly terrifying things can be found. This is what Scott and Kyle were doing in the Karakorum: striving to find the limit of human will that exists somewhere in the sharp horizons of mountains and within the vast and shifting spaces of our minds.

    I fall short of these strengths on a daily basis. I continually fail to believe in my abilities to improve myself; I fail to trust the process of hard work; I fail to find the motivation to engage in work with heart. I forget the successes of my past in the face of fear and pain. I yield to my comfort-seeking mind, again and again. Sometimes, however, I am able to believe, to act with strength, and to trust in forces larger than myself. These are the finer moments of my life, the defining truths that allow me to say: I am a person. I have a will. I am worthy.

    I’m thinking mainly of climbing and athletic feats as I write this (and many of you may identify with this as well), but as I take a mental step back I realize that, of course, this applies to every dimension of life. Whether it’s doing the rehab for my hip surgery with integrity, working on core stability instead of fun climbing so I can avoid injury, finishing grad school, sticking to my budget so I can pay my credit card on time, maintaining oil changes on my rig, keeping up with job applications even though I get denials back, wiring a house well so it will be safe and last for the owner, or continuing to support my fiancé so she knows she is loved and special, these are all struggles that require heart and discipline.

    People like me (and maybe some of you) need people like Scott. We need people who know, down to core, who they are, and let you take it or leave it. We need examples of drive and sacrifice to aspire to.  It can be the smallest thing, like an evening after a long day when I feel overwhelmed and just want to eat cereal and watch a TV show. These are just crutches to assuage my mind, which want to be coddled. Sometimes I think, what would Scott be doing? He’d tell me to eat real nutrition so I can gain strength from the day’s labors, and to do a few planks or physical therapy exercises before I relax, and I’ll relax better after that anyway. I know he’d be right. This is just one small way that Scott will continue to live in my life, and I’m sure he lives in more vibrant ways in a lot of other people’s lives.

    Sadly, whenever young people die and the circumstances involve their own decision (as opposed to be taken out by a drunk driver, etc), there will always be bystanders, particularly on the forum of the internet where courage is not a requisite for speech, who will criticize the dead for being reckless or selfish. I guess I’ve been around long enough now to refrain from reading the comments below articles.

    I would say to these people: yes, Scott and Kyle put themselves at risk, tremendous risk. At this high standard of mountaineering, there is some certain probability of no return. Is that unconscionable? Is that selfish? Answer me this: we all have a 100% probability of dying; it is perhaps the one fact that is absolutely certain. What are you doing with the days you have? Are you applying yourself as much as you know you can? Are you living with heart and discipline? Are you doing anything that will grow beyond your self and live in others?

    The death of younger people always starts this conversation about acceptable risk. There’s another conversation that I almost never hear: about the risk of so many choices that people make that don’t seem as ‘risky’ or ‘extreme’ at first glance. Like people that choose to smoke, or drink heavily, or to not take care of their bodies. People who don’t do the work to find and keep motivation. People who don’t honor their word. Depression is very unhealthy; I know this from experience. I guarantee you that all these people (and I may be amongst them) will die earlier than they may have, yet they are usually not called out publicly as being ‘reckless’.

    I’m not going to call out these people either. Who am I to do that? I’m merely going to question our societal norm that we put longevity – the numbers of a person’s life – on such a pedestal above other things. Perhaps we can look at the quality of the life that has been lived, and that can speak for itself.

    I will dearly miss Scott. I am sincerely grateful for his life, what he has given me and what he has given many people. His example for me does not diminish by the fact that he died. It will always burn inside me. How can I repay that gratitude? By living with integrity, believing in the process of work, and taking on my own challenges with heart and discipline. I already know that I’m going to fail at one million of these challenges. But I can perhaps succeed at a few more because I have examples like Scott.

    Someone wrote on Scott’s Facebook page:

    “They didn’t die doing what they loved, they LIVED doing what they loved.”


    Or was Scott would say, “NWS”.


    There has been an outpouring of love and community support after Scott and Kyle’s disappearance. It’s always good to be reminded that community exists and we are stronger together. Some links:

    A well-written article by Andrew Bisharat at National Geographic, summarizing their climb, the storm, and the rescue effort.

    Memories of Scott for his friends and family. Please share if you have them!

    A tribute from the Alpinist by Derek Franz that expands on the talent, drive, and genuine good nature of Scott and Kyle.

    Drew Thayer is a based out of Denver, Colorado. He cannot contain his fascination for the physical and mental journeys we travel in the vertical world. He explores these pursuits through climbing and writing and remains committed to pursuing type-two fun on objectives that seem a little too big. He records musings and images of his ventures at www.carrotsandpb.blogspot.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. Check out the FREE preview

    zine_cover7 (4)

    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, both written by publisher, Luke Mehall. 

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  • Dave Marinowski in Indian Creek. Photo: Drew Ludwig

    Hope In The Desert (an excerpt from American Climber by Luke Mehall)

    Sep 9 • Locations • 419 Views

    Then, when all seemed like peace had been restored to my existence, 9/11 happened. I was out on a morning jog, something I’d added to my climbing training, and I was listening to the radio on my Walkman. The song on the radio was interrupted: the United States had been attacked, and the first World Trade Center had fallen. I went into the grocery store and ran into a friend. “We’re going to war,” he said.

    by Luke Mehall, an excerpt from his memoir American Climber

    Banner photo of Dave Marcinowski by Drew Ludwig

    I gathered with all the other college kids in the student union. Everyone was shocked, and there was a major sense of confusion. Sadness was all about. I had lunch with a friend at The Firebrand; we talked about how we were going to war. I thought society was going to shut down, and, after lunch, I went to the grocery store and absurdly spent the remaining twenty dollars I had on ramen noodles. At work, we watched the TV coverage, and spoke to one another with the kind of care humans do after this sort of tragedy. That night, I drank beer with friends, and I fell asleep on someone’s floor.

    AmericanClimber_Cover (1)

    September 11th stunned America, and, in our remote mountain refuge of Gunnison, we felt it too. Of course, society did not shut down, and my feeling that it was going to shut down showed me how little I truly knew about the world and how it functioned. Our leader at the time, George W. Bush, didn’t seem to understand the workings of the world either, showing this by his inarticulate language and flexing of the military muscle in regions that had nothing to do with 9/11, while he lied and staked his case for war and set a course that I was saddened and confused by. With all of that going on, I was still determined not to sink into depression and to follow this new path. I’d already set sail on a new journey, and nothing short of death would stop it.

    This world of machinery and war, it’s all too much, isn’t it? If there is a God who created us and is watching over us, God surely did not give us this life to fight so much, right? If I were still in Illinois, I know I would have sunk deeper into a darkness, given the coming war, but I had seen the light already, and the light came from the sun, and, if you were in the right place (nature) at the right time (sunrise or sunset), well, there was a certain beauty to it that made you believe. Believe in what? Hope.

    And where do you find hope? Bob Dylan asked us that a long time ago in his epic poem “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie.” His answer, his hope, in the poetic way only Dylan can communicate, was in Woody Guthrie, as he lay dying in the Brooklyn State Hospital, and it was in the Grand Canyon at sundown. My hope was in the sunrise at Hartmans, as it awakened me every morning. It was in Yosemite, a place I truly regarded as a Promised Land that could save the lost soul. Hope was also in the red rock desert of the Colorado Plateau. Moab. Hope was in the desert.

    We called it the desert when, in reality, Gunnison and my home at Hartmans was its own desert, a sagebrush-foothills sort of desert, but when you’re talking time and place, the time being the early 2000s and the place being the Moab desert, THE is where the emphasis is, because, when compared to any other desert for climbing, in the United States there is only truly one that stands supreme.

    I’d had my first trip to the desert in 1999 over Thanksgiving. Caleb had invited me there and had given me some basic directions. I spent my first night cold, sleeping in my car at a quiet, frozen campground along the river. In the morning, I drove more into the canyon, and found a small dirt pullout where I would meet Caleb and his friends. When I hiked up to the wall, I noticed a climber seventy feet up a perfect crack, untethered from a rope. Not wanting to break his concentration, I quietly hiked past him. My naïve mind figured that was something normal, free soloing desert cracks.

    When I found Caleb and the crew, I did the thing that I always do—I tied into the rope and tried a climb. Crack climbing is a masochistic art, and I fumbled and fought to learn how to insert my fingers, my hands, and my feet into the crack. Figuring this out was the hardest thing in the world, and, when I looked around at the others who had practiced and mastered this art, I was 100 percent sure I would never reach that level of technique and athleticism.

    Mehall, the chuffer in 1999.

    Mehall, the chuffer in 1999.

    I arrived at the wall with my very basic climbing set up. I wore sweatpants and had a harness, a belay device, climbing shoes, and a fifty-meter rope. The innocence and lack of knowledge about climbing was oozing from my pores, mostly the sweatpants, and the gawking coming from my face. I knew what to do though—offer someone a belay, and later I would have a toprope set up.

    One of the guys in the crew, who was British, wanted a belay; climbing is perhaps the best way to make a genuine connection with someone from another country. So I belayed. The climb was Fingers In A Light Socket, a finger crack, which finished at some desperate face moves, sixty feet up, and it’s one of the only climbs at the buttress you could actually use a fifty-meter rope on. He got to the crux, the difficult face moves, and hung on a cam. Eventually he figured out the moves, and, after a couple more hangs, he set up a toprope.

    It was my turn to climb, but, just before I was about to tie in, the free solo guy emerged out of nowhere. He seemed high on adrenaline and wanted another fix.

    He eyed our climb, and, after confirming we didn’t mind that he tried it, he climbed up, untethered to anything in this life, with only the tips of his fingers in the crack and the tips of rubber from his climbing shoes inserted into the wall.

    Indian Creek is a crazy place, I thought to myself as I watched the madman climb alongside my blue rope, which was barely wavering from side to side in the light breeze.

    He was fine for the first forty feet, and then he started to look shaky. Oh my fucking God, am I going to watch a guy fall to his death during my first hour at Indian Creek? I wondered.

    My new British friend looked at me, not wanting to say anything but gravely concerned. Then, like it’s nothing, he gave up his free solo attempt, grabbed on to my rope, and then climbed down it, back to our perch on the ground. He mumbled something about how hard it was, and then disappeared into the day. Fifteen years later, as I write this, I’ve yet to see another person free solo in Indian Creek.

    That next day there were some climbers, obviously Creek veterans, who were establishing a new route. I didn’t even really notice what was going on until they reached the top of the crack, and there were no anchors. So, they hauled up a power drill and swiftly drilled two holes, and then hammered expansion bolts into the wall. Most of the climbs I’d done had the same anchors, but this was the first time I’d witnessed a new route go up. Whoever said there’s nothing new under the sun was not a climber. For the rest of my life, I know there will always be new routes; you just have to know where to look. In the late 1990s there was more low-hanging fruit out in the Colorado Plateau than there is now, but the fruit is still ripe for the picking.

    Flash forward a couple years, and we were just getting the taste for a desert fix.

    I’d figured out the techniques, the basics, and spent plenty of time paying my dues, jamming every type and size of crack I could find. The adrenaline and endorphins that desert climbing creates is addicting, so much that we found ourselves returning as often as possible, striking while the iron was hot, and the nights were cool.

    Tim was the ropegun, the energy I attached my climbing hopes and dreams to. He was a force to be reckoned with, and he was always the secret weapon we used as we climbed harder and harder.

    Around this time, Tim became Two Tent Timmy. When I moved into a tent in Gunnison, Tim moved into a tent in Crested Butte, the epic mountain town 30 miles north of Gunny, where he was working at the time. Some friends went to visit him at his new home, a piece of real estate on National Forest land that he staked out by setting his tent up. What he did, that everyone thought was so memorable, was he put a tent inside another tent. The larger outer tent was where he kept his cooking supplies and other gear, and the inside tent was where he slept. Once the words Two Tent Timmy were uttered, it was a nickname for life.

    This was perfect because there was another Tim. We worked together, and he was on the mountain rescue team, and he was interested in climbing. We struck a deal: I would join the rescue team and learn from him and his life-saving compadres, and we would teach him some things about climbing.

    So, one day, Two Tent, Tim (the new Tim) and I were at Supercrack Buttress in Indian Creek, talking about what we were going to do the next day. A climber was eavesdropping, listening in to the process. He said, wisely, “You guys should check out the North Six Shooter.”

    North Six Shooter. Photo: Keith Brett

    North Six Shooter. Photo: Keith Brett

    We inquired. Obviously we knew the formation—it was the most striking tower in all of Indian Creek: a slim crimson pistol that stood all alone, shot four hundred feet in the air and hovered there like a beacon.

    We probably muttered some questions, asking about the crux and the gear, but what I remember most is his convincing statement: “It doesn’t get any better than the North Six Shooter.”

    That night at camp, we looked through the guidebook, scribbled out a topo map of the pitches, and tried to hide our nervousness. Two Tent wasn’t nervous though. He lived for this stuff. It was like, at any time, he was ready to face his fears and try his hardest on the rock. I was usually in the opposite realm, unready to face my fear and hopeful that something would come up, so we could give up and get stoned, go back to the comfort zone. Secretly though, deep inside, I wanted to face my fear with confidence like Two Tent did. I wanted to live freely.

    We drove Tim’s truck toward the mighty North Six Shooter. A few clouds hovered off in the distance, a storm brewing for sure. One of us mentioned cancelling the mission for cragging at the Supercrack Buttress again, but Two Tent’s persistence and vision carried us through the drive to park the truck, and we began hiking up. We totally blew the approach, and it took us two hours instead of one, often hiking on ball bearings, the point on a talus cone where the surface is unsteady, unpredictable, and you feel like you’re going to tumble down to certain injury if you slip.

    Sweaty, already tired, confused, and disoriented, I looked up at the tower. There are only two main routes, and they are so obvious that a grandma with cataracts could point them out. Our intended line, the Lightning Bolt Cracks, shot up, and zigged and zagged back and forth, so divine, and perfectly shaped for the human fingers, hands, and feet, it was crazy to think they’d only first been climbed just after we were born. Since the gear, the camming devices necessary to protect cracks like these, was only invented in 1978, nearly every climb in the desert was done first in our lifetimes. (The ones that were done previous to this were mostly easy or dangerous endeavors, completed by pioneers that led the way to a golden age that is currently riding high.)

    The other line, Liquid Sky, was a brutal overhanging squeeze chimney, even more obvious than the Lightning Bolt Cracks. I’d read about the climb in a magazine, and it had such a daunting reputation that a thousand people look at it, for every one that tries it. The major rumor was that you could become stuck in it, and, if you fell, you would fall so deeply into it, you could die, and they would never be able to retrieve your body. Rumors are rumors though. But I’ve yet to climb that thing, so I can’t confirm or deny.

    Two Tent racked up with our meager selection of gear, though growing by the day. That’s something about climbing—your gear, especially if you’re a dirtbag, is the most expensive of your possessions. When you embark on a climb, you pool up all your gear, and it becomes one communal thing. Two Tent went up with everything and navigated his way through the first crack system, eventually pulling through an overhanging off-width squeeze. Then he slowed down.

    Two Tent was rarely slowed down, and Tim and I noted the rope coming to a halt. We looked at each other and whispered what we were thinking. I was belaying and kept my focus on being ready for Two Tent to fall, and Tim had his eyes on the weather; the clouds were building and building, and he mentioned that a thunderstorm was inevitable.

    It was, and, just as Tim suggested it, thunder started.

    Exposure is a big concept in climbing. Sometimes exposure means two thousand feet of air beneath your climbing shoes; at this particular moment, we were exposed to lightning. The instinct is to get the hell out of there, but I was tethered to Two Tent, holding the rope for his belay, and he was facing a thin, blank section, trying to wiggle in gear, but nothing fit. We yelled back and forth, and he decided to down climb to a chockstone, wedged into the wide crack he’d just passed. The chockstone had some webbing around it, and he clipped a biner to it and lowered down to our perch. Thunder clapped all around, and, finally, it was time to book it.

    We scurried off the hill, slipping and sliding, but making it swiftly back to the truck, while thunder and lightning erupted all around us. Just when we got back to the truck, it really let loose. The heavens were purple, with a hundred flashes of lightning going off at a time, thunder erupting so often, you couldn’t tell what lightning was connected with what thunder. As we drove away, we couldn’t have been happier to be in the truck, and the majestic desert was soon in the rear view mirror as we headed back to Gunnison.

    This piece is an excerpt from Mehall’s memoir, American Climber, available in print and on Kindle. 

    Screen shot 2016-03-23 at 10.01.54 PM

    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

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    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, both written by publisher, Luke Mehall. 

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  • IMG_0019

    Time Continuum of Desert Road Tripping by Kevin Volkening

    Sep 1 • Climbing Culture • 525 Views

    The Pinnacle of Technology, as we called her drifted through the endless space, the time continuum that is road tripping. Flakes of snow silently hurtled themselves at the windshield and accumulated on the invisible roadway beyond our high beams, as if the stars of hyperspace were falling out of solution.

    by Kevin “K-Bone” Volkening (note this piece was originally published in Volume 6)

    Kevin with his wife, Marge. Sadly Kevin died in a climbing accident in 2013. We love you and miss you K-Bone!!!

    Kevin with his wife, Marge. Sadly Kevin died in a climbing accident in 2013. We love you and miss you K-Bone!!!

    Banner photo by Mike “The Mayor” Shaw

    The interior of our interstate vessel was a jumbled mess of rushed packing. Canned food, coolers, and cams crowded the cockpit of our Indian Creek destined container. The pungent aroma, unmistakable when one first entered our ship, had faded out of consciousness, leaving only the occasional flicker of light to remind us of its presence. The approaching Thanksgiving fueled my idle brain’s imagination with a grandiose epic analogous to the heartfelt tale of Columbus. However, in my fabrication I was one of four men on board an interstellar ship destined not for The New World, but for a desert world where sheer faces of Wingate sandstone rise hundreds of feet into the air. The fantasy was broken by the approaching flashing hazard lights of a jacked knife semi-truck, just barely visible through the stars falling from solution.

    Seconds combined with hours, which melted into minutes, all the while Pandora continuously provided the soundtrack for our adventure. Somewhere in the fray I had been asked to take the helm but declined due to my current inability to remain awake. Perfectly uncomfortable in the cargo hold, sleep gripped me instantaneously, until the sudden deceleration of the transport on the final approach vector towards Moab stirred me from my dreams.

    We had wasted the previous day in Salt Lake City between an Indian café, a failed trip to The Front, a few hours at a bar waiting for Pat to arrive, and a marathon of “The Office”. By the third episode chronicling idiotic displays of mismanagement by Michael Scott, it was already dark. Life in the darkened world continued without the natural pause of sleep to package the events into a “day” in one’s mind. Thus, by the time our headlights shone onto the natural spring outside of Moab, I don’t think any of us really knew who we were.

    After eternity had come and gone, morning sun illuminated the gargantuan walls of sandstone lining the road, heading south from Moab. The coming day surprised and startled me, as if I believed our vessel had indeed landed on foreign world, devoid of sun. Our southbound trajectory shifted via the magical junction of Canyonlands National Park. As we descended through layers of time, space, and environment our final elevation settled at the base of the Wingate formation. A culmination of geologic process, unknown and remarkable to my naïve brain, created a continuum of laser cut vertical lines.

    Initially these lines were an exciting, occasional site, however as we pressed further toward the Beef Basin Road, the lines became common. Rounding the corner dominated by the most classic line of lines, Supercrack, the excitement that perpetually draws me toward the vertical world returned with vengeance.

    A fraction of a moment later we stood in reverence at the glory that is Indian Creek; a long forgotten land far from the perpetual stress that defines modern life. Hallowed ground, dismissed as a dusty, dirty, deteriorating destination by the dismissive eye, but delightfully defined as a diminutive piece of our planet dominating many lives. The Creek is beyond the realm of elucidation, hovering somewhere between reality and fiction. A fantasy land bound by thousands upon thousands of adventures, more than enough for a thousand lifetimes. And, this mystic land would be our home for the next nine days, before The Pinnacle of Technology would set a northward navigation through the endless space-time continuum that is road tripping.

    Kevin Volkening was a passionate man who had an endless hunger for climbing and adventure. He was killed in a climbing accident in Clark’s Fork, Wyoming in the summer of 2013. This piece was republished from his blog, www.verticallifehorizontalworld.blogspot.com with the blessing of his wife, Marge Volkening. We love you and miss you Kevin.

    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

    zine_cover7 (4)

    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, both written by publisher, Luke Mehall. 


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